Finding Family History in the Pages of the CRC Archive – Part II
See previous blog post for part I of this story.
As assistant to the secretary of the Calvinist Resettlement Service, Agnes Flonk handled a good deal of the correspondence between potential sponsors and the necessary bureaucratic organizations. Many of the applicants she worked with were seeking positions as farm laborers.
When William DeRooy wrote to request to sponsor a refugee with printing experience, Johan Vos was one of the few applicants qualified to fill the position. Flonk informed DeRooy in June of 1955 that she had selected Johan and Hendrikja and worked to fill out the necessary assurances for the U.S. government—including the slight hiccup of the couple applying together even though they were not yet married.
By early August, the paperwork was done, and Flonk wrote to the sponsoring church in Seattle that processing had begun. That would have been the end of it, had Pieter Duinkerken not showed up a few weeks later. Instead, the process dragged on for nearly another year.
Click images to enlarge
DeRooy relinquished his claim on sponsoring Johan and Hendrikja in late September, nearly a month after Flonk wrote to him explaining the situation. It is unclear why it took him so long to respond, but it must have been painfully ironic for him to receive a notice from the American Consulate in early October that they had received the paperwork and would be processing his request to sponsor the Voses.
Back in the Netherlands, Johan and Hendrikja made preparations to begin their life together. Hendrikja passed her health exam on October 3, but Johan failed. He was experiencing complications from his exposure to the flood waters of ’53, complications that threatened his eligibility to immigrate.
Keeping with Dutch custom, Hendrikja and Johan had two wedding ceremonies. The first happened on September 30, when they had a small civil service at a courthouse in Hengelo. This made them legally married, but they did not consider themselves married until they had a church ceremony nearly a month later on October 27th.
Following Dutch tradition, Johan arrived at Hendrikja’s home in the morning wearing a suit and top hat, bringing her wedding bouquet. They posed for portraits in the garden and rode in a carriage to the church. They celebrated with a reception after. Soon after their wedding, Johan was advised to rest for three months to regain his health.
Johan was eligible to retake the health exam in January, and this time he passed. Pieter Duinkerken helped secure Johan a position as a typesetter in a Grand Rapids publishing house. The position was full-time and paid $1.50 an hour (about $16/hour today, with inflation). After that, it was just a matter of passing on the updated information to the U.S. Consulate and waiting for their approval.
The Dutch government agreed to pay the couple’s travel expenses as part of its program to encourage emigration. To that end, Flonk had to send word in May of 1956 to the Christelijk Emigratie Central in the Hague to remind them that their destination was Grand Rapids, not Seattle. After a year of correspondence and official forms, Agnes Flonk could finally close their case.
The last mention of Johan and Hendrikja Vos in the files of the resettlement service is a notice from February of 1957 confirming that they had arrived in Grand Rapids on June 21, 1956. That is the end of the resettlement service’s interest in my grandparents’ story. From there, family lore takes over.
My Oma and Opa arrived in the United States in June of 1956. They had friends in the Duinkerken family and soon became connected in the community of Alpine CRC. The church had other recent Dutch immigrant members, and they quickly rallied around the new couple, giving them furniture and goods to make their new apartment on Davis Ave feel like home.
Johan and Hendrikja learned English and adopted the Anglicized names, Jack, and Hennie. Less than five months after they arrived, Hennie gave birth to their first child, my father, Edward. Over the next few years, they would have two more children, Karen, and Patricia. They stayed active in their church and created a network of friends that became their surrogate extended family.
Jack and Hennie’s story illustrates the role ethnic and religious groups, and the institutions they created, play in creating opportunities for each other in a new country. I grew up hearing stories about some of them, told by the aunts and uncles that weren’t blood related but were just as close. Reading through the files of the Resettlement Committee, I learned about those behind the scenes who worked to ensure that thousands of fellow Dutch refugees could find new lives in North America. Perhaps their story can become part of my family’s lore too.
Jen Vos is an assistant archivist at Heritage Hall at Calvin University
Images courtesy of Edward Vos, scanned documents courtesy of Heritage Hall
Cover image: Johan and Hendrikja at their wedding reception, October 1955