GSBC Special Project—Bergen County in Six Objects

First Holland Reformed Church of Wortendyke, Midland Park, NJ

Nominated by Carol DeWitte and Maria “Ree” Jean Pratt Hopper, CG; transcribed by Afina Broekman and Carol DeWitte; narrative by Michelle D. Novak

Many are aware that Bergen County has Dutch roots. But while many early immigrant families of Bergen were Dutch and French Huguenot (French Protestants who took refuge in the Netherlands), they also included English, Scotch-Irish, German, Scandinavian, and Polish, among others. Bergen County was, and is, a community of immigrants.

The membership books for the First Holland Reformed Church of Wortendyke, Midland Park, NJ, (now Faith Reformed Church) were an early inspiration for this series. Records such as these have deep genealogical value but, unfortunately, many end up in the trash, on eBay, or languish in storerooms or basements until they are damaged or illegible.

These books were uncovered by Church member, and long-time GSBC member and former Trustee, Carol DeWitte. In them she recognized information beyond just names and dates and details that may hold the key for some researchers. We thank Pastor Scott Nichols and the congregation of Faith Reformed Church for allowing the GSBC to document these records and preserve the information they hold for researchers.

Why Are These Membership Books Important?

The story of the First Holland Reformed Church of Wortendyke is the story of immigrants who came from a specific place (the Netherlands), to a specific place (New Jersey), for a specific purpose (cotton and silk mill work).

Immigration from the Netherlands to the US, from the mid-1800s to WWI, is generally broken into three “waves.” Beginning in about 1835, the first wave of immigrants, called the “Flakkeers” and from the Goeree-Overflakkee in South Holland, found unskilled work in the cotton and silk mills in Paterson. [1] (According to author James de Waal Malefyt, who provided the details used in this narrative, many in this first wave were so poor that they could not afford train fare so they walked from Hoboken, where their ship docked, to Paterson.)

After the Civil War, the second wave of Dutch immigrants, comprised of those primarily from the Gelderland Province of the central Netherlands, arrived and settled about six miles north of Paterson, in and around what is now Midland Park. The third wave of Dutch immigrants, which hit a peak in the 1890s, hailed from the Friesland region of the northern Netherlands. This wave also served as laborers and weavers in the mills of Paterson.

All three waves of immigrants left their homeland for the same reason—opportunity. In the 1800s, the Netherlands saw a spike in birth rates and economic opportunity dwindled with the rising population.

Upon arriving in the US, many immigrants, as immigrants still do today, joined families they knew from their homeland and drew strength from their ethnically-homogeneous enclaves. Dutch neighborhoods sprung up in and around Paterson in Passaic County and in Franklin Township, Ho-Ho-Kus, Midland Park, Orvil Township, and Wortendyke in Bergen County. (These locations are before the 1894 “Boroughitis” and today include a significant portion of Bergen County.)

Immigrants spoke their native tongue in church, at school, and at home—and probably marveled at the odd “Jersey Dutch” spoken by the local New Jersey “Hollanders.”

They often settled in Dutch enclaves, comprised of a few families each, married within their community, and saw generations of their family raised within a few miles of where they first settled. By 1920, more than 90 percent of all Dutch immigrants to the US had settled in New Jersey in Passaic, Bergen, or Hudson Counties. [2] According to Malefyt, “the 1900 federal census of the new borough of Midland Park listed 302 heads of household, of which 38 percent (115) were immigrants born in Holland. Several families came in 1873, but over one-half of Midland Park’s Dutch immigrants (55 percent) came in the decades of the 1880s.”

The founders of the First Church of Wortendyke primarily came from the second wave of Dutch immigrants, the Gelderlanders. According to the church history written (in Dutch) in membership book one, “After almost 4 years meeting every 14 days in the evening during the week, with services being held under the leadership of Rev. Huijssoon, Karse and van Leeuwen, and at the request of the Hollanders, who had in that time greatly increased in numbers…if an opportunity could be found to also hear regularly on Sunday the word of life.” After nearly four years of services held every two weeks, the congregation was growing and yearned for a more permanent status. A request to merge the congregation with another in Paterson went unanswered and the congregation applied to the Classis of Paramus.

The church was formed under the Classis of Paramus on 25 September 1872, and it held its first services at the Ho-Ho-Kus public school. Shortly after, a splinter faction formed a rival church in Spikertown (between modern-day Wyckoff and Ho-Ho-Kus) which caused deep divisions in the congregation. It then noted, “From the 15th February 1873, when Rev. L.G. Jongeneel left us, the consistory has until now made no effort to put out a new call, mainly because the times are unfavorable and there is a shortage of money and work in all America and we seem to be getting a hard winter and no earnings.” There is no date for this entry, but possibly written during the financial panic of 1873 which began in the fall of that year.

Church building c1880.

But after a inauspicious start, the congregation of First Church of Wortendyke took root. The congregation accepted new members into the church and transfered others out, many to nearby Paterson congregations, and in the early 1880s, the congregation built its first sanctuary. (The current building, the original structure enveloped in another, serves as the Bergen County Northwest Senior Activity Center in Midland Park.)

