Monthly Archives: December 2009

Bruges — a side trip

After our stay in Maastricht, and our visits to the neighboring Belgian towns of Rekem and Beek, we headed west to Bruges.  No genealogical work there; we went merely to see the city, the so-called “Venice of the North.”

Old house, Bruges

Bruges was pretty.  It rained.  Our hotel smelled like sewage, as so many places do when they are situated on or near canals.  We had an excellent “beer dinner” — perhaps our best meal while abroad — with each course prepared with beer and served with the beer used in its preparation. 

 All in all, though, Bruges was disappointing.  So much of its charm comes from changes made by British expats who discovered it in the late 18th and early 19th century, and stayed on to make the town even more of a story-book village than it had been.  The whole place had a slightly Disney-like quality for me. 

In addition, the city was overrun by Brits who had come for the weekend via the ferry to Ostend.  And we were tired of traveling, having been on the road at this point almost three weeks.

 Next, to Brussels.

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Posted by on December 29, 2009 in Uncategorized


A trip to Beek, Belgium

First, let me apologize for the silence.  It’s my busy season, and I’ve been decking halls since the first week of December.  Yesterday I finally decked my own, and now, before the Christmas madness starts, I want to get back to the journey.

I left you in Rekem, where we found the church great-great-grandmother Vanderdonck was buried from, and the building where her husband worked as a customs official.

We had learned, easily enough, from the Vanderdonck family card in Rotterdam that Grandmother’s father — or stepfather — had been born in Beek, Belgium.  The hard part was finding Beek itself.  We were told by several people who it was a suburb of Antwerp.  Others said it was near Maastricht.  Still others said “Beek,” which means “brook,” is a common ending for Belgian towns, and there would have to be some word before it. Maps were no help.  We didn’t have a clue.

Finally, the man we met in Rekem told us that Beek was nearby — it had become part of another town, as Rekem had become part of  Lanaken.  He named a few towns it might have been swallowed by, and we drove through several, looking for Beek without luck.

Town hall, Bree.

Our last stop was a small town called Bree.  It had clearly been a market town, and had its own small but lovely church. It also had a town hall, where we learned that Bree had indeed consumed Beek  — the two towns merged in 1965 —  and found a map.  

The village of Beek had become a neighborhood.   New houses lined roads in subdivisions where the black top seemed barely dry. 

Parish church, Beek

But the Catholic church is still there.  Dedicated to St. Martin, its Romanesque tower was built with field stones  in 1007. 

Interior, Church in Beek

Inside, the church holds some late Gothic statues, and a restored organ  dating from the 18th century.  The pipes are from 1593, making Beek’s organ the oldest in Belgium.

Church interior, Beek

A small cemetary surrounds the building, but we found no Vanderdoncks among those graves.  Still, we knew that if Alexis Vanderdonck was baptized in Beek, it  would have been in this ancient, peaceful place.

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Posted by on December 23, 2009 in Uncategorized


The Next Generation

 Most people reading this are probably family members, and familiar with the offspring of the Vanderdonck/Jansen union.  And most of us have a copy of this photo, taken on my parents’ wedding day, August 29, 1936.

The next generation

From the left, back row: Albert, Fredericka (Freda), Petronella (Nellie), Pauline, Theodore. 

Front row, from the left: Cecelia, Grandfather Theodore Jansen, Anna Cornelia,  Grandmother Jansen-Vanderdonck, Joseph.

My mother’s wedding dress was royal blue lace; it was the Great Depression, and you wouldn’t wear a white wedding dress — you needed something you could wear again and again.    Behind the group, a tapestry showing gleaners with a windmill in the background. The picture was taken in the living room of the Newkirk Avenue house.

See what happens when you run off to America?

It’s slightly maddening to keep coming up with the same first names while doing genealogical research.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell one generation from the next. This is because of naming traditions in Dutch families. 

Up until very recently children were  named after family members. Usually, the first son is named for the father’s father.  The second son is named after the mother’s father. The third son is called after the father’s paternal grandfather, the  fourth son, after the mother’s paternal grandfather; the fifth son,  after the father’s maternal grandfather; sixth son, named after the mother’s maternal grandfather.

The same thing happened for the daughters except that you always started with the mother’s side first. The first daughter was named after the mother’s mother, the second daughter after the father’s mother and so on.

So the oldest daughter of Theodore and Fredericka is Pauline; the oldest son in Theodore — after grandfather’s father, not himself.  The next daughter, Petronella, is named after grandfather’s mother, Petronella Jansen-Ashof. The next surviving child is Albert, named after grandfather’s brother, not Grandmother’s father or stepfather (Alexis).  Freda is named, most likely, for her Greatgrandmother; Cecelia, for grandmother’s great-aunt, Paulina’s sister.

