About thirty years ago, my grandmother Anna Agin told me a very painful story about the time she lost an infant child. I remember her saying the baby died in childbirth or shortly thereafter. I can still picture my grandmother’s anguished face as she recalled how she sobbed holding the dead infant in her arms and how she refused to let go of the baby when it came time for the burial.
With the passage of time, I remembered some aspects of the story but not others. How did the child die? Was it a boy or a girl? When exactly did this tragic event happen?
I now have the documentary proof. A couple of weeks ago, when my sister Cathy and I spent a day combing through vital records at the New Jersey Department of Archives and Records Management in Trenton, New Jersey, we found a death certificate for Mary Anna Agin, aged one month and 29 days.
Mary Anna was born on August 15, 1924, about ten months after my grandparents were married. The young family lived in Raritan, New Jersey. Apparently, they were living with Anna’s parents, Andrew and Mary Sabol, at 92 Somerset Street.
According to the death certificate, little Mary Anna was “found dead in bed by mother; probable cause of death convulsions due to acute gastritis.” I wonder if this would have been diagnosed today as sudden infant death syndrome.
So my recollection was mostly right. But the baby was not a newborn. She lived for nearly two months, which makes the loss seem even more cruel.
My grandparents went on to have three additional children. My Aunt Tillie (her given name was Matilda) was born in 1925. My mother Lillian was born in 1928. And my Uncle Harry was born in 1931.
My grandmother fiercely loved her kids. But she would never forget her first child, who didn’t live long enough to know her younger siblings.