Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Clara Troost Bartels

Clara Troost Bartels

My great grandma Clara was born on November 20, 1873. Just 8 short years after the civil war ended here in the United States. Her parents were Klaas Troost and Aaltje Dominee Troost. The family made a once in a lifetime decision in the spring of 1882 to relocate to America. In late April of 1882, they set sail from Amsterdam, Netherlands for the port of New York. They were aboard the vessel “Jason”, a small ship constructed in 1866. The vessel was 248 feet long with a beam of just 32 feet. According to the records found (including a copy of the original ship’s log – only the first letter of the first name of each child is listed in the log) aboard the ship were; Klaas (47 years old), Aaltje (48), (J) Jan (John at 17), (L) Lambertus (Bert at 14), (H) Henrik (Henry at 11), (Kl) Klaasje (Clara at 8), (R) Roelof (Ralph at 5), (J) Jantje (Jennie at 4), and Clara’s grandmother. The 4 week long journey ended with the arrival in New York on May 13, 1882.

At this point in the blog, I am going to start inserting portions of a high school English paper that was written by a great granddaughter of Clara; Terri Hoeksema (daughter of Vern Hoeksema). I was not smart enough to interview my great gandmother when she was alive, but thankfully one of her other grandchildren completed this task. Except for a few spelling corrections, I have made very few edits of what she wrote and I have noted my inserts to the story.

My great grandma Bartels was not one that talked about her past much or told stories. But she told me and others enough about her life that we can get a vague picture of what it was like. That is what I am going to try to do here. From what great grandma told me herself, and what my relatives can tell me, especially my grandma Hoeksema (Mrs. Bartels daughter), and the little I know I have pieced together a story about great grandmother’s life.

Biography of Clara Troost Bartels

It was a confused little girl that stood arms resting on the side of the boat, looking at the receding land which was her home country, the Netherlands. That little girl was Klaasje Troost and at the age of eight she was leaving the Netherlands and home for the United States and a new life. As the land faded from sight Klaasje sighed and turned away. She might as well get used to her new temporary home aboard ship. “It may not be so bad” she thought. At least it will not be lonely for with her were her parents, five brothers and her grandmother.
The 4 weeks aboard ship went slow. The ocean was rough and the people on deck became less and less as the voyage continued. Some of the passengers were seasick but many others were ill due to a sickness brought on by the unsanitary conditions. They stayed confined to their beds. Some even died. Thankfully, Klaasje and her family reached New York together. Even though none of the family died a few were still weak from being sick. After a brief rest in New York they boarded another boat heading up the St. Lawrence Seaway into the Great Lakes. This trip was not as rough as the Atlantic Ocean voyage. The family began to get their first good look at America during this leg of the trip. Their stay in New York was brief, but along the way they stopped at a few cities and soon but together a general idea of what their new country would look like.

Klaasje thought that she would never forget that day in 1882 when she stood on the land of her new home. Soon, they were finally to their final destination near Zeeland, Michigan. The entire family gathered around to rejoice, pray and thank God for providing the safe journey. The area was mostly covered with dense forest with a few swamps, but clearings with a few small farms were also noticed around the Zeeland area.

The other families that traveled with the Troost split up and when their own ways upon reaching Zeeland. Many when to stay with relatives that had previously made the trip. This was also true for the Troost. They traveled to Raaks house about 6 miles from Zeeland. Their relatives were overjoyed to see them and so very glad that everyone made it safely.

Many days in the coming months, Klaasje thought about all that she had left behind in the Netherlands. She spent the first 8 years of her life in the province of Overisal in the Netherlands. Clasha kept up with her brothers, she was a regular tomboy. She attended school for a few years in the Netherlands and remembered that she enjoyed it. One other memory of her childhood overseas is that she really enjoyed ice skating in the wintertime.

The time seemed to fly by as the family built their home in North Holland. Clasha realized that she could enjoy some of the same activities here that she did in the Netherlands. She was soon climbing maple trees with her brothers when they ha free time, which wasn’t often. There was a lot of work to do around the new home and she did all that she could at 8 years old. However, school would start soon and she would be relieved of some of her work.

Just when the family was starting to get used to and appreciate the new home they were making, tragedy struck. Grandma became more ill and 13 days after they had come to Zeeland she died. Klasha knew what her mother was going to tell her that day when she approached her with a weary expression on her face. Her mother stroked her hair and started to speak, but Klaasje just hugged her mother’s waist and let the tears flow. “At least she made it to America” Klaasje thought.

