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Willem de Kooning, a case study

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Introduction

On this page, I will show you step-by-step how I research the ancestors of a Dutch emigrant to the USA. Join me in my quest to find the ancestors of the famous Dutch-born painter and sculptor, Willem de Kooning.

Part of the research will be online. The amount of online records available online increases all the time. By the time you read this page, and maybe try out the searches for yourself, the results of your searches may be very different from the results I get.

We need some data to get started. When you trace your own ancestors, you will have to do some research in your home country first. In this case, we will get our initial data from Wikipedia: Willem de Kooning was born in Rotterdam on 24 April 1904. He stowed away in 1926 on a freighter to the US. His parents were Leendert de Kooning and Cornelia Nobel. They divorced when Willem was about five years old, and he was raised by his mother and stepfather.

The research to Willem's ancestors is still in progress. This page will regularly be updated. The latest family tree can be found here.

First step: Rotterdam website

Willem was born in Rotterdam, and many records from Rotterdam are indexed online. So we start our research on the website of the Rotterdam city archives.

Unfortunately, birth records are currently (June 2006) only available for the periods 1811-1828 and 1840-1892, and Willem was born in 1904. We will try anyway: Click the English flag, hit the Search button and fill in Familienaam (surname) Kooning (watch out: not de Kooning or deKooning), Tussenvoegsel (infix) de, and Voornaam (given name) Willem. Click Zoeken (search). Several results, but not our Willem.

Better to start with Willem's parents. Search for Leendert de Kooning and you get only three results (maybe more by the time you read this). The first is an echtscheiding (divorce) record from 1907. We know Leendert divorced when Willem was about five - so around 1909. Apparently Wikipedia was two years off. When we open the record, we find that Leendert de Kooning and Cornelia Nobel married on 29 December 1898, and divorced on 7 June 1907. We're on the right track!

The second record is the marriage of Leendert de Kooning and Neeltje Johanna Been on 25 November 1908 in Rotterdam. Probably Leendert remarried, but we can't be sure yet this is the correct Leendert - there may be others with the same name. In case this is "our" Leendert, we make a note of the parents - Willem de Kooning and Maria van Ladesteijn, and Hendrik Jan Been and Neeltje Johanna Derendorp.

The third record is the marriage record of Maria Cornelia de Kooning, a sister of Willem. We make a note of the relevant data: groom Dirk Breedveld, age 22, son of Antonie Breedveld and Neeltje de Groot; bride Maria Cornelia de Kooning, age 16, daughter of Leendert de Kooning and Cornelia Nobel; marriage date 26 April 1916.

Next, search for Cornelia Nobel. The search turns up records from different people called Cornelia Nobel, and I'm not sure which one is Willem's mother, so I leave it for the time being.

We have found the divorce record of Leendert and Cornelia, but not their marriage record. As marriage records are available for the period 1811-1926, it seems that they did not marry in Rotterdam.

Second step: Rotterdam archives (visited 28 June 2006)

Next, we'll visit the Rotterdam city archives. The first thing we want to do is to find the gezinskaart (family card) of Leendert de Kooning and his family in the population register. This card is available as microfiche-copy in the self-service department of the Rotterdam city archive. Extract of this card:

  1. Leendert de Kooning, male, head of family, born 10 February 1876 Rotterdam, divorce 7 June 1907, marriage 25 November 1908, religion Dutch reformed, occupation bottler of beer, resident since 14 February 1899, came from Schiedam.
  2. Cornelia Nobel, female, wife, born 3 March 1867 Schiedam, divorced 7 June 1907, removed to separate card 22 February 1906, religion Dutch Reformed.
  3. Maria Cornelia de Kooning, female, daughter, born 2 July 1899 Rotterdam, removed 22 February 1906 to family card of Cornelia Nobel.
  4. Cornelia de Kooning, female, daughter, born 20 July 1901 Rotterdam, died 23 August 1901 Rotterdam.
  5. Adriana de Kooning, female, daughter, born 20 July 1901 Rotterdam, died 7 August 1901 Rotterdam.
  6. Cornelia de Kooning, female, daughter, born 6 October 1902 Rotterdam, died 11 June 1903 Rotterdam.
  7. Willem de Kooning, male, son, born 24 April 1904 Rotterdam, removed 22 February 1906 to family card of Cornelia Nobel.
  8. Willem de Kooning, male, son, born 24 April 1904 Rotterdam, from family card Cornelia Nobel, removed 9 February 1909 to family card Jacs Lassooy.
  9. Neeltje Johanna Been, female, wife, born 31 May 1886 Rotterdam, marriage 25 November 1908, religion Dutch Reformed, from family card Hendrik J. Been.
  10. Neeltje Johanna de Kooning, female, daughter, born 21 September 1909 Rotterdam, marriage 26 April 1933, removed 26 April 1933 to family card Gerrit J. Tamboer.
  11. Leendert de Kooning, male, son, born 21 September 1909 Rotterdam, died 24 September 1909 Rotterdam.
  12. Leendert de Kooning, male, son, born 2 April 1914 Rotterdam, marriage 4 September 1935 Rotterdam, removed 4 September 1935 to own family card.
  13. Maria Cornelia de Kooning, female, daughter, born 2 July 1899 Rotterdam, marriage 26 April 1916, from family card Jacobus Lassooy, removed 26 April 1916 to family card Derk Breedveld.
  14. Hendrika Johanna de Kooning, female, daughter, 9 March 1918 Rotterdam.

