Mail from my great-great-grandfather

Postkaart van Ets. J. Dreissen fils - Illustratie van blogbericht 'Post van mijn betovergrootvader' - blog Eva's Boom

I received mail from my great-great-grandfather! The other day I found three postcards online where my great-great-grandfather Jerome Dreissen’s fish business orders eels from a Danish fish exporter. An accidental but delightful genealogical discovery.

Three postcards

On a commercial website selling postcards and prayer cards, I found three postcards where my great-great-grandfather’s fishing business orders eels from a Danish exporter. The Dreissen trilogy of past blog posts gets another epilogue in this way.

I wasn’t even looking for postcards. The site of the online marketplace Delcampe I use mainly because of their offering of prayer cards, as a genealogical resource. I was probably looking again for the prayer card of my great-great-grandfather Jerome Dreissen, whose exact date of death I still don’t know. The day of his funeral was December 6, 1941, so I do know that it must have been several days before. That being said: I type “Dreissen” into the search box, and lo and behold! Three postcards from the firm ‘Etching. Dreissen & fils‘ in the search result.

Exciting find

They are three pre-printed postcards with the heading ‘Ets. Dreissen & fils’ and subtitle ‘Facteurs en poissons’. The address is “Quai aux Briques 66, Bruxelles. No more doubt! These are postcards from the fish business of my great-great-grandfather Jerome Dreissen (and his sons). The address on the “Quai aux Briques,” or the “Baksteenkaai” in Dutch, was already familiar to me, thanks in part to the Brussels Almenacs.

These postcards are a physical connection to one of my ancestors, and that is what makes them so special to me.

Eva Maes

Excited by this delightful find and the idea that I could just buy these cards for very reasonable price, I immediately created an account at Delcampe and put the cards in my shopping cart. I hadn’t even bought anything there until then. When it comes to prayer cards, you can often easily find the digital scan elsewhere. Having a physical prayer card on paper at home is not particularly necessary for me. But this was different, I thought. These postcards are a physical connection to one of my ancestors, and this is what makes them so special to me.

Mail nearly 100 years old

Meanwhile, they are in my possession, the three postcards from Ets. Dreissen, and I was able to study them more closely.

They are three used copies of pre-printed postcards from the company Ets. J. Dreissen Fils, which my great-great-grandfather Jérôme Dreissen had printed for professional correspondence of his fish wholesale business.

Fish wholesale

‘Ets. J. Dreissen Fils’ is the name of the fish wholesaler according to the postcards. Or in full “Établissement Jérôme Dreissen et fils,” which we can translate as “Establishment Jérôme Dreissen and sons. Those sons are Alphonse, François (my great-grandfather) and Jean. All three helped in the business, but it was François Dreissen who would take over.

Under the company name, it says ‘Facteurs en poissons‘. It is old Belgian French for what would now be called “Grossiste en poisson” in French or “Visgroothandel” in Dutch. A “fish wholesaler” in English. Also the inscription ‘ Importation direct de Harengs et Poissons ‘ (‘Direct Importation of Herring and Fish’) tells us that Jerome Dreissen no longer had an ordinary fish store, but a wholesale business. Curious that “poissons” is always mentioned in the plural. Linguistically, this is not correct. One is not a trader in “fishes” (in English it’s even never correct), but in “fish” as a whole. So it should read “Facteurs en poisson”.

‘Quai aux Briques’

The address of Jérôme Dreissen’s fish shop was thus ‘ Quai aux Briques 66 ‘ (Brick Quay) in Brussels, at the Fish Market. Judging from the Brussels Almenacs, the forerunners of the telephone directories, the Dreissen fishmongers had been located there since 1923. The Brussels Almenac also lists “Quai aux Briques 32,” so there must have been a property there as well. Before that, the address of the business was in the rue Osseghem (1920-1922) and at first in rue Ransfort 77 in Sint-Jans-Molenbeek, also their personal domicile address. By the way, until 1904, Jérôme Dreissen is recorded in the Brussels Almenac as retailing fish. From 1904, he put himself on the market as a wholesaler.

Quai aux Briques 66, Brussels. The property where Ets. Dreissen fils was located. Illustration accompanying blog post 'Post from my great-great-grandfather' - Eva's tree
Quai aux Briques 66 (Brussels) anno 1975, where ‘Ets. Dreissen fils’ was housed.
The property was no longer owned by the Dreissen family at that time, but was apparently still serving the industry. The first floor layout and original upper facade do give an idea of what it must have looked like circa 1930.

