Friday, March 25, 2011

Grandma Karen and Her Feather Bed

It was nine feet tall and six feet wide
soft as a downey chick
It was made from the feathers of forty eleven geese
took a whole bolt of cloth for the tick
It'd hold eight kids n' four hound dogs
and a piggy we stole from the shed
We didn't get much sleep but we had a lot of fun

on Grandma's feather bed [1]

Karen Bue Berge, early 1900s.

Karen (Bue) Berge was one of my maternal great great grandmothers--each one of them a Norwegian immigrant who experienced the anguish of leaving home and family they would likely never see again, in order to forge a better life on the mid-19th century American frontier. Before Karen died from pulmonary emphysema in 1914, she devised a will, which was uncharacteristic of farming women of her time. It reads:

First. I order and direct that my executrix hereinafter named pay al my just debts. And I direct that my funeral expenses and the expense of the admistration be paid out of and made a charge upon the homestead hereinafter devised.
Second. After the payment of such funeral expenses and expenses of adminstration I give and devise unto my beloved daughter, Gunda C. Overson, my homestead, described as the East half of Lot 13, and all except the East ten feet of Lot 14 in Block 21, in the original Townsite of Granite Falls, Minnesota.
Third. I give and devise unto my beloved daughter, Sophia G. Skrukrud, two lots now owned by me in Lillehammer, Norway. I request that the said lots last mentioned be retained unsold by my said last named daughter, as I consider it would be for her best interest to retain

Fourth. I give and bequeath unto my said daughter, Sophia G. Skrukrud, my featherbed, now in my possession at my home.
Fifth. I give and bequeath unto my four children, Ole B. Berge, Ottilia A. Erlandson, Gunda C. Overson, and Sophia G. Skrukrud, all my clothing, personal effects, and wearing apparel, to be divided among them as nearly equally as may be. And I do further give, devise and bequeath unto my said four children all the rest, residue and remainder of my estate.
Lastly. I do hereby constitute my said daughter, Gunda C. Overson, to be the executrix of this my Will, hereby revoking all fomer Wills by me made.

[Karen Berge]

Witnessed by
Ole P. Skorseth
Bert O. Loe

That Karen would have even mentioned her feather bed among the specific items bequeathed in her will, including a homestead and properties in Norway, is quite interesting. It either attests to her pride of ownership of such an item, or it was an attempt to eliminate sibling squabbling over a highly favored piece of furniture. It made me smile to discover the reference when reading her will for the first time.

Karen Bue Berge (seated), with her daughters, ca. 1910.  Standing, (L to R):  Gunda Overson, Sophie Skrukrud, and Othilie Erlandson.

Karen Olsdatter Bue was born on August 19, 1839 on Bue Farm in Faaberg (near Lillehammer), Norway, to Ole Pedersen Kraaboel Bue and Berthe Pedersdatter Bue. Karen had four siblings: Martha Olsdatter Bue (b. April 5, 1835), Petter Olsen Bue (b. 1841), Simon Emil Bue (b. March 21, 1847), and Thina Olsdatter Bue (b. 1849). On December 28, 1860, she married Gulbran Olsen Berge in Faaberg. The couple emigrated from Norway before their marriage had aged a decade. In April 1868, Gulbran boarded the sailing vessel, the Hannah Parr, bound for Quebec in North America, while Karen stayed behind in Norway with their two children, Othilie Annette (b. October 27, 1861) and Ole Benhart--my great grandfather (b. October 30, 1864). Karen was expecting a third child at the time of her husband's departure, but the baby, named Gunda C., died soon after being born on December 21. Gulbran Berge never saw his new infant daughter.

During the spring or summer of 1869, Karen and two children left Norway to join Gulbran in Minnesota. Several more children followed after the couple settled on a sixty-acre homestead in Leenthrop Township, Chippewa County: Gunda Caroline (b. June 26, 1872), Berthe Bergine (b..May 5, 1874 and died as an infant), Jorgen Benhart (b. in 1878 and died in 1880), and Sophie Georgine (b. July 16, 1881).

Karen Bue Berge as a middle-aged woman.  Chippewa County, Minnesota, 1870s.

When their youngest child was but a year old, Gulbran came down with consumption (tuberculosis), and passed on soon after, leaving his family to fend for themselves. His funeral was attending by about eight-five neighbors and friends during the height of a prarie winter in January 1883. Karen and her underage children, Gunda and Sophie, were probably aided by her grown children in the years to follow. There were twenty years separating the births of Othilie, the eldest child, and Sophie, the youngest, and Othilie had become a married woman a few years before, in 1879.

Karen's obitutary, published in the Granite Falls Tribune on September 3, 1914, was more extensive than for most women of modest means, especially a longtime widow:

Mrs. Berge, the mother of Mrs. Overson, passed away last Friday, September 4th, after a long illness. Her age was 75 years.

Deceased was born in Lillehammer, Norway, August 12th, 1839, and came to this country when a young woman. She has resided in Chippewa County for the past 43 years, being one of the first settlers and pioneers of the county. Previous to her residence there she lived at Mankato for three years.

She was a woman of a kind disposition and open hearted hospitality, the characteristics predominant among most pioneers, and always willing to do more than her share to lighten the
world's burdens for others.

She is survived by four children who will revere and honor her memory. They are Mrs. Edw. Elandson, Maynard; Mr. Ole B. Berge, Leonard, Minn; Mrs. G. T. Skrukrud and Mrs. Overson, of this city.

