A deceased bride?

A child died at age 3 marries 30 years later at age 33? This is not possible, of course. And yet it is a stunt that Louisa Theresia Van den Abeele, the sister of my direct grandmother Marie Thérèse, pulled. A bride raised from the dead. Or a mystery of conflicting certificates that I tried to solve with some sleuthing.

A marriage of a deceased bride?

In my genealogy research, I bumped into a mystery caused by – to put it mildly – an “irregularity” in the civil registration records. A deceased bride or a bride who died thirty years earlier.

Conflicting certificates

My great-aunt Louise Thérèse Vandenabeele married in 1876, but appears to have died as early as 1846 when she was 3 years old. This is a mystery caused by conflicting certificates.

In my genealogical research, I found a marriage certificate of Louise Thérèse Vandenabeele, born May 15, 1843, daughter of Martin Vandenabeele and Rosalia Vitse. Based on the date of birth, – place, parents’ names, including the father’s listed date of death, I know this is a match in my family tree. The information matches the birth certificate of Louisa Theresia Van den Abeele in my possession.
Only, – now comes the stunt – according to a death certificate from 1846 shows the same Louisa Theresia Vanden Abeele, born in Bruges on May 15, 1843, daughter of Martinus and Rosalia Vitse, died at the age of 3 on July 8, 1846, in the same house where she was born: in the Ezelstraat in Bruges.

And now your turn.

Risen from the dead?

That Louise would have risen from the dead seems unlikely. So what is the explanation of this apparent resurrection? I almost lost my mind over it.

Do you feel like reasoning with me? Perhaps you have another angle, with which you can solve this riddle. Let’s examine the various possible explanations step by step.

Possible explanations

There are some possible explanations, classifiable into two main options:

  1. Louise Vandenabeele is niet overleden op 8 juli 1846.
    De overlijdensakte van Louise Vandenabeele in 1846 is dus foutief.
    • The three-year-old girl who died on July 8, 1846, is a different child and there is a mistaking of persons
      • With another child of Martin & Rosalie Vitse
      • with another child, not from Martin & Rosalie Vitse;
    • It was a false alarm: Louise Vandenabeele was seriously ill, but passed through after agony; or:
  2. Louise Vandenabeele is overleden op 8 juli 1846.
    De overlijdensakte is correct, maar de huwelijksakte van 1876 is foutief.
    • Two Louise Vandenabeeles were born into the family, the first of whom died. The second marries.
    • The woman who marries Antoine Van Tilburgh is another woman who assumes the identity of the “real” Louise Vandenabeele (for the rest of her life).

There seems to be something wrong with every possible explanation listed above, but I am continuing my sleuthing.

Consider the option that Louise Vandenabeele did not die on July 8, 1846

Option 1: Louise Vandenabeele did not die on July 8, 1846

If Louise Vandenabeele did not die on July 8, 1846, then the July 9, 1846 death certificate is incorrect. But how?

Another child of Martin Vandenabeele & Rosalia Vitse?

Perhaps it is about another child of Martin & Rosalia? To check this, I checked all birth certificates of births in Bruges in the name of Van den Abeele (all spellings) after the marriage of Martin & Rosalia as well as in the name of Vitse before the marriage, in case there was a legitimized child. Other than the older sister already mentioned, Marie Therese Van den Abeele, no other child of the couple is recorded. There is also no mention of a twin sister or brother. This hypothesis has thus been overturned.

Mistake on the part of the informants?

It is still possible then that it was another child (not Louise Vandenabeele) who died. Looking through the death certificate of July 9, 1846, No. 967, everything seems to fit. The details such as the parents’ names, age and occupation, address, date of birth of Louise, etc. are correct. On the other hand, what is strange is that the declaration was not made by the father, which is common practice. Not even by a family member. Not even by hospital staff, which has happened before when someone has died in a hospital. No, they are 49-year-old workman Joannes De Sloover and 26-year-old workman Joannes Wanzeele, two people from Bruges and no relatives of the deceased. That’s strange.

