Thursday, March 28, 2019

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks (Week 13): In the News

Judge Winje and the Curious Case of Mortification

My great great grandmother Thibertine's second husband, Eric Larsen Winje, was a self-taught attorney and served as a Municipal Court judge in Duluth and Detroit Lakes, Minnesota.  Due to his high civic profile, there is more to be found about him in newspapers than many of my ancestors.  One of the most unexpected things I have discovered involves an embarrassing mishap Winje suffered while riding on a train.

Eric L. Winje, ca. 1905.
In April 1904, Judge Eric L. Winje became the focus of an entertaining piece published in several Minnesota newspapers when he sued the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad for $5,000.  The case, concerning alleged mistreatment, was originally handled by the twelfth judicial court but was transferred to federal court.  Earlier in the year, on January 16, he had boarded a train at Granite Falls in Chippewa County.  Intending to catch some rest, he requested a wake-up call from the conductor.  "It was 2:30 a.m. and Winje was soon sleeping the sleep of the man who gets up at that hour of the night to catch a train," a news article reported.  He planned to disembark at Sacred Heart but no wake-up call was issued.  He did not awaken in time and the train continued on.  When it made the next stop at Renville, he tried to leave.  The conductor, however, insisted that Winje owed another 21 cents for fare, even though his wake-up call never occurred.  When Winje refused to pay, on principal, the conductor became verbally abusive and said, in part:  "You are a thief and you are in the habit of stealing rides on trains.  I could have you arrested!"

Winje declared himself humiliated and "damaged" by the strong language of the conductor and brought suit.  The railroad company filed a counter claim for 21 cents.  For some reason, Winje asked to have the case dropped, but the rules of the court were such that it could not be done with the intervening claim having been set up.  Winje did not appear in court, possibly because of a conflict in his duties. When the case was called. the attorneys for the railroad demanded a verdict of 21 cents, which was approved.  The news article indicated that Winje would institute another suit against the corporation.

As one of the first Norwegian attorneys to come out of Chippewa County, Minnesota, Eric L. Winje was widely known as a responsible and credible person.  He held the love and respect of his large family through both good and trying times.  I can imagine how the unfairness of this incident piqued his determination to prove himself innocent and to formally refute the harsh treatment offered him by the conductor.  It did not help that the news media caught wind of the trouble and published the story for his ancestors as well as his contemporaries to read.  On this occasion, at least, Judge Winje had the misfortune to discover what it was like being on the wrong side of the bench.


--"Duluth man would withdraw suit against Milwaukee Road," Duluth Evening Herald, April 6, 1904, p.1.
--"Nap cost him 21 cents," Minneapolis Journal, April 21, 1904, p.13.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Those Who Served in the Great War: Private Odin Johnson

 A Minnesota Doughboy in WWI France

Odin Johnson, the fifth child out of ten born to Ole Martin Johnson and Malla (Larson) Johnson, was the only one among seven brothers who served in the U.S. Army overseas during World War I.  Odin was a farm laborer when he was required to register for the draft.  He was rather tall compared to others in his family, standing at just under six feet and weighing 180 pounds.  The combination of his youth, single status, and lack of his own farm almost assured that he was chosen as a draftee.  He served in the U.S. Army for fourteen months, and before he left home a farewell party was held for him at his old country schoolhouse near the town of Leonard, Minnesota.

Odin's two older brothers, Bennett and Ernest, were not chosen to serve during WWI even though they also had to register for the draft.  Bennett was unmarried but did not own his own property at the time, and the government did not wish to reduce food supplies by shutting down farms.  Ernest, my grandfather, owned a farm and was married.  Of the younger brothers in the family, only Oral Johnson was old enough to register for the WWI draft, but he was not chosen primarily due to timing.  The remaining brothers, Ruben, Carl, and Frank, were underage, but they were required to register for the WWII draft in later years.  The early twentieth century proved to be a rough period for families with men being shipped off to war, many of whom never returned home, or returned home forever changed.

Odin Johnson in uniform (on the right), ca. 1918.
Odin Johnson enlisted on February 23, 1918.  Assigned the rank of Private, he was attached to the 30th Infantry Division, a unit of the Army National Guard, named the "Old Hickory" division in honor of President Andrew Jackson.  Along with three other local men:  John Huff of Shevlin, and Sidney Churness and Selmer Nelson of Clearbrook, Odin took the train from Bagley, Minnesota to Fort Dodge, Iowa, where they were stationed before the division headed to Europe in May 1918. From New York, the 30th Division shipped out to England before departing for the Western Front.  Odin worked as an orderly in charge of equipment. After the war, he talked a lot about the time he had spent in foxholes, and how the French countryside was littered with huge holes where bombs had been dropped.  During the war, the 30th Division participated in the Somme Offensive (1916), in which two American divisions broke the Hindenburg Line in the Battle of St. Quentin Canal, and the Ypres-Lys Offensive (launched in August 1918),   Odin's regiment, the 117th Infantry, was at the top of the order of battle for the division.

Being away from home made Odin and his buddies very lonesome.  While in France, Odin regularly received letters from his mother, Malla Johnson, written in Norwegian.  When Odin was able to write home, he told about how he and two other men stayed with a French family in a civilian home for a while.  One of the soldiers was from Brooks, Minnesota, a community known for its French settlers, and he served as interpreter.  The French people were kind an friendly to the U.S. Army soldiers.  A favorite meal of Odin's that the French served was hot milk with onions, which was made like soup.

When the war ended, Odin and his unit remained in France for a time, for peace keeping purposes.  The second Camp Dodge detachment, 117th U. S. Infantry, 30th Division, departed St. Nazaire, France aboard the SS Pocahontas on March 16, 1919.  The ship, which was built in Stettin, Germany, was seized at the port of New York when that country entered the conflict in 1917.  It was interned by the United States and renamed, then put to use as a troop transport for the Navy. Overall, the ship carried 24,573 servicemen to Brest and St. Nazaire, and returned 23,296 servicemen to the United States, and all of them safely.  It did face dangers, however.  Less than a year before the USS Pocahontas returned Odin Johnson to the Americas, another group of service men returning home received a major fright when an Imperial German Navy submarine surfaced in the ship's path and fired upon her with 150 mm. shells.  The USS Pocahontas was not quite in range, however, so she suffered no direct hits and suffered no casualties.

Shoulder sleeve insignia for the 30th Infantry Division.

USS Pocahontas underway in 1910.

