Dutch ancestor stowed away on a ship to America

Lynette Banks

Lynette Banks of Draper, Utah tells this story, which she heard from her great-aunt, Joyce Unck Cox of the Ogden area, at a family reunion in July 2015.

“My great-aunt is like the last surviving Unck of her generation. We were talking about trying to get stories from her that we won’t get anywhere else, to preserve them. So she told us this story.

“Her father's name was Wander Unck, and he was from the Netherlands. He was born in 1882. He and his family were baptized into the LDS Church, even though it was illegal at that time in the Netherlands to be baptized into any faith but the state church. He was baptized in the winter. There was a branch of the Rhine where the missionaries would come up the road, break the ice, and the person being baptized would walk up just behind them be baptized. They would put a gray jacket around the baptized person so he wouldn't get caught by the government while wearing his white, wet clothes. That gray jacket was passed around as people were baptized. They called them ‘gray jackets.’

“They were having a lot of problems during that time. Germany was threatening to take over part of the Netherlands. So at age 16, Wander snuck onto a ship. His parents wanted to make sure Wander was safe, so I think they may have encouraged him to stow away on a ship to America. So he left with his parents' blessing. There could have been other reasons, but I think they were trying to save him by doing this.

“He got into one of the lifeboats on the ship and lay there for hours. The crew discovered him before the ship left port, but they didn't turn him in. My aunt said he lay there for however long it took for them to get out of the port. Some of the crew who knew he was there would bring him food and water. When there was no one there, they would let him get out, stretch his legs, walk around, go to the bathroom, and so on.

“I don't know who he was meeting in America, whether there was already family here, but Wander ended up in Ogden, Utah. He ended up marrying a Dutch gal who came over legally. He met her here in Ogden. He was a carpenter by trade, having begun his training in Holland. When he got here, he had to finish his apprenticeship. For his final project he made three wood inlays of scenes in Holland, using all different kinds and shades of wood. He gave one to each of his first three daughters. But Joyce was born much later, and he wasn't making them when she was born. However, when her older sister Jannetje passed away, her son gave one of them to Joyce.

“At the reunion we got to see the pictures and projects that my great-grandfather made, plus a lot of other memorabilia—old necklaces and things that show this is what they were.”

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