Bijlsma family: Two centuries as blacksmiths


(Sources: Bijlsma Genealogy:;  Website Johannes Groenewoud: ;  Family history: Bijlsma, Hommerts; Leeuwarder Courant Archives: )

On April 19,1823, Cornelis Meinderts Bijlsma was married at age 25 in the village of Rauwerd. His occupation was identified as blacksmith apprentice (‘smidsknecht’). This was unusual for his family because, up to that point, his ancestors had practiced the trade of either butcher (for both his greatgrandfather and grandfather and also likely his father) or that of barber, ‘beardshaver’ or wigmaker, in the case of his father. It is unclear how he came to this trade; likely he applied to work as apprentice to a master blacksmith. However it occurred, Cornelis started a family tradition that extended well into the twentieth century, over at least 5 generations.

Cornelis clearly became a master blacksmith himself in Rauwerd because he later advertised in the Leeuwarder Courant newspaper searching for an apprentice. He lived there all his life until his death at age 69 when his widow (his second wife) identified his occupation while living as blacksmith in a notice placed in the same newspaper. It can be noted that in the village facing the church, there is a small street called Smitshoeke, or smith’s corner; a small building at the foot of the street looks like it may have been his smithy.

Cornelis and his first wife Fijtje Gabes Kuindersma had a total of 7 children. It is known that at least the two eldest sons from this marriage followed their father into the blacksmith trade. Gabe Kornelis Bijlsma, born in Rauwerd on August 29, 1823, and his brother Meindert Cornelis Bijlsma, also born there on March 22, 1825, had taken up this trade by the early 1840’s, initially probably trained by their father. From 1840 to 1842, it is known that Gabe worked as apprentice in the village of Hijlaard. At some point between 1842 and 1849, both Gabe and his brother Meindert ended up working as blacksmiths in the village of Hommerts. The brothers were married on the same day in Hommerts on May 4, 1850, Gabe with Tietje Klazes Walinga and Meindert with Ybeltje Tjallings de Jong.

Soon after 1850, Meindert moved to the village of Roordahuizem where he operated his own smithy. However, he died prematurely in 1855 at the age of 30 and was thus unable to train his three sons in the trade.

His brother Gabe continued to operate the smithy in Hommerts. In December, 1856, he advertised in Leeuwarder Courant for an unmarried apprentice. Gabe and his wife Tietje had 10 children, of whom three sons followed their father into the trade. The eldest, Kornelis Gabes Bijlsma was born in Hommerts on March 21, 1851; two much younger sons, Klaas and Bauke, were born on December 17, 1864, and November 9, 1866.

The oldest son, Kornelis, worked for a time as apprentice with his father Gabe. Gabe died at the young age of 47 on April 1, 1870. It is quite possible that his mother may have worked out an arrangement whereby an adult smith may have operated the shop during the next few years. The smithy was not the property of Gabe or his widow after his death; it was being rented. In April, 1872, a notice offers for sale a smithy and house on the Smidspolle in Hommerts, in use by the widow of Gabe C. Bijlsma; the annual rent of the property at the time was 80 guilders.

Kornelis married Antje Beerends Sietsma in Hommerts on May 29, 1875. She was three years older than him and was the daughter of a farmer in Oosterzee. At marriage, Kornelis was identified as a smith’s apprentice which gives the impression that he was working under a master smith. However, in a notarial act in November, 1876, following the death of his father in law, his name appears and he is identified as a ‘grofsmid’ (blacksmith) in Hommerts; this gives the impression that at that time, he was running the smithy.

Four children were born to the couple in Hommerts: Tietje in 1876, Beerent in 1877, Gabe in 1879 and Jan in 1881; Jan died at the age of 2 months. The next children, twins Jan and Janke, were born in the village of Tjallebert in 1882 and died soon thereafter. Kornelis had moved from Hommerts to Tjallebert, a village to the north of Heerenveen. It is possible that he may have had a dispute with his mother who still probably controlled the smithy in Hommerts. At this point, his younger brothers Klaas and Bauke would have been aged 18 and 16 and were likely able to do the work in Hommerts.

Four further children were born to the couple in Tjalleberd: Janke in 1883, Sietske in 1885, Klaas in 1886 and Jan in 1888.

