So once I caught the genealogy bug, I dove in with both feet and started digging up amazing, enlightening and interesting stories about my ancestors. On my mom’s side, I’m German, English, Scottish, Welsh, Dutch and a tiny bit French. On my dad’s, we’ve got English, Scottish, French and Welsh, with an ancestor I’ve been able to take back to William the Conqueror and even beyond! You know what that means, all my Viking fan friends. I am indeed a descendant of the historical Rollo! Rollo – otherwise known as Robert (his Christian name, natch) Ragnvaldsson – was William’s great-great-great grandfather. [Keep an eye on this blog next Spring for a special project to coincide with the return of “Vikings” on the History Channel.]
I have to say, though, that one of the most amazing stories I’ve come across in my family is from my Granny’s side (my mom’s mother). Some of her ancestors – the Dutch VanMeteren’s – go back to the late 1600’s in the Hudson Valley region in New York. In Kingston, in the former village called Wyltwick, the VanMeteren’s and some French Huguenots (some of whom I also count as ancestors) lived and worked. At that time, the area was the frontier, with the Catskills behind them and angry native peoples, irritated at these white intruders, living in the forests and mountains surrounding the town.
The following account is a fascinating reminder of why I adore genealogy research so much. The history of my ancestors is truly connected to the history of America, and stories like this make it almost tangible:
“In the fall of 1662 Jan Joosten Van Meteren settled in Wildwych (now Kingston, Ulster County, New Jersey [sic]) and dwelt many years in that vicinity, which included the towns of Hurley, Marbletown, and Esoppus. He is not noted in the activities of that community until the 7th of June, 1663, the date when the Minnisink Indians made an attack on the village and its vicinity raiding and burning the settlement of Hurley and Kingston and carrying away women and children in captivity. Among the latter were Jan’s wife and children, Jooste Jans being one of them as well as Catherine du Bois, the wife of Louis du Bois, and their daughter Sarah; whom Jooste Jans Van Meteren later married. These were taken to the fastnesses of the Catskill Mountains and remained in captivity for months, but were rescued on the eve of torture by du Bois, and Captain Martin Kreiger’s company of Manhattan soldiers; the trainband finally rounded up the Indians and defeated them on September 3, 1663. In connection with this tragic experience the following statement is quoted: “About ten weeks after the capture of the women and children, the Indians decided to celebrate their own escape from pursuit by burning some of their victims and the ones selected were Catherine du Bois, and her baby Sara. A cubical pile of logs was arranged and the mother and child placed thereon; when the Indians were about to apply the torch, Catherine began to sing the 137th Psalm as a death chant. The Indians withheld the fire and gave her respite while they listened; when she had finished they demanded more, and before she had finished the last one her husband and the Dutch soldiers from New Amsterdam arrived and surrounded the savages, killed and captured some, and otherwise inflicted terrible punishment upon them, and released the prisoners.
Captain Kreiger’s Journal which gives a general account of the expedition of rescue, unfortunately does not name him, but it is elsewhere stated that it was due to Jooste Jan’s three months’ association with the Indians, during his captivity, that gave him the knowledge of their habits, trails, plans and war feuds with other tribes, and so impressed him with a desire for their adventurous life.”
Knowing this amazing story, I have to pay tribute to my Dutch ancestors, and how better than with food?
The Western portion of Holland including Gelderland (where my ancestors lived before coming to New Netherland), has many specialties. Dairy products play a prominent role, and indeed, this is the land of Gouda and Edam cheeses, as well as buttermilk rich in milkfat. Seafood is abundant, thanks to the area’s proximity to the North Sea, and raw herring, mussels, eels, oysters and shrimp are all traditionally enjoyed in this region. Buttery, sugary pastries are a Western Dutch delicacy, and of course there is plenty of local beer to wash it all down. Advocaat, a liqueur of eggs, sugar and brandy, is something I’d love to try at Thanksgiving. The trick is to find somewhere in Richmond that sells it!
As for the French portion of my family, which, I admit is tiny, there are obviously plenty of foods to choose from. Our DuBois ancestors originally came from a town called Wicres, in the North of France not far from Calais. In fact, the region’s name is Nord-Pas-de-Calais. Foods from this region include turkeys, chickens and seafood, especially mussels. Goat’s cheese and other cheeses, as well as chicory, are traditional to the region. Andouillette sausages and smoked garlic are made there as well.
For the Thanksgiving table, perhaps I’ll make a few of the following recipes:
Dikke Jennen soup
Arnhem Biscuits, or “Arnhem Girls”
Little Mussel Cakes
Carbonnade (Beef Stew in beer)
Classic Moules-Frites (Mussels with French Fries)
So there you have it! The last of the family food history from my mom’s side of the family, where we’ll be spending Thanksgiving. Which dishes should make the menu?