This card contains a lot of information. Let's go through it line by line.

The first line lists the family head, Willem's father Leendert. The dates of birth, marriage and divorce have to be verified against the acts of the civil register, as population registers tend to contain a lot of errors. Worth noting is the fact that he came from Schiedam in 1899. We haven't found Leendert's marriage with Cornelia Nobel in Rottterdam, so it might be a good idea to try our luck in Schiedam.

Next is Leendert's first wife, and Willem's mother, Cornelia Nobel. She was born in Schiedam, so that's another good reason to do some research there. It seems that Cornelia left her husband almost a year and a half before the official divorce.

Number 3 is Willem's sister Maria Cornelia. We have already met her in step one.

We skip the three children (including twins) that died in their infancy and move on to number 7: Willem de Kooning. He moved out with his mother in 1906, when he was not yet two. Shortly after, Willem came back to live with his father (line 8), but left again in 1909, when he was almost five. Apparently he went to live with someone called Jacobus (abbreviated to Jacs) Lassooy - probably his stepfather (we will need to check that later).

Number 9 is Leendert's second wife, Neeltje Johanna Been. We know now that the marriage we have seen in step one is indeed Leendert's, so now we also know Leendert's parents: The family tree is beginning to take shape!

Next we find three children from Leendert's second marriage. Note that in some cases, the marriage date of the children is listed, but the spouse is not! We have to investigate their family cards to find out.

Number 13 is interesting: Maria Cornelia returns to live with her father, some time between 1914 (when the previous line was created) and 1916 (when she moved out again). She married in 1916, only 16 years old. Possibly an interesting family story lies hidden behind these facts, but the archives are unlikely to tell the full story.

The last line is another daughter from the second marriage. Apparently, she still lived with her parents when the population register closed in 1939.

We know now that Leendert de Kooning was born in Rotterdam in 1876, and we know his parents were Willem de Kooning and Maria van Ladesteijn. So the next thing we do is looking up their family card. My extract from this card:

  1. Willem de Kooning, male, head of the household, born 24 November 1839 D'haven, married, religion Dutch Reformed, died 6 February 1902.
  2. Maria van Ladesteijn, female, wife, born 25 January 1843 Rotterdam, removed 27 January 1898 to Lunatic Asylum.
  3. Cornelis de Kooning, male, son, born 4 October 1871 Rotterdam, occupation bottler of beer, removed 12 February 1902 to a separate card.
  4. Leendert de Kooning, male, son, born 10 February 1876 Rotterdam, removed 9 January 1899 to Schiedam.
  5. Willem de Kooning, male, son, born 29 January 1878 Rotterdam, marriage 18 September 1901, removed 18 September to Hillegersberg, married there to M.E. van Keulen.
  6. Adriana de Kooning, female, daughter, born 28 March 1880 Rotterdam, marriage 7 August 1901, removed 7 August 1901 to family card of Antoon [surname omitted by me as I could not decipher the handwriting].
  7. Neeltje de Kooning, female, daughter, born 13 December 1881 Rotterdam, marriage 17 September 1913, removed 17 September 1913 to family card of Hendrikus A. Rotmeijer.
  8. Jacob Johannes de Kooning, male, son, born 1 April 1887 Rotterdam, occupation bottler of beer, removed 30 December 1913 separate card.
  9. Maria van Ladesteijn, female, wife, born 25 January 1843 Rotterdam, registered 12 August 1898 from Oegstgeest lunatic asylum, removed 8 July 1929 to Hillegersberg.
  10. Cornelia Helena Rebekka de Kooning, female, daughter, born 3 November 1873 Rotterdam, came from separate card, removed 6 May 1918 to family card of Hends A. Rotmeijer.

