My grandmother was born 115 years ago today. Both of my grandmothers were born in March. Today, though, is the 115th anniversary of the birth of my paternal grandmother, Dorothy Mignonette Clausen Hendrickson. Taking cues from other family history bloggers, I’m writing occasional birthday profiles of my ancestors, and Dorothy — my “Grandma Hendrickson” — is the first.
Dorothy Mignonette Clausen was born in the small, central Iowa town of Duncombe in 1904, the second-youngest of seven children. Duncombe is a tiny town surrounded by farmland and situated between Webster City on the east and Fort Dodge on the west. Her eldest brother was born in 1883 and was already an adult by the time she was born. The only one of Grandma’s siblings I remember well is her younger sister Hazel, whom I met a few times and who was a common part of family conversations.
My grandmother’s life is still in many ways a mystery to me. Her father Jacob was a Danish immigrant who arrived in Iowa in the 19th century with his parents and two brothers, Hans and Rasmus. Her mother’s family history stretches back to America’s earliest days, with deep roots in colonial Virginia and quite probably the north shore of Long Island, among other places, before later generations made the trek westward across the Ohio Valley to Iowa. Most likely the descendants of Puritans, these ancestors bore Biblical names like Obadiah, Theophilus, Martha, and Lydia.
As a girl, Grandma went from Duncombe to Dubuque in eastern Iowa to attend St. Joseph Academy, which has recently become a subject of interest and research for me. My curiosity is piqued about what she was doing there, as she didn’t talk much about it, and I learned of this mostly from my father. Like most Danish immigrants, Grandma’s father had Lutheran roots in Denmark, and the family was essentially Methodist/Nazarene in America, so I don’t have an explanation for why she was sent to a Catholic school away from her central Iowa home. Her parents met and married in eastern Iowa, so pursuing that connection is a future line of research for me.
Grandma would eventually attend college and spend time teaching English. I believe she was a significant influence in my father’s lifelong love of reading, which he passed on to me. She seems to have been fairly close to at least one of her older brothers, and I earlier wrote about her trips to see his family, including a niece, Mignonette, who shared her middle name.
She married my grandfather, Carl Hendrickson, in 1927 in Sioux City, Iowa, officiated by a Lutheran pastor. They raised my father, an only child, in Morningside. They were married for more than 60 years.
My earliest memories of my grandmother are scattered across Iowa, where all of my family originated … New Mexico, where we lived … and southern California, where my grandparents eventually retired.
When my sister and I visited her and my grandfather in California, my grandmother would bring out a box of dolls for us. I still remember how special those dolls seemed … for no particular reason, I think, other than that they were hers and only came out when we came to visit. As kids, we accompanied them several times to the beach at Oceanside … or to San Diego, where we took tour boats out into the harbor and visited Sea World, the Wild Animal Park, and perhaps my grandmother’s favorite, Balboa Park.
My grandmother was a quiet and fastidious woman who collected glass birds and teacups. She liked to play bridge and travel with my grandfather. In their later years, she and my grandfather volunteered at the hospital in Escondido. She eventually developed Parkinson’s disease, among other complications, and she died before my grandfather did. I was in graduate school when she passed away, so was blessed to have had her in my life for a long time.
My grandmother and I were different in many ways but similar in others. I understand now that she experienced both sorrows and joys in her life. I think of her often, and I miss her. Family history research always provides new insights and appreciations for those who went before us, even those we think we knew. Given the chance today, I would have many questions and so much I would like to understand. Some day. Rest in perfect peace, Grandma.