Foundlings in Belgium

In the territory of Belgium,just like in any othercountry, it wasn’t unusal for a child to be abandoned at birth*. Surviving records are very interesting to study and even if they don’t give informations as to the child ancestors , they are a great source of informations to understand the context your foundling ancestor lived in.

Some registers are being kept in various archives repositories on a geographical basis, often in the State Archives of the province of the place where the child was discovered but also sometimes in the borough archives. In some 19th cities, there was a especially made box inserted in a door and who would give anonymity with the certitude that the child would be found. This box was called « le tour d’enfant » or « le tour d’abandon ». To give just a small example, more than 500 babies were left in this box for the sole year of 1841 in Brussels The foundling would have been taken in charge by the « meneur d’enfants » who often was the one to register the child in the said borough. This civil registration, to be found in the borough BMD’s just like any other record would always mentions the fact that the child is a foundling, the civil officer picking up his or her first and surnames at random, sometimes in link with the place the child was found in (« Léglise » could give a hint that the child was found in a church, « Laporte » that he or she was found on some doorstep) sometimes just being chosen in the Saints Calendar or in a book ( Greek and Roman Mythology were big favourites at a time) .

When the territory was under French governance (1795-1815) ,there were plenty of revolutionary themed names such as Marie Revolution or Liberté-Ignace Populaire !

Sometimes there would be a short description of the foundling clothes. A piece of paper or half of a playing card could also be found on the child , this was meant to give the parents, or rather the single mother as it often was the case , the possibility to take the child back later by providing the other half of the artefact. In some cases, those precious relics are being conserved in the records which adds a moving touch to it.

In the case of a first of last name mentioned on a piece of cloth or paper, this would be the name used for registration. It would sometimes also be mentioned that the child was already baptised even if he or she would be once again baptised. The mortality toll being what it was,you were never too sure !

Alas, not only was the infant mortality very high but hygiene low standards and over crowded orphanage often shared with the poor,the sick and the elderly surely didn’t help and also the parents weren’t sure that they would ever be able to come back to pick up their child should they wish to.

If the children didn’t died in infancy,they were sent to farms where they had to work hard. Later, they would enroll in the army or at a nearby mine or factory. In several cases that I worked on,and I had the case in my own family history, the foundling was to marry one child of his « foster » family , especially when there were several daughters and no heir to the farm. It was then a possibility for the foundling to start a new and better live.

It could be disappointing to find out a foundling in your family history but at the same time in case of a surviving record of your ancestor this information could give more informations on his or her life than you would  have found otherwise. Of course you’ll be stuck on line of your tree  but it also gives you a great subject to work on ( Were there any records kept ? Are there still available to see? Where did the children lived ? Is there any historical research made on the social history of the place your ancestor was found in ? Any statistics being made ? and many more questions that could come up at some point)

In case of a name or a baptism mentioned this could give more research hypotheses.

Always remember  too that your foundling ancestor was a kind of survivor in his/her way !

* There are some recorded cases of older children being abandoned but they surely were a minority.

The "tour" where the children were left to their fate (

Two months to wait

For Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2013 edition !

For those who aren’t acquainted with the biggest genealogical event of the year, this video should answer questions and also give you a taste of what’s to come next february. Needless to say, I’m already impatient to be there to meet and help people with european roots and Anglo-Belgians relatives. So if you have those connections or have hit a european brickwall,drop by and I’ll try to help you the best I can 🙂

You can find informations and book tickets on

http://www.whodoyouthinkyouarelive.com

Who Do You Think You Are?Live

Avis Important / Important Message

A l’approche des fêtes, les Archives de l’Etat adaptent leurs horaires : Notez donc avec attention que tous les dépôts fermeront à 15h le vendredi 21 décembre et seront fermé,contrairement à l’habitude, le samedi 22 décembre et ce jusqu’au 2 janvier inclus pour permettre au staff des archives de passer les fêtes en famille et de nous accueillir en pleine forme en janvier !

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To avoid any disappointment, please note that the different locations of National Archives of Belgium will be closed on saturday the 22d december until Wednesday 2d of January so don’t plan any research trip to Belgium if you need to visit the Archives this week end or during the holidays but save all your energy for 2013 !

The archives will also close on 3 PM on friday the 21st , an hour earlier than the usual closing time so that staff can take a rest with their families and help us in full effect in the new year !

Archives Annual Closure details

A source not to be forgotten !

When one thinks family history research, one always tend to straightforwardly think about BMD records and in a sense one is right to do so : birth (or baptisms), wedding or death records are sources of the first importance and ones the researcher will be the most confronted to. It will also often be the first contact between the researcher and its subject by the way of any family documents in his or her possession.

There’s another source that could be of great interest to the same researcher providing he or she organises the work research in a good way and that is newspaper. For instance, you can now browse through a  digital collection of 30 titles in the Belgian Royal Library, this should be online soon but for copyrights reasons, nobody really knows when.

The kind of information that can be found in newspapers is really vast : it goes from obituaries to cultural events via small ads and political articles. The quantity of it makes it compulsory to organise your search very well either by date, place or even names in case of an OCRised record.

To name just a few examples of how useful this tool can be : I could trace one of my relations, the husband of one of my paternal grandfather cousin, in the sports pages on a weekly basis because he worked in the world of horses and the races he attended were all mentioned in a newspaper. Of course,there will only be a small mention of his name and where he was at that time but it’s pieces of a puzzle that alltogether forms his career.