After crossing the Atlantic Ocean to Belize, Odin Johnson and his unit boarded the SS James Timpson, bound for New York. Odin's unit was scheduled to be discharged after the ship arrived in New York.  He was released from service on April 10, 1919.  It was a happy time for Odin, and also for his mother and father and the rest of his large family waiting back home.  The James Timpson was built by the G.M.Standifer Construction Company at Vancouver, Washington in 1919, to aid in the World War I effort.  It was a fairly new ship when it transported Odin Johnson and his fellow soldiers home to American soil.  The ship, based in New York Harbor, later foundered in a 1924 Caribbean storm and sank, but not before the ship's crew was rescued

SS James Timpson, 1919
By the time the 1920 U.S. Federal Census was taken in Dudley Township, Clearwater County, Minnesota, Odin was back home again, helping out on his parents' farm.  When he returned home after the war, Odin's father, Ole M. Johnson, met him at the Leonard train depot driving a team of horses.  It was Odin's wish that America would never have to go to war again.  Though he was wounded in the leg during battle, his injury apparently healed well enough so that he was able to continue farming.  He was one of the lucky ones...

Like so many young men returning home and seeking a new challenge and a sense of normalcy, Odin started a life of his own.  In 1922, he purchased 160 acres of land in Sinclair Township, Clearwater County, within several miles of his parents' farm.  The Red Lake Trail, which was still used by Indians going to and from the nearby reservation, was a short distance east of the farm.  Sometimes, Indians would stop and stay overnight at the farm.  In gratitude, the Indians would always prepare food and share it with Odin.

On October 26, 1923, Odin Johnson married Emma Charlotte Moen, who came from another large family in the neighboring town of Neving, in Sinclair Township.  Emma's father passed away from typhoid fever when she was only four years old.  Her mother worked as the neighborhood midwife, tending new mothers at the time of birth, then staying on to lend a hand where needed.  Odin and Emma Johnson had four children:  Arlie (1924-2004), Ardys (1928-), Duane (1930-), and Kermit (1933-1971), all delivered by Dr. Forest and aided by Odin's mother, Malla Johnson.  The entire family worked together to make a living at farming.  They raised grain, hogs, sheep, and dairy cattle, with the cream sold to the Leonard Co-op Creamery.  Emma kept chickens and sold the egg--sometimes trading them for groceries at Strand's Store in Leonard.  Odin hunted deer in order to provide venison, which was eaten fresh or preserved.  Like most early farmers without the convenience of supermarkets, they kept a large vegetable garden and picked wild berries, then canned most of the produce for winter use.  In 1931, Odin purchased his first car, a Model T Ford Coupe.

Odin and Emma Johnson. with Duane, Ardys, and Arlie, ca. 1932.

In 1933, Odin and Emma's farmhouse burned, and the family lost nearly all of their possessions.  Until a new house could be built the following year, the Johnsons lived in a next door neighbor's granary, and then moved into a new chicken coop they erected on their own farm.  During the fire, the letters that Odin had written and received while in France were unfortunately lost to history.  But, with the help of his loving wife and family, Odin Johnson seemed to be successful in putting the horrors of war behind him as much as was humanly possible.


"30th Infantry Division (United States)."  Wikipedia (accessed March 19, 2019).

Johnson, Duane Truman, son of Odin and Emma Johnson.

New York, Passenger and Crew Lists (for Odin Johnson), (accessed March 18, 2019).

"SS James Timpson, 1919," photograph:  "Welcome to the Post of Vancouver USA Centennial Celebration," Port of Vancouver USA, (accessed March 18, 2019).

"Ship's Crew Rescued Just Before She Sinks; James Timpson of New York Founders in Caribbean--Storm Hits Punta Gorda."  New York Times, October 21, 1924, p.8.

U.S., Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists, 1910-1929 (for Odin Johnson),

U.S., Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010 (for Odin Johnson),

"USS Pocahontas (ID-3044).Wikipedia (accessed March 18, 2019).

"World War I Casualties."  Wikipedia (accessed March 20, 2019).

Commemorating Family Members Who Served in the Great War

WWI era newspaper photo from Smithsonian Magazine (public domain)
It has now been more than 100 years since the end of the Great War, also known as the  "war to end all wars."  World War I (1914-1918) was a global conflict that resulted in 9-11 million military personnel deaths, 8 million civilian deaths--some related to famine and disease, and about 40 million casualties in all, making it one of the deadliest conflicts in human history.

Although the United States attempted to maintain a neutral stance in regards to European conflicts at the time, it became necessary to declare war on Germany on April 6, 1917.  This was due to the sinking of American merchant ships by German submarines, but also because Germany encouraged Mexico to declare war on the United States.  The American draft then went into action, although trained forces would not being arriving at the European front in significant numbers until mid-1918.  The war and the draft would have a great impact on many young American men and their families.

The Selective Service Act, enacted on May 18, 1917, allowed the U.S. federal government to raise a national army to serve during World War I.  In the beginning, all males between the ages of 21-30 were required to register for potential military service.  In August 1918, the age range expanded to include men from 18-45.  More than half of the nearly 4.8 million Americans who served in the war were drafted.  There were five draft categories.  How these were classified had an obvious impact on which of my ancestors were chosen to serve, while others were deferred or exempted, keeping in mind that some may have volunteered.

Here are the classes, paraphrased in some instances:

Class 1) Eligible and liable for military service:
Unmarried registrants with no dependents; married registrants with independent spouse or one or more dependent children over 16 with sufficient family income if drafted.

Class 2) Temporarily deferred, but available for military service.
Married registrants with dependent spouse or dependent children under 16 with sufficient family income if drafted.

Class 3) Temporarily exempted, but available for military serivce.
Local officials; registrants who provide sole family income for dependent parents or dependent siblings under 16; registrants employed in agricultural labor or industrial enterprises essential to the war effort.

Class 4) Exempted due to extreme hardship.
Married registrants with dependent spouse or dependent children with insufficient family income if drafted; registrants with deceased spouse or deceased parents who provide sole family income for dependent children or dependent siblings under 16.

Class 5) Exempted or ineligible for induction into military service.
State or Federal officials; officers and enlisted men in the military or naval service of the United States; licenses pilots employed in the pursuit of their vocation; members of the clergy or students preparing for the ministry on or before May 18, 1917; registrants who were medically disabled, considered "morally unfit" for military service, or those who had been convicted of a crime involving treason or felony.

