The theme for the 4th week of the 52 Ancestors challenge is to write about the ancestor whose birthday is closest to my own. This also happens to be one of the ancestors who is closest to my heart, my paternal grandmother, Agnes Hoekstra Roorda. She was born on February 22;* I was born on February 21. Had she lived beyond her 30th birthday, she would have been only 58 years old when I was born, a stunning thought, since she seems to exist so far back in the family memory. “Finding Agnes” is one of those stories that makes a person believe that the information about our ancestors is guarded by angels, and is available to us if only we will go looking for them.
Agnes is my father’s mother, although since she died at the age of 30 when he was only two years old, I never knew much of anything about her. My interest in genealogy didn’t develop until after my father died, so when I started looking for her, I had virtually no information about her and few people in the family who were reliable informants. Dad was the last of her five children, and I don’t remember him ever speaking about his mother, Agnes. Nor do I remember ever hearing her name spoken at my grandfather’s house, where the large extended family of my father’s siblings and half-siblings would gather for regular Sunday visits. The only grandmother I knew from my father’s side was Grandma Roorda, my grandfather’s second wife and mother to the second group of five children fathered by my grandfather, RJR. At this point, there’s no good answer to the question about why Agnes was never mentioned within the family. It just seems to have been one of those things that even a child knew not to ask. Now that I’m an adult and old enough to be a grandmother myself, it pains me that we never spoke of her, and that family silence is certainly one of the things that has fueled my search for her. I’ve already written about Agnes’s grandmother, Akke de Jong Hoekstra. Whenever I try to write about Agnes, I struggle with strong feelings about her difficult and tragic life. I’m sure she found great joy in her children, and that thought is some comfort.
*It now seems entirely possible that Agnes and I actually share the same birthday. A cousin recently [this past week recently] found a birth announcement for her, dated February 21, 1894. The February 22 birthdate is taken from her death certificate and her gravestone, both of which probably came from the same informant, and which is quite possibly incorrect. Whoot! A careful look in the county courthouse records at Orange City is needed.