Sunday, December 12, 2010

Emigrants From Koekelare W VL to the US

Although my father was born in Gent, our family's origin is a small village in West Flanders called Koekelare. While genealogy is not the reason for this website, my intent below is to show that on a micro basis official statistics may understate the true scale of the Flemish diaspora in America. And if that is the case in the United States for one Flemish village it may well be the case not only for the same village's diaspora in Canada, the U.K., France, Wallonia and Australia, but indeed for all Flemish diasporas globally.

If you, Gentle Reader, count yourself among the Flemish Diaspora, then I urge you to track and document these kind of statistics. If you only do so for genealogical purposes that is fantastic. But if you also feel that tug for our ancestral homeland than so much the better. When the Flemish Republic calls upon the Diaspora for assistance, we may all be counted for the challenge.

Early Records
It is uncertain when the very first native of Koekelare arrived in America. Certainly there were Flemish fishermen off the coast of NewFoundland in the late 1400s and early 1500s. Flemish medieval coins have been found in Conception Bay, near St. John’s in archaelogical digs. This was a time when Koekelare was closer to the coast and also a time of course when Flanders was under foreign rule – as it has been for most of its history. Later, Flemish priests are recorded as arriving with the Spanish in Florida in 1502, with the French and Spanish later in the 1500s at Fort Caroline (interestingly on both sides).

The first ‘Dutch’ explorers to the New England coast in the very early part of the 1600s included Flemish sailors, gunners and ship captains. Henry Hudson’s exploratory visits to what is now New York in 1609 included at least three Flemings, but we do not know their local places of birth. And, of course, both the very first arrivals to Jamestown (1607), Plymouth (1620), and Nieuw Nederlandt (1624) all included Flemish settlers. These Flemish settlers sometimes had offspring that rose to the top in the English colonies. One such man was Benjamin Franlkin, whose maternal grandfather was a Flemish protestant who had originally fled to England in the 1600s.

However, the earliest reference I have been able to uncover hinting at a direct connection between Koekelare and the United States is an 1836 travel account written by the Jesuit priest Pierre Joseph Arnoudt, SJ (1811-1865). Father Arnoudt had traveled with the better known Father Pierre DeSmedt from Antwerp to New York and from there through Buffalo, NY; Pittsburgh, PA; Cincinnati, OH; finally onto St. Louis, MO and then the hinterland, to work at a mission devoted to the Indians (see ). At that time Missouri was the frontier, and in Koekelare (I will use current spelling here for all names) was of course in the midst of the turmoil between the new Belgian state, the purges of Orangists, and the international tension between the Dutch Republic and France over the status of the newly created Belgian state. Since at this time the famines of the 1840s had yet to afflict Flanders, it is difficult to imagine many if any Koekelaars heading toward the wild and untamed American frontier as described in Father Arnoudt’s letter.

That said, there may well have been some emigrants from Koekelare who were compelled to leave. Twenty years later, in the 1850s, it was just such a letter that inspired tens of thousands of Walloons (and some Flemings) to emigrate from Namur and Brussels to the Door County region of Wisconsin (where even today one can find references to their ethnic roots). Later still, in the 1880s, there were such a significant number of Flemings in Moline, Illinois, that a reporter would write: “A private letter from C.L. DeWaele, shows him to be finely located at Moline, Ill…. That city claims among its population 4,000 Belgians, and that alone will give Mr. DeWaele an inside tract [sic], as he is perfectly familiar with their language and customs.” [The Avalanche, Crawford County, MI newspaper, April 7, 1892].

Records of Koekelaars
Unfortunately and as far as this writer is aware of, there is no one source for those interested in knowing about the Koekelaar emigrants to America. The Ellis Island portal ( ) is generally the best national source on immigrants to the United States.

Utilizing only the Ellis Island source only produces 22 individuals of 7 families with records that clearly state the have emigrated to the U.S. from “Koekelare” (or “Couckelaere”) during the 1892-1923 period. We can clearly state that Koekelare emigrants came to the U.S. in four ‘waves’: 1909 (6 individuals from the Cuylle, DeHaemer, Van Hevel and Willaert families); 1912-3 (3 from the Lalenbien and Van Hevel families); 1919-20 (12 from the Hendryckx and Vantyyhem [sic] and Willaert families) , and one in 1923 (Julia Willaert).

