I find myself stalling, not quite willing to write this post. I don’t know why. It happened a long time ago. No one involved is now alive. And I think it’s good to know the truth.
Yet I’m also aware that this information was scandalous at the time, shameful, and hurtful to those involved. So I’ve dawdled over posting it, inserting photos of the unknown dead instead of getting on with my story. Enough. Out with it, and then we can move on to Belgium, and what we learned there.
When our Rotterdam archivist found the Vanderdonck family card, he noted that Paulina Kool and Alexis Vanderdonck were divorced in 1891, a year after Paulina left with her daughter, our grandmother, for New York. He was excited — said he could probably find the divorce decree — and, after a false start in one volume, turned it up in the next.
It’s beautifully written out. Looking at this and at old U.S. Census records, I understand why the nuns drilled us in The Palmer Method. What was recorded would never be “typed up” back in the day (before my time, of course). If the handwriting wasn’t legible, the data was lost. Here’s a copy:
The archivist was watching me. “You understand this?”
“No, I don’t read Dutch.”
“The important word here,” he said, underlining it, “is overspel. Adultery. He divorced her because she committed adultery.”
He was watching for my reaction. I don’t think I showed any, certainly not surprise, or horror. Human nature, I was thinking, probably hasn’t changed much in 110 years. She was human.
As far as I can tell, there’s not much other information here. It’s a court document, and it doesn’t go into detail.
So, was the charge true, or was adultery the only grounds for civil divorce in Holland in those days? Paulina definitely deserted her husband, but was it for another man?
Ah, research: answers breed more questions. For example, who was the mysterious Van der Pijl, or Vanderpyle, whose name great-grandmother later used? Was there such a person? And what was great-grandmother’s relationship with him? Did she marry again after leaving Vanderdonck? Or was Vanderpyle an alias, a name assumed on arrival in the US in order to hide her past?
Another thread to pursue, perhaps, in later research, other posts. For now, we are done with Rotterdam, and off to Antwerp.