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.

**************************************

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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