Friday, May 13, 2011

My ancestral home in Elburg, The Netherlands

In front of St. Nicholaas' Church in Elburg

My forefathers likely include those Up den Dijks who lived in Elburg, Gelderland (part of the Netherlands) between 1350 and 1636, when Louwe Jansen (Up den Dijks) baptized a daughter, Mette, on the 10th of December, thereafter setting sail for New Holland.

Louwe, or Louris, was not easy to track down.  A book published in the 1880s I found several years ago at the Holland Historical Society in New York City helped me link my Updike ancestry from 1720-1620, and further indicates that all Updike descendants come from Louris Jansen Opdyck, "born 1600-1620" (helpful).  Records on my church's were anything but clear regarding the locale of his birth, listing Wessel, Germany, Newfoundland, Canada, and Elburg, Gelderland.

I engaged in a bit of guesswork and some hints in the Opdyck family history book to intuit that, being Dutch, Louris probably came from the Netherlands, and probably in a place where dikes proliferated.  That made Elburg a natural place.  In searching further back on FamilySearch, I found other Updikes, or Up den Dijks who all lived and died in Elburg.

I then planned our little family vacation to The Netherlands to see the tulips in bloom (amazing site!) around a visit to Elburg. 

It turns out that Elburg was quite an important medieval town, re-built back from the Zuider Zee (South Sea that has been turned through Dutch industry and ingenuity, into a fresh water lake and polders over the years) in a short four year period, from 1392-1396.  It quickly boasted a boat tower (an early version of a lighthouse), moat, high city wall, small, straight streets with shops and neat, small houses built upon them and massive church (by any standard).  

Thanks to its residents turning down the railroad in the 1800s and its diminishing importance as a port town as the sea was pushed back, Elburg's medieval charm was preserved. 

I was grateful for all of this when I rode up on my Amsterdam-rented bicycle (I got off at the wrong stop, but it was a beautiful ride anyway through miles of thatched roof farm houses and horse-drawn carriages countryside). The town's charm instantly claimed me, and I was admittedly a very typical American in my giddiness and gawkishness over its beauty.  The significant difference between myself and the other tourists (most were Dutch) was that my ancestors had been christened and buried in the 1397 church.  I belonged, and was allowed to gawk and fawn.

I was also grateful that the "VVV" tourist information center was closed on that Easter Monday, as it caused me to "happen" by the cute new art shop next door, Goudzwaard, to ask a few questions about the town and when things might be open.  The shopkeeper, Simone, asked enough questions (in beautiful English) to discover all about my little quest, and somehow was soon providing me juice and doing research on Louris Jansen Up den dijk (or Opdyck) on her computer and calling around to see when the church's records department would be open.

We discovered together that Louris claimed in a New Holland court document to have been born in Hoesem (now spelled Husum), Germany in 1606.  However, a Louwe Jansen (the last name was dropped, probably when the family moved off the local dike and into the town, and, with Dutch tradition, began to be called by the second name, or father's last name, until the British required a more standardized sir name) baptized a daughter in Elburg in 1836, a year after christenings began to be recorded.  One internet poster, probably a distant cousin, indicated that it is possible that Louris was born in Husum because his father moved there temporarily from Elburg to work on the flooded dikes in the area pre-1606.

I determined to visit Husum on another trip, but wanted to find any and all town records of ancestors in Elburg.  I discovered, thanks to Simone's help, that the church's records had been moved to the local town hall up the road and in the new area of Elburg (outside the moat), and that they were open Mondays and Tuesdays from 8:00 a.m.-12:00 noon.  It being Monday and a holiday, they would be open the next morning.  Brilliant.  Except that my husband and I were staying in Amsterdam.

Not to worry.  My new friend, Simone and her husband Ron somehow arranged for me to stay in town and invited me over to their home for a Bar-B-Q that night, breakfast the next morning, and offered to go with me in the morning to the town hall to help me begin my work.  I was, to say the least, overwhelmed by their generosity and open friendship.

After figuring out how to get ready without toiletries and finding some meager breakfast gift offering (flowers, the typical Dutch housegift, were not on available) for my new friends and hosts, I trekked over on my rental bike to the town hall with Simone and began my records search.  

I did find the christening record from 1636, and thought perhaps nothing earlier would be forthcoming, but I was wrong.  Hans there spoke little English, but knew how to navigate the database of transcribed records which dated back to the town's inception and earlier.  I found transcribed records of Up den dijks back to 1350 going on pilgrimages to Germany, donating their house to the church, and serving as the town mayor.

I wasn't able to prove ancestry, but I was able to prove that the people I had found on lived, existed, and contributed to their community.  It meant very much to me that they were religious enough to go on pilgrimages, and believed in philanthropy and civil and church service--all values I subscribe to.  Much work remains to be done, but I'm not sure I would mind if I had to return to Elburg, again and again.  Next time I'll bring flowers.

And perhaps I'll even be able to find the dike upon which my ancestors lived and for which I am named... 

View of the St. Nicholaas Tower framed by cherry blossoms.
This used to have a steeple atop it before it burned down in the 1600s.

The homes in Elburg are quite charming, many of them as
old as the town, and 4 feet wide!

The original city moat and dyke still run around the town, with
bridges and gates at North, South, East and West corners.
Pictured is the Eastern gate and bridge over the moat.  

Simone and Ron.  This street
is always the most decked out of Elburg in flowers each spring,
winning awards.  To the right are pictured a few of those 4' wide houses.

The Northern Gate and Bridge, framed by the fishing tower, just
lighting up for the night.

OK, not in Elburg, but I wanted to show off...


  1. Talk about Dutch hospitality! Who knew!

    (I am also more than a little jealous of your tulip-viewing trip. Someday!)

  2. Thank you for your blog, it is very informative. My Ancestors are also from Elburg but I have not yet had the pleasure of visiting. I am researching for my trip and your blog was very useful, thanks again!

  3. Hi, my first Updyke anscestor to come to America was Louris Jansen Opdycke and I just read your blog. I am heading to Amsterdam in July and would love to go to Elburg
    Thanks for sharing this. My grandfather was Merritt Updyke and was a minister, as was his brother. I was so happy to read that the history shows that background. Thanks again for the post.

  4. Lorinda - so glad this was helpful! Try to find the dikes while there - they are close, apparently. Our ancestors lived up on them - Updike was a place name - then, when they moved into town, the name was dropped. They picked it up again in the U.S. (rather than using their father's name as their last name) when the British required them to have surnames...