Friday, February 14, 2020

A Love Story that Lives On

     Bill Knutz and Lillian Christensen knew each other nearly their whole lives.  As children, their parents' farms were located around the corner from each other, less than a mile apart.  The children of both families attended the same rural school and formed close friendships throughout the years.  Bill and Lillian's brother Ray were best of friends, but it was Lillian really caught Bill's attention.

     Bill loved to tell their grandchildren the story of how they "laid claim to each other" in the third grade.  Bill's route to school took him past the Christensen farm.  One morning, Bill and his brother Howard, in their horse-drawn buggy, ran into Lillian and Raymond Christensen in their buggy. A race ensued, but unfortunately, the wheels of the two buggies became entangled and locked together.  Needless to say, the next day (and every day thereafter), Bill and Howard could be seen riding a single horse to school  The same thing held true for Lill and Ray.  But down the road a distance they would do a switch; Ray and Howard would end up on one horse, and Bill and Lillian on the other.

At Sunnyside school, early 1920s, Bill Knutz and Lillian Christensen (marked with X)

     On one occasion, when the kids were in third grade, Bill got sick and missed a few days of school.  The teacher asked Lillian to sit next to him and show him the lesson.  Bill said, "I got a feeling all through my body, like I wanted to put my arm around her waist and give her a hug."

     One of Bill's favorite stories was when Lillian wanted to see if he was an honorable fellow, or a snitch.  One day at school, a girl named Harriet dropped her mitten.  Ray grabbed it and hung it on a nail in the barn.  The teacher asked Lillian who did it, and she said it was Bill.  Bill did not "squeal" on Ray, even though he had to spend noon hours inside all week.  And he married her anyway!

     As teenagers, Lillian moved to town and took a job as a nanny.  Bill worked as a farm hand for Mr. Peterson, whose daughter had a crush on Bill and would stop at nothing to get him.  Lettters and messages for Bill would not be delivered and she tried everything she could to get Bill's attention focused away from Lillian and on to her.  At Christmas Bill was invited to Christensen's for a Christmas Day celebration.  He had to borrow a horse from Mr. Peterson to get there.  His daughter was furious when she found out, and even more so when he went back to Christensen's to celebrate New Year's Day!  She told him he should spend the day with her, and asked, "What if Daddy won't let you have the pony?" to which he replied, "I'll walk then."

     A few summers later, Bill and Ray went to Nebraska to work as farm laborers.  Bill diligently saved his pay, but on the way back they stopped at a pawn shop and he found a saxophone.  He said he had always wanted to play one, and despite no musical training and no ability to read music, he decided to spend the $10 and buy it.  He also came back home with a black onyx and diamond ring for Lillian.

   Bill and Lillian had planned to get married for quite a while before it actually happened.  This was during the Great Depression, and their primary problem was a lack of money.  But they finally decided to go ahead anyway, and on Dec. 28, 1935, they jumped in Bill's car and drove to nearby Miller, where their friends Henry and Grace Speirs witnessed their wedding.  Lillian had a government job that paid better than farming, and because jobs were saved for single women, they did not tell anyone of their marriage.  However, when Bill's car was spotted overnight down the street from Lillian's apartment, to save their good names they were forced to make an announcement, and Lillian had to resign from her job.

     And the rest is history.  There were good times, and there were bad times, but they stuck it out together.  What stuck with me as a child was how respectfully they treated each other even when they disagreed; how Grandpa bent over backwards to take care of his wife, family and home, and how Grandma did all she could to take care of Grandpa and was fiercely protective of him.  Though both of them are gone now, it's a love story that lives on.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Using Shutterfly to Preserve Your Family's Stories

One evening, I got an email from a friend suggesting I check out a free 8x8 hardcover book Shutterfly was offering.  It was a game changer as far as recording my family history is concerned.

