Tag Archives: belgium

Newly searchable newspapers in Belgium

The Royal Library of Belgium has scanned and indexed ten historical newspapers from Belgium, and set up a search interface for them called BelgicaPress.
The newspapers currently include:
  • Courrier De L’Escaut (Le)
  • Echo De La Presse (L’)
  • Gazet Van Brussel Handelsblad (Het)
  • Indépendance Belge (L’)
  • Indépendance Belge (L’) (Edité en Angleterre)
  • Messager De Gand (Le)
  • Nieuwe Gids (De)
  • Nieuwe Standaard (De)
  • Nieuws Van Den Dag (Het)
While I don’t have a breakdown of the ranges of each paper, the database of all the papers together ranges from 1831 until 1950 – with a big caveat. While you will get search results for all matches in the database online, all results from 1919 until 1950 are only viewable from within the Library itself, due to copyright issues.

That caveat means the database is almost useless for me (at least online), since although I had a lot of family in Belgium, almost all of it arrived there in the 1920s.

That said, if you have a fairly unique surname (that isn’t translatable into Flemish or French), and you get many results from the 1919-1950 period, you might at least know its worth checking into and ask someone in Belgium to do a search in the library for you.

Of course, there are other things that would be interesting to search besides family names. You could search for your ancestral town name, and see if other people from your town are mentioned in the newspapers. you could also search for information on the Jewish communities there, by using search terms like Jew or Jewish (Jood and Joodse in Flemish, Juif in French). If there were major news items concerning the Jewish communities in other countries (such as pogroms) it’s possible those might also show up.

One final note. The site is, as would be expected in Belgium, is available to use in Flemish (NL) and French (FR). I discovered, however, that secretly it also works in English. While there’s no link from the Flemish or French versions of the site to the English version, use the link above and it will indeed go to an English version of the site. Sometimes it might forget you’re using it in English, and not everything is translated, but it’s not bad. It was definitely developed to work in English, even if they haven’t active that yet on the site. I wouldn’t be surprised if they make the English version available one day directly from their main site, but until then, the above link works.

If you find yourself on a page that is in Flemish or French and want to see if it’s in English, look at the URL in the address field at the top of your browser and see if it says “lang=FR” or “lang=NL” in the string. If so, just replace the FR or NL with EN and hit return.

Useful Document for Researching Belgian Immigrants to US

Antwerp Baggage Disinfection Room
“Everything for passengers is done free of charge in this building.”

I recently discovered a document on the web site of the Felix Archives (the Antwerp city archives) called Emigration to America (this is a PDF). It seems to date back to 1999, but is still useful, especially considering no documents newer than 75 years ago are available anyways, and this document lists what documents exist in archives related to people living in Antwerp that may have emigrated to the US. The document was put together by the Archivist of the City of Antwerp. The availability dates mentioned are certainly out of date – for example it refers to certain collections available up to 1915, but those collections are now available to at least 1930 if not later. This is because as time goes on, more records are made publicly available.

Some of the interesting records mentioned in the document include registers from hotels and boarding houses, and emigration lists of third-class passengers from 1892 forward (second-class and first-class passengers were not recorded in these registers because American immigration restriction did not apply to them).

Some of the archives mentioned in the document include:

  • Antwerp City Archives (Stadsarchief Antwerpen)
  • Provincial Archives Antwerp (Provinciaal Archief Antwerpen)
  • National Archives Antwerp (Rijksarchief Antwerpen)
  • National Archives Beveren (Rijksarchief Beveren)
  • National Archives of Belgium, Brussels (Algemeen Rijksarchief Brussel)
  • Archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Brussels (Archief van het Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken, Brussel)
  • National Archives, The Hague (Algemeen Rijksarchief Den Haag)
  • Rotterdam Municipal Archives (Gemeentearchief Rotterdam)

as well as these in the US:

  • National Archives and Records Administration
  • Ellis Island
  • National Archives Regional Center in New York
  • New York Municipal Archives

and these genealogy societies:

  • Flemish Association for Family Research
  • (Vlaamse Vereniging voor Familiekunde)
  • Netherlands Genealogical Association

Keep in mind that some of the documents mentioned as being in specific archives (in 1999) are now in different archives. In particular the central immigrant police files are now in the National Archives in Brussels.

