Searching for the burial certificate of one of my many ancestors, being Franciscus Lauwers (b. 10/9/1690), I came across a remarkable story. A death in mysterious circumstances.
First, back to my search for the traces of Francis Lauwers for he is that “one man” who was “found dead”.
The life of Francis Lauwers
As far as I knew, Franciscus Lauwers was from Lippelo, province of Antwerp, and now a borough of Puurs Sint-Amands. He was married there on Oct. 21, 1716, to Petronella Pieters. Their ten children were born there, including my foremother Anna Lauwers. Three children died at an early age. Thus, they buried two-year-old Joannes in 1727, one-year-old Joaghim in 1733 and twelve-year-old Elisabetha in 1748.
On Jan. 24, 1757, his wife Petronella died at the age of 66 and was buried in Lippelo. Francis was the same age then. They were barely a month apart in age.
How Francis made a living can only be guessed at. This was not noted in the deeds of the parochial register. It was not until 1796 that the occupations of those listed were noted in the records of the civil registry. Was he a farmer like so many or a day labourer, innkeeper, merchant, … ? Who knows.
That Francis was not born in Lippelo soon became clear as he was not found in the alphabetical index of baptismal and birth certificates of Lippelo, St. Stephen’s parish (1598-1797). However, there were many Lauwers in Lippelo. But where did he see the light of day?
One little trail on the genealogy site Geneanet led me to the answer. According to the family tree of genealogist Godelieve Van Damme-Peeters, Franciscus Lauwers was born on Sept. 10, 1690, in Liezele, a neighboring village now also a borough of Puurs Sint-Amands. So he was “from another parish” (Our Lady, and not St. Stephen’s, the parish of Lippelo).
His birth certificate that I subsequently found confirmed my suspicion that he was the son of Henricus Lauwers and Anna Van den Bosch. (Anna was godmother to his daughter Anna.) Born in Liezele, like his older brother Cornelius. Brother Jacobus was exceptionally born in Willebroek because of his parents’ temporary residence there. (Reason?) After his birth, his parents must have moved to Lippelo (Again the question: why? We can only fill in ourselves) considering all his younger siblings were born in Lippelo. In Lippelo, he spent most of his life.
The mystery of his death
A look in the alphabetical index of burial and death records for Lippelo, parish of St. Stephen (1661-1797) gave me his death date: 25/6/1771. Looking up the actual burial record in the parish register of St. Stephen, Lippelo, I read the following (in Latin) among the burial records of anno 1771:
Die 25 junii morte subitanea discessit circa urbem mechliniensem Franciscus Lauwers viduus Petronilla Peeters et in parochia Sancti Rumoldi sepultus est.
Freely translated, this reads like:
On June 25, Franciscus Lauwers died suddenly near the city of Mechelen. He was buried in the parish of St. Rombouts.
Huh? Special. This is one of those acts that raises many questions. Suddenly. Was he ill? Cringed by malnutrition? Exhausted from the journey? Attacked? Near Mechelen, without precise mention. What was he doing there, some 20 km away from his hometown? A great distance for people in his family who hardly ever went outside the parish. At the time of his death, he was 80 years old. A “fortunate” age at the time. In consequence, I find it hard to imagine that he was there professionally.
This is one of those acts that raises many questions
I looked in the burial records of St. Rombouts to see if I could find any trace there. I’ll be damned! There I found the following deed:
Poor lijck Jun 27, 1771
eenen man doodt gevonden omtrent Walem (a man found dead near Walem)
In contemporary English (translated), this becomes:
Poor corpse June 27, 1771
a man found dead near Walem
This cannot be a coincidence, I think. This must be about Franciscus Lauwers. The two deeds from Lippelo and Mechelen match.
This deed strikes me. It doesn’t say much. But what it says tells an heartwrenching drama.
‘Poor lijck‘. I noticed that the parish priest of St. Rombouts distinguishes between different deceased persons. Thus, in addition to the category “arm lijck” (body of a poor) we read, among others, “kerck lijck” (body of a churchgoer), “kint” (child), “clijn lijck” (small body), “poor kint” (body of poor child), “middel” (average), “choor kint” (choir child), …
‘One man‘. So anonymous and lonely. His name was unknown to the pastor in Mechelen.
‘Found dead‘. He seems to have died without anyone looking up to him. Or alone, without anyone around. A poor, 80-year-old roadside widower. Picture this. He lay there until a good soul found him and brought his body to St. Rombouts parish in Mechelen.
From missing to deceased
The news of his death in Walem must have reached Lippelo then. There was someone who (re)knew him and Fransiscus Lauwers was identified as yet for his next of kin in Lippelo. To them, he was no longer missing. The pastor of St. Stephen’s was able to prepare the funeral certificate and children could mourn. Amen.