Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Mysterious Lives of Freide, William and Henry, Part III

In posts 1 and 2, we saw the romantic tale of William and Freide Feige, and the fading of William Feige from the story, and the appearance of Henry Van Dalsem into it.

But the question still remains, what happened to William Feige?  His paper trail leaves some idea of the answer to that question, although some details are sketchy.

William Feige
In Iowa, in September of 1882, he applied for an invalid pension about the same time he filed for the homestead land in South Dakota, a rather curious combination of events. 

In 1885, the Dakota Territory census shows him living on his homestead and his occupation was "farmer." He also had a hired man to help out.  He and Freide still had five children at home.

In November of 1887, significant things began to happen.  This was almost exactly five years after filing on his homestead, having fulfilled the requirement to live on the land five years and to improve upon it.  With that time being just barely completed, he appears to have sold the land to his wife for $1,000, and a land transfer notification was printed in the local newspaper.  It was also about this time that his wife and children moved to Huron. The month after selling the land to Freide, he was admitted to the soldiers home in Leavenworth, Kansas.

Two years later (1887), the newspaper printed a notice that land patents were ready for pickup at the post office, and patent #1174 with William Feige’s name on it was among them.  

In June of 1894, he transferred from the soldiers home in Leavenworth to another soldiers home in Dayton, Ohio.   

1895 – I believe he was married to a woman named Sophia about this time, likely in Ohio.  This is based on future documents.

On June 26, 1897, he was discharged from the soldiers home “at request,”  presumably his.  I was unable to find him in the 1900 census, but I suspect he and Sophia (or just him) were still in Ohio.

In 1903, he moved back to South Dakota, according to information provided in the 1905 SD state census.

In 1905, William Feige appears in the South Dakota State Census, a resident of Campbell county, is 67 years old, and divorced.  He lists his occupation as “minister.”   He said he had been in the state for two years.

In 1907 he was granted a military pension of $12 per month, with a second pension date of May 1912, at $22.50 per month.

In 1910, he was an “inmate” at the State Soldiers Home in Hot Springs, South Dakota, was 71 years old and is married, and had been married for 15 years.   The marriage information is inconsistent with this status as “divorced” in 1905.

In 1915, he again appears in the South Dakota State Census, age 77, living in Fall River county at the Soldiers Home in Hot Springs.  No occupation is listed.  His Civil War service is referenced, and he is not “blind, deaf, insane or idiot.”  No  marital status is noted.

Later that year (October) he once again transferred back to the soldiers home at Leavenworth, Kansas, pictured below (photo from Library of Congress):

Two years later, on September 21, 1917 – William Feige passed away from colitis.  He is buried in Section 22, Row 5723, presumably in the veterans cemetery there.  Again, his service is referenced, and his status is as an “Army Invalid.” 

Leavenworth paperwork indicates that it was his daughter-in-law, Mrs. Carl Feige, who was notified of his death and who received his personal effects, in lieu of William’s son Carl, who was serving in the military.

William’s pension payment card notes the date of his death, and that money was payable to his widow, Sophia Feige, Willow Wood, Ohio.   The widow applied for a pension based on his service in September of 1925 and filed from Ohio.  

While these facts help paint some sort of a picture of William’s life after his divorce from Freide, the most interesting questions remain unanswered.   Why did William and Freide Feige divorce?  Did his medical status have something to do with it?  Was this common knowledge among the citizens of Huron, or did they really believe he had died?  Almost exactly five years after filing the homestead claim, the land was sold to Friede and William moved to the soldiers home in Kansas, almost as though he/she/they were waiting to have full rights to the land before making any moves.  Was this a plan involving both William and Friede?  Did William’s second wife Sophia ever accompany him to South Dakota or Kansas?  If not, why?  Why did William’s daughter-in-law get notification and his personal effects after his death, and not William’s widow?

Without a doubt there is much more to William’s story, and the most interesting parts of it may already be lost to history.



“Pioneer Huron Woman Doctor Poses for Picture Showing 5 Generations.”   The Evening Huronite (Huron, South Dakota).  18 May 1936, pg. 9.
“Proceedings of the Board of Commissioners, Beadle County, South Dakota.”  The Daily Plainsman (Huron, South Dakota). 01 Aug 1907.
The Dakota Huronite (Huron, South Dakota).  22 Jul 1909, pg. 5.  Short local news items.
“Observes Ninetieth Birthday.”   The Evening Huronite (Huron, South Dakota).  06 June 1934, pg. 6.
“Do You Know.”  The Evening Huronite (Huron, South Dakota). 29 May 1928, pg. 6.
“Grow Old Along With Me.”  The Evening Huronite (Huron, South Dakota).  21 May 1929, pg. 6.
“Women’s Relief Corps Has Meeting Friday.”  The Daily Plainsman (Huron, South Dakota). 04 Sep 1937, pg. 6
Classified Ads.  The Daily Plainsman (Huron, South Dakota).  06 Sep 1893, pg. 4.  Lost Pocket Book.
Claims submitted to County.The Daily Plainsman (Huron, South Dakota).  14 Aug 1894, pg. 4.
Board Minutes.  The Daily Plainsman (Huron, South Dakota). 20 Sep. 1894, pg. 4
Van Dalsem & White printing equipment.  The Daily Plainsman (Huron, South Dakota).  07 Mar 1895, pg. 4.
“Without the Huronite!”  The Daily Plainsman (Huron, South Dakota).  23 Nov. 1894, pg. 4.
“In Memoriam.”  The Daily Plainsman (Huron, South Dakota).  30 May 1928, pg. 12.
“A Valuable Book.”  The Daily Deadwood Pioneer-Times (Deadwood, South Dakota).  17 Nov 1916, pg. 2.
“Poems of Soul and Home.”  Lead Daily Call (Lead, South Dakota).  18 Nov. 1916, pg. 2.
“City Briefs.”  The Evening Huronite (Huron, South Dakota). 17 Jul 1929, pg. 6.
“Buy Liberty Loan Bonds, She Says.”  Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota). 4 Jun 1917, pg. 1.
“Huronitems.”  The Daily Plainsman (Huron, South Dakota). 10 May 1892, pg. 3.
Birth Announcement.  The Daily Plainsman (Huron, South Dakota).  29 Sep 1890, pg. 4.
“Real Estate Transfers.”  The Daily Huronite (Huron, South Dakota). 14 Nov 1887, pg. 3.
“Land Patents.”  The Daily Plainsman (Huron, South Dakota). 08 Aug 1889, pg. 2.
Child kicked by horse.  The Daily Plainsman (Huron, South Dakota). 20 Jul 1893, pg. 4.
Called to Highmore. The Daily Plainsman (Huron, South Dakota). 02 Aug 1889, pg. 4.
Lane family has diphtheria. The Daily Plainsman (Huron, South Dakota). 06 Jan 1893, pg. 4
“Birthday Dinner for Dr. Van Dalsem.”  The Daily Plainsman (Huron, South Dakota). 06 Jun 1930, pg. 6.
“Do You Know.”  The Evening Huronite (Huron, South Dakota). 25 May 1928, pg. 5.
“Dr. Van Dalsem Celebrates Birthday.”  The Daily Plainsman (Huron, South Dakota). 08 Jun 1933, pg. 5.
“Pioneer Days.”  The Daily Plainsman (Huron, South Dakota). 29 Jul 1960.
“Delinquent Tax List.”  The Evening Huronite (Huron, South Dakota). 10 Dec 1937, pg. 8.
“City Briefs.”  The Evening Huronite (Huron, South Dakota). 16 Apr 1934, pg. 7.
“Twenty Years Ago Today in Huron.” The Evening Huronite (Huron, South Dakota.) 20 Apr 1933, pg. 6.
“Celebrates Birthday Quietly Tuesday.”  The Evening Huronite (Huron, South Dakota). 9 June 1932, pg. 6.
“Celebrate 56th Wedding Day Saturday.”  The Evening Huronite (Huron, South Dakota). 09 Mar 1931, pg. 5.
“Dr. Van Dalsem Has Guests.”  The Evening Huronite (Huron, South Dakota). 31 Mar 1931, pg. 6.
“City Briefs.”  The Evening Huronite (Huron, South Dakota).  08 Jul 1930, pg. 5.
“Twenty Years Ago Today in Huron.”  The Evening Huronite (Huron, South Dakota). 04 Dec 1929, p. 14.
“Entertains for Out-of-Town Guest.”  The Evening Huronite (Huron, South Dakota). 17 Jun 1930. Pg. 6.

