The Tale Of The Mirror: Looking For Facts Behind Family Myths
When I got married my dear mother had arranged for a very special bridal gift: a large antique mirror that had been passed on from mother to daughter for generations. The mirror came with a family myth. It had once belonged to my great grandmother Anne–Co who received it as a bridal gift from her father who was a carpenter.
The marriage between Anne–Co and Frederic was said to be a bit unusual. It was a marriage "by proxy", meaning that the groom was not present at the ceremony. This was common practice with soldiers and other government officials stationed in one of the Dutch colonies, as was the groom. After the marriage in 1909 she sailed for Atjeh, Indonesia, on her own taking the mirror with her.
The Family Myth
The story goes that her first child was not her own but that she was the result of an affair between Frederic and an Indonesian beauty before he married Anne–Co. Her second child –my grandmother– was born in Indonesia and her younger sister saw the light on board the ship when the family headed back for Holland in 1919. As did the mirror.
My grandmother inherited the mirror from her mother and later passed it on to my mother. She took it to Spain where it stayed for eight years before finally heading back to Holland again.
Of course, this is a beautiful story and it would make a great plot for a soap opera. But since I take family history seriously I set out to find out the facts –if any– behind the myth.
Searching For Truth In The Myth
Looking up the marriage certificate already revealed that the marriage was not by proxy. It was a normal matrimony that took place in Amsterdam on May 21, 1909. Passenger lists show that the newly wed couple left for Indonesia together on the SS Queen Wilhelmina on 29th of May 1909, eight days after the marriage. The trip to Batavia would have taken them at least six weeks followed by another boat trip from Batavia to Atjeh on the northern tip of Sumatra. It is not clear when exactly they arrived there, but it is a fair estimation that the whole trip took them about 2 months. They will certainly have not arrived in Atjeh before July 1, 1909.
Their first daughter Anna was born on November 9, 1910. In spite of the exciting adoption story nothing indicates that it ever took place. Given the dates it is very likely that Anne–Co simply got pregnant from her husband a couple of months after setting up a home in Atjeh. Children's pictures of a very blond Anna seem to support this theory.
The marriage certificate of Anne–Co and Frederic made it also clear that her father was not a carpenter but a diamond cutter from Amsterdam. So he probably did not give her the mirror or at least it is very likely that he did not make the mirror himself. I dug around the family in search of a carpenter and found out that Frederic's grandfather from mother's side was a cabinetmaker. The problem was that he was already dead by the time the couple got married. So where did the mirror come from?
Where The Mirror Came From
I took a closer look at the mirror and found out it was in Biedermeier style. This furniture style was dominant between 1815 and 1848. Although I have no proof yet, it seems a likely hypothesis that he made the mirror for his own bride Johanna around 1825. She may have given the mirror to her daughter Alida as a bridal gift in 1855. Finally Alida –lacking a married daughter of her own– gave it to her daughter in law, my great grandmother.
Some day I will do the same as Alida and pass it on to a lovely daughter in law when one of my boys gets married. But only on the condition that she will continue this beautiful 6 generations old tradition...