Monday, January 5, 2015

Remember Me

by Jay Kruizenga

The sorrow felt by those you knew,
A grave oft' visited  worn and new,
Flowers planted watered by tears,
Seasons passed o'er several years.

Leaves now cover the fallen sod,
Squirrels scurry where no man trods,
The stone memorial no longer seen,
Covered beneath a grave of green.

Who now looks for your silent grave?
No stone to remember or so they rave,
Near graves whisper this is the place,
Your loved ones here but in disgrace.

Remember me for I am here,
Raise my stone, and memory revere,
I lived, I breathed, and then I died,
I want to speak with ancestral pride.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Dowsing for Graves...

A couple years ago I decided to learn how to dowse.  Dowsing is an ancient practice that is stereotypically categorized as a pseudo-science much like astrology or casting lots. 

The dictionary definition for dowsing doesn't fare much better:

Dowsing is a type of divination employed in attempts to locate ground water, buried metals or ores, gemstones, oil, gravesites, and many other objects and materials without the use of scientific apparatus.

First, I would like to rebut the accusation that Dowsing is a "type of divination".  According to the definition, dowsing is a "type of divination" employed in "an attempt" to find a large assortment of things.

I may have a Master's Degree but I don't pretend to know how any of this works.  All I know is... it does.  And it works very well.

There is no divination involved.  I am not invoking spirits or practicing magic when I dowse for hidden gravestones... but I do find headstones and lost graves through this practice.

I merely hold the specially-designed rods in my hands and walk over a grave.  The rods pass over one another when I am atop a body and they spread apart when I pass from the body.  I am even able to determine whether the person buried is an adult, a child, or an infant based on the length of my walk while the rods remain crossed.

A stranger thing still is how I am able to tell whether the person is a male or female.  Holding a single rod and standing about midway over the body, the rod will turn and point to the head if it is a male, and at the feet if female.

How does this work?  I don't even pretend to know.  There are scientific theories on how the rods react to magnetic fields and/or lay lines.  I don't know.  I just know that they work for me... and that I've been able to locate the whereabouts of hidden headstones using this method. 

No more useless prodding along the ground in hopes of striking a headstone.  The rods tell me where graves lie and thus the location of the headstone based on this information. 

I have located over 25 headstones in a huge field using this method.  Does it work?  I've proven it to myself that it does. 

I am writing a short book on the topic which I'll publish to Kindle and as a downloadable PDF guide complete with pictures and tutorials. 

I'll explain where to purchase the best rods I've found... without breaking the bank.

And I'll detail the exact methods I've personally used to find graves in a huge unplotted burial field. 

For more information please visit my website at...

Thursday, July 10, 2014 - 23 and Counting

23 reclaimed headstones and counting...

On Memorial Day 2014, after stumbling upon several empty grave sites, I came across a t-bar tool that someone had misplaced.  Not a believer in coincidence but rather serendipitous moments such as these, I took it upon myself to appease my curious nature by plunging the half-inch tube into the empty ground where a headstone should be.  I think I surprised myself when I hit something hard less than an inch below the heavy sod.

I came back the next day armed with tools of the trade: a trowel, a bucket, gardening gloves, and a couple bottles of water.  I then proceeded to reclaim the lost grave.

I've since recovered 23 headstones - all in the Grand Rapids area.  Each has been properly identified and photographed with photos added to the popular recent acquisition,, in addition to my own website at...

I am amazed at how many headstones are lost and buried due to the passing of time.  Prior to the early 1900s most burials were not of the modern vault-style.  Today, caskets are placed inside a concrete vault to protect both the ground above as well as the casket itself.  Prior to our modern era caskets would be placed into the ground where the heavy weight of the soil added with retained water would crush the casket resulting in a recessed ground at the surface.

Headstones fell and sunk into the ground and years of sod, soil, and debris buried them completely.

My purpose at is to reclaim these headstones from the earth.  I've found some that were buried as deep as 4 inches below the surface.  Each is fully documented with photos on my website.

On now to the cemetery for some further digging...

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Remembering Forgotten Souls through the GRAncestors Reclamation Project

Back before the use of modern element-proof headstones the common stones were not built to last.  Constructed from a soft porous material like limestone, the stones, exposed to the harsh elements, either toppled to the ground, became illegible or both.

These old stones are magnificent and beautiful.  Monuments of remembrance, it is sad how time forgets the sleeping soul.  Those who remembered the loved one's existence too have passed.  There are none left to care for the grave.  The memory of the life once lived is no more.  Such is the sting of time.

