Monday, December 29, 2008
Just before Christmas, while at work--in the middle of moving to a new house and the worst winter weather the Pacific NW has seen in a long time--I managed to slip and break my wrist. I didn't plan it that way, since this Mountain Girl knows how to walk on snow and ice, but there was an unseen patch of ice underneath soft snow that I could hardly have avoided. I am in a cast and typing one-handed, so this is going to slow me down for a few weeks. I hope you each had a safe and warm holiday with your loved ones, whatever the weather in your neck of the woods.
Sunday, December 07, 2008
This post is written for the 62nd (whew!) edition of the Carnival of Genealogy. The topic is Three Wishes.
This is your chance to write a letter to Genea-Santa*. Make a list of 3 gifts you would like to receive this holiday season from 3 of your ancestors. These have to be material things, not clues to your family history (we're talking gifts here, not miracles!). Do you wish your great grandmother had gifted you a cameo broach? Or maybe you'd like to have the family bible from great great grandpa Joe? How about a baby doll that once belonged to your dear Aunt Sarah?
This is a fantasy so you can dream up gift items. They don't have to be actual items that you know your ancestors owned. However, they do have to be historically accurate to the time period in which your ancestor lived. Do your research. No asking for a new computer from your great grand aunt! Genea-Santa wouldn't like that ;-) The deadline for submissions is December 15th.
*Genea-Santa is a non-denominational guy. He's happy to accept lists from members of all faiths and from atheists as well.
If I could have three things from my ancestors this Christmas, I have just the list.
First of all, I would love to have a Victorian remembrance card woven with some of my great great grandmother's auburn hair. She (Bertina Johnson Winje) gave a card just like that just to her son, Ole. My mother said that when she was a small girl on her grandparents' farm, that keepsake card was safely tucked inside the Johnson family bible. I have never seen the card myself, because it was lost some years later, before I was born. I have always been told that Bertina had lovely red hair, but since I do not have a color photograph of her. I would like to see it for myself.
Then, perhaps you would consider tracking down my great grandmother's wedding dress from 1886? Malla Johnson was a very frugal woman, so she may have cut off the train, let out the seams, and found a way to use it many times over in later years. But, I would want it just the way it appeared in her wedding photograph. It had a tiny, long-sleeved fitted jacket with cuff and collars, and a full skirt with resplendent layers of ruffles, all in black silk. It fit her perfectly, and, 17-year-old bride that she was, she looked so lovely with her big, wide eyes and freshly pin-curled bangs. I think it must have been one of the prettiest dresses any of my ancestors, modest farming folk all of them, ever wore, and I'm sure her mother helped hand sew it.
Last, but not least, is a funny sort of a request. My Great Aunt Mabel Johnson was the closest thing to a grandmother I knew. She had no children of her own, but somewhat of a kid at heart, she never turned down a card game of "Old Maid," a challenge in a coloring book, or the opportunity to go to the park. She distracted naughty children by using a clicker, rather than getting upset or scolding, and she loved to sing silly songs and tell jokes. If it wouldn't be too much to ask, I'd like to have that colorful decorative plate that always hung on the wall above her kitchen stove, serving no real purpose other than to catch cooking grease and dust. The plate was typical 1950s kitchen kitsch: it had two raised angel fish motifs and swirls of purple, black, turquoise, and yellow that didn't really go with anything else. Perhaps it is fixed in my memory more than many other things because it was so mismatched. But, thinking of it reminds me of Mabel's little house with the detached garage, the old ringer washer on the laundry porch, the sea green Depression glass cups and saucer that always came out with coffee and cookies, and her dogs, Tula, and then Buffy, curling up on a towel that protected the seat of the biggest overstuffed chair I had ever seen.
Anyway, Dear Genea-Santa, I have tried my best to be a good girl this year, but if you can't manage all three wishes, I understand. Sometimes the wanting of things is better than the having, and you of all people can appreciate the power of imagination.
Happy Holidays, and please watch your cholesterol levels on Christmas Eve; we want you to be around for a long time to come...
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
"Three sons of Lt. Commander Jim Abele, located their father's missing submarine, 'The Grunion." Three women - now affectionately dubbed the sub ladies - have taken it upon themselves to make sure the 70 men who went down with The Grunion are not forgotten..."
"'Sub lades' Uncover Tale of Lost Crew"
"The story is part mystery (Why did the sub go down?), part genealogical search(Who were these rakish-looking men?), but mostly it's a love story. A labor-of-love story."
Girl From Iconic Great Depression Photo: "We Were Ashamed"
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Scandinavian food and drink was served at several places in the Museum, including the New Bodega, the Nordic Cafe, and the popular Kaffestuga. Musicians, singers, and other entertainers could be observed entertaining those who stopped for coffee and a traditional treat. The Yulefest is always a fun and colorful event. The halls and booths are constantly crowded, and the cashier line in the gift shop moves glacially slow, but no one seems to mind. Everyone is thinking of the joys of Christmas and appreciating the opportunity to be a part of another Yulefest.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
The rules are:
- Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
- Write a blog post about these eight things and post these rules.
- At the end of the blog post, list eight people to get tagged.
- Leave a comment on their blogs telling them they’ve been tagged.
Ummmm, some things about me:
1. As a youth, my undying ambition was to become an astronomer, but I soon found words more to my liking than numbers.
2. I feel naked without my lipstick and earrings.
3. I once built a 5 ft. by 8 ft. N-gauge model railroad in an alpine theme, using chalet-like building models and German trains (yep--it was a lot of fun).
4. I love Sarah Palin--no apologies!
5. My No.1 personal hot button is fairness
6. I preferred the "Mod" look in high school--Jane Asher was a role model
7. My favorite color is red
8. My husband actually asked me to marry him the first time we met (but he meant it a little more later on)
I hope the sky will not fall if I skip the last two rules and instead invite anyone who has not already been tagged to participate. Please, join in! I am just days away from moving and in over my head, as usual. Amy, thanks for thinking of me.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings.
From : "The Walrus and the Carpenter," Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, by Lewis Carroll, 1872.
