Chicago history: Descendants of family who settled Roseland mark 175th anniversary of arrival in the U.S.

More than 170 people gathered in Paarlberg Park in South Holland on Saturday afternoon to celebrate family — the 175th anniversary of their family’s arrival in America.

The Eenigenburgs, descended from Gerit Eenigenburg and Jennetje Ton, were some of the first people to settle in what is now Roseland. The couple came from Eenigenburg in the Netherlands with their three children in 1849, though two of them — along with dozens of others — died of cholera during the voyage.

They then went to meet up with other Dutch families in what’s now South Holland but moved to Roseland, which had been inhabited by Native Americans before many were pressured or forced out in 1833 after signing a series of treaties with the United States.

Descendants of their son George have made a yearly tradition of reuniting their side of the family for the past 66 years. They join with the other branches of the family on the bigger anniversaries, as they did for the 150th, when more than 500 relatives gathered together to celebrate their shared lineage, according to Jill Eenigenburg, one of the five people who’s part of the family committee organizing the events.

Jill, the couple’s great-great-granddaughter, said there no longer are any Eenigenburgs living in the village in the Netherlands that still bears their name, though the family helped to establish a museum there in 2006. She helped put together an exhibit detailing their 1849 voyage to America as well as the family’s history since.

“Tracing your genealogy is very rewarding,” she said.

Siblings Jill and Bob Eeningenburg speak at their family’s 66th annual reunion in South Holland.

Violet Miller/Sun-Times

Saturday was the first family reunion for Rachel Van Wieren, the great-great-great-granddaughter of Jennetje Ton and Gerit Eenigenburg. The last time her side of the family held a reunion was 1994, when she was a child, and her family didn’t come.

She said she was most interested in learning about the history of her family — including the Eenigenburg family’s participation in the Underground Railroad.

“I’m really curious to learn about my family history, the area and, of course, back in the Netherlands,” Van Wieren said. “Most people don’t get to find out their family history like this.”

Larry McClellan, a historian with the Little Calumet River Underground Railroad Project, spoke at the reunion and shed light on the story of the family’s ties to the Underground Railroad, a system of cooperation among active antislavery people in the United States before 1863 by which people escaping enslavement were secretly helped to reach the North or Canada.

The Ton family’s farm — which now has a plaque telling its history, courtesy of the National Park Service and McClellan’s group — was a stop. Jan Ton was a founding trustee of the First Reformed Church of South Holland in 1855.

“Some of their direct ancestors were involved in this whole process, so we’re here to tell the story,” McClellan said.

Larry McClellan, a historian with the Little Calumet River Underground Railroad Project, shares details of the Eenigenburg family’s connection to the Underground Railroad, which helped enslaved people seek freedom in the North and Canada.

Violet Miller/Sun-Times

Hollie Eenigenburg, who married into the family, said she and her husband brought their kids and in-laws to try to connect with the rest of the family. She lives in Schererville, Indiana, and they have stayed connected to some extent. Many Schererville businesses carry the family name because they were started by or remain owned by relatives.

They attended the 150th anniversary reunion but hadn’t read up on the family story since then. They have a book that details their lineage and were surprised to find how few generations separated today’s generation from the couple who came to the United States in 1849.

“We didn’t know how close we were,” she said. “It’s pretty amazing to be able to gather with people who are your legacy. … I just think knowing where you come from is very important.”

Francis Eenigenburg, 93, came with his son Kevin and was there to see a handful of his 54 great-grandchildren, among other relatives. He was born in the 1930s and is at the nexus of the founding generation, the current generation and the family’s future.

“I’m standing in the middle of six generations … and the generations beyond I can see [now],” he said. “The greatest blessing in your life is your family.”

Francis Eenigenburg stands in front of charts detailing his family’s history in the United States. For 66 years, some members of the far-flung clan have come together to share stories.

Violet Miller/Sun-Times

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