I love reading old inscriptions: the mourning loved ones poured forth their souls through verse, scripture, and poetic readings.  Very touching to read.

This Memorial Day as I was walking through the Oakhill Cemetery in Grand Rapids searching for a requested grave photo as a Find-a-Grave volunteer, I stumbled upon a small bit of stone peeking through the grass.  Not very large, less than a foot in diameter.

I knelt beside the hidden grave removing a few large clumps of sod.  When a bit more stone was cleared I could see that the grave was quite large, an old inch-thick limestone monument toppled to the ground many years ago.

I ran back to my car and grabbed my toolbox consisting of: soft-bristle brush for removing debris, a gallon jug of water to clean the grave, camera, pen and paper for recording the inscription, and a gardening trowel to remove the soil from around the headstone's perimeter.

Here is how the stone appeared before cleaning.

I worked on the stone for less than an hour removing large clumps of sod and brushing away heavy amounts of soil.  Finally I was able to see what had not been visible for many decades: the ornate headstone of William T. Per Lee, Esq.  

Because so many headstones are falling into states of disrepair I started the Reclamation Project in hopes of preserving and viewing these hidden or illegible stones, recording the information found, and uploading to both and giving the forgotten soul an eternal memorial. 

Here is the finished product.

The inscription reads:

Aug. 8, 1878
Aged 64 Yrs, 7 Ms, 8 Ds.
(Calculated Birth Date = 31 December 1813)
After life's fitful fever, he sleeps well

To learn more about the Reclamation Project, please visit our website at:

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Resurrection of the Ottawa Poor Farm

Eldon Kramer was a man with a mission.  He was bound and determined to find the resting place of his ancestor, Isaac Kramer.  Isaac came to America in 1845, established himself in the city of Holland in 1849, married in 1855, had seven children, and then tragedy struck.

Isaac's house was leveled in the Great Holland Fire of 1871.  The family became homeless along with 200 other families.  Isaac struggled to reclaim what was lost.  His wife died in 1895 and Isaac sunk into deep depression.  He would neither eat nor leave his home.  Unable to care for himself, his daughter petitioned the Probate Court to declare Isaac "mentally incompetent".

Everything Isaac owned was sold at public auction in order to satisfy debts owed and to pay other expenses.  Isaac, destitute and alone, was committed to the Ottawa County Poor Farm where he remained an "inmate" for three and a half years.

Isaac died in 1899.  He was 74.  Family members attended his funeral but not one of them claimed his remains.  As such, Isaac was buried in an unmarked grave on the Poor Farm property.

The Ottawa County Poor Farm sits on a 229-acre rolling property on the north side of Leonard, west of 68th, in the city of Eastmanville.  This was in a pre-welfare era when the old, the sick, the mentally disabled, and the destitute poor unable to care for themselves, had nowhere to go.  Called "inmates" this was really a generic term meaning "resident".

This was a working farm.  Those who were able were put to work in order to earn their keep. 

Inmates who died at the farm were buried in unmarked graves deep in the property.  They did not want to be buried there.  They did not choose this upon themselves.  They had no choice.

Inmates were no longer buried at the Poor Farm after 1931.  It was then that Louis Peck, the Poor Farm keeper, purchased a lot of 100 graves in the potter's field at Maplewood Cemetery in Lamont at the cost of $1 per grave.

After 1931 the cemetery was abandoned and became overgrown.  Until Eldon Kramer.

He not only discovered the resting place of his ancestor but he set to work to resurrect the Poor Farm cemetery.  Here is how he did this.

This weekend I visited the Ottawa County Poor Farm - now an Ottawa County Park.  While the old housing structures have been razed, the barn still exists.  The County has transformed the property into many walking and horse trails. 

I parked my car, grabbed my gear, and commenced my walk into the field behind the farm.  The cemetery sits about a quarter of a mile behind the farm upon a grassy knoll.

I wasn't certain what to expect as I ascended the path leading up to the cemetery.  I wasn't at all expecting what I discovered.  The cemetery has been landscaped complete with fencing, reflection benches, trees, and gravestones adorning the manicured graves.  Absolutely beautiful invoking feelings of peace.

The graves were discovered using ground-penetrating radar waves and using Eastmanville burial records it was determined who was buried here.  There may be others.  A stone plaque serves to memorialize these forgotten souls.

