July 6, 2002
With an attitude of hope and anticipation Saturday morning, I retraced my drive back to the Van Schaick Mansion. Sure enough, just as the caretaker’s wife promised, two tour buses lined the side of the street next to the house. About thirty people milled around the front yard. Usually the Van Schaick Mansion isn’t open for weekend tours of the rooms but today is a special occasion. Direct descendants of Anthony and John Van Schaick, who once lived in this house, are here. And each person can document this is their family homestead circa 1735.
I can only hope I arrived on Van Schaick Island on July 6, 2002 on the right date to be able to stand shoulder to shoulder with these people and call them family. I previously called the DAR woman in Cohoes who suggested we meet this morning at the house. The tour began and the group filtered into the interior of the house. I wasn’t part of that group so I stood back and allowed them to experience their Dutch family history and Revolutionary period history of the Mansion.
I was able to tour the rooms. It was a plain house with sparse furniture. But I was humbled to step on floorboards that George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Benedict Arnold, General Horation Gates and many other famous Americans had walked across in Revolutionary times.
I found the DAR woman, dressed in colonial period costume, in the back of the house in the kitchen area. We spoke at length about the Van Schaick family. Then she introduced me to the organizer of today’s family tour. Walt M. was a kind and generous older gentleman entrusted as the Van Schaick historian. He was able to fully document the Dutch line back to who, when and where the first Van Schaick ancestor emigrated from Holland in the 1600s. He showed me the extensive family tree displayed and framed on the wall in the kitchen area.
I studied it closely for any mention of familiar names. Walt and I discussed the names I claimed as great-great-great-and beyond grandparents. Garrett Van Schaick, William Van Schaick, Jacob Van Schaick and other connections I found online searching genealogy websites. He mentioned Goosen Gerritsen Van Schaick as patriarch of his lineage. Because I have a Cornelius Van Schaick listed as brother to my great-great-grandfather, Garrett, I wondered if the Dutch emigrant, Cornelis Aertsen Van Schaick, was a family connection?
I gave Walt M. a copy of my great-grandmother’s Van Schaick list. He studied the papers with the seasoned eye of a genealogy researcher. We continued to search the wall chart of Van Schaick descendants. He pursed his lips, shook his head slowly and sighed. He handed the papers back to me and delivered a crushing blow in a kindly voice.
“No, I don’t think your Van Schaick line is the same as this branch. Your great-great-great-grandfather, William Van Schaick married a Van Buren. There are no Van Burens in my family tree. As you can see on the chart, I don’t see common names that prove we are related. So sorry.”
He couldn’t help but see the utter disappointment showing plain on my face. I did not belong. I folded great-grandmother’s family tree list in my hands.
Walt walked with me from the house out to my rental car. We talked about other steps I could take to determine which branch of my Van Schaick line emigrated to this area from Holland in the 1600s. We parted with a hug and exchanged email adresses. When I returned to Ohio, I’d communicate with him and Walt would assist me with further research into Van Schaick genealogy.
He graciously took my picture standing next to the historical stone monument. He left me at the edge of the property to return to his family guests touring the Mansion. My high hopes were dashed. Not only couldn’t I claim to be a descendant of this Van Schaick line, I couldn’t feel the same pride that the turning point of the Revolutionary War happened right here in 1777–and claim a personal bond with that American History event.
There was a small rise in the back yard was ringed by a grove of thick woods. The DAR woman told me about an upcoming encampment taking place on the grounds of the Van Schaick Mansion. Revolutionary War reenactors would be recreating the times of 1777 over the weekend in the middle of July. She invited me to come back and be a specatator.
I stood next to my car and gave the grounds and Van Schaick Mansion a long, sweeping gaze. This was an impressive estate back in the 1700s. At least I got to be here in person and settle curious questions about this place. At best, I learned about the historical importance of the estate in the Revolutionary War era. I was thrilled to discover another turning point in American History to add to my memoir experiences. All in all this trip wasn’t in vain. Sometimes when you ask the question–the answer is no. And now I know.
There was a full Saturday ahead of me. Next on my list was driving across the Albany bridge to the eastern shore of the Hudson River. My great-great-grandfather, Garrett Van Schaick, and several of his brothers and sisters were born in nearby Rennselaer County, New York. Surely I would find historical evidence of their existence. I no longer pushed to uncover names and dates from the 1600s and Dutch settlers who arrived in New Netherland.
