Coming to America: When Ale becomes Albert

 

The Hatsumermolen windmill in Dronjirp, Netherlands

The Hatsumermolen windmill in Dronjirp, Netherlands [1]

   My grandfather’s immigration story began in Holland, the land of windmills, wooden shoes, and tulips. There are three windmills (De Poelen, Kingmatille, and the Hatsumermolen) in the town of Dronjirp where Ale (pronounced aa-lay) Westra was born and spent his boyhood. The Dutch describe these windmills as a “grondzeiler” meaning they are a three-story smock mill on a single-story base. (A smock mill is a type of windmill that consists of a sloping, horizontally weather-boarded tower, usually with six or eight sides. It is topped with a roof or cap that rotates to bring the sails into the wind.  It is named after the dress-like agricultural costume whose shape the windmill vaguely resembles.) Holland is also known for its world-class tulips. These perennials, grown from bulbs, are gorgeous, spring-blooming flowers that come in a multitude of colors. The windmills greatly influenced my grandfather and this becomes evident later in his life’s story.

   Ale Westra was born on 13 March 1908 in Dronjirp, Friesland, Netherlands, to parents Jan Westra and Magdalena Terpstra.[2] Dronjirp is a small town in the Leeuwarden area of Netherlands and is located on the northwest coast of the country.[3] It is currently the largest village, with about 3,500 inhabitants, in the Dutch municipality of Menaldumadeel. One of the main features of the town is the Salviuskerk (nicknamed the old white church) that was originally dedicated to St. Salvius. The Romanesque church, built in the 12th century was rebuilt in 1504, in particular the choir and the south wall that have a gothic flavor.[4]

report

Ale Westra's Report Card from Ambachtsschool, 1925

Ale Westra’s Report Card from Ambachtsschool, 1925

Ale attended the Amsbachtsschool (trade school) in Leeuwarden from 1922 to 1925 where he was student number 1437.[5] Along with studying the principles of carpentry, his classes included algebra, geometry, nature drawing, hand-writing and machine tools. His grades were mostly ample, more than ample and good according to the school’s grading system. His father’s signature (J.M. Westra) appears on his report card (pictured here) that shows his grades over the years he attended school.

   Ale was 17 when he graduated trade school and shortly thereafter he decided to make the long trip to America and start his adult life there. He had already met his soon-to-be wife, German-born Etta Pauw, who was working as a cook and house servant in a wealthy doctor’s resident [6] either in or very near Dronjirp. He filled out his paperwork, was assigned Quota Immigration Visa No. 368 and was granted passport No. 1072649 by the Kingdom of the Netherlands on 11 February 1927.[7] What is evident in his passport photo is that he inherited his father’s ears!

Ale's father, Jan Westra

Ale’s father, Jan Westra

passport1

One of the pages from Ale’s passport

 Ale arrived by himself in America on 13 March 1927, his 19th birthday, on the SS Volendam which docked in New York City, New York.[8] However, he wasn’t alone in a strange new country. His sister, Aacke, and her husband August “Gus” Tolsma had arrived in America in 1920 and Gus was the owner of a dairy farm in Little Falls.[9] His older brother Herman had arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey, on 21 February 1922 and was living in the Little Falls area of Passaic County, New Jersey.[10] 

A little less than one year after his arrival, Ale sent for Etta.  She arrived in America 03 March 1928 on the SS Ryndam which docked in New York City.[11] Exactly three months later they were married on 03 June 1928 in Little Falls.[12] The photo below shows the young couple at the start of their life together in their adopted county.