1870 Federal Census, Sedalia, Pettis county, Missouri.
1880 Federal Census,  Eden twp., Sac county, Iowa.
1885 Dakota Census, Beadle county, Township 112 N. Range 61.
1890 Veterans Schedule, Wisconsin, Chippewa county, Village of Bloomer.
1895 South Dakota State Census, Beadle county, Huron, 2nd Ward.
1900 Federal Census, South Dakota, Beadle county, City of Huron.
1905 South Dakota State Census, Beadle county, Huron.  Card for H. A. Van Dalsem. 
1905 South Dakota State Census, Campbell  county, PO Artas.  Card for Wm. Feige.
1910 Federal Census, South Dakota, Fall River county, Hot Springs.
1915 South Dakota State Census.
1920 Federal Census, South Dakota, Beadle county, City of Huron.
1925 South Dakota State Census.
1930 Federal Census, South Dakota, Beadle co., City of Huron.

1907 Huron City Directory, listing of Physicians, p. 135.  Home listing pg. 108.
1930 Huron City Directory, listing of Physicians.

John M. Comstock, “The Congregational Church of Vermont and Their Ministry,” pg. 87.
William Phipps Blake, “Centenary of Hamden, Connecticut,” pg. 197-198.
O. W. Coursey, “Literature of South Dakota,” pg. 186.

1906 Land Ownership Map, Iowa twp., Beadle co., South Dakota

Pension Card, William Feige.
United States Veterans Administration Pension Payment Cards, 1907 – 1933. Card for  William Feige.
U. S. National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers 1866 – 1938, Leavenworth, Kansas.
U. S. National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers 1866 – 1938, Dayton, Ohio.
Military Enlistment record, Henry A. Van Dalsem.
Veterans Burial Records, William Feige.

Iowa, Deaths and Burials (  Death of Sarah L. Van Dalsem.
Cemetery Record Search.

Find-A-Grave gravestone photo for Henry and Freide Van Dalsem, courtesy of Brenda Behlke.

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Mysterious Lives of Freide, William and Henry, Part II

Huron, South Dakota.  About 1915

Our story left off in Part 1 in 1887-88, when Freide and her children moved from their homestead in Beadle County, Dakota Territory, into the nearby town of Huron.  One source claims she moved to the current site of the Marvin Hughitt Hotel building, and later moved to 319 3rd St. SW.  Her home initially served as her office as well.  In 1894, she married Henry A. Van Dalsem, a local publisher.

Just who was Henry Van Dalsem, and how did he come to be in Huron, South Dakota?

Henry was born in New York in 1842.  He married Sarah Lindley Thomas, and at age 20, he enlisted for service during the Civil War, in Albany*.  From 1873-74, he served as a Congregational Church minister in Hamden, Connecticut; in 1880 he was an editor in Fairfield,  and shortly afterward returned to the ministry in Pomfret, Vermont until 1887.  The Van Dalsems, like the Feiges, had eight children in all.  By 1890, he had moved to Bloomer, Wisconsin.  Since his wife and children appear in Wisconsin (sans Henry) in 1900, they are probably with him at this time as well.** For whatever reason, the Van Dalsems were divorced, and it appears that Henry left them behind when he came to South Dakota.

