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The Dutch-American Roots of
Joan Van Ark

By James Pylant


Actress Joan Van Ark is best-known for her role of Valene Ewing on the long-running CBS nighttime soap "Knots Landing." She was born 16 June 1946 in New York City,1 to Carroll Van Ark and the former Dorothy Jean Hemenway.2

A native of Holland, Michigan, Carroll Van Ark worked in advertising and public relations. On a business trip to Colorado, Van Ark had the chance to see Boulder and decided that he and his wife and their four children would relocate to that city.3

The Social Security Death Index shows Carroll Van Ark was born on 14 August 1897 and died September of 1972, his last residence being Boulder.4 The same birth date for Carroll C. Van Ark, in the city of Holland, as registered in Ottawa County, Michigan, shows he was the son of Henry Van Ark and wife Alice. His father’s occupation was bookkeeper.5

By 1910, Henry Van Ark’s occupation had changed from bookkeeper to "retail merchant, furniture," according to the federal census enumeration for that year. He was thirty-nine, born in Michigan, and both of his parents were native of the Netherlands. Wife Alice, age thirty-three, was born in Michigan, as were his parents. The Van Arks had been married thirteen years, and Mrs. Van Ark had given birth to two children, both of whom were living. Sons were Carrol C., age twelve, and Gordon H., age three months, both born in Michigan.6 Six years later, a local directory shows Henry Van Ark, a furniture dealer, and wife Alice had three children and lived at Rural Route 3, Holland. Here, they owned thirteen acres. Carroll Van Ark’s occupation is given as newspaper reporter.7

By the next decade, Carroll Van Ark was no longer living with his parents. Henry Van Ark is shown on the 1920 census, at age forty-seven, now in Fillimore Township, Allegan County. His birth and occupational information as matches with what is found in 1910. Wife Alice, age forty-two, and son Gordon H., age ten, are also found, but the family with two younger children: Isabel, age six, and Edna May, age three years and three months.8

Based on the 1910 census, the Van Arks had been married thirteen years as of 27 April. Their fourteenth anniversary fell later that year, for Henry Van Ark, age twenty four, and Alice M. Miller, age nineteen, were married 28 September 1896 in Holland, Ottawa County. The groom, a bookkeeper, the son of Gradus Van Ark and the former Alice Oudenhof, was born in Holland, Michigan. The bride, the daughter of Christopher Miller, was born in Fillimore, Michigan.9

Henry is the Americanized form of the Dutch name Hendrik, just as Alice is for the Dutch Aaltje. The birth record of Hendrik Van Ark shows he was born 4 May 1873 in Ottawa County to carpenter Gerardus Van Ark and wife, Aaltje, both natives of the Netherlands.10 Seven years later, the Van Arks are enumerated on the rolls of the 1880 Census in Holland, Ottawa County, Michigan, with Gerardus Van Ark, age forty-six, "Proprietor of Planning Mill," and wife Aaltje, age fifty, keeping house; son Herman, age twenty-one, working at planning mill; daughter Aaltje, age sixteen, at home; daughter Johanna, age twelve; at home; Frank, age ten; son Hendrik, age eight; and son Bertus, age five. Mr. and Mrs. Van Ark and their two older children were born in Holland; the remaining members of the family were born in Michigan.11

In 1900, Joan Van Ark’s great-grandmother — Alice — is found twice on the federal census: in the household of husband in Ottawa County, and also in the household of her son-in-law in Kent County. The Ottawa County schedule shows Gravis Van Ark, no age of year of birth given (only that he was born in November), a native of the Netherlands, had arrived in the US in 1862 at the age of thirty-eight. Alice, age seventy, born in May of 1830 in the Netherlands, had also arrived in America in 1862 at age thirty-eight.12 Alice Van Ark, as she appears in Marten Blok’s household, indicates she came to America in 1865, at age thirty-five.13

