Ethnic Press as a Historical and Genealogical Resource.

Did you know that, just like the Germans, Italians, and other ethnic groups in America, the Belgians created and maintained their own ethnic press? The two best known Belgian-American newspapers are the Gazette van Moline, which appeared from 1907 until 1940 in Moline, Illinois, and the Gazette van Detroit (Detroit, Michigan), which was first published in 1914, published its first online issue in 2006, went completely digital in 2015, and, sadly, was discontinued in December 2018. In addition, there were several other more short-lived publications. Most were written in Dutch, yet at least two were issued by Walloons, and therefore were composed in French.

Foreign-language newspapers in the new world served various functions. The foremost purpose was informational: the papers carried news of the local community, of compatriots across the United States, and of the old country. Likewise, the ethnic papers expressed a group’s values, traditions, customs, religion, and importantly, its changing sense of identity. Finally, the ethnic newspaper socialized its readers to the United States as it educated them and became itself a tool of adjustment. 1

For Belgian-American historians, the newspaper provides an important souce of information. Henry Versleype made a extensive use of the Gazette van Moline for his study of the Belgian community of Mishawaka, Indiana.2 In 2016, Tanja Collet-Najem from the University of Windsor explored the ideological leanings of the Gazette van Detroit during its first years of publication.3 I analyzed the same newspaper to determine its role in the Belgian-American community between 1907 and 1921.4

Just like regular local newspapers of the past, ethnic newspapers can also be a gold mine for genealogy.5 The papers printed news about people and places, both in the old country and the new. Births, deaths, illnesses, marriages, new arrivals, and other seemingly trivial facts of life were reported on a regular basis, and were of great interest to the readers in this era before telephones, email, and social media! And the weekly Gazette was not just a source of information for the Belgian community in the town where the paper was published. During their heyday, both the Gazette van Moline and the Gazette van Detroit had regular correspondents in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and New York state, who sent in bits of news about the lives of fellow-countrymen nationwide.

Some examples from the earliest issues of the Gazette van Moline can illustrate the level of detail one can find in the Belgian-American newspapers.


Mr. and Mrs. Richard Tanghe are delighted with the birth of their new son. Mrs. Matthys guesses that the little one weighs about ten pounds. It appears she is skilled at estimates and does not need a scale.6


Last Tuesday John Lievens and Romanie Christiaens were united in marriage. John is a bartender in Silvis and the newlyweds will settle there.7


Last Sunday, Lizzie Mary Haertjes, the one-year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Julius Haertjens, 528, 18 ave., died as a result of the measles. The funeral was last Tuesday in the Church of the Sacred Heart.8

Family relationships:

Ch. Schatteman, agent of the Gazette van Moline, of Atkinson, was visiting his cousins here, Eduard and Charles Coryn. Schatteman told them that the quail hunt was very goed in the surroundings of Atkinson, and brought them about a dozen of those delicious birds as proof. We do not need to tell you that the Coryn family welcomed them with open arms.9

Seasonal migration:

Prudent De Bruyne and Alois Devos returned to the fatherland this evening with the intention to return next summer.10

Recently Adolf Van Overbeke, left here [Ghent, Minnesota] with the goal of working in Moline [Illinois] during the winter. Well, we noticed Adolf back in town this week, and what would be the cause? Nobody could imagine otherwise, than that he was too attached [verkleefd] to his wife, and could not adjust overthere. She was also delighted to see him again, and thus both their desires were fulfilled.11

Camiel Van Paecken departed last week to Letcher, South Dakota, to help Emiel Berggracht with the construction of a house and the stable for a new homestead. Camiel worked previously for Berggracht when the latter was still residing in Atkinson.12

Cite this post

Kristine Smets. “Ethnic Press as a Historical and Genealogical Resource,”The Belgian American ( : accessed [date]), posted 15 January 2019.

  1. Sally M. Miller, ed., The Ethnic Press in the United States: A Historical Analysis and Handbook, (New York, N.Y.: Greenwood Press, 1987), xv-xvi. Also, Jerzy Zubrzycki, “The Role of the Foreign-Language Press in Migrant Integration,” Population Studies: A Journal of Demography 12 (1958-1959): 79.
  2. Henry Verslype, The Belgians of Indiana (Indiana: Nappanee, Indiana: Evangelical Press, 1987).
  3. Tanja Collet, “Language Controversies in the Gazette van Detroit (1916-1918).”
  4. Kristine Smets, “The Gazette van Moline and the Belgian-American Community, 1907-1921,” MA Thesis, Kent State University, 1994.
  5. Val D. Greenwood, “Compiled Sources and Newspapers,” in The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy, 4th edition (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Pub. Co., 2017), p. 273.
  6. “Moline and Omstreken,” Gazette van Moline, 13 December 1907, p. 2, col. 1.
  7. “Moline and Omstreken,” Gazette van Moline, 29 November 1907, p. 2, col. 1.
  8. “Moline and Omstreken,” Gazette van Moline, 29 November 1907, p. 2, col. 1.
  9. “Moline and Omstreken,” Gazette van Moline, 6 December 1907, p. 2, col. 1.
  10. “Uit Detroit,” Gazette van Moline, 6 December 1907, p. 3, col. 4.
  11. “Ghent, Minn.,” Gazette van Moline, 22 November 1907, p. 3, col. 1.
  12. “Moline and Omstreken,” Gazette van Moline, 14 December 1907, p. 2, c. 1.

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