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).

No comments: