18 January 2016

Molenbeek and Me

My great grandfather, Jack, was born in London, unlike his  older, Verheyen half-siblings.  The half-siblings were born in Molenbeek in Belgium.

The name Molenbeek means Millbrook in English.  Molen means mill in Dutch.  Beek means brook.  How do you find meaning and meanings?

Official information in English about Molenbeek

A while ago, the staff at Molenbeek's local government offices kindly provided my family with several important details about our Verheyen connection.  The staff at Lier's local government offices provided valuable information about our Gysemans heritage.

My great, great grandmother was someone who, until recently, I referred to as Anne Catherine De Houwer.  That was her possible maiden name as indicated on my great grandfather's birth certificate.

Anne Catherine, 
possibly aged 25
The only picture I have of Anne Catherine was taken when she was 25 years of age, according to the note written on it by one of her children.  I have been wondering if the photograph was taken just before she migrated to England, so that her family and friends in Belgium could have copies. 

I am still not sure whether Anne Catherine's first husband, Jules César Verheyen, had been a spice trader, but their youngest son, Louis, was the manager of a spice warehouse in London by the age of 33, as recorded in the 1901 census.  The surname of Louis and his family in relation to that census was recorded as Verheyan, not Verheyen.

I have written about my family connection to spices before.  Part three of that series of blog posts mentions Molenbeek.

The Spice of Life - part three

Anne Catherine may have spoken the Brabantian dialect but there is also a possibility that she spoke French, too.  French became the predominant language of Brussels after Belgium became a country in 1830. French then became the official language of government with Flemish relegated to a lower status.

The francization of Brussels probably affected my ancestors, as did the effects of the long 19th century, including the Peasants' War and the later language legislation.

Do you have any Flemish ancestors?

My Flemish ancestors

There are now likely to be hundreds of people descended from Anne Catherine.  She had at least nine children from her two marriages, and many, many grandchildren.  I therefore have many close and distant cousins today who have been tracing their family lines back to her, and possibly to Molenbeek.

According to the kind archive staff in Molenbeek, the other part of the Brussels-Capital Region known to be linked to my family history is Saint-Gilles.  That is a district near to Molenbeek.  My great, great grandmother apparently moved to Saint-Gilles with her four children in December 1869, not long after her first husband died in Molenbeek.

Unfortunately, as the archives of the City of Brussels do not provide a service online, and I did not received a reply to my request for information from the local government offices in Saint-Gilles, I have had several mysteries to solve without further official assistance.  I thought I would need to make a trip to Brussels to discover more but now I have all the information I require!

A little history

For more than thirty years, I have dearly wanted to know so much about Anne Catherine's life, to gain an understanding of why she and her second husband went to live in London.  Whether their migration was purely for economic reasons seems unlikely, considering the poverty the family probably experienced on their arrival in Soho.

Molenbeek is part of my family heritage in the same way as the East Shropshire Coalfield near Ironbridge, London's Soho, Bessbrook in County Armagh and the Shankill Road area of Belfast, and Finsbury Park in London.  I have never lived in any of those places though I, like Anne Catherine, travelled away from my family to live in London.

Molenbeek is the location of La Fonderie, Brussels Museum of Industry and Labour. The industrial revolution in Belgium was centred on Molenbeek, just as the industrial revolution in Britain was originally centred over the East Shropshire coalfield, where my mother's ancestors lived around Dawley.

As my posts on my grandmother's connection to Finsbury Park, and my grandfather's connection to Aden and Northern Ireland may indicate, I have been exploring the background to conflict in the world, and how to overcome it.  There was recently a report by the BBC about the current problems in Belgium.

Sint-Jans-Molenbeek is also known as Molenbeek-Saint-Jean - or Saint John's Millbrook, if you prefer - has been in the news recently in relation to terrorism in Paris.

ABC Australia - Molenbeek: The Belgian suburb dubbed Europe's jihadism hotbed

Politico - Molenbeek broke my heart

National Review - A troubled neighbourhood in a failing state

New York Times - Terrorism response puts Belgium in a harsh light

Politico - Belgium is a failed state

I am reminded that a brook is the same as a stream.  It is the centre of a catchment, with the waters often running towards a larger watercourse.  Its source may be a spring or seep.

A brook is often shallow, like the minds of people incapable of looking very deeply into anything. For many years, I have long wanted to know what happened in Anne Catherine's life and what her family background may have been.  I wanted to know who her parents were and what her education may have been, and why she migrated.

