This section of the site will be used to develop information only on Belgium settlers in Oconto County. For general information regarding the county we will refer you to and coordinate with the Oconto County Genealogy web site (http://www.rootsweb.com/~wioconto/). This is being done to avoid duplication of information already available on a web site and allow time to develop information that pertains only to this site.
The first formal organizational meeting of this county was held on 4 Nov. 1851 to form a county out of Brown County. The purpose of the meeting was to decide on proposed boundaries, a name and county seat. The people living in the area where considered wilderness dwellers when the 1850 Brown County United States census was taken. This was a large area of virgin timber inhabited mainly by the Menomonee Indians. The county was formed on February 6, 1851.
The approved boundaries were the west shore of Green Bay, Michigan State border to the north, Marathon County to the west and Brown County to the south. The county is located approximately 130 miles north west of the City of Milwaukee. In June 1852 the first election was held to elect the first county officers. The polls were closed at sundown and 83 people had voted. Another election was held in July 1852 because some of those elected were not qualified to hold office. The first census was taken in December of 1852 and showed 415 residence living in the vast area.
This was an area of virgin land settled mainly by French, French Canadians and people from the eastern states who had migrated to the area. The French and French Canadians were mainly interested in trapping, the eastern settlers in lumber, and there were the people who developed business who supported these trades. As the land was cleared of timber it was generally sold cheap. The people starting farming and this became the largest occupation in the area. This is the area the Belgium immigrants started coming into in the 1850's.
From this beginning it has developed into a county of almost 32,000 people by the latest census. The size of the county has been decreased by the separation of Marinette, Shawno and Menomonee Counties. The county according to official records currently contains 1,006 square miles of area. The county is still quite rural in atmosphere and contains a lot of timber area none of it virgin. It does have the Nicholet National Forrest, which covers considerable area. The southern eastern part of the county is becoming an area of suburban homes for people working in Green Bay, Brown County.
There is very little indication of the first industries of this county trapping, lumbering and fishing but there are still many family run farms in the county. They have a paper mill, cheese factory, and cruiser builder to mention a few of the current business in the county. It is also a tourist area for fishing, hunting and winter sports.
Oconto County is divided into 23 townships, also referred to as towns; 3 cities, 2 villages and some unincorporated areas. Click here, if you want to know more about the functions of these different governmental divisions.
The three cities are Oconto, Oconto Falls and Gillett. The villages are Lena and Suring.
There is some duplication of names for units of government. There is in Oconto County a township of Oconto, which surrounds the city of Oconto. There is also a township of Oconto Falls as well as the city and last an unincorporated area referred to as Pensaukee as well as a township of Pensaukee.
You can look for maps & a list of all townships at www.rootsweb.com/~wioconto/maps.htm.
Too see histories and descriptions of individual towns, villages, cities and unincorporated areas check out www.rootsweb.com/~wioconto/towns.htm
For the general history of Oconto county please go to www.rootsweb.com/~wioconto/history.htm.
The first Belgium I have seen written up in Oconto County is Frank Ruelle who has a biography in the History of Northern Wisconsin 1881. A summary is listed below.
You may want to check the Time Line at www.rootsweb.com/~wioconto/timeline.htm this has major events in the county history listed and dates settlers arrived in the county.
The following will give you the information for obtaining birth, marriage, death, and similar type records from Oconto, State of Wisconsin and Library sources:
Grave Stone Transcriptions
- www.rootsweb.com/~wioconto then go down to census section on the main page.
The biggest repository for information on the immigrants from Belgium is the Cofrin Library located at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay, Green Bay, Wisconsin. This library has the largest amount of information, at one location, on all the settlers in northeastern Wisconsin.
