Familie Schoonveld

The Life of Hendrik Schoonveld

by Alex Berry

Hendrik Schoonveld, my great grandfather on my mother’s, mother’s side, was born February 1st, 1894, in ’t Zandt, the  Netherlands to a family with thirteen brothers and sisters. He lived with his father, Aldert (Abel) Schoonveld, and his mother, Harmke Van Dam on a small farm owned by a farmer from ’t Zandt until they left for America in 1905. Hendrik went to America with his parents, leaving from the port of Rotterdam on April 26th, 1905, and arriving in America May 14th, 1905.

When he arrived in America, he lived in a small town on the outskirts of Chicago called Summit, where he also attended the local school. Hendrik only received a fifth grade level education before he left school to find work. He enlisted in the army September 22, 1917. Hendrik fought in St. Miluil from Sept. 12 to Oct. 7th, 1918. He also fought on the Verdun Front from Oct. 17th to Nov. 11th, 1918.According to his army

After his discharge from the army, he married Florence Brower on June 11, 1919. He and Florence had 3 children, my grandmother, Bernice Schoonveld, and two other sons. Hendrik died on March 27, 1991 in Rest Haven Central, Palos Heights, Illinois.  

Art and Culture

The Netherlands has a great history, and many famous artists and painters can trace their roots or originated from Holland, including Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin.

The Netherlands also have many of the holidays that America considers traditional. Santa is known as Sint Nikolaas or Sinterklaas in Holland, where they celebrate Sinterklaasavond (Saint Nicholas Eve) on December 5th every year. Later on, they have two Christmas days, First Christmas Day (Dec. 25), and Second Christmas Day (Dec. 26). The first Christmas day is much like ours, but the second Christmas day is reserved for singing, dancing, merrymaking, and caroling around a communal Christmas tree. Their New Years Eve, Zalig Uiteinded (blessed end), is celebrated the same as ours.

There is one family event observed all over the Netherlands, the birthday. The main attraction is the birthday person (jarige) and his parents and children. Their prime national holiday is Queen’s day (Koninginnedag), which is similar to our Fourth of July, and is a day set aside to honor the queen. Towns host parades, people party, and orange banners hang from government buildings, representing the House of Orange, the queen’s royal house. There are carnivals and many fireworks, and the queen visits two towns each Queen’s Day. This holiday is held April 30th of every year.

The Dutch also enjoy soccer, tennis, and skating. Nearly one million people are members of the Royal Netherlands Football (soccer) Association, and over 500,000 people play tennis. The Dutch people specialize in making cheese, dairy products, and they have very culturally diverse restaurants, borrowing foods from Indonesia and France.

1900’s America

In the late 1890’s, right around the time Hendrik Schoonveld was born, America was fighting Spain in a battle over Cuban independence. The war ended in 1898, with a Cuban-American victory. The Americans then also had control of the Philippines. The Filipinos resented American rule, and revolted, killing over 4000 Americans, and tens of thousands of Filipinos. At about the time Hendrik came to the Americas, Panama was being officially recognized as an independent country, and the Panama Canal was being built, financed by America. When Henry arrived, America was in a Progressive movement, with progressives trying to make the U.S. more democratic and trying to reform the government. President McKinley was reelected as President in 1900, however, anarchist Leon Czolgosz assassinated him the next year. Hendrik came to America right after a wave of immigrants came pouring into the United States in 1900. By the time he arrived, more than 87 percent of the people living in Chicago were immigrants or the children of immigrants, and the population of Chicago had risen from 109,300 to 1,698,000 people. When Hendrik came, it was very crowded, and he had to be helped by a friend to find a house.

