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Visiting the Old Country Part 1

Candy Moulton
Encampment, Wyo.
The Joseph Vyvey farm, where my grandfather was born and reared, is little changed from the way it looked when he left Belgium to immigrate to America in 1907. The farm is located just outside Eernegem.

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My grandmother came to American in 1903 as the bride of Peter Verplancke, a fellow Belgian who had earlier immigrated to Wyoming and claimed a homestead. Emma had lived in Bruges, Belgium, along with her grandparents, and the story I always heard was that she was making Belgian bobbin lace in Bruges when Peter saw her and told her he would take her to America where she would never again need to make lace.

Whether she was just making lace as a pastime, or if she was one of Belgium’s many skilled lace laborers, I don’t know. But she did marry Peter, in what I now believe was an arranged marriage, and they came together to his small cabin to forge a life in Wyoming.

Emma and Peter started a family almost immediately and in 1909 they were expecting their fifth child. Peter went to get the neighbor woman, Julia Taekens, to help my grandmother with the birth, but on the short drive had to go through a gate. When opening the gate, Peter spooked the team and the wagon ran over him causing fatal injuries that took his life nine days later.

This event left my grandmother on the Wyoming homestead with five children. At the time of Peter’s accident, Charles Vyvey was working for him, planning to haul a load of potatoes to market in Walden, Colo. Charles also had come to America from Belgium with his sister and brother-in-law Julia and Ed Taeckens, and did a number of jobs before beginning to work for Peter. After Peter’s death, Charles helped Emma with the homestead and two years later, in 1909, he married Emma. They are my grandparents.

My Grandpa had been born and reared on a farm in Eernegem, Belgium, which is only a few miles from Bruges. He and my grandmother were the same age, both having been born in 1882. I grew up on the homestead that Peter first claimed, and which was added to by my Grandmother. The family ranch later also increased due to homestead claims taken by some of my dad’s half sisters and half brothers, those older Verplancke children and his own brother, John Vyvey.

Throughout my childhood I heard stories of Belgium. When I was very young my grandfather returned to visit The Old Country, as he always referred to it. My grandmother never returned to Belgium, and she died when I was only 5-years-old. But I had an aunt who went with Grandpa once in the 1960s, and in the early 1970s cousins of my dad came to visit from Belgium.

The place seemed so far away, and somewhat magical. I always wanted to go there and this year, I was able to make a trip with Steve and my sister and brother-in-law. We spent two weeks in The Old Country where we met cousins, learned many new details about our family, and visited places both important in family history and also in world history.

We stayed in Brussels, the capital of Belgium, which also happens to be very centrally located in the small country, and therefore a perfect place to use as our base. Our first two days were spent in Brussels, visiting the Grote Market and shopping for tapestries and lace, two of the products for which Belgium is most known.

Our first adventure outside Brussels was a train ride north to Bruges, where we met cousins Ariane and Vivian Vyvey. To my delight Vivian is a “family historian” who has done a wonderful genealogy of the Vyvey family in Belgium. We share a great-grandfather, but have different great-grandmothers. Mine was Mathilde and hers was our great-grandfather’s third wife, Octavie. (Both of his first wives, who were sisters, died).

Ariane also is a good historian and an excellent tour guide, walking with us through the medieval city of Bruges with its impressive gothic architecture, narrow cobbled streets, and the sound of horses and carriages. There we saw the beautiful system of canals that serve the city, the statue Michelangelo carved, which now is housed in one of the city’s old churches, and yes, we shopped for lace.

After spending most of the day in Bruges, all of us piled into Ariane’s van for the short drive to Eernegem and the site of the Vyvey family farm. It is no longer in the family, but Vivian knows the owner and easily got permission for us to visit. There have been changes to the house, and some of the outbuildings, but the farm where my Grandfather was born and raised, is still a farm with fields surrounding, and pasture holding several head of Belgian Blue cattle.

