WELCOME TO THE BELGIAN RESEARCHERS

Founded in 1976 by

Micheline Gaudette and Ardiena Stegen

The Belgian Researchers history

In 1996, Pierre Inghels asked Micheline Gaudette to write an article commemorating the 20th anniversary of The Belgian Researchers. For the complete article, please refer to Belgian Laces #68, pages 40-45. I took the liberty to edit the article to post to this site so as to tell you how TBR was born and who were the wonderful people who participated at its birth.

Regine Brindle

TWENTY CANDLES FOR THE BELGIAN RESEARCHERS: The First Decade 1976 - 1986

By Micheline Gaudette

The Belgian Researchers organization was born…  I can’t pinpoint an exact date because in 1975 I was already toying with the idea of forming an organization for people doing Belgian genealogical research. My own genealogical research had started a few years before that.

My first contacts with other Belgian researchers came about because of the IGI (International Genealogical Index) published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I would notice someone had submitted names from the area I was doing research in and would contact the submitters. One such person was Ardiena Stegen from Utah.  She had ancestors from Saive (community in Ličge province) where many of my maternal ancestors came from.  I was ignorant enough to think I knew a lot about Belgian research and that perhaps I could help others... Ha! Ardiena is the one who helped me a lot with one of my lines, what is more, she was in tune with my idea (dream)? to form a genealogical organization for people of Belgian descent.  Finally we were going somewhere!  We agreed the name of the organization should be THE BELGIAN RESEARCHERS. We sent flyers advertising The Belgian Researchers to most of the LDS genealogical libraries in the US.  Mailing our flyers cost $9.00 donated by Ardiena.  And members started trickling in. The first 10 members were:

Ardiena provided a model of objectives for organizations. They were modified and published in our first issue of our mimeographed newsletter of December 1976 (dated December 1977!!)

These objectives read:

Our membership was restricted to people of Belgian descent not because of ethnocentrism but to concentrate our efforts strictly on Belgian research.

We looked like this: Ardiena was the vice-president, historian, Maria Murphy the treasurer, Denise Thinon, the secretary, and I was the president. The board of directors was composed of Rita Cousins, Micheline Gaudette and George Gaudette. The membership fee was $6.00. 

Because of distance separating our members, we never met, all the Belgian Researchers’ business had to be done through correspondence.  So the bulk of my work as president of The Belgian Researchers was answering the mail (I still have boxes of correspondence), helping members with their research, coordinating research, translating genealogical records for our members (or volunteering the multilingual Pierre Inghels, Maria Murphy, Rita Cousins to translate Flemish and German documents, Maria also took care of our checking account), and producing Belgian Laces quarterly.  As membership in The Belgian Researchers grew, so did the work in maintaining the organization, but it was never a drudgery, on the contrary it was fun - our members were terrific, they were always willing to go the extra mile in helping each other. We should mention also the excellent relationship we had with genealogical/historical societies in Belgium and with the Belgian Embassy in Washington, D.C.

When I say we never met, I mean officially, actually Maria and Rita have been friends for almost 40 years, I have known Denise Thirion, Carol Freebourn for many years, and I have met Jacques Detro, Jean Ducat, Sylvere VanDaele, MaryAnn Defnet, Norma Meier, and Charlotte Rogers and enjoyed their friendship too.

The Belgian Researchers were never numerous, but what they lacked in numbers they made up in spirit of good will. That’s why I am listing all the “old” pre-1986 members of The Belgian Researchers here, they were the pioneers, they deserve a place of honor in the history of our organization, without them The Belgian Researchers wouldn’t be celebrating its 20th anniversary.

Soon other people joined our ranks,

Margot Hykes liked the name because it so well reflected the intricacies and ties that genealogical research just like lace making requires. And so Belgian Laces it was (#7, August 1978) and Belgian Laces it remains.

Belgian Laces’ appearance wasn’t very sophisticated, but its genealogical/historical information was second to none.  Take Belgian Laces #8 (November 1978) for example, it had 14 typewritten pages (with typos, misspellings - I was never the best typist), it contained information about our members and the lines they were working on, it had articles of various lengths contributed by Henry Verslype, Clement DeRoo, MaryAnn Defnet, Sarah Ledosquet, Loretta Demant, my own contributions to that newsletter were “Geographically Speaking”, + one article about Hainaut Province, and a list of passengers from the Henry Reed.  A cartoon: “The cost of tracing your ancestry comes to $500. Keeping the information quiet will cost you $1,000’” graced page 1.  Over the years, Belgian Laces progressed from mimeographed pages to photocopies of typewritten pages (reduced in size so that 2 pages would fit on an 8x11 sheet of paper) to photocopies of computer printed pages.

 

By November 1978,

 

I view 1979 as a good year because I went back to Belgium that year, but in fact, it was also the year that because of health problems, Ardiena Stegen withdrew from active participation in The Belgian Researchers.   I will always be thankful for all the help she gave us. Also our good friend Stuart Waite died that year. As an attorney he had done the paperwork to register The Belgian Researchers as a non-profit organization, later after his long illness and death, it was found that the papers had not been filed at the federal level.

 

The stories our members had to tell! The discoveries they made while searching for their ancestors! It’s all chronicled in Belgian Laces. 

Those were the days my friends, we thought they’d never end...  But sadly, those days had to come to an end. I had to face reality, my husband was still working on his doctorate, our oldest son was preparing for college, and it became necessary for me to go back to work.

I am no super woman and couldn’t juggle work, home, church, and The Belgian Researchers which consumed a lot of my time. With much regrets and sadness, I decided to end The Belgian Researchers, needless to say it was a most difficult decision to make.

In the last issue of Belgian Laces for the first decade (February 1986) 1 said: “I have been overwhelmed by your kind and generous remarks about The Belgian Researchers, Belgian Laces and myself.”

So we were great? Of course, WE were! - THE BELGIAN RESEARCHERS has always been all of us, together. No other organization has members who shared and who helped each other as much as you did. We formed friendships, we renewed our pride in our origins, we shared in the excitement of new discoveries.   I meant it, I still do. Those people were the best.

As no one could take the organization over, The Belgian Researchers was supposed to come to a close.

Fortunately, at the last minute a knight came to the rescue! …

But that’s another story, one that Pierre Inghels will have to tell.

Sources: Bauer Luana, Correspondence April 8 1978. Belgian Laces #8 November 1978. Belgian Laces Vol. 10 #1/37, February 1986 Inghels Pierre, Correspondence 1986 Koncurat Germaine Ista, Correspondence Dec. 22, 1975. Newsletter # 1, December 1977 (sic). Stegen Ardiena, Correspondence 1978-1979.

The Second Decade 1986 - 1996
The Third Decade 1996 - 2006 and after

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.

       

Home