Aus der Grafschaft Bentheim in die Neue Welt 

As I mentioned in a previous post, during my research into the Brink history in Europe, I stumbled across a book written in German about immigrants from the county of Bentheim to West Michigan, in which is included some mention of my ancestors.

The authors of this book are Gerrit Jan Beuker, Swenna Harger, Loren Lemmen, Gregor C; Santel, Freimuth Schulze and Hubert Titz. It's a 2002 edition.

I will now use this blog to translate selected parts of this book into English.
[ add comment ] ( 36 views ) permalink
The Heuerling System 

I've discovered a site on the internet which has a lot of information on German family genealogy. It's called and I've found the entry for Jan the elder. Link to Jan Brink In addition to the information I obtained from my aunt and the church in Nordhorn, this database indicated that the father of Jan the elder was Geerd (the elder) and it indicated that he too was a Heurling. For now, this is where the trail ends.

A fascinating account of the Heuerling system has been editted by Werner Honkomp from Oldenburg and made available on the internet. I will paste the entire text here as the longevity of links is always uncertain.

The Origin of the Heuerling System

The Heuerling System had its historical beginnings in the 16th and 17th Century.
The specific factor which prompted it can be found in the existing rights of inheritance, such as it prevailed in our region through the ages, making the oldest son the sole heir. The younger sons were due a "Child's portion".
Of course, a younger son conceivably could acquire his own Courtyard through a suitable "In-Marriage". Additionally, common lands (within an Estate) which until now had lain fallow were now put under cultivation and new, basic, primitive, living quarters erected. Mostly, though the reality seemed different. Many of the younger sons faced a dismal future as subservient co-workers on the older brother's estate. Not all accepted this fate gladly. Sometimes one in this position would take permanent leave of their family and villagers and headed for work in the city; some enlisted in the military to make that a career.
The period of religious upheaval, following the Reformation, and the Thirty Year War served to make substantial changes in the village social structure. Perhaps as a result of these unsettled times the younger farmers' sons often would not accept their fate without some protest. They made an effort to lead an independent life style.

At the same time the farmers themselves were among the hardest hit populace following the war. Their lands had been devastated, their cattle stolen, their homes plundered. The demands for tax revenues on part of the Sovereign to be extracted from the farmers rose constantly, and with that, the indebtedness of the farmers. Faced with adversity, the possibility of a fixed income from farm lease arrangements, and the discontinuance of the burdensome inheritance taxe, held a certain appeal. The introduction of the Heuerleute system could alleviate the problems of both sides, the farmers as well as the departing farm sons. The farmer would make a portion of his land available, for which he could expect a suitable fee, with a number of hands available to assist in his operations.
The term "Heuer Mann" well describes the relationship as the Platt Deutsch "Heuer" or "Hür" implies lease or rent.

Living Conditions of the "Heuer-Mann"

The Heuerleute would receive from the farmer a piece of land, grazing rights on the "common land" and living quarters. These living quarters, furnished and maintained by the farmer, were in the beginning -and were for a long time-- exceedingly primitive. One would select an outhouse, such as barns, stables or baking hut, made minimal changes to convert for human habitation. Even the later Heuer Houses, usually constructed to house two families, were invariably narrow and offered few amenities. An idea of this type facility can be obtained from a report of the Holdorf Estate as issued by the responsible Damme Office in the year 1845:
"Housing for the Heuerleute is generally of flimsy construction and deficient in numerous respects. The mud walls, doors and roof, in general, are not tightly sealed, offering no protection from drafts and cold air, windows which can be opened usually are missing altogether, which causes lack of circulation., which is more necessary here, as the alcoves in the living quarters (set-backs recessed into tbe walls) provide the sleeping quarters for the entire family. Chimneys on this type of a building are unthinkable; most are lacking in a water well, forcing the inhabitants to fetch water from a cistern in poor condition, or with enormous difficulties from a well at a great distance".