Family Individual Year(s) Recorded At Ellis Island
Cuylle Ernest 1909 (33 years old)
Dehaemers Jules 1909 (25y)
Mathilde 1909 (23y)
Hendryckx Auguste 1919 (43y)
Sidonie 1919 (33y)
Maurice 1919 (6y)
Zulma 1919 (5y)
Maria 1919 (3y)
Lalenbien Arthur 1913 (28y)
Van Hevel August 1909 (33y) – also w/ his family in 1912 at 37y
Julina 1912 (28y)
Maria 1912 (5y)
Vantyyhem Achiel 1920 (23y)
Bertha 1920 (24y)
Willaert Cyriel 1909 (19)
Pharilde 1909 (19)
Lucie 1919 (26)
Irma 1919 (22)
Maurice 1919 (19)
Serome 1919 (16)
Julia 1923 (44)

Adapted from:

Altogether, the above table suggests only 19 individuals from Koekelare emigrated to the United States during the 1892-1924 period. However, if we conduct a broader search of the records to account for various mis-spellings of Koekelare (eg, not only ‘Couckelaere’, but also ‘Cochelaire’, ‘Coclars’, ‘Kooklaars’, etc.) we arrive at a total of 77 individuals arriving at Ellis Island alone during that period. The breakdown looks thus:

77 Individual Entries 1892-1924
(27Females + 39Males)

Year Number Percent Destinations

1923 1 1.30% NYC

1920 12 15.58% Kansas-2; Metamore, OH-2;

1919 17 22.08%

1914 16 20.78% Mankato, MN

1913 10 12.99%

1912 7 9.09%

1910 2 2.60% Mankato, MN

1909 6 7.79%

1907 3 3.90%

1906 1 1.30%

1903 2 2.60%

Total 77

Adapted from:

The average age of the 77 Koekelare emigrants was 24 years old. This group included 39 males and 27 females. The ages ranged from the 50s (1 of the 77 equal to 1.3%) to preteens (12 of the total equal to 15.80%) but the bulk of the U.S. immigrants from Koekelare – 32 of the 77 – (41.56%) were in their 20s, followed by 16 (20.78%) in their 30s and 40s.

Knowing the failure of many immigration control staff to accurately record not only surnames but also origin information (town, country, etc.) I undertook a wider search of the data. To this I added information from my own family members with proven birth in Koekelare as well as other U.S. government records (WW 1 Draft Cards) and in Belgium (such as Venesoen interviews of Belgian emigrants conducted at Antwerp). What I uncovered is a broader list of at least 100 individuals born in Koekelare and proven to have lived in North America during the 75 year period from 1890 to 1965.

Family Individual Year(s) Recorded in The U.S. Source

Cuylle Ernest 1909 (33 years old) EIR
Dehaemers Jules 1909 (25y) EIR
Dehaemers Mathilde 1909 (23y) EIR
Hendryckx Auguste 1919 (43y) EIR
Hendryckx Sidonie 1919 (33y) EIR
Hendryckx Maurice 1919 (6y) EIR
Hendryckx Zulma 1919 (5y) EIR
Hendryckx Maria 1919 (3y) EIR
Lalenbien Arthur 1913 (28y) EIR
Van Hevel August 1909 (33y) – also in 1912 at 37y EIR
Van Hevel Julina 1912 (28y) EIR
Van Hevel Maria 1912 (5y) EIR
Vantyyhem Achiel 1920 (23y) EIR
Vantyyhem Bertha 1920 (24y) EIR
Willaert Cyriel 1909 (19) EIR
Willaert Pharilde 1909 (19) EIR
Willaert Lucie 1919 (26) EIR
Willaert Irma 1919 (22) EIR
Willaert Maurice 1919 (19) EIR
Willaert Serome 1919 (16) EIR
Willaert Julia 1923 (44) EIR

Adapted from:

Note that these numbers only capture immigrants for one of the many ports through which immigrants entered the United States during this time. Besides New York City, immigrants arrived in the U.S. from Europe through the port cities of Baltimore. Boston, Charleston, Philadelphia, and New Orleans. Flemish immigrants to Chicago and Detroit (two large centers of Flemish immigrants in America) also arrived from Canada by simply crossing the border at Niagara/Buffalo, Sarnia/Port Huron and Windsor/Detroit.

The table above also fails to capture Ellis Island immigrants entering New York before 1892 or thru Ellis Island after 1923 since that information has not yet been posted to the website. The data itself is also handicapped by quality: the regimen followed by the transcribers apparently is not strict, since there appear to be a high number of transcription errors. Of course this may be in part because handwriting legibility of the Ellis Island inspectors varies. Thus there may be Koekelaars who did immigrate during that time and through Ellis Island who do not appear above through mistranscription and faulty data.

One area of obvious mistranscription (besides the individual’s surnames) is the name of Koekelare itself. The village name has undergone a great degree of evolution over the 1500 plus years of its formal existence.

Variations of Spellings Found in the Ellis Island Registrar for Immigrants 1892-1924

Adapted from:

Other Sources
The United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917. However, the machinery and infrastructure necessary to mobilize the vast resources of the country for the war effort took some time to put in place. After all, in 1913 when Belgium, a country of 7 million, had 150,000 men under arms the United States with a population of 100 million had 200,000. Fortunately for those of us looking for information such as this, the draft records for World War 1 are a superb source for genealogists and ethnic historians. Under this approach we discover a number of hitherto undeclared immigrants from Koekelare.

Young Flemish Men From Koekelare in the USA Registered for the Draft in 1918
(sorted by State)

Name Age in 1918 Bovekerke/Koekelare State

Van Thuyne, Arthur 26 Bovekerke CO
Vandepoele, Emile 28 Bovekerke CO
Vanthuyne, Victor 28 Bovekerke KS
Vanhee, Alidor 30 Koekelare KS
Volbrecht, Henry 29 Koekelare KS
Delanghe, Cesar 28 Koekelare MI
Devreker, Alfons 27 Bovekerke MI
Mortier, Benjamin 27 Koekelare MI
Salenbien, Odiel 24 Koekelare MI
Salenbien, Prosper 28 Koekelare MI
Staelens, Rene J 28 Bovekerke MI
Vanhee, Herman 28 Koekelare MI
Vanslembrouck, Edmond 31 Bovekerke MI
Vanwalleghen, Cyriel 30 Koekelare MI
Verlinde, Victor 28 Koekelare MI
Casier, Rene 31 Koekelare MI
Dhooghe, Lawrence 32 Koekelare MN
Syer, Henry 32 Koekelare MN
Willaert, Cyrille Henrie 28 Koekelare MN
Willert, Allie 30 Koekelare MN
Youngbloedt, Alois 32 Koekelare MN
Vanthuyne, Maurits 22 Bovekerke ND
Vanthuyne, Oscar 25 Bovekerke ND
De Vreker, Raymond 22 Koekelare WA

The average age of these 24 young Flemish American men was 28 years when they registered for the national draft. Of which nearly half (11/24) were married although only three had children. Two of the twenty-four were supporting parents. So altogether it might be fair to say that our group of 24 Koekelare immigrants has grown to at least 40 (24 plus 11 wives, at least 7 children - 2 had 3 children each - and at least 2 parents). In terms of careers, more than half (13/24) were farmers, 1/6th (4/24) were laborers, 1/8th (3) were moulders and the final four included a fireman, machinist, mechanic, and sewer digger.

So the numbers of immigrants entering the U.S. from Koekelare may well be understated, perhaps dramatically so. Recall that Koekelare was the birthplace of the Flemish migrant workers in the sugar beet fields of northern France (aka, “Fransman”). At any one point in time during the late 19th and early 20th centuries there were as many as 1,000 of these “Fransman” workers abroad. Mostly they worked seasonally in northern France but they could also be found in South Africa, London, North and South America, and likely even in Australasia.

Here then is my final tally of confirmed emigrants from Koekelare in the United States (alphabetical listing of name only).

Alphabetical List of Emigrants to the United States Born in Koekelare By Surname (note: there may be some duplication due to mistranscription by Ellis Island staff)

