Sunday, March 10, 2013

Peek-A-Boo, Malla, We Found You

Malla Larson, at about age 16,
 ca. 1884 (this is the earliest
known photo of my great
Every family historian knows how maddening it can be when a source cannot be found to prove data that is well known by the family.  Some people call that a "brick wall," but you could also call it just plain frustrating.  Several family historians approached the problem of finding a birth or baptism date for my maternal great grandmother at different times, with no "proof" found other than what was written in the family Bible.

Malla (Vigesaa) (Larson) Johnson always told her family that she was born in LaCrosse, Wisconsin on April 20, 1868.  One thing I soon realized about my Norwegians ancestors is that they assumed major landmarks would stick in people's heads better than too much detail.  So, rather than specifically identifying where she had been born, Malla simply referred to nearby LaCrosse.  The trouble is, no birth or baptism record was forthcoming using the standard searches.

It was apparent that we had to go right to early church records, if any existed. Through collaboration with a cousin-in-law who is writing a Larson family history, it was determined that Malla must have grown up in Coon Valley, Wisconsin, a stopping-off place for many early Norwegian immigrants.   We had found proof of other family members living there, but nothing about Malla relating to Coon Valley.  She was still a child when the Erik and Kjersten Larson family relocated to Chippewa County, Minnesota and began homesteading.  We also knew that the family would not have attended any church other than Lutheran, which narrowed down the possible records.

It turns out that records for the Upper Coon Valley Lutheran Church in Wisconsin are only available in one place:  the LaCrosse Public Library.  I knew that if we were going to find anything on Malla's birth data, it would probably be on microfilm from that library.  Unhappily, I could not access the microfilm via interlibrary loan, so I began calculating how many years it might take before I could personally visit LaCrosse.  Too many, it seemed.

If we are patient enough, sometimes good things have a way of just happening (continual networking doesn't hurt, either).  I was just now contacted by a cousin-in-law, Nancy Larson, who has been working on a family history of our branch of the Larsons.  She made a new internet contact about whom she said, "It turns out she lives in Wisconsin. Turns out she works at a genealogy library, specializing in Norwegian research."  My cousin's new contact, after accessing the church records of interest on microfilm owned by the ELCA Archives (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America), came up with the following information:

#19 - Molla (Malla) b. 20 April, 1868, bap. 22 May, daughter of Erick Larsen and Christine Olsdatter, witnesses Sven Pederson, Engebret Sinbakken, Anne Jensdatter, Johanne Bredesdatter

Source:  ELCA Film #29 Upper Coon Valley 1868 Baptisms 1868

Ah!  Our search for Malla Vigesaa Larson's proof of birth has ended, with special thanks to a sympathetic professional and fellow researcher somewhere in Wisconsin.  I guess my trip to LaCrosse can wait a little bit longer...

If you are having a difficult time finding data for any Lutheran-American ancestors, try the research information and services available at the ECLA Archives, as specified on their webpage regarding Genealogy and Microfilm.  When doing family history research, ECLA Archives staff recommend first checking census records, naturalization papers, city directories, or related sources, before considering congregational records, especially if you are not certain your relatives were Lutheran.

1 comment:

Nancy said...

How exciting to have finally found Malla's birth information! It gives encouragement to your readers to just keep searching. Your Malla was very lovely.