27 Feb

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


4 responses to “Opa

  1. Eileen Streight

    February 27, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    Yes, I remember that Mom always said that “Opa was a very nice man.”
    I wonder if he is buried in the Jansen family plot….

    • Margaret

      February 27, 2010 at 3:05 pm

      I think he might be. If the snow ever melts we can check it out.

  2. Tim

    February 27, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    Grandpop always claimed he was the seventh son of a seventh son!

    • Margaret

      February 27, 2010 at 3:37 pm

      He did tell us that! I think he was fairly “fanciful” in some of his tales.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: