Thursday, June 26, 2008

When We are the Ancestors

I am committed to genealogy and family history, but I have been inspired by science fiction even longer. I don't mean the bug-eyed monster kind, but instead, science fiction as a vision of a future way of life--conjured up by the scientifically savy, exploring technical possibilities and solving old problems in a startling new way. Perhaps that's why I love Star Trek so much, and why it made such an impact on me as a thirteen-year-old when it first aired.

An example of science fiction wedding technical reality is the City of the Future competition held recently by the History Channel. "City of the Future" was a design and engineering challenge, in which participants had to develop an eco-friendly city 100 years from now. Visions were presented through a written statement and 3-dimensional construct assembled within a 3-hour period during the first phase of the competition, and included accompanying visuals.

Oh my... take a look at some green visions for Washington D.C., Atlanta, and especially, my childhood stomping ground: San Francisco. When viewing the visuals, imagine the daily challenges our descendants will face, whether environmental, or otherwise.

Here's another (unrelated) inspiring Cities of the Future site, with some thought-provoking quotes tucked inbetween fantastic images of a world our descendants might come to know.

I was reminded that although we study the past to preserve family data and customs for the future, we should not forget about also preserving the present. Will our great great grandchildren understand who we are, right now, as they walk along their more carefully balanced eco-paths? Will our digital photographs, documentation, and even our identities become just a few scattered pixels over time--unrecognizable? Will our children's children's children understand the economic dilemnas behind the environmental crises our generation has left behind? Will our descendants try to understand us in the same manner we try to understand our forefathers, as individuals who faced special challenges and dealt with them in the best way they could? Ah, age-old questions.

"Rising from the sea in the centre of Oslo, [Norway] the new, marble-clad Opera is a futuristic architectural gem." Norway: the Official Site in Mozambique

The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.

- Albert Einstein, scientist (1879-1955)

I have always felt that whatever mankind has the potential to imagine can become reality.

Standing on the shoulders of our own ancestors, we have built an empire, for better or for worse. How will our descendants improve upon it, and how will they cope? What kind of world will it be when we are the ancestors, and they are searching for bits of data and photographs from the past to build a deeper understanding of our time? Perhaps the question is: as family historians and genealogists, how can we preserve that information for them?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Fruit Salad in the Census

Perhaps I needed some palate cleansing after writing about French Onion Soup in a previous blog entry, or perhaps it was Lisa's Enumerate Me! census fun at her Genealogy Gems blog (particularly since she did a census search on Apple's name, of Apple's Tree), or, perhaps it's just an off-day, but whatever the reason, I got to thinking about possible fruit names in the census.  What I found was a virtual fruit salad of first names, but here are a few highlights.  My comments are itcalicized (BTW, the M or F after the name refers to male or female):


Orange Beans, M, age 14, Andalusia, Covington, Alabama, 1930
Orange Brown, F, age 10, in Union Springs, Bullock Alabama, 1930
Orange Marks, M, age 56, Stewarts Station, Hale, Alabama, 1930
Orange Peace, M, age 37, Mobile, Alabama, 1930
Orange Purse, M, age 47, Boligee, Greene, Alabama, 1930
Orange Woods, M, age 50, Valley Creek, Dallas, Alabama, 1930

[My goodness, what IS it about Alabama and the name "Orange"?]


Banana [just plain "Banana"], M, age 46, Navajo Indian Reservation, McKinley, New Mexico, 1920
Banana Doctor, M, age 12, Palmer, Hampton, Massachussetts, 1900
Banana Fair, F, age 19, Police Jury Ward 2, Natchitoches, Louisiana, 1930
Banana Finder, M, age 18, Portage County, Wisconsin, (Mortality Schedules Index, 1850)
Banana Only, F, age 28, Austin Ward 2, Travis, Texas, 1920


Raspberry Basil, M, age 13, Bucktown, Dorchester, Maryland, 1880
Raspberry Bird, M, age 22, Redstone, Fayette, Pennslyvania, 1860
Raspberry Gay Lay, M, age 6 mos., between Holmesville and Osyka R, Amite, Mississippi, 1870
Raspberry Peal, M, age 35, District 4, Gibson, Tennessee, 1850
Raspberry Rhump, M, age 18, Hickory Flat, Cherokee, Georgia, 1870


