The Eight Sons of Moeder Cordula.

One of my favorite Belgian singer songwriters, Willem Vermandere, wrote a song that captures the grief and sorrow of a mother who watched all but one of her sons emigrate to America in the early twentieth century.

Acht kloeke zeuns had moeder Cordula
En zeven zijn der naar ‘t vreemde gegaan
Zo wijd over zee daar lag Canada
Moeder Maria, lat dat schip nie vergaan
Lat dat schip nie vergaan

[Mother Cordula had eight stout sons, and seven went to foreign parts. Across the wide ocean was Canada. Mother Mary, don’t let that ship perish. Don’t let that ship perish.]

My English translation cannot do justice to Vermandere’s beautiful lyrics. The song recounts how Cordula prayed to safeguard her son’s journeys. How she never stopped waiting for them to return, met goud belaan [wealthy with gold]. How she treasured their letters. Two sons died early. The five others married and started families. Only one son returned, forty years years later, when he was old and worn. She did not recognize him. In her dreams they had remained young men with beautiful black hair.

So who was mother Cordula? And who were her sons? In a 2015 interview Vermandere revealed the song is based on his great grandmother.1 An exploration in the Belgian civil registration records can help us start writing Cordula’s story.


CORDULA BOCKSTAELE (more commonly spelled Bockstael) was born on 7 November 1845 at Schorisse, a small rural village in the Flemish Ardennes, ten kilometers southwest of Oudenaarde, twelve kilometers northwest of Ronse, daughter of Petrus Bockstaele and Sophia Verhoost. Her parents were farmers.2

Cordula Bockstaele's birth record
Birth record for Cordula Bockstaele (1845).

When she was twenty-two years old, on 28 October 1868 at eight o’clock in the evening, Cordula married the thirty-year-old son of the town secretary, Modestus Josephus Deleeuw, in Schorisse.3 Modest was born on 17 September 1838 in the hamlet of Hofveld of Schorisse, son of Bernard Deleeuw and Sophia Blommaert.4

The young couple moved to Schoonboeke, an area just outside Ronse, where Modest apparently worked as a farmer and miller, and where their first five children were born. Between 1875 and 1877 they moved back to Schorisse. They first resided in Koekamer, and by 1881 had moved to the hamlet of Hofveld. Seven more children, all boys, were born in Schorisse. Modest consistently told the authorities he and his wife were farmers.5 But during the 1890s, he apparently gave up active farming, and instead earned a living as tapper [publican].6

Their daughter Camilla married first, in 1898, to Henricus Vanhuffel, a cart maker from nearby Etikhove. Modest and Cordula, apparently pleased with their daughter’s choice, attended the ceremony at the town hall.7

A year later, also at Schorisse, on 3 November 1899, the oldest son Omer married Maria Octavia Fouquet, a weaver. This marriage however was not approved of by his parents. Neither one of them attended the wedding, and they signed and submitted a letter of non consent.8

In March 1902 Modest and Cordula similarly expressed their displeasure at the wedding of son Hector, who had chosen Ludwina-Appolonia Coppens, a maid in Zottegem, as his bride.9

Both Maria Octavia and Ludwina Appolonia were local girls who were born in Schorisse and grew up there. The brides’ parents were still residing in town and did not protest the chosen bridegrooms of their daughters. We do not know why Modest and Cordula objected to their son’s choices, nor do we know to what extent it played a role in the boys’ decision to emigrate.

Cordula’s husband, Modest DeLeeuw, died at his home in Hofveld on 11 April 1905.10 Cordula was fifty-nine years old. Her oldest daughter Aza was thirty-six, her youngest son Georges sixteen.

What happened next to Cordula and her ten [not eight, by the way] sons?

We need to turn to Belgian population and emigration records, as well as Canadian sources to continue the narrative.

Stay tuned! And meanwhile, take a moment to listen and watch Willem Vermandere sing Moeder Cordula.


Known children of Modest Deleeuw and Cordula Bockstael:

