Monthly Archives: February 2010


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