NOTE: I wasn’t sure that I would be able to post this week. Last Sunday’s quake was quite a shaker! Special thanks to all of you who reached out to see how we were doing. All my scotch survived and just a few glasses to drink it. All is good. I thought I would lighten it up this week.
“I’m pretty sure they’re all dead.” My Dad said when I asked him about our relatives in The Netherlands.
In 2011, I published a blog based on a paper I wrote in 2010 while finishing my undergraduate degree at Sonoma State University. This paper was the second to last I would have to write to complete my 31 year college career.
The paper was about illegal immigration. My views previous to talking to my Cousin Karel Reyenga were fairly straight forward: If you were here in this country illegally you need to go home.
My Dad said that the first of us to arrive in the United States came here illegally. Johannes Reijenga (He changed the spelling to Reyenga when he stayed in the States. Easier to pronounce). Johannes was Karel’s father so I went to the source.
The result of my publishing that blog was astonishing. They are all, in fact, not all dead.
On March 30, 2011, I received an email from some guy named Stef van Hage. “I have read your very interesting blog about the immigration of Johannes Reyenga. Johannes Reyenga was the brother of my grandmother.” Stef goes on to say that he knew my great Grandfather Ludwig Arnold Schneiders.
My first reaction was this could not be possible, they are all supposed to be dead, but Stef included a photo (see following) in his email. The photo was taken in America, most likely in Crockett, California, and included my great grandparents, my grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. After an email exchange Stef explained that our Great Grandmothers were sisters.
This was the beginning of a wonderful Internet friendship and sharing of family stories and information. Stef had been building a family tree for some time and came across my blog because he was doing some name searches on the internet. On that occasion, he was searching “Reyenga.”
Before Stef contacted me my wife Patti and I were planning a trip to Amsterdam and surrounding areas. Stef invited us to stay with the family. This trip became much more than fun in Amsterdam, it was the beginning of a new family.
Stef’s interest in the family tree came together several years ago while tracing the tale of Jetze Reyenga, He was Johnannes Reyenga’s father. Jetze was a notorious character. Rumor was that he had killed his three wives and had many girlfriends. Life was hell for young Johannes. That is why he joined the Dutch Navy at such a young age and eventually jumped ship in San Francisco.
The Schneiders in America all live relatively close to each other. This new discovery of several cousins of my generation and their children was beyond what words can describe. This discovery has been life altering. All of a sudden the bits and pieces of scattered family stories, all of which would have been lost when my generation passed, came to life. The pieces were beginning to fit.
World War II stories began to come to light. The Netherlands under Nazi rule was hell. Family stories of Grandmothers being arrested by the Nazi’s, and the family being connected to “Fat Man” the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945. My study of World War II suddenly became personal.
Since then another cousin has made contact from New Zealand and told me of a bone chilling connection of the family to the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.
There was always this empty place in my soul and ever nagging questions: What are my roots? What is our history? The hole has been filled and the questions are beginning to be answered. Just think, this all came about because of a simple rambling about illegal immigration and a well-timed search for “Reyenga” that originated half way around the world.
I wonder if Johannes Reijenga knew when he jumped ship in San Francisco that he would be the key to bringing family to America and be the guy that reconnected family a century later.
Special thanks to Stef van Hage, my third cousin!
2 responses to ““I’m Pretty Sure They’re all Dead.””
Indeed, it was the beginning of a great friendship. And it was a very special moment when I handed over Opa Ludwig Schneiders’ photo album I kept in my possession for so many years, to his great grandson.
The gift of this album was the one of the most touching moments of my life!