The search shifted toward information and documents related to the existance of my Van Schaick ancestors who were born and once lived in this area. The names on the New York state map came alive–Greenbush, Troy, Watervliet, Hillhouse Island. If they were born in this area, did they marry and have families in this area? Are they buried in or around Rennselaer County? Can I find records to prove my great-great-grandfather’s family lived here?
I located Greenbush Library in the local phone book and spoke to the librarian. They don’t keep specific records of families from the 1800s, but they kept local books at the library that might have some information. I drove to the library and spent about an hour hunched over a pile of books. It was a quick–speed reading–search to have the name, Van Schaick, catch my eye. Turns out that the Dutch name, Van Schaick, is either very prominent in the area–or very common as a Dutch name (like Johnson or Greene). I came across it in the local history books several times, but no proof they wrote about my ancestors.
My next journey was to the Rennselaer County Historical Society, located in Troy, New York. Lucky me–first Saturday of every month, admission to the research library is free. I was escorted to the stacks of shelves and old documents by a most helpful historian/researcher. We tried to uncover Van Schaick burial places located in the county cemetaries. Very frustrated–couldn’t nail anything down. Nothing definite proved I came all this way from Ohio on a successful search for my Dutch family roots. Nothing.
The research librarian told me the most extensive documents that went back hundreds of years were kept in the New York State Library and Museum. It was just across the river in Albany. Then he proceeded to tell me that a massive fire erupted in the buildings in 1911 and thousands upon thousands of books, original manuscripts, important legal documents and priceless Indian artifacts were destroyed in the fire.
That knowledge of the loss of so much written history from a central location like the State of New York Library and Museum sent chills throughout my body. Almost everything stored was destroyed by the fire and water in a futile attempt to bring the fire under control. If anything about my Dutch ancestors were archived in that building regarding the 1600s until the early 20th Century–it was gone. Never to be recovered.
I looked at the papers my great-grandmother wrote about her ancestors. Am I on a fool’s errand here? Is this the only clue I had Dutch lineage dating back to the 1614 settlement and later settlement of Fort Orange? Now I doubted what she meant with her comment. I wasn’t as convinced as I was before I drove all this way to Albany that we were among the first traders and settlers in the New World in 1614. Records clearly stated Fort Orange was built years later. Pehaps she meant our family line was Dutch and the Dutch settled the Upper Hudson River area beginning in 1614 and Fort Orange was the first permanent settlement established in 1624.
The librarian suggested I review last wills and testaments filed on microfiche. Those documents went back into the early 1800s. I sat in front of the microfiche machine and looked at an index of Van Schaick names. After comparing several first names and dates, I eliminated most, except for one promising possibility. The librarian wrote down the name and numbered location and found the microfiche roll. Together we searched for the document.
Surrogate Court. The Last Will and Testament of William Van Schaick, Jr., of the City of Troy, died 21st day of May, 1852.
Cornelius Van Schaick was executor of the will. No surviving widow or child or children, but a father and mother and the following brothers and sisters
Jacob Van Schaick of Brunswick, Jeremiah Van Schaick of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Garret Van Schaick of Troy, Mary Alicia Van Schaick of the same place, Elizabeth Van Schaick of the same place, Henrietta Van Schaick of the sme place, Jane Van Schaick of the sasme place & Stephen Henry Van Schaick of the same place.
State of New York, Rennselaer County.
The brother of my great-great-grandfather, William Van Schaick, died in 1852 (one hundred years before I was born) and listed in his last will and testament are his parents, both alive, and his brothers and sisters.
Can you imagine my thrill to see those names on a legal document? In 1852, Garrett Van Schaick was living in Troy, New York. I know in 1852 he was married to Hannah Watkins Van Schaick (1825-1885) and was father to two children: William Van Schaick, b. June 14, 1847 (almost 5 years old) and Alonzo Van Schaick, b. July 24, 1849 (almost 3 years old). And his wife was expecting another baby. Euphema Van Schaick, b. August 28, 1852.
William Van Schaick, Jr. was the older sibling born right before Garrett.
I had positive documentation that the names of my great-grandmother’s aunts and uncles matched the hand-written list I carried and protected for so many years. It was like finding a lost treasure! I believe most Americans have a curiousity to know who they are in terms of heritage and ancestry. Discovering one’s family roots is another way of honoring the sacrifices and hardships they endured so we can live our lives today. In their time did they ever wonder if some far off descendants would search for them and want to trace their life on this earth?