Friends from Antwerp – and is that a famous Yiddish poet?

My grandfather was born in Vienna, Austria during World War I. His family had fled their homes in Galicia, then a region of Austria, and fled to the capital city to avoid the invading Russian army. His brothers, one born before him in 1911, and one after him in 1921, were both born in the Galician town of Rzeszow, known in Yiddish as Reisha.

In 1927 the family moved to Antwerp, Belgium, seeking a better life and perhaps more stable situation. As I’ve written about before, Antwerp and Belgium in general received many many Jewish immigrants during the interwar years, among them my family (my grandfather’s future wife also made her way around the same time to Antwerp from Rzeszow).

In 1927 my grandfather was of course 12 years old, and he lived in Antwerp until 1940, when he was 25. Those were, no doubt, formative years for him. I know many stories about his time there, and have found documents hinting at others in the Police des Étrangers files I’ve found. I know just a couple of years after he arrived, after his father died, he ran a watch shop near the docks of the Antwerp port, helping support his family even though he was only 14 at the time. I know he used his US citizenship to travel to Nazi Germany in the 1930s and helped younger cousins get out of the country, as the Germans still respected a US passport (they probably hoped the US would side with them in the upcoming war). One thing I don’t really know about, however, is what kind of social life he had. Some years ago he told me he bumped into an elementary school classmate of his from Belgium in New York, and he had recognized my grandfather even all those years later. He later sent my grandfather a class photo showing both of them. When researching family we sometimes forget that our relatives spent much of their time, especially when they were teenagers and young adults, with their friends instead of their family. It’s part of what defined them and made them who they were.

In this light, some recent photographs I discovered at my grandfather’s apartment are particularly interesting. I have no idea who anyone in the photos are other than my grandfather. If you had relatives born during WWI and who lived in Antwerp in the 1930s, perhaps they’re among the people in these photos.

My grandfather is sitting on the bottom right


My grandfather in the middle with the white shirt


My grandfather isn’t in this photo, but it was together with the others


My grandfather is on the right. The man on the left was his friend.


Is this Baden in Germany? or is that booth to buy a ticket? My grandfather in on the left.


My grandfather sitting in the front

Know anyone in these photos?

Concerning the last photo, it raises an interesting question. Do you you think the man on the top right looks like Itzik Manger, the famous Yiddish poet? Here’s a side by side, showing a close-up of the above person, and a photo of Itzik Manger from the YIVO Encyclopedia:

Right, Itzik Manger. Left, Maybe Manger?

I’m not an expert on Yiddish poets, and would never have thought of it, except in researching a distant cousin Golda I discovered she had once been married to (and divorced from) this famous poet from Romania. I never knew if this cousin even knew my grandfather, but if this Itzik Manger, perhaps this is evidence. Therefore is it possible that the woman he’s got his arm on is Golda, my grandfather’s cousin? or one of the other women in the photo? Here’s a picture of Golda:

Golda, my grandfather’s second cousin once-removed

So what do you think? Is that Itzik Manger? Is that my grandfather’s cousin with him on the beach, possibly in Knokke, a favorite vacation spot? The picture of Golda is obviously of an older woman than in the photo on the beach, but that makes sense sine the photo of Golda was taken in 1939, when she was 35 (she was born in 1904). In the beach photo my grandfather looks like a teenager, so it could have been 1930 or shortly thereafter.

Itzik Manger survived the war and eventually moved to Israel. My grandfather’s cousin, however, likely died during the war, although I’ve found no direct evidence of that. All I know is she shows up in the first register of Jews in Belgium in 1940 after the Germans invaded, but not in the later registration done in 1942. She doesn’t show up in deportation lists, which recorded all those deported from Belgium to Auschwitz, so she either escaped Belgium or was killed. If she escaped, perhaps she changed her name and the trail was lost, or perhaps she escaped from Belgium only to be killed later in the war – certainly a possibility.