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Because of a medical uncertainty at birth, Jeltsema was registered as a girl in the municipality's population registry. This was administratively corrected in 1906.
In 1892–1896 Jeltsema followed a course at the Minerva Academy in Groningen. He then followed an initial training for drawing teacher, but opted for training as a sculptor at the Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten in Amsterdam (1899–1902). In 1902 he won the Dutch Prix de Rome.
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