On February 27, 1891, Kornelis is named in a notarial act involving disbursement of the property of his wife’s grandmother, Antje Sipkes Sevensma. He is identified as a ‘grofsmid’ (blacksmith) living in Oldeholtpade, which is a village near Wolvega. Thus at some time after 1888, Kornelis had moved from Tjalleberd to Oldeholtpade.

By 1892, it is clear that he had moved to Balk. From 1892 to 1896, he occupied a building used as a smithy on Dubbelstraat in Balk . A notice in the Leeuwarder Courant in February, 1896, indicated that a building located on Dubbelstraat in Balk, located at cadaster number A681, was for sale following the death of the building owner; the building was occupied by Kornelis Bijlsma, working as a blacksmith and horseshoer (grof- en hoefsmid), with an annual rent of 180 guilders. From 1896 until his death in 1906, he occupied a smithy st Raadhuisstraat 28 in Balk; this building was owned by the Mennonite (‘doopsgezinde’) church. Kornelis would have paid a low rent for the smithy because his responsibility included acting as caretaker for the neighbouring church.

Of Kornelis’s four sons who lived to adulthood, three continued in the family tradition as blacksmiths.

His oldest son Berend and son in law Klaas Boersma (married to Kornelis’ oldest daughter Tietje) established themselves as a partnership in a smithing business in Wolvega; they jointly bought a house for this purpose on November 29, 1906. The partnership prospered and both were able to retire to live in relative comfort by the 1930’s. Berend had no children to continue the business.

His next son Gabe was operating his own smithy in Balk, also on Dubbelstraat from 1906-10; his widowed mother lived at this same address until 1917. Gabe then sold his business in Balk while he was working temporarily in Germany in 1910; eventually by the 1920’s he was operating a smithy in Harlingen, jointly with his youngest brother Jan. Gabe and Jan operated a smithy located at 5 Rommelhaven in Harlingen which specialized in providing services to the shipping industry.

The youngest son Jan purchased a building on Westeinde 185 in Balk in 1917 where he operated his own smithy. It is likely that Jan continued to work as blacksmith at the location on Dubbelstraat in Balk fromn 1910 to 1917, where his mother lived. His mother lived with Jan in his Westeinde building from 1917 to 1920. When Jan sold the building in 1920 to move to Harlingen, his mother moved to Wolvega to live with her son Berend and daughter Tietje, the wife of Klaas Boersma. Jan eventually left the partnership with borther Gabe to work in the gas industry. Gabe continued his business until the 1950’s.

A remaining question is what happened with the smithy business in Hommerts. Kornelis’ younger brother Klaas initially worked as smith’s apprentice in Terhorne and Holwerd. By 1886, it is clear that Klaas had returned to Hommerts to operate the smithy there, where his father Gabe had previously worked. He appears to have prospered. In 1906, there is a record of a notarized loan whereby Klaas lends money to a resident of Huizum. By 1910, his business had succeeded to the extent that he was able to build a new smithy with a dwelling and a store attached. Klaas died in 1916 at the young age of 51.

Klaas’ son Petrus was only 18 years of age when his father died. He took over the smithy business with the help of his unmarried brother Bauke. The nephew and uncle ran the smithy together until 1928 when Bauke left to move to Deventer.

Petrus continued the business on his own. By the 1940’s, the business was known as P.K. Bijlsma en Zn., as both of Petrus’s sons Klaas and Jisk joined the firm. The smithy expanded into other areas: land-making, bicycle repair and sales, water works and electrical work. After World War II, the business expanded to tractors and motorbikes, as well as selling gasoline by the 1950’s. After Petrus’ death, his two sons continued on, both with their own businesses. Currently, there is still a very large prosperous garage business owned by Jisk Bijlsma and his descendents in Hommerts. Thus, the Bijlsma family name has remained associated with Hommerts since at least 1850, for a period of over 160 years.

The trade of blacksmith became largely obsolete by the late 20th century. The kinds of modern derivatives from the trade include metalwork, garages, mechanics, engineering, etc. It would be interesting to know the extent to which current day descendants of Cornelis Meinderts Bijlsma have continued in the same kind of work to this day.

See:  Chart for the above

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