Little Bits of Background


The gifts at those baptizing, marriage and funeral days were recieved by the church-warden (in a so called gift-box in the church) like Jelle Jans was for 5 years, and registered as income in the church cashbook and donated to the poorest church-people in the Armenhuis, the House of the Poor, owned by the church, like the old cashbooks of the church showed me. The church-warden bought extra peat, clothes, food and more for those people of the Armenhuis. Without any social security aid in those days by the government, the church cared for the poor and eldest people, who received financial help, a room and more from the church, to which they belonged. This was one of the main jobs of the church-warden, besides registrations of the church money that came in and went out, to estimate church gifts to the poorest church-members.


Jelle's prospects in the small village Bornwird where rather bad, even as a teacher with a growing family, just like a lot of other farmservants and day-laborers and even some farmers there. Don't forget that between 1845 and 1855 the economic prospects of the farmers were also bad, by the destructive potato and cow deseases (the famine in Ireland, by which almost half of the Irish population emigrated to the USA). His friend in Bornwird Sjoerd Aukes Sipma (and other habitants of Bornwird?) proceeded him already in 1847 to Pella; Sjoerd's brother and Jelles other friend Ritskes Aukes Sipma followed the Pelmulder family later to Iowa too. Jelle's letters between 1855 and 1857 make it clear that he tried to persuade other (poor?) Frisians and inhabitants of Bornwird to come also over to the USA. That's, I guess, the reason that the recent Bornwird is so small! A main part of the inhabitants left this village. (Also to the big cities in Holland). But the first settlers in Pella, like the Thomassen family and Sjoerd Aukes Sipma came in 1847 in company of Rev. Scholte under more religious reasons, I read. But this group of Dutch settlers in Pella were more well-to-do than the Dutch Rev. Van Raalte settlers in Holland and Friesland, Michigan, I learned from the history books.


Jelle's birthtown Opwierda was quiet far from Bornwird, in those days, without railways and good roads. In a straight line on the map about 40-50 miles, but that straight line wasn't there, in that century. (See Jelle's letter in 1855 about his long travel to Amsterdam and Rotterdam, all by tow- and steamships!!). You had to travel by boat or mail coach to the city Groningen (about 25 miles), then by the road Groningen-Leeuwarden (50-60 miles), then the tow-boat to Dokkum (15-20 miles), and at the end a walk(?) to Bornwird from Dokkum, about 5 miles. That wasn't to fit in one day, I guess! Don't forget that there was an inland sea between the provinces Groningen and Friesland, the "Lauwerszee" (literally the "Lauwers Sea") which was dyked at last in 1967, 37 years ago! Since then we can drive stright through this indyked polder over the new seadyke straight to Friesland! Before that all the travellers had to make a twice as long round-about way underneath that inland sea Lauwerszee, to arrive in the next province Friesland.

Choosing Surnames

Now it's clear why father Jelle Jans was called Mulder because he was already dead when the French occupier, Napoleon, by (French) Law of 18th August 1811: he was already deceased at that time! Therefore Jan Jelles - as newest Head of the Family - had to choose a surname, like Pieter Roelfs had to do. Why not the same one? Probably because Pieter Roelfs was in January 1812 almost 30 years old and for all that time well known by his stepfather's surname (and profession) Mulder (=Miller). Pieter chose for Mulder, Jan Jelles for Pelmulder, maybe also by his specific profession of groats peeling miller. And Jan Jelles' brother Kornelis Jelles Pelmulder, then about 13 years old, living also just near the windmill, had to follow his elder brother Jan Jelles of almost 19 years old. Alone Jan Jelles made a surname certificate: not his brother Kornelis Jelles, sister Jantje Jelles or his mother Anje Pieters signed such a certificate. Maybe because it was a man's job?


I read somewhere in an Appingedam history book that properties above the 500 guilders must be registered for the obligatory Napoleontic land taxes; in the 3 last occupation years he even obligated the rich people to pay a "50 penning" tax, that was 2% of your property (to pay his expensive wars, I think). Maybe the marriage contracts were also obligated with a property above 500 guilders? But, like the Dutchmen often were, it can also be that the richest family part of a married couple insisted on a contract to avoid the loss of their part in the later inheritance when their representive partner would die too soon! Looking at the oldest big Groningen farms here, you can often see who brought the richest part in the farm: when it was the bride, than they/she built often a "castle of a front house", but if it was the bridegroom "his barns" were often the biggest.

Teacher's Report 1820

Summarized and translated reports of the schoolteachers of Opwierde and Tjamsweer, about 1820.

What’s the name of your town and what are the villages belonging to it?

Opwierde, the place of our house, is called to the hill which raises about 1½ meters above the surrounding fields and contains totally about 12 hectares. [*about 35 acres]. Opwierde includes also a small village Eelwert, about a quarter of an hour [*walking] East of the church.

Tjamsweer, includes the "church-villages" Bolwerd, a quarter of an hour [*walking in the East, Oling 10 minutes in the South and Garreweer [*note A.G.: now called Garrelsweer], 10 minutes in the South-West of the [*Tjamsweer] church. Talking about the history of Tjamsweer: you can find a grave-stone at the South-West side of the church with the Latin inscription: "Ao [*Anno] 1138 Tempore Vitae Uniconis Ripperdae". There is told that the name ""Tjamsweer" is coming from an former name for the cemetery "Tjammerswerf" or "Tjamswerf" or earlier "Tjammerswerve" [* Note A.G.: the Dutch word "jam-meren" means "lamenting"].

Which kind of animals and plants are there?

In Opwierde: horses, cows, sheep, pigs, ducks and chickens. Plants: rapeseeds, wheat, rye, barley [*Note A.G.: Therefore the Pelmulder peeling mill!], oats, beans, peas, potatoes and carrots, including some yard- and garden fruits.

In Tjamsweer: cows, horses, sheep, pigs, hares, partridges and fishes. Plants: rye, barley, oats, wheat, beans, peas, rapeseeds, potatoes, carrots, cabbages, "knollen" [*turnips?] and legunious plants. Minerals: clay, to bake bricks and tiles of it.

Which factories are there?

Opwierde: Two: a sawing and a peeling mill [*Note A.G.: the last one probably belongs before to the Pelmulder family!].

Tjamsweer: here are two oil [*making]-mills [*Note A.G.: probably made of rapeseeds, like it was done again in the WW II, by lack of butter or baking oil, like an old man told me once !!], a wood sawing mill, a rye-mill, 1 brick- and tilesbakery, a [*bread?] bakery, a "stelmakerij" [*= a buggy factory?], 2 black smiths, a weaving-mill, 2 tailors and 1 carpenter.

What kind of local particulaties are there? {L.W.:the only explanation I can come up with for this word, "particulaties", is a particular place to stay or visit}

Opwierde: [*not reported].

Tjamsweer: about 15 minutes [*walking] from here, West of the church, at the North of the [*River] "Damsterdiep" there is a fine country house, called Ekenstein [*Note A.G.: It’s still there, restored and now used as a hotel!], belonging to Mr. Alberda.

What is their main character and the way of living of the inhabitants?

Opwierde: their character is sincere and the way of living very simple, without pomp and splendour. Their morals clean and pure, on the contrary of licentious. Habitats: similar to other places. Weddings and funerals are done on a less expensive way by festivity and mourning dinners. Other habitats: they wake up at 5 o’clock in the winter and 4 o’clock in the summer – dinnertime is at 8 o’clock, in the afternoon at 12 and in the eve at 6 o’clock – at 8 o’clock in the eve people go to bed. Other marks: diligent.

Tjamsweer: The inhabitants of this village are dilligent, communitative, gentle, humble and very cooperative. Fickleness or licentiousness, etc. never heard or seen here. Other habitats: they wake up between 4 and 5 hours and go to bed at 8 or 9 o’clock. Breakfast at 8 o’cock in the morning, dinner in the afternoon at 12 and in the eve at 6 o’clock. Their activities outside are visiting the nearest fairs, trotting-matches, [*public] sellings, public auctions. The "rapen" [*Means "gathering" here??] and threshing is also a joyful happening. Few visits were made here, but when it happens they mostly drink a cup of coffee or choco. The marrying and burying activities are very simple.

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Graphics by Lynn Waterman, ©2004