Canadian poster, 1918 (Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

The red poppy became known as the "remembrance poppy" during World War I.  This was in large part due to John McCrae's poem, "In Flanders Fields."  An American professor, Moina Michael, started the tradition of wearing a red poppy to honor the soldiers who died in the war. She distributed silk poppies and campaigned to have the flower adopted as an official symbol of remembrance by the American Legion.

In Flanders Fields

John McCrae, 1872-1918

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead.  Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
in Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
in Flanders fields.

A Canadian physician and teacher, John McCrae served in France during the war.  He wrote "In Flanders Fields" after noting how quickly poppies grew around the graves of those who died at Ypres,  The poem, written from the perspective of the war dead, speaks of their sacrifice and a command to the living to press on.  McCrae initially discarded the poem, but it was rescued by fellow soldiers and eventually published, becoming the most popular and most quoted poem of its era.  After several years involved the war effort, McCrae contracted pneumonia and died on January 28, 1918.

Following the widespread scourging of Europe and other areas of the world, the war officially came to an end on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when Germany signed an armistice agreement with the combined Allied forces.  This article kicks off a Nordic Blue blog series about the World War I veterans in the main branches of my family:  Basgaard, Berge, Johnson, Larson, and Strand, and honors their individual experiences and sacrifices.


"How the Poppy Came to Symbolize World War I.",, October 20, 2016 (accessed March 20, 2019).

"In Flanders Fields."  Wikipedia (accessed March 20, 2019).

"Selective Service Act of 1917."  Wikipedia (accessed March 21, 2019).

"World War I."  Wikipedia (accessed March 21, 2019).

Thursday, March 21, 2019

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks (Week 12): 12

12 Reasons Why I Love Genealogy and Family History

I am an occasional list maker, and this topic ("12") lends itself to just that.  Oh, genealogy and family history, how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways... there are at least twelve!

1.  Perpetual Learning

Family history has opened up various avenues for creativity and study.  There are endless learning possibilities, whether it is keeping abreast of ever-changing software, databases and other resources, or honing computer and research skills, in general.  Wanting to know more caused me to enroll in a year-long Genealogy and Family History certificate program at the University of Washington.  It also led to participation in three years of seminars dealing with history writing and research methods.  I continue to learn from my own investigations, and from conferences, online sources, and also friends involved with genealogy who provide inspiration and comraderie.

2.  Building Expertise

Perpetual learning associated with genealogy naturally leads to increased knowledge.  Through this process I have become more organized in my research, improved my writing skills, gained experience in both publishing and self-publishing, and have even given presentations at a few different venues (who woulda thunk it?)

3.  Thrill of the Hunt

Anyone who is truly passionate about family history is familiar with the "happy dance" that occurs inside (and sometimes manifests itself physically), whenever a tempting tidbit of information is finally located.  The results are even better if you have had to chew on a mystery for some time, and wait patiently for further inspiration or a chance detail to present itself from somewhere in the ether.  Solving problems in genealogy is like the best Easter egg hunt ever!  Or, wait... maybe it is more like finally discovering what Santa has left you on Christmas?

4.  Answering My Own Questions

I began genealogy research at about the time I completed a long-desired college degree.  A first trip back to my mother's childhood home in Minnesota combined with suddenly having "spare time" no longer needed for studying, propelled me into the wonderful world of family history.  There were questions for which the answer was not readily available, such as:  what was Great-Grandpa's Norwegian name, and where in Norway did he come from?  When I purchased my first computer and acquired a few initial answers from a cousin, the gong sounded. The journey to discover my origins had begun.

5.  A Sense of Connection

Little did I realize how profound the sense of connection with my ancestors would turn out to be as I began discovering their personal histories.  Some of the information available was more than I ever would have expected, while some remained frustratingly sparse or out-of-reach.  But, overall, the experience of genealogy research has provided me with a bigger picture that gives not only perspective but added meaning to my life.

6.  Discovering Social History

Have you ever wished you could go back in time and experience an era for yourself?  I mean, taking it a step beyond admiring those vintage photographs or drawings and the curious fashions and hairstyles.  Studying the customs and events that your ancestors lived through, when combined with the details of their personal lives, is as close to entering a Time Tunnel that you will experience.  Researching social history has helped me to understand why my ancestors engaged in certain activities (like relocating or changing jobs), and offers a broader perspective on the actions of those who can no longer speak for themselves.

7.  Satisfying a "Need for People"

As an introvert, genealogy fits right in with my need for a solitary sort of a hobby.  I can go as slowly as I like, or run in wild abandon, and I don't have to worry too much about pleasing anyone but myself.  According to the Myers-Briggs personality assessment (which I have taken three times), I am an INFJ type (Introversion, Intuition, Feeling, and Judging).  Experts say that this is the rarest of sixteen personality types, making up less than one percent of the population.  The short story is that while I am a tried and true introvert, I need people more than other introverted types.  But, that need is specifically for meaningful relationships, as opposed to just social contact.  I value close friendships, family, and a sense of belonging most highly...  I love being married, for example, but I hate the dating scene.  Researching family history provides a similar but equally valuable connection with others that I can access any time I wish.

8.  Appreciating the Past

When I was in the seventh grade, if someone had told me that I would one day major in history in college, I would have laughed.  History???  Only the most boring class ever... full of meaningless dates and details to memorize.  Boy, was I wrong.  It took genealogy to help me see the light, and I did indeed get my degree in history.  Thanks to the personalization that family history has brought to the larger topic, I now have an appreciation of the past in a way I never could have imagined as a school girl.

9.  Understanding Human Nature

Everyone has secrets, and in today's high tech world with DNA tests offering few hiding places, it becomes more likely that certain secrets will no longer stay in the shadows.  When interpreting the actions of those who are no longer alive to defend themselves, we must tread carefully.  By studying the social, cultural, and even family expectations of the times, it is easier to determine possible reasons for behaviors and events.  Human nature is complicated, and extenuating circumstances are almost always involved.  I appreciate how studying family history has encouraged me to think on broader terms and enabled me to avoid putting someone "in a box" as far as expectations go.

10. Preserving Stories

I love biography, and fortunately, I love to write.  As I uncover the bits and pieces of my family's history, I can think of nothing better than to give new life to nearly forgotten stories.  Through compiled data, social history, photograph identification, oral history, and other methods, I try to build an unbiased and mostly accurate impression of someone's experiences.  Each life contains a library of information and inspiration just waiting to be rediscovered!

11. Making Connections

If you blog it, they will come.  It's true!  I have met many cousins thanks to my family history blog, a dedicated Facebook group, and my online trees--many more than through DNA results alone.  If someone is searching for information on a particular family member that I happen to have written about, I inevitably get contacted.  It is always nice to meet family, whether virtually or otherwise.