Baeckelandt, Edgard
Baeckelandt, Guido
Baeckelandt, Julien
Boom, Jordaen
Borra, Richard
Casier, Rene
Casteleyn, Charles
Compernolle, Madeleine
Compernolle, Maurice
Compernolle, Oliva
Compernolle, Remi
Compernolle, Rimi
Cuylle, Ernest
Cuylle, Francois
De Maegdt, Mathilde
De Vreker, Raymond Gaston
Declerck, Oscar
Decoene, Andre
Dehaemers, Elisa
Dehaemers, Jules
Dehaemers, Mathilde
DeKesel, Auguste
DeKesel, Marie Josephe
Delanghe, Angele
Delanghe, Cesar
Delanghe, Lucien
Demuynck, Elisca
Denys, Reni
Denys, Urbanie
Devreker, Alfons
Devreker, Judith
Dewulf, Camiel
D'Hooghe, Laurent
Dhooghe, Lawrence
Germain, Clementine
Germain, Henry
Hansebout, Andre
Hendryckx, Andre
Hendryckx, Auguste
Hendryckx, Maria
Hendryckx, Maurice
Hendryckx, Sidonie
Hendryckx, Zulma
Lalenbien, Arthur
Laure, Hubert
Locters, Prelic
Locters, Rudolf
Longbloet, Julien
Lydon, Alfons
Margedt, Emma
Mortier, Benjamen
Mortier, Benjamin
Mortier, Madeline
Mortier, Mathilde
Pauwels, Emile
Peper, Jules
Plisson, Antonetta
Plisson, Eliza
Plisson, Theophile
Plyson, Felix
Plyson, Theophile
Robbelin, Emile
Salenbien, Benjamin
Salenbien, Eliza
Salenbien, Maria
Salenbien, Odiel
Salenbien, Prosper
Seys, August
Seys, Emma
Seys, Hector
Seys, Henri
Seys, Julia
Sinnaeve, Louise
Sinnesael, Alois
Sinnesael, Camiel
Staelens, Rene J
Syer, Henry
Van Hee, Aidler
Van Hevel, August
Van Hevel, Julina
Van Hevel, Maria
Van Thuyne, Arthur
Vandepoele, Emile
Vandooren, Rachel Magdalene
Vanhee, Alidor
Vanhee, Herman
Vanoverbeke, Edward
Vanslembrouck, Edmond
Vanthuyne, Maurits
Vanthuyne, Oscar
Vanthuyne, Victor
Vantyyhem, Achiel
Vantyyhem, Bertha
Vanwalleghen, Cyriel
Verlinde, Victor
Volbrecht, Clemence
Volbrecht, Henry
Volbrecht, Leonie
Vollerecht, Henri
Wauters, Jerome
Willaert, Andre
Willaert, Cyriel
Willaert, Cyrille Henrie
Willaert, Irma
Willaert, Jerome
Willaert, Julia
Willaert, Lucie
Willaert, Maurice
Willaert, Pharailde
Willaert, Richard
Willert, Allie
Youngbloedt, Alois
Sources: Studie Yolande Lammerant (no date or publication);;

Further study of Flemish enclaves in the U.S. and indeed the broader diaspora is needed and warranted. Areas of study that would be helpful include details around their lives (reasons for emigration) as well as confirmation about who these hardy souls were. But the fact remains that the flow of emigrants from Koekelare to the United States while small, has probably resulted in perhaps as many as several thousand Flemish American descendants. For a village of only a few thousand souls today, that diaspora is significant.

Copyright 2010 by David Baeckelandt. All Rights reserved. No reproduction in any format is permitted without my express, written consent.


  1. David, you mention "mistranscription by Ellis Island staff". Indeed, seeing the surname Lalenbien, I immediately thought: somebody must have let himself be fooled by a handwritten capital "S", taking it for an elegant "L".

    If you type the name Lalenbien into the search engine at (Belgian surnames), you wil get zero hits.
    Salenbien on the other hand will give you 93, concentrated around the West-Flemish area of Diksmuide, Ramskapelle (Nieuwpoort), Gistel, Ichtegem, Oudenburg, Torhout and indeed ...Koekelare.

    Same remark for the name Longbloet (0 hits) >> Jongbloet (100).

  2. Leo, Thanks very much for commenting. You make a great point. a more thorough review by me may have turned up that excellent point about the Salenbien and Jongbloet names.

    Are there any studies of the emigrants from Koekelare in Dutch? If so I would be keenly interested in seeing it.

    Thank you again and best regards,


  3. A simple Google search combining the words "Koekelare" and "emigranten" brought me to the "Spaenhiers Archeologisch-Historische Kring van Koekelare".

    Seeing as they had a lecture about emigration to Canada & the US on 20.01.2006, I clicked on "publications", then "jaarboek 2006", and this is what I found there:
    One contribution to this yearbook is entitled
    "Integratie van Koekelaarse migranten in de V.S. -- Integration of emigrants from Koekelare in the U.S.A." (by Heus J., Casier R.)

  4. Thanks very much for the Spaenhiers link and connection. I will follow up with Messrs Heus and Casier.

    Just out of curiosity, are you also somehow connected to Koekelare?

  5. ...Not in the least. :-)
    It was your article that roused my curiosity.

    I live in Brugge, and my family's from Tielt and Gits... No wait, I do have a sister-in-law who's from Koekelare.
    (But she doesn't rouse anything).

  6. Hahaha! Well it is a pleasure to make your virtual acquaintance. I'd be delighted to carry on this conversation via e-mail. My e-mail address is debendevan at hotmail dot com.

    By the way there are many Tielt descendants in the Detroit area as you may know...

    Incidentally, I have not yet posted it but I have done a great deal of research on the Flemings in Nieuw Nederland. Especially since several senior people were from Brugge. I gave this presentation at Flanders House NY in September...

