When we put the NoŽ's of the 17th Century together, when we looked at the best men at weddings, at the godfathers and godmothers of their children, when we checked out the guardians and compared notes on all these people we came to the conclusion that Hendrik (Branch D), Jan (Branch A) and Matthijs (Branch B) were Joanna's brothers; and Joanna was the sister of a certain Petrus NoŽ (Branch C). Perhaps there were more brothers or sisters but we don't know anything about them. And only when reading up on Petrus do we find his father Hendrik.
Hendrik Senior had a brother called Matthijs who lived in Zaffelare. In the deeds he was also referred to as Mattheus or even Walterius. His descendents settled down in Eksaarde and in Wachtebeke. His daughter Elisabeth was the godmother of the first child of Petrus from his 3rd marriage.
This Matthijs died in Zaffelare on 13 February 1653 at the age of 55. He was married to Maria Crane (also called Cane). They had six children born between 1637 and 1652 but three generations later his descendants had already died out.
All the known children of Hendrik fared better and grew older but we have found no exact dates of birth: not all village priests took good care of their administrative tasks and not all old registers survived, but based on the wedding dates of his children and the birth of his grandchildren we conclude that his children were born between 1620 and 1630. And that he himself was born at the end of the 16th Century.
We don't know anything else about him. When did he marry and when did he die? Nothing about his wife and no estate reckonings.
Since his four sons were farmers we may assume that Hendrik was also a farmer.
The farming population in ages past consisted of several different social layers. There was a small group of well off farmers' families, all of them owners or tenants of large farms belonging to the Church or to the non governmental forerunner of the Social Security system for the poor: together they formed the church-fabric and the town administration and these jobs were handed down from one generation to the next. Some of these families fought each other in quarrels that were also handed down from one generation to the next. And where the relationship between two or more families was better the children intermarried.
There was a somewhat bigger group of ordinary farmers with a rather smaller but viable exploitation and they concern themselves with everything else as little as possible. Some of them tried to earn something extra: for instance part of the house also served as an inn. Others did some spinning and weaving especially during the winter. And many helped the big farmers when there was work to be done, especially if their farm was too small to keep the whole family alive. Their children often became farm labourers or day labourers with a very small income.
A couple of centuries ago when our Hendrik NoŽ lived many houses were made of wood (only the one chimney or chimney wall was made of brick or stone) with a roof of straw or reed. Glass windows came much later. The floor was dried earth or clay. Most couldn't afford a wooden floor. The shed for the animals was not much more than the most elementary protection against the elements. Life was working and fighting against nature from early in the morning till late at night almost from the cradle to the grave. Going to school was totally out of the question or at best considered unimportant. And this remained the case much longer for the girls than for the boys.
In the absence of machines agriculture or providing enough food, wood and the raw materials for clothing, was a very labour intensive business for an enormous part of the population. Labourers had to load, transport, unload and spread manure; the land had to be plowed or turned with the spade; ditches had to be dug and maintained; all the weeding, some of it on hands and knees and later in the year the harvesting had to be done by hand. The cows had to be milked by hand twice a day; churning (to make butter) was no work for little kids especially not when the job neared its end; in winter there was the threshing to be done with the flail and the grain had to be separated from the chaf in thick clouds of dust; trees had to be chopped for firewood; and for the women there was the washing, except that of course there was no running water. Animals had to be slaughtered and the meat salted or otherwise preserved; and then there were the vegetable gardens, baking bread, going to the markets to buy and sell etc etc.
Clearly there was no shortage of work and the whole family had to help out: there was the wife and the children and the maid(s) and the men who looked after the animals. The rhythm of the seasons accelerated in summer and slowed down a little during the shorter days in winter. Perhaps all this helped to hold the family together. Only Sundays and holy days were days of rest. It's true, religious feasts were more numerous than now.
Hendrik Jr. farmed in the Muikem district in Assenede and in 1615 a land registry of this area referred to "... the farm where now lives Wauter Noel ..." In Zaffelare they also referred regular to Hendrik's brother Matthijs as Walter (or Walterius). It is therefore quite possible that their father was this so called Wauter Noel who also farmed in the Muikem district. But these are guesses and we wanted to write a scientifically accurate family history. So we start this work with Hendrik NoŽ.
Since we have no date of birth for his children and since we found no estate reckonings it is difficult to order them by their age. In order to decide who goes first we used approximate wedding dates even if we know full well that the oldest is not always to first to get married.
We have made a separate chapter for each known male descendant of Hendrik Sr.:
He married in 1654 and choose to live in St.Kruis-Winkel. We know many descendants of his who via Zelzate and Assenede went to Wachtebeke, St.-Margriete and Zeeuws-Vlaanderen (the Zeeland and since 1830 the Dutch part of Flanders).
As you can see from this short overview, each of the four sons of Hendrik chose a different place to live. Those distances nowadays no longer mean anything at all but in the 17th Century that was no doubt not the case: in summer the roads were rather dusty and full of holes to shake everything about and as soon as it rained a little the holes somehow staid and the rest of the road was transformed into either mud tracks with a kind of mud that was particularly sticky and heavy in many places or else the sand gave way and the wagons sunk away up to their axles.
Even though transportation was difficult and limited, this dispersion is not so very astonishing. The Eighty Years' War came to an end with the Treaty of Munster in 1648. During that war our region had been bled white and squeezed dry by undisciplined foreign troops. There had been so much prolonged destruction that many of the original population had fled never to return. In peace time some hoped to earn a living in agriculture on those abandoned (ruined) farms. And that is no doubt the explanation for the departure of Hendrik's sons. Eeklo and St-Kruis-Winkel may be fairly far away from each other, but let's not forget our NoŽ's started out from Assenede. Its Muikem district is closest to Eeklo and Eeklo's Eastfield where Matthijs went to live, is closest to Assenede. Which means Matthijs was in fact only at about 10 to 12 km from his birthplace.
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