It was not long after I picked up an interest in family history, that I started to research my mother’s family line. I found out that one of her ancestors was an illegitimate child. It wasn’t that this discovery shocked me – I always knew that illegitimate children are present in both upper and lower class families – I was disappointed in a way, because an unknown father would leave a gap in my pedigree chart. Fortunately, with the help of one church book, I was able to find the child’s father. One text line unravelled a complete story. Here it is…
Maria Jansen was born in Voorst (Gelderland, Netherlands) in 1793. She grew up in a strict Protestant family. Her parents owned a small farm house, called ‘de Polvertoren’ (the Powder Tower). It is remarkable that the farm provided enough income to raise twelve children! Maybe that is why Maria was sent to the adjacent town, Zutphen, to work as a house maid.
On the other side of the country Cornelis Dankers, a 25-years-old tall man with chestnut brown hair, grey eyes and a broad mouth signed up for the army. He took the place of a fellow-villager and was since 30 April 1820 assigned to the 3rd regiment of cuirassiers. His regiment was stationed in… Zutphen.
In the Summer of 1820 Maria and Cornelis met. After a while Maria became pregnant and nine months later she gave birth to a son. Jan was born in Zutphen on 4 April 1821. His birth record says his mother was Maria Jansen, his father unknown. It was the midwife who registered his birth. As was usual Jan received his mother’s surname, so he took his place in history as Jan Jansen.
Jan Jansen’s birth certificate 1821
What sounds like a lighthearted love story ended in tragedy. Two months after the birth of his son, Cornelis Dankers was hospitalised. He was in the military hospital in Zutphen for ten days. On 26 June 1821, Cornelis died of typhoid fever. Maria stayed behind. Unmarried. A young mother. What choice did she have? Stay in Zutphen and raise her child as a single mother? Go back to her parents, who would probably not accept her?
Maria made a bold move. Together with her baby boy, she travelled more than 100 miles to knock on the door of her ‘parents-in-law’ in Loon op Zand (Noord-Brabant, Netherlands). Jan and Johanna Dankers took her in and raised the boy. Two years later, Maria married the local tailor. Shortly before her marriage, she converted to Roman Catholicism.
Personally, I think Maria and Cornelis had more than a summer time fling. I have three arguments for this theory.
Jan Jansen’s 1821 Baptism record
1) Maria decided to have her young baby baptised in the Roman Catholic church of Zutphen. Since she was raised in a Protestant environment, she must have had a good reason to do so. Probably because the biological father, Cornelis Dankers, was Catholic. The priest was very clear: “Joannes, illegitimate son of Cornelis Dankers (cuirassier) and Maria Janssen (a-Catholic).”
2) She did not name her son after her father, Lubbert. Apparently, she (or they) decided to name him after his paternal grandfather, Jan Dankers.
3) After Cornelis’ death, Maria asked his parents for help. If the relationship between Maria and Cornelis was not a serious one, would Jan and Johanna Dankers have accepted a total stranger into their house?
I dare say that things could have been completely different if Cornelis did not die in that military hospital in Zutphen. He probably would have married Maria and acknowledged his son. From that moment on, Jan would have been Jan Dankers and not Jan Jansen. Would they ever have come to Loon op Zand? If not, my mother and I would not be alive! It is because of this romance that I exist. Good to know!
Image of a Cuiraisser