If you don’t know-you don’t care. My genealogy searching for long-gone family has given me an awareness of a curious and inquisitive nature and I want to learn more. It’s like searching for a hidden treasure. Tracking down that illusive family name and perhaps putting a faded photograph or portrait to the name is an inspiring occasion of discovery. One generation found leads to the prior generation and so on until you can prove when and where your ancestors first settled in America–and what country and community they left to emigrate here.
Americans all came from some other land, some other time and place. I don’t know much about my direct ancestral lineage on the Dutch side of the family, but I have something. The research librarian copied the 1852 will of William Van Schaick, Jr. I have it in my Albany, NY folder, safely preserved with my great-grandmother’s family lists.
It was getting later in the day, but I had more time to explore my Dutch heritage. I heard about an excellent museum located along the Hudson River in Rennselaer. I drove through a residential neighborhood and stopped to tour the Crailo State Historical Site.
The brick house was also known as Fort Crailo and built in the early eighteenth century. It had a history of being occupied by descendants of the Van Rennselaer Patroon-original vast landholding called the Manor or Patroonshp of Rensselaerwyck. Also spelled Crayloo or Cralo, it means “crows’wood” in Dutch.
I parked my car and found the entrance to the museum. I love museums! I could wander for hours and study the fascinating displays and read about the history of the artifacts and people. This museum of Dutch history was no exception. I planned to end my week long vacation in the Crailo House touring the museum this afternoon.
The guide was pleasant and an intelligent source of information about the area history. I wandered along the first
A personable couple and their two boys, who looked about ten and twelve, wanted to go on a tour of the museum. The guide explained it wasn’t so much a planned tour, but rather a stroll from room to room, pointing out items of particular interest and discussing the background of life during early Dutch settlement of the Albany area.
We had interesting conversations walking into the various rooms. The boys were well-mannered and quiet. The parents seemed animated and excited to learn about the Dutch history of New Netherland. I detected a slight accent in their spoken English. When I asked where they lived–imagine my delight when they announced they were a family on vacation from the Netherlands!
Oh my gosh!! What are the odds I would walk into a remote museum on a Saturday afternoon and meet actual people who live in the “Motherland”?! I’m taking the tour of Dutch history with an actual Dutch family! This is so cool–didn’t even cost me extra for the experience.
The woman was a great source of explaining the differences between the European Dutch and the Dutch who settled the area hundreds of years ago. The first thing she told me was how every name seems to be “Van ——“, capitalized. (Just open an Albany telephone book, pages and pages of Vans—–.) In the Netherlands, van is never capitalized and the word means “from”.
I suppose that made sense during the settlement of New Netherland. For example, Van Schaick, lets Dutch settlers know you are “from Schaick” and Van Buren means you are “from Buren”.
I mentioned I came to the Albany area to search for my Dutch ancestors. I told them the Dutch family name is Van Schaick. She asked me to spell it. S-C-H-A-I-C-K. I pronounced it Van Schoyk (oy-as in boy) as that’s how my grandmother pronounced it. It’s how I heard the name pronouced growing up, so I’ve spoken it all my life as Van Schoyk.
The woman smiled and corrected my Dutch. It should be pronounced, Van Schyk (ike – as in bike). Van Schyk. I loved how she changed the error of decades into the correct way of saying the Dutch name. What a jewel to have actual Dutch countrymen right here in this house to share the tour.
One of the things that stood out about the history lesson is that evidence of the original Fort Orange is now gone. As much as the archeologists could excavate and preserve, they tried. However, in the name of progress, Albany built a bridge crossing the Hudson River northwest of the Crailo State Historical Site and the western concrete piling is buried on the site of Fort Orange today. Sad.
After the tour and a gracious goodbye to my companions in the museum, I picked up every flyer and free pamphlet available with information about the museum. It was an interesting exhibit and I’m glad I took the time on my final day of vacation on this road trip to explore as much as I could about my Dutch heritage.
I drove back to my Albany hotel room for a second overnight stay. In the morning, Sunday, I would awaken to the reality of my current life. I wouldn’t have the luxury of heading to historical National or State Parks in order to take the time to wander and explore the grounds and important sights. My journey to turning points of American History ended this evening.
And what an ending of this entire road trip journey it is! I know I have a full day of ten-twelve hours of driving ahead of me tomorrow. I’ll rush back to the reality of highway traffic from Albany to Buffalo across Upper New York state, south through Erie, Pennsylvania and finally back on familiar turf in northeast Ohio–home again.
The long road home–reflections on an odyssey and turning points in life———-