Strawberry Belcher, F, age 5 [I feel sorry for this little gal], Prairie, Audrain, Missouri, 1860
Strawberry Berry, M, age 14, Brewton, Escambia, Alabama, 1900
Strawberry Savage, F, age 10 [born in Austria], Detroit Ward 9, Wayne, Michigan, 1920
Strawberry Sings, F, age 7, Crow Indian Reservation, Custer, Montana, 1900


Melon Crater, M, Police Jury Ward 5, Vermillion, Louisiana, 1930
Melon Hunt, M, age 4, Tranquilla, Jones, Georgia, 1930
Melon Rice, M, age 9 mos., Bowling, Perry, Kentucky, 1930
Melon Riser, M, age 10, San Francisco, California, 1930

as well as...

Eat the Melon, M, age 55, of the Mojave Tribe in Colorado (U.S. Indian Census Schedules, 1885). He was married to Corn, age 54, and their family also consisted of:

Lying Light 35
Corn 34
Obsene 18
Tobacco 16
Small Boy 1
Screw Beans 14
Eagle 3
Pete 1  [the family must have run out of imagination by the time Pete came along]


Lemon Dandy, M, age 6, Township 11, Range 28, Barbour, Alabama, 1870
Lemon Duff, M, age 45, Precinct 4, Bibb, Alabama, 1910
Lemon Freeze, M, age 20, Birmingham Ward 10, Jefferson, Alabama, 1910
Lemon Molar [personal data not given], Lee, Jefferson, Virginia, 1820


Grape Joice [I kid you not], M, Anguilla, Sharkey, Mississippi, 1920
[isn't one example enough?]

Alas, no Pineapple, Blueberry, Kumquat, Coconut, Passionfruit (among others), but plenty of "Apple" and "Cherry," as you may suspect.

See what fun, fruity or otherwise, you can have with the U.S. Federal Census. After all, genealogy is not just about facts and figures!

Yearbook Resource:

I recently did some searching on For a fee, you can search this database and access many old high school and college yearbooks. Be prepared, though--the list of American institutions represented is not a complete one. You may not find a digital copy of the Podunk College yearbook for your great uncle's graduation class. Still, there are many treasures to be found, and if nothing else, the database contains a good slice of social history research for those interested in campus life throughout the decades. does a lock-down job of protecting copyright interests by ensuring that images cannot be copied or altered. I wish the database were set up to be a bit more share-friendly, but it is a useful research tool, just the same. For example, their digitized collection for Blue and Gold, the yearbook for the University of California at Berkeley (CAL) goes back to 1875!

I was searching for images of members of my father's family (Wheeler and Thaxter surnames), and came up with a few gems. The indexing of is not perfect, and I sometimes found that an image resulting from my search was not the image of the person I was looking for, due to an incorrect link.  But, with a little sleuthing around, you can still find what you are looking for, particularly if you have an idea when a person graduated. Be aware that the image numbers do not correspond to page numbers in the actual yearbook.

I'll give an example of a typical search challenge. I found evidence that my father's uncle, McKinley Wheeler, was a graduate of UC Berkeley's class of 1920. Doing a search on his name in brought up nothing initially. But, while scrolling through the pages of student photographs, I found him identified as "McK Wheeler" in the yearbook because of lack of print space. To make things worse, the text added by an indexer at the bottom of the image contained a mistype of his name as "Me K Wheeler." The moral is: use your imagination when searching old documents, and try as many crazy spelling combinations and/or abbreviations as you can think of.

While searching, I found wonderful caricatures of some students and faculty (pages 50-53 of UC Berkeley's class of 1929 "Blue and Gold" yearbook:  indexed as images 62-65). I wish I could share them, but you'll have to take a peek for yourself!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Doughboys, the Draft, and French Onion Soup

After writing about my grandfather's experience with the WWI draft board (Hell, No, I Won't Go!), I might as well continue with the story of the brother who did not escape the draft. Out of a family of ten children (eldest to youngest): Bennett, Ernest, Cora ,Thea, Odin, Mabel, Oral, Ruben, Carl, and Frank), it was only Odin Johnson who fit the draft board's specifications: male, single, healthy, and just the right age. When war was declared, Odin lived with his parents, Ole and Malla Johnson, on a farm just outside of Leonard, Minnesota.

