The Belgian Researchers history
TWENTY CANDLES FOR THE BELGIAN RESEARCHERS: The Second Decade 1986 - 1996
By Pierre Inghels
In the last issue of Belgian Laces (Belgian Laces #68, year 1996), Micheline Gaudette, founder of the Association, former president and editor of Belgian Laces, explained in detail how the organization started, grew, how successful it became and how after ten years of hard work, to her great regret she had to give up her cherished work. There were several reasons: studies, work and children. It’s not easy to hold down a full time position, help children in their studies, support the husband in his studies, keep the household running and on top of that have the responsibility of an organization like The Belgian Researchers. I can talk about it, I know how much work it is…, because although I am retired, I give all of my time to this, doing research for members, answering letters, doing translations etc, etc
In Belgian Laces, Vol.10 #1.37 - p10 (February 1986), Micheline announced: “It’s now time to say goodbye and to thank all of you for the support you have given me these past few years and to wish you the very best”. She also joined a little strip of pink paper announcing: “Last minute notice: Pierre Inghels is thinking of taking over The Belgian Researchers, when he comes back from Germany in two years, until then it will remain dormant.”
In the same edition, on page 4, a little article said: We would like to congratulate Leen Inghels, who has been named by the Oregon State System of Higher Education as the new Resident Director of the Overseas Study Program in Baden, Wuerttemberg, Germany, this for a period of two years, starting July 1986. This was the reason why The Belgian Researchers went dormant for a time.
In March 1986, an index of names and articles that had been published from February 1985(BL33) to February l986 (BL37) was sent to all the members and that was the last contact.
I, Pierre Inghels, proudly bear Belgian Researchers membership number 14, and have been an active member almost since the beginning of the organization. Like all the members in that time know, everyone participated and contributed regularly with articles or notes to Micheline, who edited and published them in “Belgian Laces”.
When we returned from Europe late 1988, we immediately started working on preparing the revival of the organization. We bought two computers, a Mac and an IBM, a printer, an answering machine, and all material needed to start working. On the 15th of March 1989, we mailed 150 letters to the 150 people who had been members of The Belgian Researchers in the earlier years, calling them to participate again in the organization, to renew their membership and to help to rekindle the interest in the work that Micheline had so aptly led for 10 years. From the 150 letters sent, 63 answered positively, some letters were returned with the mention “Moved away” or “Undeliverable”, quite a few remained unanswered…
I then started putting together the first edition of Belgian Laces, and mailing them to these 63 members. What a job! I went to the copy shop with the first 16 pages I had typed on my new computer. What a challenge that was ... anyone who has tried their luck mastering the art of word-processing is certainly able to sympathize with me. With envy I watched our grandchildren, one after the other using the computer, the word processor, looking for information in the electronic encyclopedia, playing games and lately “browse” the internet. Anyway, now I know more or less how to make use of this fantastic piece of equipment.
We continued the numbering: Vole 11 #1/38, following up where Micheline had ended the numbering of the first 10 years.
At the copy shop I worked almost the whole day making 150 copies of the first edition of Laces. 150 times 16 pages plus the covers. At home that night, I hired my wife Leen, who had been teaching the whole day at the College, my son Peter, who had been working the whole day as a carpenter and my grandchildren Keith and Sonja, who still had homework to do and lessons to study. I needed everybody’s help to put the bulletin together. The addresses were written by hand.
We printed 150 copies of the first edition and kept the rest for the new members whom we were sure would soon join.
We printed publicity flyers and sent them to people we knew or were informed about that they were of Belgian descent. We checked the phone and city directories for names that were ‘obviously Belgian’. But with our location, ‘In the Far West’ we were not in the area where the bulk of the Belgian Immigration and settlement took place. For a while it was a handicap, but little by little our efforts paid off. We received requests for information, about the organization, its goals and objectives from people in the Northwest as well as from the rest of the country; we received more and more requests for information as well as questions about Belgium in general
And then genealogical questions and requests for queries started to come in: where did my father come from? his name was Joseph XYZ, could you find out where he was born??? My parents came through Ellis Island on this date, could you find out the name of the ship? They came from Belgium, but I don’t know from what area, or what city? The death certificate from my mother says that she was born in Belgium, nothing more. Could you find out where she came from and where she was born. And so we went on... Search, research, write, phone and search again,... putting 1, 2, 3, together to arrive at a solution.
In 1992, my wife Leen retired from 28 years of teaching at the University. Having helped me with Belgian Laces before, I “promoted” her right away to editor of Belgian Laces. This relieved me from that responsibility and gave me more time to work on the daily correspondence and research.
Little by little from the first 63, our membership grew and by the end of the first year we gave number 200 to Shirley Brooks from Lake Elsinor, CA; then #250 to Frances Kanarek from Pittsburgh, PA in Feb 1990; #350 to Ivona Chaves from Baker City, OR in December 1991; #399 to Yvette Spitz then from Norfolk, WV, now from Cornvallis, OR in June 1992; #450 to Frederick A. Halkett from Asheville, NC in March 1993, #554 to Eloise M. Ness from Litchfield, MN in Feb 1995; #600 to Kathleen M Facer from Batavia, NY in July 1995 to end a few days ago with #676 given to Mme Huguette DeClerck from Brussels. Belgium, who offers to help members with research in the archives in Brussels.
We have to thank many of our members for their dedication to the organization, for their regular contributions to Laces and the help offered to our members. I’m thinking here especially of Mary Ann Defnet from Green Bay, WI, Micheline Gaudette from Holyoake, MA and Howard Thomas from Washington, DC; in Belgium helps comes regularly from Paul Callens from Pittem, Father Jean Ducat, from Biesme-Mettet, Paul Heerbrant from Brussels, Sylvčre Van Daele from Drongen and Michel Bury from Vieux Condé, France. Just this week we received two more offers to help with research in Belgium from Mme Huguette De Clerck and Claude Malobert both from Brussels.
Besides these pillars of our organization we want to thank every single member who through the years has contributed with articles, pictures and anecdotes, which make Laces what it is: an interesting and muti-faceted source of information for all. Other members have sent their pedigree charts, some complete, some to be completed.
From the States, from Canada and from Belgium, we receive research material, brochures, newspaper articles, magazines, documentation, family history books, books about Belgium, books about the emigration, all material that is assisting us in the service we extend to our readers.
Today, most of our members are in the US and in Canada; some in Belgium, some in France and in Germany, some even in South America and in South Africa and two in Australia. Sure, in these many years we have also lost quite a few members. Older members telling us that although they loved Belgian Laces they were getting too old to read: others moved away and didn’t renew their membership; still others lost interest because they didn’t find right away what they were researching. We all know that Genealogy demands first of all patience, secondly more patience and thirdly luck! It is one thing on which you have to work on for a long time in order to have results.
In the mean time, we had to replace our two computers for more powerful ones and out printers for more silent ones… we added a fax machine and a scanner, extended our data base and the research library in order to be able to give more and faster service to our members. Leen told me already two years ago, “this is the most expensive hobby you ever had in your life”. I know, it may be true, but after all – aren’t all hobbies expensive?
The Belgian Researchers is growing steadily to a point that sometimes I am afraid to think of what is going to happen to the organization once I am gone or when I won’t be able to keep physically up with the work. I turned 76 this year, am in very good health, (Leen calls me her bionic man, with my steel knee and hip!) but…? It may not be too early to start looking for someone who would be willing and interested in the survival of the organization and start familiarizing him/herself with the day to day activities.
Leen is the Editor of Belgian Laces, but not interested in taking over the research and correspondence component of the Researchers and Micheline, our vice-president, lives about 3,000 miles away from here and has done her share, wouldn’t you say?
Please send us your suggestions, your help, your articles, your notes, your queries, and please continue to answer the queries whenever possible even if it means to go to the local archives! Keep your organization alive! Remember, we pride ourselves in being an organization where members help members. Let’s keep up the good work and look forward t the next successful twenty years!
The Purpose of Our Organization is
To Keep Alive Our Belgian Heritage
To Promote Better Understanding and Appreciation of our Emigrant Forebears.
To Promote Cooperation Between Researchers.
To Bring Together Families Long Separated.