Travelogue | Friesland | Family Reunion

Friesland Couperus Family Reunion

At 3:30 in the morning on a Friday my alarm went off telling me that it’s time to wake up, get dressed, and meet the taxi waiting for me outside. He’s taking me to London Heathrow where I will board a flight to Amsterdam to meet my family. And when I say meet—I mean meet for the first time.

My grandparents on my mother’s side were born and raised in Friesland. After the devastation of World War II, my grandparents emigrated to the United States, where they hoped to have a better life with their small children.

Years and years and years go by and I’ve never met any of my family “across the pond”. Nor did I realize just how big that family is. With a huge family reunion in the works and two weeks before the big day, I bought my plane tickets to meet them all.


Upon landing in Amsterdam, my uncle Mike and (cousins?) Wilma and Greetje welcomed me to the Netherlands. We spent a lot of time waiting for more people to fly in from the States before we all piled into vans (11 Americans in total) and headed to Friesland. Once checked into our hotel, it was an interesting experience sitting on the back deck overlooking the canal. People would walk by opposite the canal, see us, recognize us, and wave ecstatically. They were Couperus’. They rushed across the canal into our hotel and warmly greeted us with hugs and kisses. This happened about 3 separate times. I guess word got out that we had arrived. 😉

Franeker and The Planetarium

On Saturday, we walked around a bit of Franeker. We stopped off at the city hall where (we thought) many of our family members had been wed–turns out we were mistaken. We also visited the Eise Eisinga Planetarium. The Planetarium was really spectacular! Built from 1774-1778, it is the oldest working Planetarium in the world. It features planets up until Saturn. When Uranus was discovered, it was too large to be built to scale into the Planetarium. The Planetarium was built inside Eise Eisinga’s living room, which had limited space. The entire thing operates on a single pendulum and moves in real time (though you can’t really see it moving because it takes a while for the planets to revolve around the sun…) It was truly a fascinating piece of work. Of course, slight manual adjustments are made now to account for leap years and daylight savings time.


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De ‘Langs het tuinpad van mijn vader’ toer

Or, the ‘Along the Garden Path of my Father’ Tour.

Afterwards, we were led on a guided tour by my cousin Wilma and her brother, Gerard. (I’m sure there is probably a second or something in there somewhere, but for ease, I just call them all cousins.) We started the tour in Hieslum, where my great-grandparents lived. A memorial stone dedicated to my great-great-great-grandfather (did I count the right number of greats?), Mollerus Reins Couperus (1814-1888) was also found in Hieslum above the entrance to a church.

Visiting the various places where my family lived and being accompanied by two of my grandfather’s brothers, Sjoerd and Eibert, who could remember times spent in these places was truly special. They went above and beyond to recount things that happened in these places and could show us where they happened. We heard stories about the war and were pointed out the fields in which they had to run across to hide from the Nazis and warn others. Where the hay bales would have been that they hid in. It was all very surreal. My grandparents never talked about life during the war. And suddenly, others are recounting the events you know that they lived. You’re standing with those that lived it and can remember it. That’s becoming rarer and rarer these days and I felt lucky to be able to stand with them next to those fields.


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Reunion Day

Sunday was the big day. The day where a bunch of Couperus’ gathered into a Church hall for a big reunion. Arriving at the hall, we placed our name tags on that included who we were related to. So, mine was: Elle Narbrook-Crook (daughter of Tena and Todd Crook). It was kind of funny because when meeting everyone, especially the older ones, they would first look at your name tag and be then suddenly squeal: Ooohh!! Tena!! Daughter of Tena!! Because, of course, everyone knows who my mom is. 🙂

There was also a lot of fun with language barrier as many from the older generations don’t speak English as well so the younger generations were doing a lot of back and forth translating. Funnily, they would sometimes not even know or realize what language they were actually speaking in. At one point, my mom was giving a speech and a cousin (see, I’m just going to call them all cousins) was translating…but he just started repeating what my mom said in English until a chorus of “Ayyee!!” rang about from all the Dutch people. Everyone laughed and he repeated my mom’s speech in Dutch (or Fries–I’m not really sure which).

The big meet and greet concluded by lighting candles for those who had passed away and visiting the graves of my great grandparents. We places stones by the tomb and then walked to the church. At the church we climbed the steep, dark, and narrow steps all the way to the top where a little balcony was. There was a tremendous view of Tzum, Friesland from up there. As a matter of fact, that church is the highest point in all of Friesland.

Next up we went on a big family field trip in a hired bus to Ir.D.F. Woudagemaal, which is the biggest steam pumping station in the world, still in operation today. After walking around for a couple of hours on a guided tour, it was back on the bus to Tzum where we finished the day with a lovely meal, more drinks, more stories, and many more hugs.

Our trip ended in Amsterdam. Monday was a travel and rest day while on Tuesday we explored the canals of Amsterdam. I flew back to England Tuesday night while the rest of the group stayed until Sunday.

The reunion was by far the best part of the trip. It was such a joy to meet my Dutch family and learn more about my family history. The Netherlands is a beautiful country. I can’t wait to back and until we all meet again. x


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3 Responses

  1. Dear Elle,
    What a beautiful reference book you made of your trip! Pics also are great! You are talented.
    Hope you have a nice time with your parents. Hope to meet you again.
    Lots of Love Gerda Couperus

  2. Elle! Reading this was so fun! You are not only a talented London yoga photographer, but also a talented writer! I can’t wait to read more.

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