As modest as the shelters were for the Heuerleute, their living conditions were similarly wanting. On the tiny strip of arable land, allotted to him, grain was planted. The soil in Holdorf in the best years was barely adequate to feed a 4-member family. A yield beyond that., that is to offer for sale, was at best a wish. Planting potatoes came into play in the 18th century, but gained rapid acceptance thereafter. A family's menu could be enriched by vegetables grown in one's own garden. A meat diet among the Heuerleute was a rare event, and it certainly was not a given among the farmers in general.
Even among those of the Heuerleute who understood how to augment their income through one or another form of activity, their basic income remained whatever their strip of land would bring forth. This included one or two cows, who served also as beasts of burden. Until the common grounds were subdivided the cows would graze on the communal meadow. Since the Heuerleute were ignored when it care to suddividing land, they would have to settle for strips of grass along ditches and roads, where the Heuerleute; children would attend to the animals.
To the one or two cows would be added a feederpig, a few geese and chicken, who could be sold. The cattle was the most significant possession of the Heuermann. The cows in particular were the most prized and treated with s pecial care. The Heuerleute often developed special skills in treating sick animals, utilizing time proven home remedies, so that the farmers would use their expertise.

The Heuermann would treat his allotted soil with great respect and care. The greatly limited acreage allowed no wasted space. At all times watchful, keeping weeds under control, harvesting the limited produce, in all these aspects the Heuermann would be more meticulous than the farmer. It should be mentioned as an aside that the Heuerleute were abused to an extraordinary degree by the farmers in their farming duties. To begin with, the strip of land assigned to the Heuermann was the least productive, and when after investing great effort and much sweat to increase its yield, the farmer would often withdraw this strip and reassig another, infertile, strip instead.
Many of the chores incurred in the Heuer operations would rest on the shoulders of the housewife and children as the husband's duties would call him away. The obligatory aspects of the Heuer relationship toward the farmer were the principal burden on the Heuermann. Whenever the farmer summoned the Heuermann the latter would be obligated to drop the task at hand and report for duty. Naturally, these summons would occur most frequently during, times of high labor intensity, such as hay and grain harvesting, flax "drawing" and manure spreading. This impacted on the Heuer operations which had to be deferred to the late evening and early morning hours. As a result the Heuermann's produce was likely to be moist or imature. The extent of the Heuermann's specific duties were not comitted to paper and were subject to the whims of the farmer.

As a rule of thumb one could use Heinrich Bockhorst's estimate for the Dinklage community: 160 to 180 days per year for the average Heuermann. This should give the reader an idea of the extraordinary extent of the assistance expected from the Heuermann.
It should be noted that in some cases the farmer would come to the help of the Heuernann at hartest time. He would make available beasts of burden und wagons, as needed. In many cases relationships covered several generations and mutual consideration would govern. Much depended on the person of the individual farmer, his attitude toward the Heuerleute and the extent of his goodwill.

The Evolution of the Heuerling System

From a small beginning the Heuerling System expanded more and more, and particularly in the 18th Century, developed a spectacular growth dynamic. From a listing prepared in the year 1835 for the Holdorf Parish we learn that the 98 Farmers, consisting of

38 Colon (Colonus - husbandman., inferior tenant employed in cultivating the lord's land)
33 Kötter (- Cottager - one occupying primitive housing, belonging to another)
27 Häusler (Cottager, landless labourer)

were shown as opposite 287 Heuerleute families. If one counts the 44 employed (in some outside activity) as among the farmers, we obtain a ratio of the farmer to each two Heuerleute.

The growth of the Community is attributable to the rise in the number of the Heuerleute. At the end. of the 30-Year War Holdorf counted 470 inhabitant (1649). 180 years later (in 1828) this number nearly quintupled, having risen to 2334 souls. Certainly, the Heuerling System enabled these many people to provide for their own livelyhood, yet the economic basis continued to shrink with this population growth. For this reason it was beneficial when in the17th and 18th Centuries new possibilities for augmentation arose, which would guarantee supplementary income for the Heuerleute. The first such activity was the weaving of linen fabric, which could engage all family members. The second important source of side income was the trek to Holland, to work in the farmfields there or to cut peat moss. With the proceeds of earnings in Holland many of the Heuerleute were enabled to acquire a Heuerling spot of their own.

At the same time the farmers were able to profit from the increased funds flowing into the community, as with the increased demand for Heuerling spots they could demand more favorable terms for themselves. The (average) farmer enlarged the number of Heuerstellen from one at the beginning to five, and even to seven. Early in the 19th Century the Heuerling system experienced a temporary crisis, due to the disappearance of the side income. True, the trek to Holland remained a factor through the end of the last Century, but its attractiveness had vanished. The Heuerleute suffered greatly with the drying up of this source of income, in part because the English-produced cotton textile items had impacted on the linen (flax) production. All these vere factors bearing on a crisis oriented farming economy. The tendency was to put the farmers' burden on the back of the Heuerleute with increased demands. This hopeless situation of the Heuerleute was an important factor in prompting them to look for emigration to America.