Of Anne Catherine's four children born in Molenbeek, I have the following information:

Charles César Verheyen
married in Marylebone, London in 1885
died in Bloomsbury, London circa 1917

Franciscus Xavier Joseph Verheyen
married in Westminster, London in 1893

Anne Joseph (Jacoba?) Verheyen
married (possibly) in Fulham, London in 1902

Louis Prosper Verheyen
born 10 June 1867

married his first wife,
Mary Kate Owen, in Lambeth, London in 1887
married his second wife,
Florence Ida Ginn, in Camberwell, London in 1929

Louis died in 1933, aged 65

It was only after marrying Jules Verheyen that Anne Catherine went to live in Molenbeek.  She left the area soon after he died.

Jules César Verheyen lived in Molenbeek but he was born in the East Flanders town of Rupelmonde, on 6 November 1829, the year before the Belgian revolution.  His parents Albert Casimir Verheyen and his mother Jean Catherine Verheyen still lived in Rupelmonde on the day Jules married Anne Catherine Dehouwer, 4 January 1862.  It is exciting to have, at last, one of the vital pieces of information that has long eluded me.  I certainly wanted to know when my great, great grandmother married!

According to English census records, Anne Catherine was born in 1848 in Brussels.   If she had been born in 1848, she would only have been fourteen when she married Jules!

Now I at least know more about Mr Verheyen, a resident of Molenbeek and a trader/merchant by profession, originally from Rupelmonde.  The information came from the State Archives of Belgium.

I also now know that she was born in Brussels on 13 March 1845, meaning that she would have been sixteen when she married thirty three year old Jules.  She was almost seventeen but still very young.

On 18 December 1869, the young widow and her four, small children had left Molenbeek and were living in the nearby district of Saint-Gilles.  Anne Catherine would have been twenty four at that time.

I also know that she had a twenty two year old brother called Auguste when she married.  I even know who her parents and grandparents were, what they did for a living and where they originated.  It was not Molenbeek.

I now know, too, that the photograph of Anne Catherine was probably taken some time around 1870, possibly when the Franco-Prussian War was occurring. 

17 January 2016

Finsbury Park and London Family History

Although I lived and worked in London for a few years from the age of nineteen, I cannot remember spending any time in or around Finsbury Park.  I had no reason to go there.

I knew that my paternal grandmother had grown up somewhere in north London.  I could never quite remember where she said she lived.  Whenever she mentioned her early experiences to me, it was only an old story of long ago as far as I was concerned, though I did like looking through the old family photographs with her.

When I was in my teens, I was interested in my family history but felt that it had little relevance to my life and my future.  I did not think it was possible to learn more, except from my grandmother, and through one of her nephews who had been working on the family tree.

I have never met my first cousin once removed, though the copy of the family tree I obtained from my grandmother has been one of my most precious possessions since the age of seventeen.  Fortunately, in more recent years, one of my aunts has had her cousin's email address.  Since I began my own family history journey, she put us in touch with each other and we share our discoveries.

The more I learn about history now, and especially family history, the less I feel the distance between myself and other people, past and present.  Now, the 1930s and even the 1830s can sometimes seem like yesterday, especially when making international and historical comparisons about current events.  Being in touch by email can make the whole world seem just around the corner.  The online world has changed perceptions in many ways.

When I lived in London, I never visited any relatives in the area.  I had never had a relationship with them and my grandmother never put me in touch with them.  Perhaps she thought I would not be interested in knowing them, or they would not be interested in known me.  Now, several of my grandmother's nieces, nephews and more distant relatives have been in touch with me by email.

I vaguely remember being taken to visit some of my grandmother's relatives in London when I was very small, perhaps only two or three years of age.  I have no idea which part of London their house was in, but I do remember being near a dining table with quite a few people, and there being food.  Most of the people were strangers to me.

When she was young, apart from trips to the seaside with her family, my grandmother's life was spent mainly in north London, around Islington, Holloway, Highbury and Finsbury Park.  Would she recognise those areas today?

In later life, my grandmother often mentioned to me that she grew up in the Finsbury Park area.  The names of places familiar to her were never familiar to me.  I never lived or worked in those areas.

I remember my grandmother mentioning an open air school she attended, perhaps in Finsbury Park itself.  It was thought, at the time, that an open air school was better for children suffering from respiratory problems, such as my grandmother, even with London's smog.

Recently, I used Google street view to explore the areas where my grandmother grew up, and where she probably lived and played as a child.  Part of the area is now in the UK Parliamentary constituency of Islington South and Finsbury.  The other part is in the constituency of North Islington.

In the middle of last year, I wrote about my grandmother's experiences at the end of World War Two.  When I was young, any history seemed mostly irrelevant, and even ancient to me.  The present and the short-term future were all that really mattered when I was nineteen.  The long-term future only made me worry, or dream, when I thought about it.

The Blitz
There may be more for me to find out about the area through the Islington Local History Centre and the Islington Museum.  One of my tasks this year is to understand how the area was affected by the Blitz.  There is so much to learn.  I try to imagine how my great grandmother felt about the safety of her children during the aerial bombardment of two wars.

I have already looked at a leaflet providing an overview of the archives.  There is information there about the area in the First World War and Second World War.

My great grandmother
I am not sure how my great grandparents managed to survive the Blitz.  My great grandmother appears to have spent much of her life in the same area, though part of her early childhood was spent in Fulham, in southwest London, which was then a working class area.  Perhaps the family moved about with her father's work as a builder.

I am interested in how the family travelled about, and what they did on a daily basis and what they experienced, what they ate and the music they heard, in both the 19th and the 20th centuries.  Family history, local history, social history, cultural history, economic history and political history are often intertwined.

War seemed so remote from my own existence when I was growing up yet I still found it frightening whenever poverty, injury or death were mentioned.  My maternal grandfather often talked about the poverty of his youth in Shropshire, and the struggles against death and injury and pain of the people he knew.  My maternal grandmother never mentioned anything at all of her past.  My paternal grandmother mainly mentioned the people she knew when she was growing up, and always in affectionate terms.

Recently, I wrote about my paternal grandfather's experiences in Aden during World War Two.  I was often repelled by his stories about the war when I was a child.  They always sounded so gruesome.  He did not seem capable of talking to me about anything else.  The current situation Aden is yet another tragedy.  Would the world be more peaceful if everyone could experience a sense of trust and belonging, free from poverty and free from fear?

There is much I still want to learn about 19th century London.  I have only just started exploring Charles Booth's poverty maps.  Are you aware of his work?  Are you aware of the history of London?

With my grandmother, 1990s
My grandmother never owned a house.  In later life, after my grandfather died, she lived in a small, terraced house, just a street away from a major railway line.  I lived with her there for a while when I was a secretarial student in the early 1980s.

Between the wars was the time of my grandmother's youth.   Do you have any knowledge of London in the 1920s and 1930s?  My grandmother was in her early 20s when the Battle of Cable Street occurred.  She never mentioned any violent incidents affecting her directly, though she liked to keep herself informed of world events.  During my provincial upbringing, I felt remote from the activities in cities.

With my great grandmother, 1960s
London has probably always had political violence, police corruption and organised crime, whether in relation to immigrant groups or those originating inside Britain.  Criminals from Britain have also exported themselves elsewhere.

There were no immigration restrictions into Britain until 1905, though there had long been restriction on persons born in Britain moving from one parish to another.  There had been workhouses in London for many years, both before and after 1834.

My grandmother would probably have been quite familiar with the public transport routes in the area in which she lived in her teens and early 20s, especially as her father was a tram conductor.   The family would probably have been very familiar with Finsbury Park station.  Even so, when she was young, my grandmother probably had no idea that her own family history in London probably had something to do with the East Coast Main Line railway in the early years of the Great Northern Railway.

Tom, my great grandmother's father
My grandmother's maternal grandfather, Tom Ginn, was born in 1840 in Eynesbury in Huntingdonshire.  Eynesbury is now part of St Neots in Cambridgeshire.  The railway station in St Neots opened on 7 August 1850.

Ten-year-old Tom probably saw the station and railway line being built.  A journey by train along that line may have been how he and his family ended up a few years later in Southwark, south of the Thames in London, unless they travelled southwards along the Great North Road.

Tom's future second wife, my great, great grandmother, Sarah, had lived most of her early life in north London and the East End of London, as far as I am aware.  From her handwritten family records and an embroidery sample, it appears that she was a religious-minded member of the Church of England.

Sarah Elizabeth Cole was the daughter Welcome Cole and his wife Frances, née Hedley.  She was orphaned before the age of eight.

