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John H. Somsen Jr.

‘I am a salesman’ at the Japikshuis

Over 450 members of the Somsen family together for big reunion in Aalten.

The Gelders Dagblad Tubantia - 11 August 1997



Planting the tree and unveiling a plaquette by Stephen from America were highlights during the two-day Somsen Reunion World Wide.
AALTEN - For Cheryl, from America, the meeting is ‘a pilgrimage as a way of thanking a remarkable family for a great heritage’. Her fellow-countryman Stephen, from the state of Washington, will also remember his visit to Aalten for the rest of his life. It was he who was chosen to plant the ‘Somsen Limetree’ at the Japikshuis in the hamlet of IJzerlo. All this happened at the farm at the Rengelinkweg, from which place his great-great-grandfather Hendrik Jan Somsen left for the United States in 1851.

The planting of the tree and the unveiling of the plaquette were the highlights of the two-day Somsen Reunion - World Wide. From all over the world Somsens had come to Aalten. On Friday more than 100 relatives arrived at Schiphol Airport coming from America, the country to which, one and a half century ago, the first Somsen emigrated: Aaltjen Somsen, sister of Hendrik Jan, who ventured the big crossing to Sheboygan, Wisconsin, in 1847.

On Saturday the first meeting took place at Erve Kots in Lievelde, where Dutchmen mingled with Germans, Canadians, Portuguese, Americans and others, from various other countries, having Somsen-blood running through their veins. Yesterday the ‘official’ part of the commemorative meeting took place. But a day and a half later most Somsens had not met each other yet. ‘I’m a salesman. I sell trucks.’ ‘Oh, so you bring in the money?’, a Somsen from Zierikzee asked, doing his best to speak English.

The meeting at the Japikshuus was preceded by a gathering in the St. Helena Church in Aalten. ‘Could Geert and Mechtelt Somsen from IJzerlo, when they got married in this church in 1689, have ever imagined that, over 300 years later, so many descendants would easily fill their familiar village church? Most likely not’, Theo Somsen of the reunion committee spoke standing on the pulpit.

The preparations for the reunion started in June last year. The committee could gratefully make use of the work of D.J.Somsen from Eibergen and S.Somsen-Overduin from Soest. In 1954 this couple had started sifting out the network of Somsens and mapping it out. Some 35 years later the ‘baton’ was passed on, which eventually resulted in the book ‘Somsen Omnes Generationes’ running up to over 300 pages, and a video production. However, Aaltjen Somsen and her husband Dirk Jan Rikkers have never been found overseas by the genealogists. Considering the date of their departure, 14 August 1847, they might have been killed in the fire on the ship called Phoenix on 20 November of that same year.

Video cameras whirred and cameras clicked on end at the party at the Japikshuis. The present owner of the farm, Johan Veerbeek, was promoted by all the relatives to be keeper of the linden-tree. As a token of gratitude, he was given a bottle of genever. ‘Full-bodied (Du:round) in a square bottle.’ The Somsens from abroad applauded enthusiastically, although they did not quite understand the meaning of this last expression.

And, as things go at reunions, meeting each other involves emotions and tears. There are tears in Stephen Somsen’s eyes when relative Theo explains why he, the American, has been asked to plant the tree. His great-great-grandfather left from here to America. In 1923 his grandfather stood on the very same spot and in 1962 his own father. Stephen was also there at the time, as a young chap of 12. ‘But whether this tradition will be continued I do not know, for Stephen’s son has gone for a swim today’, laughs the organizer, who can well understand this in view of the weather.