Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Serendipitous Discovery

Serendipitous for my daughter, anyway...

Courtney just sent this photo to me via her cellphone. It seems she was taking a stroll in Ballard (the old Scandinavian district of Seattle) and came across copies of my Arcadia Publishing book, Snoqualmie Pass, displayed at Walgreen's Drug Store... right next to the Ped Eggs. At least I get better exposure than the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups!

Friday, March 28, 2008

Take Me to the Fair

A few years ago, a relative gave me access to a photograph album of cabinet cards belonging to my great grandparents, Ole M. and Malla Johnson. Most of the images inside were collected during the 1880s-1890s, and among the many portraits of people was the photograph of a ship, pictured below. Curious, I scanned the image, enlarged it, and was able to read the name Christopher Columbus on the bow.

The Christopher Columbus was the only passenger steamer of 43 whaleback-type ships developed in Duluth for the World’s Fair Steamship Company. It ran fair-goers between Milwaukee and the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and judging by the regalia on the ship, this photograph was taken in May 1893 as the steamship left Duluth Harbor on its initial run.

From 1887 until 1898, Ole M. Johnson's mother, Bertina, lived in Duluth, Minnesota along with her second husband, Eric Larsen Winje, and their children. It was the Winje family took this rare shot of the only fair-going whaleback passenger ship in 1893.

Photograph from the Johnson/Winje Family Collections

The exciting Columbian Exposition opened in Chicago in May 1893. It was the cultural event of its time, ushering in the carnival concept to the world and introducing many commercial food products that are still popular today, including hamburgers and Cracker Jack. The Exposition marked the United States' coming of age as a political and industrial power. To house the World's Fair, the city of Chicago built the "White City"--a larger and more international venue than for any previous fair. [1]

Photo source: Encyclopaedia Britannica Online

Eric L. Winje had become a municipal court judge by 1893 and could easily have afforded to take his family to the Exposition. His peers in the law profession most likely encouraged each other to attend the event of a lifetime, so taking all things into account, it is almost inconceivable that the Winjes did not take the opportunity to experience something so unique and enlightening.

When my Norwegian-American ancestors attended the Fair, they surely visited the Norwegian Exhibit, which displayed panoramas of mountain scenery and representations of peasant cottages and costumes of their homeland. Also of interest would have been the replica of the first discovered Viking war vessel unearthed from a burial mound in Norway a few years earlier, in 1880. The original Gokstad Viking ship was built in around 890. It was the first tangible evidence that Vikings had built ships capable of traveling long distances, especially to the New World.

Photo source: The Illuminated Lantern

A Norwegian named Magnus Andersen built an exact copy of the artifact and sailed it across the Atlantic to display at the World’s Fair, where it arrived on 12 July 1893. The ship was christened the Raven, but quickly came to be known simply a the Viking. Part of the challenge of the voyage was to show the seaworthiness of the Viking ship design, but, there was also controversy over the presence of the replica at the Columbian Exposition, which was meant to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. The idea that the Viking, Leif Eriksen, had reached North America first was not widely accepted as early as 1893. [2]

Where were your ancestors in 1893? Did they visit, or were they likely to have visited, the Columbian Exposition in Chicago? What type of photographs or postcards did they save as mementos? What sights, smells, sounds would they have experienced? What World's Fair attractions would they have made a point to see, based on their cultural interests?

The discovery of the 1893 Christopher Columbus photograph in my great grandparents album convinced me that even though an image might seem out of context in a collection, it always warrants careful inspection. You never know what treasures might be revealed about the interests and activities of your ancestors.

[1] Shaw, Marion. World’s Fair Notes: A Woman Journalist Views Chicago’s 1893 Columbian Exposition (St. Paul, Minnesota: Pogo Press, Inc., 1992), 40.

[2] Ǻkesson, Per, “The Viking,” Nordic Underwater Archaeology, (accessed 12 November 2005).

