° Boekhoute 26/5/1852
x Boekhoute 6/9/1875 Melanie Martens
† Boekhoute 7/1/1919
Three weeks before her 30th birthday, in the Graafjansdijk in the district called "den Notelaer" (the Wall Nut Tree), Sophie was delivered of a third son, who received the same name as his father.
Barely 23 years old he married in Boekhoute on 6/9/1875 with Melanie Martens, the daughter of Joannes Bernardus Martens en Amelie Roegiest, labourers from Bassevelde. Melanie who born in Bassevelde on 10/7/1853 lived as maid-servant in St Jan-in-Eremo where her daughter Maria Ludovica was born on 29/9/1874. On their wedding day both recognized the girl as their child.
In 1876 Petrus lived at Meuleken, 71 (Meuleken, here a streetname meaning Little Mill). One of his neighbours was his brother Ferdinand, but later he moved to the Posthoorn (post-horn).
Melanie has had to work hard from the very start. Even though times had been more difficult before; hunger was perhaps not an unknown to her. And on her way back home Melanie sometimes took some food for the animals or perhaps some potatoes. But the owners of those fields didn't agree at all and the gendarmes had already warned her once or twice. On 21/7/1879 she was caught redhanded stealing beetroots when they were still in the ground. Fourteen days after the birth of her fourth child she was summoned. She was fined 10 francs and had to pay a further 5.60 francs for the costs of the trial. That would be the equivalent of about 100 to 110 euros.
In 1884 Petrus already had 6 little mouths to feed. He sent Rosalie to school when she was only 5 years old. His 3 oldest children already received free education and he hoped he would also get a free babysitting service for his little Rosalie. But that was refused and Rosalie like every other child was expected at school from her seventh year and not a day earlier.
Petrus was very tall and broad shouldered. He earned his living as a wood-cutter (lumberjack). He also had a small farm and a pub called "Noë's Ark" with a small hall at the back. And in this hall Petrus with his accordion and his son Domien on the organ took care of the entertainment.
This was very successful especially during the Great War when going out was restricted. On top of that, Petrus' daughters were very charming and during the war they probably flirted with the Germans. So after the war as a punishment for that their hair was cut off. And they then disappeared from Boekhoute.
But in his pub Petrus was very much in command and he never put up with brawlers: when disorder threatened he ordered his wife "Méle" to blow out the lights (this was the time of the petroleum lamps), to open the door and to break out the chopping knife and soon the rowdies had fled.
Petrus died shortly after the war in Boekhoute on 7 January 1919. In her old age Melanie became a very obstinate woman. She had always enjoyed good health and now refused all help from everyone. She died in Boekhoute on 27 November 1944, well in her ninety first year and in the loneliness which she herself had sought.
She had given birth to 17 children. Her youngest was born when she was almost 48 years old.
It is said occasionally nowadays that it was normal in the old days for women to have many children. This statement is certainly not the whole truth. The fertility of Flemish women was much higher only from the second half of the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th century. Only then were big families the norm rather than the exception. The lower wedding age and better hygiene on the one hand and breast feeding on the other had a lot to do with it. But there was also a marked increase in the birthrate in the northern part of Western Flanders, in the Westhoek and in the Antwerp Campine where cows milk was substituted sooner for breast feeding.
Breast feeding has an immunizing effect on the suckling baby and a contraceptive effect on the mother. If the period of breast feeding was shorter then the interval between successive pregnancies was also shorter. And this in turn increased the likelihood and gravity of all kinds of childhood diseases which of course increased infant mortality. This way nature somewhat compensated for the higher birthrates.
In the second half of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century half the children came from families with many children or one third of all couples had 5 or more children to feed. This was definitely not the case in the 17th and 18th centuries: because people were older when they married and because of the high child mortality there were only 2 to 3 children alive in the average family during the Ancien Regime.
Melanie succeeded in bringing up 11 of her 17 children:
* Many thanks to Mrs. Marie-Christine Vandevelde who found on the Zeeuwen-Gezocht website more information about Cyriel Van Hulle, his wife Maria Sophia Bobelijn and her parents as well as the date of death of Clara and Elodie (5). ("Zeeuwen gezocht" means Zealanders wanted.)
Most recent update: 16 May 2012