Obviously, there have been far too many things for me to deal with lately, and blogging (along with cabbages) has fallen by the wayside.
But, I can't let this next weekend (11/22 & 11/23) go by without promoting the annual Yulefest at the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle. Oh, ja... a Yulefesting I will go, and hopefully I will return home with some photographs to post here on my Norwegian-minded blog. So, for those of you who can't actually participate in tasting the pastries and the lefse, you will at least be able to see them!
Image: Norway stamp with image of Yule Nisse.
Saturday, November 01, 2008
|Malla Larson Johnson and Stina Rinde|
|(L to R): Emma (Moen) Johnson, Esther Rinde's sister (white hat), Mabel Rinde's daughter, Esther Rinde (above the little girl), Mabel Johnson, Mabel Moen, Agnes Johnson (face not visible), Thea (Johnson) Humberstad, Marie Rinde, Phyllis Johnson, Doris Johnson, and Mabel Rinde. Clearwater Lake, Minnesota, 1930.
The 1920 census for Sinclair Township, Clearwater County, Minnestoa, Sup Distr 9, Enum Dist 49, Sheet 1B:
L A O Rinde, 45
Stina Rinde, 48
Elmer A., 21
Clara L., 20
Albert J., 17
Mabel P., 15
Oliver S., 14
Mary E. (Marie), 12
Henry O., 8
Both parents in the Rinde family were of Norwegian descent. The father, L.A.O. Rinde, was a farmer from Wisconsin, and the mother, Stina Rinde, was from Norway. When the Rinde family moved from the Leonard area in Clearwater County to Bemidji in the 1930s, the Johnson family continued to visit them and keep the tradition of multiple family picnics going.
Monday, October 20, 2008
10 years ago I...
--completed a history degree
--applied to grad school
--got my car totaled in a rear-ender (not my fault!)
--began planning my 1999 "trip of a lifetime" to Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Prague
--was busily earning my "mountain woman" status learning how to navigate all kinds of winter road conditions.
5 things on today's "to-do" list
--create a desk space for a new employee
--reinstall some programs on my new hard drive at home
--copy a photo to CD for someone to use in publication
--mail my voting ballot (uh-uh, it's for me to know and you to find out!)
--go to bed a little early (yeah, right)
5 snacks I enjoy
--ice cream (esp. chocolate & peanut butter)
--Norwegian goat cheese and gluten-free crackers
--almonds or peanuts
--apples, apples, apples
5 places I have lived
--Richmond/El Cerrito, California (they're right next to each other)
--Ft. Lawton, Oklahoma (I was an Okie for six months)
--Snoqualmie Pass, Washington
5 jobs I have had
--hotel switchboard operator, San Francisco
--Library technician for a Seattle law firm
--Circulation/Evening technician for the UW Libraries
--Supervisor I for the UW Libraries
--Supervisor II for the UW Libraries
Donna of What's Past is Prologue and Becky added a couple of categories, and since I don't want to drop the ball, I might as well answer those, too.
5 places I've been that I want to return to
--the old family homesteads in Chippewa County, Minnesota
--Engadine Valley, Switzerland
--Rhine River area, Germany
--Prague, oh... Prague!
5 places I've never been to that I want to explore
--Coon Valley, Wisconsin
--anywhere in Norway
--the Irish coast on the North Sea
I'm supposed to tag five more people. Let's see if I can get to them before someone else does:
Taneya at Taneya's Genealogy Blog
Colleen at Oracle of OMcHody
Lee at I Seek Dead People
Amy at Amy's Genealogy, Etc.
Lisa at Small-Leaved Shamrock
Play to win (friends and influence people!)
Saturday, October 18, 2008
"To say that these evenings are truly enchanted is an understatement!" touts the Society in its October 2008 newsletter. "Perhaps the best barometer of success is when your guests, volunteers and staff all equally enjoy the evening." This year, the Minnesota Sesquicentennial was celebrated with the lucky winners of a drawing from among new Society members. The guests were treated to dinner at the historic Swensson farmhouse amidst the atmosphere of original pioneer furnishings, and catered by a local restaurant. The meal included "Settler's Soup," "Root Cellar Salad," and "Pioneer Pot Roast." Of course, everyone anxiously awaited the fourth and final course: "Thresher's Pie" (lemon pie).
|The Swensson Farm, Chippewa County, Minnesota. Now a museum, the house is on the National Register of Historic Places. USGenWeb: Chippewa Area Pictures.|
The 17-acre Swensson Farm is the jewel in the crown of the Chippewa County Historical Society. Located six miles east of Montevideo, Minnesota on Highway 7, then five miles south on County Road 6, it is open to visitors from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend each year. The farm happens to be located quite close to the homesteads of many of my ancestors. My great grandmother, Malla Larson Johnson, grew up in a house just across the road from the Swensson Farm, and her sister-in-law, Julia Johnson Larson, lived near the farm most of her life.
But, is the farm truly "enchanted"? Or, is it... haunted?
Julia Johnson Larson (1864-1949), used to say that neighborhood children were terrified of walking past the looming Italianate/Georgian structure as soon as it was built, in 1901. Could it have had something to do with the spooky ambience created by its mansion-like architecture when compared to nearby farm houses? Or, perhaps it had to do with the small family cemetery at the edge the property, not to mention the large, public cemetery operated by Saron Lutheran Church just across the road?
For the most part, it probably had to do with the stories that circulated among timid neighborhood children about the severe-faced Olof Swensson (1843- 1923) the owner of the house. Swensson was a builder, writer, and unsuccessful candidate for Minnesota governor. He was also a fervent Lutheran, and conducted weekly religious services in the large room upstairs. His sermons, in Norwegian, have been preserved.
Even with the accomplishments of the elder Swensson, the house had an undeniable eerieness about it, and many would have testified in years past that it was, indeed, haunted. Did Swensson really build a secret tunnel leading from the house to the family burial plot? What about the flickering lights seen in the large windows at night by neighbors when no one was home? And, what is the story behind the cross on the basement wall, allegedly painted in blood, which appeared just after the local historical society took possession of the property in 1967?
According to Julia Johnson Larson, Swensson continued to hold church services in the upper floor of the building long after neighbors ceased to attend. There were open benches, placed along the walls of a large room upstairs, which served as pews for the folks who came to hear Swensson speak in those early years. Later, when no one came anymore, Swensson created his own congregation--out of rocks. He spaced them carefully on all of the benches surrounding the large, stark room. Pacing dramatically up and down the middle of the floor, he preached to his "stone-faced" and silently appreciative audience until he had his oratory fill.
The Chippewa County Historical Society continues to hold regular festivities on the farm property, such as the "Enchanted Dinner," and the annual Horse Power Event, held the second Saturday in September. The 22-room house, the grist mill, and curiosities such as the display of original wood forms for the family cemetery tombstones, continue to attract many visitors to the historic Swensson farm each year.
To judge for yourself whether or not the old Swensson place is truly haunted, see:
"Swenson Museum in Book on State Haunted Sites" (Montevideo-American News), and
Minnesota Road Guide to Haunted Locations, by Chad Lewis
Monday, October 13, 2008
Whenever I look through Norwegian genealogy and census records that are filled with many of the same names (Karen, Maren, Berit, and Kirsten, to name a few), I've had to wonder how one of my great great grandmothers acquired the unusual name of "Thibertine" (pronounced : Tibb-air-TEEN-eh).
According to Greek and ancient world mythology, "Tibertine" was a Sibyl (prophetess)--identified by her habit of wearing animal skins and carrying a bag of rocks. Well, every Sibyl had her own fashion sense, you understand. And, in Rome, attesting to the Roman fondness for all things Greek, there is the Tibertine Way, as well as the River Tiber. But, how did the name come to be used in sub-arctic Norway?
My great great grandmother, Thibertine Olsdatter Lassemo was born in 1841 in northern Norway: Grong Parish, Nord-Troendelag. News traveled more slowly in the nineteenth century than now, to be certain, but it was most likely the mid-century revival of romanticism and interest in classic literature that was responsible.
According to John I Borgos, who maintains the Slekt & historie website, Norwegian first names have seen a lot of change over time.
Many [Norwegian] names are derived from biblical originals, they are of course much changed to suit the Norwegian tongue. Other names have Nordic origins. Since many of the old Nordic names have meanings related to pre-Christian beliefs, the priests tried to avoid the use of the most "heathen" names, at least before 1850. After that these old names gained new popularity as a result of a strong national cultural movement, and they climbed very high in the statistics after 1900.
On his website, Borgos has created a Top 25 table of Norwegian girls and boys names from the 1700s through the 1900s. Heading the girls' list for the 1800s are: Anna/Anne/Ane, Petra, Johanna/e, Ellen/Elen, and Hanna. Topping the lists for both the 1700s and the 1900s is (you guessed it): Anna/Anne/Ane. It isn't so far fetched, then, that I also have great great grandmothers who are named (double bonus points here): "Anna," and also a "Karen," and a "Kjersten" too!
"Thibertine" is not an old Nordic name, and I doubt it would be classified among the heathen types. You do have to give her mother, Maren, an A+ for innovation. She found a lovely, but rarely used name for her third daughter, and that choice influenced at least a couple of local expectant mothers.
I conducted searches in Digitalkarkivet (the Norwegian census online) for 1801, 1865, 1875 and 1900, and verified that Grandma's name was rather unique in nineteenth century Norway. There were only three uses of the name "Tibertine" (this spelling) found in the early censuses, and my ancestor was among them. The other two were: Tibertine Olsdatter (age 6 in 1865), and Tibertine Albrigtsdatter (age 7 in 1865), both born in Grong, Nord-Troendelag like my great great grandmother. The 1900 census records the younger (unrelated) Tibertine Olsdatter all grown up at the age of 41.
And, what happened to my grandmother's ancient and lyrical name once she emigrated to America? Why, it was shortened, of course! From then on, she was commonly known as "Bertina."
Wednesday, October 08, 2008
An Imaginary Trip to Hobohemia
The bindle stiff looked around cautiously as he exited the alley. He’d been carrying the banner and was long weary of going by hand. Distracted by a high ball in the distance, he nearly jumped out of his skin as a bone polisher hackled on the front porch of a nearby house. “Shut your bazoo!” he hissed at the ragged creature, shifting his turkey in order to raise his roll of California blankets in a threatening gesture.
He was eager to leave this hungry town and go with the birds. Eating snowballs was not his style. Though he was glad for the new front he’d gotten at the sallie, he had no intention of sticking around and turning into a mission stiff. His blistered feet found the uneven walkway just as a group of Lizzie tramps rolled by and slowed down to look him over. “Hey, Bud... where’s the main stem?” one shouted. “Down yonder,” the bindle stiff nodded toward the west and noticed a couple of road sisters coughing behind handkerchiefs in the back. As he made a move to get back on his way, he stopped suddenly and turned. “Mind them yeggs!” he added with a touch of concern in his voice, while mindlessly scratching his crums.
His thoughts turned next to his stomach, and he jingled the thin ones in his ragged pocket. Maybe he would use the last of them on a little punk and gut before flipping a rattler down at the yard. It sure had been a long time since he’d seen a nickel note…
Although I wouldn't recommend writing about your ancestors in exactly this fashion, it's fairly easy to add color to your family history by using slang from the appropriate era. In this case, I used an excessive number of "hobo-isms" to tell a story.
I found a great little website explaining and illustrating Depression era slang, a project created at the University of Virginia. Check it out: "Hit the books, schlepper, there's a lot of slanging to be done!"
Sunday, October 05, 2008
Duane is a generation older, and so, of course, we had been prodding him with many questions about our family history. As Duane pulled the car out of the driveway and proceeded down the road toward Grampa's farm, the place where our mothers were born, he mentioned that our grandfather used to keep a still out in the woods for a short time.
A still? Cousins Cheryl and Craig and I quickly looked back and forth at each other.