Odin Johnson became a doughboy. The nickname "doughboy" was frequently used for American infantryman sent to France during World War I, referring to those who "licked Kaiser Bill and fought to make the world safe for democracy." The term had been in use for nearly a century beforehand, however (read an explanation of the origins of "Doughboy").

Draft card registration, WWI (

Name: Odin Johnson
City: Not Stated
County: Clearwater
State: Minnesota
Birthplace: Minnesota;United States of America
Birth Date: 11 Oct 1896
Race: Caucasian (White)
Roll: 1675389

A farewell party was held for him at the country schoolhouse by the Gorze family farm near Leonard. He was twenty-three years old when he left Bagley, Minnesota by train in February 1918. John Huff of Shevlin, Minnesota, Sidney Churness, and Selmer Nelson of Clearbrook, Minnesota were also on the train in route to Fort Dodge, Iowa. Odin stayed at this camp for a short time before leaving by boat from New York to England, Germany, and then France. He spent the longest period of time in France. After the war, Odin often talked about the times he spent in foxholes. The country had many big holes where bombs had been dropped.

Being away from home made Odin and his buddies very lonesome. Odin did receive mail from home, including many letters from his mother, Malla Johnson, that were written in Norwegian. What a treasure it would be to have these letters today, but unfortunately, they were burned along with the rest of Odin's and his wife and children's belongings in a house fire some years later.

Odin Johnson sent this postcard from France in 1919 to a younger brother, Carl. It is addressed to “Mr. Carl Johnson, Box 42, Leonard, Minn., U.S.A” and reads, "Well hello Carl. Well how was your day. I ’spose are going to school, playing with the little girls; it’s lots of them here. Bro. Odin."

As an orderly in the Army, Odin was in charge of equipment. He and two other men stayed with a French family in a civilian home. He indicated that the French people were kind and friendly. A French fellow from Brooks, Minnesota named Bruno stayed there also and was the interpreter. (The Brooks area is still known for its French settlement people.) A favorite meal of Odin’s that the French served was hot milk with onions, which was made like soup.

Odin Johnson was in the U. S. Army for fourteen months, and was wounded in the leg while serving his country. When the war ended, Odin remained in France for a time for peace keeping. Sidney Churness, his lifelong friend, happened to return home at the same time, even though they were not stationed together overseas. Odin’s father, Ole M. Johnson, drove a team of hoses to the Leonard Depot to meet his son and bring him home.

It was Odin’s wish that America would never be at war again. He kept in touch with the neighbors and friends who had followed him to war for many years following their safe return.

Information about Odin Johnson in WWI supplied by Duane and Betty Johnson (Duane is the son of Odin Johnson), march 2003.

Fishy Treasure From the Past

Not too long ago, an old safe was discovered "deep in the bowels'" of a fish cannery in Astoria, Oregon. As its discoverers waited for a locksmith to uncrack the door, they pondered what treasure would be found inside. Was it gold and silver... stockpiled funds from a business long ago defunct? Or, could the safe contain historical documents and artifacts unlocking mysteries of Astoria's past?

(obnoxious buzzer sounds)

None of the above! Although the safe is over 100 years old, the contents turned out to be:

canned fish, and only decades-old canned fish, at that.

Is there a history lesson in this? Or, was it just another practical joke by a Norwegian-American fisherman on his day off?

See the complete article: "Contents of Oregon's mystery safe revealed."

Friday, June 13, 2008

Things Look Better With "Shades"

"The future's so bright I gotta [read] SHADES"

Have you visited Shades of the Departed yet? Currently showing: 2nd Edition of Smile For The Camera - A Carnival of Images.
The topic for the 2nd Edition is:

A bouquet of images: belles and beaus throughout history

Stop by and see why "Shades of the Departed" is one of the coolest family history/genealogy sites on the web!

Urban Memories of Post-War Richmond

In this blog, I focus a great deal on the midwestern history of my Norwegian immigrant ancestors. Their background has obviously had a major impact on not only on my genetics, but also on my morals and outlook on life. However, my early years in the San Francisco East Bay have had just as much impact, and probably more. The burgeoning Bay Area was where I learned about life and all of it's colorful nuances--where I cut my teeth, both literally and philosophically. It is also a place where, all at once, one could develop an appreciation for beautiful landscape due to the geographic variety of the northern California seacoast, but also a disdain for the raping of the land brought about by progress.

