Brush and basket peddlers with car  







The Debruyne family in Klerken-Houthulst and surrounding area (in het Nederlands)

From 1653 parish registers are available for Klerken, a village near Diksmuide. In 1662 the first Debruyne's were registered. According to the baptism record, first Jacobus De Bruijne is born, followed by the twins Joannes and Christina de Bruijne in 1663, born to Joannes de Bruijne and Christina de Harre. During the next three centuries, hundreds of Debruyne's are born in Klerken and nearby.

No descendants of the first twins are known. Yet at the end of the 17th century enough Debruyne's were born, married or deceased in Klerken to be able to determine their mutual relationship through detailed research. On the basis of these data, supplemented with the witnesses and godparents recorded in the register, it can be shown that they all descend from a single family. Jan de Bruijne and Joanna Leclair (de Clerck) are the parents. The first born children and many more are their grandchildren.

Jan de Bruijne ('seniori junilarius') died on Saturday August 9, 1681. He was buried one day later with a first class funeral (with 9 lectures) in the Saint-Nicolas choir of the church. His wife, Joanna Leclair (de Clerck) died in 1683. She was buried next to her husband. However, nothing remains of this. The Saint-Laurentius church built in 1510-1535 on the remains of a previous building from the 13th century, had to be rebuild again in the first half of the 17th century following the destruction around 1585. In the first half of the 17th century, the church was expanded with a south aisle with the Saint-Nicolas choir at the front end. In the 18th and 19th centuries a second aisle followed. This church and the entire village center were destroyed during the First World War. The current church dates from the period 1920-23. In 1965 the main church axis was turned from East to West. The current main portal is where the former choir used to be before.

Apparently Jan and Joanna came to Klerken before 1640 or lived nearby. Jan de Bruijne is mentioned in the Waepenschouwijnghe der Weerbarere Mannen (Inspection of weapons and resilient men) of May 12, 1640. Jan was present armed with "Pycke ende Cappere" (spear and ax). It is not clear where the family came from, or why they came to live in Klerken. Probably this was part of the repopulation of the countryside and farms starting around 1600-10. This was necessary after the evacuation and huge emigration at the end of the 16th century. Possibly, but not at all certain, this family descends from the Debruyne's, cloth weavers in the region around Ypres since the 12th century.

The expansion of the Debruyne family in Klerken was extremely successful for the continuation of the family name. This success was much less visible in their social life, though. The descendants had to deal and comply with the dynamic historical developments around them. From the last quarter of the 17th century to the mid-18th century, looting French and Austrian armies repeatedly passed through the region. Villages such as Klerken had to be able to fully provide for what was needed. The population did this by exploiting all available resources.

Close to Klerken, today more limited in size, an important forest area is situated. The so-called "Vrijbusch" (Free Woods)supplies wood and, if necessary, a safe shelter. Part of the population actually started living and working there, possibly forced by the circumstances. During their stay they started with illegal artisanal broom production and trading. Officially, it was repeatedly tried to expell the so-called "boskanters" from the forest("boskanter" litterally means somebody living at the border of the wood)..

For example, the (temporary) French rule around 1748 lay at the foundation of a cadastre measurement in preparation of the sale of this Vrijbos, personal property of the ruler of the moment; This initiative was then continued under the administration of Empress Maria Theresia. This resulted in detailed lists of people to be expelled (in 1756 and 1758). Sale of a forest with over 500 illegal boskanters was not possible. In practice, only some tens of people were expelled, and business continued as before. It was only in the Belgian period after 1830, that the Vrijbos was privatized, and promptly cut for about 80%, and valorized as agricultural and house-building land.

From the middle of the 17th until deep into the 19th century, this marginal group of boskanters grew strongly. During the summer, they sold their products throughout Flanders and Northern France. In this way they joined other groups of peddlers and traders, such as the well-known Nieuwmarkters from neighboring Roeselare. An important group of Debruyne's participated in this. Other family members were often active as small farmer, with some fields at the edge of the forest and some farm animals.

Already in 1815 it becomes clear how strong the Debruyne family has grown. In the census of 1815 we can identify 140 Debruyne's on a total population of 2125, almost 7%. This means that approximately 14% must have a mother or father with this family name. They all descend without exception from the same ancestors, Jan de Bruijne and Joanna Leclair.

A closed village community could no longer sustain such expansion. Already in the 17th century, families moved to nearby villages. During and especially after the French Revolution, this migration increased sharply. Around 1850 the local standard of living had not really improved yet. Many went to Northern France, Wallonia or Luxembourg for seasonal work. Some married and stayed there. Others emigrated to the U.S.A. or Canada.

This geographical expansion has increased ever since. But even today we can identify over 2% Debruyne's in Houthulst (of which the former Klerken has become a borough). In Belgium there are more than 7,700 Debruyne's (and even more than 5,800 Debruyn without "e"; see also Debruyne / Debruyn.) A rough estimate shows that 5 to 15% of these Debruyne's descends from the Klerken branch, i.e. from this single family living around 1650. We can also make a very rough estimate of the total number of descendants of this family: after 350 years this could probably be more than half a million.

  1. Xavier Lesage e.a. "Bijdrage tot de Geschiedenis van Houthulst - Van 19de-eeuwse parochiestichting tot gemeente (1928)" Uitgave van het Gemeentekrediet (1988) in opdracht van het gemeentebestuur van Houthulst, naar aanleiding van het zestigjarige bestaan van Houthulst als gemeente (D/1988/0348/15)
  2. "Kabinetskaart der Oostenrijkse Nederlanden" Graaf de Ferraris (1771-1778), mappen Dixmude en Langemarcq
  3. Parochieregister 1 doopakten van 1653 tot 1694 (behalve 19.03.1681 tot 02.04.1682); huwelijken van 1653 tot 1701 (behalve 1665 tot 1682); 2 overlijdens tot 1710; 3 doopakten van 1695 tot 1745; 4 overlijdens van 1710 tot 1751 (is enkel als tafels beschikbaar); 5 huwelijken van 1702 tot 1778; 6 overlijdens van 1752 tot 1780; 7 doopakten van 1746 tot 1778; 8 doopakten en huwelijken van 1779 tot 1783; overlijdens 1780 tot 1783; 9 doopakten en huwelijken van 1784 tot 1796; 10 overlijdens van 1784 tot 1796
  4. "Volkstelling 1814 Deel XIV" (D1978/2434/10) en "Volkstelling 1814 Deel XII", (D1978/2434/4), Vlaamse Vereniging voor Familiekunde, Afdeling Brugge.
  5. Registers van de Burgerlijke Stand en Kiezerslijsten
  6. Instituut voor Naamkunde, K.U.Leuven.
  7. Gegevens van het NIS Rijksregister per 31.12.1987
  8. Ignace Debruyne "Zoektocht naar de stamvader Debruyne in Klerken", Bruintjes Brieven 16 (1993) 70-76; "Debruyne in Klerken bij de volkstelling van 1814", Bruintjes Brieven 22 (1995) 26-37; "Stamboom Debruyne - Van Joannes de Bruijne tot Michiel Isidoor Debruyne" (1996)
  9. Geert Tavernier (Bruges) "Het duistere verleden van het Houthulstbos - Geschiedenis van de boskanters uit de omgeving van Houthulst (18e – 19e eeuw)" (Dutch language publication; title in English: "The dark past of Houthulst forest - History of the forest side dwellers in Houthulst area (18th - 19th centuries)"

This page was first created on 24 May 1998; last update 30 December 2018

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