Thursday, March 27, 2008

American Accents, or Lack Thereof

If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, then is there really a sound? So, if I "don't have an accent," but my speech still sounds different to other American English speakers, then is there really a lack of an accent?

I just took a GoToQuiz suggested by Thomas MacEntee at Destination: Austin Family. Here are my results for "What American Accent Do You Have?":

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The West

Your accent is the lowest common denominator of American speech. Unless you're a SoCal surfer, no one thinks you have an accent. And really, you may not even be from the West at all, you could easily be from Florida or one of those big Southern cities like Dallas or Atlanta.

The Midland
North Central
The Inland North
The South
The Northeast
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

I'm a Bay Area girl, through and through. I grew up next to Berkeley during its Hippie Haven heyday, although I can't say I participated (just a tad too young at the time). My speech, or accent, however, has been influenced not only by my early Bay Area schooling, but by my Minnesota born relatives, and my love of all things English. I say "neither" and "either" with the "ei" pronounced as a long "i" and not a long "e."

Let's also keep in mind that California is one big area, and the Valley Girl intonations so prevalent in the media were nowhere to be found in my part of Northern California. Valley Girls in Berkeley? Shut-UP! No-WAY!

And, the southern lilt in my sister's voice after several decades of her living in the south sounds quite foreign to me, as does my first husband's habit of saying "Wershington" instead of "Washington." He spent his formative years in Chicago.

This test indicates that I'm just about "accentless" by virtue of something called the "Mary-marry-merry" merger, among other telling tidbits. See the American English Regional Differences article at Wikipedia.

Thomas asks if our ancestors had any difficulties in learning the language. Early Norwegian immigrants were known--and made fun of--for their pidgin English, in which Norwegian and English terms were freely combined; it was a language all of its own and usually understood only by other Norwegians struggling to learn English. Along with English came certain pronunication difficulties. Norwegian does not have a soft "th" sound, so "that" becomes "dat," and "throw" become "trow" and "three" is "tree." The English letter "w" is pronounced as a "v": Vould ya please trow tree more vood logs in dat voodstove? Tanks!

But, I guess I don't think of myself as being "accentless," since I've always recognized something similar in the voices of old friends from the Bay Area. I'm not quite sure what it is, but it is definitely something regional. We are tied to our roots in more ways than one, and recognize, almost subliminally, songbirds who nested in the same tree.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke - A Lifetime of Imagination

"Somewhere in me is a curiosity sensor. I want to know what's over the next hill. You know, people can live longer without food than without information. Without information, you'd go crazy"

Sir Arthur C. Clarke

Who engaged in family history and genealogical research does not also feel this hunger to know? Whether the topic is genealogy or science, an active mind continually searches for a vision of things to come, as well as for what has passed. Arthur C. Clarke's decades of science and science-fiction writings have inspired events of the present day, much in the same way Leonard DaVinci imagined helicopters and a myriad of other modern inventions many years before their time.

I was saddened to learn of Arthur C. Clarke's passing earlier today. He was an icon in both the worlds of science and science-fiction, and influenced the imagination of countless individuals, including this one. Some of the happiest moments of my youth were spent reading Clarke's science fiction tales. His vision of the future influenced my preferences and decisions in ways that I will never fully be aware of: an integral part of my personal history.

"The truth, as always, will be far stranger"

I am reminded of a genealogy/family history meme making the rounds right now, where bloggers are challenged to write a compactly descriptive six word biography of someone. Clarke attempted to write a six word story as part of a Wired Magazine article but ended up writing ten words instead. ("God said, 'Cancel Program GENESIS.' The universe ceased to exist.") He refused to lower the word count [1]

You can read more about Arthur C. Clarke and his many contributions to world society in this Wikipedia article.

[1] Wired, v.14, no. 11. "Very Short Stories."

