6    Dec 20105 comments

Families Around the World: A very diverse family from Suriname

This post was written by our colleague Denie, who lives in the Netherlands. We have translated his Dutch post into English and hope you will enjoy his truly beautiful family story!

This post is dedicated to the story of a very mixed family. A family which embodies centuries of global migration. A family that today might be characterized by a specific appearance, but has roots in almost every continent on the globe. It's my own family: A family of Dutch, French, Germans, Africans and Javanese, Israelis, Muslims, Huguenots, Lutherans, Dutch Reformed, Roman Catholics, and Protestants.

While I could talk for hours about my family history, I will keep this post very brief. Generally, I consider Suriname the central location for our family. After all, this is where my family's diversity is centered.

Diorama of the Waterfront in Paramaribo by Gerrit Schouten, 1820


Let's go back in time and travel to the West Indian colony of Suriname, in the year 1725. This is the year that my Ashkenazi ancestors crossed the Atlantic ocean, traveling from Amsterdam to Suriname. At the time, Suriname was home to both Sephardic Jews as well as Ashkenazi Jews and was seen as a land of opportunity by all.

Since the founding of the colony in 1650, Suriname was a place where people of diverse origins and nationalities lived together. To boost the essence of the plantation colony, freedom of religion was essential. This made it possible for free men and women of different faiths and backgrounds to practice as they wished with the same rights and obligations as everyone  -- a luxury as they were not given these rights, or even seen as full citizens in their respective home countries. For this reason, Suriname became a haven for those who wanted to build a new life whether it be in gold or in other opportunities.

While I could write a novel about my family, here I will highlight just a few branches of my  family tree -- the Godefroy's, who came from La Rochelle, France.

Cesar Godefroy 1813-1855, nephew of my ancestor Jean Jacques

My French ancestor Jacques was a scion of a prominent merchant family named Godefroy. They had a lot of capital built up in Suriname and had many plantations. His presence in Suriname (via Germany) was purely from a business perspective. A few male members of the family needed to represent the Godefroy family in the colony in order to strengthen the family capital.

The love that Jacques had for one of his private slaves resulted in the colored branch of the Godefroy family that came and went extinct in the colony. And while marriages between whites and slaves were banned before the abolition of slavery in Suriname, relations between interracial groups were tolerated. These relations created children in all colors of the rainbow, whether or not they were recognized by their father. Children took the status of their mother, including religion. As a result, today there are people with a family that is very characteristic of a particular religion but in fact have a different look and profess a different religion - which is very typical of the Surinamese society.

All the other parts of the family are also mixed with the most beautiful and interesting family stories. I enjoy spending my free time in the archives -- verifying and supplementing my family stories and events. One such project is a collection of signatures. Below is a good example from my collection. The signature of my forefather, Marcus Samson, a free Dutch Jewish man married to a Dutch Reformed free colored woman. Their children also married with people of mixed descent, resulting in very diverse family from Suriname.

Signature by Marcus Samson

Do you have a beautiful family story or background that you'd like to share?  Send it to tara@myheritage.com or respond to this blog entry.

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Comments (5) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Very, very interesting and nicely written.
  2. Maybe others may not see this story as I do, but, what a beautiful story.
  3. I loved this story. I found it to be very interesting. And I agree with Lois, a beautiful story.
  4. I have a German, of Godefroy descent, friend whose ancestor was the mayor of La Rochelle. He was a Hugenot and went from there to Prussia and ended up in Hamburg. Here later on the family intermarried with the von Paleske family whose money was made in salt. They had connections with the UK and had warehouses in London. Communications were by pigeon post. One of the von Paleske family was mayor of Gdansk (Danzig) the year that Charles 1 (GB) was executed. Quite a family history!
  5. I believe I am descended from a Benjamin Godefroy who settled in New Jersey, USA. He also was from La Rochelle, France. So this family really moved all over the world. If anyone would like to chat about Godefroy history send me an email to austinyerfdog@yahoo.com.

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