Family History

Although I first came to New Mexico in 1981 and have lived in my North Valley home in Albuquerque since 1993, I was born in Manhattan and am the 14th generation born in either New York or New Jersey.  In my time in New Mexico I’ve enjoyed meeting New Mexicans who can also trace their ancestry to the 17th Century and worked with them when I was writing LAND OF BURNING HEAT.
Claire Reynier is named for my first new world ancestor Reynier Bastiaensen van Giesen (as the name was spelled then).  Here’s a story about him from History of Paterson by William Nelson:
 “The appellation assumed by Reynier justifies the inference that he came from Giessen, in North Brabant.  This is a village of about 350 inhabitants, but with an antiquity utterly disproportionate to its size, for it is mentioned in history as long as A.D. 798, when it already had a church.  No record has been found of his arrival in America, the first appearance of his name in our annals being in an agreement dated June 6, 1660, between him and the magistrates of Flatbush, L. I., and the consistory of the Dutch church of that place, wherein he undertook to teach school, perform the duties of court messenger, to ring the bell, keep the church in order, act as precentor, attend to the burial of the dead, and all else that was necessary and proper in the premises.  The young man evidently had confidence in his abilities, and was not afraid of work.  For these multifarious duties he was to receive an annual salary of two hundred florins ($80), besides perquisites.  He was probably the first school master at Flatbush.  In a deed given by him, Jan. 6, 1663 he is styled “court attendant.”  About the time of the execution of this deed he probably removed to Bergen, N.J., where he took the oath of allegiance to the English, in November 1665.  His name is also appended to the remonstrance in 1700, by the people of East Jersey against the Proprietary Government.” . . . His name appeared as a witness to a deed, Nov. 6, 1696, from Hans Dedricks to Jan Adrianse Sip, for Lot No. 11, of the Acquackanonk patent, and it is not unlikely that he was the scrivener who drafted the conveyance.  He prob. d. at Bergen, May 15, 1707.”
The descendents of the early settlers of New Amsterdam and northern New Jersey are very fortunate to have William Nelson.  Not only did he record who married who and who begat who, what they did for work and what property they owned, he came up with fascinating stories about these people‘s lives.  Here’s one about Reynier’s son Bastiaen:
 “Bastiaen, m. Aeltje Hendrickse, June 25, 1688; administration was granted on his estate to his son Hendrick, July 22, 1751.  He bought a large tract of land in the present Montclair township, adjacent to Third river, prior to 1696, and took up his residence on this purchase, to which he added from time to time.  He perhaps also bought the eastern half of Lot No. 2, on Totowa, extending from Redwoods avenue nearly to North Twelfth street, and from the river to the mountain, embracing about 300 acres.  Family tradition said that he bought of an Indian nearly the whole of Totowa, from Totowa avenue westerly to the Singack or Totowa road, and including the Falls. This, of course, is an error, so far as concerns the dimensions of the purchase.  The tradition goes on to the effect that Bastiaen’s purchase of the Indian was as much land as he could walk around in a day, the consideration being one dollar.  While they were walking along, the Indian tried to make Van Giesen understand how the Red men had been gradually driven off their lands.  Not being able to talk Dutch, he signed to Bastiaen to sit down beside him on a log, near one end; then he gradually shoved along, until Bastiaen was crowded off the log, signifying that in like manner the Indians had been pushed off their lands.”
Here’s a story I  love about an ancestor named Merselis Van Giesen and his wife Jane during the 19th century when people believed in black magic.
 “As previously stated, he bought a tract of land on the present Hamburgh turnpike, north of the line of Doremus street.  There he built a small stone house, since rebuilt, and kept tavern for several years, being licensed in 1811, 1813 and 1816.  A curious story illustrative of the superstition of the day, is to this effect:  His wife was ill for a long time, being confined to her bed.  As she lay there, a black cat would come, night after night, and stare in at her through the window, with wicked, blazing eyes.  An uncanny fact about this visitation was that no one else could see the cat.   That Jane was bewitched was the belief not only of herself and her family, but of the whole neighborhood.  Moreover, the witch who exercised this spell, and who made these weird visits to the sufferer, in the guise of a cat invisible to everyone but the bewitched, was believed to be a Mrs. B____, who lived in the gorge in the hill beyond.  Talking the matter over with his neighbors, Merselis (he was commonly called “Sale”) was told that if he could shoot the spectral cat with a silver bullet he would kill the creature, and put a stop to the spells exercised over his wife.  He did not have a silver bullet, but he had a pair of silver sleeve buttons.  Loading his gun with one of these buttons, he seated himself on the bed beside his wife, and declared his intention of shooting that witch cat.  But how could he shoot a creature he couldn’t see?
 “When the cat comes,” said he to his wife, “do you point out just where it is, and I will shoot at that spot.”
 So they waited, she in a tremor of hope and dread - hope that the spells afflicting her were soon to be ended; dread lest some new torment might come to her from this daring attempt of her husband; he, in grim determination to forever end the unholy power exercised over his wife by Mrs. B, in the guise of the invisible feline.  Long and silently they waited.  At last when their feelings had been wrought up by the suspense to the highest pitch, Jane exclaimed:
 “There is the black cat!”
 “Where?”
 “At the window, it is walking on the sill, it is in the lower left-hand corner!”
 Quick as a flash “Sale” raised his gun and fired the silver bullet at the black cat which he could not see.  With a snarl that was a scream the mysterious creature vanished forever from the gaze of Mrs. Van Giesen, who from that hour began to recover her health.  The next day “Sale” started out on a hunt through what is now known as Cedar Cliff park.  On the way he met the husband of the suspected witch.  There was the usual interchange of courteous neighborly inquiries regarding the health of their respective families.  Mr. B said his wife had been troubled with a sore on her leg for sometime.
 “I would like to see that sore leg,” said “Sale.”
 After some demur he was taken to the house, and on one plea or another was finally permitted to examine the sore.  But what particularly attracted his notice was a fresh wound,  just where his silver sleeve button had struck the unfortunate creature when she had last visited his wife in the form of the spectral black witch cat!  Needless to say that Mrs. B never more made those weird visitations.  Perhaps it was from a sense of thanksgiving for her miraculous deliverance that Mrs. Van Giesen joined the First Presbyterian church on confession, Sept. 26, 1823.”
If anyone knows any more of these Van Gieson (or van Giesen) stories I’d love to hear them.