  1. AZA MARIA SOPHIA DELEEUW was born on 16 September 1869 in Ronse.11
  2. CAMILLA EULALIA PERPETUA DELEEUW was born on 6 February 1817 in Ronse.12 She married HENRICUS VANHUFFEL on 30 November 1898 at Schorisse. Henricus was born at Etikhove, East Flanders, on 17 November 1869, son of Charles Louis Vanhuffel and Constancia Stickelband.13
  3. OMER PIERRE FRANÇOIS DELEEUW was born on 8 March 1872 in Ronse.14He married MARIA-OCTAVIA FOUQUET on 3 November 1899 at Schorisse. Maria-Octavia was probably born on 16 November 1876 in Zevelsem, daughter of Charles Louis Fouquet and Nathalie Vanderstricht.15
  4. ARTHUR REMI MODESTE DELEEUW was born on 17 October 1873 in Ronse.16
  5. JULES JOSEPH MARIE DELEEUW was born on 26 March 1875 in Ronse.17
  6. LEOPOLD MARIE HECTOR DELEEUW was born on 1 February 1877 in Schorisse.18 He married Ludwina Appolonia Coppens on 19 March 1902 at Schorisse. Ludwina was probably born 19 February 1878  at Schorisse, daughter of Richardus Coppens and Eulalia Cornil.19
  7. LEO CAROLUS ERNEST DELEEUW was born on 27 November 1878 in Schorisse.20
  8. AUGUST ALBERT BERNARD DELEEUW was born on 26 November 1881 in Schorisse.21
  9. LEOPOLD CHARLES FEDOR DELEEUW was born on 15 November 1883 in Schorisse.22
  10. MARCELLUS EMERICUS CAMILLUS DELEEUW was born on 2 November 1885 in Schorisse.23
  11. PIUS CAMIEL ERNEST DELEEUW was born on 22 July 1887 in Schorisse.24
  12. GEORGES ADHEMAR DELEEUW was born on 31 January 1889 in Schorisse.25

Cite this post

Kristine Smets, “The Eight Sons of Moeder Cordula,” The Belgian American (https://www.thebelgianamerican.com : accessed [date]), posted 14 February 2019.