Members, marriages, births, and deaths fill hundreds of pages of entries in the church books. And, under the “Received from” column, many entries contain the specific place of origin, down to the province and village in the Netherlands.

This is especially important to researchers as the 1885 and 1895 New Jersey State censuses did not ask for place of origin for Dutch immigrants (only those from Germany or Ireland*) and the 1890 Federal census was mostly lost to fire. State vital records may have asked for place of origin,* but it is possible that someone living in this time span will not show up on any official records. Place names on death records are provided by family or friends, who may not know exactly where the person came from or be misinformed.

Records like these from the First Church of Wortendyke help researchers fill the gaps. Thanks to the church and the efforts of our volunteers, this information has been captured and preserved for future generations of researchers.

* See "Author's Addition," for additional information and clarification.

Author's Addition

After writing and publishing the above penultimate paragraph, I reached out to the experts at the New Jersey State Archives to see what New Jersey vital records of this timeframe, between the 1880 and 1900 Federal censuses (not including those censuses) would record places of birth for an immigrant. Bette Epstein responded with the following information and clarifications:

  • 1885 New Jersey State Census—Place of origins for immigrants only for those born in Ireland and Germany. Other may be recorded, but only Irish or German were required to be recorded.
  • 1890 Federal Census—Census was lost to fire except for three pages for Jersey City, Hudson County (1018-1020). Place of birth for the individual and for their parents is recorded.
  • 1895 New Jersey State Census—Place of origins for immigrants only for those born in Ireland and Germany. Other may be recorded, but only Irish or German were required to be recorded.
  • New Jersey Vital Records, Birth—Child’s place of birth in New Jersey (city or township) was recorded. Mother and father’s places of birth (usually a state or country; sometimes just "USA"). Note that there is a separate set of microfilm for Delayed Birth Record Filings, 1848–1900.
  • New Jersey Vital Records, Marriage—Place of birth for the parties being married was recorded (usually a state or country, but sometimes just "USA"). Place of birth for the fathers and mothers of the parties being married (usually a state or country, but sometimes just "USA").
  • New Jersey Vital Records, Death—Recorded place of birth for the deceases (usually a state or country, but sometimes just "USA"). Recorded place of birth for the father and mother of the deceased (usually a state or country, but sometimes just "USA"). Note that there is no informant information on death records prior to 1900, so we cannot say who provided the information.
  • County Court of Common Pleas, Naturalization Records, 1790s–1906—These naturalization records prior to 1906 provide very little information, but would give the country of origin. Most naturalization records are for men, since women received citizenship through their husbands. I have only seen seven women naturalization records for prior to 1906 in my years of research.

Thank you, Bette!

What’s Next?

The GSBC photographed one of the original books and in the research process discovered a microfilm copy of both books at the Joint Archives of Holland, in Holland, MI. This microfilm was created in the 1970s and another copy has not yet been found. The GSBC was able to borrow the film from the archives and The Crowley Company generously donated the scanning.

Carol DeWitte transcribed Book 1 and GSBC Indexing Chair, Afina Broekman, translated the Dutch passages and proofed the transcription. The resulting name index will be posted on the GSBC website, and a copy of all materials will be placed at the Bolger Heritage Center. (The church requested that we not publish information on more recent members online, which we will respect.)

We delivered a copy of all photos and scans to the Archives of the Reformed Church in America, New Brunswick, NJ, and to the Joint Archives of Holland in Holland, MI.

Faith Reformed Church will receive a copy of all images and scans as well as printouts of all photos, scans, and transcripts—which the church office can use in place of the fragile books. The original books have been wrapped in custom archival wrappers and encased in an archival storage box purchased with grant funds.


1 Robert Swierenga, Faith and Family: Dutch Immigration and Settlement in the United States, 1820–1920

2 Gerald F. de Jong, historian and author. Many of the statistics in this article come from James J. de Waal Malefyt’s Christian Reformed Dutch Immigrants of Northern New Jersey (2002), a copy of which is available at the Bolger Heritage Center at the Ridgewood Public Library. In addition to a narrative of Dutch Immigration, the book also contains hundreds of family worksheets of those of Dutch origin in NJ.

Artifact Information

Artifact Title Membership Book of the First Holland Reformed Church of Wortendyke, Midland Park, NJ
Location Faith Reformed Church, 95 Prospect St, Midland Park, NJ 07432 (current congregation). The original church was located at 52 Center Street, Midland Park, NJ. The structure is now the Bergen County Northwest Senior Activity Center.
Date Book: 1872–1952.
Microfilm: W13-1382.10. New Jersey, Midland Park. First Holland Reformed Church. Microfilm, 1873–1952.
Description Original membership books of the First Holland Reformed Church of Wortendyke, Midland Park, NJ.

About the Authors

Carol DeWitte is a GSBC Trustee, member of the Faith Reformed Church, and long-time member of the GSBC.

Maria “Ree” Pratt Hopper is the co-president of the Genealogical Society of Bergen County and a professional genealogist. She has dedicated her life to genealogy and writes extensively on her husband’s family, the Hopper family of Bergen County, New Jersey.