What a beautiful experience this was.  All of this because of the determination of one man... Mr. Eldon Kramer, who sought after his emigrating ancestor.  Though he does not know which grave is his ancestor Isaac's, in an unselfish manner he brought the resurrection of this humble little cemetery into existence that all may enjoy it.  This is true honor.

Thank you Mr. Eldon Kramer.

Proper Techniques in Cleaning Gravestones

I find myself in a cemetery or two nearly every week during the Spring/Summer/Fall season.  Many old stones are difficult to read as the inscriptions have worn thin due to wind and rain erosion. 

I am appalled to find gravestones covered with chalk dust: a mistake that injures soft porous stones.  Please do not ever use chalk to scribble over an inscription.  Yes, this technique will work as the chalk fills in the areas surrounding the thin outlines of letters making these easy to read.  However, the chalk will soak in to the stone causing a discoloration. 

Here is one method that I personally use.  All that you need is:

1) a soft-bristle brush (no wires or other hard materials)
2) a jug of water (or several if no water supply in cemetery)
3) a bottle of Palmolive Oxy dish soap

You may have seen this Oxy degreaser advertised on TV as a laundry detergent.  It works great.  It suds easily and removes much dirt and debris.

The first thing I do is wet the inscription by leaning a gallon of water against the top of the stone and allowing the water to pour down the surface.

Once thoroughly wettened I then add a few drops of Palmolive Oxy to my soft bristle brush and proceed to lightly scrub the stone to loosen dirt and debris. 

I will again add water to remove the dirt I have loosened.  This sometimes will take several scrubbings to remove all the dirt to the point that the inscription becomes legible.  That is why you will need access to plenty of water. 

The OXY soap will create a lather.  I find that sometimes the inscription becomes legible with the lather left in place.  In the picture below I have completed scrubbing a small section of a hard-to-read inscription.  You can see how easy it has become to read it.  

After I removed the dirt with water the inscription was still easy to see but it was not as legible.

Another trick I will use with light inscriptions is the flashlight technique.  Hold a powerful flashlight at a slight angle against the stone in close proximity to the inscription.  You will find that the light casts shadows within the faintest of outlines making the inscriptions "pop out" even without cleaning.

I will often use a combination of these two techniques when photographing hard-to-read inscriptions.  And I can feel relieved that I have done nothing to harm the grave for future generations.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Finding Jessie... a Case Study in Locating Female Ancestors

One of my recent clients hired me to solve a missing person case. In her recent travels to Friesland she visited with family who told her of a sister to her grandfather who allegedly traveled to Grand Rapids, Michigan. But they knew nothing further. What had happened to her? Did she make it to Grand Rapids or did she decide against it? Did she marry? Die young? Bear children?

My job was to find her and to determine what became of her.

Female relatives can be quite the daunting task to decipher: they marry and change their names. And if you don’t know where to look, or who they married, it is easy to lose track of them. For instance, in order to follow any sort of paper trail on a female relative it is pertinent to know: 1) whom they married so as to continue the trace and 2) where they married in order to locate the marriage document. Without any of this information it is a total crapshoot. You would have better luck in Vegas.

I took the case not expecting to find her. I really had some serious doubts because I had nothing to go on. I had no proof that she ever stepped foot in Grand Rapids and a preliminary check in immigration databases drew a blank.

So what to do?

Her name was Tjitske POSTMA. Tjitske POSTMA was born 8 May 1887 in Wymbritseradeel, Friesland. Her father was Hendrik Pieter POSTMA (1841-1921) and her mother was Petronella GROENHOF (1850-1919). This was the information I was armed with.

I knew I had to first place Tjitske in Grand Rapids. That would be my first step. is placing many city directories online: Grand Rapids, Michigan is included. My client’s grandfather arrived in New York City in 1906. Tjitske would have been 17. The earliest that I would think Tjitske might come to America would be 1907 when she was 18. But why?

What would be the reason for her coming to America? It makes sense that she would go where she had relation, and in this case that would be to South Dakota where her brother, Douwe, resided. But she didn’t. Family legend claims she went to Grand Rapids.

I could think of two reasons why Tjitske might have chosen Grand Rapids as a destination. First, she may have married OR planned to marry. Perhaps her husband (or fiancé) had family in Grand Rapids.

I searched the marriage records for the Friesland Province within the Netherlands but came up blank. Tjitske did not marry there or anywhere else within the Netherlands. So she did not marry and then decide to come to Grand Rapids as a new couple to make a better life for themselves.

