Dad’s roots might go back to a Norwegian sailor, Jens Nicolas Collin, a “Steuermann” on the ship Prinz Fridrich Wilhelm of Prussia who was born about 1761 in Bergen, Norway. He may have jumped ship in Ostfriesland (Lower Saxony, Germany). This would explain how the very un-German name, Collin, was introduced in that area. An adventuresome spirit could be a legacy to the Collins clan from that eighteenth century sailor. Speculations like this gave way to fact when, with the help of Zella Mirick (Ostfriesen Genealogical Society of America), we established the first positive roots of the Collin clan. With her help and the cross checking of my sister, Zoe, who checked other sources and, we found my Dad’s grandfather, Englebart Collin, born in Norden, Germany in 1852. He married Trientje Harms (1859-1903) of Moordorf in the Lutheran Church at Victorbur around 1880.


Anna, Carl (back row)

Harm, Trientje's Mother, Anna, Trientje (front row)


By 1889 they had three children, Tena (1881), Carl (1886), and Harm (1889). Life was challenging in their native land, a flat terrain reclaimed from the North Sea bordered on the west by the Ems River. In the second half of the 19th century at least 35 people left Moordorf and 60 left Victorbur. Most immigrated to Iowa or Illinois. 


Overcome by wide spread hunger and war, Englebart struggled to make a living as a workman in Lintel, Moordorf, and Uttum, but could barely provide for his family, so he agreed with Trientje to join the massive wave of immigrants to the United States. Conditions were so bad that in some German villages over half of the population departed. Englebart led the way arriving on the ship, Muenchen (maiden voyage 1/23/1889 with room for 1,763 3rd class passengers), from Bremen, Germany in Baltimore on August 6, 1889. Trientje followed with the children arriving on the ship, America, in Baltimore on October 16, 1889. The spirit of adventure had been replaced by a desire for survival, a stubborn spirit, and a willingness to take risks immigrating to a foreign country.


By 1891 the Collin family had arrived in northern Illinois in the small farming community of White Rock, Illinois. The area had first been settled in 1830. White Rock Township was established in 1849. The family may have journeyed by train since the Chicago Great Western Railroad established a depot in nearby Lindenwood in 1887. German immigrants were lured to this part of Illinois sometimes by free fare for a promise to work as tenant farmers. Sometimes they connected with fellow Ostfrieslanders who had emigrated from Germany previously. The History of Ogle County Illinois 1878 (p. 645) lists landowner Wilke Engelkes and his wife Catharine Manson (previous marriage name). Her maiden name was Harms, the same as Trientje. Wilke was born at Pilsum, Emden, Germany (not far from Moordorf) in 1836. With so much in common, they must have at least encountered Englebart and Trientje.


Ogle County land was wet, heavy black gumbo covered with deep rooted prairie grass. Accustomed to tough conditions in Ostfriesland, Englebart could surely tackle the challenges of plowing this land. He joined fellow immigrants working long hours in all weather conditions. Life for him and Trientje on this land was made even more difficult when tragedy struck as twins, Annir and Fred, died the year they were born followed by their sister, Margaretha, who also died the year of her birth (1892). Their last child, Ana, was born later in 1892, and outlived all of her siblings, living until 1968.


Englebart and Trientje continued to struggle along with others from Ostfriesland keeping their old customs, attending their Lutheran Church, and speaking broken English and Low German (so named for the low, flat terrain of their native land). But the rigors of tenant farming took their toll on Englebart who died in Benter, Illinois in 1895 at the age of 43.  Census records indicate that by 1900 the family was breaking apart as Tena moved to Grant township, Iowa, to work as a servant, and her brother Carl worked as a farm laborer in Ocheyedan, Iowa (east of Sioux Falls). Trientje took Harm and Ana west to Matlock, Iowa, where she died in 1903 at the age of 44. Her oldest daughter, Tena was only 22. Her brother, Carl, was 17. My Dad’s father, Harm, was 14. His youngest sister, Ana, was 10. Life on the prairie was brutal.


Tena, Harm, and Anna 1930’s


Next: 1903-1920: Hope and Tragedy


Arthur B. Collins