Archive | January, 2019

Digging into my Family Roots

21 Jan

A little over a year ago I was digging into my Family Roots, into my Dutch Heritage at the New York Public Library. 

There were several files there on the Van Zandt Family, and one particularly intriguing file on my 3rd Great Grandfather – Wynant Van Zandt III.  It said he founded a church in Little Neck, New York, (later renamed Douglaston, New York).

At the time my son was living in Ridgewood, Queens not too far as the crow flies from Little Neck, but a long way, over an hour, if you did not have a car. I as intrigued, but doubted that I would ever get over that way.  The only times I risked driving into Queens was to do a quick pick up to drive my son’s possessions to or from Ridgewood from our home in Virginia.

Roll forward  about eight months.

My wife and I were sitting in a bakery/cafe in Ridgewood, drinking coffee and eating lunch before heading out to visit my son in the hospital. There was a well loved (used copy) of Walking Queens, by Adrienne Onofri sitting on our table.  I thumbed through it and turned to the chapter – walking tours of Douglaston/Little Neck. In the first paragraph or two it talked about Zion Episcopal Church – founded by Wynant Van Zandt III (my third great grandfather).  I continued reading and learned that he had built a home in Little Neck, and then there was third mention.

Well, we had a car, I drove it up to Queens so we could visit my son in a hospital that was near Little Neck Parkway just a couple of miles from Douglaston. I checked the maps on my cell phone and ascertained, that yes, it was very close to the Zion Episcopal Church. We also knew there would be a gap of a few hours between visiting hours, and we like to walk and hike.  This seemed like an opportunity to explore family roots and also get some walking in.

We had a nice visit with our son, then my wife and I jumped onto the Little Neck Parkway following our Google maps instructions. As we drove down the hill into Douglaston, we saw a Van Zandt Street. I was intrigued, to say the least.

Digging into family roots

We went first to the Zion Episcopal Church, it was after hours so we thought it was closed. I took a chance, I call their phone number and the minister answered and told me she was just inside the door in the office, so she opened it and gave us a warm greeting since we were “Van Zandts”. She of course knew, everyone in the church knew, that Wynant Van Zandt III, my 3rd great grandfather, had donated the land and helped raise the money to build the church. He is the acknowledge founder of Zion.

Digging into family roots - Zion Episcopal Church

There was a plaque commemorating his founding the church in 1829, there is a Van Zandt Service Award given out annually, and Wynant Van Zandt III and 8 of his family members are buried in a crypt in the basement of the church.  There is a plaque commemorating Wynant and his family members.  The church had a fire a number of years ago. It was rebuilt and it is lovely. It is on a beautiful large piece of property right off one of the main streets of the town.

Digging into Family roots - Zion Episcopal Church, Little Neck/Douglaston, NY

Wynant III had been a successful merchant, and an Alderman for New York City. He lived in the area near Wall Street, and he had headed the building committee that built the current New York City Hall. Later in life, perhaps in his late 40’s, he retired to the country for his health.

Summoose Tales - Wynant Van Zandt III - my third great grandfather

He retired to Little Neck with view of a beautiful bay with wild geese and ducks. The bay was also famous for the “Little Neck clams” it produced.  In 1819 Wynant III bought a 100 acre farm and an 18th century Dutch farm house, the Cornelius Van Wyck House, was built in 1735.

Summoose Tales - Wynant Van Zandt III bought the Cornelius Van Wyck House in 1819

Wynant III and his family lived her for several years while he built a new home on his farm.

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Wynant III’s new home was started in 1819. It later was bought by the Douglas family and called the Douglas Manor. Little Neck was renamed Douglaston. The Manor later become the home of the Douglaston Yacht Club.

Summoose Tales - Wynant Van Zandt III built this home in 1819 in Little Neck, NY. It later become the Douglas Mansion and the Douglaston Yacht Club

I am proudly standing on the steps of the family house Wynant III built for his retiring years. I have vague memories of my mom talking about Douglaston. I asked my Dad, but he does not remember her ever talking about the town and they never visited there. I suspect my grandfather knew a lot about Douglaston and Little Neck since Wynant III would have been their great grandfather.

I went back to “Little Neck” a second time to walk around. The marshes around the town are beautiful.

When my son got out of the hospital, he and I also drove over to Little Neck for  a quick look around. We were very fortunate to find the new owner of the Cornelius Van Wyck House visiting and he was kind enough to spend about an hour with us, sharing stories about Little Neck, Douglaston, and allowed us to see the inside of the house that he was renovating.