I took some of my favorite digitized photos of my grandparents and put them together in a simple format, just to familiarize myself with the ins and outs of making a book.  They offer pre-made templates and a"drag and drop" process that is easy to use. It was a relatively endeavor, and I got a nice little book my granddaughters enjoyed.

But this type of book was not what I was envisioning... I wanted something far more customizable with the ability to add much more text, and I had my own vision for format, backgrounds, and layout.  I wanted a way to preserve my family's stories, and to be able to add photos and maps to make them come to life.  Shutterfly has an "advanced editing" mode, which allows the user to customize every page, and it's relatively intuitive - a plus for people like me who hate to read instructions.

I began with a book of the family stories I'd grown up hearing, things that had been passed down from generation to generation, and interesting things about our ancestors.  One thing I learned: I had way more stories and anecdotes than I realized!  I put a second book together, followed by two more books of stories from my own childhood, recalling events involving my grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other people my granddaughters will never meet or know.  But they'll know them through these books.

When those books were finished, I wrote another of the history of my grandmother-in-law's pheasant farm, which was well-known in that locale, and had the honor of donating pheasants to the national zoo.  I put together another book detailing the life of my great-grandfather, a Danish immigrant who led a rather interesting life.  "The Grandma Book" is a tribute to the lives of my grandmothers - some have just one page, others have several pages of both stories and photos.  But all of my more recent grandmothers are represented.

Besides the blatant genealogy-oriented books, I came up with a few other ideas to sneak in a little family history.  I put together a book of the quilts I own, some of which I created, and others that are family heirlooms; each page tells a little about the quilt, its pattern name and its significance.   Another book contains favorite recipes from five generations of our family's cooks.   I put this book together early in the year, and when Shutterfly periodically offered a free or half-priced book I'd get another copy of it until I had enough to give as Christmas presents.  I also sneaked in a photo of each cook and a little of her background, and the significance of each recipe.  It was a unique and useful gift that was well-received.

I will take this opportunity to say that I have no affiliation with Shutterfly, and they are not the only company that offers this kind of service.  There are a million other ways you can use services of this kind to enhance your family history and leave something behind that almost anyone in the family would enjoy reading.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Lillian and Marie

There's few better blessings than a long-term friendship.  From at least 1916, Lillian Christensen and Marie Morse were friends, with the Morse family living on the next block over on Beach street.  The Morses eventually moved from Huron, but the families still got together.  When Lillian passed away, Marie's name and address were in her address book, though they probably did not get together in person frequently if at all.

Below, Lillian and Marie through the years - top, about 1916; middle, 1927.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Katrina, I'll find you if it takes me the rest of my life. And it might.

 Subtitled: Emilie saves the day

Jens and Katrina Jensen and their children lived in Council Bluffs, Iowa after immigrating from Denmark.  After a few years, they moved across the river to Omaha, where Jens owned a bakery and Katrina helped in the operation.   The next mention of them is in a couple of letters written by Katrina's brother Pete, who had moved to California, where she and Jens also lived at that time (1940s). 

Katrina Jensen
I don't know exactly when they moved to Los Angeles.  Katrina was a witness at the wedding of her sister, Caroline, in 1924 in Council Bluffs, so I presume they made the move soon after that.

My search for these people in California has hit more than one roadblock.  First, my best source of directories was, and it was disheartening to realize that their collection from the late 1920s until about 1935 consisted of partial directories.  And, you guessed it, the parts I needed were missing.  I was able to overcome that by (eventually) discovering that the LA Public Library has online copies of the years that I needed.  Between the two sources, I figured I'd have it easy from that point on. 


There did not appear to be a Jens Jensen who was a baker, or who had a wife listed by the appropriate name.  There were no entries for a Katrina Jensen at all. 

Thank goodness I discovered a bare-bones death notice for Katrina, or I would have been totally up the creek, in more ways than one.  Born Ane Katrine in Denmark, her death notice called her Anna C.  If it hadn't listed her children by name, I would never have known it was her.   I went back to the directories and began not only looking for Anna, but Catherine, even Kathryn.  Unfortunately, all three are common names, and I had no way to distinguish which if any of these women were my Katrina.

In rereading her death notice, it finally hit me like a rock upside the head that her children would have been adults during those years.  So, back to the directories.   I was grateful that her oldest son had an uncommon name like Hilbert.  But he apparently did not go to Los Angeles with the rest of them, as he was not listed in any of the directories.  Her other son was Albert - and there were a number of Alberts listed.  Then - there was her daugher, Emilie.  No matter how it was spelled, it did not appear to be a common name at that time and place, and I was able to find one "Emilie" listed.  I noted the address, and went back to check Jens, Anna/Catherine/Kathryn and Albert.  I was able to find a Catherine and an Albert at the same address as Emilie.  Voila!  Catherine was a seamstress, which was a handy thing to know - because they moved every year or two.  Of course.  But at least they did not change occupations like they did addresses.

Albert got married and settled down in a house of his own, but I was able to continue to track Catherine and Emilie in this manner, until Emilie did the unthinkable - she got married.   None of the Catherines I found in the directories after 1936 was a seamstress, and none of them had the same address as Emilie or Albert.  The trail had gone cold.

And Jens?  I continued to find several Jens Jensens, who were bakers in Omaha long after Katrina had been documented in California.  Perhaps he didn't follow them when they left.  However, he is buried with Katrina in Los Angeles.

Clearly there are a lot of questions left to be answered, but right now, I'm out of ideas. I'm focusing my research on her descendants and siblings in hopes that I might get a fresh lead on her.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Who is on Card #143?

Tonight seemed like a good night to fill in the South Dakota State Census information for my grandmother's family of origin.  The state census was taken every five years, and has the actual cards filmed, so I bypassed Ancestry and went directly there. 

Because the cards are arranged alphabetically, I needed to look up each person in the household separately, which was no big deal.  I happened to be working backward, from 1935 to 1905.  The mystery is in the 1915 census. 

I found my great-grandfather, Peter Christensen, Card #141, first.  Then his wife, Ella, Card #142.  Then I found my grandmother, Lillian, age 3, Card #144, and finally, Raymond, age 1, Card #145.  The next child to be born would be Clarence in 1917.  So, who is enumerated on Card #143?

Perhaps for some reason the card needed to be destroyed and does not exist.

The most natural supposition is that Ella's mother, Alvilda Monsen, is on that card. Alvilda arrived at New York City, aboard the ship "Kristianiafjord", on 16 May 1915.  She was bound for Huron, South Dakota to the home of her son-in-law, P. C. Christensen.  I do not know the exact date the Christensens were enumerated, or if Alvilda made it there in time to be counted among the household.

Family Search did not list an Alvila, Alfhilde, Monsen, Monson, nor Munson in the index.  Ancestry did not, either.

So, the question remains: Who is on Card #143?

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Where in the World are Jens and Katrina Jensen?

The Christensen sisters, Laura and Katrina, are proving to be some of the biggest challenges I've had as a family historian.  After weeks of trying to track Laura after her divorce, I've come to the conclusion it's much like trying to nail smoke to the wall.  Sometimes she's Laurine.  Sometimes she's Laura.  Sometimes she's Lorraine.  And she doesn't stay put, either.  I thought I'd give myself a break and see what I could find out about her sister, Katrina Jensen.

She seemed to live a nice, tidy life through the 1920 census, when she and her husband Jens owned a bakery in Omaha, Nebraska.  The next thing you know is it's 1930 and she is a widow living in Los Angeles, doing alterations for a department store.  She did appear as a witness to her sister's marriage in 1924 in Council Bluffs, Iowa, so it was probably after that time that she went to California.

Thank goodness for city directories... when they are intact and complete, that is.  Unfortunately, Ancestry's Los Angeles directories for the period 1925-1934 are incomplete.  Each of these directories is missing huge chunks, all of which include the "Jensen" listings.

