The Kool Sisters

We last met Matthias Kool, my great-great-great grandfather, in Nijmegen.  It’s 1841 or 42.  He’s unemployed, living in the tailor’s quarter of the walled city, with his wife, Barendina Rookes, his 2 ½ year old daughter Paulina, and a young man of 16, Johannes, also unemployed.

I don’t know what happened to this little family unit, but I do know that Paulina next shows up in the Hague, living with several of Matthias’s sisters. 

First, there’s Maria Kool,  born in 1811 (two years before Matthias), in Leeuwarden.  She is listed as head of the household, and also as owner of a shop in the High Street.  Both facts make her noteworthy, as it was unusual both for a woman to be head of household and to own a business.  Maria dies on 10 July 1904 or 1914 – it’s difficult to read the fine handwriting, reproduced from microfilm by a copy machine.

Living with Maria are Elizabeth Kool, born 1807 and Wilhelmina Kool, born 1819, both born in Leeuwarden.  There’s also Cecelia Kool, born in 1830, in The Hague.

Paulina, born 1839 in Nijmegen, is listed as an additional sister, though we know she is a niece.  On 26 February, 1862, Paulina (now 23) decamps for Amsterdam, and a few years later (again, difficult to read), to Utrecht.  This is the first evidence I have that Paulina was ever in Utrecht, the city in which Grandfather Theodore Jansen was born.  I wonder if she knew, or perhaps worked for, Madame Jansen, who ran the Magasin du Modes?

In the same Kool household are six servants: J.G. Duivestein, Anna Smolders, Anna Margarethe Evers, Maria Franken, Constance Maria Barens, and Maria van der Berg.

There is no sign of Matthias,  but obviously the family was doing quite well without him.  In fact, I suspect this family is the source of Great Grandmother Kool Vanderdonck’s money, and that perhaps Maria Kool was the one who headed and operated the business manufacturing baby clothes.

More on this as I find it.

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Posted by on November 11, 2011 in Uncategorized



Nijmegen, City Walls

My great-grandmother — my mother’s mother’s mother — had more names that most princesses:  Paulina Johanna Cornelia Maria Kool Vanderdonck Van der Pijl. 

That last one was spelled in several ways through the years, on census records and passenger lists:  vander Pill, Van der Pihl, vander Pile. In all of my searching, no Mr. Van der Pijl has ever surfaced, so I’m not sure where she got that name.

The surname Kool is pronounced “Coal”  and means “cabbage” as in “Cole Slaw.” That name came from Paulina’s father, Matthias Kool.  Matthias was  born 10 February, 1813, in Leeuwarden, the capital of the province of Friesland – the northern part of the Netherlands. Leeuwarden was also the birthplace of M.C. Escher, and the  hometown of Mata Hari. During World War II,  the city was occupied by the Germans, and heavily defended.  The Royal Canadian Dragoons, defying orders not to attack, charged into the heavily defended city and liberated  Leeuwarden from the Germans on April 15, 1945.

But I get ahead of myself.  Let’s go back to the 1830s.  By this time, Matthias was living in Nijmegen, the oldest city in the Netherlands. Drusus, a stepson of Augustus Caesar, is credited with the founding.  He built a camp here in 15 -12  BC, and used the spot as a base for his offensives across the Rhine.  In the years following, the Romans headquartered their army here.  Later the town was taken over by the Franks.

Nijmegen is a beautiful city, situated in the east of the Netherlands, very close to the German border, on the banks of the Waal River.  Like Leeuwarden, it was occupied by the Germans during World War II. In fact, it was the first Dutch city to fall to the Germans, and in 1944 saw heavy fighting during Operation Market Garden. 

Paulina Kool was born in Nijmegen on 18 September 1839.  According to her birth certificate, on file at the archives there, her mother was Barendina Roelandina Paulina Rookes (b. 1812), a native of Rotterdam. 

Two years later, in 1841, a local census finds Paulina living on Snijdersstraat  — Tailor’s Street — with her mother and father, as well as a young, unmarried man, Johannes Cornelius Marie Paul (Kool?), age 16, born in The Hague. The religion of Barendina and the two children is listed as Dutch Reform – Protestants! – while Matthias is listed as a Roman Catholic.  Matthias is unemployed, as is the young man, who is too old to be a child of either Matthias or  Barendina.  Perhaps he is a younger sibling, or a nephew.  I don’t yet know.

Nor do I know when the family left Nijmegen, or where they went. Lack of work may expain their wanderings.  This is the only record of Barendina Kool Rookes I have found.  Paulina and Matthias surface later in The Hague.

A Walled City

One of a Dutch city’s privileges was the right to build walls, to withstand the attacks of invaders. Nijmegen’s first walls were constructed around 1300, and continuously strengthened.  The thick city walls lost some of their protective properties with the introduction of gunpowder in the 16th century.   Rather than protecting the town, the walls became a hinderance to growth.  

In 1875 the Dutch government allowed the inhabitants of Nijmegen to demolish the walls.  A disagreement about exactly who should pay for the demolition, however, meant that the walls stood for several more years. Before the walls were demolished, they were photographed.  You can see pictures of them here:

Snijdersstraat, Nijmegen

It’s odd to think that, when great-grandmother Paulina was born, Nijmegen was still a fortified town.  What’s left of Snijderstraat, where the family lived, is picturesque, but it must have been thickly populated and perhaps unwholesome in the 1830s.  A document from 1875 describes the lower part of the city, where Snijderstraat is located.

 ‘Almost nowhere will you find such an accumulation of families in such a small area, and therefore such a disgusting dirtiness as here. Because of the structure of open gutters, which is already so damaging for the high city and for the sloping streets, the air is ruined especially here, where all the dirt of the upper city is collected. All the time, contagious gasses rise up from those stinking puddles, around which and sometimes on top of which are closely packed houses, many of which hardly deserve that name. And in that atmosphere, complete families live their sick lives and brotherly share their dwelling with dogs, pigs and dung heaps.’

View from the Valkenhof

No sign of such unhealthy conditions when Steven and I spent several days in Nijmegen in late September.  The city is home to the Radboud University, where more than 17,500 students are enrolled.  It makes for a vibrant atmosphere, with many restaurants and cafes.  The weather was warm during our visit, so street life was unusually lively.  The train station next to our hotel had a parking lot full of bicycles at all  hours of the day and night.

Bicycles at the Nijmegen Train Station

In other respects, though, Nijmegen seemed a bit provincial.  No restaurants, except those at the hotel, took credit cards, for example, and two Americans visiting the genealogical archives seemed a great rarity, though many people told us that the English visit Nijmegen all the time. 

Just past Snijdersstraat, in a park called the Valkhof, are some of Nijmegen’s oldest buildings:  a  chapel built by Charlemagne (he celebrated Easter here in 777 AD), and another chapel, partially standing, built by Frederick Barbarossa in the 12th century.

Barbarossa Chapel

 Steven, of course, made a new friend.

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Posted by on October 31, 2011 in Uncategorized


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Back from Holland

Canals of Leiden

Canals of Leiden

 Steven and I recently returned from a second trip to Holland in as many years.  This trip was made possible through the generosity of our genealogist, Eric Ruijssenaars. 

Eric was awarded a Senior Visiting Research Fellowship by the New Netherlands Institute, and is working for the year in the State Archives in Albany.  His work involves translating 17th Century documents from the founding of New Amsterdam, with a particular focus on Abraham Staats, one of the early settlers.

Since Eric is in New York for the year, he offered us the use of his apartment in Leiden.  It was an offer too good to pass by, so we went to Leiden in mid-September for two weeks.  From Leiden we took trains to Utrecht,The Hague, Delft, and Amsterdam.  And we rented a car for a few days to drive to Nijmegen, a city east of Utrecht.  At the end of our trip, we took the train to Paris, where we spent three nights before returning to New York.

Of course, I had genealogical objectives.  I wanted to learn more about great-grandmother Paulina Johanna Cornelia Maria Kool Vanderdonck Van der Pijl.  I also wanted to find out more about her sister, Cecelia.  Finally, I had in mind searching out more information about grandfather Jansen’s brother, Albert Jacobus Jansen.