I’d seen historic photos of the farm and it was such a gratifying experience to stand on the ground of my ancestors and take photos that although modern, look very much like it did in the early 1900s. There is so much to be said for preserving history, especially when that history is of one’s own family.

To be continued …

My grandmother came to American in 1903 as the bride of Peter Verplancke, a fellow Belgian who had earlier immigrated to Wyoming and claimed a homestead. Emma had lived in Bruges, Belgium, along with her grandparents, and the story I always heard was that she was making Belgian bobbin lace in Bruges when Peter saw her and told her he would take her to America where she would never again need to make lace.

Whether she was just making lace as a pastime, or if she was one of Belgium’s many skilled lace laborers, I don’t know. But she did marry Peter, in what I now believe was an arranged marriage, and they came together to his small cabin to forge a life in Wyoming.

Emma and Peter started a family almost immediately and in 1909 they were expecting their fifth child. Peter went to get the neighbor woman, Julia Taekens, to help my grandmother with the birth, but on the short drive had to go through a gate. When opening the gate, Peter spooked the team and the wagon ran over him causing fatal injuries that took his life nine days later.

This event left my grandmother on the Wyoming homestead with five children. At the time of Peter’s accident, Charles Vyvey was working for him, planning to haul a load of potatoes to market in Walden, Colo. Charles also had come to America from Belgium with his sister and brother-in-law Julia and Ed Taeckens, and did a number of jobs before beginning to work for Peter. After Peter’s death, Charles helped Emma with the homestead and two years later, in 1909, he married Emma. They are my grandparents.

My Grandpa had been born and reared on a farm in Eernegem, Belgium, which is only a few miles from Bruges. He and my grandmother were the same age, both having been born in 1882. I grew up on the homestead that Peter first claimed, and which was added to by my Grandmother. The family ranch later also increased due to homestead claims taken by some of my dad’s half sisters and half brothers, those older Verplancke children and his own brother, John Vyvey.

Throughout my childhood I heard stories of Belgium. When I was very young my grandfather returned to visit The Old Country, as he always referred to it. My grandmother never returned to Belgium, and she died when I was only 5-years-old. But I had an aunt who went with Grandpa once in the 1960s, and in the early 1970s cousins of my dad came to visit from Belgium.

The place seemed so far away, and somewhat magical. I always wanted to go there and this year, I was able to make a trip with Steve and my sister and brother-in-law. We spent two weeks in The Old Country where we met cousins, learned many new details about our family, and visited places both important in family history and also in world history.

We stayed in Brussels, the capital of Belgium, which also happens to be very centrally located in the small country, and therefore a perfect place to use as our base. Our first two days were spent in Brussels, visiting the Grote Market and shopping for tapestries and lace, two of the products for which Belgium is most known.

Our first adventure outside Brussels was a train ride north to Bruges, where we met cousins Ariane and Vivian Vyvey. To my delight Vivian is a “family historian” who has done a wonderful genealogy of the Vyvey family in Belgium. We share a great-grandfather, but have different great-grandmothers. Mine was Mathilde and hers was our great-grandfather’s third wife, Octavie. (Both of his first wives, who were sisters, died).

Ariane also is a good historian and an excellent tour guide, walking with us through the medieval city of Bruges with its impressive gothic architecture, narrow cobbled streets, and the sound of horses and carriages. There we saw the beautiful system of canals that serve the city, the statue Michelangelo carved, which now is housed in one of the city’s old churches, and yes, we shopped for lace.

After spending most of the day in Bruges, all of us piled into Ariane’s van for the short drive to Eernegem and the site of the Vyvey family farm. It is no longer in the family, but Vivian knows the owner and easily got permission for us to visit. There have been changes to the house, and some of the outbuildings, but the farm where my Grandfather was born and raised, is still a farm with fields surrounding, and pasture holding several head of Belgian Blue cattle.

I’d seen historic photos of the farm and it was such a gratifying experience to stand on the ground of my ancestors and take photos that although modern, look very much like it did in the early 1900s. There is so much to be said for preserving history, especially when that history is of one’s own family.

To be continued …


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