I think of myself as having grown up in an urban environment, not because I lived downtown in a large metropolitan city, but because the same culture (and concrete) extended throughout the bedroom communities of the San Francsico Bay Area. There were no farm animals or crops near my home: Richmond was definitely a city, but on a smaller scale than nearby Oakland or Berkeley.

The town of Richmond sits on the northeastern end of San Francisco Bay, and long before waterfront industries existing there today, there were refineries, wartime shipyards, and numerous other commercial ventures that led to a rapid de-beautification of this once small East Bay town. When I think of my early affiliation with Richmond, I think of cracked cement sidewalks with weeds growing through, yards full of neglect from the working culture necessitated by the post-war economic struggles, endless telephone wires across a hazy but sunny skyline, railroad tracks that led to more interesting places, and constant traffic along busy Macdonald Avenue.

The only reason I am including this photograph of Cutting Blvd. in 1954 is to show just how ugly and unkempt certain parts of Richmond could be during the post World War II years. Though it was a far cry from the rural life my mother and her family knew back in Minnesota, it was still home to me (Richmond Street Scenes;

When I was a baby, my mother and I lived with her aunt Mabel Johnson in her Richmond four-plex apartment. I don't remember quite that far back, but after Mom and I moved from the apartment, I recall weekend visits with Great Aunt Mabel, especially the walks downtown and longer excursions to Nicholl Park.

If we made the walk uptown from the apartment--a mere couple of blocks away, there was plenty of shopping to be done among the endless rows of Woolworth's trinket compartments. I still have many handerchiefs and baubles that came from regular stops at that store. While Mom was a single girl working at local canneries, she often bought herself treats at Woolworth's; among them were purses and shoes, which she claimed to be her particular weakness back then. She also stocked up on items for her own hope chest, like floral-patterned china dishes, purchased one piece at a time, as well as tablecloths and other linens.

Sometimes we would stop by See Candies during our downtown walks. The floor's pristine black and white squares looked so shiny that I expected them to shatter under the weight of our feet. Stepping into the store's cool sweetness from the gritty sidewalk, the large butchershop-style, glass-fronted compartments impressed shoppers with crisp white boxes and regimented rows of appealing chocolates. Gladys Nelson, a family relation by marriage with ties to my mother's home state of Minnesota, worked behind the counter. Each time we stopped in to say hello to Gladys, we were treated to free pieces of peanut brittle. Peanut brittle was never a favorite of mine, but I was not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. First, the stuff tried to break your teeth, and if it couldn't break them, it would then stick with ruthless determination. What I really longed for were the small creamy blocks of nut-filled chocolate, or chocolate-covered caramels. Those went down quite easily, but never came free.

Looking west along Macdonald Avenue, near 10th Street. See Candies is on the right, near Macy's department store, 1957. The old buildings were already reaching a state of disrepair at this time. (Richmond Street Scenes;

One of the best parts of any visit with Aunt Mabel was going to Nicholl Park. It was a longish walk from her apartment on Sixth Street to MacDonald Avenue and 33rd Street. The park was a weedy oasis for local children who had no yard at home, or, as in my case, for those who were visiting great aunts and could not play in musty and fascinating shadow-carved stairwells for fear of disturbing day-sleeping neighbors.

At Nicholl Park, a young soul could run wild on a huge expanse of beat-up lawn. Though I was never the type to run and play with abandon, I did enjoy observing and taking in the breadth of humanity, learning many subtle lessons, and others not-so-subtle, through the adventures playing out in that urban jungle.

That's me, with my long ponytail covered from the wind by a scarf, and my great aunt Mable Johnson.  Nicholl Park in Richmond, about 1959.

The park had playground equipment, and the swings were always in high demand. I never seemed to be able to catch one while it was free, since I was not up to shoving past a dozen others kids and the menace of flailing arms and legs. Also of interest on the grounds was an old Southern Pacific steam engine, which looked impressively huge to children. Stairs installed at its side allowed curious youngsters to climb up and pretend to be an engineer.