Etta (Pauw) and Ale Westra, circa 1930

Etta (Pauw) and Ale Westra, circa 1930

They wasted no time in starting a family. Their first son was born 21 April 1929 in Little Falls.[13] Using the common German naming convention, their first-born son was named John for Ale’s father, Jan.  The 1930 census places them in Little Falls[14] but sometime shortly after that they moved to Sussex County, New Jersey, and Ale began using the name Albert. A second son was born on 05 March 1933 in Newton, Sussex County, New Jersey,[15] and was named Ewald after Etta’s father. My mother was born in 1938 in Newton[16] and was named Martha after Etta’s mother.    Their last child was a daughter born in 1941 in Newton.[17]  She was named Lena after Albert’s mother, Magdelena. On 14 March 1944, just one day after his 36th birthday, Ale became an American citizen and his name was officially changed to Albert as part of the naturalization process.[18]

Even though he was trained as a carpenter, Albert chose to make his early living in America as a farmer. Most likely, his brother-in-law, Gus Tolsma who was the owner of a dairy farm, gave Albert his first job in America. In the 1930 census, Gus and Aacke were living at 51 Harrison Street and Albert and Etta were living at 61 Harrison Street in Little Falls.[19] Albert profession was listed as an “all-around-man” for a private family. After gaining experience with Gus, Albert moved out on his own. He rented a number of farms in Sussex County and raised dairy cows. One of the farms he worked was in Fredon and was then called the Lewis farm. While at this farm, their son Ewald had goats that would eat Etta’s clean laundry right off the laundry line which frustrated Etta to no end.[20] About 1943, a lightning strike hit the barn, caused a fire and completely destroyed the structure. About a dozen cows were lost and only four were saved. This unfortunate event precipitated a move.

Albert and Etta moved the family to a farm located in Greendell, Sussex County, New Jersey. They lived there from 1943 to 1948. Here, Albert built his dairy herd up to 30 cows. The farmhouse had electricity but was heated by a wood burning stove. My mother Martha remembers bath night on Saturday nights. A large galvanized tub was brought into the kitchen and Etta heated water on the stove. Once it was hot, the water was transferred to the tub and children were added and scrubbed. The family had a telephone but it was a party line. The signal that they had a phone call was four short rings. Of course, that didn’t stop the kids from listening in on other people’s conversations.

3townsend

Etta and Albert’s house at 3 Townsend Street, Newton, New Jersey. (photo taken July 2006)

Farming is a tiring business to be in and Albert decided that a change of profession was in order. In 1948 he bought a house and an additional lot in the town of Newton on 3 Townsend Street. It was a handsome 2-story house with 3 bedrooms, a large porch, full-sized cellar, an attic, and a spacious living room with a large picture window. The additional lot had a 2-car garage with a workshop attached. They took great pride in their house and Etta’s flowerbeds were amazing, overflowing with tulips, pansies, petunias, lilacs, tiger-lilies, and wisteria.

   Returning to his carpentry training, Albert began a woodworking business. He started out doing cabinetry work but eventually branched out into construction of entire houses.  In January of 1957, he bought a number of lots located in Fredon and Andover Township [21] and began building houses from the ground up. Deeds show that between 1963 and 1972, he finished and resold about 25 houses built on the lots purchased in 1957. In 1976, he bought a house at 16 Townsend Street, refurbished it and sold it to his grandson Albert (one of Ewald’s sons) and his wife Kathy.[22]

3townsend in bloom

Etta’s flowerbeds in full bloom

    Albert tried to get his oldest son John involved in the business but they continually butted heads and John decided that joining the Marines was a better career option.[23] His son Ewald did show an interest in the business and, after working with his father for a number of years, branched out on his own specializing in masonry work.  Albert also had a number of hired hands. Among them are Donald Begraft and William Strait. Donald Begraft was the brother to Douglas Begraft who married Albert’s second daughter Lena.   William Strait married Albert’s first daughter Martha on 20 September 1958 in Newton at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church.[24] Additionally, both Donald Begraft and William Strait used the experience gained while working with Albert to start their own construction and cabinetry businesses.

