My father is of Dutch descent - 4th Generation. I have always been curious about my Dutch roots: how we got here, why they came, and how they fared in life? Grand Rapids wasn't the only convergence of Dutch-Americans: there was Chicago, Iowa, and a few others. So why did my Ancestors choose West Michigan? Why did yours? DutchBlood.com will offer you a glimpse into Dutch Michigan in the 19th and early 20th centuries...into the lives of your Dutch Ancestors. And I will do this using my own family as an example.
EMIGRATION - REASONS AND ITINERARIES
My emigrating ancestors, Jacob Derks Kruizenga and Janna Nannenga Kruizenga, made their way to London, England where they would set sail for the New World. This would have been done via one or more smaller vessels probably through Rotterdam. To reach the English harbors, emigrants had to first cross the English Channel to Hull. From there they took a train to London. While this was more inconvenient to do, the poorer classes accepted the extra week of travel and the hardship in communicating with English officials because of the lower fares. About 60% of all unskilled emigrants chose to sail from English ports (London or Liverpool).
Landing in 1857, the newlywed couple made their way to their new life in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Why Grand Rapids? 41 of every 1,000 Groningers (from the Northeastern Groningen Province) chose to emigrate. This is second only to the Zeeland Province. The majority of these emigraters were rural farmers and farmhands. Around 1865 the Netherlands saw an agricultural revolution with new machines that replaced common workers. These misplaced workers often chose to emigrate. Many had money to buy a farm but farms were not available as they were being consolidated into larger farms. Prices went higher. In the Hunsingo area which included Jacob's home town of Uithuizen, most chose to emigrate to West Michigan (66%) - the rest to Chicago. And those in the Fivelingo district which included Stedum and 't Zandt preferred the West Michigan area. So Jacob and Janna followed what they saw and heard in Church. They probably knew others who were emigrating to the West Michigan area or heard from friends who had received letters from loved ones overseas. In any case, Jacob and Janna probably wanted to make a new life. And with a baby on the way, what better chance did they have than to make a new home in Grand Rapids among people they already knew?
Church was a very influential place in the 19th and 20th centuries. It was the meeting place of friends and relatives, the social circle of the day. It was through church that jobs were discussed and discovered, where marriage prospects were propositioned, and where everything at the forefront of the Dutch community took center stage. Church was the Dutch Facebook.
In Grand Rapids there were four distinct Dutch Reformed church bodies. The eldest was the Dutch Reformed Church, now the RCA (Reformed Churches of America). From this body in the an 1857 schism came the CRC (Christian Reformed Church). And from the CRC in 1924 came the PRC (Protestant Reformed Church). Finally there was the Netherlands Reformed or Heritage Reformed. Each successive break believed its predecessor to be in error over one or more doctrines...to have become liberal of the true doctrine(s).
But regardless of doctrinal issues the fact remains that the choice of church body had a lot to do with where an ancestor's friends and family attended. Newcomers might be suggested a church based on this or by the province of origin.