When I started blogging many years ago, I learned to set up Google alerts which would notify me if anyone mentioned my name on the web. Since people regularly spell my name incorrectly, I set up alerts for both “Tom Vander Well” and “Tom Vanderwell.” So it was that I learned of the existence of my name’s doppleganger, Tom Vanderwell, who was blogging on the subject of mortgage banking at the time.
It did not take long for Tom and me to make connection and over the years we’ve chatted online via Facebook, have exchanged e-mails and have even spoken on the phone. So, when I found out Wendy and I were going to be in Tom’s neck of the woods this week I immediately arranged for a face-to-face meeting. It was a lot of fun. While refilling my coffee this morning, a friend of Tom’s stopped to chat with him. I had so much fun walking up to the stranger, sticking out my hand and saying “Hi, I’m Tom Vander Well” to which he hesitated and did a double-take to look at Tom Vanderwell who laughed and said, “No, really, he is Tom Vander Well.”
We’ve not been able to establish a direct family connection. The difference in the spelling of the last name is likely from differences in the way the Dutch “van der Wel” was Americanized to either ”Vander Well,” ”Vanderwell,” or similar spellings. My great-grandfather came by himself in 1885 and settled in Boyden, Iowa. Tom’s grandfather came to the U.S. with a boatload of family in the early 1900s and settled in Michigan. If we go back far enough we may be able to find some connection, but at the very least we’re connected by both faith and the web.
Tom left the banking industry at the beginning of this year and has been working full time for God’s Littlest Angels orphanage in Haiti.