Albert Westra, circa 1963

Albert Westra, circa 1963

In the mid-1970s, Albert decided to slow down and moved into semi-retirement.  He and Etta purchased a mobile home in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area of Florida.  They became snow birds and each year drove to Florida in November and returned to New Jersey in May.  They repeated this drive into the late 1980s when the drive became too tiring for Albert and the stress of planning and packing became too much for Etta.

Etta Westra, circa 1963

Etta Westra, circa 1963

While in New Jersey, Albert concentrated on his fine woodworking skills. In addition to building beautiful grandfather clocks, he began crafting windmills. The windmill plans he ordered from Holland were based on the “grondzeiler” kind found in his hometown of Dronjirp, Holland. His completed windmills start popping up all over Newton and one could even be found in front of the barber shop on Union Place, one of the main thoroughfares in town. He also crafted smaller versions for display inside.

In the early 1990s, Albert was diagnosed with emphysema which was most likely the result of many years of inhaling sawdust without proper safety equipment and smoking.    He spent his final years at 3 Townsend Street and died peacefully at home on 20 March 1995 in Newton.[25] He was buried in picturesque Tranquility Cemetery [26] located on Maple Lane in Tranquility, Sussex County, New Jersey.

Albert Westa, circa 1985, holding one of his tabletop models

Albert Westa, circa 1985, holding one of his tabletop models

Albert Westra admiring his handiwork

Albert Westra admiring his handiwork

Albert Westra's grand-daughter, Jodi Lynn Strait, circa 1973

Albert Westra’s grand-daughter, Jodi Lynn Strait, circa 1973

Albert Westra's daughters, Martha and Lena, circa 1945

Albert Westra’s daughters, Martha and Lena, circa 1945

 


Endnotes:

