Steltjes Family in Germany and the Netherlands
As a boy, I met only one grandparent, Joe Hermsen. Early in the 1940’s he visited us in Yakima, Washington. Later, on a trip to the Coast we motored north of Seattle to Bellingham. We dropped in on him and his wife, Ann. I remember not being too sure how she figured into our family. (She married Joe Hermsen in 1939. His first wife, Amelia Fleming, had died two years earlier.) I understood that once a butcher he now sold real estate. My mother, Winifred “Mike” Hermsen, had grown up in Bellingham. How the family landed there I had not a clue.
After she died in 1960 and my father in 1989, I began searching for her Hermsen roots and mine.
She had a brother, Ed, somewhere near Los Angeles. I thought of contacting him but did not know how to do so. Then in a preserved letter from Mildred Hermsen, my mother’s oldest sister, I came across her mentioning, quite favorably, another Ed Hermsen in southern California. She listed his address. I wrote him hoping for information about my Uncle Ed . A son wrote back; his father had recently died; he was forwarding my letter to a cousin in Green Bay who was interested in family genealogy. The cousin, Janet Schoenebeck, responded. She informed me that her branch of the family sprang from Christian Hermsen, a younger brother of a Henry Hermsen who had taken his family to the Northwest in the late 1800’s. I had never heard of Christian; nor did I know that Joe Hermsen’s father was named Henry. So, the family had traveled from Wisconsin to Washington. How had they first settled in the area of Green Bay? When I asked Janet, she said that the Hermsens had come from “Nutterden Kreis Kleve” in Germany. She had no more information than that about its foreign origin.
I had never heard tell of that place. But I was able to locate a scattering of towns named Kleve in Germany. Because of the sen ending of Hermsen, and not son, I reasoned that the family name might have originally been Dutch. One city of Kleve dominated the Lower Rhine region in Germany’s northwest corner, not far from its border with the Netherlands. I would begin searching there.
The City of Kleve, Lower Rhine Region, Germany
Since the Hermsen-Willis family in America practiced Catholicism, I surmised that they had Catholic roots in Germany. I addressed a letter to the Pfarrer (Pastor) of a Catholic church in Kleve. A colleague of my wife at Yale translated it into passable German.
A reply, dated January 1, 1991, followed. It read: “We have given your letter to the church of St. Peter and Paul, and to the priest Franz-Gunther Aengenheyster, who will get in touch with the priests at Nutterden and Frasselt.”
I heard first from the pastor at St. Anthony Catholic Church in Frasselt, Fr. Ruhl. He established the link between the Hermsen and Steltjes families. He cited from the marriage registry: “24 April 1858, Brautpaar (bride and groom): Henricus Hermsen und Theodora Steltjes, Trauzeugen (witnesses) Petrus Wanders und Gerardus Verfurt.” The register produced no other notices involving Theodora, but it offered valuable data about her family.
Her parents, Antonius Steltjes and Johanna Holtermann, bore at least three other children: Johanna, born August 22, 1839 and baptized the next day; Petronella, born and baptized on February 15, 1843; and Gerhardine, born on May 23, 1850 and baptized the following day. In addition, from the marriage register, I learned that Gerhardine married Casper Rutten on January 10, 1872. Johann Hermsen and Johann Rutten vouched for them. Yet another sister, Gertrude, married Johann Kersten on April 12, 1866; Johann Steltjes and Christian Hermsen stood witness to the event.
The church’s death registry recounted: “am 14 Juni 1854 der Tod (death) der Frau Johanna Holtermann, ehefrau (wife) des Antonius Steltjes, eingetragen, gestorben in Alter von 50 Jahren (at the age of 50 years).” Two years later, on April 21, 1857, Antonius would remarry: “Brautpaar: Antonius Steltjes und Christina Cleusters; Trauzeugen: Johannes Hermsen und Christianus Hermsen. Finally, these records reported that Antonius Steltjes died on June 21, 1871, at the age of sixty-five. From this and other entries it appears that the two families were closing ranks.
Side Altar, St. Anthony Catholic Church, Frasselt, Germany
I received another letter from the Lower Rhine, not from Nutterden as I had expected, but from nearby Donsbruggen. As the writer informed me, from 1483 to 1841 the Catholic people of Nutterden worshipped at St. Lambert Church in Donsbruggen. Therefore, parish documents concerning them during this period resided there.
