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From Johnston to Janson

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Surnames/tags: Johnston Janson
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By Peter van Munster

This article seeks to explain how I traced back the surname of 'Janson' to 'Johnston', or reversely, how 'Johnston' became 'Janson' over time. And that in such a way that it can be referenced from all profiles that require that explanation.

While researching my own ancestry, I came across Arij van Munster (1774 - 1817). We share the same ancestors: his father Pieter van Munster is my fourth great grandfather.

This Arij married Hendrina Janson on 6 May 1798 [1]. Of course Arie's ancestry was obvious to me; finding Hendrina's proved to be quite a challenge.

I had the following leads:

  • The registrations of their intended marriage, both in Overschie [2] and Rotterdam [3], show that Hendrina was born in Sprang,
  • The document that registers Hendrina's death in 1811 [4] shows that she was 40 years old then, which yields a birth year of about 1771,
  • It is rather sure that Hendrina was of the Protestant religion. Her marriage with Arij was solemnised, and all five of their children (Maria in 1800, Pieter in 1802, Conira in 1804, Kaarel in 1807 and Cornelia 1809) were baptised in the 'Nederduits Gereformeerde' church in Overschie.

The only entry in the baptism registers of the church of the same denomination in Sprang that comes close, is the one of a Hendrina baptised on 9 December 1770 [5]. She is a daughter of Cunira Romme and Charles Johnston.

This is hopeful. This first name 'Cunira'/'Conira' is fairly rare. If Cunira Romme were Hendrina's mother, Hendrina's daughter Conira could well have been named after her. The obvious problem: the name of the father, 'Johnston' and not 'Janson' as hoped for.

Still: there is some similarity between 'Johnston' and 'Janson', if not in sound then by "meaning": 'son of John/Jan'. As there is similarity between the names of "Karel" (as in Arij and Hendrina's son Kaarel) and "Charles" (the English version of "Karel"). Arij has no "Karel" (or any of its variations) in his ancestry. This may indicate a possible link in Hendrina's ancestry, being Charles Johnston the "prime suspect".

Alphabetical list of Jansons born in Sprang

The wonderfully helpful and knowledgable people at 'Streekarchief Langstraat Heusden Altena' [6] where these records are kept, drew my attention to the fact that Charles and Cunera had 3 more children: Joris Frans Johnston (* 1769), Magiel Johnston (* 1772) and William Johnston (* 1774).

Even more importantly: that they have in their reading room a handwritten register (of unknown origin) of baptisms in Sprang, sorted alphabetically by surname and first name. This document shows these 4 children with their correct names and years of birth yet with (again) the surname of 'Janson' *).

The definitive clue came when I found the registration of the death of Cunera Romme [7]. The registration reads (roughly translated) "[...] the corpse of Cuijnira Romme, when alive widow of Carel Janson, registered by her son Michiel Jansson [...]". The combination of the three first names "Cuijnira", "Carel" and "Michiel" and their relationship (mother/father/son) seems too unique and the similarity with "Cunera", "Charles" and "Magiel" **) in that same combination is too great to be coincidental. There can be no doubt that these are the same people, irrespective of the difference in last name.

For good measure I checked for a registration of a death of any 'Charles Johnston'. None could be found. There is however a registration of the burial of 'Carel Janson' on 12 October 1805 [8] again in Sprang. Which concurs with the fact that his wife Cunera was a widow when she died 2 months later [7].

How or why the Scottish soldier Charles Johnston ended up in Sprang remains a mystery for the moment. Sprang was a village and certainly no garrison was stationed there.

Why he chose 'Janson' to be his new surname may be explained as an attempt to "blend in with the locals": people with the surname 'Janson' (or similar) were already living in Sprang (c.f. the baptism of Johannes Jakobus Janszon [9] in 1754). And of course it is quite similar to his original name.

Fact is though that all four of his children were baptised with the surname "Johnston" and that Joris Frans, Hendrina and Magiel used "Janson" as surname when they married (respectively in 1798, 1798 and 1805).

Research Notes

*) The other (unmarked) names in the image can be identified as children of Joris Frans (Johnston) Janson and Anna Bogers (in order of appearance):

The only exception is Johannes Jakobus 1754. This almost certainly is Johannes Jakobus Janszon, baptised 24 February 1754 in Sprang [9].
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**) Although it may not look like that, 'Magiel' and 'Michiel' are in fact the same names. Spelling rules did not exist in those days and how names were put on paper was left to the discretion of the scribe. The profile of 'Magiel' (once completed) will even show more variations.
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  1. Marriage Arij van Munster - Hendrina Janson 1798: Stadsarchief Rotterdam marriage
  2. intended marriage Overschie 1798: FamilySearch intended marriage Overschie
  3. intended marriage Rotterdam 1798: FamilySearch intended marriage Rotterdam
  4. Death Hendrina 1811: FamilySearch death Hendrina
  5. Birth Hendrina 1770 Streekarchief Langstraat Heusden Altena (SALHA) birth Hendrina 1770
  6. Streekarchief Langstraat Heusden Altena: homepage SALHA
  7. 7.0 7.1 Death Cunera SALHA death Cunera Romme
  8. Burial Carel Janson: SALHA burial Carel Janson
  9. 9.0 9.1 Birth Johannes Jabobus: SALHA baptism Johannes Jakobus

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Seems logical to me.

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