Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Emiel: From Geraardsbergen to Boston (52 Ancestors, #12)

This week we are going to get to know Emiel VanCauwenberg, not to be confused with Emily, Emiel’s daughter, who I wrote about a few weeks back.  Emiel was born in Geraardsbergen, Flanders, Belgium on March 20, 1866.  What makes this week different is that I do not have any photos of Emiel which is a first.  Many thanks to my friend and professional genealogist, Liz Barnett, for her amazing talent in composing this story basically from researching documents and her vast historical knowledge.  Everyone needs help from time to time and what makes “Getting to Know You” such a great blogging experience is all the help I’ve received from family and friends.  Contributions from family, friends and professional genealogists is so necessary and will make any budding genealogist’s work more enriching, exciting and successful!  So here is what Liz told me about Emiel…

Geraardsbergen, Belgium

The first record found for Emiel was the 1901 English census, which found him and his family living in the Hackney section of London, where Emiel worked as a cigar-maker. The family was still there in February 1902, when they welcomed daughter Mary Willhemina Van Cauwenberge (birth record 1902 Q2 v. 1b, p. 459, Hackney Registration District). Emiel left for the US soon after, arriving in New York on the SS "New York" from Southampton on July 5, 1903. He was described then as a married cigar-maker, aged 37, born in Belgium and of Flemish nationality, heading to a friend in Boston. Emiel was part of a wave of skilled Belgian and Dutch cigar-makers who came to Boston and other US cities in the late 19th and early 20th century. Their presence upset other cigar-makers, whose union protested their influx, feeling they did not support the established unions. So many Belgians came to Boston that they formed a "Belgian Union" in 1907, and later a federation to support their countrymen at home in the wake of WWI.
Cigar maker photo

Emiel's wife, the Netherlands-born Marie Wilhelmina Feller or Filler, followed Emiel with their children, arriving at NY on the SS "Kroonland" on June 7, 1904. (The purser's handwriting is so difficult to decipher that the surname was transcribed as "Coreabey" by the Ancestry indexers, and "Covebeity" by the indexers at Ellis Island's website.) The "Kroonland"'s passenger list shows Mary, "Alina", Frank, and little Mary were heading to "Emil", then living at 34 Highland St. in Chelsea, Mass.  Daughter Emelie was not listed with them, and may have arrived earlier or perhaps was inadvertently omitted from the list; in 1905 she married fellow-immigrant Casimir Bruyneel, who also lived on Highland St., at #93.
Emiel found work in Boston as a cigar-maker, and by 1910 the family was settled in South Boston. Emiel's English was apparently good enough that he also worked as an interpreter for the Immigration Service.  They later moved to Dorchester, where Emiel and his wife raised their four children and at least 2 grandchildren. Although in 1920 Emiel claimed to have started the naturalization process, no record was found of his becoming an American citizen. At the 1940 census (in which he was named as "Amiel Vann"), his wife told the census taker that Emil had submitted the initial papers for naturalization but neither was yet a citizen. She and her husband then lived at 155 L St. in Boston, along with a great-grandson, Robert "Burnell", aged 14 (elder son of their widowed grandson, Oscar Bruynell). 

Emiel died of a cerebral thrombosis in the Boston City Hospital in 1943. He was buried in St. Joseph's Cemetery in West Roxbury (under the name Vann), as was his wife in 1957; their daughter Helena (Van Cauwenberge) Stephan, who died in the 1918 flu epidemic, is also there.  The informant for his death record was his son, Frank H. Vann, who said that his father's parents were "John Vann" and "Adelaide Vanderhooten", both born in Belgium.
Grave at St. Joseph’s Cemetary in W. Roxbury
The naturalization petition of Emiel's son, Frank, said he was born in "Grammont, Oost Flanderen" (East Flanders); Frank's WWII draft card also said he was born in "Gramont, Belgium", today more commonly known with its Flemish name, as Geraardsbergen, Flanders, Belgium. When Frank died in 1950 his death record said that Frank's's father was born in Brussels, but the informant was not a family member and may have been mistaken; Geraardsbergen is 23 miles from Brussels.  A logical place to look for Emiel's birth would be Geraardsbergen or one of the villages nearby. Frank gave a very specific age for his father at death: "77 years, 1 month, 10 days"; the year corresponds exactly with Emiel's age on arrival in the US in 1903.

Note:  If I could have a conversation with Emiel today of course I would like to find out more about his family in Belgium.  It must have been difficult for him to move from Belgium to London to Boston in a short span of time – what was it like to live in three different cultures? 


  1. Hi Karen:
    I learned about your blog via Jana's Genealogy and Family History Blog.
    Reading it, it struck me that the Feller surname sounds very Dutch. Being Dutch myself, I was very much interested. I also have a blog with many genealogical subjects. One of my posts shows a survey of foreign genealogical blogs/sites showing Dutch origin surnames. The URL is The idea is to try and establish contacts between people who have an interest in the same surname. There are numerous cases in The Netherlands where people emigrated centuries ago without leaving a trace in Dutch archives. With my blog I try to bring Dutch and foreign (mainly US/CAN) genealogists together. Also I know that my blog is being read by Belgians. Therefore, I have no problem in mentioning the VanCauwenberg surname as well.
    So I like to have your permission to show your site in my a.m. blog.
    I look forward to your reaction!
    Kind regards,
    PS A quick check in a large Dutch database revealed 3 hits for Maria Wilhelmina Feller (not Filler).

  2. Hi Peter, I'd be honored to have Wilhelmina mentioned on your blog as well as the VanCauwenbergs. Thanks so much for reaching out to me!!

    1. Karen, I just added your blog to mine. If there is anything you want me to change or add, please let me know.
      Your permission is much appreciated!