 12. Sharing With and Helping Others

I have never understood why some people will go to the trouble of creating an extensive family tree on, for example, and then keep the information private.  Knowledge is for sharing--spread the love!  I am more than happy to share or discuss information with interested parties if asked.  All I want is to be given proper acknowledgment and have copyright concerns respected (especially when it comes to photographs) if material I provide is used elsewhere.  If we could search into the past far enough, we would find that we are all cousins.  What a lovely thought.  Why not help each other toward the same goals?

Monday, February 25, 2019

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks (Week 9): In the Courthouse

Where There's a Will Book, There's a Way:

Ole M. Johnson and an Unexpected Guardianship

Most of my American family history research centers around Minnesota, but I have lived on the west coast all of my life.  During the summer of 2004, I managed to spend a glorious five hours at the Minnesota Historical Society Library in St. Paul.  For those who also find traveling out-of-state for research a challenge, you can appreciate just how special this visit was for me.  How much research can you accomplish with the clock ticking down?  Ready... Set... Go!  Talk about pressure...  Nonetheless, a pleasant surprise awaited me.  In addition to carrying out some planned research at the MHS Library, I happened to find an early will book for Chippewa County--the very county where all four sets of my maternal 2nd great grandparents lived during the 1870s, and where their children formed marital relationships that helped to result in me!

Ole M. Johnson, ca. 1872, Montevideo, MN.
The will book revealed a bit of family history that I did not previously know about, and I doubt any other living relative did either.  It showed that my great-grandfather, who lost his father while still a minor, had his interests protected legally by a courthouse document.  When Ole's widowed mother, Bertina Johnson, decided to remarry, it was to Eric L. Winje.  Eric, who was born to a Norwegian immigrant father, studied law on his own and became one of Chippewa County's first Norwegian-American attorneys.  Bertina agreed that Eric should serve as the administrator for her late husband's (Baard Johnson's) estate.  Eric Winje was intent on doing everything correctly when it came to his ready-made family, so he secured a legal guardian for his stepson, Ole, who stood to inherit his birth father's homestead when he became of legal age.

The guardian chosen for young Ole Johnson was nearby landowner Ole P. Anderson, one of the earliest settlers in the Granite Falls area of Chippewa County.  He was born in Norway and served in the Civil War before settling near Granite Falls in about 1869.  He also served the assessor for Granite Falls Township for five years, and also held offices as supervisor, town clerk, and county commissioner.  Anderson was obviously a well-respected local man whom Eric Winje and his wife Bertina (Johnson) could trust.

In 1882, after Ole M. Johnson became legal age, he acquired ownership of his father's homestead in Granite Falls Township and began farming.  His mother and stepfather moved with their children to the nearby town of Montevideo, where Eric was serving as Clerk of Court, a Chippewa County official.  The discovery of this legal action was unexpected.  How fortunate Ole was to have a stepfather who was looking out for his best interests!


Neill, Rev. Edward D.  History of the Minnesota Valley, Including the Explorers and Pioneers of Minnesota.  Minneapolis:  North Star Publishing Company 1882.

Will Book I, Chippewa County, Minnesota, 117.D.15.7.B, Minnesota State Historical Society.  Court document regardin Ole M. Johnson as a minor (Eric Winje as legal administrator for the estate of Baard Johnson, and Ole M. Johnson's guardianship).

Monday, February 18, 2019

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks (Week 8): Family Photo

The Girl Inside My Mother

My mother, Doris (right), with her Aunt Stella in March 1969.  El Cerrito, CA.

I recently ran across a photo I had not seen in many years.  My mom, Doris, kept it tucked away in a small album that contained mostly photos of garden roses and cacti or succulent plants she had nurtured to astounding size and health (she had a green thumb).  The photo dates back to March 1969, and it is of Mom sitting at our dining room table with one of her maternal aunts.  A special birthday cake made around the torso of a doll is displayed on the table in front of them.  It is a simple image, made with the early color film that ended up fading too easily, shot with a prized possession of the 1960s, a Kokak Instamatic camera.

What is special about this photo is the completely relaxed and happy look on my mother's face.  The cake was in honor of her 49th birthday which occurred that St. Patrick's Day.  Mom was shy and reserved.  She was always a worrier, and never felt totally comfortable being on the receiving end of a camera.  But, this special moment meant so much to her that we can just see her appreciation spilling over in that smile.  It is the same living-in-the-moment happiness she certainly experienced as a child growing up on a farm.  This carefree contentment did not show on her face very often, but it did manage to get captured in a few photos over the course of her lifetime.  At the time this photo was taken, her happiness was about more than just birthday cake.  It had to do with being next to the woman on her right, my grandmother's youngest sister, Stella (Berge) Schuster.

In early 1969, Mom's Aunt Stella traveled from Minnesota to the Bay Area for a rare visit, along with another aunt, Clarice (Berge) Gunzberger, and her husband, Sol Gunzberger.  It was the first time and only time I ever remember meeting any of my grandmother's siblings.  It was a mild March in the Bay Area--the sun was shining and the lovely Saucer Magnolia tree in our front yard was in full bloom, with large whitish-pink petals scattered about the lawn.

My maternal grandmother, Esther (Berge) Johnson, passed away in Minnesota from tuberculosis before my mother turned two years of age.  It was a devastating loss for Mom and her sister, Phyllis.  Although the little sisters were well cared for by family members, they grew up without a mother to nurture and defend them.  The girls were sent to live with their paternal grandparents, and since Esther's family lived in another town, Mom did not get to see the maternal (Berge) side of her family very often.

Esther Johnson with her baby, Doris, in 1920.
When Mom became an adult and left her paternal grandparents' farm, she moved in with her Aunt Stella in St. Paul, Minnesota and found a job.  Shortly after, she followed other relatives to California, although truth be told, she would rather have stayed in Minnesota.  She enjoyed living with her maternal aunt in St. Paul and getting to know her better.  One time, I asked Mom who of her relatives she thought I was most like, and she said it was Stella.  I was flattered, since Stella, who had worked as a nurse, was quiet, kind, and sensitive.  She was the type of aunt that I, too, wished I could have spent more time with.

Is it any wonder that this particular photograph captures Mom's face in a rare moment of unfettered happiness?  Stella and Clarice brought along so many pleasant memories and feelings to the reunion.  They were close blood kin to Mom's own mother, and it was almost as if Esther had come along, too.  Through the eyes, voices, and arms of her younger sisters, Esther returned to Earth once more to reassure her baby girl--my mother, Doris.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks (Week 7): Love

Old-Fashioned Love and Apple Pie

Ole Johnson weds Malla Larson, Feb. 28, 1886.

When I realized I would be writing about love for "52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks," the first thing that entered my mind was the type of relationship experienced by more than one long-married couple in my mother's immigrant farming family.  We're talking about love that runs like an invisible thread connecting everything and every moment together.  According to the stories told me by my relatives, my great grandparents, Ole and Malla Johnson, had more than just a marriage.  They had a foundation of bedrock... of trust and understanding.

I recently had the good (and timely) fortune to hear a sermon on the subject of real love:  In "Love Like This," our pastor asked his congregation to consider what real love looks like.  What are some of the characteristics of real love?  Spoiler Alert:  it is not candy, hearts, or turtle-doves... and it is certainly not lust.  Any type of real love, romantic or otherwise, is messy, irregular, and requires determined commitment to keep it running like clockwork.  Here are six qualities of real love as they were experienced by my maternal great grandparents, Ole and Malla Johnson.

"Real love is hard work"


Malla Larson was 19 years old when she married Ole Johnson, a young and capable Norwegian immigrant farmer who had inherited his father's homestead near Granite Falls, Minnesota.  Aside from the continual physical labor she engaged in to keep her household running, Malla also acquired the work of learning about her new husband.  Raised on a farm herself, she understood most of what was expected of her in the sense of putting food on the table, tending to chores, and being a helpmate.  But, she also knew that learning to love involves anticipating someone's elses unspoken needs and accommodating them without always being asked or thanked.

Ole, too, had to learn to understand the particular challenges faced by his new wife.  An amusing example concerns apple pie.  Ole particularly loved warm apple pie.  Apples were a rarity on the Johnson farm.  The fruit could not be grown properly in northern Minnesota due to extreme temperature changes.  Over the winter holidays, Ole would buy a few of boxes of apples, and Malla or one of their girls willingly made pies from them.  They were not able to keep the pies warm until Ole came in from the fields for dinner, however, because the big cast iron cookstove was needed for a host of other things.  Ole never complained about the pies being cold.  He knew that Malla could only do what she could do.  Instead, he put warm apple pie at the top of his agenda whenever he had the opportunity to eat at a hotel restaurant in a neighboring town.  Part of the real work of building a loving relationship means exercising patience and understanding, in spite of one's own wants... even when it comes to pie.

"Real love will sometimes make you unhappy"


When the actions of someone you love do not live up to your expectations, then it is up to you to change your expectations for the sake of your commitment.  There were probably times when Malla privately questioned actions Ole took to increase the famly's prospects.  She may have been taken aback when he wanted to move away from a community she had grown comfortable with... not once, but twice.  The first time was when Ole sold his father's homestead property and moved the family to Fosston in Polk County so that he could have a chance at dairy farming.  The second time was when he chose to leave Fosston for a different farm near Leonard in Clearwater County.  It is not known if Malla was fully on board with these decisions.  In the end, she was supportive of Ole's dream.  In return, he provided for her specific needs to the best of his ability.

"Real love will cost you"


Love also involves fear, anger, and even pain and loss.  Loving someone is risky; it will cost you time, energy, and worry.  It will claim pieces of yourself as you learn to share openly and be responsible for another person's well being.  Love will cost you effort, and above all, patience.  Ole and Malla Johnson were a team.  The actions of one affected the other, and vice versa.  If one celebrated, so did the other.  If one suffered, the other could certainly not go on unaffected.  Real love tucks coins into the bank on sunny days in anticipation of stormy days that will surely come.  For Ole and Malla, the satisfaction they felt after a day's honest work was often reward enough for their journey together, with Ole reading his paper in front of the fire, Malla knitting a new pair of socks, and both surrounded by their children making popcorn for an after-dinner treat.

"Real love is tough, rugged and strong"


Ole and Malla's relationship flourished only because both cared enough to make it a priority.  For early farming folk, it was exactly this type of teamwork that could determine a family's success or failure in the world.  They were both physically strong indiviuals, also emotionally mature and capable of putting the needs of others before any thoughts for themselves as individuals.  Their love was made stronger by the daily demands of providing for the needs of their children.

"Real love is courageous"


Whatever was to come, Ole and Malla were in it together.  They were fortunate in that they did not lose a single child to disease or accident.  The reality was that most families before the modern era did suffer irretrievable loss.  It was not uncommon for an epidemic to claim several members of the same family.  Ole and Malla continously faced this possibility while raising their ten children to adulthood.

"Real love means dying to self"


There were seemingly insignificant but poignant ways the bond between Ole and Malla was observed by family members.  For example, Ole never referred to his wife by name.  Malla was always "she" or "her," but never "Malla."  This may seem odd, but think of how odd it would have been for Ole to continually refer to himself as "Ole" to others.  He felt it unnecessary to call Malla by her name, since he knew exactly who she was.  She was an intrinsic a part of him, just as if God had come along and removed one of his ribs in order to create her.  Their real love meant that they were an inseparable part of each other's heart, mind, and soul.

A final proof of the strong connection between Ole and Malla Johnson is the unexpected manner in which both of their lives came to an end.  At age 87, Ole took ill while he was out chopping wood--a chore he actually enjoyed.  He was hospitalized and diagnosed with advanced stage prostate cancer and heart disease.  He was not expected to live long, and over the next few weeks, relatives came from near and far to pay their respects.  Malla welcomed all visitors into her home, and while working extra hard to ensure their comfort during the cold spring weather, she contracted pneumonia.  She may have also suffered a stroke.  Malla was taken to the same hospital where her husband had lain ill for an extended period, but she passed away within a few hours of being admitted.  One of their daughters, Thea, had the task of telling her father the sad news.  Ole was hard of hearing, so Thea got close to her father's ear and said, very simply:  "Ma died today."  Within sixteen hours, Ole also succumbed.  Years later, one of their grandsons shared that it was as if Ole had been waiting for Malla to come along.

Ole and Malla Johnson were buried together in a joint service in East Zion Cemetery, a small community Lutheran cemetery in Dudley Township, Clearwater County, just across the road from the farm they spent years building up.  Together in life, they experienced real love in all of its varied and challenging forms.  Together in death, they serve as a reminder of love's continuing possibilities, and above all, its enduring commitment.


