Sunday, January 22, 2012

In Search of Great Grandma's Girlhood, Part II

For months I've been meaning to get back to scanning a box of loose photographs given to me by a cousin who lives in New York, who had previously borrowed them from relatives in Minnesota and Idaho.  These photographs--already quite well-traveled--were part of an extensive collection that once belonged to my great grandparents, Ole Martin and Malla (Larson) Johnson, of Leonard, Minnesota.  Due to a severe Pacific Northwest snow storm, I had a few precious days off work.  I decided to roll up my sleeves and warm up the scanner (hopefully, my husband is not now feeling as neglected as the scanner was until this past week). 

Recently, in one of the old Johnson cabinet card albums, I discovered a previously undetected tin type photograph of Malla (Larson), looking several years younger than she was at the time of her wedding in 1886 (see my previous blog post:  "In Search of Great Grandma's Girlhood.")  I was overjoyed to find this photo, because it is now the youngest image the family has of Malla.  I say that it was "previously undetected," because my ancestors, like yours, did not often take the time to write down the identities of people in their photographs.  Everyone knew who they were at the time, so what was the urgency?

Perhaps unmarked ancestral photographs were left untouched in order to present a challenge for relations to come... for people like me, who take pride in being the family historian, and who also possess capable facial recognition skills along with a love of the chase.  And, a chase it is!  Many of you know that familiar adrenalin surge when recognizing someone in a newly acquired vintage photograph, or feeling the slow spread of certainty after an initial reaction of "I know this person!"  You have just "bagged" another ancestor and not returned home from the hunt empty-handed.

Anne Marie ("Mary") Sloan (right), 1884/85
Though I was not actively looking for it, I acquired a piece of another great grandma's girlhood among the tin type photographs I scanned yesterday.  In this especially lovely pose from the mid-1880s, I knew I had seen the girl standing on the right before, though the hat made it more difficult to see all of her features. The girl sitting next to her was unfamiliar--a cousin, or friend, perhaps?  Suddenly, it hit me that the girl on the right looked like my mother's maternal grandmother, Anne Marie ("Mary") Slaaen (or Sloan--the Americanized version of the family name).  Her face in the photo above has a bit more "baby fat" than what I remembered in her wedding photograph, so I zoomed in on the two in order to compare.  One in the same!

Mary (Sloan) Berge, Feb. 1886
In 1886, at the time of her wedding to Ole Benhart Berge in Leenthrop Township, Chippewa County, Minnesota, Mary Sloan was 17 years old.  In the earlier photograph, she appears to be 15 or 16.  Now, Mary was not related to either Ole or Malla (Larson) Johnson, the original owners of the photographs.  What then, was my other maternal great grandmother doing in Ole and Malla Johnson's photo collection?

I then remembered the situation as my mother had previously described to me.  In early Chippewa County, as in any sparsely populated pioneer community, it is true that everybody knew everybody.  When friends gave likenesses to friends, it was a kind gesture that was usually reciprocated.  But, Mary Sloan had an even more important reason to give her photograph to young Ole Johnson, because the two of them courted for awhile.  Mary Sloan, at about age 16, dated Ole Martin Johnson, a local homesteader and landowner, who was eight years her senior.  At the same time, Malla Larson, also age 16, dated Ole Benhart Berge, who was four years her senior.  Somewhere along the line, Ole Johnson must have decided that Malla Larson would make a better partner for his chosen way of life, whereas Mary Sloan fell in love with Ole Benhart Berge, a future mail carrier and railroad worker.  Both couples, linked to better suit their mutual strengths, were married in February 1886:  the Berges on February 6, and the Johnsons on the 28th.  So, Ole Johnson got his helpmate in lovely Malla, and Ole Berge got his sweet Mary; the stars were aligned correctly, at last, and the Johnson/Larson and Berge/Sloan legacies were begun.

Ole and Malla Johnson, Feb. 1886
 Ole and Malla Johnson facts:

--Ole Martin Johnson, August 6, 1860-April 20, 1948; born at Lassemoen farm, near Grong, Nord-Trondelag, Norway; immigrated with parents and sister in 1866; died from heart disease.
--Malla (Vigesaa) Larson, April 20, 1868-April 19, 1948; born near LaCrosse, Wisconsin, USA; died one day short of her 80th birthday from pneumonia and stroke.
--Ten children, all of whom lived to old age.
--Lived in Granite Falls Township, Chippewa County, Minnesota; Fosston, Polk County, Minnesota; Leonard, Clearwater County, Minnesota.
--Married 62 years.
--Died within hours of each other; both buried under a double headstone at East Zion Cemetery near Leonard, Minnesota, across the road from their last residence.

Ole and Mary Berge, Feb. 1886
Ole and Mary Berge facts:

--Ole Benhart Berge, October 30, 1864-January 24, 1949; born at Storberget farm near Lillehammer, Gudbrandsdalen, Norway; immigrated with mother and sister in 1869 (father immigrated the year before); died  from stroke.
--Anne Marie (Mary) Sloan/Slaaen, June 20, 1868-June 7, 1947; born in a covered wagon near Swan Lake, Nicollett County, Minnesota; died from leukemia.
--Twelve children; two died in infancy.
--Lived near Leonard, Clearwater County, Minnesota; Maynard, Chippewa County, Minnesota.
--Married 61 years.
--Both buried at Maynard Lutheran Cemetery, Maynard, Chippewa County, Minnesota.

Special note:  Ernest Johnson, son of Ole and Malla Johnson, married Esther Berge, daughter of Ole and Mary Berge, on March 22, 1917 in Chippewa County, Minnesota.  Ernest and Esther Johnson were my maternal grandparents.


  1. It is amazing that Ole and Malla died on the same day. Coincidence, or true love? I wonder what their relationship was like by the end of their lives, if they were close or.... Beautiful photographs1

  2. I just love old family photos. I acquired an old 19th century photo album which was rescued by someone. They were trying to find a descendant and I turned out to be the lucky one. Read about it at Photo Genealogy at Hidden Genealogy Nuggets .

    Regards, Jim

  3. I just love old family photos. I acquired an old 19th century photo album which was rescued by someone. They were trying to find a descendant and I turned out to be the lucky one. Read about it at Photo Genealogy at Hidden Genealogy Nuggets .

    Regards, Jim