So, for my first Toastmasters talk I thought I’d try something exciting in which I illuminate the parallels between my life and Jane Austen’s life. Not in an “I’m so important, look at me, I have things in common with Jane Austen!” kind of way – more like in a “these are the things about Jane Austen’s life that make me feel like I have a connection with her, and since she’s so awesome that makes me feel good” kind of way. Because she’s awesome.
In order to accomplish this in a five-minute talk, I thought I’d start by narrating the story into the voice recorder on my phone. Twenty minutes later I was done! I typed it out and it was something like 1900 words – only about 3-5 times longer than it needed to be. And there was just no way I could figure out how to cut it down. SO, I will *not* be writing or giving that talk this week. I decided I’ll probably go ahead and make it into a blog entry at some point. But that didn’t solve my immediate problem.
I have to introduce myself. After trying from two or three different starting points, I finally settled on the idea of starting from the beginning – in this case, the beginning of my family’s story in the New World. This is only supposed to be a 5 minute talk, so I had to make it short – which is SO HARD FOR ME!!
On a cold January Sunday in 1624, two young people were hastily married in a small church in Amsterdam. Joris Jansen Rapelje and Catalina Tricho had skipped the traditional “reading of the bans,” a process in which their intention to be married was proclaimed to the public over a series of a few weeks. They were in a bit of a rush, as they had a boat to catch. Four days later they boarded the New Netherland1 and by May they were among the first 30 families sent to settle New Amsterdam in support of the Dutch East India Company’s Fort Orange.
This was proto- New York, but in many ways it was the same then as it is now. Their neighbors were Indians, Europeans, excommunicated Puritans from the Massachusetts colonies, even freed or escaped slaves. Joris and Catalina were a notable couple. Though only 19 when he left Holland, Joris eventually became a councilman, and he and his wife, who at the time were thought to have the first European child in the New World, were given a plot of land on Manhattan Island, near astreet where a famous wall was later built to repel the English.2 In 1640, their daughter Martje married Michael Paulus Vandervort in what was only the seventh recorded marriage in the new colony. They had a shop on Pearl Street and took in lodgers, perhaps even some merchants just arrived from faraway places like China and India. Their son, another Michael, was a resident of Bedford in Brooklyn and is the ancestor to which just about anyone in the US with a name that sounds rougly similar to “Vandivort, Vandifort, or Vandivert,” owes their name.
In 1800, a descendant named Nicholas Vandervort got on another boat intending to settle in the fertile lands of Northern Kentucky. He anchored for the night on the Ohio River near what is now Cincinatti, and when he awoke to see that a tree had fallen on their boat they decided to stay right there.3 From that point, my family was firmly established in South-Western Ohio, and for several generations my ancestors, like their ancestors, founded businesses, churches, and townships, and served their communities. And then one day in the 1970’s, in the grand tradition of the venerated Dutch, my parents decided to strike out on their own to a new and exciting land. They went “up north” to college at Kent State.
A few years later they settled in Euclid, Ohio – a town full of immigrants. I grew up surrounded by friends who spoke different languages at home. It was a diverse and vibrant place to live, every lunchbox containing a different food with a different smell. For a while we lived next to “the Polish woman,” and then we lived around the block from a Greek family. I was best friends with a Slovenian girl whose grandmother told her she’d give her the Buick if she married a nice Slovenian boy. It must have been similar to how the Michael Paulus and Martje felt sharing their neighborhood with people from all over the world, learning different languages, welcoming people who had fled their home countries for one reason or another.
My sister and I sometimes felt like we were the only people whose family had been in the States for more than fifty years. In many ways, we were the immigrants – the alien, the strange. We didn’t have an “old country,” we didn’t have a church our grandparents had built. In fact, we didn’t even have any cousins except for two in Florida that we hardly ever saw. We, like our ancestors, were pioneers in a strange new country, cut off from the traditions of the generations before us.
Like our ancestors, we’ve become business owners and community leaders in our own ways, but that desire to strike out into a new world still lives in our hearts. My sons get pretty excited at the thought of space travel – perhaps some cold January Sunday in the future, one of them will run off with his girlfriend to a new world. I only hope he takes it easy on the Adam and Eve bit.
It’s still quite a bit longer than it needs to be. And the ending is a bit shaky. But I had to wrap it up. And seriously, I could see Charlie running off to Mars with some hot blond. Yikes.
Anyway, I added some links to my talk for the edification of my followers. Does your family have a cool immigration story?
2. In October of 2012 I visited New York for the first time. I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge with my mother and my two sons. (And my husband, but he’s not a Vandervort… that we know of at least!) I felt a great connection to my family history, walking across from where they’d landed to where they settled in Manhattan. It was also pretty awesome to see all the Jensens and Remsens and Rapeljes and Vandervorts on street signs and maps. So maybe, just for that moment, I felt like I had an “old country.” (You can click on the thumbnail to make it bigger.)
3. This story is recounted in the History of Clinton County, which you can find on Google Books. Scroll to page 587. Or click on the thumbnail below.
4. Edited (2/25/13) to add one more footnote: Joris & Catalina were married at the Walloon Church (“Walloons” were Huguenots, or Protestants who had been persecuted in Catholic France & other regions) which I’ve linked to in the first paragraph of the talk. That church was like… right next DOOR to the headquarters of the East India House. From wikipedia: “The building served as the headquarters of the Amsterdam chamber (Kamer) of the East India Company. The 20 regents of the Amsterdam chamber met here. […] Shipcrews were recruited here, and the archives and map collection of the East India Company were also kept here.” I wonder if they advertised for ship crews at the Walloon Church that just happened to be right next door? One-stop shopping for those looking to marry quick & hop a boat to a new country!