In the second half of the Century the situation eased somewhat. By this time the prices in the lease arrangements dropped some, as the farmers feared that the Heuerleute might disappear altogether. "The more empty the Heuer houses became, the more of them disappeared., the greater the need for the farmer to hire more and lease more, in order to secure help he needed to run his own operation". (In quotation marks - source Ref. 8, Herrmann Rothert, Kreis Bersenbrück.)

The Heuerleute understood to widen their own operations in order to increase their revenue. Aside from increasing planted acreage, they intensified cattle raising, added a pig or two for forced feeding. Some found employment in som Northern German public sector developments. The Hochmoore was opened for exploitation, forests were planted., streets and roads begun anew or extended.
In the villages opportunities arose for craftsmen; industries were developed with attractive wages. Early on the Heuer activity was predominant, but this gradually changed, so that the side job became the chief source of income. The Heuerling system was clearly in decline. The process of dissolution intensified between the World Wars, as the Northern Sections (Emsland and Saterland) and the Eastern Sections (Posen and West Prussia) developed more intensive agricultural processes. Quite a number of the Heuerleute took advantage of the possibility of acquiring their own farmstead and departed from the Heuerstelle at home.
Nevertheless the basic Heuerleute system prevailed until well after the end of World War II. In the year 1960 the Heuer Mann received 2.50 DM as a days wage, while the craftman demanded 10.00 DM per hour. The handwriting on the wall was clear: The system was totally out of date. An anachronism of a special sort prevailed here, when the Heuermann would compare his own situation with that of the farmer, noting the vast difference in standard of living. Obviously, they were no longer compatible in terms of a modern social and agricullural policy as envisioned by the EWG (Europäische Wirtschafts Gemeinschaft) (In English : EEC European Economic Coinmunity)
Thus, in the 1960,s the Heuerling system in short order and with finality went out of existence. Today it is a subject of historical importance in the villages, and brings back memories, quite alive among some.

Linen Weaving as Side Income for the Heuerleute

Flax., and the linen fibres produced from it, were familiar from olden times among farmers and Heuerleute. Linen items, safely stored in hopechests and afmoires were a reflection of a farm family's status. These items were not meant for sale, but the aim was to en-large the collection., and hopefully have sow available for dowry for the family's daughters. This did not apply at the Heuermann, where linen products were chiefly created for sale, as the yield was sorely needed to cover a bare existence. All family members, especially during the long winter months, were expected to pitch in: The husband would operate the loom; the wife, the elders and the children sat at the spinning wheel. Planting the flax seed, insofar as this was possible, would be done on one's own soil. The tiny allotted strip was generally insufficient, nor was one's soil necessarily suitable for flax cultivation. In the writings of Johann Theodor Moormann of Fladderlohausen we find confirmation of this situation. Evidently, there was little or no flax in Fladderlohausen. One would have to obtain flax from Ihorst or Langwege, where nearly all Heuerleute and some cottagers would sow such for pay.
Just as the planting of flax was important, so was the sale of thc finished linen articles. Now we would learn what price can be obtained for all of this effort. The finished linen product would be brought to the Linen Market, called "Legge", and offered for sale. Articles produced in Holdorf were brought either to Damme or Neuenkirchen Legge, which were the chief markets. Others would use pushcarts to carry their merchandise to Bramsche, where there were more buyers and the projected sale price was expected to be higher. The first step now was to present the linen goods to the Legge Master, who would measure and classify them, and added a stamp of approval. Now selling could proceed.
Osnabrück linen, which included items made in Damme, Neuenkirchen and Bramsche, in earlier years enjoyed a world-wide reputation. Due to its exceptional quality it had become an item for Export, which was frequently shipped to overseas colonies of Holland, Spain and Great Britain; it no doubt contributed in large measure to the prosperity of Osnabrück, wich served as the center of this trade.
[ add comment ] ( 39 views ) permalink
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.

[ add comment ] ( 35 views ) permalink

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.

[ add comment ] ( 37 views ) permalink
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?
[ add comment ] ( 11 views ) permalink

<< <Back | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | Next> >>