The Freedom of my Namesakes

Lew Blink Aug 15 · 5 min read

….Blinks in America….

My ancestor came to America in 1847. It was the dead of winter and he was 17 years old. The long journey across the Atlantic ocean began without a proper destination. He left the family home at the word of a Minister named Albertus Van Ralte who had the vision to create a new church and city in America.

This Dutch Minster spread stories about the land of Michigan and it’s similarity to Holland. My ancestor set out to settle on this promised land and find the freedom his parents never had.

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Albertus Van Ralte

Albertus Van Ralte was a firebrand, who left the Dutch Reform Church with a purpose of founding a new world of religious freedom. It was 1846 and the settlers left Rotterdam for New Amsterdam. Buying the needed oxen, wagons and provisions within the New York area, these Dutch settlers still wore wooden shoes, traditional hats and it seemed to everyone who knew of such things…they were dead men for leaving in the middle of winter.

Around the time frame that first wave headed off towards the great lakes during a blizzard, Jan Blink and his sister Gretije, said goodbye to the world they knew and sailed to a new destiny. She was 15 or 17 depending on which ship manifest you looked at …and I have viewed both. Later census paperwork would reflect their youth, as she was married off to an older man, and Jan …an older widow.

They paid for their ride with their biology.

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Around the time the siblings reached the port of Baltimore, the first wave of Pioneers arrived to form the town of Holland in an old Missionary Colony surrounded by Ottawa Indians. They would later purchase the land as the tribe moved North.

What do you do when one crosses almost half a continent in the dead of winter and you want to lay claim to a piece of land?

You build a log cabin styled Church!

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Jan and his sister would arrive at Holland (the city) in the spring and help build the town from scratch. My ancestor worked hard and had many children. Many years later a fire would claim relatives and most of the town, so Jan Blink took his brood down south to new possibility and freedom.

There is a cemetery in Saugatuck that bears the last name Blink on many gravestones, Jan Blink included. The First Blink in America. The name Blink has a certain distinctly odd meaning….to “twinkle” like a star. In Dutch, the idea is ….that a star is similar to the eye which bears its imprint on the modern meaning of today. To blink, is more akin to a twinkle than a scientific basis of eye movement.

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My ancestors grew up in America, as farmers, apple growers and newspaper printers. I know this because my Grandfather got his genealogy done…76 pages of madness. It took me months to sort the family history out, to follow clues and dates. I learned to study history.

I did the same thing on my mother’s side…the Clarks as they have a story about being related to the famous William and George Rodgers Clark. I traced the family line to Indiana and Virginia, but it ends with a con man, pretending to be related to the famous family. Some history is just wrong.

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In the Netherlands, I talked to a wonderful man with my same exact name (Robert Blink). He is a fantastic photographer and most likely we share the same ancestors. Even living an hour from our ancestral stomping grounds, he is uncertain about the roots of the name.

I have a theory based on the history of our home town called Usquert. It was an Anglo Saxon fort at one point and the name Blink has both ancient English and Nederland roots, so it is likely the Anglo Saxon ancestry is the basis for the meaning…and use of the word Blink. Perhaps we are an old Magical family, who charted the stars for the seafaring souls?

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My namesake Robert Blink (Grandfather) is an inspiration to me and uncovering our shared history was an effort of pleasure. More family stories unfolded like the time my Grandfather was an Soda Jerk at a pharmacy owned the Stephens family in Michigan. He personally knew the two brothers who would move to Alaska to make names for themselves as politicians and capitalists. Or the time he dropped a M.A.S.H off in under fire…during the Korean war..or the story of his Grandfather.

My Grandfather’s Father faked his own death by drowning and possibly left for Florida… it is believed by many in the family. So his father was raised by pioneer women who bore a different family name.

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My Grandfather joined the Navy and never looked back… forging a new life in Newspaper Printing, and moved to California, having 5 kids and still living with the love of his life.

So us.. Blinks ended up in California looking for a future, like those first Blinks, that left the Motherland looking for freedom and hope in Michigan. As I am in Missouri looking for hope and a better life for my son. He keeps the family name alive, and yet changes it at the same time.

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Fathers teach Fathers who teach Fathers. So that a Father without a Father was a tough Father for a Grandfather, and a Father was loved in way his Father was not. Namesakes that repair.

Mothers also teach mothers of course and …stories move on and our hope for the future is laid out in DNA strains.

The Legacy of a name lives on as the freedom of possibility is forged in fires of the future.