The European Brinks 

I am re-reading the information I received from the Nordhorn church, and noticing things I didn't before. Could it be that it's the first time I've had a good look since speaking with Mrs. Harger in December? I'm specifically picking up on the word "Huurman" which Mrs. Harder had explained to my Mother and I was a hired man, or in other words a farmhand.

I'm reconciling the two sources of information, that coming from my aunt, and the other coming from the church.

My aunt's notes go back further in time beginning with the birth of Jan Brink on February 23, 1783. The two sources both agree that he married his first wife Gese Strootman on May 20, 1806. A church reference adds that Jan was a "heuerling", another word for "huurman" or farmhand.

According to my aunt, their children were Hendrik Brink, born in 1806, followed by Geert Brink on April 18, 1807, followed by Harm Brink in 1809 all born in Frensdorf. Our line continues with Geert Brink.

Gese Strootman died somewhere around 1812. Jan took her younger sister Janna Strootman as his second wife on May 20, 1811.

The church gives a reference for a Geerd Brink (there is a slight spelling difference), born April 18, 1807 in Frensdorf to a Jan Brink and a Gese Rademaker. This is where the two accounts differ.

Both accounts agree that Geerd Brink married his first wife Harmtjen Hagelskamp who was 26 on May 7, 1841. The church reference describes Geerd as the son of Jan Brink and the late Gese Strootman. In addition the church reference indicates that he is a farmhand to Mr. Johannick in Frensdorf and that Harmtjen whose father was a weaver was working at the time for the Aalderink family as a "huurman". If the elder Jan Brink was a landholder, then this would indicate that the older brother Hendrik probably lived to inherit the family farm.

According to my aunt, Jan and Harmtjen had four children, the three youngest of which all emigrated to West Michigan and married there. They were in order of birth Janna, Gese, Jan the younger (the only boy) born on October 2 1846 in Frensdorf, and Harmtjen born on January 7, 1849.

The church reference seems to suggest that at the time of Jan the younger's birth, Geert was a farmhand for the Gesink family.

Harmtjen Hagelskamp died at the age of 34 on January 23 1849 in Frensdorf, not long after the birth of little Harmtjen.

Geerd took Geerdjen Eersink (whose father was a weaver) as his second wife in August of 1849. They went on to have a daughter who emigrated to West Michigan and a son who stayed in Germany.

According to my aunt's notes, Geerd died on August 25, 1854 in Frensdorf. The church reference adds that he was 48 and that he died of pneumonia. Jan the younger was 8 years old. Geerd's father, Jan the elder died a year later at the age of 72 on March 23, 1855 in Frensdorf and his stepmother in the same year. Jan's stepmother, Geerdjen died 4 years later. At that time Jan's oldest sibling Janna was only 16 years old.

The church timeline ends with the death of Geerd. My aunt goes on to say that Jan the younger emigrated to America, arriving in Baltimore on May 19, 1868. He would have been 22.

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I remember a rather surprising number of years ago, when I was a young adult and first became interested in my family origins. It may have been shortly after my mother's parents had passed away. One day, my mother showed me a document of many pages that had been written on the history of my grandfather's family.

At the time, it didn't seem to me to be a very scholarly work because there were no references made to contributing materials. To me, it almost read like a story that could have easily been fabricated. According to the work, the family had Scottish origins and their name had been changed from the original name of MacLaughn. Years later, when I had the opportunity to go to Scotland, and knowing that almost all Scottish last names have an associated tartan, I was going through a catalog of them and couldn't find any mention of the name MacLaughn. The experience made me even more doubtful.

Fast forward several years when I started to become interested in my father's side of the family. I don't remember exactly when or why. I had at some point, learned from my parents that my aunt on that side of the family had been doing some family genealogy. I remember strolling through Windmill Island with the family and coming across a map of the Netherlands. Growing up in a town that began as a Dutch immigrant settlement I had never doubted that my father's family was Dutch. I had read, or had had read to me, the story of Hans Brinker and the silver skates. Of course in the story, Hans is definitely from Holland in the old country and his name is not too different from Brink.

[Side note : as I'm writing this I'm learning that the story was actually written by an American children's writer who hadn't any experience of the Netherlands before writing the story.]

I mean, after all, everyone from Holland, Michigan was obviously of Dutch origin weren't they. I believe almost all of my friends were. There were also Ten Brinks and Van den Brinks. But that day at Windmill Island is when I remember discovering that the Brinks were in fact from Germany - albeit from a town just across the border from the Netherlands called Nordhorn.

I was somewhat intrigued by this because I had studied the German language, worked for a Germany company, and lived in or was living at the time in Germany.

Shortly after I forgot the name of the town, and didn't develop a real interest in the subject until my aunt passed away. I became concerned that the work she had done to trace the family history might become lost. So I wrote a letter to my uncle at the end of last Summer, asking him to send me any information he could. He ended up speaking to my mother and out of these exchanges came the first information about my ancestors in Germany. One question which was developing in my mind was whether my ancestor who immigrated to the US did so for religious or economic reasons. I vaguely knew the story of the first immigrants who established Holland, Michigan as a Dutch colony, primarily in seeking religious freedom. I knew less of those who came after having more worldly needs.

