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Thursday, May 26, 2011 12:32 am

Springfield goes Dutch

Capital city plays host to national family reunion

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Cheryl Wycoff holds a collection of photographs she took of the Wyckoff Farm Museum in Brooklyn, N.Y.
PHOTO BY HOLLY DILLEMUTH
She can still remember not knowing what to say when her college roommates asked, “What’s your cultural heritage?”

Cheryl Wycoff, a Springfield resident of 25 years, identified as a “farm girl” from central Illinois growing up, but didn’t know much about her ancestry. It wasn’t until her father and great-uncle started sifting through old family documents that she found she was largely Dutch and related to one of the most prominent Dutch families that came to America in the 17th century. After visiting the home established by Pieter Claesen Wijckoff (later changed to Wyckoff) in 1652, M. Fidler-Wyckoff Park in Brooklyn, N.Y., she became fascinated with the history of her lineage. The Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum in Brooklyn was restored in the 1960s and turned into a historic landmark.

Wycoff organized the Wyckoff House and Association Dutch Family Reunion, a national reunion for Wyckoff relatives at Hilton Springfield May 20-22. Nearly 25 people from across the nation gathered in Springfield to swap stories, learn about their family genealogy and to see if they were relatives of Pieter Claesen Wijckoff.

Wycoff is vice president of the Wyckoff Association and organizes reunions and other meetings. She says there are individuals with the same name in all 50 states, many of which were represented at the Springfield event. The different spellings may have originated when families of Wyckoffs entered the United States at Ellis Island.

Wycoffs and Wyckoffs and other variations came from California, New York, Kansas, Oklahoma and Colorado to attend the three-day event. Many, like Sue Leidolph, came to find out if they were related.

For Leidolph, 61, a former Springfield resident, the event was a reunion with her hometown as well as with distant relatives. Leidolph, of Highland Ranch, Colo., graduated from Springfield High School and attended college in central Illinois before moving away as a young adult. She was in town to care for her mother, Marilyn Mehan, who currently lives in Springfield, the same weekend of the events when the two found out about the reunion and wanted to learn more about their Dutch heritage.

“One thing that was fun at the reunion, people would say, Oh I’m in Margaret’s line, or I’m in Nicholas’ line. And I went in there and I said, I have no clue,” she says with a laugh. But Cheryl Wycoff and others who organized the event helped link her to Nicholas Wijckoff, the eldest son of Pieter Claesen Wijckoff.

Many of the visitors toured the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and the Old State Capitol, and learned about their individual heritage or “line.” Many who visited were related directly to one of Pieter Claesen Wijckoff’s children and distant cousins of one another.

“It was amazing to walk in there and think every single person in here is related. Yes it’s distant and yes it might be hard to figure out exactly how you’re related but you’re all related somehow – you all trace back in some respect to the same ancestor.

“I’m fascinated by the concept of wondering what some of my ancestors’ lives were like,” says Leidolph. “It makes it all come alive. They were real people and I wish we knew more. I wish there was a lot more.”

While traveling in the Netherlands three years ago with her husband, Leidolph didn’t know it, but she was retracing the steps of her ancestors. She had always been told she was mainly German and Irish, with some Dutch.

“I loved the Netherlands, I just thought it was a fun place to be and it was fun to think about the fact that at some point in time, our ancestors lived there,” she says.

For more information contact Cheryl Wycoff at 836-0565 or visit online at www.wyckoffassociation.org.

Contact Holly Dillemuth at hdillemuth@illinoistimes.com.

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