Sat. 18 Sep 2010. 3:09 pm
On May 19th, 1915 the SS Rotterdam had left it’s namesake city of Rotterdam and set sail for America. On May 28th, 1915 Gentil Gernaey arrived at Ellis Island. He was a 26 year old Flemish laborer who last lived in Biervliet, Netherlands before coming to America.
When they filled out the Rotterdam’s manifest, he must have told them he had no relations because that is what they wrote down.
Now I think this is the first time since I’ve been looking at these manifests that someone has listed no relatives or friends back in their country. But it was wartime in Europe. On May 7th, just 12 days earlier, the RMS Lusitania had been sunk by a German U-boat. 1,198 passengers and crew lost their lives.
Then, just prior to the sinking of the RMS Lusitania, the war had taken a horrible turn on the Western Front within Flanders Belgium.
“On 22 April 1915 at the Second Battle of Ypres, the Germans (in violation of the Hague Convention) used chlorine gas for the first time on the Western Front…” (1) “At around 17:00 (5:00 pm)…, the German Army released one hundred and sixty eight tons of chlorine gas over a 6.5 km (4 mile) front on the part of the line held by French Territorial and colonial Moroccan and Algerian troops of the French 45th and 78th divisions. Approximately 6,000 French and colonial troops died within ten minutes at Ypres, primarily from asphyxiation and subsequent tissue damage in the lungs. Many more were blinded.” (2)
The Algerian’s were a part of France’s Armée d’Afrique. The Armée d’Afrique was comprised of
“…indigenous Arab or Berber volunteers (Spahis, Goumiers and Tirailleurs); regiments largely made up of French settlers doing their military service (Zouaves and Chasseurs d’Afrique); and non-French volunteers (French Foreign Legion).” (3)
When one thinks about World War I this is the place where all that started. In Belgium. On the western front. Against the Armée d’Afrique.
If you are interested and have a few hours then I suggest reading the book or watching the movie “All Quiet On The Western Front”. It’s worth seeing. And I just so happen to have the movie right here for you.
With all that that was going on it’s amazing to me that anyone could get out of Europe, not to mention all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, to America alive.
But, with the war far from over, Gentil did get out of Europe and he was going to Chicago to meet his friend, Jan. Michielsen(?). It looks like Jan lived at 1916 N. Ridgeway Avenue in Chicago and of course I had to find out if that street still exist and there it is. If you do a Google Maps street view of that location there are houses there but I don’t know if those are the correct ones.
Alright then, so what do we know so far?
- Odilon Delcourt left Belgium in mid-1913 and went to Chicago.
- In early-1914 Bertha and Florence Delcourt left Belgium and went to Chicago to be with Odilon.
- In mid-1915 Gentil Gernaey arrived in America and was going to Chicago.
- We found the Detroit marriage register showing that Odilon was in Detroit where he married Flavie Goens in mid-1919. The register also states that Odilon was married once before.
- From the 1920 census, we believe – since I don’t have a copy of the original census form – that Bertha had married Gentil Gernaey and they lived in Chicago with Bertha’s 11 year old daughter, Florence Delcourt.
- We can surmise that Gentil Gernaey arrived in Chicago sometime between mid-1915 and 1920.
- From this we can estimate that Bertha had married Gentil sometime between mid-1915 and 1920.
So when did Odilon leave Chicago? Without documentation we can only guess it was sometime between mid-1915 and mid-1919.
Now from all this the math seems to work out but again, without hard documentation, we don’t really know if people were actually married, divorced or what their status was.
More to come.