Gradus Van Ark, age seventy-three, born in Holland, was retired by the enumeration of the 1910 Census. He and Altje, age seventy-nine, born in Holland, a housekeeper, were living in Holland, Ottawa County. The year 1866 is recorded for the year of immigration for both, though only Mr. Van Ark was naturalized.14 According to family tradition, he outlived his wife, and "well into his eighties," married a young woman.15

In Ottawa County’s Holland, Mr. Van Ark built the family furniture store and the Third Dutch Reformed Church. He was, however, best-known as the town’s winemaker, which was used for the church communion services. Carroll Van Ark visited his paternal grandfather’s home for family dinners on Sundays and remembered when wine did not involve the ritual of communion. As the story goes, Mr. Van Ark "would take the men down into the basement to inspect the vats. Some time later, they would come back upstairs with flushed faces and jolly spirits."16

Joan Van Ark, the fourth generation Van Ark in America, was the second youngest enrollee of the Yale School of Drama on a scholarship. Coincidentally, the youngest was actress Julie Harris, who played her mother in "Knots Landing."17 On 1 February 1966, Joan Van Ark married John Marshall. They have one child, Vanessa Jeanne Marshall,18 a Princeton graduate who is now a voice-over actress.19

  1. Susan L. Stetler, ed., Biography Almanac (Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1987), Vol. 2 (L-Z), p. 1638.
  2. Helen L. Tiger, senior editor, Who’s Who in America (New Providence, NJ: Marquis Who’s Who, 1996), 51st Edition, Vol. 2 (L-Z), p. 4366.
  3. The Celebrity Collector: Joan van Ark, online, downloaded 1 December 2005.
  4. Carroll Van Ark entry, no. 085-05-5945, Social Security Death Index, online
  5. Carroll Van Ark entry, no. 382, Birth Records, Vol. 6, p. 202, Ottawa County, Michigan.
  6. Henry Van Ark household, 1910 U. S. Census of Ottawa County, Michigan, population schedule, Holland City, enumeration district [ED] 162, supervisor’s district [SD] 5, p. 78, sheet 21A, dwelling 545, family 352; National Archives [NA] microfilm T624-670.
  7. [Anonymous], The Farm Journal Illustrated Directory of Allegan County, Michigan (Philadelphia: Wilmer Atkinson Co., 1916), p. 247.
  8. Henry Van Ark household, 1920 U. S. Census of Ottawa County, Michigan, population schedule, Fillemore Township, ED 13, SD 4, p. 118, sheet 6A, dwelling 102, family 107; NA microfilm T625-753.
  9. Van Ark - Miller marriage, no. 207, Marriage Records, Vol. 7, p. 172, Ottawa County, Michigan,
  10. Hendrik Van Ark entry, no. 388, Birth Records, Vol. 2, p. 26, Ottawa County, Michigan.
  11. Gerardus Van Ark household, 1880 U. S. Census of Ottawa County, Michigan, population schedule, Holland, ED 244, SD 2, p. 465, dweling 31, family 41; NA microfilm T9-0601.
  12. Gravis Van Ark household, 1900 U. S. Census of Ottawa County, Michigan, population schedule, Holland, ED 126, SD 126, dwelling 545, family 352, p. 181, sheet 18A; NA microfilm T623-738.
  13. Marten Blok household, 1900 U. S. Census of Kent County, Michigan, Walker township, population schedule, ED 66, SD 66, p. 217, sheet 1B, dwelling 18, family 19; NA microfilm T623-722.
  14. Gradus Van Ark household, 1910 Census of Ottawa County, Michigan, population schedule, Holland, ED 163, SD 5, p. 112, sheet 29A; dwelling 679, family 639; NA microfilm T624-670.
  15. DAHEF — Hall of Fame — 1996, Joan van Ark, online,, downloaded 1 December 2005.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Joan Van Ark, Internet Movie Database, online,, downloaded 19 August 2006.
  18. Tiger, Who’s Who in America, 51st Edition, Vol. 2 (L-Z), p. 4366.
  19. Vanessa Marshall, Internet Movie Database,, downloaded 19 August 2006.

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