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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