Monthly Archives: October 2011


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