Pete & Grace Brinkman, my parents, were married on this day in 1938 in Worthington, Nobles County, Minnesota. Peter turned 24 that April, and Grace would turn 19 the following January. They were married in Grace’s parents’ home by a minister from the Church of Christ at about 2:20 in the the afternoon. Grace’s sister Dorothy was matron of honor, and Dorothy’s husband Melvin stood as Pete’s best man.
Newspaper clippings describing the ceremony, saved in my mother’s scrapbook, referred to the groom as Peter Ennenga, not Peter Brinkman. (Ennenga was the surname of Dad’s step-father.) However, he is recorded by his birth name on their marriage certificate and in the Nobles County marriage record book. They were still living in Worthington, Minnesota, at the time of the 1940 census, listed as Pete and Grace Ennenga once again. They moved to California by 1942, when their first daughter was born, leaving behind family and friends to make a new life for themselves. They would have two more daughters over the next ten years.
Together, they worked to bring up their three daughters in a stable and loving home–Dad an expert mechanic, Mom a proficient homemaker. Life was full of ups and downs, but they stayed together through it all, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health. Pete and Grace lived together in this life for over 64 years, until my mother passed away in July, 2003, at the age of 83. He would follow her in death almost a year later, almost to the day. He was 90 years old.
It was 1993, maybe ’94, when I found the first records of my Brinkman ancestors. My daughter attended BYU tennis camp that summer, so I spent four days at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. It was my first trip there, and I wasn’t disappointed.
I spent hours, days even, poring over microfilm, combing through census and vital records, searching bookshelves. The dead ends were definitely frustrating, but every new bit of information I found quickly refueled my enthusiasm to keep on searching. The genealogy bug had bit me big time.
I returned from that trip loaded with documents and new information, eager to share it all with my father. Among the items were his grandfather Kobus Brinkman’s naturalization document, pages from a volume of Germans to America showing Kobus Brinkman as a passenger from Bremen with his siblings and his father arriving in New York in 1873, and an entry for Kobus Brinkman in a Sibley, Iowa death register. I was so excited to have found such treasures, but wasn’t sure whether Dad would share my enthusiasm. As it turned out, he was moderately interested, more than I expected. As I recall, these records caused him to open up a little bit. If only I had written down what he told me that day, but alas…
Family secrets, mysteries, untold stories. These can be like catnip to a curious mind. They drive us crazy until we can puzzle them out to our satisfaction. They can also be great motivators for digging into family history.
My father was given the name Peter Jakobus at birth–Peter, after his father, and Jakobus, after his grandfather. However, he always went by Pete, or Peter, or Peter J. I learned my father’s middle name when I was a child. I believe my mother told me. The first time he heard “Peter Jakobus” come off my lips, however, I was told, in no uncertain terms, calling him by his middle name was strictly forbidden. He told me it was his dad’s father’s name and never wanted to hear it mentioned in his house. What Dad said was law, but I always wondered why he held such a grudge against his grandfather.
In fact, he held a grudge against his father’s whole family. He never spoke of them. We grew up, my sisters and I, never knowing the Brinkmans of Sibley, Iowa. He often said that he felt abandoned by them, but I never understood why. The question lingers with me even today.
I am discovering more and more of the truth behind this tale, however, through my own research efforts. Will I ever know the whole story? Probably not, since they are all gone. One thing is for sure, though. Just like the many thought-provoking puzzles Dad would challenge me with as a little girl, I am determined to puzzle this one out, too.