Happy 198th birthday to my oldest great-grandmother!

How can it be almost 200 years since my oldest great-grandma was born (on April 18, 1820)? She was walking this earth only three generations ahead of me. It makes me feel both old (I’m considerably older than Agatha was when she died) and young: the baby of my generation. With that many years between her and me, though, it’s no wonder that I know very little about her.

Agatha Bisson was born in Enkhuizen, which in 1820 was a lovely city on what used to be the Zuider Zee. My research tells me that in the 18th century it was as important a port as Amsterdam.

The port of Enkhuizen in modern times (image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

I know nothing about Agatha’s early life, but on Christmas Eve, 1851, she married my great-grandfather, Theodorus Leonardus van Raaphorst, in Amsterdam. Three months later her oldest son and my grandfather, Christiaan Frederik van Raaphorst, was born. I’m sure he was named for Agatha’s father, Christiaan Frederik Bisson.

Agatha, Theodorus, and their children lived in Amsterdam for a while, and then moved back and forth several times between Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Along the way they had four children and lost two of them, both in infancy or early childhood. The two who survived were my grandfather and his younger brother Antonius.

At some time between 1867 and 1871, when the boys would have been adolescents, Theodorus disappeared. Or so the family story goes; perhaps Agatha knew where he was all along. By 1871 Agatha and sons were living in Amsterdam with her mother. She died in 1880, at the age of about 60. Theodorus was still listed on her death certificate as her husband.

Theodorus came back, 30 years later, after his oldest son was grown, married, and had a family of his own. Theodorus simply knocked on their door and asked to be taken in, and they did that,  until they discovered that the expensive-looking pocket watch he had was fake! Then they asked him to be on his way.

I’d love to know more about Agatha and Theodorus. Was she “difficult to be around,” as some family members implied? Was Theodorus a “bad actor”or “black sheep” and to be blamed for the family’s seemingly unstable life? How did they meet? Where was Theodorus for 30 years and why did he come back?

So many mysteries…

For more information

van Raaphorst family page