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.