Anna and Joseph seem fully Americanized in their naming, though there was Anna Dery on the Vanderdonck side, and quite a few Cornelias among the Jansens.  Anna was of course the mother of Mary.  And Joseph the earthly father of Jesus. Given the worship of Mary, this is the most likely source of these names.

Two children of the Vanderdonck-Jansen marriage did not survive into adulthood:  Mary and William.  They were named, it seems to me, for Dutch royalty, though Mary may have been named for the Virgin as well.

One more note on names: in Dutch,  a married woman used her married name between her given name and her family name — so grandmother would be referred to as Fredericka Paulina Jansen Vanderdonck.  And, as you may have seen in the doodbrief posting, a woman’s family name was always included in such missives.  It’s very helpful in doing genealogial research!

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Posted by on December 9, 2009 in Uncategorized


Unknown Bride

Here’s another ancestor photo, found in my mother’s house after her death.  Any guesses?  Is it possible this is a first communion photo, and not a bride at all? The photo studio was in Amsterdam, where Grandmother Jansen-Vanderdonck was raised. Or perhaps it is the bride of Albert, Grandfather Jansen’s brother?

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Posted by on December 8, 2009 in Uncategorized


Rekem/Reckheim part 2

The old parish church in Rekem was easy to find – it sits right on the square,  the castle on one side and the restaurant where we ate lunch on the other.  The fourth side of the square was a brick wall, 8 or 10 feet high.  Now a museum, the church opened at 1 pm, so we sauntered over after our lunch.

St Peter's Church, Rekem, Belgium

I don’t know why so many churches in the lowlands have become museums, except for the obvious fact that both Catholics and protestants claimed them.  Turning them into historical sites instead of religious ones may have been a way to cut the quarrelling.  Then again, as populations moved out of the old villages and into more modern and convenient quarters, church attendance may have dropped off, making the old parish impractical to maintain.

Interior, St. Peter's

We entered St Peter’s museum/church.  A woman sat at a desk behind the altar rail.  She was painting her nails and chatting on a cell phone, and ignored us.

 This was the parish church of the elder Vanderdoncks.  The plain brick exterior gave no hint of the   baroque interior.  There was little on display, except pamphlets about the surrounding area. And no records were available at the church; they’re all in the town hall of Lanakan, the city which absorbed Rekem. I got an email address from the lady with the nail polish for the town historian, but I can’t make out the address and I haven’t followed up yet.

 Leaving the church, we wandered around the little town, and at one point stopped dead in our tracks. 

The Customs House

Here was a small brick building, its once large entrance reduced to a small door and even smaller window.  The sign said “Belgish Tol Kantoor. Bureau de Douane, Belge.”   This was the customs office – the very office in which Boniface Vanderdonck would have worked.  Like many buildings in Oude Rekem,  it was not open on a weekday in October, so we had to content ourselves with imagining Great-great-grandfather Vanderdonck going to work there, day after day, until his retirement.

Plaque on the Customs House


Dutch sheep

We wandered around outside the town looking for the cemetery, but found only a large roadside crucifix and some perfectly contented-looking sheep. 

Roadside crucifix


Back in town, we saw a workman heading into the castle, and asked him if he knew where the cemetery was.  He gestured behind the brick wall; it had been paved over years ago.  We looked though a gate and saw a  large field covered in cracked asphalt.

 The workman wanted to know what we were doing in Rekem.  (He had no English so our conversation took place in Dutch, German, and French.)  We showed him the doodbreif, and he said, “Vanderdonck, Vanderdonck,” thoughtfully.  Then he remembered: he had seen the name on some old envelopes, inside the castle.  (The castle is now used as a conference center, and contains a restaurant that is used for groups.  Tours are available only for pre-booked tour groups, and only in the summer.)  The man took my email address, and said he would look for the envelopes again, and if he found them, would let me know where in Rekem the family had lived.  It’s been almost two months now, and I haven’t heard from him.  I doubt I ever will. 

 So,  there is more research to do in Rekem someday.  But we were on our way again, off   to find, if we could,  Alexis Dieudonne Vanderdonck’s birthplace, the town of Beek.

And Cathy, I promise, no more cliffhangers.

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Posted by on December 8, 2009 in Uncategorized


Rekem, or Reckheim, Belgium

I have a number of papers from my mother which are examples of what are called in Dutch, I believe,  doodbrief.  The literal translation is “dead letter.”     

A doodbrief  is  like an aerogram, without an envelope, folded, and edged in black. Like  a death notice in the newspaper, a doodbrief lists the dead person, his or her relatives, date of death, place of burial, and time and place of services.  Except for one thing — it doesn’t appear in the paper; it’s mailed to your home.    