Even grownups need a little playtime.  Posing on the monkey bars at Nicholl Park are my great aunts, Cora Moen (upper left), and Mabel Johnson (upper right), along with my mother, Doris Johnson (standing).  Richmond, California, November 1946.

The park also had a petting zoo for a number of years, but it was eventually closed because of vandalism and injury to some of the animals. That was quite sad. Perhaps it was the farming genes in me, but my favorite part of any visit to Nicholl Park was when I could stand among the chickens, ducks, and goats and convince any of them to stand still long enough to actually be petted.
From the point of view of a child, Richmond was just another place to find pleasure and meaning (and occasionally, disappointment) doled out one piece at a time, like peanut brittle that was often too sharp to eat. Richmond's special place in history meant little to me at the time, because I was too busy coveting an empty swing.
Though Richmond was rapidly deteriorating during my early years, it is currently seeing some rejuvenation downtown. During World War II, it was the scene of a second Gold Rush, a place where a deluge of humanity descended in search of work in the shipyards and the canneries and factories. The streets were crowded with persons of all ages, from all racial and economic backgrounds-- restaurants, bathrooms, and even beds, were in short supply. These drastic demographic changes created massive overcrowding to being with, but eventually a progressive culture of diversity, open-mindedness and liberalness began to emerge.

One of the best historical documentations of World War II-era Richmond are the photographs by Dorothea Lange, famed for her images of Dust Bowl migrations during the Depression. The Oakland Museum of California has a fine collection of Lange's photographs, viewable in this online guide. Although I knew Richmond personally beginning 10-15 years after these photographs were taken, they are highly representative of what my mother first found when she moved there in 1946.

For better or worse, Richmond's cooling cauldron of upheaval in the post-war years was my childhood home.

For further reading

A City in Transition: Richmond During World War II, by Clifford Metz and Judith K. Dunning.

Photographing the Second Gold Rush, by Dorothea Lange and Charles Wollenberg.

To Place Our Deeds: the African American Community in Richmond, California, 1910-1963, by Shirley Ann Wilson Moore.

An Avalanche Hits Richmond, by J. A. McVittie.

Richmond Community History Project (ROHO, Regional Oral History Office, Bancroft Library, UC Berkeley)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Hell, No, I Won't Go!

When first made World War I draft registration cards available, I immediately began to search for evidence about relatives. Only one in my grandfather's family (total of ten siblings) actually served during the war. Most of his brothers were too young to be required to register... but, what of the eldest brother, and especially of my grandfather--the second eldest?

On May 18, 1917, the Selective Service Act authorized the President to temporarily increase the U.S. military. Under the office of the Provost Marshal General, the Selective Service System was established to draft men into military service. Local boards were created for each county or similar state subdivision, and for each 30,000 people in cities and counties with a population greater than 30,000. [1]

During World War I there were three draft registrations:

June 5, 1917 - all men between the ages of 21 and 31 residing in the U.S. - whether native born, naturalized, or alien

June 5, 1918 - men who reached age 21 after June 5, 1917. (A supplemental registration, included in the second registration, was held on August 24, 1918, for men who turned 21 years old after June 5, 1918.)

September 12, 1918 - all men between age 18 and 45.

Not surprisingly, I found Grampa's card; he registered promptly during the first go-around, on June 5th:

Name: Ernest JohnsonCity: Not Stated
County: Clearwater
State: Minnesota
Birthplace: Minnesota;United States of America
Birth Date: 23 Jan 1889
Race: Caucasian (White)
Roll: 1675389

His occupation is listed as "farmer."

In response to the question: "Have you a father, mother, wife, child under 12, or a sister or brother under 12 solely dependent upon you for support," he answered "wife."

I was unprepared, however, for his response to the question: "Do you claim exemption from draft (specify reason)." His answer was: "Yes, don't want to go to Europe," and below it, he signed his name.

I had to laugh at the blatant honesty of that answer, and I'm sure Grampa did not mean it quite the way it sounds, but...

Don't want to go to Europe?!

I can't imagine how many other young blokes would have liked that phrase to stick on their behalf.

Grampa turned out to be one of the lucky ones, but the government's decision to not draft him was based on several things: 1) his dependent wife, 2) the fact that he farmed alone, and 3) the need to keep enough farmers producing food on the home turf for U.S. citizens and troops abroad, and, 4) not just because he felt a responsibility to his wife and farm. As a newlywed, married just months before draft registration, he obviously felt a great deal of pressure to make his farm into a successful venture that could support a family. If Grampa had been drafted, the farm would probably have been sold and my grandmother would have returned to live with her parents. Happily, that did not have to happen.

(Love you, Grampa--always will; I miss your crinkly smile.)

Ernest Johnson, Salem, Oregon, about 1965.

[1] Kimberly Powell at genealogy

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Golden Anniversary for the Berges

Ole Benhardt Berge weds Anne Marie Slaaen (Sloan), 1886

In early February 1946, the Maynard News in Chippewa County, Minnesota ran the article below in honor of my maternal great grandparents' 60th wedding anniversary. Ole Benhardt Berge, born October 20, 1864 in Gudbrandsdalen, Norway, and Anna Marie Slaaen (Sloan), born June 20, 1868 near Swan Lake in Nicollett County, Minnesota, were married on February 6, 1886. They celebrated their golden anniversary in the very same county where they had begun married life sixty years before. Their daughter, Esther Agnes Berge, was my grandmother.

Mr. and Mrs. Ole Berge Honored By Friends
and Relatives at Lutheran Church

Ole and Anna Marie (Mary) Berge with a golden wedding anniversary cake in front of their Maynard, Minnesota home.  February 1946.
A large number of friends and relatives of Mr. and Mrs. O. B. Berge gathered at the Maynard Lutheran Church Sunday afternoon, Feb. 2, the occasion being the 60th or golden wedding anniversary of this esteemable couple. A fine program was given and enjoyed. The wedding party entered the church to the strains of a wedding march played by Mrs. Thurman Overson of Minneapolis and the party consisted of Mr. And Mrs. Berge [and] as many of their children and grandchildren as could be present The ushers were four grandchildren, Verona Berge, Howard and Odell Edwardson and Chester Berge, Jr. The following program was given:

Scripture Reading, Rev. M. B. Erickson

Solo, Mrs. J. M. Sweiven
Talk, Rev. M. B. Erickson
Solo, "Perfect Day," Verona Berge
Duet, Mr. and Mrs. T. Overson
Talk, Rev. O. J. Erickson
Solo, Mrs. Ted Dyshaw
Talk, Mrs. Victor Larson
Solo, Winifred Erickson
Song, Ladies Choir

On behalf of the Lutheran Ladies Aid Society, Mrs. S. M. Dahleen presented Mrs. Berge with a boquet [sic] of flowers. The wedding dinner was served in the church parlor which was decorated appropriately for the occasion. The table was set for the guests of honor and relatives. The large gathering of guests were served cafeteria [-style].

Rev. M. B. Erickson, acting in behalf of the friends, presented Mr. and Mrs. Berge with a purse of money which was accepted by Mr. Berge with a few fitting remarks.

Out of town guests present at the event were Mr. and Mrs. Chester Berge and family of Alvord, Iowa, Harry Berge of Taylor Falls, Mrs. Andrew Edwardson and children of Willmar, Mr. and Mrs. Harold Carlson of Garretson, S.D., Mr. and Mrs. Rudolph Schuster of St. Paul, Misses Hattie and Florence Carlson of Willmar, Mrs. Gunda Overson of Granite Falls, Mr. and Mrs. Thurman Overson of Minneapolis, Mr. and Mrs. Bastian Hanson, Mrs. Alma Hanson and Randolph, Mr. and Mrs. Mandrud Hanson of Canby, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Erickson and daughter Winifred of Litchfield, Ardys Erlandson of Minneapolis, Rev. and Mrs. O. J. Erickson of Granite Falls and Mr. and Mrs. Carl Skrukrud of near Granite Falls.

The observance of a golden wedding anniversary is a most notable occasion and when it comes to such an esteemable couple as Mr. and Mrs. Ole Berge it is worthy of special mention. The News has made this an opportunity to pry into the private history of these two and while we find that their story reads very similar to those of an early day in this community it is of interest and we pass it along to our readers.