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Quotes from Women in History

"The basic discovery about any people is the discovery of the relationship between its men and its women." - Pearl Buck, author

I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England, too." - Elizabeth I, of England

"I can stand out the war with any man." - Florence Nightingale, nurse

The only time a woman really succeeds in changing a man is when he's a baby." - Natalie Wood, actress

"Too often the great decisions are originated and given form in bodies made up wholly of men, or so completely dominated by them that whatever of special value women have to offer is shunted aside without expression." - Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady

"Women must pay for everything. They do get more glory than men for comparable feats. But, they also get more notoriety when they crash." - Amelia Earhart, pilot

"I have no dress except the one I wear every day. If you are going to be kind enough to give me one, please let it be practical and dark so that I can put it on afterwards to go to the laboratory." [about a wedding dress]. - Marie Curie, scientist

Friday, March 14, 2008

Brave Heart Yields a Gentle Touch

A Tribute to Esther Agnes (Berge) Johnson

Written for the Carnival of Genealogy

. . . In keeping with the month of March being National Women's History Month, and March 8th being International Women's Day, the topic for the next edition of the Carnival of Genealogy will once again be: A Tribute to Women. Write a tribute to a woman on your family tree, a friend, a neighbor, or a historical female figure who has done something to impact your life. Or instead of writing, consider sharing a photo biography of one woman's life. Or create a scrapbook page dedicated to a woman you'd like to honor. For extra credit, sum up her life in a six-word biography.

Esther Berge Johnson, burping her youngest daughter, Doris.
Leonard, Minnesota, 1920.
 I've discussed many grandmothers in this blog, but today I'd like to honor a very special one: my maternal grandmother, Esther Agnes (Berge) Johnson. She died young--just over 86 years ago--and was never a part of my life, but I miss her every day. Her presence is found in the few treasured items my mother was given to remember her by, and in the photographs I am sharing. I have no personal experience of her touch, her smile, her voice, but my mother holds on to what foggy memories she has from when she was a baby.
Esther was a quiet, kind, dutiful woman with dark hair and spectacles. Her father, Ole Benhardt Berge, immigrated from Gudbrandsdalen, Norway, when he was a small child. Her mother, Anna Marie (Mary) Slaan (or Slaaen), was born in a covered wagon as her family migrated from Coon Valley, Wisconsin to Chippewa County, Minnesota.

When my mother, Doris, was a girl, she attended community dances in rural Leonard, where it was always common for young women to dance with each other. Once when my mother danced with a paternal aunt, Cora Johnson, Cora happened to mention that my mother held herself stiffly just like Esther (my grandmother) had always done.

My aunt Phyllis recalled that after my mother was born, Esther would sit in a big rocker and nurse the baby, while Phyllis sat alongside in her own little rocker and attempted to nurse her doll. There were no memories of any talking... just peaceful togetherness in the silence of the two room farmhouse.

In another memory, Esther was standing in the pasture next to the family's farmhouse, holding little Doris in her arms. They watched as some of the neighbor's cows came sauntering over the rise toward her garden. My mother was only about a year old at the time, but she heard her mother say to someone: "Here, take her," as Esther handed her over to a visiting neighbor lady and began to shoo the cows away. Doris then watched with startled interest as her father, Ernest, came stomping over the rise and proceeded to scold his wife vividly: "Don't you ever do that again!" It was her father's uncharacteristic shouting that cemented the memory for little Doris. Ernest had been afraid that by shooing the cows, his wife would draw the attention of the bull that was nearby.

My mother was less than two years of age when Esther lost her battle with tuberculosis. When close to death, all of her sisters and brothers except Bennie Berge, who lived too far away, were summoned to attend her. Her parents owned an organ, which Esther had always been fond of playing. Her last request was that someone should play the organ so they could all sing hymns together.

On January 2, 1922, Esther died, leaving Ernest a young widower. The previous spring, Esther had planted a flowerbed inside a wagon wheel laid on its side by the house. The flowers continued to grow and bloom for some time after her death, reminding them all of the hundreds of things she used to do from day to day.

