Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Book Nook: Beverwijk, by Janny Venema

My Book Nook includes my take on books I have found useful - if not essential - in researching the Dutch Colonial line of my family tree. From time to time, I will post and review some of my favorite books in the Book Nook (as well as some of those I picked up and thought were duds). Like all self-selected lists, my Book Nook is idiosyncratic and reflects my preferences and interests. I should also give you a fair warning - I love books and read several a week (I also don't sleep a lot). Some books I plan to review here in the Book Nook are very old and no longer in print, but a review may help you to determine if you want to go to the effort of finding the book on interlibrary loan. Other books may just have been released. I have amassed a vast collection over the years; some books I have found useful and some not so useful. But enough... on to the book for the edition of the Book Nook.

BEVERWIJK: A DUTCH VILLAGE ON THE AMERICAN FRONTIER, 1652 TO 1654 (by Janny Venema, State University of NY Press, Albany, 2003).

    I found this book to be an absolute treasure. So now that we have that out of the way, some details. Based on her doctoral dissertation, Ms Venema presents a fascinating view of quite a cross section of the lives of the settlers of this outpost "upriver" on the Hudson. As only a dissertation can do, she looks at vast a number of aspects concerning the lives of the settlers that are hard, if not impossible, to find in a single volume. 

For example, Ms. Venema takes the reader through the building of the settlement, how the village was laid out and land distributed, how the settlers dealt with poverty amongst their neighbors, their educational system, the Orphan Masters, medical care, and slavery, to name just a few. In each area she covers, Ms Venema provides background information, as well as rich detail. She incorporates snippets of information on the various settlers - great and small - to demonstrate her points. These snippets on the settlers provide a priceless view of many of the settlers, utilizing the skills of a detailed and meticulous researcher. It is these details that may help you fill out your own family history, and possibly find someone who has been "missing".

Many books of this type are a rather dry recounting of facts and statistics. While Ms Venema provides a strong dose of statistics and numbers, she also adds what is missing in so many other volumes: the context - the backdrop against which the settlers of Beverwijk played out their petty quarrels and experienced their triumphs. Ms. Venema also explores key professions, such as blacksmiths, bakers, brewers and tavern keepers. Rather than merely highlighting these categories of workers, you will find detailed tables telling you who did what and when, allowing you to trace your ancestors and their economic endeavors across time.  

While the book covers the most successful Burgers in considerable detail, including the Van Rensslaers, Dirck Jansz Croon, Pieter Hargers, Volckert Jansz, Philip Pietersz Schuyler and the Scott, Sander Leendertsz Glen, it also provides wonderful tidbits for the family histories for the rest of us. One of the most valuable parts of the book for me was one of the appendices. Appendix 8 lists the lots that were distributed among settlers in 1650, providing a description of most of the lots, whether the lots included a house or a garden, the people who received lots, as well as details on lots sold and bought as the settlement developed.  For me, this appendix with the associated maps was worth the price of the book.

In my mind, Ms Venema's book belongs on the shelf of every serious family researcher with ties to Dutch Colonial Albany. If you have read this book, I would enjoy reading about your impressions, and whether or not it helped you through a brick wall (it did me). And if you have related books you think I should be reading, be sure to let me know about them. Happy reading...

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