Funeral services were held this afternoon, the hour being 2:00 o'clock at the house and 2:30 at the United Lutheran church. Both Rev. M. B. Eriksen, of Maynard, and Rev. O. J. Eriksen, of this city officiated. Interment was made in the Lutheran cemetery. [3]

[1] Excerpt from "Grandma's Feather Bed." Music and lyrics by Jim Connor; performed by John Denver.
[2] Last Will and Testament of Karen Berge, Chippewa County Court Records, Montevideo, Minnesota.
[3] Obituary of "Mrs. Berge" [Karen (Bue) Berge]. "Granite Falls Tribune," September 8, 1914.

Friday, March 11, 2011

"New" Vaterland Family Photos

In my last post, I wrote about the Hans Thorsen Slaaen and Anne Thorsdatter Vaterland family that settled in Coon Valley, Wisconsin, after emigrating from Nordre Fron, Gubrandsdalen, Norway in 1853. Their youngest child, Anne Marie Slaaen, was one of my great grandmothers, who was born in a covered wagon near Swan Lake as the family traveled from Wisconsin to homestead in Chippewa County, Minnesota.

Photo #1, ca. 1860, inscribed "Anne and Mary 'Sloan."
Photo courtesy of Michael Siverhus.

The Slaaen (Sloan)/Vaterland branches are the parts of my mother's family that I know the least about. But, no sooner did I renew my interest in pursuing more information, than I received a wonderful surprise from one of my internet cousins. I say "internet cousin," because although we are blood related, I have only met Mike through e-mail correspondence. He contacted me a few years ago after seeing a notice I had posted in the Chippewa County Historical Society newsletter. I have several internet cousins whom I share information with, and this collaboration has helped me to make great inroads in genealogical research. Hopefully, I have been of some help to them, as well.

(Note: I use the names Slaaen/Sloan interchangeably, because although the original Norwegian surname was "Slaaen," the family adopted the Americanized version of "Sloan" after a few years in America.)

The surprise was a couple of photographs Mike found while visiting his mother recently. He thought they applied more to my side of the family than his, and so, he sent them along. The lovely mid-19th century photo above is of sisters: "Anne and Mary Sloan" is written on the back.

Photo #2, ca. 1875, is inscribed: "Sister to "Pa's--Grandmother Annie Sloan."
Photo courtesy of Michael Siverhus.

This second photo, which is of excellent clarity and quality, is apparently of two sisters with their elderly mother (seated), although the inscription is more difficult to decipher: "Sister to Pa's--Grandmother Annie Sloan." The main questions are: who is "Pa," and which woman is the "Grandmother" referred to in the inscription?

There was another problem getting in the way of accurate identification of the women in the two photographs. As with many families, the names "Anne/Anna/Annie" and "Mary/Mari/Marie" were popular among Norwegians, and there were more than a few of the same name among the Slaaens and Vaterlands, and more than a few spelling variations, as well.

Photo #2 really set me thinking. I was not aware of any "Sloan" sisters by the name of Anne and Mary, although the shorter woman standing on the left looked familiar to me. I compared the photo to one of my great great grandmother (Anne Vaterland Slaaen), taken with the rest of her family, ca. 1890, and lo and behold, I found it to be the same woman. Could it be that the women in the second photo are actually Vaterlands, then, and not Sloans?

Photo #3:  Anne Vaterland Slaaen, ca. 1890,
 Chippewa County, Minnesota (cropped photo from the
 Hans T. Slaaen family portait in my previous blog post)

The woman in Photo #3, whom I know to be my great great grandmother, Anne Vaterland Slaaen/Sloan, appears harried and thin, almost gaunt, compared to the calm and appealing older woman standing on the left ("Grandmother Annie Sloan") in Photo #2, but they are indeed the same woman. Look carefully at the hairline, the droop of the eyes, the set of the mouth, and the distance between the nose and mouth. In 1890, Anne was in her seventies and had experienced a lifetime of hard work. Some 15 years earlier, as in Photo #2 (see cropped version below), she was not quite as thin.  Photo #2 had to have been taken in the mid 1870s, because Marit Pedersdatter Vaterland, the seated woman who appears to be the mother of the other women, died in 1878 in Washington Township, La Crosse County, Wisconsin.

Cropped image of Anne Vaterland Slaaen,
 ca. 1875 (from Photo #2)

My conclusion? The photos are actually Vaterland women, and not Slaaens/Sloans, in spite of the inscriptions on the back of the photos. Anne may have married a Slaaen, but her sister and mother could not lay claim to that name. When someone wrote on the back of the photos, perhaps many years after they were taken, Anne's maiden name had probably been forgotten, and the exact relationship of the women in Photo #2 was no longer clear.

But, did Anne Vaterland Slaaen actually have a sister named Mary, as the inscription on Photo #1 indicates?  While searching for proof, I took another look at a pioneer biography of Anne Vaterland Slaaen's father that I found in a book by Hjalmar R. Holand, some years ago. It reads:

"Thor Johannessen Vaterland was born in Nordre Fron, Norway, April 8, 1808. He emigrated to America in 1858, and settled in Coon Valley on section 35, Town of Washington, La Crosse County, the same year. He was married to Marit Pedersen with whom he had two children: Mari and Anne..." [1]

Thanks to my internet cousin, not only have we "found" two more photographs of our great great grandmother, Anne Vaterland Slaaen, but we have also met the acquaintance of her sister, Mary/Mari Vaterland, and their mother, Marit Pedersdatter Øyen Vaterland.

I now have a photograph of my great great GREAT grandmother; how cool is THAT?

[1] Holand, Hjalmar R. "Coon Valley: An Historical Account of the Norwegian Congregations in Coon Valley." Augsburg Publishing: Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1928, p.201.

Other source: