• Kristin Wenger

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? #52Ancestors week 4

Updated: Apr 22, 2018

If you could invite one of your ancestors to dinner, whom would you choose? This week’s topic involved significant deliberation, ending with the selection of one great-grandparent who claims a few distinctions:

  • He is my only immigrant great-grandparent. All of my other family lines have been in the U.S. for generations longer.

  • He is my only great-grandparent whom my parents did not know (in other words, he died before his grandchild, my mother, was born. Her older brothers were quite young when he died, so there was very little firsthand knowledge about him).

  • He is my most well-traveled great-grandparent with diverse experiences he could share.

  • He is my most high-profile great-grandparent.


Peter John “Petrus Johannes” Groenendaal (7 June 1887 – 31 August 1949)

Note inscription in lower left corner “To my only son John, 1/29/36 – Dad”


Early life

Petrus Johannes Groenendaal was born in Amsterdam in the Netherlands on 7 June 1887. His mother, Amalia Polisiena Wilhelmina Prent, was apparently unwed as there was no father listed on his birth certificate.[1] On 24 July 1890, Amalia married Gerardus Johannes Groenendaal.[2] Gerardus officially adopted seven-year-old Petrus on 11 July 1894.[3]


1887 birth record for Petrus Johannes Groenendaal.

The note in the left margin records his adoption on 11 July 1894.


1890 marriage record for Peter's mother, Amalia Polisiena Wilhelmina Prent, to Gerardus Johannes Groenendaal


I have no further information about my great-grandfather’s youth before his immigration to the United States. Our family was always under the belief that he was an only child. (Spoiler alert: He was not. The poignant story of his half-sister and how I discovered her merits its own week. To be continued…)


If I invited him to dinner, I would ask…

· What was your experience growing up in the Netherlands at the turn of the century?

· Tell me about your parents, your childhood, and your schooling.

· What were some favorite Dutch foods, customs, or traditions?


Immigration

On 10 April 1909, twenty-one-year-old Petrus J. Groenendaal sailed from Rotterdam aboard the S.S. Ryndam. He arrived in New York ten days later on 20 April, coming through Ellis Island. The passenger manifest recorded his occupation as “clerk”. He provided his parents’ address in Amsterdam as Leidsekade 73 and his final destination as 368 Broadway, New York, New York to the uncle of his travel companion, Jacques Lucksinger.[4] According to his obituary, he came “to study business methods. He was so impressed by the United States and by its efficiency he decided to remain.”[5]


If I invited him to dinner, I would ask…

· What was trans-Atlantic travel like over 100 years ago?

· Tell me about your experience at Ellis Island.

· Did you speak English before you came to the United States? What motivated you to make the bold move to immigrate?


Marriage and first child

The next document records Petrus just over a year later on 14 May 1910. He was living in a boarding house with several other young men in Cullman, Alabama. He had Americanized his name to Peter and was working as a timekeeper for the railroad company.[6] A few months later on 4 September 1910, he married Alma Lee Burnum, a native of Cullman.[7]

Alma Lee Burnum married Peter Groenendaal on 4 September 1910


On 14 February 1911, Peter joined the staff of the Holland America Line in New York City.[8] Passenger manifests show that Peter and Alma made a trip to visit his parents in Amsterdam in 1914. They returned aboard the S.S. Potsdam on 19 March 1914 after a twelve-day journey from Rotterdam. Peter stated that he worked as an office clerk and was “going home” to 151 W. 228th St. in New York City.[9]


Several months later, on 10 August 1914, their first child John Combé Groenendaal was born in New York City.[10] Just weeks later, the family traveled back to the Netherlands.


Peter and Alma Groenendaal with infant son, John, 1914

Peter is likely in his military uniform. He served for two years as a sergeant in the Dutch infantry.[11]


If I invited him to dinner, I would ask…

· After arriving in New York City, why did you move to Alabama and how did you travel there?

· How did you meet Alma? What was her family’s response to her marriage to someone from another country?

· Tell me what New York City was like in 1914.

· Why did you travel to the Netherlands so soon after John’s birth? Was it related to the war?


World War I

The young family ended up staying in the Netherlands longer than they intended due to the start of World War I.[12] During that time, the photos below were taken.

Peter and Alma with John C. Groenendaal, April 1915


Peter with son John at the beach in Den Helder, 1916


Peter's parents, Amalia (Prent) and Gerardus Groenendaal


A fascinating interview of Alma in her hometown newspaper after their return tells of their experience:


“On account of the war, Mrs. Groendaal [sic] says that food and clothing sell at enormous prices in Holland and nobody can buy as much of any one thing as they want, no matter how much money they have. Fuel is very scarce…no housewife can use all the gas she may need, it must be burned only a short time.

After a great deal of trouble, Mr. Groendaal [sic] finally got permission to return to America. He must return, however, if his country needs him.

On the way over Mrs. Groendaal [sic] said that they went around Scotland and Ireland to avoid crossing the minefields of the warring nations. After they had been out seven days they were only twenty hours away from Holland by the direct route.

Mrs. Groendaal [sic] and her baby [my now two-year-old grandfather John] baby both speak Dutch well, and they use that language entirely in their home.”


According to the passenger manifest for the S.S. Voordam, they departed Rotterdam on 14 October 1916 and landed in New York on 1 November 1916.[13] Due to Peter’s employment with the Holland America Line, they traveled for free on company passes.



After they returned to New York, they soon traveled to Alabama where they visited Alma’s family who had never met John.[14]


Peter and Alma's son John finally back in the United States


If I invited him to dinner, I would ask…

· Tell me more about your experiences in Europe during World War I.

· What was it like for your son to start to learn English as a two-year-old after only speaking Dutch? Was Alma homesick, and if so, what effect did that have on your relationship?


After the War

Back in the U.S., the family had settled into a home outside New York City at 104 Midland Avenue, East Orange, New Jersey by mid-1917.[15]

In 1920, Peter gave his occupation as “assistant cabin manager” for the Holland America steamship company.[16] His position with the company allowed them to travel to visit Gerardus and Amalia again in 1921, now living at 5 Overbeeksingel in Velp. Peter, Alma, and seven-year-old John returned to the U.S. on 12 November 1921 after eleven days aboard the S.S. Rijndam from Rotterdam.[17]

John C. Groenendaal, age 7, with the ship captain while crossing the Atlantic


If I invited him to dinner, I would ask…

· Did you continue to speak Dutch with in your home once living in the U.S.? John told his sons that you had mastery of five languages: Dutch, German, French, English and Spanish! I'd love to hear about how you learned all of them and used them in various settings.

· Tell me more about your work with the Holland America steamship company during this time period.


California and Catherine

In 1921, Peter was named manager of the San Francisco office of the Holland America Line.[18] City directories show they lived at 507 Ulloa Street.[19]

John and Alma in San Francisco, California, early 1920s


Peter, Alma, and John while living in California


Their second child, Catherine Amalia Groenendaal, was born 26 May 1925 in Berkeley, Alameda County, California, just across the Oakland Bay Bridge.[20]

Catherine with big brother, John, 1927


After five years in San Francisco, Peter managed the Los Angeles office for six months.[21] On 8 August 1927, Peter was transferred to manage the Philadelphia office of the Holland America Line, prompting the family’s move back to the east coast. A few months later, on 14 December 1927, he was appointed Consul of the Netherlands for the state of Pennsylvania.[22] The Groenendaals made their home at 2418 Wynnfield Drive, Haverford, Delaware County, Pennsylvania.[23]


If I invited him to dinner, I would ask…

· Tell me about your daughter, Catherine. [She died at age twenty-four only five days after her father. A story for another week…]

· What was San Francisco like only fifteen years after the 1906 earthquake? Did you and your family enjoy living in California? Did they want to move or not?

· How did you travel across the country in the 1920s? By car or by train? What was that experience like?

· What was involved in your role as Consul of the Netherlands?


Divorce and Remarriage

Peter continued to travel between Holland and the U.S. frequently throughout the 1930s.[24] Whether his frequent travel contributed to the dissolution of his marriage is unknown; however, the couple separated in July 1931. Alma filed for divorce on 5 Aug 1931, citing “cruelty.”[25] Their divorce was reported as finalized on 11 February 1932, stating “Mrs. Groenendaal charged that her husband drank excessively and at times had struck and kicked her. She further stated that he was always pleasure bound and bragged about his exploits with other women over whom he felt that he had great power.”[26]


By 1937, Peter was dating a younger woman, Adele McDermott Devine, whose shenanigans landed him in The Philadelphia Inquirer.[27]

"Peter J. Groenendaal, at left, fumed like a Dutch uncle, just as a Dutch consul should, but his protests failed to keep Adele McDermott Devine, center, and Victoria Vitullo, right, from jail after they drove off with a taxi driver's cab at 30th Street Station in the small hours of yesterday morning. Groenendaal, consul for The Netherlands and the women's self-appointed attorney, is shown as he pleaded their case. Both were held in $500 bail for larceny."


Peter and Adele married on 8 April 1939.[28]


If I invited him to dinner, I would ask…

· Were the accusations reported by the newspaper true?

· What was your relationship with your children following the divorce? Did you see John and Catherine much? What were their feelings?

· The article about Adele and her friend “borrowing” the taxi is pretty wild. I definitely need to hear your side of that story…


The 1940s and Death

Peter and Adele resided at the Netherlands Apartments, 4302 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He continued to serve as the Consul of the Netherlands and managed the Philadelphia office of the Holland America Line.[29] During World War II, “he was outspoken in his vigorous opposition to the Nazi regime.[30] In May of 1949, he was “honored by H.M. [Her Majesty] Queen Juliana, who bestowed upon him the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Orange-Nassau in recognition of his long service as consul of the Netherlands.”[31]

On 31 August 1949 at 2:00 AM, Peter J. Groenendaal died of a coronary occlusion at age sixty-two.[32] He was buried in Arlington Cemetery in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania.[33]


If I invited him to dinner, I would ask…

· Tell me more about living through World War II, especially as someone who held a prominent position in international relations.

· What was it like to be honored by the Queen? Did you meet her in person?

· Did you suspect that your death was imminent or did it come suddenly?


Final Questions

In 2013, we made a day trip to Philly to take our kids to the Franklin Institute. I realized we would be passing very close to the cemetery where Peter was buried and asked if we could make a stop because I had never been there. (Let me say, my kids were less than thrilled with this detour, but I did get two out of three to pose for the photo below. My daughter had already been subjected to a stop at Valley Forge and was in no mood for further cooperation that day.)

My heart broke a little bit when I realized that Peter was buried all alone. His journey in life, which began in Amsterdam on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, ended in another country, marked by a solitary stone. His daughter, who died only five days after him, was buried with her stepfather’s family instead.[34]


If I invited him to dinner, I would ask…

· Why are you buried alone? Were you estranged from your daughter?

· What was the proudest accomplishment of your life? What was your greatest regret?

· Was faith or religion part of your life? Where are you spending eternity?


Take-aways for your family history:

· Newspapers, city directories, and passenger manifests are excellent tools for discovering details. I will post some tips on how to access and make the most of these records in weeks to come.

· Peter moved a lot and I was able to find several exact addresses for him as well as his parents in the Netherlands. Here is a fun and easy tip you can try today: plug those addresses into Google Maps and use the street view. In many cases, you can see what the building at that address looks like today! You can also “look around” the neighborhood to get a sense of where your ancestor lived.

[1]"Netherlands, Noord-Holland, Civil Registration, 1811-1950," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 24 January 2018), entry for Petrus Johannes Groenendaal, 07 Jun 1887; citing Birth, Amsterdam, Noord-Holland, Netherlands, Noord-Hollands Archief, Haarlem (Noord-Hollands Archives, Haarlem); FHL microfilm 1,203,891.


[2] "Netherlands, Archival Indexes, Vital Records," database, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org : accessed 24 January 2018), Gerardus Johannes Groenendaal and Amalia Polisiena Wilhelmina Prent, Marriage 24 Jul 1890, Amsterdam, Noord-Holland, Netherlands; from database, openarchives (https://www.openarch.nl : 2016); citing Haarlem, record number Reg.18, fol. 31; Noord-Hollands Archief, Haarlem.


[3] Netherlands, Noord-Holland, Civil Registration, 1811-1950," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 24 January 2018), entry for Petrus Johannes Groenendaal, 07 Jun 1887; citing Birth, Amsterdam, Noord-Holland, Netherlands, Noord-Hollands Archief, Haarlem (Noord-Hollands Archives, Haarlem); FHL microfilm 1,203,891, especially note writing in left margin.


[4] Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Foundation, database (http://www.libertyellisfoundation.org : accessed 24 January 2018), “Passenger Record” for Petrus J. Groenendaal, age 21, arrived 20 April 1909 aboard the Ryndam from Rotterdam.


[5] “Dutch Consul Dies Here at 62,” The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 1 September 1949, page 36, column 4; digital image, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 30 December 2016).


[6] 1910 U.S. census, Cullman County, Alabama, population schedule, Cullman City, Precinct 1, Enumeration District 21, page 22-B, dwelling 461, family 482, Peter J. Groenendaal; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 24 January 2018); citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 10.


[7] “Alabama, County Marriage Records, 1805-1967,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 24 January 2018); certificate image, P.J. Groenendaal-Alma Lee Burnum, 4 September 1910, no. 390; citing “State of Alabama, Cullman County.”


[8] “Peter John Groenendaal,” Hollanders Who Helped Build America (New York : American Biographical Company, 1942), 132.


[9] “New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 24 January 2018); entry for Petrus J. Groenendaal, age 26, arrived New York, New York, 19 March 1914 aboard the Potsdam.


[10] “New York, New York Birth Index, 1910-1965,” database, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 24 January 2018); entry for Groenendaal, John C., 10 August 1914, citing birth certificate no. 41183, New York City, New York.


[11] World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 24 Jan 2018), Petrus Johannes Groenendaal, East Orange, New Jersey; citing World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, NARA microfilm publication M1509; Family History Library Roll No. 1893479


[12] “Cullman Girl Returns From Holland Safely,” The Cullman Democrat (Cullman, Alabama), February 1917.


[13] “New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 24 January 2018); entries for Petrus J. Groenendaal, age 29, Alma Groenendaal, age 25, John Groenendaal, age 2, arrived New York, New York, 1 November 1916 aboard the Voordam.


[14] “Cullman Girl Returns From Holland Safely,” The Cullman Democrat (Cullman, Alabama), February 1917.


[15] World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 24 Jan 2018), Petrus Johannes Groenendaal, East Orange, New Jersey.


[16] 1920 U.S. census, Essex County, New Jersey, population schedule, East Orange, Ward 1, Enumeration District 29, page 17-B, dwelling 236, family 426, Petrus J. Groenendaal; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 24 January 2018); citing NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 1029.


[17] “New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 24 January 2018); entries for Petrus J. Groenendaal, age 34, Alma L. Groenendaal, age 30, John C. Groenendaal, age 7, arrived New York, New York, 12 November 1921 aboard the Rijndam.


[18] “Peter John Groenendaal,” Hollanders Who Helped Build America, 132.


[19] San Francisco, California City Directory (San Francisco, 1923), 780; also subsequent year by the same title: (1924), 645; digital images, “U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995,” database, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 24 January 2018), entries for Peter Groenendaal.


[20] “California Birth Index, 1905-1995,” database, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 24 January 2018); entry for Catherine Amalia Groenendaal, 26 May 1925, Alameda County, California.


[21] “Peter John Groenendaal,” Hollanders Who Helped Build America, 132.


[22] “Dutch Consul Dies Here at 62,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, 1 September 1949, p. 36, col. 4.


[23] 1930 U.S. census, Delaware County, Pennsylvania population schedule, Haverford Township, Enumeration District 73, page 28-A, dwelling 567, family 593, Peter J. Groenendall [Groenendaal]; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 24 January 2018); citing NARA microfilm publication T626, roll 2031.


[24]“New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : accessed 24 January 2018); entries for Peter Groenendaal, age 44, 8 September 1931, aboard the Transylvania; Peter J. Groenendaal, age 46, 17 February 1934, aboard the Rotterdam; Peter J. Groenendaal, age 50, 14 September 1937, aboard the Rotterdam.


[25] “Netherlands Consul is Sued for Divorce,” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn, New York), 5 August 1931, page 13, column 8; digital image, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 30 December 2016).


[26] “Wife of Official Gets Divorce Decree,” The Chester Times (Chester, Pennsylvania), 11 Feb 1932, page 12, column 7; digital image, Digital Archives of the Delaware County Library System (https://delawarecolib.newspaperarchive.com/chester-times/1932-02-11/page-12/ : accessed 24 January 2018).


[27] “Girlish Prank Got Them All in Dutch,” The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 20 February 1937, page 3, columns 2-5; digital image, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 30 December 2016).


[28] “Groenendaal-Devine Nuptial at Sunbury,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, 21 May 1939, page 21, column 5; digital image, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com : accessed 30 December 2016).


[29] “U.S. World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942,” database with digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 24 January, 2018), Peter John Groenendaal, Serial No. 304, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1942; citing Selective Service Registration Cards, World War II: Fourth Registration, Record Group 147, National Archives and Records Administration, St Louis, Missouri. Also, Pennsylvania Department of Health, Certificate of Death no. 73465, Peter John Groenendaal, 31 August 1949, Philadelphia County; viewed at "Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1963," digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 24 January 2017); citing Series 11.90: Death Certificates 1906 -1963, Record Group 11: Pennsylvania Department of Health, Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg.


[30] “Netherlands Consul Died Wednesday,” The Indiana Gazette (Indiana, Pennsylvania), 1 September 1949, page 20, column 2.


[31] “Dutch Consul Dies Here at 62,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, 1 September 1949, p. 36, col. 4.


[32] Pennsylvania death certificate no. 73465 (1949), Peter John Groenendaal.


[33] Arlington Cemetery (Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania), Avon Section, Peter John Groenendaal gravestone; personally read, 14 July 2013.


[34] Find A Grave, database with images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/39575293 : accessed 26 January 2018), image of gravestone for Catherine Groenendaal, Greenwood Cemetery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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