Akke de Jong Hoekstra was my 2nd great grandmother; she emigrated from Berlikum, Menaldumadeel, Friesland, Netherlands to Orange City, Iowa in March of 1884. What is so amazing about this fact, to me, is that she was a widow, and 56 years of age. What a brave step, to leave behind everything she knew. What made her do it?
Akke was widowed in 1869 when she was 42 years old with six young children, ages 14, 12, 10, 8, 5, and 2. Her husband had been a garden farmer, so I imagine that chances are about 100% that Akke was struggling to make ends meet even before (but especially after) her husband died. She evidently continued her husband’s work after he died, employed as a gardeniersche–see the post about Akke in the Netherlands before her immigration.
Akke waited 15 years between the time she was widowed and the time she left the Netherlands for her new home in 1884. Family tradition says that the tipping point for the move was her son’s death in 1878 at the age of 18 from tuberculosis. The son died of tuberculosis, a disease that was much feared in areas of the Netherlands at that time; afraid that another child would contract the disease, or so the story goes, Akke emigrated to Orange City, Iowa. (1)
The facts that we know about her life from that point are few: she bought 80 acres of farmland near Orange City and farmed the land with her youngest son and two of her daughters. The oldest daughter was married and living in Orange City, so presumably this daughter was of some support to her. The son who was helping her farm returned to the Netherlands after four years to find a wife. That would have been about 1888. Her oldest daughter, age 33, was married and living in Orange City; she had another son, age 31, who was married with children and also living in Orange City; she had a daughter, age 26, who had been married for one year and was living near Alton Town, a town nearby; and she had a daughter, age 21 who was also married and had started a family, living in the area. Akke had a public sale in which everything was sold, and evidently at that point she moved into town to live with her oldest daughter in Orange City. The land was sold to this daughter’s husband, who was a carpenter. The daughter rented the land to her brother and his family for the next 25 years.
What of the 12 years between the time Akke moved to town to live with her oldest daughter and her death? With the exception of an obituary, no record for her life during those years is known to have been found. Her obituary gives one clue about her life in Orange City: “The funeral was held from the Christian Reformed Church Monday afternoon, of which denomination she was a devoted member, and was conducted by the regular pastor, Rev. E. Breen.” The Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in Orange City was a mainstay of her life. To understand Akke, we must understand what her religion and her church meant to her. (2)
Akke Hoekstra was buried at West Lawn Cemetery, Orange, City, Iowa. When I visited the West Lawn Cemetery in 2000 and took this picture of Akke’s gravestone, it was so weathered that the writing was unreadable. However, fortunately a family member took a photo of the stone in the 1960s when the writing was still legible. The inscription on the stone was written in Dutch, from Proverbs 10:7. The translation: “The memory of the righteous is a blessing.”
1. What was the history of the CRC (Christian Reformed Church) in Orange City from about 1884-1900? What records for that period might exist?
2. Over the past decade or so, there has been a great push to collect and translate immigrant letters. Akke had family that she left behind in the Netherlands. It’s reasonable to think that she wrote home, and it’s possible to imagine that such letters might still exist. If not her letters, then letters written by other women who immigrated around the same time would give us a good idea about what Akke’s life was like in the New World.
3. Did Akke leave a will? Records should be checked at the Sioux County courthouse.
4. So far I haven’t found Akke in any of the Iowa state census records. Where was she in the 1885 and 1895 Iowa census? She is not found in the 1900 U.S. census because she died before it was taken.
5. Who was Akke living with in Orange City at the time of her death? She originally went to live with her eldest daughter Tryntje van der Schaaf in Orange City after she sold her farm; however, Tryntje’s husband died in 1892 and she married Yge Mulder in 1894. In 1895, Akke is not listed as living with that family in the state census. Where is she in 1895? Then Tryntje Mulder is found in Chicago with her second husband in the 1900 U.S. census. According to the obituary, Akke was living “in her home” in Orange City when she died. Who was she living with?
(1) Without the help of Mrs. Imo Mulder of Orange City, Iowa, I don’t know if I would have been able to find out very much about Akke’s story. Imo Mulder has been researching the Hoekstra family in the Orange City area for many years, and she has put together a book so that she can share her genealogical research with her family. I am also indebted to her for the photograph of Akke.
(2) The photo of the First Christian Reformed Church is from the “Mulder” book by Imo Mulder. It was sent to me by Shari Zylstra Jacobsma, another of Akke’s 2nd great granddaughters. Shari is a tireless family researcher and also “connector” of Hoekstra ancestors who are scattered all over the Midwest. Shari is a go-to person for finding original records.