I imagine how frightening it must have been to receive such a thing in the mail, thousands of miles from home.  Who is it this time?  Some distant and aged relative one barely knew, or perhaps someone closer, dearer? With what dread would you open such a thing?   

I’ll post, eventually, a number of these death letters, but the one I’m concerned with here involves the death of Anne Catherine Hubertine Dery [Vanderdonk], mother of Alexis Dieudonne Vanderdonk, and the mother-in-law of great-grandmother Vanderdonk-Kool.  Here is the document in question:   

Death letter for Anne C.H. Dery

In French, the letter lists the spouse and children of the departed — her husband, Boniface Vanderdonck, is listed as the second lieutenant (retired) of customs at Reckheim in the Belgian province of Limburgh.   

The couples’ children and spouses are included among the mourners at the top of the page: Francois and his wife Josephine Dejoisez; Dieudonne and his spouse Pauline Kool and their child (grandmother); Leopold; Jean Vanhoey and his spouse Euphrasie Vanderdonck and their children; Joseph and his wife Louise Baeyens and their children; Victor and his wife Esperance Kamerlynck and their child; Theophile; and Marie.  A large family — Alexis Diuedonne was one of eight children.   

Anne Vanderdonck-Dery received the last rites of the Holy Mother Church, and was buried on Thursday, November 6, 1885, in the parish cemetary at Reckheim.   

Reckheim, now called Rekem, is about thirty minutes by car from Maastricht.  We went on a pretty day in late October, and wandered through Lanaken, which has now absorbed Rekem,  through the newer parts of the town, and finally into Oude Rekem.   

What a beautiful little town!  In fact, we learned it has been voted “the prettiest town in Flanders.”  Rekem is located in the valley of the Maas — called the Meuse in Belgium –on the border between Belgium and Holland.  At one time it was an independent state, ruled by counts, with its own currency and the right to collect taxes.   

Here are some views of the town.   

Castle in Rekem

Restaurant on the square, Old Rekem

We ate lunch at the restaurant pictured above.  Steven had mussels — again — and this time I tried the Belgian beef stew, cooked, of course, with beer.  A wonderful hearty meal in a friendly place.   

Gardens in Old Rekem

Backstreet in Rekem

After lunch, we went looking for the parish church, and the cemetary where great-great-grandmother Vanderdonck was buried.  What we found —  in the next installment.

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Posted by on December 5, 2009 in Uncategorized


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Petrus Regout and Maastricht

The maker of our china pattern, Petrus Regout, was just a name on the back of a plate until we went to Maastricht. There in the archives (built inside a bombed out church — very beautiful) we learned more.

St Janskerk, Maastricht

Regout was born in Maastricht in 1801 and died in a suburb of the city in 1878. His family had a shop in Catholic Maastricht selling English earthenware and glass and French crystal. Petrus began working in his parents’ store when he was 13 years old. Later he opened his own shop in the nearby Belgian city of Liege.

In 1830 the [Catholic] Rebellion of Belgium against the rule of [Protestant] William of Orange interfered with trade in the Maastricht area. The river Maas was closed to all traffic, making shipping impossible. And the Dutch stopped buying from Maastricht anyway, considering it part of Belgium. To make matters worse, Regout had been importing unpainted pottery from Belgium and finishing it in Maastricht. The war meant no more imports. It would have put a lesser man out of business.

A house in Maastricht

Regout, however, had married well. His wife, Maria Aldegonda Hoeberechts, was from a wealthy family of hatmakers. Her subsantial dowry was soon invested in the company. Regout bought a steam engine, and commenced manufacturing his own products, using English earthenware as his inspiration and copying many patterns. The English, of course, were using China as their inspiration, and copying many Chinese patterns. Hence the Dutch production of patterns heavily influenced by the Far East.

And Regout wasn’t just making pottery. He was also selling into the healthy war market. In addition to the pottery factory, he had a nail factory, a glassworks, a gun factory and a gas works by 1847, and is generally acknowledged as the father of industrial revolution in Holland. He became a Member of the Dutch senate, and his son Louis later became Prime Minster.

Regout and his wife had ten children, including five sons, who all went into the family business. The factory was one of the largest producers of pottery in the world, but after World War II, the company turned from tableware to the production of bathroom fixtures. Nearly every toilet in Holland now bears The Mark of the Sphinx!

Memento mori, Maastricht

Looking on a map for the former site of Regout’s reportedly lavish summer house, we spotted the town of Beek. Wasn’t that where old Mr. Vanderdonck was born? Yes! And on the way was Rekem, the former Reckheim, which appeared in one of the ancestral documents.

So we scrapped our plans to visit Liege and Aachen, and set out again on the genealogy trail.

Next: what we found in Rekem.

Band shop in Maastricht

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Posted by on December 3, 2009 in Uncategorized