For the longest time, I’ve known who all my great-great-grandparents were. For most of them, I knew their parents and beyond. One brick wall was my great-great-grandmother, Josephine Denis. She was born in 1848 in Belgium; her parents were Francis and Florence. In the 1860 census, she lived with a 48-year-old Belgian man and a 17-year-old Dutchman. That’s all I knew.
Until this summer. I discovered a Belgian genealogical site and made contact with Ron, a knowledgeable genealogist who thrives on tearing down brick walls.
Josephine’s mother died in 1854. Her father took her and her four surviving brothers to Wisconsin, where he sent away his children to four different homes. The two youngest brothers were placed with two elderly seamstresses. Why didn’t Josephine go there instead of ending up as a maid by the tender age of twelve? The women may have been much better at raising a young girl and taught her sewing.
I don’t know anything else about Josephine until she married. Did she have contact with her father and brothers?
Why did Francois Denis leave Belgium? Probably for economic improvement, but at the cost of breaking up his family. The young children had already lost their mother; now they were separated in a strange country. Apparently, Francois didn’t have family who would help him with his youngsters. In Wisconsin, he moved to another county, remarried, and had a second family.
Ron says it was common for parents to put their children in what was basically foster care when they were in economic hardship. Being a single parent, mother or father, was very difficult for parent and children at that time. Still, I would like to know about Francois’ continued involvement with his first family.
I didn’t know much about Belgium’s history other than its brutal occupation of the Congo. As I’ve learned more about the country’s experience in the twentieth century, I take more pride in my Belgian heritage. More on that later.
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