Henry Van Dalsem was in Huron by 1892, working as a partner in the Van Dalsem and White publishing firm, and married Freide Feige two years later.

Van Dalsem and White publishing house may have faced an uphill battle from the beginning.  This era of newspaper and publishing work appears to have been a rough one for anyone trying to be successful in these vocations.  What little reading I have done on the subject suggests that newspapers were commonly used as pawns in political fights, and editors needed to write editorials that backed the groups that kept them financially afloat, whether or not they were personally in agreement.  A newspaper article in the Daily Plainsman (Huron) reprints an article from the Redfield (South Dakota) Journal-Observer, and points out that Huron is never without drama regarding its newspapers. 

                “First, one of its leading newspapers suspends publication, or rather, is absorbed by another.  Then one of its leading and foremost citizens, the whilom publisher of the defunct Journal, Ham. Kerr, is reported as skipping out under suspicious circumstances.  Now comes a tale of a first-class row in a publishing firm of Van Dalsem and White – the former being remembered as a member of the pop convention here two years ago – wherein Van Dalsem is charged with looting the office at night.  Verily, ye Huron citizen is on the move, in both senses of the word.”

Around the time of his business’s demise, he married Dr. Feige.  Over the next 20 years, he had various occupations including notary, working for an employment agency, an account collector, and interestingly, considering his previous looting charge, a judge.  But his real passion and calling appears to have been writing.  He wrote editorials for “The Ruralist,” created writings for a fraternal organization, and authored scholarly addresses for a variety of organizations.  And after his death, his widow published a well-respected volume of his poetry and prose.

Henry passed away on December 1, 1913, and left instruction with his wife and friends regarding his wishes.  One of them, ironically, illustrates his apparent disdain for organized religion.

“Fourth – Let no so-called ‘sermon’ be preached over me.  No perfunctory encomiums nor condolences fit either them or me who are in actual interest.  No pulpiteer knows them or me, nor aught of the world and condition to which I go, wherefore his conventional ministerial flatteries must be as idle in death as they have always been distasteful to me in life.”

Dr. Freide Feige Van Dalsem

Dr. Freide Feige Van Dalsem was a pioneer in many respects, and it’s hard to imagine anyone working harder than she.  As a physician, she called on sick and injured patients day and night, both in town and miles away from town in every direction, including the town of Highmore, nearly 70 miles away.  Most of her early travel was done on horseback.  She performed services for Beadle County, in 1907 being paid by them for attending to 25 births and one death, a total of $6.50, or in total’s labor value, about $1,150.*  The county certainly got their money's worth out of Dr. Freide.

Freide was one of ten physicians in Huron, and the only female.  By 1930, as her practice was winding down, there were more physicians but she was still the only woman in the ranks. 

Over the years she kept busy, and birth announcements involving her were numerous.  One very long and tiring day in 1909 she delivered three Huron infants –

“At 6 a.m., December 5, a daughter was born to Mr. and Mrs. E. W. Bandy of Simmons avenue.  At 10:40 a.m., the birth of a daughter took place at the home of Mr. and Mrs. W. D. Oreline on Beach street and at 6:20 p.m., Mr. and Mrs. E. R. Adams welcomed a new born daughter to the circle of their family.  Dr. Frieda [sic] Van Dalsem helped all three of the little ladies to a safe arrival.”

But she was hardly a glorified midwife.  Newspaper accounts record her involvement as attending physician in everything from accidents, farm mishaps, and even a prominent family with diphtheria.
One of the last newspaper accounts of her medical practice was in 1931 when she attended to the birth of yet another young Huron citizen.  At that time she was 84 years old.

Besides tending to the sick and injured, she was a frequent speaker for many groups on various topics.  She herself was involved with the Homeopathic Medical Association, the National League of Women Voters, her local Presbyterian church, Eastern Star, the Rebekahs, and the Relief Corps.

She was also a landlord, owning “considerable property” including at least two homes, one garage she rented out, and the land she had homesteaded with her husband, Rev. William Feige.

