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Monday, January 12, 2015

Researching the family tree

When my sister and I were little girls, we used to hear our grandma and her cousin Françoise claim their family descended from German nobility... The Von Bachhofens.

As I grew up, my interest in this family tree grew and in the course of time I began my research. This was way before internet, which meant I had to go apply for permission to consult the files in the city halls. And which also meant driving around the country to look into these files. My search brought me well around in Flanders.

I don't know how much aware you are of genealogy, but you can only search through official files until 1792 or so. That was because Napoleon made it obligatory to write down births, marriages and deaths.

Before that time you can consult parish registers, if they still exist. And the mentions there are not very explicite, until the person was of noble birth.

Well, for most of my research I got until the 1500's. But my grandma's claims proved to be a fable. No Von Bachhofens to be found - only a German soldier who fought in the Battle of Waterloo and remained in Antwerp after marrying a Flemish girl.

The surprise lay in my father's family tree. From father to father, we find the first one with our name was a foundling. A baby was left on the steps of a parish church in Brussels. The decan of this church found the baby and it was given his surname. According to the papers (which were translated for me by a friendly priest) the baby was well-fed and dressed in expensive clothes. This leaves to think it was either the child of higher middle-class or nobility.

When I went to investigate my grandmother's (on father's side) line, I came across fellow researchers who told me this line went directly to Count Robrecht of Bethune, the then Count of Flanders (13th century). Yes, a real count! Being the Count of Flanders meant as much as being the King of England, or the King of France. The Counts were very powerful and rich. Robrechts' grandmother was Margaret of Constantinopel.

So we're probably related to most of the European nobility, even when it's only with a drop of blue blood - and illegitimate, of course!


Did some more research - and came across some famous figures from history. Several of the French kings (the early Louis) are ancestors of Robrecht of Bethune and I also found one King of Jerusalem (Fulco) and even Eleonor of Aquitaine (through her first marriage with the French king Louis), plus the youngest daughter of William the Conqueror!

Will now certainly read historical novels with more interest...

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