January 16, 2009

The Name Game

My husband's great grandfather Archie DeMeulenaere was born in Tielt Belgium. We didn't know much about him or his ancestors. One year we decided that a trip to Salt Lake City was in order and we planned to search for Archie and his ancestors in the Belgium records on micrfilm. At that time there were few, if any Belgium records online. Just recently Ancestry.com brought Wallonia, Belgium Births, 1580-1796 (in French); Wallonia, Belgium Marriages, 1580-1796 (in French) and Wallonia, Belgium Deaths, 1580-1796 (in French) online so searching is much easier.

Archie's surname DeMeulenaere can be pronounced and spelled in a dizzying variety of ways - De Millionaire, De Muelenar, and so on. So before heading off on our genealogy research trip we asked Archie's daughter (my husband's grandmother) to tell us everything she could remember about her dad - his date of birth, when he came to Canada, any middle names and so on. Nothing new was forthcoming, she knew only his first and last name (Archie DeMeulenaere), his date of birth (29 March 1884), born in Tielt, father Henry, mother's maiden name Blondell, brother Cyril (called Charles) born in September 1888.

We knew enough to know that Archie is not a Belgium name but we had no idea what the original name might be. We assumed (incorrectly as it turned out!) it would be something similar to "Archie" - perhaps Archibaldus or something like that.

On arriving at the Library in Salt Lake City we had to learn quite a bit about the Belgium records before we could begin. One important item was that Tielt is in West Flanders. It was a bit confusing for us at first, as we were not sure what language the church records would be in. Viewing the Belgium church records we realized we might be in trouble. The records were written in what I assume is Flemish - it was similiar to Dutch but it wasn't Dutch. That was okay though, as I can, with some struggling, read enough Dutch to figure out the basics of birth, marriage and death records.

We checked the birth records of the Catholic church in Tielt and rather quickly found Cyril aka Charles. He was baptised as Cyrillus with father Henri De Meulenaere and mother Maria Rosalia Blondeel. Next we began looking for other children of Henri and Rosalia, but in particular Archie born in 1884. We found 6 other siblings for Cyrillus, including one born in 1884, but Archie and no boy with a name that looked to us like it could possibly convert to Archie or Archibald in English.

Even though we did not think we had found Archie, we knew his father and mother thanks to finding Cyril's baptism record, so we continued our hunt backwards for Henri DeMeulenaere and Rosalie Blondeel's ancestry.

See The Name Game Part 2 for the rest of our story on searching the Beligium records pre 1850, including our encounter with the French Republican Calendar!

On our return back home we showed Archie's daughter our findings. The child we had found being baptised in March 1884 (on the same day as her father Archie's birthday) was called "Achillus Camillus". "Oh yes" exclaimed hubby's grandmother, "that was my father's real name." Turns out grandma knew his real name all along but didn't think to tell us....

To our N. American English ears the first name was pronounced "A-Kill-Us" so how on earth could it convert to Archie! When I told this story to my French sister-in-law, she laughed and explained that "Achillus" is pronounced "Aw-Shee". Wow, that sounds just like Archie!! And so the mystery of Archie=Achillus was solved. When Archie arrived at Ellis Island (New York) in 1900 he was recorded as "Achilles". Once he settled in Ontario Canada his new-found friends would have quickly converted his name to one they were familiar with. Thus "Aw-She" became "Archie"

Another mystery solved and over the next few days we did find quite a bit on Archie's Belgium ancestry. But it was not without a struggle and major headaches for me! You can read about that at The Name Game, Part 2

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