After the funeral, the work on the house and the fields continued. However, soon school started and her time was split between home, school and church on Sundays. Each Sunday the entire family would dress in their best clothes and leave the house early for the 3 ½ mile walk to the church in New Holland. After the Dutch services were over, they would make the same 3 ½ mile walk home.

Time went by quickly as the family continued to build their new home and lives in Zeeland. Soon the time came when Klaasje was old enough to work out of the home. While she looked for work throughout the area, she discovered that people had difficulty with her name. It was humorous at first but soon became annoying. She discussed this with her parents and obtained their approval to change her name to “Clara.” As Clara, she came upon a job as maid to the doctor in Zeeland, Dr. Daniel Baert. The doctor was a well known person so she considered it a complement when hired as the Baert’s maid.

The Baert house was a beautiful red brick Italian style home. Clara knew they we wealth but the site of the house still caught her breath that first day she say the structure with the lead glass windows. She hurried up the steps to the door and knocked. Another maid welcomed her into the house. Clara saw that the inside was just as glamorous as the outside as she was lead through the home to meet the family. Clara found herself liking the family and vowed to do her very best work for them. She enjoyed her life inside the Baert home. However, soon something else entered her life that she enjoyed more.

John Bartels was a handsome and dashing young man who lived in Zeeland also. Clara saw him in town when she was on errands for the Baerts and though she liked this handsome young man. She was concerned however about him noticing her since she was seven years younger than. At last, they did start to speak to each other when they met and they enjoyed many happy times together.

The event that occurred when she knew that her feelings for John were deepening was when they caught the Inter-Urban train in Zeeland. It was crowded for a special celebration in Jenison Park. They squeezed into one of the cars and enjoyed themselves for the 9 mile trip. As they got off the train, they melted into the crowd and joined them in the celebration. Soon the exciting day came to an end and it was time to board the Inter-Urban for the trip home. However, when John and Clara came back to the station, not an empty space could be found. They walked along side car after car looking for some space to board, but as they did so the Inter-Urban pulled away headed back to Zeeland without them. Since it was getting lat, John thought it over quickly and decided that they had better start walking if they wanted to get back home. Clara appreciated John taking charge and staying with her all the way until they returned home. By that time it was 4:00 in the morning and her parents were worried and angry when they learned that they had missed the train. Poor John had to listen to Clara’s parents and then return home to hear from his own parents as well.

After more time had gone by, John and Clara decided to marry. Both of their parents agreed with this very important life decision. So on October 28, 1892, Clara became John’s husband; Clara Troost Bartels. Clara was 19 and John was 26 years old.
They wasted no time in starting their own farm. Work on their new home began in November of 1892 after clearing the land. The wood framed farmhouse stood on Tyler Street, near 128th Ave in Olive Township. Clara helped John with the farm. It was hard work but the two of them were a happy husband and wife. They grew grain and hay for the cows and pickles in the summer for a cash crop.

Clara also helped out her aging parents during their early married years. Only she and her younger brother Henry were still in this area of Western Michigan. Her older brothers John and Bert and her younger brother Ralph and their families had moved to the state of Washington to find work. Her younger sister Jennie had also moved away.
The years of 1893 and 1894 were years of establishment; not only for the farmland and farmhouse, but also for the family. Clara was expecting their firstborn child and on October 1, 1894, a son was born. They named him Herman John Bartels (probably for his father John and John’s father Hermanus). They were happy to have a son that would grow up to be an asset to the farm, but most of all, they loved him.
In the years that followed, little Herman gained brothers and sisters. Following Herman were; Charles, John, Alice, Benjamin, Johanna and Henrietta. It took a lot of hard work to make their farm support the family comfortably. John was challenged with the farm work and Clara with the family and home as well as helping with the farm. These years were filled with joys and heartaches, health and sickness, hard work and little play, baby things and needs, education for the older children and cries for mommy to help the little ones. John and Clara took all this in stride as the loved the children and enjoyed bringing them up in a Christian home.

(Terry Bartels insert) The year 1917 had to be one of mixed emotions for Clara. Probably in April or May, Clara (at the age of 43) would have known that she was expecting her eighth child. I would guess this was an unexpected blessing. Their youngest daughter Henrietta was now 5 years old and having one in diapers again would have been a challenge at this age. The 5 children that remained at home ranged from 5 to 17 years old. (a situation to be repeated 40 years later when my mother (Tena Bartels) gave birth to twins at the age of 42 with 8 other children at home including a 4 year old (me)).

