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?