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Wisconsin group gathering old letters from area residents

Material for book on Dutch connection

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SHEBOYGAN, Wisconsin - The Sheboygan County Historical Research Center (SCHRC) should have little difficulty tracing ties between its area and the Netherlands. It may be a more daunting task to gather old correspondence to and from the Netherlands for publication in a book about the Dutch in Wisconsin.

The book is scheduled for publication in conjunction with a conference the center is planning to hold in 2008 tentatively titled, “The Dutch-American Experience in Wisconsin: 1840 to the present,” reports Mary Risseeuw, a board member of the research center.

The historical group is asking that anyone in possession of letters, written to and from the Netherlands between 1840 and the present, submit them for possible inclusion in this book. They welcome copies of letters in Dutch, and those already transcribed and/or translated as well. They will also provide translation services when necessary.

Although they can not promise that every letter will be included in the book, the group will consider publishing a second volume if there is enough material and interest. Other books have included a few letters from Wisconsin Dutch immigrants, according to Risseeuw, but the center feels there are enough to focus solely on Wisconsin. Risseeuw has been collecting material for some years.

Sheyboygan and its surrounding villages have been the destination of Dutch immigrants since the early 1840s when people from the eastern regions in the Netherlands, notably the Achterhoek and Twenthe, settled there. Since then, they were joined by people from Zeeland who founded Oostburg. Frisians founded Vriesland and numerous settlers from Brabant and Limburg were attracted to the Roman Catholic settlement of Little Chute by Father Van der Broek. Sheboygan gained notoriety in the annals of the Dutch American experience in November 1847 when with only about five miles to go on Lake Michigan, the ship Phoenix caught fire and sunk, claiming the lives of over 145 immigrants from the Achterhoek and Twenthe as well as over 70 others.

In Dutch American literature, the Wisconsin communities rarely step out of the shadow of Western Michigan, home to the largest concentration of descendents of 19th and 20th century Dutch immigrants in the USA. Dutch settlers in the Sheboygan often moved on after they earned enough money to set themselves up elsewhere in the state or beyond.

Anyone who has material they are willing to share, or has questions regarding the publication or the proposed conference, should contact the SCHRC, Mary Risseeuw, 922 High St. No. 2, Madison, WI 53715 or by phone at (608) 284-6231 or e-mail at