Starting in 1935, I was able to find some information.  Katrina, unfortunately, used different names on various documents.  She was born Ane Katrine, but was unknown as Katrina, Catherine, and Anna Catherine, Anna C., and all of these variations with the common surname of Jensen.  Thank goodness she had a daughter named Emilie, so I was able to find Emilie's listing and then go back and see if there was anyone with any of the variations listed at the same address.  But once Emilie married and had a residence with her husband, I was out of luck.   And it certainly did not help that Katrina moved every couple of years.

I checked every Los Angeles city directory available for each of her children, and then cross-checked by address for any Catherine or Anna Jensen that might have the same address.  I was able to find her in the 1936 and 1937 directories, but not after that.

I checked the 1940 census - every way I could think of - and could not find an entry for her.

The next time there's any definitive evidence of her is in December of 1946, when her brother mentions her in a letter as living in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles.  The next (and last) time would be her death in August of 1968, in Los Angeles.  She was buried next her husband Jens, who died in... June of 1950???

Wait a minute...

She was a "widow" in 1930... 

I went back and checked every one of those directories again for Jens, and with multiple Jens Jensens, I again cross-checked the addresses of his children to see if he might be living with either of them.  No luck.

Were they divorced?  Maybe.  But if so, it was certainly amicable, as they are buried together, in the same lot, at Forest Lawn cemetery in Glendale.

I have spent so many hours on this, I don't even care to try to estimate them.  And I have more questions than I started with.  I think I'll do myself a favor and to back to working on Laura...

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The "Bob WeHadABabyItsABoy" Method for Family History

This family history stuff is going to send me to the poorhouse.

Remember "Person-to-Person" phone calls?  For you youngsters who never had to pay for long distance calling, this was an operator-assisted call placed from you directly to a specific person rather than a general phone number.  If they weren't available, you did not have to pay for the call.  If they were home and came to the phone, it was even more expensive than long distance.

You may have seen the Geico commercial on TV employing that strategy.  They just had a baby, but don't want to pay for a call, so he places a person-to-person call to Bob WeHadABabyItsABoy, and the guy on the other end of the line tells his wife "They had a baby, it's a boy."  We used to do the same thing when my husband traveled - when he got to his destination, he'd place a person-to-person call to himself at our number, and then I'd know he made it okay.  We didn't get to talk, but he got his message across.  I decided to employ that same technique to answer a burning family history question without having to empty my wallet on yet another newspaper subscription.

I already have two similar subscriptions, and through them I learned that my great-grandfather, P. C. Christensen, opened Bell Bakery in Huron, South Dakota sometime between October of 1908 and March of 1909.  I was hoping to learn more about exactly when the bakery opened, and how he came to be associated with his partner, Clarence Bell, both of them moving to Huron to open that bakery.  But neither newspaper website covered that crucial time in between those dates.  Newspaper Site #3 does.

Voila!  I decided to try the Bob WeHadABabyItsABoy technique, and did a search for Bell Bakery between October 1, 1908 and March 31, 1909.  I got numerous hits, with previews, for October of 1908.  Great news!  The bad news is that the previews aren't telling me a lot.  Some look like advertisements, but others are so vague... it does, however, narrow down the dates considerably.

However, my brilliant strategy is still going to end up costing me money.  There is an advertisement for Bell Bakery in the October 17, 1908 issue of the paper, and perhaps an article, I can't tell.  I have an article from one of the paid sites from October 29, stating that "City Bakery" had a fire, but it was minor and they intended to repair and continue.  The interesting thing is that both Bell Bakery and City Bakery were located at 340 Dakota Ave.  Did Bell Bakery purchase the City Bakery location after the fire?  If so, why is there overlap in the time frame?  Was Bell Bakery initially located somewhere else before purchasing the 340 Dakota site?

I might as well get off my wallet and subscribe to newspaper site #3.  Can't take it with you, right?