My grandmother's obituary was published in a Chippewa County, Minnesota newspaper [1]

Mrs. Esther Johnson died Monday, Jan. 2nd of an illness of long duration. She is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. O. B. Berge of Maynard and has been home for the past several months when it was found that there was no hope for her recovery. The last days of her illness has [sic] been a trial both to the patient and to her loved ones and death came as a happy release from her suffering. She was ready for the summon, meeting it as bravely as she has endured her long months of sufferings. A brief obituary follows.

Mrs. Esther Johnson was born in the township of Leenthrop, on March 31, 1889, where she resided until at the age of two years, when her parents moved to the village of Maynard where they and children resided until in the spring of 1910. They then moved on to a farm in Clearwater County. On March 22, 1917 [she] was united in marriage to Mr. Ernest Johnson, to union of which two children were born, Phyllis, age four and Doris, age two. Deceased died at the home of her parents in Maynard Monday the 2nd at 12:45 p.m. at the age of 27 years, 9 months and 4 days. Besides parents of disceased [sic] four brothers amd five sisters live to mourn the loss of a dear sister; namely, George, Mabel, Cora, Mildred, Clarice and Stella of this village. Harry of Taylors Falls, Chester and Bennie of Ihlen.

The funeral was held Wednesday from the residence at one p.m. and at the Lutheran church at 2 o'clock. Rev. M. B. Erickson officiating. The News join[s] the friends of the Berge family in messages of condolences.


We wish to extend our sincere thanks to those who so kindly offered us their consolation in our late bereavement, especially Rev. Erickson and the Lutheran Ladies Aid Society for the beautiful floral emblems.

Mr. and Mrs. O. B. Berge and family
O. M. Johnson and wife
Ernest Johnson

Thank you, Grandma, for caring for my mother, and for everything you did to start her and my aunt on the right path.

Esther Agnes (Berge) Johnson: Brave heart yields a gentle touch

[1] The copy of Esther Johnson's obituary in the author's possession has no publisher's info, however, it most likely came from the Chippewa County News.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Name Game

Randy at Genea-Musings recently posted this comment and challenge: "Here's a theme for my attentive readers and fellow genea-bloggers - if you had a chance to name your children again, what names would you choose to honor your ancestors?"

Fortunately, I'm still happy with what I named my children (hope they are, too!). But, if I were to select names based on my family heritage alone, then the following would be in the running for girls:

Lena Marie
(a half-sister of my great grandfather's who worked as a superintendent of schools in the 1920s--perhaps the first of my female ancestors to have a professional career and fulfill the American dreams of her immigrant parents)

Hattie Jorgene
(composite from the names of two little red-haired sisters who died from diphtheria before they had a chance to experience much of life)

Anna Maren
(there were more than a few Annas in my Norwegian family, and close to as many Marens back in Norway)

Emma Regine
(composite of more great-great-aunt names)

Bertina (Tina?)

But for the guys, I probably wouldn't use "Ole" - sorry, Great Grandpas! I've known more than few German Shepherds who were also given that name, and it somehow wouldn't work anymore. Names for boys among my ancestors are more restrictive, because Ole, Lars, and Hans just don't roll off the tongue well in today's American schoolyard jungles. My grandfather's name was Ernest, but I wouldn't want my kid to be called "Ernie," so there you have it. These are the best composites I came up with for boys:

Martin Benhardt
(composite of two great grandfathers' middle names)

Tor Gulbran
(spelled "Tor" because the name "Thor" is usually Americanized with a soft "Th"--a sound not made in the Norwegian language; Gulbran is a great great grandfather)

Erik Louis
(a father and son who were separated by a tragic accident)

I guess I could also use "Stephen," which is what my mother would have named me had I been a boy...

Friday, March 07, 2008

March is Women's History Month

The purpose of Women's History Month is to increase consciousness and knowledge of women's history: to take one month of the year to remember the contributions of notable and ordinary women, in hopes that the day will soon come when it's impossible to teach or learn history without remembering these contributions. Women's History

The following poem was submitted for a 1926 "symposium of prose and poetry, newspaper articles, and biographies, contributed by one hundred prominent women" of Norwegian-American background. The collection was dedicated "to the women who have so unselfishly and gladly worked shoulder to shoulder with the men, contributing their full share to the accomplishment and prosperity that has resulted in America.