About the same time, I started to do a little research of my own and discovered a book that had been written in German about the immigrants from Nordhorn and the surrounding lands who had come to West Michigan. I was able to purchase a copy. I also ran across a book with a similar theme but written in English. The two books were related by a common co-author by the name of Swenna Harger, a resident of Holland, Michigan. As it turns out, my aunt had also visited Mrs. Harger in her search for information on the Brink genealogy. Furthermore, I contacted the Church in Nordhorn to see if they could provide me any information on the births and deaths of the Brinks.

All of these efforts contributed to my developing understanding of this branch of my family tree. The German book I obtained had references to the same persons described by my uncle, and the Church in Nordhorn was also able to confirm the same information while providing a valuable clue to my ancestor's occupation. They were described as "landbouwer", which I interpret as peasants.

In December I was back in Holland and had the opportunity to meet Mrs. Harger with my Mother. I wanted to know why my ancestors had immigrated. Was it for religious, or economic reasons? Or even for seeking adventure? Well I learned quite a lot from Mrs. Harger, and the book she had co-authored and which I was able to obtain from her, to give me some ideas about the reason.

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Why am I now living in France? 

Asnières-sur-Seine, France

Yesterday, I picked up my long awaited Carte de Resident from the Prefecture in Nanterre. It puts an end to having to renew my working permit every year. The Nanterre Prefecture is not a particularly exciting place to be and I'm happy not to have to return there mutiple times during the year.

Along with the acquisition of the 10 year residence permit comes the opportunity of a longer term vision for the future. For most of the years since working in France for the first time in 1995 (that's nearly 20 years ago!) I've needed to follow the ritual of renewing residence permits and working papers every year.

But as I try looking forward I'm compelled first to look backwards. What brought me to where I am now? Why am I in France?

What I can think of is that it begins at the moment in High School when I got tired of learning German and decided to take French during my senior year. And French only because of the reputation of "Madame" Donnelly for making the class fun. I was looking for something fun and I enjoyed that class that year, without thinking at all about doing anything more with French. I was terribly pragmatic in college and decided to continue German studies in order to fulfill my language requirement for graduation with the least amount of effort.

Later, after graduation from college, with a yearning for adventure, I decided to go into the Peace Corps. And as, as a result of French colonial heritage, there were far more French speaking developing countries than German speaking, my one year of French language study in High School was enough to send me to French West Africa.

Even though my mission in Africa was linked to the English speaking region of Cameroon, because Cameroon is bi-lingual, I followed the French language course required of all volunteers there. I loved the French language training as it was organized and conceived by the Peace Corps, and although I did not go on to finish my mission in Cameroon, I came away from the experience with a latent inspiration to continue pursuing French in an international context.

Back in Michigan in the early 90s I decided to further my education, learn something about the practical world of commerce, immerse myself as far as I could in the French language, and have an adventure that I had a better chance of seeing through than my experience with the Peace Corps.

So off I went to Brussels for a year and some months to do a Master's in International Business while continuing to study French in local courses offered by the French speaking Belgian community. And this time, I made it through my adventure with enough interest in living abroad to attempt to find a job in Europe. Which I did!. And that first job experience working in France in the town of Orléans led to living experiences in Paris, followed by a return to Michigan, followed by a return to Paris, four years in Stuttgart, and now another five years in France. Well, an awful lot of moving around to say the least.

So that, briefly, is how I ended up today, in France. It was not exactly a life long aspiration, but one that developed over the course of a series of experiences.

And now I have less of an excuse for remaining a vagabond. But are the patterns now too entrenched?
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Purchasing a Home in France - Part III (Taking the plunge - The Notary, the Agent, and the Broker) 

Chantilly, France

I reckon that in real estate transactions just about anywhere in the world, there is a basic human need to involve a neutral third party to act as a referee between the buyer and the seller. It must have something to do with the relatively large sums of money changing hands between individuals, the sentimental importance attached to ones place of dwelling, and the resulting emotions which can potentially run high between the parties.

In France, the role of the neutral third party is the exclusive domain of the notary.

My guidebook pointed out that a notary, as an agent of the French state, does not necessarily work in the interest of the buyer. It further cautioned that the notary does not verify or guarantee the accuracy of statements made by the seller or protect the buyer against fraud. Reading this made me uneasy and uncertain whether I needed to hire an additional party that I could look to for some advocacy such as a lawyer. Karine took a more positive view of the notary and saw the hiring of a lawyer as an unnecessary expense and I eventually relented.

Coming from North America, I was more familiar with the term "notary public" and made the mistake of confusing the two disciplines. In the U.S., I had had the occasion of calling upon the services of a notary public when I needed to have my signature notarized for some official document. I got the impression then that carrying out the function of a notary was something people did in addition to an unrelated full-time job which allowed one to supplement one's income. I did a quick check on the internet and discovered that I was confusing the role of a public notary which, from what I gather, is basically an Anglo-Saxon concept with that of a civil-law notary which is more common in Latin based cultures such as France and is more closely related to the legal profession.