  7. We may have met...

  8. Unfortunately that was a different Flemish American. I would be thrilled to have a full head of hair as he does. The fellow receiving the bottle and talking with a microphone is this Flemish American...

  9. I was in doubt... Hence my "may have met"...
    Anyway, congratulations on this blog. I've been following it for a few months now (through RSS). Always interesting.

  10. Thanks very much Leo. I very much appreciate the good words. One of these years I hope to again plant my feet in Flanders. In the meantime, if you are ever in the States please do let me know. I would be delighted to make your actual acquaintance.

    Oh, and by the way: Vlaanderen boven!

    Have a great night...

  11. More information about 'Aernoudt or Arnoudt', im Martin Stael and Pieter Aernoudt was an Uncle of overgreatmother. My mother is Logghe Maria, her father is Kamiel Logghe and his father was Carolus Logghe (1860-1941), who was married with Romanie Aernoudt (1866-1962) (the written Familyname is sometimes different). The farm (Veldemolen) not far from 'de portweg' where the young Pieter lives is also where my mother and her ancestors lives.

    Also there was an artikel in the 'Weekbode year 1999'
    Pieter Aernoudt werd op 17 mei 1811 in Moere geboren.
    Zijn vader was Karel Aernoudt,. Afkomstig uit Ichtegem, maar hij behoorde tot een oud Koekelaars geslacht. Ook zijn moeder Coletta Vandevelde was een Koekelaarse. Hij zou in 1822 verhuizen naar de Koekelaarse Portweg, waar hij al vanaf zijn zes jaar bij weduwe Plyson naar school ging, vertelt heemkundige Raf Seys.Het onderwijsssyteem was toen in Koekelare helemaal niet uitgebouwd .Wilde je iets leren dan was je op oudere mensen aangewezen en niet op een school. In 1830 doet Pieter Aernoudt de beginselen van Latijn op bij de Bovekerse pastoor . Naar verluidt, had de koekelaarse pastoor het toen te druk en was Pieter Aernoudt op Bovekerke aangewezen en zou hij langs de Portweg naar Bovekerke zijn gegaan, waar hij uitkwam aan de pastorie die nu nog altijd op dezelfde plaats gevestigd. Vervolgens volgde Pieter Aernoudt zijn humaniora bij de paters in Tielt (1831) en ook in de Nefschool in Turnhout. In 1835 vertrok hij naar de USA waar hij Jezuïet werd en een van de stichters van de Jezuîtentengemeenschap in de USA.In 1863 gaf hij in het Latijn onder verlatijnste auteursnaam Arnoldo de Navolging van het Heilig Hart uit. Het werd weldra in alle cultuurtalen vertaald en over de hele wereld verspreid. Het heeft wel een hele tijd geduurd vooraleer uit de Latijnse auteursnaam die Pieter Aernoudt werd ontdekt, verklapt Raf,
    De Koekelaarse Heemkundige Raf Seys bedacht vanuit de Nationale Straatnamencommissie de naam van het plein. Hij is trouwens ook de schrijver van het boek, Pieter Aernoudt, de apostel van het H.-Hart dat in 1962 is uitgegeven en dat door de grote man van de Jezuïetengemeenschap Janssens J.werd ingeleid met de letterlijke woorden: 'een betere benadering van een groot man, die haast de naam van een heilige verdient, kan moeilijk' geschreven. worden'.
    Over het boek van Raf Seys werd toen met lof gesproken in het vaticaan, want er verscheen ook een bespreking van het boek in het Vaticaanstijdschrift.Het boek ging om die reden als zoete broodjes over de toonbank en was in zes maanden uitverkocht. Het werd zowel in Zuid-Afrika als in Amerika gretig gelezen. Pieter Aernoudt is in de jezuïetengemeenschap dan ook heel beroemd,maar nu ook in Bovekerke waar de grote asceet, de man die zijn leven aan godsdienstige praktijken en boetedoening door onthouding heeft gewijd, een eigen plein krijgt. Pieter Aernoudt, behorend tot de intellectuele wereldelite stierf op 29 juli 1865 in het Amerikaanse Cincinnatia, maar leerde zijn basis, zijn Latijn in Bovekerke. Nu blijft hij er voorgoed verder leven. Pieter Aemoudt dacht via zijn sobere levenswijze zijn geestelijk leven te kunnen versterken. Misschien is dit wel het resultaat.

    1. Dank U wel Mijnheer. Dit is een mooi addendum.

      Met vriendelijke groeten (vanuit Chicago),

      David Baeckelandt