The Watermills of My Mind

The obituary for my great-great-grandfather Vital Eugene Louis DeBacker (1835-1918) states that he was employed as a miller by his father prior to leaving for America in 1883. Based on records I was provided years ago by fellow researchers in Belgium, the DeBacker and collateral families owned and operated wind and water mills in the region of East Flanders going back centuries. In fact, it appears that DeBacker men in Flanders tended to marry women who had family connections to the milling business. Back in 2012, I wrote a blog post about some of the discoveries I had made regarding these mills. Unfortunately, when I took down my website a few years ago, I forgot to back up the WordPress blog I had installed. Now I’m trying to piece back together the sources for that article. I have found a website in Belgium called which I think translates to “mill echoes.” The website documents over 8000 mills throughout the country of Belgium. At least two of the water mills listed belonged at one time to one or more of my ancestors. Both are located west of the city of Ronse (Renaix), East Flanders, the DeBacker ancestral home.

One of the watermills listed, Ter Bekemolen, was once owned by my ancestor Jean Baptiste DeDonder. The watermill was originally built in the 1600s. Documents show that in 1778 then owner John Baptiste DeDonder had a house built at the mill site. There were documented frequent problems with the water supply. Both flooding and water shortages were solved by a 10,000 m² saving pond. In the 1960s the mill stopped operations and the buildings were converted into a residence in 1976. The site is on the Mullenbeck River outside of Ronse. Traces of the residence built by Jean Baptiste are still visible. Jean Baptiste was the grandfather of my great-great-grandmother, Hortense Dedonder (1840-1923), wife of Vital.

Here is the web page for Ter Bekemolen at The page is in Flemish but use Google Translate to translate from Dutch to English.

The second watermill was owned by an ancestor at a site that is quite old. There has been a water mill located at this site going back to at least the 1200s. (Again, I am using Google Translate.)

Ijsmolen or “Ice Mill” takes its name from a pond mentioned as far back as 1275. The monastery of St. Hermes was originally located at that site from the time of Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne. In 1459, the monastery relocated north to a location on the Scheldt River.

In 1577, my 10th great-grandfather. Pierre Haustraete constructed a watermill at the location. In 1684 it was owned by Hermes Haustraete, a son of my 8th great-grandfather, Louis Haustraete. Then later in the 1700s, the site was owned by Jean Baptiste Delplace, a brother of my 5th great-grandmother, Jeanne Catherine Delplace.

The Haustraete and Delplace families were ancestors on Vital’s mother’s side of the family. His mother, Sophia Françoise Callewaert, was a great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Pierre Haustraete

What I just learned today is that the location of the Ijsmolen is now a private park described as having a bakery, reception area, petting zoo, and cabins for rent. Here is their website: Here is their Facebook page:

Both water mills are on the Belgian national historical registry; however, they’re not currently protected.

On the topic of DeBacker’s marrying into milling families, some years ago, a man in Belgium whose last name was Mollaert (Miller) shared with me some images of documents from the 1700s. One of the items was a pre-nuptial agreement between Andreas DeBacker, my 4th great-grandfather, and the Mollaert family. Andreas was married to another woman, Catherina Mollaert, prior to becoming a widower and marrying my ancestor, Anna Marie Van Den Daele. The prenuptial written in Flemish stated that in the event of Catherina Mollaert’s death that Andreas DeBacker would not inherit her property. During this period (the 1780s) in Flanders, married women were allowed to keep their own property. Also, young men usually tended to marry older women who were of means. Catherina was about 8 years older than Andreas DeBacker, and she apparently owned one or more windmills from which she gained income and her brother wanted to keep it in the family.

Here is a video showing an 18th Century watermill located on a series of ponds in West Sussex.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s