Saturday, September 14, 2013

Identified: Ingebrigt Larsen Winje from Vinjeøra

I believe I have identified photographs of a member of the Winje branch of my family who emigrated from  Vinjeøra, Norway and arrived in America in 1869.  The history of Lars Eriksen Winje, his wife Ragnild, and sons, Eric and Ingebrigt, was discussed in my 2008 publication:  A Long Way Downstream:  The Life and Family of Thibertine Johnson Winje, Norwegian-American Pioneer.  The only photo of the entire family that I have seen is the one below, made available online through the genealogy website.  Though the image is of poor quality, it is possible to determine facial features and family resemblances.  The carte-de-visite size photos of the parents, Lars and Ragnild (also below), were taken in Chippewa County, Minnesota.  Their eldest son, Eric Larsen Winje, has been clearly identified due to various family-held photos of him as an adult.  The only family member whose adult image had not been found or identified was Ingebrigt's... until now.

A positively identified photo of the Winje family, prior to
 emigrating to America.  Taken in Trondheim, Norway in 1869.
Seated in front are Ragnild and Lars, with Eric standing
behind his mother, and Ingebrigt behind his father.
Lars Eriksen Winje, ca, 1880
Montevideo, Minnesota

Ragnild Winje, ca. 1880
Montevideo, Minnesota

Among a batch of unidentified carte-de-visite size photos that once belonged to my great grandparents, Ole and Malla Johnson of Leonard, Minnesota, were the two images below.  The photos were taken in Montevideo, Chippewa County, Minnesota by the same photographer, A. Brandmo.   The features of the man on the right, in particular, haunted me for some time.  It finally occurred to me that the unknown man looked somewhat like Eric L. Winje, and when I thought to compare his image to the other male members of the immigrant Winje family, it became clear that he was, indeed, a Winje,  The members of that family were very limited during the 1870s and 1880s.  The only Winje it could be, according to the age of the man and the age of the photos, is Ingebrigt Winje, son of Lars and Ragnild Winje, and younger brother to Eric L. Winje.

Probably Ingebrigt Winje, ca. 1886,
Montevideo, Minnesota

Probably Ingebrigt Winje, ca. late 1870s,
Montevideo, Minnesota

Ingebrigt Winje was born at Vinje, Hevne, Sør-Trøndelag in Norway.  His parents were cotters (tenants) at Skeistrøa, and they later leased a lot at Vinjeøra.  At age 12, he came to America with his parents and brother, sailing on the Franklin and arriving by way of Quebec in 1869.  In 1870, he wrote back to a friend in Norway:

...I live well with my health and soundness and find myself here in America.  I have now gone to school one month and I had to begin anew with my ABCs which was very different pronunciation of them than in Norwegian.  ...I see from your letter that you ask me to write how it was with me at sea.  On the sea it was very fun and I had many friends there but I was not sick one single day.

The letter was signed "Yours faithfully, Ingebrigt Larsen."

Eric L. Winje (5 Dec 1850-8 Feb 1930), was six years older than his only brother, Ingebrigt.  Eric became one of the first licensed attorneys in Chippewa County, Minnesota, and studied law while "rocking the babies" and helping out his wife out at home.  After passing the Minnesota bar exam, he practiced law in Duluth and later was elected municipal court judge.  He also worked as an attorney in Sacred Heart and Detroit Lakes.  In comparing Eric's identified photo to the two unidentified men (above), it is clear that they possess many of the same facial features:  a broad forehead with the hair parted on the far left, high cheekbones, and a similar shape and size to the eyes and eyebrows.  Ingebrigt appears to have had the same wide, strong jaw as his father, Lars.

Official photograph of Eric L. Winje,
 ca. 1885.
Whereas Eric, the elder brother, chose to leave farm life behind and build a professional career, Ingebrigt stayed on his parents' farm in Sparta Township, Chippewa County, Minnesota, to help his aging father with the heavy labor.  If health had permitted, he would have inherited his parents' farm property and carried on much as his father had.  But, at age 31, he contracted diphtheria during an epidemic in Chippewa County and died on May 26, 1888.  "Black Diphtheria," as it was called, was a much-feared disease in which a membrane growth covers areas of the throat, resulting in airway obstruction and death in the most serious cases.

Several months after her uncle's death, 16-year-old Regina Winje, who was living with her uncle and grandparents on the Winje farm, wrote to a family friend from Norway who was temporarily living in Seattle, Washington:

I must now send you some lines as an answer to your letter to Ingebret [sic] Winje, since he can not.  Your childhood friend is dead!  He died the 26th of May 1888.  He was sick for nine weeks this winter from arthritis but  then he got a little better again, so much so that he could work, but then he became again lame in his right foot and had to in the end, be in bed and was so frightfully sick of two weeks that he lost his understanding right up until the last hour; his last hour he was, however, calm.  here there were many people who followed him to the grave...

The Winje farm in Sparta Township became the property of Ingebrigt's mother, Ragnild, after the death of her husband, Lars, in 1890, only two years after Ingebrigt's passing.  Lars and Ragnild Winje's eldest grandchild, Regina Winje Strand, then took over responsibility for the farm, along with her husband, Thomas E. Strand.  Strand eventually purchased the farm after his wife Regina passed away at young age in 1899, but he continued to support his grandmother-in-law, Ragnild Winje, until her death. 

Without direct descendants to carry on Ingebrigt Winje's memory, an impression of him as an adult has been indeterminable for some time.  But, I am now fairly confident that we have rediscovered an image of a much loved Norwegian-American son, brother, and uncle.

Ingebrigt Larsen Winje
Born:  12 September 1856, at Vinje, Hevne, Sør-Trøndelag, Norway
Died:   26 May 1888, Sparta Township, Chippewa County, Minnesota
Buried:  Saron Lutheran Cemetery, Chippewa County, Minnesota
Occupation:  farmer



--Winje, Ingebrigt Larsen, letter to Wessel family of Vinjeøra, Norway, 1870.  Courtesy of Astri Wessel, Nord-Trøndelag, Norway.
--Winje, Regina E., letter to Doran Wessel in Seattle, Washington from Chippewa County, Minnesota, October 1888.  Courtesy of Astri Wessel, Nord-Trøndelag, Norway.

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