Craig Laughlin, Pastor.  "Love Like This," Sermon, Generations Community Church, Marysville, Washington, January 29, 2019.

Monday, February 04, 2019

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks (Week 6): Surprise

The Girl Who "Lived" in a Teacup

Hattie Christine Winje, ca. 1887/88
Some of our ancestors led preciously short lives.  Sadly, this was the case with a few of my great great grandmother's children, including Annie Jorgene Winje, born in 1885, and Hattie Christine Winje, born in 1883.  Although Hattie's name and vital dates were previously known due to official records and my visit to a family cemetery, how her photograph was located came as a bit of a surprise.

Hattie was an adorable five-year-old girl with fine deatures, a cleft chin, and long auburn hair--the same color as her mother's.  Soon after the youngest sibling, Annie, was born to Eric and Thibertine "Bertina" Winje, the family moved from Chippewa County in Minnesota to Duluth, near the Wisconsin border.  The girls' father, Eric Larsen Winje, was a self-educated Norwegian immigrant attorney--one of the first in Chippewa County--where he served as County Clerk and Justice of the Peace.  A career opportunity led him to the shores of Lake Superior.  In Duluth, he began working as an attorney and later became a municipal court judge.  The family exchanged their life on the prairie for new experiences within the urban environment of a growing city.  Different opportunities, including modern amenities and more advanced schooling for the children, were suddenly available.  After leaving the homestead, there was no longer any back-breaking plowing or gathering of fields to be done, and no cold and hungry farm animals to tend each morning.  The individual energies of family members could then turn to other things, and the sky became the limit.

Even with increased possibilities presented, city life offered little protection from some of life's constant dangers.  Before immunizations became available, disease was an inescapable concern in both rural and urban settings.  Wherever there was human contact, deadly diseases were a common occurence.  During the spring of 1888, Eric Winje lost his only brother to diphtheria back in Chippewa County.  Before he could even receive notification of the event, some of his children had also contracted the same disease, even though they were counties removed from their old home.  The bustling growth of Duluth typified the burgeoning social progress of the late nineteenth century, when changes in infrastructure became necessary in order to handle increasing populations.  Of major concern in Duluth was the antiquated water system, to which upgrades did not occur until the 1890s.  Before then, the city drew its water supply directly from Lake Superior, where the unscreened intake pipe was too close to shore and frequently became clogged with a build-up of dead fish, animal skins, and other unsavory things.  In spite of City warnings to residents to boil their drinking water, diseases usually spread quickly.

As her parents and older siblings looked on helplessly, on May 30, 1888, Hattie Christine Winje died from the ravages of diphtheria.  It is a disease caused by a bacterium that causes a thick covering at the back of the throat, sometimes cutting off air supply to the lungs.  Three days later, on June 2, her younger sister, Annie, also succumbed.  In later years, their eldest sister, Julia Johnson Larson, would shake her head sorrowfully when remembering the little girls.  "Stakkars liten" (poor little ones) she would say, recalling the sensless loss.

Many decades later, when I first began doing genealogy research, I held little hope of learning more about the youngest Winje girls, Hattie and Annie.  As I connected with new-found cousins across the United States, I sent them a "wish list" of things I was hoping to locate, including photographs.  One Larson cousin who lived near Lake Tahoe, California (far removed from Minnesota) sent me a packet of things to look over.  Much to my surprise, included in the batch of items was an old, very small and dark tin-type image of a young girl who looked to be about five years old.  On the back was written "Hattie Winje."  The Hattie Winje???  Yes, indeed!  Dare I hope that an image of little Annie Winje also existed?  Perhaps my cousin had overlooked it.

I immediately wrote back asked my cousin where she got the tin type.  The reply came:  "Oh, it's been sitting in a teacup that used to belong to my grandmother (Julia Johnson Larson); it's been tucked away in my china cabinet all these years."  This one-of-a-kind image survived for 117 years until it came to the attention of the family historian (me), and may actually be all that remains of a brief but cherished life.

It seemed doubtful that Annie would also be located, if an image had been taken of her during her two short years on Earth.  In modern days, we are challenged with a dearth of print photographs due to an explosion of quickly available digital options.  In the past, taking the time to have print copies of images made was too expensive and time consuming, so families tended to divide and distribute collections, often in unorganized ways.  I tend to think that Annie may have ended up in another undetermined family member's teacup.  But, thanks to persistent networking, an inherited piece of china, and a concerned cousin, Hattie's sweet face can still be seen, and her family can continue to imagine the laughter of a beloved little red-haired child who was called to her heavenly home much too soon.


--Winje family marker, Scandia Cemetery, Duluth, Minnesota.
--Death register for "Winje, Hatty C.," #102, 1888, St. Louis County, Minnesota Death Records Index (online).
--Chery Kinnick,  A Long Way Downstream:  The Life and Family of Thibertine Johnson Winje, Norwegian-American Pioneer,  Nordic Blue Press, 2008.

Monday, January 28, 2019

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks (Week 5): At the Library

At the Library

Another "just for fun" post.

(Sing to the tune of "Y.M.C.A." performed by the Village People)

Searcher, there's no need to feel down
I said, Searcher, lift that jaw off the ground
I said, Searcher, lots of facts to be found
If you only research wisely

Searcher, there's a place you can be
I said, Searcher--grow your family tree
You can go there, and I'm sure you will find
Lots of microfilm to unwind

It's fun to be at the li-i-brary
It's fun to be at the li-i-brary

You can check out some books, you can get free WiFi
You can hang out between the stacks

It's fun to be at the li-i-brary
It's fun to be at the li-i-brary

They have everything that you need for research
Lots of files and directories

Searcher, are you listening to me?
I said, Searcher, check your li-i-brary
I said, Searcher, you can break those brick walls
But you've got to keep on trying

No one knows the library best
Than your friendly, local library staff
So just go there, to the Reference Desk
See a librarian for help

It's fun to be at the li-i-brary
It's fun to be at the li-i-brary

You can check out some books, you can get free WiFi
You can hang out between the stacks

It's fun to be at the li-i-brary
It's fun to be at the li-i-brary

They have everything that you need for research
Lots of files and directories

Li-i-brary, you'll find it all at the li-i-brary

Searcher, Searcher, there's no need to feel down
Searcher, Searcher, lift that jaw off the ground

Li-i-brary, it's fun to be at the li-i-brary

Searcher, Searcher, are you listening to me?
Searcher, Searcher--grow your family tree

Li-i-brary, you'll find it at the li-i-brary

No one, Searcher, finds it all the first time
Searcher, Searcher, you can progress just fine
Li-i-brary, and just go to the li-i-brary

Searcher, searcher, I was once in your place
Searcher, searcher, I was seeking a space, li-i-brary

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks (Week 4): I'd Like to Meet

I'd Like to Meet:  Julia Johnson Larson

Julia Johnson Larson, ca. 1885
I cannot think of an ancestor I've researched who I have not been curious to know more about.  I wish I could bring each one of them "back to life" using stories.  But, since I must choose one now, I'll pick my maternal great grandfather's only full sister, Julia (Johnson) Larson, as someone I'd like to meet.  One reason is that I did not know she existed until I began to dive into genealogy about eighteen years ago.  By networking with newly discovered cousins, I managed to collect little info bits that tempted my curiosity for more.  What really intrigued me is that Julia lived a life similar to Laura Ingalls Wilder, of Little House on the Prairie fame.