"Did Grampa ever tell you about that?" I directed my question at Craig, knowing that Grampa shared far more stories with his grandsons than his granddaughters (it had to do with the male bonding thing).
"Not about that," Craig said, with subdued amazement. A history teacher turned counselor, he was always ready for a good yarn.
During the Prohibition years of the 1920s, it was difficult for new, solitary farmers to make any profit. Clearwater County was not the only area in Minnesota affected, let alone the nation. It was actually a Minnesota congressman, Andrew Volstead from Granite Falls, who came up with the idea of making alcohol sales illegal, and thus promoted the start of Prohibition with a bill he sponsored. Ironically, Granite Falls, Minnesota was also the birthplace of my grandfather.
Grampa became a young widower in 1921. His two little girls (my mother and aunt), were sent to live with their paternal grandparents, Ole and Malla Johnson, so that Grampa could give all of his attention to farming and make a go of it. Proud and stubborn, Grampa would never have given in and sold his farm only to work on someone else's--it would have negated the reason his grandparents emigrated from Norway to America in the first place. But flax, alfalfa, potatoes, and corn yielded little cash then, and many farms continued to struggle for years to come. Some locals saw an opportunity with the arrival of Prohibition and tried their turn at making illicit liquor, whether they drank it themselves, or not.
Grampa kept his still well hidden in the woods behind his farm. Duane said that a bear damaged it once. Grampa fixed the damage, but he gave up on the idea of making liquor altogether after one of his brothers blew up the still.
"Blew it up?" we all chimed in unison.
It was not meant as an act of kindness to keep Grampa on the straight and narrow. As it turned out, Grampa had refused a brother's request to take part in the bootlegging. Feeling vengeful or playfully mean, or both, the brother sneaked back to the still when Grampa was away, along with a cousin or friend, and some dynamite: WHAM! No more still.
"What happened after that?" we asked Duane, our ears straining like tots listening to a ghost story around a campfire.
As kids, my cousins and I never had an inkling of such an event, in spite of all the hours spent with Grampa and our great uncles and aunts. Evidently, some family lore was quickly squelched, especially when repeating it meant a revival of some festering old wound. Cousin Craig said he could always tell there was a certain tension between Grampa and one of his brothers, in particular, but he was never sure what it was all about.
It was a good thing the still was done in, however suddenly, because Duane mentioned that the authorities had already taken steps to control the widespread bootlegging problem within the district. A few bachelor farmers had been arrested and sent to jail for breaking federal law. The U. S. Marshal had not planned to come after Grampa or certain others right away because they had families to feed, so they chose instead to make an example of a few select others. So, Grampa's hidden still was not such a secret, after all, especially to those who mattered.
I will never hear Grampa's side of the story, or his brother's, if either of them ever would have talked about it. My guess is that they would have avoided it, scoffing and laughing off any inquiry, like soldiers coming home from the war who wanted nothing more than to forget certain parts of the past. But, anyone can understand the frustrations of a farmer living in fear of his property being repossessed, or worrying about being deemed a failure in the eyes of his family and neighbors. Grampa never failed to help neighbors in need, and frequently let neighbor kids ride to town with him on the back of his dray whenever he headed to the bank or to get supplies. He also proved tolerant whenever young nephews successfully raided his cookie jar down to the last crumb, or showed up on an almost daily basis to hang out at Uncle Ernest Johnson's because they could ride horses bareback without the disapproving clucks of female relatives.
It is clear that bootlegging of illegal liquor during the 1920s was carried out not just by gangsters sporting machine guns. There were many everyday folks, including normally law abiding Norwegian-American farmers like my grandfather, who out of necessity and a unique brand of assertiveness (pioneering spirit, if you will), took part in creating illegal supplies for an ever-thirsty demand.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
I heard a faint knock at the door late yesterday, and at first I thought I'd been imagining things. But, the dog barked insistently, alerting me to something unusual outside. I opened the door and peaked out. It was growing dark, and at first it appeared no one was on the porch, until a high voice squeaked, "Down here!" It was our own GeneaBlogger Gnome come to visit!
G.B. Gnome apologized for being a bit late, but he had been to Seattle earlier in the day to see his cousin, the Yule Nisse, who is busy making preparations at the Nordic Heritage Museum for the upcoming Scandinavian Yulefest. As Gnome squeezed past my 30-lb. Australian Shepherd and came inside, Chips began wagging his tail so furiously that I thought it would fall off.
Norwegian Yule Nisse
I asked G.B. Gnome if he wanted to curl by the woodstove for the evening, but he couldn't stay very long. "Places to go, people to see!" he said with a smile and a cock of the head. Gulping down the remainder of his hot cocoa, he wiped his mouth on an already smudged green sleeve. No sooner had he slapped his pointed cap back on his head than he was out the door and on his way. I shouted after him to watch for coyotes. He had a little trouble navigating the stairs, but once he was in the driveway, he hobbled away quickly into the growing darkness. Gee, I hope he made it... I'm sure he's alright, judging by the affect he had on my dog. G.B. Gnome is a real charmer with that crooked grin of his!
I think he said he was headed into eastern Washington, but I can't be sure. Maybe he'll stop at your door next? Watch for him, please. I'm concerned about the little guy!
While you're watching, you might want to make a visit to Hill Country of Monroe County, one of G. B. Gnome's favorite places, for the Getting to Know Me Challenge.
Monday, September 29, 2008
My birth father was part of the great migration from Oklahoma to the western states during the Depression era years, the 1930s. When I went looking for books to read, I came across Southern Diaspora: How the Great Migrations of Black and White Southerners Transformed America, a companion website to the book authored by James M. Gregory, a University of Washington faculty member.
The Southern Diaspora may have been the most momentous American population movement of the twentieth century. Between 1900 and 1980 more than 20 million southerners left their home region looking for jobs in the cities, suburbs, and farms of the North and West. Most visible were the African American southerners whose migration transformed urban America and set the stage for important changes in racial understandings and the rights of people of color. White southern migrants outnumbered black migrants and in some settings were almost as controversial. Called "hillbillies" in the North and "Okies" out West, the whites faced challengesdifferent than most Americans who move across state lines.