  1. Hannes Dedeurwaarder, “Willem Vermandere: ‘Ik ben een sukkelaar met af en toe een helder moment,” Intervista (http://intervista.be/2015/06/10/willem-vermandere-ik-ben-een-sukkelaar-met-af-en-toe-een-helder-moment/ : accessed 13 February 2018), 10 June 2015, para. 22.
  2. Schorisse, East-Flanders, Belgium, Register Geboorten 1845, 84, Cordula Bockstaele; digital image, “Belgique, Flandre-Orientale, registres d’état civil, 1541-1914,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org), Schorisse > Geboorten, huwelijken, overlijden 1841-1850 > image 76 of 359; citing België Staatsarchief (Belgium State Archives), Oost-Vlaanderen.
  3. Schorisse, East-Flanders, Belgium, Register Huwelijken & Echtscheidingen 1868, nr. 14, Deleeuw-Bockstaele; digital image, “Belgique, Flandre-Orientale, registres d’état civil, 1541-1914,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org), Schorisse > Geboorten, huwelijken, overlijden 1861-1870 > image 205 of 303.
  4. Schorisse, Belgium, Register Geboorten 1838, n. 99, Modestus-Josephus Deleeuw; digital image, “Belgique, Flandre-Orientale, registres d’état civil, 1541-1914,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/), Schorisse > Geboorten, huwelijken, overlijden 1831-1840 > image 124 of 413.
  5. See birth records for children cited below.
  6. See marriage records for Camilla, Omer, and Hector, cited below.
  7. Schorisse, Belgium, Register Huwelijken & Echtscheidingen 1898, nr. 8, Vanhuffel-Deleeuw; digital image, “Belgique, Flandre-Orientale, registres d’état civil, 1541-1914,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org), Schorisse > Geboorten, huwelijken, overlijden 1871-1900 > image 761 of 889.
  8. Schorisse, Belgium, Register Huwelijken & Echtscheidingen 1899, nr. 15, Deleeuw-Fouquet; digital image, “”Belgique, Flandre-Orientale, registres d’état civil, 1541-1914,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org), Schorisse > Geboorten, huwelijken, overlijden 1871-1900 > image 773 of 889.
  9. Schorisse, Belgium, Register Huwelijken & Echtscheidingen 1902, nr. 1, Deleeuw-Coppens; digital image, “Burgerlijke stand. Provincie Oost-Vlaanderen. Arrondissement Oudenaarde (digitaal),” Rijksarchief in België (https://search.arch.be), Schorisse > Burgerlijke stand: akten > 1901-1910 > image 150 of 309.
  10. Schorisse, Belgium, Register Overlijdens 1905, n. 20, Modestus-Josephus Deleeuw; digital image, “Burgerlijke stand. Provincie Oost-Vlaanderen. Arrondissement Oudenaarde (digitaal),” Rijksarchief in België (https://search.arch.be> Schorisse > Burgerlijke stand: akten > 1901-1910 > image 262 of 309.
  11. Ronse, East-Flanders, Belgium, Registre de Naissances 1869, Aza Maria Sophia Deleeuw; digital image, “Belgique, Flandre-Orientale, registres d’état civil, 1541-1914,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org) > Ronse > Geboorten, huwelijken, overlijden 1868-1870 > image 187 of 442.
  12. Ronse, East-Flanders, Belgium, Registre de Naissances 1871, Camille Eulalie Perpetue Deleeuw; digital image, “Belgique, Flandre-Orientale, registres d’état civil, 1541-1914,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org) > Ronse > Geboorten, huwelijken, overlijden 1871-1875 > image 10 of 851.
  13. Schorisse, Belgium, Register Huwelijken & Echtscheidingen 1898, nr. 8, Vanhuffel-Deleeuw; digital image, “Belgique, Flandre-Orientale, registres d’état civil, 1541-1914,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org), Schorisse > Geboorten, huwelijken, overlijden 1871-1900 > image 761 of 889.
  14. Ronse, East-Flanders, Belgium, Registre de Naissances 1821, Omer Pierre François Deleeuw; digital image, “Belgique, Flandre-Orientale, registres d’état civil, 1541-1914,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org) > Ronse > Geboorten, huwelijken, overlijden 1871-1875 > image 173 of 851.
  15. Schorisse, Belgium, Register Huwelijken & Echtscheidingen 1899, nr. 15, Deleeuw-Fouquet; digital image, “”Belgique, Flandre-Orientale, registres d’état civil, 1541-1914,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org), Schorisse > Geboorten, huwelijken, overlijden 1871-1900 > image 773 of 889.
  16. Ronse, East-Flanders, Belgium, Registre de Naissances 1873, Arthur Remi Modeste Deleeuw; digital image, “Belgique, Flandre-Orientale, registres d’état civil, 1541-1914,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org) > Ronse > Geboorten, huwelijken, overlijden 1871-1875 > image 386 of 851.
  17. Ronse, East-Flanders, Belgium, Registre de Naissances 1875, 118, Jules Joseph Marie Deleeuw; digital image, “Belgique, Flandre-Orientale, registres d’état civil, 1541-1914,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org) > Ronse > Geboorten, huwelijken, overlijden 1871-1875 > image 699 of 851.
  18. Schorisse, Belgium, Register Geboorten 1877, nr. 5, Leopold-Marie-Hector Deleeuw; digital image, “Belgique, Flandre-Orientale, registres d’état civil, 1541-1914,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org), Schorisse > Geboorten, huwelijken, overlijden 1871-1900 > image 61-62 of 889.
  19. Schorisse, Belgium, Register Huwelijken & Echtscheidingen 1902, nr. 1, Deleeuw-Coppens; digital image, “Burgerlijke stand. Provincie Oost-Vlaanderen. Arrondissement Oudenaarde (digitaal),” Rijksarchief in België (https://search.arch.be) > Schorisse > Burgerlijk stand: akten > 1901-1910 > image 150 of 309.
  20. Schorisse, Belgium, Register Geboorten 1878, nr. 49, Leo-Carolus-Ernestus Deleeuw; digital image, “Belgique, Flandre-Orientale, registres d’état civil, 1541-1914,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org), Schorisse > Geboorten, huwelijken, overlijden 1871-1900 > image 75 of 889.
  21. Schorisse, East-Flanders, Belgium, Register van Geboorten voor de Jaren 1881-1890, nr. 54 (1881), August-Albert-Bernard De Leeuw; digital image, “Belgique, Flandre-Orientale, registres d’état civil, 1541-1914,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org), Schorisse > Geboorten, huwelijken, overlijden 1871-1900 > image 260 of 889.
  22. Schorisse, East-Flanders, Belgium, Register Geboorten 1882, N. 52, Leopold-Charles-Fedor De Leeuw; digital image, “Belgique, Flandre-Orientale, registres d’état civil, 1541-1914,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org), Schorisse > Geboorten, huwelijken, overlijden 1871-1900 > image 279 of 889.
  23. Schorisse, Belgium, Register Geboorten 1885, Marcellus-Emericus-Camillus De Leeuw, n. 54, De Leeuw; digital image, “Belgique, Flandre-Orientale, registres d’état civil, 1541-1914,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org), Schorisse > Geboorten, huwelijken, overlijden 1871-1900 > image 301-302 of 889.
  24. Schorisse, Belgium, Register Geboorten 1887, N. 29, Pius-Camiel-Ernest De Leeuw; digital image, “Belgique, Flandre-Orientale, registres d’état civil, 1541-1914,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org), Schorisse > Geboorten, huwelijken, overlijden 1871-1900 > image 318 of 889.
  25. Schorisse, Belgium, Register Geboorten 1889, N. 6, Georges-Adhemar De Leeuw; digital image, “Belgique, Flandre-Orientale, registres d’état civil, 1541-1914,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org), Schorisse > Geboorten, huwelijken, overlijden 1871-1900 > image 336 of 889.

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