Friday, December 22, 2006

Louis Winje Drowning in 1893

Early in the process of researching the Winje Family, I discovered that Eric and Bertina Winje (my great great grandmother and her second husband) lost their eldest son when he drowned in Lake Superior harbor. Curious, I began to uncover what happened. I recently ran across an article published in the Duluth Evening Herald on August 21, 1893, that gives more detail than I had previously found. Reading it for the first time brought tears to my eyes. I have invested so much time discovering the experiences of the members of this family that I feel a connection to each of them.

While reading the article below, imagine how you would feel if you were Judge Winje--suddenly responsible for the death of your precious eldest son, just at the point when he was about to make his way in the world and fulfill his potential. How would/could you face your family after such a tragedy? Could you continue your job as a public servant? Only a couple of days after the accident, which happened on Sunday, August 20, 1893, Winje was required to hold municipal court and preside over cases brought against the city's drunks and vagrants. His son's body had not yet been found. Citizens in nineteenth century America believed that duty came first... no matter what.

(Note: although the newspaper indicates the victim is "Lewis" Winje, I spell his name "Louis" Winje in my family history writings.)

Went to the Bottom
The Steamer Lucille Ran Into and Sank the Steam Launch Ellida
Last Evening
Lewis Winje Jumped Overboard and Although a Good Swimmer
Was Not Seen Afterward
Judge Winje Remained on the Launch and Was Saved
--The Lucille Not to Blame
A most unfortunate and distressing accident occurred on the bay last evening at 8:45 o'clock which resulted in the drowning of Lewis Winje, age 19 years, son of Judge Winje, of the municipal court. The judge and Lewis were up the St. Louis river during the day on the steam lauch Ellida. They had a party with them but unloaded the others at West Duluth and were returning alone. The launch had passed through the opening in the dyke in the Rice's point channel and was a short distance beyond when the steamer Lucille struck her amidships breaking in her side, bursting her feed pipe and filling everything with steam.

Judge Winje remained in the boat but Lewis jumped at the first crash. As quickly as possible the judge was taken aboard but nothing could be seen of the young man. He was an excellent swimmer too, but owing to the chilliness wore heavy clothes and these probably dragged him down. The launch sank in about five minutes.

Capt. D. J. Clow of the Lucille says that he was running along in the channel when suddenly he saw a small boat within 100 feet of him. It carried no lights, contrary to the government rules, or he would have seen it further off. He immediately stopped his engine and as the launch seemed to be taking the Rice's point side threw his wheel over to the other side. Just then the Ellida swerved right across the Lucille's bow and almost before Capt. Clow could think his boat crashed into the little one. He immediately jumped down on to the launch but could not see anything because of the escaping steam. A minute or two later he felt the boat sinking and jumped back to his own. By that time Judge Winje was aboard and he learned of the boy jumping over. A boat was lowered at once but not a trace of him could be found.

Both Judge Winje and Capt. Clow were at the office of Inspector Clark and Monahan this morning and made verbal reports and this afternoon written reports will be drawn. Judge Winje attaches no blame to the Lucille.

Lewis, was a young man of good promise, an excellent scholar, and the loss is very keenly felt by his parents. His body had not been recovered up to early this afternoon.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Letters in Norway

The persistent shall be rewarded... I just received word that a lady (Astri) in Norway is scanning some old letters for me; they were sent to her relatives in Hemne, Soer-Troendelag, by Winje Family members as early as 1869. I was bouncing off the wall after reading her e-mail!

The letters are all in Norwegian, of course, which means some translation is in order. It is exciting to know that more family history will be discovered, but the main thing that touches me is the ability to "see" into the thoughts and expressions of the letter-writers. It is like receiving a letter myself from someone I have always wanted to know. Even more special that the letters cross time, as well as space: a couple of them are 138 years old. I am told that some are from Lars Eriksen Winje, and also his eldest son, Eric, but also Eric's younger brother, Ingebrigt, about whom nothing is really known yet. Another letter is by Eric's eldest daughter, Regina Winje Strand, who wrote to tell her father's friends that her uncle, Ingebrigt Winje, was dead. Regina was only a girl when she wrote the letter (about 16), and not too many years later, at age 25, she died of "heart disease" on her grandfather's homestead in Sparta Township, near Wegdahl. She had given birth to six children by then.

How did I originally find out that any letters existed? A few years ago, I discovered an online article written by a gentleman, now deceased, who happens to be Astri's father. Surprisingly, the article was about the Winje Family, who in 1869, were apparently the first to leave their village of Vinjeoera for America ( I e-mailed the webmaster of the site, who put me in contact with Astri. She very graciously offered to help, and I can hardly wait... It's like Christmas at age five, all over again.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Johnson/Winje/Larson Family Photo

Bertina Johnson Winje (78), with three granddaughters and two daughters.  L to R:  Josephine Larson,
 Thea Larson, Emma Larson, Bertina Johnson winje, Julia Johnson Larson, and Emma Winje.
 I wanted to share this wonderful three generation photograph. Cheryl Nibler found that her mother, Phyllis Johnson Rice, had a copy of it in a box of mementos. The photo was taken in July 1919 at the Larson residence outside of Montevideo, Minnesota, only six months after Julia became a widow. Look at the great hats!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Family History Book in Progress

I'd like to reassure everyone interested that I am still plodding along on the Johnson/Winje book. A year of classes in genealogy and family history research and writing through University of Washington Extension has helped a tremendous amount. I feel confident that some important stones have been overturned, with choice bits discovered underneath! I loved the certificate program so much that I have signed up for another writing workshop this autumn with the same instructor.

A Long Way Downstream is a biography of Thibertine "Bertina" Johnson Winje of Grong, Nord-Troendelag, Norway. The book will include information on her origins in Norway, her two husbands, Baard Johnson and Eric Larsen Winje, as well as each of her ten children: Ole Martin Johnson, Ellen Julie Johnson Larson, Berthe Regine Winje Strand, Louis Peter Winje, Lena Marie Winje, Emma M. Winje, Emma Thalette Winje, Edward Theodore Winje, Hattie Christine Winje, and Annie Jorgene Winje. Due to the efforts of extremely helpful relatives, I have emassed quite a collection of photographs and family details for this project. I look forward to a winter of cozying up to the computer to finish the book so I can share it next year. Wish me luck...

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Sloan (Slaaen) & the Civil War

On Saturday, I hop on a plane again to visit my mom, Doris, and sister, Becky, who live in Oxford, Alabama. This time, I am planning a drive out to Marietta National Cemetery near Atlanta, where I hope to find the grave of Thor Paulsen Sloan (Slaaen), an uncle of my great grandmother, Anna Marie Sloan Berge. Thor P. Sloan died as a Union soldier in June 1864 at the town of Big Shanty (now called Kennesaw) Georgia.

I was not aware that any part of my mother's family had arrived in America early enough to participate in the Civil War, until I found a website detailing Thor's experience as a Union soldier. The Sloans arrived in Wisconsin in the 1850s and settled in Dane County, along with many other Norwegians. Thor, a bachelor farmer in his prime, accepted a call for volunteers in December 1861. He became part of Company E (Odin's Rifles) in the 15th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, also known as the "Scandinavian Regiment." After an amazing two and a half years of surviving the war, Sargent Sloan was mortally wounded while making coffee at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain.  A copy of his photograph is owned by the Wisconsin Historical Society.

I had quite a surprise in September 2004 when I visited Dale Finch of Brainerd, Minessota. Dale is a grandson of Anna Marie Sloan Berge. In his possession was a photo of Thor P. Sloan in civilian clothes. The handwriting on the mat of that family-owned photo matches the handwriting on the mat of the unretouched Civil War portrait  of Thor that is now owned by the Wisconsin Historical Society. This is proof that Thor was a member of my great grandmother's family.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Welcome, Family and Friends

This blog is for keeping track of, and sharing my family research and discoveries. I hope it will also increase the level of sharing and contact between family members, both near and far. If you leave a comment, you'll want to avoid putting any really personal information or dates here, to protect your privacy.

I have been researching my mother's Norwegian-American family for several years now. In 2003, I finished compiling the biographies of my Minnesota-born grandfather, Ernest Johnson, and his nine brothers and sisters (Bennett, Cora, Thea, Odin, Mabel, Oral, Ruben, Carl, and Frank), plus their descendants. A Johnson History, Part II was a rather costly product, since it was put into a format that could be added to in future.


In the spring of this year I began a project to repair the broken 1888 Winje monument at Scandia Cemetery in Duluth, Minnesota. Although the bushes/trees alongside the base were cut to ground level last summer, the roots continued to grow and pushed the monument over soon afterwards. As the very first marker on the family plot, the five-foot granite stone records the deaths of three children born to Eric and Thibertina "Bertina" Winje:  Hattie, 5, and Annie, 2, both died from diphtheria within days of each other in the spring of 1888, and Louis drowned in a tragic boating accident at age 18 in August 1893. There have been delays with the monument company, but after several phone calls, I am told to expect an estimate shortly. In the meantime, the Duluth summer is ticking away.

Winje monument after the damage
(Photo by Gloria Conrad, April 2006,
Scandia Cemetery, Duluth, Minnesota.)

A BIG "thank you" to those who have sent donations. A portion of the money was used to do the final engraving on Emma T. Winje's flat marker stone, also at Scandia. When she was buried in Duluth in 1970, after passing away at a nursing home in Fridley, Minnesota, the year of her death was not engraved. Emma was born on her parents' Chippewa prairie homestead in Granite Falls Township in 1879. During her long life, she was a teacher, millner, care-taker, piano-instructor, stenographer, and election clerk, among other things: truly a female "jack of all trades." She was also a beloved daughter, sister, aunt, and friend to many. Because of family cooperation, we have now been able to complete that final task for Emma. That feels REALLY good, doesn't it?

Emma T. Winje
(Photo taken in Peoria, IL.)

In 1909, while living in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, Emma and her older sister, Lena, were invited to accompany friends to a pow-wow at the White Earth Reservation. Their adventures are described in Chapter 3 of Kate Opened the Gate, memoirs written by Elsie Peterson Johnson, who was a young girl at the time.