The website contains oodles of starting points for further research: photos, tables, other links, and my favorite, the bibliography. With Gregory's help, you can easily go beyond Grapes of Wrath in understanding your Depression era relations, and find a plausible reason for your great granddad ending up in Detroit after leaving the old family home in Yazoo City (Gateway to the Delta).
Friday, September 26, 2008
My mother, Doris Johnson, holding me
on the back porch of our second story apartment
in Richmond, California, early 1954.
Brightest Blog Entry
Not Without My Car: My Family History and the Automobile.
Family history is not just about the ancestors, but also about preserving personal memories. The automobile had such a large impact on my young life that I just had to recall all the Fords and more that I had the pleasure to know.
Breeziest Blog Entry
No Ode to Lutefisk
Written for the 2007 Advent Calendar of Christmas memories, hosted by Thomas MacEntee, this article sums up my attitude toward a questionable Norwegian-American holiday tradition.
Beautiful Blog Entry
Duty, Fate, and Beauty
A heart-rendering story about the purposeful life and ill-fated demise of a young Norwegian-American prairie flower: Regina Winje Strand, 1873-1899.
Nordic Blue is a celebration of my Norwegian-American family culture and history, but the range of topics is often swayed by current and related news, Carnival of Genealogy writing challenges, the discovery of new genealogy resources, the study of human nature and social history, my own personal memories, and by just plain 'ole blogging fun (topics and memes, as suggested by my fellow genealogy bloggers).
Thursday, September 25, 2008
I would love to spend months exploring Chippewa County, Minnesota. It is the center of the genealogical universe when it comes to my mother's ancestry. All four sets of her Norway-born great grandparents homesteaded in the area, and their children intermarried to create the families I am obsessed with researching.
Years ago, the Chippewa County Historical Society (CCHS) set about to preserve many of the original buildings of the area's first settlement along the Minnesota River: Chippewa City. Among the preserved treasures is the original cabin of homesteader Bardinus Anderson, where the congregation of the old Saron Lutheran Church was first organized.
Layout of buildings in Historic Chippewa City, Chippewa County Historical Society.
The following photographs were taken by one of my cousins, Michael Siverhus, of Minnesota, during a visit to Chippewa City over Labor Day weekend, 2008. Michael is an "internet cousin." We have never actually met, but we are related through my mother's maternal grandmother line, the Slaaens (Sloans). Last year, I asked the Chippewa County Historical Society if it would print a little article on the family research I was conducting. I listed off surnames, many of which are represented in several pioneer cemeteries in that area, including Saron Lutheran. As a reader of the historical society's newsletter, Michael saw the article and contacted me. Now, that's networking!
Bardinus Anderson hosted the first meeting to organize the Norwegian-Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church at this cabin on November 1, 1870. The initial church membership was made up of 99 Norwegians, 16 Swedes, and two Danes. But, it was only charter members came together for that first discussion; their families remained at home, obviously due to lack of space.
The discussion included where to locate a permanent church and cemetery for the new community. Charter members, including some of my ancestors, agreed upon 80 acres along the south edge of Leenthrop Township, in Section 31. The Chicago and Milwaukee Railroad owned the land, but donated 10 acres to the community. The congregation then purchased the remaining 70 acres for $650. In 1886, the existing Saron Lutheran Church was built at a cost of $4,750, and the cemetery, where many of my ancestors are buried, went in to use soon after the land was secured.
|A typical pioneer farm table setting inside the cabin.|
|The woodstove: the most important feature of any homesteader cabin.|
|A warm and cozy place to sleep after an exhausting day's work.|
Each year, between Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends, visitors to Chippewa City can walk through many buildings depicting pioneer life as it was during the early years of settlement. It was a time when my ancestors were building their own cabins, pushing plows, and fighting to put food on the table throughout seasons of relentless drought and locust infestations, punctuated by severe winter weather and exceptional blizzards. It was not an easy life, to say the least!
Thank goodness for historical societies whose members work hard to preserve our heritage. Why don't you join one local to your genealogical heritage today? If you're not close enough to help with your hands, the societies can always use extra membership funds and donations to shingle structures, for example, which is a project CCHS is committed to in order to keep Chippewa City in good condition for future generations. I am so glad!
"Historic Chippewa City," Montevideo Chamber of Commerce, http://www.montechamber.com/cchs/chipcity.htm (accessed 25 September 2008).
Christianson, Mrs. John. Our First 100 Years: 1870-1970. Chippewa County, Minnesota: Saron Lutheran Church, 1970.
Friday, September 19, 2008
Today, I went on such a field trip to Evergreen-Washelli, one of the main cemeteries in the greater Seattle metropolitan area. I was excited because I had, at last, located the grave of a man I am currently researching and writing about. Please pardon my generalities here, because I am not quite ready to reveal who that is.
With great anticipation, I stopped in at the cemetery office and asked for a map to help me locate the grave. The girl behind the counter printed two maps for me: one that showed the exact driving route through the meandering and shaded paths of the grounds, and a locator map with a diagram of the family plot and nearby graves. "Oh, this should be easy," I thought, as I clutched my "buried treasure" maps and got back into my car.
I drove across Aurora Avenue North and into Washelli, the older, eastern section of the memorial park, admired the Doughboy statue as I crawled past, and turned alongside the Veterans Memorial Cemetery with its regimented rows of small white headstones. Getting out of my car, I climbed the emerald slope punctuated by flat markers on the opposite side of the road and began looking around for the surname I sought.
Ah! There was the man's father, and nearby were the graves of a few relatives. After several more minutes, I also spotted his first wife and infant daughter.
But, where was he?
I twisted and turned the locator map several times, and traced my steps backwards and forwards, but I simply could not find him. I checked the diagram one last time: "Okay, the wife is in grave #14, and if I have the map turned the right way, he should be right HERE."
Nothing but grass!
And then, I realized... he had no marker.