Well, two out of three isn’t bad.  I never got into the archives in Amsterdam to research A. J. Jansen.  The day we went, a Monday, the archives weren’t open, so we took in the Van Gogh museum instead.  We had planned to return a second day, but found ourselves too exhausted, and too beguiled by Leiden, to go.  And then we ran out of time.

I did, however, learn more about great-grandmother and her sister, and as I put together the pieces I’ve uncovered, I’ll share them here with you.

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Posted by on October 29, 2011 in Uncategorized


Newkirk Avenue

I  ended the last post — it feels like years ago  — with a photo of Opa on the steps of the house I grew up in, 22 Newkirk Avenue. 

It was always a point of pride with us that Grandfather Jansen had given the street its name. (Un)originally  called “New Street,”  it was one of several “New Streets,” making it dificult for the fire department to locate the correct address. 

Grandfather Jansen suggested that the street be renamed Newkirk Avenue — from the Dutch for New Church.  The fact that there was no “new church” on the street didn’t seem to bother anyone, and the name was adopted.   There is a Newkirk Avenue in Brooklyn, but I  don’t know of any others.

Grandmother Jansen purchased the Newkirk Avenue house in 1922. Two houses in from the corner, the house was originally number 6 New Street.  It was freshly built, one of the few houses out past the City of Trenton’s boundary at Olden Avenue.  My other used to talk about walking through fields between Olden and Newkirk, and once she and her brother Joe had a sort of camping trip out there — they cooked some potatoes over an open fire.  She remembered that potato as the best she’d ever eaten.

I have a document on stationery from J. Conner French, Counsellor at Law, Trenton, New Jersey, dated April 18, 1922.  It is a statement of sale for the premises  by Adelaide Friedel to Frieda Jansen.  The purchase price was $5,000.00.  Interest on the mortgage was due twice a year (July 6 and January 6) to one Mary E. Brown.

It’s always fascinated me that the whole transaction (except for the lawyer) was among women.  I have been told that grandmother bought the house with money she inherited upon the death of her mother, but I have not been able to verify this, because I don’t have a date of death for Paulina.

I’ll scan the document in — perhaps those of you with a legal or real estate  background (Tim?) can tell me the meaning of the first mortgage, note mortgage, etc.

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Posted by on February 7, 2011 in Uncategorized



Although Grootvader is the standard word for grandfather in Dutch, the colloquial word is Opa, and that’s what my mother and her siblings called their father’s father, Theodore Jansen (3 October 1843 – New Jersey(?), ca. 1922). 

Like so many generations of the Jansen family, Opa was born in Utrecht.  He was the child of another Theodore Jansen (remember, eldest sons were named for their father). The elder Theodore (1813 — 1903) is buried in St. Barbara’s Cemetary in Amsterdam.  Opa’s mother, Wilhelmina von Zijl, was born in 1809.  I have not yet found her death date.  

In 1869, at the age of 26, Opa married Petronella Maria Ashof, in Utrecht, on the 10th of November.  The bride was a year younger than the groom.  She was the daughter of Fredericus Ashof (1812-1877) and Wilhelmina van Gemert (1809 — 1846) — also of Utrecht. 

Opa was a brick mason.  When  first married, the young family lived in Utrecht on Achter Twinstraat, perhaps a mile from the center of the city and the university .  It is a smallish house, with a view from the back windows over the canal.  The family had the entire second floor. After the birth of Albert, their third child, the family moved to other quarters in Utrecht, but I have not found that address yet. 

Theodore and Petronella had nine children, but only two lived to adulthood:  our grandfather, Theodore Jansen ( 18 May 1870) and his younger brother Albert (1873 — 1920).  

Looking over the birth and death dates of the other children,  the difficulty of a parent’s life in the 19th century becomes clear. 

The couple’s first child, Wilhelmina, was born and died in 1870.  

After Albert’s birth, another child, Adrianus, was born in 1873.  He died in 1884.  

Petrus– also born in 1873 and so perhaps a twin  — died in 1884 as well.  

Frederikus Theodorus, born in 1876, died the following year.  

Another Adrian — it was common for a family to use again the name already  given to a deceased child —  was born in 1879 and lived until 1880.  

Carolus Adrianus was born in 1881 and died in 1884.  