St. Lambert Catholic Church in Donsbruggen
In the present day, Highway #9 runs northwest from Kleve toward the city of Kranenburg and, finally, the Dutch border. One passes first through Donsbruggen, then Nutterden, to Kranenburg. Frasselt is situated off of Highway #504, slightly south of Kranenburg. I came to understand that the “Nutterden Kreis Kleve” of family lore meant Nutterden in the vicinity of Kleve (Kreis means circle or around).
If any questions lingered about the Hermsen/Steltjes/Cleusters connection, the letter from the St. Lawrence pastor, Fr. Leopold Fonck, dispelled them. Five children born to Henrich Hermsen and Christina Cleusters of Nutterden entered the community through their church: Albert, born and baptized on February 27, 1827, with godparents being Heinrich Hermsen and Johanna Cleusters; Johann, born on December 24, 1828 and baptized two days later, Johann Cleusters and Johanna Reintjes acting as witnesses; Arnold, born and baptized on March 23, 1830, Theodore Hermsen and Alberta Albers godparenting him; Heinrich, born on May 3, 1832 and baptized the next day; and Christian, born on Christmas Day in 1833, baptized two days later, Wilhelm and Hendrina Jansen standing for him. Notice the predominance of various Hermsen and Cleusters family representatives as official witnesses.
“At four in the morning of May 3rd, 1832 Heinrich Hermsen, son of Heinrich Hermsen and his wife, Christina Cleusters, was born in Nutterden. He was immediately baptized, and rebaptized in the church on May 4th. Witnesses were Gerhard Hermsen and Everdina Cleusters.”
Hermsen Family Home in Nutterden
This marriage register delighted one tracing family roots. Heinrich Hermsen and Christina Cleusters had married at St. Lambert on May 4, 1826. He was twenty-six, a widower; his first wife, Aleyda Hendricks, had died in Nutterden. Christina was twenty-five; both her parents, Albert Cleusters and Johanna Peters of Nutterden, were deceased.
The genealogical prize, however, went to this entry in the baptismal register for November 25, 1799. On that day, Heinrich Hermsen, the father of Heinrich who married Christina Cleusters, and grandfather of Heinrich Johann, the husband of Theodora Steltjes, was born in Nutterden and baptized. Heinrich Hermsen and Johanna Hendricks gave him earthly life ; Gerhard Hendricks and Johanna Derks promised to promote his eternal life.
An escalating series of life events propelled the Hermsen/Steltjes merger into one coherent family:
Heinrich Hermsen wedded Aleyda Hendricks on October 13, 1824. She died five months later, March 18, 1825;
The widower, Heinrich, remarried the next year, on May 4, 1826. He selected as his second wife, Christina Cleusters;
Antonius Steltjes married Johanna Holtermann on July 1, 1829. After giving him seven children–six girls and one boy–she passed away on June 15, 1854;
After having eight children–seven boys and one girl–with Christina Cleusters, Heinrich Hermsen expired on December 6, 1853;
In 1854, therefore, Christina Cleusters Hermsen was left alone with eight children, two being teenagers. At the same time, Antonius Steltjes without a wife had four daughters needing his care;
On April 21, 1857 the two families merged through the marriage of Antonius Steltjes to Christina Cleusters Hermsen. Antonius still had two daughters at home: Petronella (14) and Geraldine (6); Christina was watching over her twelve-year-old Johanna and possibly eighteen-year-old Friedrich. The couple and their children probably settled down as a new family unit in Antonius’s home in Frasselt;
As if to seal the union, Theodora Steltjes, at age twenty-four, married her twenty-six-year-old stepbrother, Heinrich Johann Hermsen, on April 24, 1858;
Finally, on April 16, 1866 Petronella Steltjes, now twenty-three, wed another stepbrother, Christian Hermsen;
When her second husband, Antonius Steltjes, died on June 21, 1871, Christina Cleusters Hermsen Steltjes survived among her family: eight Hermsens who called her mother, seven Steltjes whom she guarded and cherished as stepmother. In a twist worthy of “I’m my own Grandpa,” both Theodora and Petronella recognized her as their stepmother and mother-in-law, while their husbands, Heinrich and Christian, could claim her both as their mother and stepmother-in-law!
Jacqueline Hermsen Resick at Grave of Heinrich Hermsen in Nutterden
In the baptismal register at St. Lambert, the last three Steltjes children–Johanna, Petronella, and Gerhardine–appeared. I had to wonder where the earlier born had first breathed into life.
Realizing that marriages in Germany had to be performed also in a civil venue, I wrote to the area metropolis, Kranenberg, to request a copy of Theodora’s marriage certificate. I lucked out! It came. Moreover, it noted her birth in Groesbeek, Holland.
[Note: Line 1) Official district: Cranenburg...Cleve...Dusseldorf. Line 3) April 24th. Line 5) Heinrich Hermsen. Line 6) Born in Nutterden. Line 8) Wed in Frasselt. Lines 9 & 10) Son of Heinrich Hermsen of Nutterden and Christina Cleusters. Line 12) Theodora Steltjes. Line 13 & 14) Born in Groesbeek, Holland.]
I contacted the Association for Family Research (Mosaik) in Kleve. They possess microfiche records for many areas around Kleve, including Groesbeek. I received back from them xerox copies of the baptismal register in Groesbeek for the years 1833, 1834, and 1837. They established the baptisms of Maria (1/14/1833), Theodora, and Gertrude (6/13/1837) Steltjes in Groesbeek; Antonius Steltjes and Johanna Holtermann being their parents.
“Baptized was Theodora, legitimate daughter of Antonius Steltjes and Johanna Holtermann, on December 11, 1834. Heinrich Jansen and Maria Holtermann witnessed.”
As Antonius had been born in Frasselt and Johanna in nearby Gocherheide, I have no knowledge of what led them to dwell in Groesbeek from 1832-1838. The earliest Hermsen records I have indicate that the Hermsens resided in Nutterden as far back as 1764. Therefore, my initial reasoning about Hermsen being a Dutch form of the word may or may not be true. However, a Dutch connection clearly existed through these lowland births of three of Antonius Steltjes’s daughters, and through their combined families’ Low-German-speaking-towns nestled up to the German-Dutch border.
We have no written account of motives behind the Hermsen/Steltjes family immigration to America. However, we may surmise the impetus. In 1853, as we have seen, Heinrich Hermsen died. Closely following this, Johanna Holtermann Steltjes succumbed to death’s call in 1854. Both families would be in a state of transition. The two surviving parents united in 1857. Christina transferred her household to Frasselt. The next year Theodora Steltjes and Heinrich Johann Hermsen wed; they brought forth their first child, Andrina “Delia,” six months later. Neither family could remain the same; both families opened readily to change.
Twenty-five-year-old Christian dared the first move. No longer residing at home and yet unwed, he could seize the moment. He found his way to Liverpool, England; there he boarded the ship Kangaroo destined for New York. He disembarked at the Port of New York on May 11, 1859.
On April 12, 1866 Christian reappeared in Frasselt. At St. Anthony he witnessed with Johann Steltjes the wedding of Gertrude Steltjes to Johann Kersten. As if to use his visit well, he married four days later: his bride–Petronella Steltjes. Both couples straightway departed for the United States and Brown County, Wisconsin. The John Kerstens settled in De Pere; Christian and Petronella went back to his place in nearby Holland. Within the year both began their families in the New World. It seems likely that John Steltjes traveled with them. On June 28, 1870 he married Joanna Verboort in St. Mary’s Catholic Church in De Pere, Wisconsin. His sister Joanna Steltzes Coenen and her new husband, Wouter “William,” officially witnessed their union. This couple had married in Frasselt two months previously, on April 25th.
Christian and Petronella Hermsen and Family in 1889
The death of Antonius Steltjes in 1871 probably sealed the family transplantation to America. In the following June, Heinrich and Theodora Hermsen, their three children, ages fourteen, nine, and five, sailed out of Bremen on the Ocean for New York. His brother Johann accompanied them. They arrived in the Port of New York on June 11, 1872. They located their new home in De Pere, Brown County, Wisconsin.
Henry and Theodora Hermsen and Family in 1889
At some moment during the 1870’s–perhaps with Henry and Theodora–Christina Cleusters Hermsen Steltjes, born in Sheffenthum, Rhine Province, in 1801, left her lifelong German homeland. In the 1880 census for Brown County she was noted as dwelling with Christian and Petronella. She died soon after.
Gerhardine Steltjes had married Casper Rutten in Frasselt in 1872. With all but her oldest sister Maria gone to America–she had married William Coenen twenty years earlier, on April 30, 1852, and had her own family life– she decided to pick up the family trail. The couple departed Amsterdam on the ship “Rotterdam”; they disembarked in the Port of New York on July 31, 1880. The migration from Germany and the Netherlands to a new homeland was now complete.