Julia's birth name was Elen Julie Baardsdatter Lassemo.  She was born on November 29, 1862, to Thibertine ("Bertina") Olsdatter and Baard Johnson (hence the patronymic surname of "Baardsdatter"), on the farm called Lassemo near Grong, Nord-Trøndelag, Norway.  In Norwegian, the name "Julie" is pronounced more like "Juli-eh," so adopting the American spelling of Julia made sense.  After the family arrived in America, they ceased using patronymic last names and consistently used the surname of "Johnson."

Arriving in America at age three and a half, Julia possibly retained a few early memories of her homeland, and perhaps of the challenging voyage across the Atlantic.  In 1868, after her family began homesteading in Chippewa County, Minnesota, she settled into her new role as a prairie girl.  I picture her as a youngster being a trifle too silly at times, and suffering admonishments from her serious older brother, Ole.  I also envision her taking the time to visit each farm animal on summer days, wearing a straw hat to protect her face from the strong sun.  But, the pioneer way of life was not all sunshine, kittens, and wildflowers.  Although we enjoyed the television series, the Laura Ingalls Wilder character was oblivious to much of what had to be going on in real life.  Let's face it:  pioneer life was many things, but it was usually not light-hearted, and never easy.

I think that Julia must have had a rambunctious side when young, or she may have been a bit too fun-loving or willful for what protocol often allowed.  One day at school, a teacher cuffed her on the ear for some unknown infraction, and the blow affected her hearing for the rest of her life.  Another time, while wading in a nearby creek with some classmates after school, she slipped and fell into a deep spot and nearly drowned.  A neighbor girl saved Julia by pulling her from the water just in time.  When Julia was taught how to knit at a young age, using precious strands of yarn that could hardly be spared, her understanding but practical mother became miffed when Julia announced that she was making socks for the barn cat.

Julia's early years on the tall grass prairie were never boring.  During the 1860s-1870s, Native Americans, probably of the Chippewa Tribe, would often come to the door of her parents' homestead cabin and offer fish in trade for some bread or coffee.  Sometimes they stayed to have a helping of whatever was warming on the cook stove.  Julia's children would later recall hearing local Indian children playing a game on the river ice each winter, yelling something like "Inchee, Kinchee, Kin-ah-nee!" as they slid on the ice in bare feet.

Julia Johnson Larson with two of her grandchildren and a canine friend.  At the Larson farm near Granite Falls, Minnesota, July 1919.

At age 22, Julia married Ole Eriksen Larson (Vigesaa) on December 10, 1884.  Ole was the second eldest son of neighboring farmers, Erik and Kjersten Larson (Vigesaa).  The Larson family emigrated from Bjerkreim, Helleland, Rogaland, Norway, and originally settled in Coon Valley, Wisconsin.  Ole used to say that his parents relocated to Minnesota because their Wisconsin farmhouse turned out to be haunted.  At night, it sounded like chains were being dragged back and forth across the roof.  One has to wonder if this is a story that Ole liked to tell his children in order to watch their eyes grow wide with wonder and fear.  Knowing that Julia also had a fun side, she probably did not object to her husband's tale.  She married a man of unusual talents.  Ole E. Larson was adept at blacksmithing, but was known to have a healing touch with animals (sort of a "horse whisperer").  He was usually boarding an extra animal or two that he was trying to cure of some ailment.  He was also one of those unique individuals who could find water by using the forked stick method, and he could play the fiddle "by ear."

Julia (Johnson) Larson, in 1940.
After the wedding, Julia joined her husband on his parents' 71-acre farm near Granite Falls in Chippewa County, Minnesota.  By 1878, the property was improved to include a stable, a granary, and a well, with 200 forest trees and about a dozen apple trees set out.  In 1866, Julia's older brother, Ole Johnson, married Ole E. Larson's younger sister, Malla Larson.  The children born to both couples were, therefore, "double cousins," with both sets of parents providing similar sets of genes to their respective offspring.  Between 1885-1904, Ole and Julia Larson had seven children:  Christine (who lived to the age of 103); Ben (born two weeks after the disastrous "Schoolhouse" or "Children's" Blizzard that hit the northern Great Plains on January 12, 1888); followed by Emily, Thea, Emma, Josephine, and Oddie.

My mother recalled meeting her great aunt only once.  It happened during a trip she made back to Minnesota in the winter of 1947/48.  Mom's grandfather and Julia's brother, Ole Johnson, was hospitalized and not expected to live.  At the time, Julia had already sold her farm, having been a widow since 1918.  She was living with a daughter, Josephine (Larson) Knutson, and her family in a rental house near Montevideo.  Mom hardly got to visit with her great aunt, because Julia preferred to keep busy in the kitchen.  As a girl on the prairie, Julia had been well-taught how to make do in the kitchen with practically nothing, and she considered cooking her specialty.  Mom would never have another chance to see her great aunt, for Julia passed away at the age of 86, about a year and a half later.

One of Josephine's daughter's remembered that her grandmother tended to spoil her and her siblings, much to their mother's dismay.  Whenever the granddaughter offered to help with the dishes after a meal, Grandma Julia would tell her:  "Go out and play--you will have plenty of time to work when you are older."  Julia was described as a strong-willed woman who was never faint-of-heart.  She had been brought up to always be busy with something, and it was a habit she engaged in throughout her life, whether making lefse (a traditional Norwegian flatbread made from potatoes, flour, butter, and milk or cream), knitting mittens, or making doll accessories.  She passed along a love of gardening to her granddaughters.  Although Julia encountered plenty of challenges during her life, she always managed to keep a twinkle in her gray eyes--a constant reminder of the curious and adventurous prairie girl still hidden within.