And the fact that I could find no immigration record for Tjitske was elusive.

I poured through the city directories for Grand Rapids. Voila… there was a Tjitske Postma listed in the 1910 directory, page 884, as a maid living at 618 Wealthy Avenue. Could this be her? Did she come to Grand Rapids because of the promise of work?

The next logical step was to determine who she was working for to see if there was some possible connection. I cross-referenced the address of 618 Wealthy Avenue within the street listing of the same directory, page 1471, and determined that the home was owned by a Mr. Harm Hamstra. Now who was he?

Come to discover that Harm Hamstra owned a huge Dutch import business based out of Grand Rapids. He was the one to go to for anything “Dutch”: wooden shoes, food products, decorations, etc. His booming business venture had him traveling to and from the Netherlands to trade for goods – and this meant returning to his homeland… in Friesland.

It is possible, though not proven, that Harm Hamstra during one of his visits was in search of a maid. And perhaps his family knew the Postma family and he was aware of Tjitske.

Looking back at the 1910 Federal Census I was able to find the Hamstra family listed but not with Tjitske. They had another servant girl listed by the name of Cora Monsma. Cora left the family to pursue a teaching position in Muskegon, Michigan, so there was a vacancy.

There was no evidence that Tjitske came to America to work for the Hamstra family, that is only theory. She could very well have come to America and learned of the maid position through her church.

In any regards Tjitske curiously disappears from Grand Rapids after 1910. I searched the City Directories post-1910 and could not find her.

This could mean that she married and changed her name or… worse case scenario, she had died.

I had discovered that the Hamstra family attended the Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids. There was at that time three main Reformed bodies: the Reformed Churches of America, the Christian Reformed Church, and the Heritage Reformed Church (or True Dutch). That the Hamstra family attended the Christian Reformed Church made the church archives of this body the logical place to search for marriage records.

Again I came up blank. No banner ads (marriage announcements) had been published.

I then decided to search whether Tjitske had died.

Using I searched for “Tjitske Postma”. There were 1155 results. I refined this by adding the surnames of both father and mother: still way too many results and nothing relevant. Thinking that if Tjitske had been married and died young OR if her name had been Anglicized as so many Dutch names were, perhaps a better search might be for her parents.

I did another search for “Postma” adding a spouse surname of “Groenhof”. The first result on the list looked very promising. Found in the Michigan, Death Certificates database, 1921-1952, was a Jessie Veltman with parents, Heindrich Postma and Petermella Groenhof.

I clicked the link to discover that this Jessie Veltman died on 16 February 1929 at the age of 41. She was born on 8 May 1887. There she was!

Tjitske’s name had been Anglicized to “Jessie”. And apparently she had married into the Veltman family.

I then turned to where the State Archives have digitized many death certificates from the years 1897-1920. Jessie’s death didn’t occur until 1929; however, I have found numerous post-1920 death certificates that have been scanned.

I was in luck. Jessie’s death certificate was on file and it proved, without any doubt, that this was my client’s Great Aunt. From the certificate the following information can be gleaned:

1) that Jessie Veltman’s name was “Tjitske”.
2) that Jessie died from “cancer of the stomach”.
3) that Jessie was married to a Sijske Veltman.
4) that Jessie was born May 8, 1887 in the Netherlands.
5) that Jessie’s father was Hendrich Postma.
6) that Jessie’s mother was Peternella Groenhof.
7) that Jessie’s last residence was at 1200 Hall St. in Grand Rapids.
8) that Jessie died on February 16, 1929.
9) that Jessie was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery on February 19, 1929.

Some very decent information. From that information I was able to trace Jessie back to 1910, discover the man she married, follow them up to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, find the names of their children to include a pair of stillborn twins, follow them back to Grand Rapids, Michigan, and to the place of Jessie’s death.

I was also able to find living family who had an old picture album that once belonged to Jessie. It contained pictures of her family… pictures that the present owner of the album knew nothing about.

So the point of this article is: never, never, never, give up. You never know where you will find an important lead that will snowball into further information. All it takes is one simple document, one tiny piece of information, to unlock the door for you.

I had never expected to find Tjitske Postma. Finding her was a real treat for me… and for my client. And I definitely never expected to find pictures of her and of her family: pictures that may have been lost to all time. In order to break through brick walls in your family tree you need to think differently: look for hidden resources and consider all the possibilities.

And should you ever need a lending hand... my services are available at