Belgium visitors trace their Chester ancestry

| 30 Sep 2011 | 09:47

How often do Europeans look for their American 'roots?’ Chester — Sissi Kendermanns and Ben Haepers of Westerlo, Belgium, recently visited Chester to research their family’s roots, nearly 100 years ago, in Orange County. A year ago, Kendermanns wrote Town of Chester Historian Clif Patrick. “Throughout my life I heard the stories about the big American adventure of my great-grandparents who emigrated to America as newlyweds with their seven month old baby and returned 13 years later to their home village with seven children, among them my now deceased grandmother Mathilda,” she wrote in her letter. “Apart from a single beautiful family (photo —apparently taken just before leaving America) no documents or images exist in the family.” Via Ellis Island records, Kendermanns found this online entry: “Henderickxe” Josef, Victoria and [infant] Maria arrived 11/06/1911 by SS Lapland from Wiekevorst, Belgium, aged 28, 28 and 7 months. Final destination CHESTER ORANGE COUNTY NY.” Their American sponsor in Chester was Joseph Verbert Sr. and they stayed with the Verberts on Main Street for a short time before finding their own place. According to family lore, Josef Hendrickx found work at the Chester cheese factory. This was most likely the W. A. Lawrence Cheese Factory in West Chester, on the road to Goshen. They prospered in Orange County, adding six children to the family. Kendermanns said her grandmother, Mathilda, “told us about one move to a farm, but since she was only six when they relocated to Belgium, it is very possible she had no memories about the first and possible second house and only remembered the surroundings of Stony Ford, where apparently they stayed last.” She said they lived in a farmhouse built with its back against the hill, so that the family lived below and a winding road to the top of the hill led into the stables on top. “The railroad crossed or bordered the land; she said the children collected coals that fell from the passing trains,” said Kendermanns. “Josef went out working while Victoria ran the farm. It must have been very remote as my great-grandfather only took the family into town once a month by horse and carriage. She said their nearest neighbors were an African-American family and lived several kilometers away. The children did go to school, but once again it is unknown to me where this could have been.” But, homesick, and longing for their home village and extended family, they returned to Belgium in 1923.