The Netherlands circa 1900

The Netherlands was and still is under a sort of Parliamentary system of government, with a Monarch, a Parliament, and a constitution that was established in 1814. The queen that ruled around the time Hendrik left for America was Queen Wilhelmina. Around 1900, the Dutch government was disputing whether public or nonpublic schools should receive government funding. It was finally resolved in 1917, when an amendment was added to their constitution saying that both public and private church related schools were to receive funding. One of the reasons Hendrik left the Netherlands was because his church, the Reformed church, was being persecuted by the ruling family of the Netherlands. The area of ’t Zandt where Hendrik lived was divided into two large classes, the day laborers, and the rich farmers. Hendrik’s family was part of the laborer class, and they worked for one of the rich families in ’t Zandt. Hendrik also had 6 brothers, and his father had a hard time trying to find work for them. Times were not all that good in the Netherlands, which opened up the possibility of wanting to come to America for the Schoonvelds.

Reasons For Immigration

Hendrik’s family was being persecuted by the ruling family of ‘t Zandt because of their religion, and jobs weren’t exactly available for Hendrik’s five older brothers either. It was about this time that a day laborer named Abel Schoonveld, Hendrik’s father, decided it was time for a move. Hendrik Schoonveld came to America when he was only 11. He traveled in a boat called the Rotterdam, sailing from the Dutch port of Rotterdam. His family traveled in the hold of the ship, or the steerage, and they may have even had to provide their own food for the voyage! During the long ocean trip, which took about 18 days, Hendrik’s mother was pregnant, and must have been very uncomfortable. After they arrived in New York, going through Ellis Island, they took a train to Chicago to meet Jacobus Smit, the husband of Harmke’s sister, who was their sponsor and their gateway into America. They had come to America a few years earlier, but are not part of my direct family tree. The Schoonvelds then went directly to their new home on Archer Avenue in Cook County, Chicago, Illinois. Hendrik was likely to speak Dutch, but most likely could not read or write Dutch because of his young age. It is also unlikely that he knew how to read, write, or speak English. He was taunted in the Summit school he attended for about two years, made fun of, and he had his name Americanized by the teachers there, who called him Henry instead of Hendrik. It was a hard first few years for the Schoonvelds, but they gradually adjusted, and got jobs selling produce at a market and working in various stores along an area of Cook County called Brighton Park.

See also Emigration from Groningen by Robert P. Swierenga

One Lonely Boy

It was cold in Chicago, about 40 degrees. Still, It would get warmer later in the day said Jacobus, Hendrik’s uncle. It was late April, and all nine of the Schoonvelds were on their way to start a new life. They left their small hometown of ‘t Zandt in Holland after the rich farmers had lowered the wages of poor Reformed Church laborers like Abel, Hendrik’s father. The wealthy farmers took advantage of Abel simply because they were associated with the Reformed Church, when the majority of Dutch citizens were Calvinist.

Now, they were in a rented wagon, heading for their new home in a town called Summit on the borderline of Chicago. As they passed the tall maple trees lining the streets of Brighton Park, Hendrik looked around at the children gathered at street corners and following them on the sidewalks. They were pointing and laughing at the poor family, huddled in a rickety wooden cart. Hendrik couldn’t understand what the children were yelling, because he did not speak English. He was then told that the children were making fun of his clothes, his wooden shoes, and the way he looked. He looked up at his father, who patted him on the head and said “Don’t worry Hendrik, you should be proud of who you are.”

After the family had moved into the small, one story house, the children were sent off to different schools to learn English.

Hendrik was sitting in his chair, about a week after they had come to Chicago. He was dreaming about his life back in Holland, the family they had left behind, the friends he had left behind. A sharp voice woke Hendrik from his reverie. “HENRY! Pay attention!” Shouted the furious schoolteacher, coming down the aisle. Hendrik sighed, and focused his gaze on the English book. He hated this school and what it had done to him. The teachers, frustrated with his distinctly Dutch name, had changed it to Henry Schoonvelt, a name he would just have to get used to.  He was consistently taunted by children every day, constantly separated from his siblings, and was growing tired of his life of study. One day a few years later, fed up with his teacher, his snickering classmates, and his English lessons, Hendrik left the school through a window, and never came back.

Henry got a job in downtown Chicago, on Market Street for a while sorting fruits and vegetables for $26.00 per week and free food. This was a considerable amount for a poor laborer like Henry, and it helped support the family, so his father had no quarrel with him when Henry left school. He also held jobs in various food stores, and was soon able to move into his own home on Archer Avenue, where he tended his own vegetable garden in his back yard, and had parties in his side yard after church each Sunday.

