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Emigration from Maldegem to the USA, 1847-1924

Emigration from Maldegem to the USA, 1847-1924

During many years of research into Van Landschoot family of the United States, constantly I came across names of people from the Meetjesland. I This observation deserved further research, with particular attention paid to the completely underexposed emigration from Maldegem. I describe here the time frame from 1847-1924, a period in which 1,400 people emigrated to the US. The emphasis is placed here on the decades after 1892 when the great migration began. It does not mean that before 1847 no people from the region went to America. I have discovered that a certain Cornelius Langevelt born in Sint-Laureins in 1628 already settled in New Amsterdam in 1654. Ten people from Maldegem served in the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC) in the first half of the eighteenth century when sailing to Batavia, Dutch India. The first passenger manifests (1847-1891) contain little or almost no information. Most manifests just mention the US as a destination, sometimes the name of the state where the migrant is going and rarely the name of the place in Belgium.

The first emigrants who left Maldegem belonged to a group of Meetjeslanders led by the very young and ambitious Peter Dirckx. He was a lawyer from Eeklo. In 1847, he had a comprehensive correspondence with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belgium to inform about the possibilities of this vast country. On April 18, he reported that he was planning to emigrate to the US with a group of people from Eeklo and surrounding municipalities. By the end of October of the same year, he was effective in being unsubscribed from the population register of Eeklo. Setting sail with him were his brother-in-law Eduard de Grendell (20 pages of Civil War), Ambrose Van Landschoot; a father and son from Maldegem; Charles De Broeck from Watervliet; Pieter Van de Kerckhove; and Louis Lootens, both probably from Lembeke. The passenger manifest of this journey has not yet been found; they probably arrived in Baltimore, MD. Via the Ohio River, this group continued their journey westward to Jefferson, MO. The plan to settle in Wisconsin was quickly given up due to the bad and difficult connections and higher expenses. Taos, east of Jefferson, MO, a place close to the Osage River, was now the first choice, perhaps because the small community was lead by the Flemish priest Helias D'Huddeghem from Ghent. As the founder, he erected the first Catholic church. Charles De Broeck and Georg Mayens son John and 3 more children, both from Watervliet, settled in Taos. The other people eventually moved on to St. Louis, MO and Moline, IL. Louis Lootens moved to California in 1860.

Both Van Landschoots and Dirckx came back: the name of father and son was found in 1853 on the manifest of the vessel Antarctic, both listed as US citizens and occupation as blacksmiths. The return to Flanders was temporary, to convince relatives and others to emigrate as well. For example, his wife Mary and mother Mary Van Landschoot and three children arrived between 1851 and 1854. Between 1854 and 1860 the brothers Banckaert left Maldegem: Ferdinand went to Milwaukee, WI, and his brother Peter went to South America. The brothers Charles and Ambrosius Spelier, similar to the Banckaerts, all born in Maldegem, resided at the time of their departure in the Dutch province of Zeeland. After a 45-day journey, the Splear brothers—their name being Americanized—arrived in 1866 in Newark, NJ. Charles was married in NY and eventually settled in Kankakee, IL, where he died February 22, 1902; afterward, a street was named after him. Ambrosius moved to Rock Valley, IA. The departure of Barbara Willems from Maldegem and her husband Joseph Fournier, who was a school teacher from Knokke, was also striking. They emigrated with their ten children, aged between one and fifteen years old. They all survived the almost two-month-long journey. The family settled in Toledo, OH, where already at the time a number of Walloon (French-speaking Belgians) lived. The son, Ambrosius Van Landschoot, a shopkeeper, returned to Maldegem in 1873 (again) with his American wife, Mary Jane Holliet. His parents died in Moline in 1853-1854. On their way back home, they sailed on the RYDALL Hall, arriving in New York on October 13. Charles and Barbara De Clerck and their four children, ages 1-6, accompanied Ambrose and his wife. Farmer Charles settled in Atkinson, IL where Ambrosius lived at that time. Pieter Coene also came from Maldegem with wife and six children and arrived in Moline in 1880. Six years later, on March 12, 1886, 6 young Clyncke's arrived on board the Belgenland in the US. Three of them settled in Boulder, CO and worked in the construction business, the others moved to St. Louis. In 1888, their town fellow, Pieter Serlet, his wife, and four children found a new existence in Illinois. The following year Bernard Verschotte, his wife, and four children moved to Marinette, WI. Over the years, the destination changed, but the travel from these and many other migrants make it clear they followed the roots of the 1st Flemish pioneers.

Looking at the geographical distribution of the Maldegem emigrants in the US: The determination was that most (41) settled in Moline, Rock Island County, Annawan, Atkinson, and Geneseo in Henry County, both in Illinois. The scattered establishment in other states of the Verschotte family were exceptions.