The editor of the collection, Alma A. Guttersen, wrote in her preface:

. . . Love of family and of home have ever been characteristics of the Norwegian women pioneers and out of this love of family and home grew the strength which was to result in great accomplishments. Others will remember, as do I, how we had barely the necessities of life, small rooms and few utensils, little money, no butter, eggs or cream except on holidays, very little schooling, amounting to about two months a year and necessitating in many cases, as in mine, a walk of three miles morning and evening . . . Mothers, living and working under these conditions, keeping sweet and growing in grace through all their hardships, have left a heritage to their sons and daughters far greater than any artist or statesman could have left.

The author of the prose poem, Frida Bue Homnes, lived in Crosby, North Dakota; a date for the poem is not given.

A Tale Told to a Child

By Frida Bue Homnes

Come to my knee, little daughter, and mother will tell you a story.
Tell of the beautiful lady, the one you see in the picture,
Tell how she left her home of comfort and culture in Norway.
Came as a pastor's bride across the billowy ocean.

She was a popular girl, lived in the capital city,
Had in her twenty years been given every advantage:
Suitors she had a-plenty, attracted alike by her spirit
And by her sparkling eyes, dark ringlets and rose-leaf complexion.

Hard were the ties to break, only her mother updheld her;
Striving to hold her back were friends of wealth and position;
But like her noble young bridegroom, she stifled the call of ambition,
Flattering offers at home, to follow the clear voice of duty.

So with her hand in his, trustfully facing the future,
Turned she away from the homeland and journeyed to far Minnesota,
Where in a pioneer log house for nine long months they were harbored,
Until a building of frame for a parsonage could be erected.

She with her dainty things of scallops and broidered eyelets,
Dresses of wool and silk,, her egg-shell china and silver,
Moved with the farmers' wives in their shawls and their shaker bonnets,
Winsome, sweet and content as though she had always lived there.

Crude was her home at first, the furnishings hardly in keeping
With ebony candelabra and "Brochene Hals" piano
Brought from her father's house-but she covered all flaws with her sunshine,
Captured all hearts by her pluck, sound sense and unfailing good spirits.

Three and thirty the years she spent in this place with her husband,
Saw how his labors were crowned and helped to success his endeavors-
Organized "Ladies' Aids" and taught the women to manage,
Tactfully all the while keeping herself in the background.

Opened her heart and home to children needing instruction
e'er they could be confirmed. With her babe in her arms she taught them,
Aiding their simple minds to grasp the truths of salvation.
More than a score in all were helped by her in this manner.

Gathered the young folks about her and joined in their innocent pastimes;
Fostered a love of music and, being a reader of merit,
Brought young and old 'neath her spell by reading aloud for their pleasure,
Leading many a household to practise this art by its fireside.

Immigrant young people, too, in number more than a dozen
Found on their first arrival her home a harbor and refuge
Where they could get their bearings, were helped to work or to schooling,
Helped to American views and loyal love for our country.

Patiently through it all skimping, saving and stretching-
Father must have his books, the children their music and schooling.
Seven grew up of the twelve, all seven were helped through college,
Lived to lead useful lives, a credit to home and to parents.

Most of what mother has told is beyond your grasp yet, my Baby,
Later you'll understand; but this much I'm sure you can fathom:
She was a beautiful lady, gentle, sweet-faced and smiling,
Who always did things for others, and therefore, you see, they all loved her.

She is no longer here, but lives with the angels in Heaven.
And 'tis my constant prayer as I strive to walk in her footsteps,
Falling short all the shile, that you may grow to be like her;
Be like your grandmother, sweet, for she is the theme of my story.