Zou het kunnen dat zij zich hebben vergist bij de aangifte? Als dit het geval zou zijn, blijft het vreemd. Ik zie geen redenen waarom twee vrienden of kennissen ‘per ongeluk’ een overleden kind zouden aangeven. In een wilde fantasie zou ik durven denken aan de piste dat Louise ernstig ziek was en op sterven na dood, dat ze te haastig geweest waren met de aangifte van het overlijden. Een vals alarm, als het ware. In dat geval zou het kind het toch gehaald hebben, maar de overlijdensakte zou blijven bestaan.

Mistake by the registrar?

At the end of the death certificate, we read that the two informants could neither read nor write. It is also possible that the municipal registrar made a mistake in the deceased’s information. I have discovered a wrong birth certificate before (which was then corrected by the administration years later, though), so I wouldn’t be alarmed.

They remain punishing hypotheses, but I cannot substantiate them. A mistake in the death certificate is possible, either by the informants or the civil registry.

Option 2: Louise Vandenbeele died on July 8, 1846

It was a possibility that two Louises were born into the family and that this would be a death of the firstborn Louise. This is not the case, as I showed above. Martin and Rosalia had only two children, and they were Louisa Theresia (or Louise Thérèse – as we know, names were often Frenchified) and Marie Therese. In other words, I found only two birth certificates in the name of these parents. So no, there was only one Louise Vandenabeele born in the family.

If Louise Vandenabeele’s death certificate of July 9, 1846 is correct, that means the 1876 marriage certificate is incorrect. A final but wild hypothesis comes to mind: there is identity fraud. Suppose that the lady marrying in Mechelen on November 2, 1876 simply assumed the identity of the deceased Louise Vandenabeele. Ho, stop. This is too much fantasy because Rosalie Vitse, the mother of the bride, is present at the wedding. It would really be all too punishing should the mother not recognize her daughter or, at worst, be in on some conspiracy. So again, delete that hypothesis.


De hypotheses om te ondersteunen dat Louise Vandenabeele is overleden zou zijn, blijven niet overeind. Daarom ben ik geneigd te denken dat de overlijdensakte fout is en er ergens een vergissing is gebeurd.

Although I cannot substantiate the remaining hypotheses and they seem strange, they do stand. It is possible that either the declarants of the death made a mistake – despite the many correct details – or that the official made a mistake and simply incorporated the appropriate details into the death certificate.

Louise Thérèse Vandenabeele is alive!

This leads me to cautiously conclude: Louisa Theresia Van den Abeele did not die on July 8, 1846 at age 3, but did marry at age 33 on November 2, 1876. The “deceased bride” is alive and well! Mystery solved?

A sprightly bride

Louisa Theresia Van den Abeele was born May 15, 1843, in Bruges, in Engelstraat. She was the second child of Martin Vandenabeele and Maria Vitse. They were ordinary workmen and by then already had a daughter of three, Marie Therese. The latter became my direct grandmother – the mother of my great-great-grandmother – in maternal line. Father Martin unfortunately died far too early at the age of 35 on Dec. 21, 1847. Still, mother Rosalie will not remarry and makes ends meet as a lacemaker, workwoman and cabaretière (innkeeper).

Louise became a seamstress by profession. Life, for reasons unknown to me, brought her to Mechelen in 1970, after a stay in Brussels. It is there that she met a military man from the local barracks. At age 33, Louise Vandenabeele married, then 47, Antoine Joseph Van Tilburgh, a sergeant with the Carabiners in Mechelen and a native of Essen.

Louise’s life will continue to be defined by Antoine’s military career. They first live together at the barracks in Mechelen, in the Goswin de Stassartstraat (the barracks that from 1936 will be called the Dossin Barracks). In 1877, they moved to the Little Castle barracks in Brussels.

Small Castle Barracks, late 19th - early 20th century - Illustration accompanying blog post 'A deceased bride?' - Eva's Tree
Barracks of the Little Castle in Brussels; Canelle, A. Tessaro; late 19th – early 20th century (Source: library UGent)

The couple remains childless. After Antoine’s retirement, they remained in Brussels and settled in Sint-Jans-Molenbeek. Louise works there as a janitor. Sadly, Louise died at the young age of 46 on December 1, 1889. And yes, for those wondering, Louise Thérèse Vandenabeele’s death certificate appears to be correct: listing date of birth, parents and husband.

Louisa Theresia Van den Abeele
(° May 15, 1843, Bruges – † December 1, 1889, Sint-Jans-Molenbeek)