On the web please refer to www.uwgb.edu/library/dept/spc.html
Please go to www.rootsweb.com/~wioconto/hisgensc.htm
Oconto county had some Belgium settlers who emigrated directly from Belgium, but the biggest influx of Belgium families came from the children who emigrated to Door, Brown and Kewaunee counties with their parents. As these children reached adult hood, married, followed the lumber industry and looked to build their own farms many looked to Oconto County and stayed. Others came to the area for awhile and then moved on to Marinette County, Upper Michigan, Brown County and some returned to their original areas.
Frank Ruelle was born March 24, 1827 in Belgium. He emigrated from his homeland in 1855 staying in Green Bay, WI. for one year, before moving to Oconto and settling there permanently. When he first arrived he worked in the mills until 1860 when he became the jail keeper for approximately 18 months.
He next enlisted in 1861, to serve in the Civil War as a member of Company G, 17th Wisconsin infantry. He was discharged one year later because of physical disabilities. After his discharge he returned to Oconto and worked in the mills until 1865.
In 1865 he opened a saloon in Oconto. Mr. Ruelle was active in his community as he was a village trustee for six years and served as an alderman from at least 1875 to 1881. Like many people in Oconto County he was a Republican. He was also active in the G.A.R Legion Post of Oconto County as a veteran of the civil war, as he is listed as a member in 1880. He is shown on the 1880 census in Oconto, West Ward as Frank Rule age 54, his wife Mary age 46 and occupation as keeps saloon.
We know he spent the rest of his life in the area, because the Oconto Reporter on May 5, 1883 reported the sudden death of his wife Mrs. Frank Ruelle at the residence of her husband on May 4, 1883. His death is shown in the pre 1907 deaths for Oconto on 06 Sept. 1896
Mr. Ruelle arrival was close in time to several others I am aware of, for which I currently have no biographic information available.
Belgium HomeClick here for a description of a typical home, built by a Belgian emigrant in this century.
This area will be expanded in the future as more people post information. To look for family names and connection at this time please go to the following:
Belgium Settlers in Oconto CountyLocated by search of census records and other sources. If a woman appears as wife of, it indicates she is Belgium descendent and husband a different nationality. Wives maiden names are enclosed in ( ) brackets and if the wife's nationality is not known she is listed after the husband with name enclosed in ( ) brackets. Names taken from census records spelled as they appeared.
If you know of others please contact me and I will add to the list. This will be an ongoing item as I have time to search additional census records.
BMary Boulois wife of Joseph Boulois,
CJoseph and Mary Cota; Xandra Culligan wife of Joseph Culligan,
DJohn & Constance (Vauguiere) Degeneffe; Joseph & Mary Dehut; August Detaeje (wife Mary Hana)
FServias & Marie Dieudomonne (Delfosse) Fabry,
GWilliam and Angeline Gautier, Clement Joseph and Marie (Swiller) Gauthier, Constance Gregorie and Leocadia L (Binon) Gauthier, Max and Tounise Gretean, Eloria Gretern, Joseph James and Emily (Beraben) Gretan,
HFrank & Mary Henricks, Christine Hurly
LJean Joseph and Mary Elizabeth (Pensis) LaCourt, Alexis & Christine (Forcier) Laduron; Boniface & Theresa (Lefevre) Laduron, Gerard & Mathilda (Fabry) Laduron, Jean Baptiste (aka John) and Adele (Chartrand) Laduron; Louis and Arsel (Williquest) Laduron; Mary Lapage wife of Frank Lapage; Joseph & Mary (Spinette) Lebrecte; Leopoled and Josephine (Namur) Lefevre; Charles & Mary Longire; Sebrain & Mary Louis; Ann Luchoutos wife of Daniel Luchautos;
NJean Francis (aka Frank) & Josephine (Laduron) Noel;
RCatherine Rosencrantz wife of Peter Rosencrantz; Frank & Mary Ruelle;
SLouis & Mary Sebrain; Charles & Mary Spinette;
VEmil and Victoria (Ducat) Vlies; William Vanberwegh
WWilliam Wanderwegen; Charles and Emma Werrebroeck