The same with my maternal great-grandfather. He was a musician in King Albert’s band and this band toured North America in 1929. I’ve found articles telling of their homecoming and of all social events that took place as consequences of the big adventure that this tour was ! And articles can of course be of big use if the ancestor you’re looking informations about has been involved in politics,science,academics etc.

Newspapers could not only tell you about special events in which your ancestors might have been involved in but also about the world as it went in the time of your ancestors : wars,politics all this will make the context in which your ancestor lived clearer and help you your research accordingly !

As a word of conclusion, let’s say that newspapers are a source too important not to be forgotten !

If  you want to know more about online, and soon-to-be online newspapers :

http//www.kbr.be

http://www.kranten.kb.nl

http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

 

Newspapers are a goldmine source for who knows where and how to search

Brugge Archives Reopening update

Brugge Archives reopening will suffer a small delay for everyhting is not 100% ready yet. Archives Repository should reopen on january the 3d

Along with a visit to this magnificent city and its soon to reopen state archives, I strongly advice you a visit to a dedicated website where you can already find a good database fed by volunteers. You’ll find this at http://www.vrijwilligersrab.be

Brugge Archives fans will have to waiit a bit more...

Brugge Archives are moving !

The magnificent city repository is now closed in order to organise their move to a brand new building downtown Brugge in Predikherenrei 4 A.

The opening date should be the third of december but I’ll keep you informed !

(source : http://www.arch.be)

What I can do for you !

Need to do genealogical or historical research in Belgium or The Netherlands and don’t have the time to come to Belgium ? Have a brickwall in Continental Europe ? I can help you find your european ancestors !

Of course, I can’t promise miracles. Some records have been destroyed by wars,others by fires or were just not being kept but having a good idea of what’s available or not, I’ll always do my best to help you find your ancestors.

Historian from Brussels University, genealogist for many years,
I’m fluent in French, English and Dutch and at ease with all kind of records.

I’m based in Brussels which makes it practical to travel in Belgium and abroad.

I move in all Belgium archives to conduct researches so don’t let this brickwall annoy you and let’s try to break it down !

You can use the contact form or e-mail at

belgianroots (AT) gmail.com

Who Do You Think You Are? Live !

Just got back from the London most important genealogy exhibition ! My impressions and pictures soon but just to say that I really enjoyed the show,met great and nice people, discussed about interesting,and very interesting, cases, solved some even so I’m really glad for that !

More about it really soon !

 

 

From 1815 to 2012

Several days from now, I fell across a letter from Edward Stanley to his wife relating his visit to Waterloo Battlefield in 1816°, just one year after the famous battle took place.  This letter was so moving and so well written that it made me want to visit the site once again. I visited often in my childhood and my love for history even made me celebrate one of my teenage birthday parties there. With the good weather that we had last Thursday and a meeting cancelled, I told myself that it was a good time to go back the Waterloo battlefield.
The visitors center (and shop) is brand new, staff is young and nice and a ticket is issued which gives you access to two short-movies on the battle, the opening of the gate to the Lion

(I used to rush up there when I was a kid, now just seeing the 226 steps makes me feel tired and I must admit, I skipped the sacro-saint trek to the top ,leaving that to the day when I’ll come back with my young ones  😉 ) , wax museum and panorama.

Talking of wax museum and “panorama”, there are still there: used wax statues of Napoleon and his aides, The Prince of Orange, The Duke of Wellington and Blutcher and in that same museum you can find several items that were collected after the battle but not much. The building could do with a bit of fresh paint and new furniture but the good old “Waterloo spirit” from school days hasn’t gone off even if I can understand that the 21st century visitor could be disappointed.

I don’t know if I’m going to be clear but the point is that with a battlefield there aren’t really things to visit,and this doesn’t mean that you must not visit of course but you have to put yourself in the mood, or have read or re-read a good book about the battle,or again have a good guide to imagine how troops moved around, where the attacks were etc.
Being a weekday I was nearly on my own but so far so good it was more relaxing than visiting amongst a crowd of camera-mad Japanese 😉
Just a few remarks:
Plus point is the entrance price, 8€
Bad point is that the Battlefield Tour in a coach that takes you around the different places of the battle is only available from April the first although the website mentions it goes all year round.
There are identical explanation posters (one for the general state of Europe in the early XIX century, one for the Ligny battle, one for the, one for the day of the 18th of June on the Battlefield itself, the scales are not the same from one poster to another which isn’t a crime in itself, it’s supposed to give you a kind of “focus on” impression but didn’t work with me. The model farm in the hall of the panorama building, made to explain how troops fought against each other doesn’t have a single word of explanation which is quite sad. Of course, you can always figure out what farm it is or its story on that fateful day but still, it could do with a word or two of explanation which is shouldn’t be too much of a cost I think.
The council of Waterloo should have bought the different farms around (La Haie Sainte, Hougoumont..) just like Wellington’s pub headquarters in the center of Waterloo is now a museum What is surprising is that, now that won’t be much of a surprise when you know that the battlefield is managed by a French company, “Culturespaces”, also owning French places such as Chateau des Baux de Provence or Pont du Gard to name just a few.
I had the feeling that everything was so Napoleon-centered and the fact that there were more souvenirs of Napoleon than of Wellington did not help, especially when you know that it’s the Battle of Waterloo that was determinant in the fall of Napoleon.
It was well worth a visit but there’s much more that could be done out of and for this great historical site !

° Before and After Waterloo.Letters from Edward Stanley (sometime Bishop of Norwich) 18021814-1816,repris dans le Bulletin de la Société D’Histoire Napoléonienne, 1963 pp.26-32