This was a man who lived life to the fullest for over nine decades, who lived humbly and quietly, loved his wife and mother deeply, respected animals, explored the Pacific Northwest with a heart ever hungry for timeless beauty, worked tirelessly to preserve nature for the enjoyment of countless others, member of one of Seattle's founding families...
The place where I stood, at the foot of this grave, seemed like one of the loneliest places on earth just then. There was no doubt that he lay beneath my feet: a Seattle son who had been witness to much of the area's early history and was now just a memory manifested by neatly manicured grounds. His resting place was surrounded by many of those he knew and loved in life, but his place among them was not evident. This ever quiet, humble, artistic, observant, stoic, patient, witty, knowledgeable, sensitive, poetic, capable, adventurous, and dedicated man: no one could see that he was there, or had a clue about where he had walked in life.
I left the memorial grounds after a quiet vow to him that I would tell his story and not let him be forgotten... to help in any way I can.
As a historian, I have discovered his heart and mind and times through his own words, expressed in journals and letters by his own hand. As a genealogist, I have gathered the facts of his life and studied his timeline and circumstances. As a human being, I have learned that I simply cannot walk away from the discovery that this honorable person has no commemorative words above his worldly remains--no name to indicate his existence.
Perhaps it is part of my purpose to transform that anonymous patch of grass into a celebration of a unique and historically poignant life.
It's worth a try.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
A Long Way Downstream: the Life and Family of Thibertine Johnson Winje, Norwegian-American Pioneer combines facts and family lore with hundreds of original photographs and heavily researched historical details. After coming of age and marrying for the first time in rural Nord-Trøndelag, my great-great-grandmother, Thibertine (Bertina) Johnson Winje (1841-1930) became a part of the tide of emigrants who departed Norway for improved circumstances in the United States during the mid-19th century. All in life is a risk, but it was extremely heightened for these America-travelers who chanced everything by crossing the ocean to build an intimate relationship with the plow in a foreign land. Over 140 years after Bertina took that initial step from her homeland, I found myself on a quest to understand the drive and emotions behind the life-altering decisions she and my other ancestors made.
Initially, I planned to focus on my great-grandparents, Ole Martin and Malla Johnson, as the subjects of this book. But, as I started to study various branches of their family, I found there was so much to learn, not only about the Johnsons, but also about the Winjes, the Larsons, the Strands, and more. Though I was tempted in every direction, Ole Johnson’s mother, Bertina, quickly became the focus of my research. She was obviously the keystone, since everyone else of interest happened to be a husband, in-law, or descendant of hers. Bertina Johnson Winje experienced many ways of living in the varied landscapes of her of 89 years, and I became fascinated with her trials from my comparatively pampered 21th century experience. Every family detail I gleaned brought me closer to knowing her personally, even though she died over 20 years before I was born.
In September 2004, I made my first visit to the graves of Bertina Johnson Winje and some of her immediate family at Scandia Cemetery in Duluth , Minnesota. On a breezy and sunny day with the glimmer of Lake Superior at my shoulder, I found myself physically as close as I would ever be to them. I tried to take in the scene through Bertina’s eyes as it appeared in both 1888 and 1893, years when she and her second husband, Eric L. Winje, buried three of their children on that green and lush, storm-slashed bluff above the Big Water. This out-of-self experience left me deeply touched, humbled, and honored to be able to tell Bertina’s story, and that of her family—a story of courage, hope, acceptance, and most of all, perseverance.
My research began in earnest in two ways: first, a letter of questions written to an older cousin who, I was told, knew some details about our family history, and second, the serendipitous discovery of online genealogical sources. My desire to know more was also sparked by attendance at a local Scandinavian Yulefest one November. As a girl, I was always interested in the stories my mother told me about her childhood on a Minnesota farm, but it took the right timing, certain acquired skills, and a catalyst moment or two before I could accept full responsibility for gathering the information I sought.
I had to begin with the search for basic information, such as finding the original Norwegian name of my immigrant great grandfather, Ole M. Johnson, who was Bertina’s eldest child—a detail not even my mother knew. It did not take very long for my searching to gain momentum, and I was soon collecting data, interviewing, requesting biographical information from relatives, and looking for original sources. Additionally, I joined historical and genealogical societies, including the Clearwater County Historical Society, and the Chippewa County Historical Society, both of Minnesota.
It takes the efforts of many for a family history to be truly reflective of its subjects. This book is more than just lists of vital statistics because of the interest and cooperation of numerous family members and friends. I especially want to thank my mother, Doris Johnson Wheeler, for sharing her wealth of memories, her love of history and times past, and for caring enough to treasure and save every photo and memento handed down from her parents, aunts, and uncles. Her collection of photographs provided me with wonderfully unique and irreplaceable material. She must have always known that, someday, her daughter would find something to do with it all.
My great appreciation certainly goes to my husband, John Kinnick. He supported my writing every step of the way, and graciously tolerated my absence while doing research and taking classes. He was also a tremendous help in arranging the repair of the Winje family monument in Scandia at Duluth, Minnesota.
I could not possibly have taken on this project without the help of many cousins who willingly shared and trusted me with family information, photographs, and artifacts, offered monetary assistance, and gave me a warm welcome when I came knocking with questions and requests, whether by letter, e-mail, or in person. I owe much gratitude to: Ardys Bjerke, Gloria P. Conrad, James and Lynette Cook, Dennis and Marge Johnson, Duane and Betty Johnson, Elwood and Ardell Johnson, Dorothy J. Joseph, Deloris Kosbau, Ewen and Zelda McClellan, and Lyle L. Strand, all of Minnesota; Oluf and Celestine Omlid of Alaska; Marjorie Skrukrud of California; Larry Gilmore of New York; and Cheryl Nibler of Oregon. I also want to thank Winje family members who reside in British Columbia, Canada: Roy and Karna Franche, Albert and Bonnie Winje, Ken and Aloria Moore, Eric and Aline Winje, and their families.
