The Washerwoman’s Genes

February 13, 2006

Reading the Reels: Old Dutch Church

Filed under: Washboard — by WWG @ 1:14 pm

The predominant church in the Hudson Valley in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was the Old Dutch Church, and many records have survived. I’ve just spent six weeks plowing through as many rolls of microfilm pertaining to Esopus and Kingston and environs, and I’m not done yet.

On one roll, labeled just “Miscellaneous Records,” the initial pages were in Dutch. The date itself was mysterious: 17 something, two digits that looked like sideways 8s, with the left loop minimal in size. It seemed a fussy way of writing zero; and it seemed somewhat possible that records might be kept in Dutch as late as 1700 (the Dutch lost the colony about 1661). The records were followed, however, with English records from 1811, with many of the same names. Internally, the Dutch portions had other dates, referencing the 1770s through the ’90s. Eventually I could see that the sideways 8s were really 8s, and the records dated from 1788–an amazingly late point for Dutch to be in use.

I still didn’t know what I was looking at. I’ve become quite accustomed to the layout of baptismal records, with their three columns for parents’ names, child’s name and birth or bap’t. date, and sponsors’ names. I’ve read quite a few marriage records, often organized under the presiding minister, with date, person and residence, and residence of the couple. I’ve decoded church membership lists, usually rough and poorly laid out, with dates and notations about “adm. by confession, “by let.,” and “bap’t.” and sometimes with details of death (or not: ”dead” reads the note appended to Zacharias Burger’s 1799 membership listing in the Esopus church) or dismissal: “dis. by let. to M.E. ch,” for example, means a member in good standing was given a letter to that effect so as to change to the Methodist Episcopal church). In one set of records, MGS was added after current members’ names.

But these Dutch lists of ladies’ names, what were they? Names crossed out, named added, “nue.” I thought perhaps there was a club or group requiring dues, and this was the account book. But when the records switched to English I saw they were bench assignments: “Maritje Beever, now Elesabeth Quembe.” Astonishing, but, then, of course, I guess I knew that; somewhere in my history education I learned that church membership required contributions. Did the less financially able stand around in the back? Were they even allowed in? I haven’t found my own ancestors enrolled in the church, except for Zacharias; it’s possible they were members of another denomination: my grandmother, Zach’s great-granddaughter, was a Methodist. But it’s also possible they didn’t spend the money. Zacharias was a farmer; Cornelius a mason. Not poor, but not pillar-of-the-community landowners either.


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