The Netherlands

The Netherlands are aptly named because they are the lowest lands in the world. The highest point in the Netherlands is about 300 feet above sea level. In fact, much of the Netherlands is kept dry only by an intricate system of dikes, canals, and water pumps. The population of the Netherlands is approximately 15.3 million. The official languages of the Netherlands are Dutch and Frisian, and many Dutch people are descended from Frisians, Saxons, and Franks. School for Dutch children begins at the age of 5 and officially ends at 12, where students may then choose to enter a 6-year pre- university secondary school, and later continue on to one of the Netherlands’ many universities. They also have the option of going to a 4-year general school after primary school and then enter work. As many as 85 percent of all Dutch live in cities or towns, with one third of the population living in the Ranstad area, which is made up of the large cities, including Amsterdam, The Hague, Utrecht, Haarlem, Leiden, and Rotterdam.

My Imaginary Life in Holland

If I still lived in Holland, my life would be much the same as it is now in America. I would still have rights, still have many of the same holidays I do here, and a few more as well! I would probably live in a fairly small cottage in the Dutch countryside, or perhaps an apartment in a big city, go to a different school with a different method of teaching, and I would have different customs and traditions, but it would still be the same in many ways.

If I lived in Holland I would still live in a free country with many of the same rights we have in America, and in fact, I may have even more! The Dutch have a constitution, just like America, and they have a parliament, which gives a sort of proportional representation to the citizens of the Netherlands. In addition to their government, they don’t have as many laws concerning drugs, and they allow euthanasia. I would also have many of the same holidays in Holland. They have Christmas, Easter, New Years, and birthdays. And, instead of Independence Day or Fourth of July, they have Queen’s Day. Many of these holidays are chances to get together with family and have reunions, much like we do here in America.

My education might be slightly different from the education I currently have here in America. It would be different because I would already have completed the primary school, and I would have moved on to the four-year secondary school or the six-year pre-university school, so I could go on to one of Holland’s universities after I graduate from the pre-university. I would have received a great education, one that is just as good as any education that I would receive here

I would probably have an idea for a different profession if I lived in Holland. I might want to be a fisherman or an industry worker instead of a computer design engineer or a technician. I might decide to be a dairy farmer or an architect instead of an engineer or an astronaut. Holland is more geared towards natural or less technologically advanced jobs and businesses, but at the same time they are very hi-tech. If I went to school in Holland, I would already have a profession in mind, and be working toward my goal of getting the prerequisites for the degree I want. In America I will put this off until the last years of high school and college.

The house I would live in Holland would either be a fairly small one or two story country home, or an apartment in one of  Netherlands’ big cities like Amsterdam. The houses in Holland are painted bright colors like yellow, and orange, but blue also seems to be a favorite color among the Dutch. The inside of the house is usually bright as well, with lots of ornamental decoration, much the same as some houses in the United States.

The Netherlands have a unique way of thinking, but at the same time, they adapt to society and are open for ideas that may be introduced into their culture. I would be a different person in Holland, but I would be living almost the same life, and I don’t think that the changes would be all that bad. Now that I think about it, Holland would be a great place to live, but I’m still glad my ancestor came to America.


  • Bernice Knol. Personal Interview. December 12, 24, 26, 2001.
  • Helen Colijn. Of Dutch Ways. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Dillon Press Incorporated, 1980.
  • John Garraty. American History. United States; Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 1982-86
  • June Noorlag. Interview by Mail. Jan. 14, 2002.
  • “Netherlands.” Encarta Encyclopedia Deluxe 2000. Microsoft Corporation, 1993-99
  • Netherlands Board of Tourism. Holland. http://www2.holland.com/uk/, Jan 22, 2002.
  • Pat Seward. Cultures of the World, Netherlands. New York: Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 1996.
  • Rudy Schoonveld. Interview E-Mail. January 23-February 12, 2002.

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