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 Anne Catherine 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.

By 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. 

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I especially appreciate historical insights.