We accepted the seller's proposition to work with his notary as we hadn't any other recommendation for a notary in relative proximity to the location of the apartment. We decided that hiring our own notary to work with the sellers notary was unnecessary and would only serve to complicate and slow down the purchase process.

By sending our e-mail to the realtor on Sunday, we had effectively set in motion the process of buying the apartment. The notary needed some time to draw up the compromis de vente which sets out in legal terms the identities of the parties, the description of the property, the selling price, the selling fees (which go to the notary for services rendered), the agent's commission and the obligations of the buyer and the seller towards each other including the financing plans of the buyer. The signing of the compromis de vente is accompanied by a substantial deposit which commits the buyer to follow through or forfeit the deposit unless certain exceptional conditions are met.

I couldn't say I understand why, but setting out the value of any furniture sold with property in the compromis de vente has the effect of reducing the notary's fees and is very much in the interest of the buyer.

Five days after our first visit of the apartment, we were sitting at the table with the owners, the notary, and the agent and signed the compromis de vente after having gone over it in detail. One check with a deposit against the selling price on the order of ten percent and a second check with an advance on the selling fees are made out to and handed over to the notary at this time.

There is often a "cooling off" period associated with the signing of contracts in France and the compromis de vente is no exception. The buyer has seven days starting from the delivery of the registered letter from the notary. But I never really thought twice about what I had signed up for and the deadline came and went without any regrets.

The compromis de vente describes the property, the buyers financing plan, sets out the obligations of the seller towards the buyer and vice versa. I based the financing plan on a simulation I had made with my bank a few weeks earlier in trying to determine my credit worthiness in France. The interest rate the bank proposed was not the most attractive and the real estate agent realized quickly that there were better financing options and directed me to a broker that she was familiar with.

After signing the compromis de vente, obtaining financing becomes very important because written into the contract is a deadline which must be met for obtaining a financing offer from a bank. In my case, I had a deadline of February 13 to secure financing or risk losing my deposit - not a negligible amount of money.

But by now Christmas had come and I needed to make the annual trip back to the US to spend a week with my family. But I was back in time to start the new year in France. Karine and I had made an appointment to meet with the broker in the first days of the new year.

The broker did, in fact, come up with a financing proposition that was more promising than anything previously proposed by my bank or could be matched by Karine's. As a secondary strategy, I also made an inquiry at an organization recommended by my company which provided a similar service to the broker and were thus able to make a comparison between multiple propositions.

In organizing financing, you need to be prepared to give out a lot of personal data to financial institutions including bank account statements, pay statements, proof of residence, passport and residence permit, past tax declarations, information on ongoing loans, and also a copy of the compromis de vente.

We needed to sign a mandate with the broker and pay fees in escrow. We learned that in obtaining financing it's important to be aware of all of the costs of borrowing money especially those in addition to the interest rate such as insurance costs
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Purchasing a Home in France - Part II (A Find) 

Chantilly, France

We had started our search in late July and by the time November rolled around, were wondering if we would find anything we liked. A month or so into our search, I decided it might be a good idea to purchase a book written in English about the steps involved in buying a home in France. Because France is a destination sought out by enough Britons as a place to buy their dream house, you can find reasonably informative literature on the topic. The book I chose and ordered on the internet was written by an author well known in the Paris anglophone journalistic circles with plenty of years of experience in the country, I can't say my experience matched completely with the account given in his book, especially concerning the role of the "notaire" which I'll come to a bit later. But the advice was good enough to boost my confidence in my ability to go through with the project.

As luck would have it, at the end of another tiring day of visits we stumbled across something interesting. It was an apartment on the fourth floor of an attractive limestone clad apartment complex built only ten years previously on the left bank of the Seine. It was oriented south-east and south-west with correspondingly good exposure to sunlight. It had one flaw, an express route separating the apartment building from the park that is best known for its pet cemetery but which also runs along the Seine at this location. Another park on the other side of the express route insured plenty of greenery could be seen during the warmer months. I was able to overlook the express route, Karine less so. For me, the route had the advantage of whisking me rapidly away out of town during the morning commute.

The apartment was within easy walking distance to the week-end market with the added surprise of the sight of a lovely Renaissance castle to be taken in along the way. In the other direction one soon ran into "little Morocco" adding a little ethnic spice to the neighborhood. We decided it was time to end our search, resigned to the fact that we would probably never find something that matched all of our criteria and worried about losing out once again to another buyer.

We visited the apartment on Saturday, and after some hesitation and soul searching ended up sending our offer at very close to the asking price to the realtor Sunday evening. The offer was accepted on Monday and we moved onto the next step, a rendez-vous at the "notaire" where we were to put down a deposit and sign the "Compromis de Vente", the first contractual engagement on the road to ownership.
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