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.


Tricia (Haugen) Drury said...

While doing a google search on the Hannah Parr's 1868 voyage, I came across your posting. My great-great-great grandparents Lars Pedersen Lindvigshaugen and Anne Johansdatter (with their infant daughter Anne, my g-g-ma) sailed with your Gulbran. I am sure they would have known each other! How exciting, and how lucky we are to have access to records that give us insight into their lives.

Chery Kinnick said...

Hi Tricia! Thanks for your comment. Are you related to Clair Haugen, by any chance? His research is how I came across the Hannah Parr info, to begin with.

Kurt Berge said...

I'm a bit late to have read this but thank you! Great info... I was unaware that my great-great-great grandmother Karen lived in Granite Falls. Also, the feather bed... grand! Many thanks, Cheri.

Kurt Berge said...

*Chery. My apologies!

Chery Kinnick said...

Hi Kurt - I'm glad you enjoyed the story. I'm hoping that my many cousins will find this blog useful! How's your dad doing?