Jan Albert Gemmen

By Patricia, Heather, and Garald L. Gemmen, Sr.

Hand-drawn map of Veldhausen, where Wilhelmina Meyer was born.

A portion of General Major von Le Coq‘s Grafschaft Bentheim map (1805) depicting the city of Veldhausen. Jan Albert Gemmen was born here in in 1856.

Jan Albert Gemmen was born in Veldhausen on September 16, 1856, to Hendrik Gemmen and Engel Ten Brink, where his father Hendrik was a baker. When Jan Albert was almost two years old, he moved with his parents and older brother Jan Hendrik to Adorf.

In Adorf, Hendrik and Engel had two more sons—an unnamed son who died the day of his birth, and Gerhard. After Engel died in 1861, Hendrik re–married to Jenne LaRos,  but he would die less than two years later in 1864. Finally, Jenne LaRos moved to Veldhausen with her step–children six years later.

Jan Albert Gemmen Emigrates to Allendale, Michigan

Jan Albert and his older brother Jan Hendrik left for the United States on March 7, 1885, arriving in New York harbor on March 26. After this, the first mention of a place of residence was provided by a letter he wrote from East Saugatuck, Michigan to Jan Hendrik. In this letter, he states that he would be working for a Mr. Brinkman in Overisel. In 1887, Jan Albert is listed in the “tractement” records of the Christian Reformed Church of Allendale. This church’s records also report his profession of faith in 1889.

Farming in Allendale

Along with his older brother, Jan Albert eventually ran an 80–acre farm in Allendale Township, Michigan. Thirty of these acres were purchased on February 8, 1888 from Julius Otterbein and wife for $1,200. From old atlases, it appears that they purchased the rest of the farm from Albert Dyke.

According to an 1894 Federal agricultural census, Jan Hendrik and Jan Albert Gemmen’s farm had 30 tilled acres, five unimproved acres, and five acres of woodland. They had two horses, four calves, two milch cows, three hogs, and 85 chickens. During the previous year, they sold 370 dozen eggs for a total of $44. Their cows produced 740 gallons of milk, and they made 280 pounds of butter. Jan Hendrik and Jan Albert also mowed twelve tons of hay from ten acres of meadow. The total value of the farm production in 1893 was $238. This included what they sold, consumed themselves, and still had on hand.

Jan Albert Gemmen’s Marriage and Family

Four years after emigrating, Jan Albert Gemmen married Johanna Dyke. He was 33 years old, and she was 17. Johanna was born in the United States, but her parents, Albert Dyke and Berendina Keddeman, were both born in Grafschaft Bentheim. Also, Johanna was a cousin of Jan Hendrik Gemmen’s future wife, Grace Broene: Johanna’s father and Grace’s mother were brother and sister, Albert Dyke and Jennechien Dyke Broene.

Together, Jan Albert and Johanna had ten children:

  1. Berendina (Dena)—born April 6, 1891
  2. Hendrick (Henry)—born July 11, 1893
  3. Engellina (Lena)— born July 6, 1895
  4. Albert—born February 2, 1897
  5. Jan Hendrik (John)—born April 28, 1899
  6. Gerrit—born January 2, 1901
  7. Baby Gemmen—January 11–21, 1903
  8. Gerhard (Jerry)—born February 9, 1904
  9. Susie—born October 1, 1906
  10. Johannes—January 27–February 8, 1908

Their Final Years

Around 1908, after Jan Albert and Johanna had been married 18 years, she developed an abscess on a tooth. Because she was pregnant, the doctor said that he would not pull the tooth or the unborn baby would die. The infection spread. The baby was born and given the name Johannes, but he died about two weeks later. Johanna died 56 days after him.

Johanna’s death at the age of 36 had a devastating effect on Jan Albert, causing him to spend his final years in the Christian Psychopathic Hospital (later known as Pine Rest Christian Hospital). In a small notebook, Jan Albert recorded the Bible verse the minister used at Johanna’s funeral. It was II Corinthians 5:7—“For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

Johanna died on March 23, 1908 and was buried in the Allendale Township Cemetery. Jan Albert Gemmen died on August 30, 1930 and was buried alongside her.

Color painting of the S.S. Schiedam at sea. Jan Albert Gemmen sailed on the Schiedam to New York Harbor in 1885.

The S.S. Schiedam was constructed in 1874 by MacMillan & Son in Dumbarton, Scotland. She had a crew of 65 and could accommodate 50 first–class passengers and 200 third–class passengers.

Black and white portrait photograph of Jan Albert Gemmen.

Jan Albert Gemmen.

Black and white photograph of Jan Albert Gemmen and his family.

Jan Albert and Johanna (Dyke) Gemmen with their eldest children, left to right: Henry, Engellina, Berendena, and Albert.

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