[Mrs. Ole B. Berge (Anna Marie Slaaen/Sloan)] was born in a covered wagon in the vicinity of St. Peter June 20, 1868, her parents being then on their way from Wisconsin to a homestead in Leenthrop Township [Chippewa County]. We are inclined to suspect that theirs was a childhood romance as their acquaintance dated from an early day and their romance culminated in their wedding at Granite Falls on Feb. 6, 1886. Witnesses were Edward Erlandson and John Sloan. The young married couple lived on the groom's mother's farm in Leenthrop until in 1896 when they moved to Maynard. After moving to Maynard Mr. Berge engaged in the hotel business for a couple of years, was rural mail carrier on Route No. 2 and conducted the meat market. In 1910 the family moved to Leonard, Minn., where they engaged in farming. In 1917 they returned to Maynard and have resided here since. Mr. Berge has held numerous public offices of trust and has enjoyed the friendship of the community during all these years. To this union was born twelve children, nine of whom are living and are: George of Maynard, Harry of Taylor Falls, Chester of Alvord, Iowa, Mrs. Edwardson, Willmar, Bennie of Baraboo, Wis., Mrs. Finch of Brainerd, Mrs. Carlson of Garretson, S.D., Clarice of Maynard and Mrs. Schuster of St. Paul.

Mr. and Mrs. Berge have taken an active interest in the affairs of the village and its people and have been faithful members of the Lutheran Church. They have a multitude of friends who are happy with them on this most momentous
occasion and who join the News in wishing them many happy anniversaries in the future.

Mrs. Victor Larson is the author of the following which she gave at the Berge's golden wedding anniversary:

Their Golden Wedding

Fifty years ago this week,
A sweet-faced young girl, young in years,
Giving no thought to life's joys and sorrows, its hopes and fears,
Promised the bright-eyed eager lad standing there by her side,
That some day soon, she would become his gentle, loving bride,
Promised, that together, they would walk down the pathway of life.

Fifty years ago in Granite Falls Town,He straight and tall, she in her wedding gown,Promised each other to be loyal and true,Said those two little, yet faithful words, "I do."Gave, he to her and she to him, each a heart,
Promised solemnly, "Till death do us part."

Two witnessed there were who stood up with them,
One was a relative, both of them were men.Edward Erlandson was one witness there that day,
Carl's father, who but recently passed away.John T. Sloan, it was, who stood on the other side,
Our own beloved Petra Later became his bride.
A horse-drawn chariot was theirs that day,Two horses and a blanket-filled bob sleigh,Six miles an hour was probably their rate of speed,
Those days, of traffic rules and laws, there was no need.
But they were tucked in snug and warm with robes and blankets and all,He probably wore ear muffs, she surely was wrapped in a shawl.
Thus they journeyed back to her home in Leenthrop Town,He, proud and happy, she, still in her wedding gown,
Their friends and neighbors gathered together and waited,
To see their wedding day properly celebrated.They wished for them a long life, filled with joy and gladness,
Wished for them those things far removed from sickness and sadness.

Twelve children came to bring them happiness and good cheer,
Five boys and seven girls, to them precious and so dear,Nine are still living, only one remains at home,
Some live near and others chose farther away to roam.George, in Maynard; Harry, Taylor Falls is home to him,Chester, in Alvor, Iowa, was born a twin.
Esther, his sister, has gone on to that other shore,
Where she waits to be with her loved ones forever more.Mabel, Mrs. Edwardson, east of here in Willmar lives,Baraboo, Wisconsin, is the address that Bennie gives.Cora, Mrs. Finch, in Brainerd doth abide,
Mildred, herself, was but recently a bride.
Garretson, South Dakota, she claims as her home,
Our own Clarice says, "Number, please," on our telephone.Stella, Mrs. Schuster, makes her home in St. Paul,
There are also eighteen grandchildren, both large and small,A pleasant family, loving and kind to each other,Obeying God's Word: "Honor thy Father and thy Mother."
To you, Father and Mother, we bring greetings today,
Greetings from those who are near, and those who are far away.
The best of all the best things in life we wish for you,
Peace, happiness, contentment, with your loved ones so true.
May you have many more years of happiness together to share,
May God, in His wisdom, guard and keep you and yours, in our prayer.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Animal Friends on the Johnson Farm

From the 1920s-1930s, the formative years my mother spent with her grandparents in rural Minnesota, there were always many pets and working animals on the farm. There was hardly a story-telling that did not include a funny or poignant bit about one of those animals, such as the time when little Birdy, a cherished pet dog, was an unwitting participant in teaching some naughty children a lesson.

