View of the city of Zutphen, province of Gelderland, located on the IJssel. The city was once member of the Hanseatic League.
Methodology Spotlight

Baptism of Jan Jansen, or Jan Dankers?

Today, we are looking at the baptismal entry of Jan Jansen, illigetimate (1821).

baptismal entry for Joannes Jansen, Zutphen, 1821
Roman Catholic Parish (Zutphen, Gelderland, Netherlands), call no. 19, baptisms 1811-1845, no page numbers, chronological order, Joannes, son of Cornelius Dankers and Maria Jansen (6 April 1821); “Inventaris van het archief van de RK Parochie te Zutphen [Finding aid for the archives of the RC Parish of Zutphen],” finding aid with images, Erfgoedcentrum Zutphen ( : viewed 21 June 2020).


On the 6th of April [1821] is baptized Joannes, illegitimate son of Cornelius Dankers (cuirassier) and Maria Jansen (non-Catholic).

French cuirassier in 1809, drawing by Hippolyte Bellange, 1843 (photo credits: Wikimedia Commons, public domain, citing P.-M. Laurent de L’Ardeche, Histoire de Napoleon, 1843)

Baptismal registers

We gave an example of an entry in a baptismal register in one of our previous articles. Many genealogists often use Dutch church books only to cover the period before 1811. This makes sense, as civil registration commenced in 1811. Prior to this year, church books are the prime source for life events.

Nevertheless, church books or parish registers can be very helpful even when a civil record exists. For example, an entry in a baptismal register from 1821. That is why we focus today on the baptism of Jan Jansen.

Jan’s birth record tells us he was born in Zutphen on 4 April 1821. He was the son of Maria Jansen, a 25-year-old, unmarried maidservant. According to Dutch law, the biological father was not mentioned since the child was born out of wedlock. For that reason, it was not the father but the midwife that reports the birth.

If we then look at the entry in the baptismal register, we find additional information. Firstly, we now know the date of his baptism (6 April) in addition to the date of his birth (4 April). Secondly, we learn the name of the father (Cornelius Dankers) and his (militairy) occupation. Finally, we also learn that the mother was a non-Catholic. This is remarkable, because a Catholic priest baptized the child. As is common for Roman Catholic church books, the text (including the names) is in Latin. Hence, the first name of Jan became Joannes.

Family history

We strongly believe that Cornelis Dankers and Maria Jansen had plans to marry. However, their romantic dreams were brutally disrupted. Only two months after the birth of their son, Cornelis died in a military hospital in Zutphen. He was only 25 years old.

Maria’s family belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church. We can imagine that her parents were not very happy with the idea that their unmarried daughter had a child with a Catholic soldier. Perhaps that is the reason why Maria took a long journey, all the way from Zutphen (Gelderland) to Loon op Zand (Noord-Brabant). Nowadays it is a 24-hours non-stop walk.

Castle of Loon op Zand, photograph by C. Steenbergh (photo credits: Rijksdienst voor Cultureel Erfgoed, Amersfoort, document ST-1725)

For a long time we wondered why Maria chose to start a new life in Loon op Zand, a small town far away from where she grew up. It also surprised us that the child grew up with – apparently – total strangers: Johannes Dankers and Johanna van den Hoven. However, the entry in the baptismal register clarified everything: Maria sought help from her ‘in-laws’. They raised their grandson and supported her until she found herself a husband.

Cornelis died too soon. He did not have the chance to marry Maria and acknowledge Jan. Jan kept his mother’s family name and thus became the founder of the Jansen family in Loon op Zand. If Cornelis had lived longer, the family most likely would have used his name: Dankers.


Are you looking for a biological father in the 19th or 20th century? We recommend that you compare the birth certificate with a registration of a possible baptism.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *