09 July 2016

Success After Many Years

While researching the Gysemans branch of my family history a few months ago, I found some exciting, new information in the Belgian State Archives.
Through the online resources of the State Archives of Belgium, I have discovered that my great, great grandfather, then known as Jean Gysemans, was a witness to a wedding in Brussels in 1871.  He was 39 years of age at the time.

I am yet to find a record of the marriage of Jean (Baptiste) Gysemans to my great, great grandmother.  They probably migrated to England between 1872 and 1875.  There are no relevant shipping records available from that time, as far as I am aware.

I already knew, from the local government archives in Lier (to the south of Antwerp) that Johannes (Jan or Jean or John) Baptiste or Baptista Gysemans was born in Lier on 10 December 1830.  It was the year Belgium became an independent nation.

There are records in Lier showing that John worked as a tailor there between the ages of twenty-six and thirty-six (1856-1866).  I do not know whether he was an apprentice or a soldier or something else before 1856.  Perhaps I will find that information this year.

The parents of Johannes Baptiste Gysemans were:

Andreas Franciscus Gysemans
born 19 September 1808, Lier
died 28 April 1890, Lier

Joanna Catharina Verlinden
born 25 October 1802, Lier
died 17 November 1868

Andreas and Joanna married in Lier on 30 September 1830.  Joanna must have been heavily pregnant at the time.

Johannes/Jean/John was married three times.

First marriage:
Joanna Sophia de Neut
born 17 April 1835, Lier
died 3 September 1857, Lier

I do not know the date upon which John married Joanna but they had one son who died in infancy:

Franciscus Johannes Gysemans
born 9 January 1857
died 21 April 1857

At the age of twenty-seven, John had lost both his first wife and their child.

Second marriage:
Maria Theresia Fierens
born 13 November 1835

John and Maria, herself a widow, married on 14 November 1858.  I do not know when she died.

The record for John in Lier ends in 1866.

The next record, from the state archives, shows that on 24 June 1871, Jean Gysemans, aged 39, was living in Brussels and working as a tailor there.  As mentioned above, the record indicates that he was a witness at a wedding.

I do not know where or when (or if) John married another young widow, Anne Catherine Verheyen.  What I do know is that my great, great grandmother is now known to me far better than before.

For many years, I have wanted to know when she became Anne Catherine Verheyen and when she became Anne Catherine Gysemans and when she sailed for England, and why. Though she was also known as Annie and Catherine on census records, and her first married name was Verheyen, I did, until recently, know very little about her.  I knew nothing at all about her family background.

There are many archives in Belgium.  In the State Archives, I have recent found that Jules César Verheyen married my great great grandmother in Brussels on 4 January 1862.

If my great grandmother had been born in 1848, the year of her birth as recorded in UK census records, that would mean that she would only have been about fourteen years of age at the time of her first marriage.  That did not make sense.

Fortunately, I was able to click on the magnifying glass symbol on the page and unlock a treasure trove.

Now I know that my great, great grandmother was born in Brussels on 13 March 1845, not in 1848.  She would have been sixteen years of age when she married her first husband.  Jules was twice her age.

Anne Catherine Dehouwer
born 13 March 1845, Brussels


Jules César Verheyen
born 6 November 1829, Rupelmonde

Married in Brussels on 4 January 1862

Anne Catherine Dehouwer is recorded as having no profession at the time of her first marriage. She lived in rue des Brigittines in Brussels, probably not far from what is now the contemporary arts centre.  That building was used as a ballroom from the 1850s.  Later it became a warehouse.  It is possible that Anne and Jules met at a ball there. 

The newly weds lived in Molenbeek, where Jules was some sort of trader.  I have written about my family connection to Molenbeek already.  Jules was recorded as a merchant in 1865, when he witnessed a marriage.  He and Anne Catherine had four children by the time Jules died on 8 December 1868.  Anne Catherine Verheyen, aged 20, was therefore a widow in 1869 with four small children.

Before sixteen-year-old Anne Catherine married thirty-three-year-old Jules Verheyen, she probably lived with her parents and brother, and any other young siblings. 

The parents of Anne Catherine Dehouwer were:

Joseph Dehouwer
born 29 August 1805, Berchem, now part of Antwerp

Rosalie Josephine Bara
born 4 May 1810, Brussels

Joseph and Rosalie married in Brussels on 16 August 1837.  He was a joiner and she was a seamstress.  At the time of their wedding, Joseph was living in Saint-Josse-ten-Nood, now part of Brussels.  Rosalie was living in rue Royale neuve, which appears to be in central Brussels.
The Dehouwer family origins in Berchem are now known.  Joseph's father, Vincent Joseph Dehouwer was a weaver in Berchem.  Vincent was born circa 1773.  Joseph's mother's maiden name was Euphomie (or Euphonie) Bulteel.

Joseph Dehouwer was a widower when he married Rosalie.  His first wife, Marie Barbe Schots, died on 10 August 1836.

The Bara family origins appear to be Brussels itself.  Rosalie's father Emanuel Julien Bara was a carpenter.  Her mother was Marie Alexandrine Fauville.

At the time of Anne Catherine Dehouwer's wedding, her father Joseph and twenty-two year old brother, Auguste, were working as cabinetmakers in Brussels.

Back in Berchem, even today, there are still people with the Dehouwer surname, which is often also spelled De Houwer.  I will probably never know if any of them are directly related to me.  Apparently, de houwer means the hack or hewer in Dutch.

In 1876, John Joseph Gyseman was born in Westminster in London.  By that time, the family lived in Soho. I have no other information about my Belgian great, great grandparents until the UK census of 1881.

Anne Catherine Gysemans remained a Belgian subject for the rest of her life.  When she died, in late 1908 or early 1909, she would have been sixty-four years of age.  At least that information now corresponds to the other information I have available.

John Baptiste Gyseman died in the Strand district of central London in 1906, aged 76.  He and his eldest son were theatrical tailors in late Victorian times and into the Edwardian era.

I am now developing a dedicated page about my Belgian family history research.  The history and arts of Belgium are certainly also adding to the picture of my heritage.


  1. Wow! Well done Via.
    I have just returned to your blog after rediscovering my old spreadsheet, which is a mish-mash of info copy-pasted from various ancestry websites around the time I first found your blog, five years ago.

    Lately I have had a desire to write some kind of book for the generation that comes after me, and after all this time I had forgotten which bits were copied and which bits were notes I added in to keep track of the stories.
    It's almost like I am starting again, treating everything I gathered 5 years ago as "to be confirmed".

    What a happy chance for me that you just so happened to post this a few days ago! So much info here that I have been missing, so thank you for sharing it. I had no idea about Anne Catherine's life before London!

    1. Hello Charlotte, Lovely to hear from you.

      I have been editing - and adding to - the above blog post little by little since first publishing it. As you may be aware, John and Anne Catherine have many descendants today, particularly through two of their sons, Edward/Adolf and Jack/Albert.

      My own curiosity about Anne Catherine's Belgian background began around thirty-five years ago, when I was given a copy of the family tree. The computer printout (very sophisticated for the time) had been developed by one of my father's cousins during the 1970s - a person still researching the Gyseman family history to this day.

      Best wishes, Via
      email: writetovia (AT) gmail . com


I especially appreciate historical insights.