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John H. Somsen Jr.

Somsen world-wide reunion held in Holland

Baldwin Bulletin - ? September 1997


A special service was held at the St. Helenakerk in Aalten on Sunday afternoon. The "Berkseth" girls - Marilyn Olsen-Lear, Ann Kerr and her daughter Shannon and Barb Delander - are sitting in the "Somsen Pew" which was purchased in 1883. It is the third row from the front and the second row of people.
by Don and Irene Somsen

Twenty-nine decendants and spouses of Jan Hendrik Somsen and his wife Johanna attended a world-wide Somsen Family Reunion two weeks ago. The reunion was centered in and around the city of Aalten, Holland, the ancestral home of the Somsen family since the early 1600s. Of the 500 Somsen family reunion participants, 68 were from the United States.

The first notice of an inquiry into finding Somsen relatives in the United States came in April of 1995 when two Somsens in Holland found Somsen names in telephone books. There were only three Somsens who emigrated from the Netherlands. The first was Aaltje Somsen and her husband Dirk Jan Rikkers in 1847. The second was Hendrik Jan Somsen in 1851. In 1881, Jan Hendrik, his wife Johanna and three children, Harmina Hendrika, Bernard Johan and Johanna Berendina arrived and settled on a farm north of Baldwin.

August of 1997 was picked for a Somsen reunion to commemorate the 150 year emigration of Aaltjen.

Among those with Baldwin connections who attended the world-wide Somsen family reunion in Aalten, Holland in early August are the people pictured above. In the front row, from left, are: Kathy Reed, Paula Crist, Mary Gilbert and Don Somsen; in the middle row, from left, are: John Somsen, Janet Somsen, Irene Somsen, Roger and Marilyn Somsen, Cindy Zignego, Sally Berkholder, Shannon Kerr and Jon Somsen; in the back row, from left, are: Ron Zignego, Jon Somsen, Dave Berkholder and Cornelius Somsen.
The two Somsen relatives in the Netherlands continued sending questionaires and requesting information for a family book they were preparing. The idea for this family history took root in 1954, and the finished book was presented at the reunion along with a video which was filmed in both the Netherlands and the United States tracing the emigration of the three Somsens.

The two-day reunion was held on the ninth and tenth of August with entertainment, music, buffet meals and museum tours. Family pictures were on display.

Among the cherished family memorabilia was a baby quilt, hand made and quilted; sent to a cousin's baby exactly 60 years ago that had been made by Dena, Jennie and Ella Somsen of Baldwin. The recipient of the quilt was so happy to meet the relatives from Baldwin and told of how appreciative they were to receive the care packages after World War II from relatives.

Those at the reunion also learned of a memorial stone honoring seven young Dutch resistance fighters executed by the Germans during WWII. Frederick Somsen was one of those executed. These were stories we had not heard before.

A memorial service was held at the family church in Aalten on Sunday, followed by a lime tree planting ceremony in IJzerlo, adjacent to the original family homestead. The tree was in honor of Aaltjen (Rikkers) and Hendrik Jan. A great-grandson of Hendrik Jan from the state of Washington was chosen to help plant the tree.

After a walk across the field, we all gathered at the Somsen homestead where the Baldwin Somsens originated and then went back to the camping area for a cup of coffee and our farewells.

The families all went their separate ways after Sunday night. Some took the tour of Holland that was offered and several extended their stay, going to other countries.

The reunion was so well planned and an interpreter was always there, repeating in English what was said in Dutch. Some new friendships were made and another reunion is already in the planning.

Those who attended from the Harmina Minnie and William Wernlund family were: Marilyn Olsen-Lear, Barbara Delander, Ann Kerr and daughter Shannon; the Bernard Johan Somsen family: Mrs. Janet Somsen, John H. Somsen Jr., Judith and Paul Zavracky and sons Alex and Gregory, Jeanne Kay and Richard Connell and daughters Megan and Kathryn; the William Somsen family: Cindy and Ron Zignego, Paula Crist, Mary Gilbert, Sally and Dave Berkholder; the Albert Somsen family: Don and Irene Somsen and daughter Kathy Reed; the Harry Somsen family: Cornelius Somsen and son Jon; the Henry Somsen family: Roger and Marilyn Somsen, Karen Ryan and Jon Somsen.