Lines 2 and 9 suggest another interesting family story. We certainly have to do more research on Maria van Ladesteijn, Willem's grandmother, who apparently spent seven months in asylums. I hope to get back to her in a later step.

D'haven is short for Delfshaven, the town from where the pilgrim fathers set sail several centuries earlier. In the 19th century it was a town near Rotterdam. Nowadays it is just a couple of streets in Rotterdam.

In line 4 we see that Leendert left for Schiedam, unmarried, in January 1899. We already know he returned to Rotterdam, married, in February 1899. So Schiedam is the obvious place to search for Leendert's marriage to Cornelia Nobel.

We have just enough time left to look at, and make an extract from, the family card of Jacobus Lassooy, Willem's suspected stepfather. Actually, there are two cards for him. Extracts follow.

  1. Jacobus Lassooy, male, head of the household, born 14 July 1875 Rotterdam, marriage 8 April 1908, religion Roman Catholic, came from AR, removed 30 July 1914 to AR.
  2. Cornelia Nobel, female, wife, born 3 March 1877 Schiedam, religion Dutch Reformed, resident since 14 February 1899, from Schiedam, removed 29 April 1926 to Amsterdam, returned Family Card II.
  3. Maria Cornelia de Kooning, female, wife's daughter, born 2 July 1899 Rotterdam, removed 6 August 1915 to family card Leendert de Kooning.
  4. Willem de Kooning, male, wife's son, born 24 April 1904 Rotterdam, occupation painter, came from family card Leendert de Kooning, removed 1 October 1925 to Brussel, ambtshalve.
  5. Jacobus Johannes Lassooy, male, son, born 8 May 1912 Rotterdam, removed 29 April 1926 to Amsterdam.
  6. Jacobus Lassooy, male, head of the household, born 14 July 1875 Rotterdam, came from AR, removed 29 April 1926 to Amsterdam, bankruptcy declared 2 May 1917.

Here, too, hides an interesting family story: What happened in 1914? Why was Jacobus declared bankrupt? More research is needed.

The card was closed when the family moved to Amsterdam, in 1926. Willem had already left. The authorities removed him when they found out he had left (ambtshalve means he had never announced his departure but was removed when the authorities found out). Apparently Willem was in Brussels, Belgium, since at least 1925.

Note that Willem's occupation was painter (schilder in Dutch). This almost certainly means house painter.

Jacobus and Cornelia returned to Rotterdam in October 1926, six months after they left. A new family card was then created:

  1. Jacobus Lassooij, male, head of the household, born 14 July 1875 Rotterdam, religion Roman Catholic, occupation inn-keeper, registered 14 October 1926 from Amsterdam, removed 19 May 1928 's Gravenhage, bel. toeg.
  2. Cornelia Nobel, female, born 3 March 1877 Schiedam, religion Dutch Reformed, registered 14 October 1926 from Amsterdam, removed 19 May 1928 's Gravenhage.
  3. Jacobus Johannes Lassooij, male, son, born 8 May 1912 Rotterdam, registered 14 October 1926 from Amsterdam, removed 19 May 1928 to 's Gravenhage.

See next registration.

See previous registration.

  1. Jacobus Lassooij, male, head of the household, born 14 July 1875 Rotterdam, religion Roman Catholic, without occupation, registered 11 March 1930 's Gravenhage gev 19 February 1930, 9 October 1933 to Schiedam, back 5 June 1939.
  2. Cornelia Nobel, female, wife, born 3 March 1877 Schiedam, religion Dutch Reformed, registered 11 March 1930 from 's Gravenhage, 9 October 1933 to Schiedam, back 3 June 1939.
  3. Jacobus Johannes Lassooij, male, son, born 8 May 1912 Rotterdam, occupation waiter, registered 11 March 1930 from 's Gravenhage, 9 October 1933 to Schiedam, 19 May 1935 back.

The cards contain abbreviations like AR, gev and bel. toeg.. We will need to verify the meaning of these.

As far as I know, the records studied in this step are only available in Rotterdam, and not in your local Family History Center. So to get access to these records, you need to visit Rotterdam, or find someone willing to copy them for you.

Third step: The Schiedam website

I already know the Schiedam website from earlier research. If not, I would have found it on Digital Resources Netherlands and Belgium, an index to online sources. Schiedam does not have as many records online as Rotterdam, but they do have marriages from 1811 to 1922.

