Unknown Connections

Perhaps one of the reasons I’ve had difficulty in keeping up with this blog over the last couple of years, is that one of its underlying purposes has now been fulfilled. In my explorations of my family history, especially the Dutch Jewish family history, I have learned a lot about my past, and how much of this sad and troubled past affected my mother and, in turn, me. Also, something quite interesting happened a little over a year ago. Something happier, and in a sense, almost miraculous. A long-distant part of the Schaap family, which I didn’t even know existed, reached out to me after having read this blog. I had always hoped the blog might reach our lost relations in some way; however, I had expected a Dutch connection to the grandsons of my great-grandfather Emanuel Elias Schaap, the two boys of my mom’s Uncle Maurits (or Oom Mau), to find me. Instead, I was found by a Brit named Graham Sharpe, and his connection went a bit further back.

As I became more interested in genealogy a few years ago, I went onto Ancestry like everyone else and built a fairly substantial family tree. The tricky thing I find with Ancestry is that everyone and his dog treats genealogical research by typing names in the search and comes up with some hits that they often don’t look at very carefully. They then proceed in documenting all sorts of weird things into their trees that don’t make sense. I’ve been guilty of it to some extent myself. It is easy to acquire a long lost relation who upon further investigation was born 10 years after the birth of her youngest son and 60 years previous to her daughter’s!

In the winter of 2018-19, I started noticing an elder brother of my great-grandfather Emanuel Elias, one Levi Elias Schaap, flickering tantalizing here in there on various trees. But I found it confusing as I followed his trail to Leeds, England, where after a generation or two it seemed to flicker out. My Oma and mom had never mentioned any English Schaaps. The only English relations that I knew of were my father’s family. I imagined that this Levi must of tried his luck in England and either come back to Nederland or met some untimely end. Perhaps he wasn’t even Emanuel’s brother, given the reliability of some of the content on Ancestry, but some other Schaap.

A month or so later, I was thrilled to read a comment from the above-mentioned Graham on one of my blog posts about the demise of Emanuel’s widow Vrouwtje, Amsterdam Portuguese Synagogue.

I’ve spent the last hour reading your blogs. I don’t know the best way of contacting you, so i hope this is ok. My great grandfather was Levi Elias Schaap, elder brother of your great grandfather, Emanuel Elias Schaap. Levi Elias came to England from Holland in the 1860s and changed his name to Louis Edward. He died in 1897. In the first world war my grandfather changed the family surname to Sharpe, as German sounding names weren’t a good idea.

Goodness gracious me! Levi Elias was real, and I simultaneously had an explanation of why these English Schaaps disappeared after a generation or so, due to their name change! If you pronounce Schaap correctly in Dutch, but think of a British accent, you get something that sounds very Sharp (or Sharpe).

Graham and I have kept in contact over the months, and we do think of each other as long-lost family! We’ve learned a lot about each other’s stories. More of his family has since contacted me to help with their genealogical research. Graham’s father had tried to research the (to-them lost) branch of the Dutch Schaaps. He had written the Nijmegen City Archives in the late 1980s hoping to find information about the Schaap family but been somewhat rebuffed…

Dear Mr. Sharpe,

In response to your letter we can inform you that we have been able to trace some of your Dutch relatives until the Second World War. The cause that we have stopped our investigations at that date is due to a rather sensitive circumstance in post-war Holland. Your relatives were Jews.

The good folks at Nijmegen pointed out that the most family members were likely victims or that they may be wishing to remain anonymous and private due to the “rather sensitive circumstance in post-war Holland.” They did provide a list of Emanuel’s children, however, including my grandmother, who the very year Graham’s family started their Dutch investigation. Upon reflection, even if my grandmother was contacted about this, I doubt she would have responded. She wouldn’t even talk to us, her grandchildren, about our Jewish “relatives”.

And yet Graham slowly pursued what he could, and was disappointed to find that Emanuel had died in 1916, his daughters had emigrated to Indonesia or were silent, and his son and other relations had indeed died in the Holocaust. Until Graham found my blog, of course.

One of the amazing things that came to light for me was one of Graham’s family myths. After Louis Edward died in Leeds in 1897, he sent his younger son Sydney back to Nijmegen to live with his little brother! Sydney returned with the story of living in a house of an impressively uniformed Station Master and Agent of the Dutch Railway. Unfortunately he seemed to have had no photos of the family, and the story fell into family legend, so Graham was pretty “chuffed” to come across my posts of Emanuel Elias and even a picture of him in fully uniformed glory.

After some further research, I have come across a real find (On Ancestry of all places!) that truly links our two stories together. I have an image of the Nijmegen street registry for the house where Emanuel Elias Schaap lived with his family from 1893 through to 1910. Now this is not like a typical census, which gives you a snapshot of who lived in a place on a certain specific day in history. No. This registry let’s you know who lived in that residence for any appreciable length of time over the entire span of the tenant’s residency there! And in this registry is recorded the presence of one Sydney Emile Schaap from October 1897 to March 1900!

Click to open in new tab
The registry entry for EE Schaap’s home address ca. 1900

Interestingly Sydney’s name appears directly below my grandmother’s, Klara, and he must have been living with the family at the time she was a newborn in 1899! (You may need to click on the above image and open it in a new tab to see it better.)

In yet another weird coincidence, I realized after looking up the street address in Google Maps that my family and I had walked right by that address when we were last in Nijmegen in 2018! We had heard of the Balthazaar Cat Cafe, and being huge feline fans, thought it would be a great stop for an afternoon coffee, and it was!

Little did we know at the time, that my great-grandfather’s address was a mere few doors down on the same side of the street as the cafe, at the corner. And little did we know that Graham would contact us 6 months later, unveiling a connection that had been hidden for decades! And little did we know that we had more British relatives than we could guess.

Here’s to uncovering unknown connections!

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7 Responses to Unknown Connections

  1. Amy says:

    Wonderful story, Ian! I also have had the distinct pleasure of having cousins find me through my blog and provide me with more information, letters, photographs, and stories. It’s magical!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ian says:

      Thanks, Amy!
      And it’s good to hear from you. I have been wondering about your trip to Europe last year via Heathrow? I hope your experience going through the airport went more smoothly than I described in my post!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Amy says:

        We had a wonderful trip last year—no problems at Heathrow or anywhere else. Perfect weather also—especially for England. I even got to have brunch with cousins I’d found through my research—or actually cousins who found me through my blog.
        What a difference a year makes….I am wondering whether we will ever get to travel to Europe or anywhere outside the US again.


      • Ian says:

        Indeed, we have quite an ongoing situation these days with Covid-19. I had hoped to go down to our favorite holiday spot, Cannon Beach OR, earlier this year, but it soon became quite obvious that was not happening. From up here in Canada, I am sad to say that the US does not look like a fun place to be right now, for multiple reasons, and we are all hoping it changes soon.

        Glad you enjoyed England though and you made it through Heathrow without a similar experience to mine.

        Keep safe and keep in touch!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Amy says:

        Ah, you’re in Canada! Lucky you!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Helen Murphy says:

    iam u have a calling here u can do it for a living im glad u found out ya roots good for u

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s the coolest thing when family myth turns out to be true. I guess I feel that way because my Southern family has so many of what we call “Bigmama” stories–my grandmother tended to embellish. I’m happy for your connections made and loose ends tied into bows. Congratulations!

    Liked by 1 person

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