Today’s Marché aux Poissons, surrounded by Brandhoutkaai and Baksteenkaai, still bustles with activity today, with food and gastronomy at the forefront. Port activity is no longer there: the basins were filled in at the beginning of the 20th century, and between 1854 and 1874 St. Catherine Church was built on the old St. Catherine basin. Nowadays, there is no real fish market either, but for decades this place has been the mecca of seafood restaurants in Brussels.

‘Maison de confiance depuis 1890’

In small print, we also read“Maison de confiance depuis 1890”. House of trust since 1890. This is new to me. That would mean that Jérôme (or another Dreissen, but who?) was already active in the business six years before his marriage. Only I did not find any other source back that confirms it. Upon his marriage to Jeanne Van Roy, van Jérôme Dreissen indicated “clerk” as his occupation. Father Abraham has always been a lockkeeper. Brother Jan was active as a technical engineer and brother Léon was a civil servant at the Ministry of Bridges and Roads. If 1890 is correct as the start date: was Jérôme working part-time in the fish trade, or is his occupation listed incorrectly in the marriage certificate? Or is it a white lie? To create more prestige (which does happen more often)? I’m not going to fall for it…

King Albert I

Two postcards date from 1930; the third is from 1931. All three are franked with a 1 BEF (Belgian franc) stamp with the image of King Albert I, the then king of Belgium. If you look at the stamping on the 1930 cards, you will see that this was done with a stamp on the occasion of the Centennial celebrations from May to September 1930 to mark the centennial of Belgium. A nice detail.

Alfred E. Borch A/S fish export

The three cards are addressed to Mr. Alfred Borch of Kolding, an old port town in Denmark, in Jutland. Alfred Edvard Borch is manager of“Alfred E. Borch A/S Fiske- og åleeksport”(fish and eel export) and founded the company in September 1909 together with his father, merchant Carl Sophus Borch. The company had offices at Helligkorsgade 14 in Kolding. Now an H&M is located at this address….


Jérôme Dreissen wrote the messages to his supplier in Danish. Had Jérôme learned Danish by doing (through international contacts?) and wrote the messages himself, or did he enlist the help of someone who knew Danish? No doubt there were people who spoke Danish in a big city like Brussels in the 1930s. Now a Belgian firm would not bother writing in Danish (email no doubt), but immediately use English. English, meanwhile, has become the “lingua franca” of the world.

Contents cards

Now, what did Jérôme Dreissen write in his messages to Mr. Alfred Borch? At a first glance, you can tell as a Dutch speaker that these are eel orders. ‘Aal’ is also another word for ‘paling’, ‘eel’ in Dutch. And “smaa” is reminiscent of “small,” so will mean “small,” and “extra tykke” is also almost the same as Dutch: “extra dikke”, or “extra thick” in English. So he asks for small, medium, extra thick eels, etc.

I turned to translation software to understand the specific details.

As mentioned, these are three maps over a one-year span between 1930 and 1931:

  • April 24, 1930
  • July 7, 1930
  • May 4, 1931

April 24, 1930: collaboration

This appears to be a first contact with the Danish fish exporter Alfred Borch, with Jerome Dreissen presenting himself as a distributor to distribute the eel at a good price on the Belgian market. After all, there is a lot of demand for it. He refers specifically to eel from Ringkøbing, a coastal town in western Jutland.

Postcard Ets. J. Dreissen Fils, Brussels, addressed to Alfred Borch, Kolding - Illustration to blog post 'Mail from my great-great-grandfather' - Eva's tree
Postcard Ets. J. Dreissen, dated April 24, 1930 - Illustration to blog post 'Mail from my great-great-grandfather' - Eve's tree

BRUSSEL, den 24de April 1930

Herr Alfred Borch, Kolding

Vi kan herved meddele, at her i denne Uge solgtes en Del danske Aal her og at Prisen blev Franke 14/16 for de små of Franks 22/24 for de gode mellemstore. Altså henholdvis Kroner 1.40/1.60 og Kr. 2.20/2.40. Det var Aal fra Ringkøbing.

Efterspörgselen her er bra og her ankommer kun li det.

Det skulde glade os om De kunde lade os selge en Del Aal for Dem her og skal vi gerne til enhver Tid anstrenge os paa at faa samme godt anbragte.

Med Höjagtelse


BRUSSELS, April 24, 1930

Mr. Alfred Borch, Kolding,

We are hereby informed that a number of Danish eels were sold here this week and the price was 14/16 fr.1 for the small ones and 22/24 fr. for the good medium-sized ones. So, respectively, 1.40/1.60 kr2. and 2.20/2.40 kr. It was eel from Ringkøbing.

There is a lot of demand for this and very little is arriving.