1892-1924: the Ellis Island period. When emigrating before 1892, emigrants had no friends or acquaintances to go to. All this changed after 1892. More and more Flemings made the crossing. The passenger manifests also contained more and more data. Important: by 1900, the authorities at Ellis Island required from the emigrants an address in the US and a home address in Belgium. By 1880, the archives of Maldegem listed more information on immigrants. Before 1880, migrants were recorded as being emigrated 10-15 years earlier. Sometimes only America was mentioned, other times the name of a city or state in the USA. By the way, the given destination was never definite, as the new arrivals used this place as a start. Data about their stay in America are unknown, a great mobility occurred. From 1892, there was a significant increase in the number of emigrants from Maldegem; however, the information is not complete. For about thirty persons, the exact year of departure is missing, but they can be found in the US census of 1900, 1910 or 1920 or in draft cards of the First World War. Others were listed in Maldegem as being emigrated to the USA. Not all data is published online, but the number increases with more indexing, for example, the FamilySearch Indexing project platform.

Looking at the sexes of the Maldegem emigrants, the men appear as 3/4 the majority. Most women traveled with their families, or, to a lesser extent, as (young) daughters. Young women rarely to never traveled on their own. An exception was Florence De Bruyckere, who traveled to Colorado in 1897, where she married Andreas (Andrew) Clyncke. Livina De Jaegher was only sixteen years old when she arrived in NY on April 7, 1898, on way to her brothers—Theophie, Eduard, and Leopold—in Ghent, MN. They had arrived the previous year. In 1900, Livina was married in Atkinson, IL with a wealthy German farmer, with whom she made a homestead in North Dakota. In 1911, their family with 6 children came over to Belgium, and probably Germany as well. They stayed a couple of weeks at Maldegem before returning to ND. For young men between 16 and 30, such a trip was only much less the exception. Sometimes their parents arrived years later, or not at all. The lists available indicate a number of people made the crossing more than once: 114 migrants made the trip twice, twelve people three times, four people four times and two persons most probably five times. For example, Victor Van De Moere and his wife Philomena made the crossing six times between 1890 and 1932, a sign that farmers made good money. Sometimes, his return to New Jersey in 1919 was for heritage affairs. Other times for a longer period, such as his stay in the Netherlands from 1911 to 1913, and this despite his naturalization in 1903. The repeated trips across the ocean did not make this research easier. Some immigrants were recorded in the Maldegem Population Registers while they were in the US. For example, August Van Caeseele and his wife Martha Ruebens left in 1905 and 1910 to America and settled in the Flemish community in Rochester, NY. Their marriage in 1916 was filed by a fellow countryman. Despite American citizenship and being retired in the US, the family was recorded in the census of 1930-1940 in Maldegem. Perhaps he was visiting again! For a large number of families, the crossing was a one-way ticket to never return. Migrants often traveled back and forth, and there was also a group that returned definitively. Also, the people and travels are difficult to detect. Passenger manifests from New York to Antwerp could help, but those are yet not available. Only the municipal death registers could confirm and this is only for those who settled in Maldegem. The 1920-1930 population registers of Maldegem contains the names of 44 (former) expatriates, of which four were born in the USA. One of them was Leonard Verbeke, who moved to St. Louis in 1893, and, after two years, his wife and two children joined him. In 1925, already a widower for more than twenty years, he settled back in Maldegem. The family of Ambrosius Verbeke and Nathalie Focqaert, with six children, experienced the whole American adventure together. It began in 1906, with the relocation to St. Louis where some family in-laws lived, and ended with a return to Maldegem about 1925.

In the area of destinations after 1892, the Prairie State Illinois was a top destination far beyond the others with 415 Maldegemnaars. As mentioned above, Moline was the place to be since the beginning and it was even more so when the great immigration wave began at the end of the 1880s. Also, Silvis, Rock Island, and Milan, near Moline in Rock Island County, became places of interest for these Flemish emigrants. The neighboring Henry County (including Atkinson, Geneseo, Cambridge, and Kewanee) also attracted many Flemish and Maldegem emigrants. Another important state was the “Empire State,” New York (324), with the cities of Rochester in particular, Irondequit (Monroe County) and Williamson (Ontario County). In Ontario County, the migrants mainly worked in the agriculture business while in Rochester many worked at the world-famous Eastman Kodak or as small independent workers.

The third place was “Garden State,” New Jersey (133): located mainly in Paterson where people worked in the silk industry. The fourth was the “Show-Me State,” Missouri (119): mainly in St Louis City where they worked in the Anheuser Bottle Brewery. Minnesota, the “North Star State,” attracted 83 emigrants, “The Great Lakes State,” Michigan followed with 58 and Canada with 59 emigrants from Maldegem. Iowa (28), Indiana (22), North Dakota (22) and Ohio (12) were clearly less popular states. Finally, of 59 people it is not known where they were going.

This small long wall was build as a remembrance to all the emigrants of Maldegem - Adegem to the New World in the 19th- and 20th century. The direction of this wall points to the west. Go-West in Adegem Go- west wall
Hans Van Landschoot with Pat (Van Landschoot) Barnes from Clearwater, Fl visiting the Go-West marker that has been placed in Adegem.


This research is based on data collection through following (online) platforms and forums:
* ** ** **
* RAOGK (Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness) unfortunately no longer exists.
* Other information came from the Maldegem city archives and from VOC Residents.
For research into the family of the author, see, among others, Van Landschoot, '100 years'.
*Meetjesland website contains information of about 3500 Flemish emigrants.