(Terry Bartels insert)Also at this time, President Wilson and the Congress had declared war against Germany on April 6, 1917 and many young men throughout the United States would soon be drafted into the army. This included Clara’s sons Herman and Charles. Both young men registered for the draft on June 5, 1917. At 22 years old, Herman was the oldest child and he had already left home to start his own life working on a farm in Fillmore Township south of Holland. His brother Charles, then 20 years old, was dating a young lady by the name of Henrietta Harsevoort. Herman also had a girl friend but no one knows what her name was or how serious of a relationship they had. Both of them reported for duty in the early fall of 1917.

On January 5, 1918, Clara gave birth to a 4th daughter, Janet Clara Bartels. Janet was frail from birth and was an unhealthy infant. On May 28, 1918 she died of acute bronchial pneumonia (per the death certificate). Losing a 5 month old infant was a shock to the family, but most of all to Clara. At this time in history it was not all that uncommon for children to die, but the loss was tragic. They borrowed a camera and took a picture of Janet so she would not be forgotten. With good Christian attitudes, John and Clara thanked God that they had only lost one child when so many families had lost more, so much more. But soon they were troubled again.

(Terry Bartels insert) Herman had reported to boot camp in late August of 1917 and in February 1918 shipped out to France with the 126th Infantry of the 32nd Division with thousands of other young men from West Michigan. On May 21, 1918 Herman entered the war (based on the History of the 32nd Division). On August 30, 1918 Herman was killed in action. News of this probably would have taken a couple of weeks to reach the family. Undoubtedly there were letters exchanged between Herman and his parents while he was in France, but none are known to still exist.

It was the fall of 1918 and everyone who could help with the harvest was out in the fields. Clara straightened her body for a moment and brushed her hair away from her perspiring forehead. As she did this she glanced toward the opposite end of the field where the house and barn stood. She squinted and saw a woman making her way towards them. Soon she recognized her as the aunt who was the telephone operator for a couple of telephone lines. As she got closer Clara noticed the aunt had a sad and worried look. Clara became concerned and called John over to her side. Just then the aunt reached them. After pausing a moment she announced in a sad tone of voice that she had bad news. Herman had been killed in Battle. The news was very hard to take for it was the 2nd child they lost within 6 months. They would never get totally over their grief, but there were other children to care for and many other things to do.

(Terry Bartels insert) Every American soldier in WWI was encouraged to signed forms for his family to receive death benefits in the event of their death while in the service. According to relatives living in 2009, John and Clara were not able to spend any of the funds they received from the army for many years. Eventually, they were emotionally able to spend some of this money and much of it was used to help others. This is a tribute to the kind of character and integrity (and love for their son) that they had.

(Terry Bartels insert) In January of 1921, the old wounds of Herman’s death were opened up again. The army was retuning his remains to the states after being temporarily interned in France since his death. His remains were returned to Holland Michigan on December 31, 1920 and on Tuesday, January 4, 1921, a military memorial service was held at Harlem Reformed Church to remember and honor him.

During the 1920’s new inventions were being made continually impacting the way that life was lived. Radios, airplanes, advertising and the automobile were but a few. John Bartels bought his first car in 1923, it was a Model T Ford. When he went to get the car, he did not know how to drive it but said he would learn. As soon as he started driving home, he lost control of the car weaving from side to side and finally ending up in the ditch. He was unhurt and the car was not damaged. He found that it was not quite as easy to drive a car as he thought. The family laughed about dad’s incident with the car for a long time.

In the years that followed, the children met and married mates that they loved. As John continued into the latter years of his life, his health began to fail and the year 1939 brought a great change to Clara’s life. On November 25, she lost her husband and companion of 47 years. John was 73 years old when he died. According to his death certificate, John died from his appendix rupturing causing “gangrenous appendicitis with abscess formation” This must have caused him tremendous pain just before his death. This left Clara with only her memories and their beautiful life together.

Photo 2 - John and Clara Bartels in the late 1930’s

Not long after this, Clara’s second daughter Johanna Bartels Jekel invited her mother to live with the Jekel family in a large farm house on 112th Ave in Olive Township. In addition to helping the family with the house work, Clara spent some time with the grandchildren and knitted and crocheted. (to be continued)


  1. This is great stuff!

    I find it interesting how the children Americanized their names, even apart from any war-years backlash type thing that led many Germans to Americanize their names during WWI and 2...

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