The last child, another Petrus, born in 1883, also died in 1884. 

Nine live births in 15 years. Seven dead children in 14 years.  It is almost unimaginable. 

I do not know when Petronella Jansen Ashof  died, but I do know that by 1894, Opa was travelling.  He arrived in New York City that year, and according to the 1895 New Jersey census was living in Paterson with his son, daughter-in-law, and their children. 

At some point in 1903 he returned to Holland — most likely around the time of his own father’s death — and then came back to New York on 1 December, 1903.  He was 50 years old. 

According to the federal census, Opa was living in Trenton, Ward 4, in 1910.  He is listed as single, and as the father-in-law of the head of household.  He is employed by a contractor as a mason.  In 1910, Opa would have been 67. 

(This same document lists Aunt Nelly as an operator for the telephone company, and Uncle Ted as an apprentice in a print shop!) 

The 1920 census finds him at the same address.  Here, at 77 years old, he lists himself as a widower, and an unemployed laborer. 

(By 1920, Ted is a bookbinder; Nellie still works for the phone company).

I know that Opa died before the 1930 census was taken, but I am not sure when. My mother always spoke fondly of him, saying he was a lovely man.  I also know that he was alive when the family moved to Newkirk Avenue, for we have a picture of him on the front porch. 

Opa Jansen, early 1920's


Posted by on February 27, 2010 in Uncategorized


Purveyors of Baby Clothes to the Queen?

There  persists a story that great-grandmother Paulina Vanderdonck-Kool ran a business providing baby clothes to the Dutch Royal family.  I am certain there is at least a grain of truth here, but how big a grain is still up for grabs. 

I’m contacting the Dutch Royal Archives to see if any evidence is available.   Meanwhile, on the site of the “Koninklijk Hiusarchief” I found a picture of a royal christening gown from 1880. 

Christening Gown, 1880

The dress, of Brussels lace, was a gift from King William III to his wife, Queen Emma, for the baptism of Princess Wilhelmina.  The Christening took place on October 12, 1880, in the Hague. 

More recently, the heirloom dress was used at the christening of Princess Juliana, Princess Bearix, Princess Christina and Prince Willem-Alexander.  The Princesses Catharina-Amalia and Alexia also wore the dress to their baptisms. 

It is a remarkable garment.  If you wish to look at the dress in more detail, follow this link: 

If you click on the dress you will get a “magnifier” that allows you to see up-close the exquisite work. 

A little background.  Emma, a German princess, married the “elderly” king, William III, on January 7, 1879, two years after the death of his first wife, Queen Sophie.  Emma was 21.  The “ageing licentious king,” once described by The New York Times  as “the greatest debauchee of the age,” had previously been rejected by Emma’s sister Pauline and by Princess Thyra of Denmark.  He was 62 at the time of his marriage to Emma. 

 The couple’s only daughter, the future Queen Wilhelmina, was born on August 31, 1880.  The king also had three sons from his first marriage – William, Maurice and Alexander – all of whom died before him.  

Presumably, these would have been the Royals for whom Great-grandmother made clothes.  And there would have been many other lesser Royals in the court  in need of finery for their infants as well. 

Family records in Amsterdam show that Paulina moved to the Hague, and we know that her sister Cecelia lived there.  We also know that grandmother Fredericka Jansen-Vanderdonck worked as a seamstress, and it is likely she learned this skill at her mother’s knee. 

More on this subject as I find it.

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Posted by on February 10, 2010 in Uncategorized


News from the Genealogist

My Dutch friend, Eric Ruijssenaars, a professional genealogist, has answered the question of why Jansen was sometimes spelled Janssen or even Janssens.  To quote from a recent email:

Both [Jansen and Janssen] mean “son of Jan.” In 1811 all people had to adopt an official surname. So this is how they registered themselves. (There’s also the variation of them with an s at the end.) From then on the names didn’t change. Can’t really explain the number of s’s people chose. Could be to distinguish themselves of course. Combined the variations would be by far the most popular surname in Nederland.

And so — not much of an explanation, perhaps, but as good as it’s going to get.  In the Utrecht documents Steven and I saw, the name was always spelled “Jansen”.

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Posted by on February 8, 2010 in Uncategorized