Source: Guttersen, Alma A., editor. Souvenir: Norse-American Women, 1825-1925 (Minneapolis, Minn: The Lutheran Free Church Publishing Co.), 1926.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Grandma's Silk Scarf Had Meaning

In today's world, our individual belongings become increasingly depersonalized as we rapidly acquire lots of "stuff" due to availability and affordability. I think our ancestors treasured the things they owned far more than we are capable of. They scrimped and saved and watched every penny, and when they were finally ready to purchase something, they had only a few choices of color and style, if any. With our cheap and rapid 21st century manufacturing, consumers have learned to desire more and more, but the tremendous variety and availability seems increasingly unsastisfying. For example, if you offered someone a dish of the fanciest, most delectable gourmet ice cream in the world, how much would that person enjoy it if already full-up (to the ears) on plain vanilla?

Let's go back 150 years, to rural Norway. If every penny came through an entire family's back-breaking labor, by toiling every minute of every day, then how often do you think that family would buy anything? Easy answer: not often. So, when purchases were made and gifted, they were gifted with a tremendous amount of forethought and importance, like the fringed silk scarves given to my female Norwegian ancestors.

Thibertine Johnson, ca. 1870s

I have precious few likenesses of my ancestors who actually made the ship voyage from Norway to North America. This image comes from a somewhat damaged tin type photograph of Thibertine (Bertina) Johnson Winje, my great great grandmother. According to events in her life and the nature of the tin type, I am estimating the photograph was taken in about 1875.

The close-fitting jacket Bertina wears is a little different from most Norwegian immigrant women's clothing I have seen of that period, mostly because it is light in color, but there is also unusual smocking around the cuffs and hem of the jacket. A brooch holds her collar together, which is an expected fashion of the day. But, what really catches my attention in this photograph, and in several others of Bertina as a young woman, is the dark, fringed scarf worn about her neck. It was obviously a belonging that held a special meaning for Bertina, since she made a point of including it her attire on several photographic occasions.

Silk neck scarves, especially fringed ones, became a part of regional, ethnic Norwegian folk dress, called bunad. But, one has to wonder why, since Norway did not produce its own silk, and so, the scarves had to come from elsewhere.

Bertina was probably given her silk scarf in honor of a special occasion while still living in Norway. Most likely, it was given at the time of her confirmation in the Lutheran Church. Religious confirmation at about age 14 had certain connotations in Norwegian society. For one thing, a confirmed individual was considered an adult in the eyes of the church, and in general society. The main reason 19th century Norwegian children attended school was to ensure they could complete religious confirmation. During Bertina's youth, without confirmation in a state church of Norway, an individual could not be considered of good moral character, and by law, he or she could not get any kind of public license, hold a public office, or get the protection of the law. [1] [2]

Silk scarves became the most widely used luxury item in 19th century Norwegian attire, and were adopted as a part of many regional folk costumes. It is thought that 18th century French fashion was responsible for the trend. Both men and women in France wore neckerchiefs in the 1700s, and it became so that no one was considered properly dressed without a scarf around the neck. Over time, the fashion spread, including to Norway and ordinary farm folk. Merchants and peddlers from Sweden served as the main supplier of imported silk scarves to Norway during the 1900s. [3]

And so it seems that my ancestor, Bertina, treasured her silk scarf not only as a special gift from a loved one, but as a badge of honor. Though the scarf had been created in a distant, exotic location, it held significance regarding her ethnicity, and was associated with certain rights of passage. Bertina wore her silk scarf on many special occasions in America, and since it had been gifted through tradition and the labor of her elders back in Norway, it served as a constant reminder of her homeland and her culture.

[1] Fringed silk neck scarves as treasured heirlooms in Norwegian folk costume are discussed in: Marion John Nelson. Material Culture and People’s Art Among the Norwegians in America (Northfield, Minnesota: The Norwegian-American Historical Association, 1994), 133-34.

[2] Nineteenth century Norwegian schooling and religious practices are discussed in: Ann Urness Gesme, Between Rocks and Hard Places (Gesme Enterprises: Cedar Rapids, IA.), 1992.

Husfliden: "Silk scarves for traditional folk costumes and bunads."