Monthly Archives: January 2010

End of a journey

From Brussels, we took the train back to Paris.  A side trip to Reims, to see the Cathedral and to enjoy a private tour and tasting at Chateau Pommery.  Dinner at Roger the Frog, a tiny quaint delicious bistro in Paris near our hotel,  St. Germain des Pres. And then back to New York, full of information about the family history, and filled with more questions.

There is the issue of Alexis Vanderdonck.  Though I know more about him, he remains a mystery.  Was he really Freda’s father, as indicated on her birth certificate, or was his acknowledgement of her a form of adoption?  I think it’s unlikely he’s the father.  But who was the father?  I doubt we will ever know. 

And then, the divorce.  Was it really for adultery, or was that the only ground for divorce at that time (1891)?  We know that divorces were rare in Holland.  We also know that great-grandmother Paulina Vanderdonck-Kool left Mr. Vanderdonck and emigrated to the US when Freda and Theodore “eloped.”  So she did desert him.  Thereafter she used the name Van der Pijl, or Vanderpyle, but no Mr. Vanderpyle appears in any of the records I’ve found.

There is a story that Grandmother’s stepfather (Vanderdonck) was “chasing her around”  as she grew older, and that’s why mother and daughter came to the US. 

But there was also the story that Grandmother and Grandfather “met on the ship coming over.”  So who knows?  The fact that Freda looked up her father, probably visited him in Belgium with her four oldest children, and wondered if he was still alive in 1919 tells us that she didn’t hate him and did think of him as her father.

Finally, the business Paulina and her sister Cecelia supposedly had, making baby clothes for the Royal Family.  I have found no trace of this, yet I believe there is some truth in it.  More on my suspicions soon.

The story of our trip through Belgium and Holland is over, but I still have documents to post, theories to discuss, and other genealogical tidbits to share.  I’ve managed to trace the Jansen family back many generations, for instance.  More on the family tree in the next post.

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Posted by on January 26, 2010 in Uncategorized


One more note about Brussels

Having found the birthplace of Mr. Vanderdonck, we would have liked to see his grave.  But I have no record of his burial-place, other than Brussels, a pretty big place.   

I know only this about his end.  

Inquiry from the Elks Club


This letter, dated August 14, 1919, and written on Elk’s Club stationery,  is sent to the city hall in Brussels.  It asks “as the daughter of Alexis Egide Diuedonne Vanderdonck,”  whether “my father is still alive.” It is signed Mrs. Theodore F. Jansen Vanderdonck, and gives the family’s address in Trenton, 209 Lamberton Street.  

It seem s an odd letter.  For one thing, I am not sure Grandmother wrote it.  I never met her, but from what I’ve heard  I can’t imagine her writing on Elks Club letterhead.  More likely Grandfather Jansen wrote it, perhaps at her request.  Perhaps on his own.  

And why would anyone have to write to ask about a death?  Surely those “doodbriefs” would have let the family know?  

Yes, but World War I put an end to the free flow of letters.  And “poor little Belgium” had suffered in that war.  

On 2 August 1914 Germany issued an ultimatum to neutral Belgium, demanding permission to march through the country en route to Paris.  The Germans assured the Belgian government that Belgium would suffer no territorial loss as a consequence of permission being granted.  

But Belgium, under King Albert I, refused the troops passage.  And so the German troops invaded Belgium, and that brought Britain into the war in Belgium’s defense.  

German troops entered Brussels on August  20, 1914.  Contemporary accounts tell of rows and rows, miles and miles,  of German soldiers, marching in step for hours, their gray uniforms striking fear in those who saw them.  The citizens of Brussels hid, with shutters and doors closed and locked, waiting for the German Army to pass.  

They had reason to fear.  In what came to be called “the Rape of Belgium,” German soldiers burned homes and exeuted civilians, including women and children, in the early days of the war.   

None of this was witnessed by Mr. Vanderdonck, as the back of the Elks letter indicates.  

Answer from Brussels


Alexis Vanderdonck died in Brussels on the 22 of February, 1914, and was buried in Brussels on the 18th of September, 1919.


Posted by on January 14, 2010 in Uncategorized


Another Jacques Markus letter

Here’s another letter from Jacques, this one addressed to Madame Janssens, Magasin du Modes, Domplein, Utrecht. 

Letter to Great-grandmother Jansen


Dated Oct 29, 1901, it looks for information concerning the whereabouts of “your son,  Theodore Jansen,” who, the correspondent believes, ran away with Frederika Vanderdonck in 1890.  The two are believed to be living in Paterson. 

This is eleven years after the young couple ran away from Utrecht!  The search is no doubt on behalf of Mr. Vanderdonck ,who had by this time moved back to Belgium. 

We looked for buildings on the Domplein that might have housed Magasin du Modes, but really, it’s been too long.  Here, though, is a shot of the area of Utrecht where great-grandmother Janssen (or Jansen!)  had her shop. 

Shop on the Domplein, Utrecht


The fact that the shop had a French name and that it was a “store of styles,” as well as its central location in Utrecht, indicate that the operation was fairly high class.  This, clearly, is where Frederika and Theodore met  — Frederika was working as a seamstress in Utrecht at the time of her disappearance. 

It would be possible, I think, to search the Utrecht archives for news of the Magasin du Modes.  Another time, another trip.  Perhaps even another traveler?  I have other assignments if anyone is willing to go! 

I’ve asked my genealogist friend in Leiden about the s or double s in Jansen.  I am awaiting his reply.

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Posted by on January 4, 2010 in Uncategorized



We arrived in Brussels by car on a Sunday, and left the following day by train for Paris.  It was an exciting 24 hours.  First, we couldn’t find our hotel — the names of the streets are different from block to block,  different on different sides of the street, and the maps bear no relation to reality.  When we finally did find the Montgomery, it was a little out of the city center in an area of embassies, and absolutely lovely. 

In the short time we had, we decided to look for one of the addresses of Mr. Vanderdonck while he lived in Brussels.  We had it from a letter sent to Grandfather Jansen by Jacques Markus, an “international agent” who seems to have acted as a go-between several times in the Jansen-Vanderdonck story.  Here’s a copy of the letter, clearly a reply to an inquiry about Alexis Vanderdonck. 


Basically, Mr. Markus is saying that Mr. Vanderdonck still lives in Brussels, his address is 59 Rue du Vieux Marche aux Grains — street of the old grain market.  He adds, “He was just in my office.”  The letter is dated 22 February, 1903. 

Vanderdonck Territory


Rue Du Vieux Marche aux Grains is located in one of the oldest sections of Brussels.  We took the subway to the neighborhood and asked at several places until we found the street.  Unremarkable, yet very nice. 

Rue du Vieux Marche aux Grains


Impossible to say whether this is the same building or a rehab or a new building on the same lot.  Across the street, a building that’s much older with characteristic crow-step gables. 

Older building, Rue du Vieux Marche aux Grains


From the old Vanderonck haunts we thought we’d look up the offices of Jacques Markus, but it was too far and we were too tired.  I’ve since learned it’s in the heart of the red light district, so just as well we didn’t go. 

Instead, we decided to walk as far as possible back to our hotel. Our route took us through the lower (older) city, with its impossibly gilded guild halls surrounding old squares. 

Brussels, old city


When we walked up to the upper city, we could look back over gardens and the old town. 

View from the upper town, Brussels


Back to our neighborhood, and the Leopold Gate, and so to bed. 

Leopold Gate

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Posted by on January 3, 2010 in Uncategorized