It would be our pleasure if you could let us sell some eels for you here, and we will strive to get them well-placed at all times.



July 7, 1930: fewer eels and high demand

A few months later, it turns out that Jérôme Dreissen has been selling Alfred Borch’s Danish eel on the Belgian market for some time at great prices. Nonetheless, he complains in message that much less eels were delivered than the passing weeks, while the demand in Brussels is very high.

Postcard Ets. J. Dreissen Fils, Brussels, addressed to Alfred Borch, Kolding - Illustration to blog post 'Mail from my great-great-grandfather' - Eva's tree
Postcard Ets. J. Dreissen, dated July 7, 1930 - Illustration to blog post 'Mail from my great-great-grandfather' - Eve's tree

BRUXELLES, den 7den Juli 1930.

Herr Alfred Borch, Kolding,

Vi kan herved meddele, at de med Rudebaaden fra Danmark idag til os ankomne Partier Aal solgtes til: Per Kg.:

Frs. 13/15 (Kr. 1.30/1.50) for the SMAA AAL,

” 18/20, (Kr. 1.80/2.00) for the MELLEMSTORE AAL,

” 22/23 (Kr. 2.20/2.30) for the GODE MELLEMSTORE,

” 28/30 (Kr. 2.80/3.00) for the EXTRA TYKKE EAL,

Efterspörgselen er meget sterk og her ankom langt mm mindre end de foregaaende Uger.

Med Höjagstelse


BRUSSELS, July 7, 1930

Mr. Alfred Borch, Kolding,

Hereby we can announce that the batches of eel that arrived by boat from Denmark today were sold for: per kg:

Fr. 13/15 (Kr. 1.30/1.50) for the SMALL EELS,

” 18/20, (Kr. 1.80/2.00) for the MIDDLE-SIZED EELS,

” 22/23 (Kr. 2.20/2.30) for the GOOD MIDDLE-SIZED EELS,

” 28/30 (Kr. 2.80/3.00) for the EXTRA THICK EELS,

Demand is very high, and far fewer than in previous weeks have arrived here.



May 4, 1931: demand for more eels

A year later, the partnership with Alfred E. Borch A/S holds and Jérôme Dreissen seems satisfied with the price he gets for eel on the Belgian market. Yet he still complains that demand for eel exceeds supply in Belgium. Apparently, fewer eels are arriving not only from Denmark, but also from other countries. He therefore hopes to receive larger deliveries of eel.

Postcard Ets. J. Dreissen Fils, Brussels, addressed to Alfred Borch, Kolding - Illustration to blog post 'Mail from my great-great-grandfather' - Eva's tree
Postcard Ets. J. Dreissen, dated May 4, 1931 - Illustration accompanying blog post 'Mail from my great-great-grandfather' - Eve's tree

BRUSSEL, den 4 mai 1931.

Herr Alfred Borch, Kolding,

Vi kan herved meddele, at her idag solgtes nogle mindre Sendinger LEVEN AAL fra Danmark og at de GODE MELLEMSTORE opnaeaede Franks 21/22 Per Kg., altså Kr. 2.10/2.20. De små opnåede Franks 14/16 Per Kg., altså Kroner 1.40/1.60.

Efterspörgselen er god og her ankommer kun lidet Aal, også fra de andre Lande.

Anbefalende os for at modtage Sendiger, forbliver vi

Med Höjagtelse


BRUSSELS, May 4, 1931

Mr. Alfred Borch, Kolding,

Hereby we may inform that some small lots of LIVE PALING from Denmark were sold here today and the GOOD MIDDLE-sized specimens fetched 21/22 fr. per kg, or kr. 2,10/2,20. The small specimens brought 14/16 fr. per kg, or kr. 1,40/1,60.

Demand is good and very few eels arrive here, including from other countries.

In anticipation of receiving more shipments, we remain,



Less eel

Eels are widely fished for human consumption. In Belgium,”paling in ‘t groen” (Dutch) or “Anguilles au vert” (French) is a typical dish and in the Netherlands, smoked eel is a sought-after delicacy. However, eel stocks have declined dramatically in European waters. The eel or European eel(Anguilla anguilla) is listed as critically endangered on the Red List of the IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Whether Jérôme Dreissen’s call for more eels led to increased deliveries we do not know, but this is highly doubtful.

Illustration accompanying blog post 'Post from my great-great-grandfather' - Eva's tree

Jérôme Dreissen remained active as a fishmonger on the Quai au Briques, just off the Brussels Fish Market (the “Vismet”), until his death in December 1941.

Hieronimus Gerardus Dreissen
°28/1/1867, Overpelt – † circa 3/12/1941, Brussels


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