Victorian London
Sarah was born in Islington in 1863.  Her mother was born in the St Pancras area in 1828.  Her father was born in East Molesey in Surrey in 1824, not far from Hampton Court Palace.  Her grandfather was probably born in Richmond, according to census records from 1851.

Frances Hedley and Welcome Cole married in St James Church in Clerkenwell in 1849.  They both died in Islington in the late 1860s, as did several of their other children.  I am not sure whether any of them were affected by cholera or tuberculosis, typhoid or typhus or any other diseases.  I know that my grandmother's older brother had polio.

Tom and Sarah with their children
Sarah Elizabeth Cole and Tom Ginn were married in St Leonard's church in Shoreditch in 1889.  That was just a year after Tom's first wife Annie had died in Woolwich, not far from the Royal Arsenal.

My great-grandmother, also called Annie, was born in Shoreditch in 1890.  In many respects, she was a true Cockney.

Tom spent his youth in and around Southwark, where he and his first wife married in the early 1860s.  They had lived next door to each other as children back in the village of Eynesbury near St Neots.  I now have quite a large amount of information about my Huntingdonshire heritage.

My grandmother's paternal grandparents were still in Belgium in the 1860s, as far as I am aware.  Her father, though, was a Londoner through and through, regardless of his foreign sounding surname.

Jack (John Albert Gyseman) worked as a London tram conductor for most of his life.  He was born in the city of Westminster in 1883.  He died in 1951 and the tram era ended the following year.  1952 was the year of Great London Smog.

When I lived in London, I rarely spent much time in the East End, or the outer suburbs.  I have only visited Hampton Court once, and that was on a holiday in England in 2000, long after I had migrated to Australia.  One of the places I visited most was Euston railway station, on my way to or from a train before or after visiting my grandparents.

When I was young, my grandmother travelled down to Euston by train once a year to visit the grave of her parents in East Finchley Cemetery.  Recently, during my family history investigations, I came across information about the Westminster cemeteries scandal and other related corruption.  My grandmother never mentioned the situation to me though I am sure it would have caused her deep distress.

Of course, the excessive use of force or hubris by persons acting on behalf of a government or a monarch is unfortunately not new or unusual, either.  One of the reasons given for allowing women the vote was to provide a moral impetus for better, more caring, less corrupt governments and societies.  Now, everyone is too busy to hold abusers to account.

As far as I am aware, through my explorations of history, militant political disruption in London in the early 20th century was mainly a consequence of actions by suffragettes and anarchists.  But who was there to provide a peaceful approach to the future?

The use of violent tactics by non-state groups and individuals in London and elsewhere is nothing new.  I have been thinking about how my ancestors would have reacted to the Tottenham Outrage in 1909 and the Siege of Sydney Street of 1911, for example.  I have been attempting to understand more about the era, especially how news editors distorted the truth to increase newspaper sales.

There is much corruption in the world, even in London law enforcement, and in world football. Yet I think about the world in relation to the treatment of earlier migrants and potential migrants to cities and rural areas, whether from inside a country or outside it. I have been a migrant in many ways myself.

In the 1930s, my paternal grandfather was a fan of the Arsenal football team.  Although he could have been considered to be part of the (working-class Ulster protestant) Irish diaspora in England, he grew up mainly in Devon, which is where he first met my grandmother.  Their second meeting was meant to take place just before an Arsenal home game.

My grandfather teaching me football
In the late 1930s, my grandmother lived just around the corner, she told me, from the old Arsenal football stadium and the nearby underground station .   My grandparents had arranged to meet again, this time in London.

My grandfather thought they were to meet outside the stadium.  My grandmother thought they were to meet outside the station.  Fortunately, after my grandfather had seen the game, without my grandmother, he went around to her house to see her there.

If it had not been for Arsenal, and my grandfather's initiative, I do not know if my grandparents would ever have married.  The original football team had been associated with the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich in the south east of London, not its subsequent north London location.  Woolwich had been where Tom Ginn's first wife had died.

I am reminded about how today's arsenals of the arms industry are used to feed corruption, abuses of power, fear, violence and expressions of hatred.  I am also reminded that the weapons used in Middle Eastern wars are often provided by countries such as the United States and Britain.

The situation is such a mess.  There is much hypocrisy. France is also selling weapons to the belligerents.  And so is Belgium.  The largest European military small arms exporter is currently in Belgium, too.  There is also a considerable black market in weaponry, drugs and other dangerous things.
Finding multicultural links in our own families can possibly help us to understand the world better, and make it a more peaceful place for everyone.  Even when she was growing up, my grandmother lived in a multicultural community.  For example, there were Italians living nearby who sold ice cream, calling it hokey pokey.  Italians had also been living in Clerkenwell since the 1850s.  That was where my grandmother's great grandparents, Frances and Welcome, were married.  I married someone with an Italian heritage in Australia and was made to feel a welcome part of the family.

When considering family history, there are always many connections.  One of my grandmother's first jobs was as a live-in cook with a Jewish family.  It suited her well as she had recently had a big argument with her father and was not on speaking terms with him for a while.  People interact with different cultures for many reasons.

Finsbury Park is still a multicultural area.  It is the location of North London Central Mosque, which is also known as Finsbury Park Mosque.  Things are apparently now less militant there than they recently were.  Not so long ago, the area around Finsbury Park Mosque was referred to in the media as Londonistan.

Yet Finsbury Park also has a large Irish community and many other ethnic groups.   What does multiculturalism mean to you?

Many perceptions of the world are a matter of opinion.  You may have compared your opinions with those of the mosque's the local Member of Parliament. Have you compared them with mine?

At the end of 2014, I wrote about terrorism in relation to family history.  There were several terrorism incidents in London when I was living there, and just before I lived there, and soon after I subsequently visited the city.  Yet I have also travelled widely in other places with terrorist incidents, and even wars, including the Middle East, Iran and Pakistan.  Have you explored my Continual Journeys blog at all?

My grandmother was born in 1915.  She would have been 100 years of age last year, if she had lived beyond her 95 years on Earth.  After she retired, she visited Egypt, Morocco and India.  She was an open minded person in many ways and lived an entirely secular, law-abiding life, as far as I can recall, as did all my grandparents.

Although she retained her London accent all her life, my grandmother used an occasional expression of Staffordshire slang from time to time.  For example, she called everyone "duck" - including me.

When saying that word with its original meaning, itself of ancient origin, she would give additional emphasis to the local Staffordshire pronunciation, with a very short "aw" sound in the middle.  When she wanted to feed the ducks in the park, she would say "daks" in her London accent , even though she had lived in central Staffordshire since the late 1940s.  The greeting "duck" is said differently elsewhere in the English Midlands.

My grandmother retained her love of trips to the seaside throughout her long life.  She also retained a love of her London family history.

Have you explored yours?

08 January 2016

George in Aden

Interactions between cultures, in war and peace, have long been part of the experiences of military personnel.  Most other people do not travel far, unless to work and/or seek riches and/or to find love and/or satisfy curiosity and/or to escape violence, boredom, poverty, natural disasters and/or unpleasant weather.

Before the First World War, my paternal grandmother had an uncle who served with his regiment in India and/or Burma.  He died during the Gallipoli landings on 25 April 1915.

Before the Second World War, my maternal grandmother had a brother who served with his regiment in India.  He died in Normandy shortly after D-Day in 1944.

During much of the Second World War, my paternal grandfather served with British Forces Aden.  He had a long career in the Royal Air Force, from the time he left school in the 1920s until his retirement from the forces many years later.

My grandfather spent his earliest years in Belfast in Northern Ireland.  His family lived in Emerson Street, a poor, working class area just off the Shankill Road.  He was orphaned at around the age of six and was then sent off to Devon during World War I to be brought up by an older brother there. 

My grandfather helped to build and maintain military aircraft.  The BBC has the recollections of someone who was in Aden during the war.

The port of Aden, now in Yemen, had long been a strategic link to India for the British.  Britain still had an empire until it gradually transformed into the Commonwealth of Nations.

In fact, Aden was considered to be a province of British India for almost a hundred years, from 1839 to 1937.  Like many colonial territories, Aden had been occupied by force.

The hinterland behind the port was known as the Aden Protectorate until the 1960s.  During the Second World War, British Forces Aden was under the command of H.Q. British Forces, Aden, so my grandfather may have been based at RAF Khormaksar.   No. 8 Squadron was based in Aden during World War II.

When reflecting upon current hostilities, have you identified your family connections with the Middle East?  What are the shadows of your inheritance?  Were any of your family members ever in the Colony of Aden?