By Steve Raymond
News Report Staff
In 1874, a ship full of immigrants was pulling into the Chicago harbor.
Before the passengers were able to unload, a wave hit the ship and washed Joseph Verdeyen overboard.
One of the ship’s mates somehow grabbed Joseph and prevented him from being carried away.
“If it wasn’t for that ship’s mate, I wouldn’t be here today,” Andy Verdeyen noted.
You see, Joseph was Andy’s grandfather.
That’s just one of the many family facts Andy has discovered through the years while diligently researching the Verdeyen family’s genealogy.
“I have a real passion for this, plus I’m just nosey,” Andy admitted. “When you look at some of the books, it lists born dash died (born – died). It’s that dash that’s important. That’s where the interesting family stories are.”
Andy, who just turned 78, didn’t start hunting genealogy information until he was 55 years ago. But he had an interest as a teenager back in the 1940s.
“I liked to visit old people,” he said. “Most of the ladies all had those buns on top of their head and I always wondered what they looked like when they were younger. So I started collecting old wedding pictures.”
But his drive and passion really kicked in after he retired from World Color Press in 2001 after a 30-year career. And it’s quite remarkable what all he has accomplished in the past 15 years.
He has researched the Verdeyen family back to 1586. He knows his descendants were farmers from Belgium and that they came to the United States in 1874.
“The family just got too large for the farm,” Andy said. “They heard there was cheap land in America.”
Andy’s great-grandfather, Henri Josse Francios Verdeyen, and his wife Mathilde, first settled in Chicago and lived there for approximately five years. The family then moved to Florida and opened a dry goods store. When that store failed, they headed back to Illinois.
On June 17, 1885, they purchased two 80-acre farms from Illinois Central Railroad. The land was located near Elliottstown. They paid $2 an acre -- or the grand total of $160. Some of the ground was selling for as low as $1.25 per acre at that time.
“When I started, I decided to look into the older people, our ancestors, first,” Andy noted. “Verdeyen is an unusual name. That made it a lot easier. If our last name was Smith, it would be much, much tougher.”
The family’s Catholic roots also helped.
“Years ago, most people couldn’t read or write,” Andy pointed out. “But the priests in the Catholic Church were good about recording names, plus dates of births and deaths. Because of that, there are great church records that are very searchable. For Protestants and Independents, it’s much more difficult.”
During his research, Andy discovered he had a half-brother and half-sister he never knew about. His father had been married once before, “but that was just something that wasn’t talked about.”
Andy was also able to connect with a man in Germany, who does a lot of family research, and provided some information about the Verdeyens.
“There are no horse thieves in the family,” Andy proudly acknowledged.
Over these past 15 years, Andy has also uncovered some interesting local history, as well
Did you know the Liberty Bell made a stop in Effingham County?
“It only made one trip through the United States,” Andy said. “And one of the stops was in Altamont.”
He also researched how many people in the county have lived 100 years or longer. To date, he’s found more than 130.
He has also heard interesting stories from others.
LoElla Baker, who works in the Genealogy Department at Effingham Public Library, told him her great-grandmother was related to the outlaw Jesse James. She thinks.
“We can’t document this, but it’s a story that’s been passed down through our family for many years,” LoElla said.
“She lived in a log cabin around where the country club is now,” LoElla added. “Supposedly, Jesse James would come to visit. And before he left, he always put some money in the sugar bowl. Like I said, we can’t prove it. But family members say it’s true.”
But none of this information came quickly. It’s taken Andy years to accumulate this knowledge and he has filing cabinets full of data to prove it. He also keeps “interesting things” in a tool box.
“I started with a good computer program. I used Family Tree Maker,” Andy said.
He started with a blank screen.
“It asked who my mother and father was and just kept going from there,” he explained. “You put in names of brothers, sisters, grandparents and so on. You just continue and provide as many names as you can.”
Andy has utilized the local library a lot. He has looked at marriage and death records. He has found information in family Bibles and from other family trees. There is also information available from the census, church records, newspapers, history books and county records.
“You can also find stuff on the Internet if you know where to look,” Andy added. “But a lot of the resources you need are right here at the library.”
Andy does research almost every week, even when he’s on vacation or down in Florida during the winter months.
“I’m always on the lookout for information,” he admitted. “It’s a time commitment. I realize I spend a lot of hours doing this. At least that’s what my wife tells me.”
LoElla Baker and Cathy Heiden are two volunteers who help people with their research at the library.
“People want to know about genealogy for different reasons,” LoElla said. “Andy wants to know what his ancestors look like, what they did and stories about them. Others just want to know when their ancestors were born and died. One man we worked with just wanted to know the medical history of his family.”
Both LoElla and Cathy said people from all over the world have been to the library to do research.
“Some will spend their entire week of vacation here doing genealogy,” Cathy added.
“They have great resources here that are organized,” Andy said. “And they have good people that volunteer to help.”
Andy and his wife, Alberta, have three children – Andrew, Patrick and Robin.
It was for his family, Andy took his research a bit further. In addition to just accumulating the information, he has put together several books. He has books on his father’s family, mother’s family and his wife’s family. In addition, he has a baby book, another about his military career and two books that just contain stories about his life. Combined, there are nearly 140 stories.
“I thought my kids might want to know about all this someday,” Andy said.
Plus, he now knows his wife’s family originally came from Germany and settled in Effingham County in 1861 or 1862. In addition, he knows that her great-grandfather, Emanuel Knierman, served in the Civil War and lived to be 97.
“Genealogy is not only good, it’s important,” Andy explained. “Sometimes it starts with a picture or some bit of information you write down. You just gather a little bit at a time.
“But that’s what makes me curious. And then I start hunting.”