18 August 2011

So Many Cousins

Since I last mentioned this very faded photograph, I have discovered a few more things about the sitter.  Here is a woman of about 25 years of age.  She was born in Brussels in Belgium, probably in the year 1848, meaning that the photograph dates from around 1873.  She is someone I would like to know more about.

Who were her parents?  Did she have siblings?  Could she read and write?  Which language did she speak?  Where was the photograph taken?

The woman is Mrs Gysemans or Mrs Verheyen.  She would have been Mrs Gysemans if I knew she became the third wife of Mr Jean or John or Johannes Baptiste Gysemans, my great, great grandfather, in or before 1873.  On the other hand, she may still have been Mrs Verheyen, the widow of Jules Verheyen, a merchant.

It is wonderful to put a face to a name when exploring family history, though frequently it is not possible.  What we have instead is a collection of cousins. I have quite a few cousins, and they have quite a few children between them.  Through this blog I have helped my mother to contact some of her cousins who she did not even know existed before.  My father has several cousins, most of whom I cannot remember meeting, and they probably do not know much about me at all.

My grandparents probably had many cousins, and part of my family history research has managed to fit some of them into the family tree.  My in-laws have, and had, several cousins, too, some of whom were discovered through my research, but my husband has no cousins at all.

Recently, I had another delightful surprise concerning my Belgian ancestors, namely an email message from a fellow family history researcher of the same family tree.  Are you related to the Verheyen or Gyseman family who went to London from Belgium in the 1870s?  Is the woman in the picture amongst your ancestors?

Some people do family history to try to find all of the descendants of a forebear.  I am the eldest grandchild of both sides of my family, and many of my cousins are much younger than myself, and/or probably have very little in common with me.  You may find the same with your cousins - and even your siblings!

So, why I am I interested so much in the woman in the photograph?  I cannot imagine her life having much in common with my own, especially with four children from her first marriage, and at least five from her second marriage.  I am interested in hearing from people who share my interest in wanting to know more about her.

Like me, Anne Catherine, or Anna Catrin, or whoever she was known as, was a migrant.  She left one society in her mid 20s to live in another, just like I did.  Her challenges in life were probably far greater than my own.  She died in 1908, in Hendon in London.   Presumably, she was living with relatives in her later years, but who were they?

I have been told that Belgian people can have at least three different spellings of their names - Flemish/Dutch, Latin and French.  If they migrated to Britain, it is likely that they also had an English version of their names.

The early Italian migrants to Australia sometimes had several versions of their names, too.  My husband's grandfather from the Veneto region was called Calogero or Calocero, but in Australia he was usually known as Charlie.  I do not have any photographs at all of Charlie, but my mother-in-law says my husband looks more and more like him every day.

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I especially appreciate historical insights.