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:
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.
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.
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.