--Dorothy Knutson Joseph and Margjorie Knutson Skrukrud, daughters of Josephine Larson Knutson, letters to Chery Kinnick, 2005.
--Norway, Select Baptisms, 1634-1927, "Elen Julia Baarsdatter,"
--Land Entry File, Cert. 4668, "Larson, Erick," "Homestead Application," March 28, 1871, NARA, Washington D.C.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks (Week 2): Challenge


Grandma would never have had a child out of wedlock... right?

One of the first challenges I had to master as a budding family historian was to resist the temptation to judge too hastily.  It is a common pitfall, especially in the beginning when the cascading effects of success in genealogy research encourages one to gather more and more, faster and faster!

My goal was to write a well researched family history, so I tasked myself with finding out the date of my great-great grandmother's marriage to her second husband.  It was not forthcoming via the usual sources.  There was no family Bible to be found, no family data on the matter, and nothing showed up in the usual online sources.  There were no anniversary celebration announcements in their local papers.  The data did not even appear on after Evangelical Lutheran Church of America records were scanned and transcribed for the family's locality in Chippewa County, Minnesota.

Eric and Bertina Winje with four of their children, ca. 1888.

Thibertine "Bertina" Olsdatter, my great-great grandmother, emigrated from Nord-Trondelag, Norway in 1866, traveling on the sailing bark, Norden.  She was accompanied by her husband, Baard Johnson, and their two children, Ole (my great grandfather), and Julia.  After setting up one of the earliest homesteads near Granite Falls in Chippewa County, Baard died from typhoid fever at age 37 during the summer of 1872, leaving his widow to figure out a way to support both the farm and her family.  To make matters worse, Baard died in July, during the height of growing season.  This would never do.  Who would labor in the barn and in the fields, and bring in the crops?  Though Bertina was by default a hard worker (she was a Norwegian-American pioneer woman, after all), it was way too much responsibility for one diminutive woman of less than five feet in height with two underage children to handle.

Early pioneer communities embraced a creed of helping one another because it was often a matter of life or death for those in need.  Bertina probably found that her neighbors and fellow congregation members rushed in to assist in whatever ways they could, without being asked.  One of her Norwegian neighbors had a 21-year-old son by the name of Eric Winje.  Although he was ten years younger than Bertina, it seems that he may have helped the widow with the farm work and took a liking to her.  She was, after all, petite, red-haired, good natured, and so I've heard, fun-loving.  They were married soon after, as the understanding goes.  Their first child, a lovely dark-haired daughter they named Berthe Regine ("Regina"), was born on July 12, 1873.  I assumed, therefore, that the marriage took place before Regina was born.  For one thing, Bertina was a traditionally raised Evangelical Lutheran, and for another, childbirth while unmarried resulted in unpleasant consequences during pre-modern times, even in frontier culture.  I had no reason to believe that she would intentionally risk disapproval from her community and/or church congregation.  How her character was viewed was very important to her family's overall well-being.

Bertina was probably beholding to her champion, and Eric may have been looking for a way to start his own life and separate from his father's farm.  But, not to worry--it all ended well, and the couple eventually had seven more children and lived to see their 50th wedding anniversary.  My search for a marriage date continued.  Anxious to find out more about the homestead, I sent for the property records.  When the papers arrived, the elusive date was found inside the document.  (Research note:  although you can find homestead certificates on, what you will see is only the first page--the certificate.  To see the entire file that contains much more information, you need to send away for it at the National Archives and Records Administration.)

The Land Entry File shows that Baard Johnson began his homestead commitment in October 1868.  The title transfer granted to his widow under the provisions of the Homestead Act was made on October 19, 1875, only two days before the expiration date of the claim.  On the document, Bertina is listed by her new married name of "Winje," and also identified as the widow of "Berndt" (Baard) Johnson.  On the final affidavit (the last page of the file), her marriage date to Eric Winje is listed as March 15, 1874, about eight months after the birth of their first child, Regina.

Wellll, Grandma, what's the story?

A genealogy instructor later helped me with this puzzle.  According to her, as a widow, Bertina had several choices:  1) complete the 5-year homesteading requirement on her own; 2) forfeit the application; or, 3) remarry before the 5-year requirement was completed and apply again under her new husband's name, thus delaying the land claim process an additional five years.  Since Bertina had a son (Ole) by her first husband, she obviously wanted to protect Ole's right to inherit his father's land.  The result was that Eric and Bertina decided to live as common-law husband and wife for nearly two years before getting married.

What were the repercussions of their decision within their conservative community, you may ask?  Remember, we cannot attribute modern-day tendencies and sensibilities to eras of the past.  They had they own stuff to deal with.  That is why studying social history while you do genealogy is so important:  you must learn to understand the times and environment that your ancestor lived in.

Although individuals within their early pioneer community may have privately understood and been forgiving of the circumstances, I do not think Eric and Bertina would have risked being perceived as "living in sin," especially since Eric planned to develop a career as a lawyer.  His intentions were fully honorable, but for all intents and purposes, he needed to be viewed as an upstanding citizen.  This meant he needed to abide by the religious and social expectations of his neighbors and peers as much as possible. When he and Bertina did marry, they probably traveled to another county, or at least well outside of their church district for the ceremony and associated paperwork.

I came to the conclusion that the couple most likely pretended to be officially married as soon as they began cohabitation, for the following reasons:  1) not wanting to start the homestead application over from scratch, 2) protecting Ole Johnson's right to inherit his birth father's homestead, 3) the marriage date is "missing" using the usual research methods in the expected localities, 4) they did not dare lie about their marriage date in Federal Government records, even though they hid it from everyone else, and, 4)  the obituaries for both Eric and Bertina incorrectly list "1872" as the year of their marriage (this tells me that the daughters providing the death certificate information were either told the incorrect date, or taken into their parents' confidentiality and asked to keep the actual date a secret).

The real challenge with similar puzzles?  Do your social history homework, think carefully about human nature, and consider every angle before making a judgment.  If possible, ask the opinion of researchers who are familiar with the culture and times of your ancestors.  Even then, you may only be able to discuss a situation based on probability instead of certainty.

It's okay, Grandma... your secret is safe with us.


Source (marriage date for Eric Winje and Thibertine Olsdatter Johnson):  Land Entry File, Cert. 2749, "Johnson, Berndt," Final Affidavit Required of Homestead Claimants," NARA, Washington D.C.