I found the photo above in Mom’s high school yearbook, 1932. She’s in the second row, the girl with the pointy collar and curly dark hair. Although she always said she was 100 percent Dutch (all four of her grandparents immigrated from the Netherlands in the middle of the nineteen century), she wasn’t the stereotypical blonde and blue-eyed Dutch girl. Her mother, from Holland was. Mom took after her father’s family which hailed from Zeeland.
At various times, Zeeland has been occupied by the Spanish, the French, and more recently, the Germans. In An Embarrassment of Riches, historian Simon Schama has likened the Netherlands to a tiny mouse trying to survive as bulls or the “great powers” of France, England, Spain and Germany fight and kick up the turf where he darts from side to side.
Soldiers, billited with families in Zeeland over the centuries, left their genes behind, particularly, the Spanish who occupied the Netherlands for many years. The people in Mom’s dad’s family spoke Zeelandic which is similar to but not identical with the Low German spoken in the remainder of the Netherlands. However Zeelandic is also related to Flemish and almost impossible to understand by outsiders.
Zeeland means “sea land.” In addition to their foreign genes, the people of Zeeland are comprised of individuals from many remote islands on the North Sea. My Mom’s immediate ancestors hail from the Island of Tholen and the village of Saint Martins Dike, or Sint-Maartinsdijk.
Although the islands of Zeeland were difficult to reach until the twentieth century, the land between them was filled and became low-lying areas called polders. One of my ancestors from mom’s paternal side was named ‘polderman’ probably because he was a laborer who worked on the dikes and polders.
Dikes held back the sea, while windmills pumped water from the polders to drain them. Windmills in the Netherlands can be traced to Spain (and windmills in East Anglia in England can be traced to the Dutch).
So far, I have found ancestors in my mom’s family who entered the Netherlands from villages in Belgium, Sweden, and France and Italy. Because Zeeland was a reuge for sailors jumping ship as well as runaway slaves, and Zeelandic was transported to and from other places such as Surinam, I wonder what else I will discover when I finally have my DNA tested?