It felt to me that the nearly 300 year old walls could talk. I sensed a family connection.

The house has a lovely view up and down the Little Neck Bay. 

It was a real treat to walk around the home and yard, to “dig” into and explore some of my family roots. For me it was a bit of family history coming alive. I hope you also have an opportunity to dig into your family roots.

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Bruce Summers, Founder, Summoose Tales, Personal History Consultant and Life Story Coach, +1.703.503.8834, summersbw@gmail.com

See Also: Family History, My Stories, Personal Historian


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Can we be kids again?

14 Jan


My son and I decided yes, we can be kids again.

Well, after we finished shoveling out the driveway and the walkways, and clearing the snow off the cars for the third time in two days.

This was the first snow of 2019. It started on Saturday and finished up sometime dot early on Monday morning.

I have to confess, I jump-started – can we be kids again by sneakily packing and then throwing the first snowball at my son Bryce before we were done clearing off the first car the first time. Then, the broom he was using, to clean snow off the roof, just happened to brush about a hood full of snow over my way.

So far we were just being a bit playful, while doing our work. Surreptitiously, I packed a small snowball and lightly lobbed it over towards Bryce’s general direction. Well the snow ball lightly grazed his head, but then left about a quarter of its mass lodged inside and outside of his glasses.

Oops, I instantly apologized. Bryce disappeared inside. I knew I was in trouble when he came back with his glasses off. I realized I had made a few tactically mistakes, since Bryce had been the baseball catcher, pitcher and outfielder, while I had been the left out. Also, at age 25, his arm was still in its prime, while mine was good for short distances at best.

Bryce smiled, picked up his broom again and started to work on clearing snow off the hood of the car. I turned around a few moments later and – whack. He hit me in the back, luckily, with a well formed snowball. Why did I ever teach him how to pack snowballs when he was young?

I realized, that my best course was not to retaliate, and thus only got hit by one or two more snow balls, until after we finished our snow clearing.

Bryce then asked me, “do you want to go for a walk?” Since time had passed, and I thought we had in place an unspoken truce, I said yes. Bryce had already brought out the bag with the Truro Trails, our local neighborhood newsletter. Ever since Bryce was a young teenager, I have been delivering, often with his help, batches of Truro Trail to four neighbors, who then each deliver copies to several neighbors. It was great having one of my “kids” again walking with me and chatting up our neighbors.

It was still snowing, most of the streets had not been plowed, many of the sidewalks had not been cleared, but we decided it was a beautiful day. So, we continued our walk through our Truro neighborhood.

As we approached the stream crossing, we decided to amble through our neighborhood park. The stream flowing through the snowy banks, though the snowy trees, and under the snow covered bridges was spectacular.

It was a great day for a walk, and we did have our hiking boots and warm clothes on. What can be better than a walk through a snow filled park and neighborhood.

At a certain point, the kid in me took over my brain, and I thought… we could pull on the branches and create snow showers. And so we did, the rules of engagement were – we both had to be under snow covered branches, and we would alternate who picked the spot and who got to shake the tree branch.

Well, this worked out surprisingly well, and, as the snow piled up on our hats and hoods and shoulders, we each smiled and laughed. Sometimes, it really felt like heavy shower as snow cascaded in large clumps from 5 to 20 feet up. Sometimes, more fell on Bryce. Sometimes, more fell on me.

However, about half way through our neighborhood, I realized that I had again, missed a key strategic point. Bryce had his sweatshirt hood up and over his head and neck. I on the other hand, had a knit cap on my head and my hood was down, This made it all to possible for snow to shower down my neck and sometimes, even down my back.

Yet we continued, like the kids we were again, to alternate pulling branches to snow shower each other at least a dozen times each as we completed our long loop through our neighborhood. It definitely was the most fun I had had for a long time.

Notice the snow-berg on Bryce’s right shoulder

We completed our walk, changed clothes, dried off, had a steaming bowl of chili for lunch, and thought about possibilities. Maybe tomorrow, we could go sledding…

Summoose Tales - Can we be kids again?
Postscript – yes we did get in a bit of sledding the next day, since we had learned the day before that we can be kids again:)


Bruce Summers is the Founder of Summoose Tales, a Personal History Consultancy

Contact Information: +1.703.503.8834, summersbw@gmail.com

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