Saturday, March 21, 2009

Passport Applications: Eyes Into the Past

I paid another visit to recently to "re-search" some individuals, and ended up striking gold. Since the last time I went hunting there, an entry had been made for Eric L. Winje under the "U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925" category. The family history has already been written and has gone to press, but it is never too late to satisfy one's curiosity, plus, the belated information can always be saved for another project... or, just for a rainy day.

Eric Larsen Winje was my great great grandmother's (Thibertine "Bertina" Johnson Winje's) second husband; the couple had eight children together between 1872-1885. It was shortly after this portrait sitting that Winje made a trip back to Norway to visit his home town of Vinjeoera in Hemne.

The Eric L. Winje family in Duluth, Minnesota, 1888. Left to right: Edward (in front), Louis, Eric, Regina, Emma, and Bertina (Eric's wife). This photograph was likely taken just after the deaths of the two youngest children, Hattie and Annie. Lena, another child, is not present in the family portrait and may have been ill at the time.

Eric and Bertina Winje had lost an infant daughter (Emma M.) to diphtheria on the Chippewa prairie in 1878, followed by their two youngest and red-headed daughters, Hattie Christine and Annie Jorgene, who also succumbed to the ravages of the disease during the spring of 1888. In 1893, their eldest son, Louis Peter, was drowned during a shipwreck in Duluth Harbor to which, tragically, his father was a witness. Within a couple of years after his son's death, Eric Winje decided that he needed a vacation far and away from the familiar cityscape of Duluth, Minnesota, where he worked as an attorney. Perhaps a visit to the old country was just what he needed to overcome some of his grief and put a sense of balance back into his life again.

Initially, I did not know exactly when Eric Winje made the trip back to Norway, and if his wife or any of the children accompanied him. There was mention of the trip made by Markus Wessel in an article about Winje, his parents and brother, and their emigration to the United States from Vinjeoera, Soer-Troendelag: "En Utvandrerfamilie fra VinjeØra i 1869." I found the answers to these questions, and more, within the passport application. According to the document, which was submitted on April 10, 1885, Winje declined to include his wife or any of his children in the application (this is the part that is scratched out following his name, near the top of the document).

Early passport applications contain a wealth of information, including birth statistics, date of emigration, name of sailing vessel, length of residence within the U.S., and date of naturalization, as well as the occupation, address, and signature of the individual.

From the document, I am able to surmise that Winje made his visit back to Hemne, Soer Troendelag, Norway during the summer of 1895, but I can also visualize him more clearly as a 44 year-old man of 5'11" in height, with brown hair, an "ordinary" nose, gray eyes, and a retreating forehead--also possessing a smallish mouth he preferred to keep covered by a full beard, and a mostly light complexion that was colored by ruddy or flushed cheeks.

Eric L. Winje: I'm glad to know you better, and it is all because you decided to take that vacation in Norway, to see old friends and recuperate from difficult trials in the new world. I hope it helped...


  1. Great story, Chery! I haven't found any yet, but it's a valuable resource for those that do.


  2. Hi Donna - Yes, they are rare, considering that many people could not afford to go overseas. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Interesting information , Ican identify with

  4. I am always amazed at how much my dad, Eric D. Winje, looks like his great grandpa, for whom he was named. It's uncanny really. Dad also possesses a love of the law. Apple didn't fall far from the tree!

  5. Hi anwin72 - I'm always very glad to hear from family. Your dad was the first Winje relative I found when I made my connections a few years back. Shortly before then, I had no clue that the Winjes existed, or that my g g grandma, Thibertine Johnson (Winje), had married a second time. I love family history research--there are always mysteries to solve.