My mother and her cousins were in the habit of mercilessly teasing a hired man, Ingemon Thompson, as he tried to carry out his daily chores. They teased him in part because they liked him so much, but also because he was so patient and never scolded them for misbehavior. One day, Ingemon felt he'd had enough. Not one to mince words, he grabbed the unsuspecting Birdy, climbed the ladder to the top of the water tank, and dropped her in.

Shocked by the action, my mother and her companions began to yell and cry, begging Ingemon to get their precious Birdy out of the tank before she drowned. After giving the children a couple of minutes to consider the consequences of their actions, Ingemon again climbed the ladder to retrieve Birdy, who had been confidently paddling around and around. The children were frightened and angry, but they had to laugh when they saw Birdy looking so drenched, and saw that she was none the worse for her unfortunate experience. But, the harsh lesson took, and the children never teased Ingeman with quite the same abandon after that.

Doris Johnson (my mother), age 14, holding "Speedy," a cat who never became indignant about being dressed in doll clothes, and Birdy, a beloved family dog. Leonard, Minnesota, 1934.

Here are some other members of the Ole M. Johnson family with animal friends over the years:

Uncle Frank Johnson with his dog and a calf he raised.
Fosston, Minnesota, ca. 1915.

Mom's cousin, George Johnson on "Colonel": a special horse that belonged to their grandfather, Ole M. Johnson. Colonel was an exceptional horse that lived a very long time and was fondly remembered by the entire family. Leonard, Minnesota, ca.1929.

Uncle Bennett Johnson with farm puppies and a cat.
Fosston, Minnesota, ca.1910.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Rise and Fall of Heartland Farmhouses

It's hard to imagine what it once looked like before the prairie became a checkerboard of farms. In an area that stretched from Texas to Manitoba, and Indiana to the Great Plains, the predominant features were grass and an endless horizon. In places, blades of big bluestem grew higher than a man on horseback. To find a lost pilgrim on the prairie, you needed to head for the nearest hummock and look outward for a rolling splash in the flora.

A year or two ago, I encountered a film presented by the Public Broadcasting System: "Death of the Dream: Farmhouses in the Heartland." It is a beautifully done, one-hour documentary that "weaves a tapestry combining images of vanishing farmhouses with stories of historians, farm experts, and people who lived 'the dream' of life on the farm." The film was inspired by photographer and essayist William Gabler's book of classic farmhouses, Death of the Dream, published by the Afton Historical Society Press."

The whole idea behind the commemoration of an American way of life that is rapidly vanishing really struck home. So much of my family research deals with the Midwest during the late 19th century, when my immigrant ancestors built farmhouses alongside crop-filled prairie acres they bet their very existence on.

The L-shaped farmhouse on the Johnson family homestead, Granite Falls Township, Chippewa County, Minnesota, was built by the late 1870s, and photographed in 1941 by my mother. Under other ownership since about 1901, the farmhouse was eventually torn down when it became too unstable to leave standing.

Whenever I look at a photograph of an old house or barn, it is more than faded and tired walls. Inside the corners and beyond the panes, there is life that surges just beyond realization. I find myself longing to step through a virtual canvas. If I could only slip through a wrinkle in space and time into another dimension and stand alongside my pioneer ancestors within their reality, I would do just that. "Death of the Dream" touches upon this human need to connect intimately with those who came before us, through the remnants of homes and shelters they left behind.

Also photographed in 1941 was the earliest barn on the Johnson homestead property, also built in the 1870s. Note the sleighs in the forefront of the photograph. Granite Falls Township, Chippewa County, Minnesota.

"Part celebration and part bittersweet elegy, 'Death of the Dream' provides a window towards the past, while looking towards the future. Viewers can explore the remnants of vacant homesteads, and imagine visiting with friends on the back porch, sitting around the cook stove in the farm kitchen, or singing around the piano in the parlor."

So much of who we are as a nation is linked to that rural vision that one can't help feel both a sadness and sense of dilemma of what the role of rural America should be.
- William Cronon