Let's try to find the marriage of Leendert de Kooning and Cornelia Nobel. On the search form (only available in Dutch) we fill in voornaam (first name) Leendert, and achternaam (surname) Kooning en press zoek (search). We get a list of results, and click on the line for Willem de Kooning (at the moment - July 2006 - the only line). We get a new list with Gevonden Akten voor: Leendert de Kooning (acts found for Leendert de Kooning). Click on the only act that's found, and we see a summary of the marriage act: Marriage date 29 December 1898, groom Leendert de Kooning, born Rotterdam 10 February 1876, son of Willem de Kooning and Maria van Ladesteijn, bride Cornelia Nobel, born Schiedam 3 March 1877, daughter of Christiaan Gerardus Nobel and Cornelia Oers. Below the summary is a small yellow icon. When you click on it, you can download a scan of the marriage act!

The marriage act contains some interesting tidbits that are not in the summary. It lists occupations: Leendert was bierbottelaar (beer bottler), his father scheepmaker (ship builder), and Cornelia's father was kistenmaker (box-maker). It names the witnesses: One of them was Leendert's brother Cornelis, also a bottler of beer, the others were Arie van Meurs, Johannes Daniël van Meurs, and Johannes Govaart. The divorce of 1907 is added later, in the margin.

The act also lists the marriage supplements (the documents that the couple needed to hand over before the marriage could take place). One of these documents is a medical attest, stating that the mother was not able to express her will with sufficient discernment. We already know from step two that she spent some time in a lunatics asylum earlier that year. She returned home some four months before this marriage, but apparently that does not mean she was considered sane. Marriage supplements for Schiedam are kept in the National Archives in The Hague, so we should visit the National Archives someday to have a look at this attest.

The marriage act was signed by the bride and groom, the parents of the bride, and the witnesses. The father of the groom was present but declared to be unable to write his name.

I have searched for the marriage of Cornelia's parents, but was unable to find it. They probably married somewhere else.

Fourth step: The Rotterdam website

Let's go back to the Rotterdam website, and see if we can find more information on the Willem de Kooning / Maria van Ladesteijn family.

Fill in Familienaam (surname) Kooning, Tussenvoegsel (infix) de, and Voornaam (given name) Willem. Among the list of search results is the de Kooning / Ladesteijn marriage: Groom Willem de Kooning, 26, born Delfshaven, son of Kornelis or Cornelis de Kooning or Koning and Anna Catharina Jacoba Jurgens, bride Maria van Ladesteijn, 21, born Rotterdam, daughter of Jacob Johannes van Ladesteijn and Gerarda van Essel. The marriage took place 10 May 1865 in Rotterdam.

Other results include the births of their children Gerardina (5 February 1866), Johanna Catharina (10 December 1867), Maria (24 October 1869), Cornelis (4 October 1871), Cornelia Helena Rebekka (3 November 1873), Willem (29 January 1878), Adriana (28 March 1880), Neeltje (13 December 1881), and Jacob Johannes (1 April 1887). Quite a list, but Leendert is missing!

Also listed are the marriages of Johanna Catharina Jacoba (with Johan Samuel Willem Pflug, son of Nicolaas Pflug and Johanna Catharina van Leeuwen, on 15 May 1889), Gerardina (with Gerardus Pieter Hogeweij, son of Gerrit Willem Hogeweij and Johanna Jacobs, on 13 May 1891), Maria (with Petrus Vrekke, son of Andreas Vrekke and Maragina Josina Hendriks, on 18 March 1891), Willem (with Maria Everdina van Keulen, daughter of Hendrik Willem van Keulen and Maria Lambregtse, on 18 September 1901), Adriana (with Antoon Pieter Homburg, son of Pieter Cornelis Homburg and Helena Kornelia Smits, on 7 August 1901), Cornelis (with Wilhelmina Gijsberta Steegman, daughter of Hendrik Frederik Steegman and Wilhelmina van Wingerden, on 24 August 1904), Leendert's second marriage, and Neeltje (with Hendrikus Antonius Rotmeijer, son of Paulus Johannes Rotmeijer and Geertruida Hendrika Hoebe, on 17 September 1913).

Guessing that Willem de Kooning might, by mistake, be spelled "Willem de Koning", I search also for Willem de Koning. A long list of results include the births of two more children: Leendert (10 February 1876), and Jacoba (4 July 1884).

The data we've found today fits in nicely with data we found before, like the family cards from step two. There is one inconsistency: Johanna Catharina Jacoba de Kooning and Johanna Catharina de Kooning. The former married in May 1889, aged 21, the latter was born in December 1867. They're almost certainly the same person, but this has to be checked later in Rotterdam. We will also need to find out her correct name (if they are the same person).

Delfshaven births and marriages from the 19th century are not online yet, and a search for Willem's birth, or his parents' marriage, is unsuccessful.