Karna Winje Franche was extremely enthusiastic about this project, but she passed away before it came to fruition. Karna was a main contributor of information about the Winje ancestry, and I shall always feel saddened that I could not place a copy of this book into her hands. I know that in spirit, however, she already knew each and every story and description that made its way to the printed page.
Special thanks to Lorraine McConaghy, historian, and Sarah Thorson Little, genealogist, for their ideas and guidance on the rough draft of this project. Both were instrumental to my research as instructors with the Genealogy and Family History Certificate Program through University of Washington Extension in Seattle. I also participated in writing seminars led by Dr. McConaghy through the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) in Seattle. The seminars proved to be an unparalleled growth experience, which led to the publication of another book, co-authored by my husband: Snoqualmie Pass, through Arcadia Publishing, released in October 2007. All of these experiences have enabled me to make valuable connections with other writers.
I am grateful to Astri Wessel of Norway, whose ancestors hailed from Hemne, Sør Trøndelag, Norway, for granting me permission to publish an English translation of her father’s article, “En Utvandrerfamilie fra Vinjeøra I 1869.” She also provided copies of letters the Winjes sent to members of her family in Norway from 1869 through the 1890s. And, without the dedicated translation assistance of Ed Egerdahl, of the Scandinavian Language Institute in Ballard (Seattle), Washington, I would never have had access to much of the valuable information contained in the letters. The Winje letters, written in an old Sør Trøndelag dialect, were not easy to translate. Tusen takk to both Astri and Ed for providing assistance.
I want to acknowledge the many volunteers, genealogists, and historians based in Minnesota, whose dedication to research and simple kindness benefited me from a distance. I especially want to thank Joyce Sundrum of Golden Valley, Minnesota, who looked through original records of Saron Lutheran Church in Chippewa County for information pertaining to my family. There were still others, including "Twiggy" of Duluth, who did this stranger a good turn—greatly appreciated favors I would return in kind if I could.
Thanks also to my good friends, Linda Rae Palmer, for cleaning up the scratched tintype photograph of Hattie Winje, and Stephanie Wright for producing good quality pdf files using her skill and better software than I could manage on my own.
As a result of my visit to the Winje plot in Duluth, I became motivated to coordinate the repair and maintenance of some family monuments in need. In August 2006, family donations allowed the final engraving of Emma T. Winje’s year of death on her marker at Scandia Cemetery. Emma can rest in peace now that her family has completed this task.
The oldest Winje monument at Scandia Cemetery needed critical repair soon after my visit in 2004. While in Duluth, I took photographs of the five-foot 1888 granite monument that serves as a marker for the Winje family plot. Though crowded by invasive tree roots and leaning precariously, the monument itself was in surprisingly good condition. It marked the graves of Hattie and Annie Winje, who died from diphtheria while very young, and also of their brother, Louis Winje, who drowned in 1893. At some point during the winter or spring of 2006, the monument was either pushed over or tumbled in sections to the ground from the strain of gravity. Gloria Conrad, a descendant of Regina Winje Strand, sent a letter and photograph alerting me to the sad condition of this historic marker.
In September 2006, the Winje monument received a new platform, and the sections, which were all present and accounted for, were resealed. I am extremely grateful for the contributions enabling this repair to take place, and also thank those who eagerly supported the project in thoughts and good wishes. Special recognition goes to: Gloria P. Conrad, James and Lynette Cook, Karna Winje Franche, Duane T. and Betty Johnson, Dennis W. and Marge Johnson, Elwood and Ardell Johnson, James D. Johnson, Dorothy J. Joseph, John Kinnick, Deloris Kosbau, Aloria Winje Moore, Cheryl R. Nibler, and Doris J. Wheeler.
As many of us realize, with the passage of time comes the unexpected. The past year presented quite a few challenges to my immediate family, including major surgery for my husband, the renovation and planned sale of our home, and the death of my only aunt, Phyllis Johnson Rice, on November 7, 2007. Then, just days before the Thanksgiving holiday, my sister’s house burned, and she and our mother, Doris, were displaced. This is an example of how quickly things can turn, and how easily family history can be lost through devastation, like fire. Fortunately, most of the family photographs and memorabilia were shared previously during the research stage of this book, and I am extremely thankful for that, as well as for everyone’s safety.
It is my hope that this family history will be a source of inspiration for generations to come, and that the Norwegian-born traditions (and lefse!) of our ancestors will be celebrated and carried into the future. Personally, I have gained something precious, apart from the satisfying process of research and sleuthing out fact from fiction. Bertina Johnson Winje, and everyone in her immediate family, will forever be a part of me, pointing the way north.
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
Here are some photographs I snapped while walking the grounds. Oh, what a love affair humankind has with the automobile...
Everyone loves a Woody...
Pardon me, do you happen to have any Grey Poupon?
Blinding Hudson bling-bling.
Just spoking around...
My personal favorite: a lipstick red 1953 Chrysler New Yorker. No gal worries about a bad hair day while cruising in this. Come to Mama!
Tin Wagons lined up and ready for tailgate parties.
The Kinnick entry: not yet an oldie, but definitely a fast little goody (I mean the 2003 Boxster S Cabriolet, and not necessarily the Husband).
Monday, September 08, 2008
From the land of sky-blue wa-ah-ters...
(Remember that Hamms Beer commercial, or am I dating myself?)
Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. Photograph by Chery Kinnick, September 2002. Bemidji, Minnesota.
In 2002, I had the opportunity to visit my mother's home state of Minnesota for the first time. The Johnson clan held a family reunion at the home of Elwood and Ardell Johnson in Bemidji. There was even a temporary "Johnsonville" on the grounds: a virtual campground of trailers and RVs. It was quite an exciting event, and I had the chance to meet many relatives for the first time.
At some point during the photograph session on the lawn, someone suggested that all "hapless victims" of the Johnson family curse stand together for a commemorative pic. This is when I captured the row of gentlemen below, seen in all their Crowning Glories, or lack thereof. Some are hanging on to the last strands, while others have given up the battle. All are Johnsons, tried and true, however, and have a common female Norwegian-American ancestor to thank for their shining glories.
Johnsons displaying their glorious crowns (domes?) Left to right: Gailan Johnson, Orlan Johnson, Elwood Johnson, Duane Johnson, George Johnson, Dennis Johnson, Kenneth Johnson, and Craig Rice. Photograph by Chery Kinnick, September 2002. Bemidji, Minnesota.
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
A Long Way Downstream: The Life and Family of Thibertine Johnson Winje, Norwegian-American Pioneer
by Chery Kinnick
Self-published, 2008. Hardbound in blue imitation leather with silver foil cover text; 350 pages; documents; photographs (black & white and color); translations; maps; genealogy charts; appendices; bibliography; extensive endnotes.
Whew; I can hardly believe it. All those hours at the computer are just a fond memory now...
Why did I choose a short-run printer? Due to the nature of the book, I did not plan on sales through booksellers. It made sense to keep production to a minimum and go with pre-orders from relatives and interested parties. A short-run printer is perfect for this sort of thing, and don't feel that you have to go specifically with genealogy printers. Another reason for short-run printing is that it is difficult to make money on this kind of endeavor. When you add together the cost of your time with resources and training, well, trust me... you should write a family history for the love of it, unless you can somehow find a way to make it commercially viable. There are ways to do that, but it's not what I had in mind for this project.
I did not arrange for an ISBN (International Standard Book Number)--used primarily for pricing--because the book was not planned for public sale. But, I did secure a Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN), so that libraries could readily obtain cataloging information. This was the most important thing, because I planned on sending copies to various libraries and historical societies in locations. Two copies have been sent to the Library of Congress: one for the LCCN program, and one for copyright. Then, how could I not also give a copy to the lady in Norway (Astri Wessel) who shared letters my ancestors wrote her ancestors during the 19th century? And, ja sure, you bet I also sent a copy to my main translator, Ed Egerdahl of the Scandinavian Language Institute here in Seattle. He spent plenty of hours struggling over that old handwriting and dialect, and deserved much more than I could pay him. Ed, I hope the credit and fame makes some amends...
Image of lead photograph and first contents page
My relatives and local writing buddies (footnoteMaven is high on the list) I cannot thank enough. I found that I am entirely rich in friends and cousins, and especially, helpful friends and cousins. I hope A Long Way Downstream meets their expectations and gets at least a few people interested in doing their own family research. The more, the merrier.
Chapter Six: "Ole Martin Johnson," and washout photograph of homestead barn on facing page
For those who are curious, in a future post I will share the Preface, which is an informal look at the community effort it took to create such a book.
Now, it's on to the next writing project, which is not related to my family history, but, it is someone's family history, after all. My project for the Nearby History seminar this autumn will involve continuing research and writing on the life of a Pacific Northwest explorer and nature photographer.
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
I was sitting outside in the sunshine on a break today, and when I began writing this entry in my head without even trying, I knew it was time to return to blogging business. It also made me realize just how much I needed that short break. I had become like a saturated sponge with no room for anything more. Some of the overflow has drained away now, leaving me a bit more absorbent. But, lest this begins to sound like a paper towel commercial, I'll move on...
September is my favorite month of the year
September is change: nature morphing in its gentlest manner. The fleeting sunlight, delicately shifted in angle from its full command of the mid-summer sky, shimmers through rustling leaves and creates kaleidoscope patterns on the sidewalks. Cool breezes and crisp, dewey mornings awaken my skin and leave me almost gleeful, like excitement in response to an unexpected promise. How did you used to feel when your parents exclaimed that they were taking you to the fair the coming weekend? Yeah, just like that! September urges visions of poetry and Impressionist watercolors, but it also brings to mind riotus rides on carnival merry-go-rounds. Like the rich musical tapestry of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony come to life, September is peaceful and unpretentious, but also unpredictable and exhilarating--all at the same time.
September is full of expectations
This month will forever bring memories of new boxes of crayons, newly purchased and too-tight shoes, and inescapable butterflies in the stomach--a repeated reaction to any new school year. As a very shy child, I never started a school year without being both excited and terrified. Once I had swum the streams and gullies of the first few days, I settled into a productive daze. But, those first hours were always harder than they should have been.
September brings in the new year
...and not January, as the calendar dictates. For one thing, it is the month of my birthday, and I am in a sense, "renewed." For another, my life seems to have always been rooted in academia - as a student for many years, and then as staff at a university for many more. I must also attribute a cultural memory beyond my personal experience. During many Septembers far into the past, my farming ancestors must have enjoyed the lengthening shadows of late summer evenings all the more for having harvested the fruits of their labors, their cupboards lined with rows of gem-colored jars of preserves. By September, they knew whether they could face another winter season with confidence.
September is the calm before the storm
It is true with the weather, and it is especially true here at the university. The halls and pathways of learning are as quiet as they get right now. Sculpted gargoyles blankly stare down from lofty cornices, as if in boredom. Most of the students and faculty are away until Fall quarter, and there are relatively few starry-eyed visitors, recovering staff, and diehard grad students roaming about. The walk to the HUB (Husky Union Building) for coffee is downright pleasant. There are no masses of bodies to weave around, no elbows to avoid, no excessive noise, and no frisbie weapons flying across manicured lawns. There is only 70-degree sunshine (perfect, according to my Bay Area-born sensibilities).
While sitting alongside the entrance steps to the HUB with a coffee, forcing myself to stay still and enjoy the moment, I found myself feeling lonely, even in that splendid sunshine. I suppose it could have something to do with the relative quiet of campus, interrupted only now and again by a cacophony of crow or seagull "song." Perhaps it is also a bit too quiet in the library (if that is possible), with half the staff on leave and one person recently retired. But, for the most part, it was the company of family that I craved, or a good conversation with someone also engaged in family history pursuits. And so, what more perfect time to start blogging again - in September at the start of my year, on the precipice of change--with the promise of things to come beckoning like the words of a carnival hawker?
September: a time for reflection, renewal, reinvention...
A time to blog about family history!
A quiet morning on the University of Washington campus, 9/4/08