1. Photo of the Hatsumermolen windmill is a royalty-free photo from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Dronrijp_-_Hatsumermolen_bij_vorst.jpg
2. Netherlands, Kingdom of, Municipality of Menaldumadeel, Extract of the Registrar of Births, birth certificate 36 (1908), Ale Westra. Issued in Menaldum, Netherlands on 17 April 1968, parents are listed as Jan Westra and Magdalena Terpstra.
3. Google Maps, Mercator projection map of Dronjirp, Netherlands, 2013; Scalable size; Cropped from original image; https://maps.google.com/maps?q=Dronrijp,+Friesland,+Netherlands&ie=UTF-8&hq=&hnear=0x47c8e3698d7578b3:0xa22cd01a9de0751b,Dronrijp,+The+Netherlands&gl=us&ei=XVRzUfKPG6GkigKr64H4DQ&ved=0CH4QtgM: Accessed 20 April 2013.
4. http://www.dronrijp.com/salviuskerk.htm
5. Ale Westra, Class of 1922-1925, academic report card; Ambachtsschool, Leeuwarden, Netherlands; privately held by Martha Strait, Lafayette, NJ, 2011.
6. Etta B. Westra (3 Townsend St., Newton, NJ 07860), interview by Jodi Lynn Strait, 21 June 1998; interview held by Strait, Tucson, Arizona, 2011. Etta, the wife of Albert Westra, spoke from personal knowledge and detailed her early adult life.
7. Ale Westra passport issued by Netherlands, 1927; privately held by Jodi Lynn Strait, Tucson, Arizona, 2012.  This is a photocopy of the entire passport.  Original was last with Martha Strait, Lafayette, New Jersey.
8. Albert Westra, visa file no. 476074, 11 February 1927, Immigration Visa Files, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services – Genealogy Program, Washington, D.C.
9. 1930 U. S. census, Passaic County, New Jersey, population schedule, Little Falls, ED 124, page 19A (penned), dwelling 413, family 454, Gus Tolsma; digital image, Ancestry.com (http:www.ancestry.com : accessed 21 April 2013); citing NARA microfilm publicationT626, roll 1376.
10. Newton, New Jersey, Sussex County Clerk’s Office Naturalization Record Book 967-1068:991, Tietje Westra, 21 October 1927, certificate of arrival; Hall of Records, Newton.
11. Newton, New Jersey, Sussex County Clerk’s Office Naturalization Record Book 1205-1234:1217, Etta Westra, 07 September 1940, certificate of arrival; Hall of Records, Newton.
12. New Jersey, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Marriage Certificates, marriage certificate no. 232 [stamped] (1928), Westra-Pauw.
13. Newton, New Jersey, Sussex County Clerk’s Office Naturalization Record Book 1152-1204:1164, Albert Westra, 14 March 1944, petition for naturalization; Hall of Records, Newton.
14. 1930 U. S. census, Passaic County, New Jersey, population schedule, Little Falls, ED 124, page 19B (penned), dwelling 415, family 456, Albert Westra; digital image, Ancestry.com (http:www.ancestry.com : accessed 02 August 2011); citing NARA microfilm publicationT626, roll 1376.
15. Newton, New Jersey, Sussex County Clerk’s Office Naturalization Record Book 1152-1204:1164, Albert Westra, 14 March 1944, petition for naturalization; Hall of Records, Newton.
16. New Jersey, Office of Registrar of Vital Statistics, Birth Registrations, birth certificate (1938), Martha Ethel Westra. Issued in Newton, NJ on 03 May 1938, parents are listed as Albert Westra and Etta Berendine Pauw;
17. Newton, New Jersey, Sussex County Clerk’s Office Naturalization Record Book 1152-1204:1164, Albert Westra, 14 March 1944, petition for naturalization; Hall of Records, Newton.
18. Albert Westra naturalization certificate no. 5464593, 1944; privately held by Jodi Lynn Strait, Tucson, Arizona, 2012.  Copy of certificate.  Original was last with Martha Strait, Lafayette, New Jersey.
19. 1930 U. S. census, Passaic County, New Jersey, population schedule, Little Falls, ED 124, page 19A and 19B (penned), dwellings 413 and 415, families 454 and 456 , Gus Tolsma and Albert Westra; digital image, Ancestry.com (http:www.ancestry.com : accessed 02 August 2011); citing NARA microfilm publicationT626, roll 1376.
20. Martha E. Strait (11 Tess St., Lafayette, NJ 07848), phone interview by Jodi Lynn Strait, 20 April 2013; interview held by Strait, Tucson, Arizona, 2013.  Martha, a daughter of Albert and Etta Westra, spoke from personal knowledge.
21. Sussex County, New Jersey, Land record no.19641026010007680, Albert Westra and Etta B. Westra grantor to Anthony A. Cottone and Virginia Cottone grantee, 26 October1964; digital images, Jeffrey M. Parrott, County Clerk, AiLIS Public Inquiry (http://sussex.landrecordsonline.com : accessed 07 February 2011).
22. Sussex County, New Jersey, Land record no.197610080100100251, Albert Westra and Etta B. Westra grantor to Albert L. Westra and Kathleen V. Westra grantee, 06 October 1976; digital images, Jeffrey M. Parrott, County Clerk, AiLIS Public Inquiry (http://sussex.landrecordsonline.com : accessed 07 February 2011).
23. Martha E. Strait, phone interview, 20 April 2013.
24. New Jersey, Bureau of Vital Statistics, Marriage Applications, marriage application (1958), Strait-Westra
25. Tranquility Cemetery (Maple Lane off Kennedy Road, Tranquility, Sussex County, New Jersey), Albert and Etta B. Westra marker; photo taken by Jodi Lynn Strait, July 2006.
26. Ibid.

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One thought on “Coming to America: When Ale becomes Albert

  1. Hello! Thank you for the great post, I’ve shared it with my family. Gus and Aacke are my great-grandparents, I vividly remember Gus aka Poppy. They had three children: Madeline (Magdalena) Florence and Melvin. Madeline had two children: Eileen and John. I am Eileen’s daughter Allie. Thank you again 🙂

    Like

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