After the death of her second husband, one of her sons and his wife made their home with Dr. Van Dalsem at 1219 3rd St. SW.  This son, along with another son and Freide all died within the same year, 1937.

The graves of Henry and Dr. Freide Van Dalsem, Riverside Cemetery, Huron, South Dakota
Photo courtesy of Brenda Behlke

Notwithstanding a complicated personal situation, Dr. Van Dalsem made a huge contribution to the burgeoning town of Huron and its residents, and was an inspiring example to women who desired uncommon roles in life. 

But still the question remains – What happened to William Feige?   Part 3

*Interestingly, William and Freide Feige were in Albany at this same time, where William also enlisted, and where he also pursued ministerial opportunities, but I found no indication of whether or not they knew each other.  
**The 1890 Veterans Schedule does not list anyone other than the veteran himself. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Mysterious Lives of Freide, William and Henry

It was a tale of intrigue, romance, and secrets.  It was also a tale of female pioneer strength and of community service.  But if you were going to categorize it, you'd have to call it a mystery.

There was something different about Freide Werner from the time she was a child.   The daughter of a minister in Bitterfeld, Saxony, her intent desire was to become a doctor, but it was unheard of for a young woman in 1850s-era Germany to be accepted into any medical school.

Her father was no stranger himself to traveling the hard road – he was the first Baptist minister in an area where Baptists weren’t particularly welcome, but he persevered.  He arranged for his daughter to study medicine privately with Dr. Lautze, who himself had studied under Dr. Samuel  Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathic medicine.

Meanwhile, as Freide tended to her studies, young Captain William Feige, stationed at Magdeburg, was being transferred to the town of Bitterfeld.  He boarded next door to the Werner family, and 15-year-old Freide caught his eye.  While just 20 years old himself, he approached Freide’s father asking for her hand in marriage when she became of age, and her father accepted the proposal – all without Freide’s knowledge or consent, and the notion of being married did not go over well with her.  However, Capt. Feige was “charming, highly educated, and handsome” – and over the course of the next three years, she warmed up to the idea.

However, Capt. Feige’s family did not.  Vehemently opposed to the engagement, the Feiges, who had ties to the Prussian royal family, had made other marriage arrangements for their son.   After their wedding, William and Freide had to immediately board a ship bound for America to escape the fallout.

The year was 1862, and they newlyweds made their first home in Albany, New York.  William was interested in preaching and missionary work, and took that as his vocation.  Freide meanwhile, gave birth to their first child in 1863.  When the call went out for soldiers to defend the Union, William answered.  He sent his wife and daughter to German friends in Missouri. While awaiting the end of the war, Friede began providing medical services to those in need.

While Freide tended to the sick in Missouri, her soldier husband was having his own health problems.  In April of 1865 during the Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia, he became ill from an unknown malady, and like so many other soldiers, afterward suffered from chronic diarrhea as well as rheumatism.  He would never again be the same.

After the war, William went to Missouri to fetch his wife and family, and they lived in various other communities in Missouri and Iowa.  For a while, he worked as a teacher.  But his religious calling moved them to Marengo, Iowa, where he worked as a preacher and Freide built up a rather large medical practice.  By this time, Freide’s parents, brothers and sisters had also come to America.  After Marengo, it was Sac county, and then Spirit Lake, where William was called to be the first pastor in a newly-organized church.  They spent four years there and had a total of eight children, and then William had a strange idea.

He decided to be a farmer. 

Not such a strange idea in and of itself, but factor in that neither of them knew the first thing about farming, and William was dealing with a disability, and it becomes a rather curious notion.  Perhaps his disability clouded his thinking, or perhaps he overestimated what he was able to do.  He took up a claim in Dakota Territory, in Beadle county in late 1882 and moved his family there in February of 1883. Freide had saved some money from her medical practice in Iowa, and it was enough to build a small house for the family of nine.  She did much of the lathing and plastering with her own hands, when she wasn’t busy with the children or tending to sick patients.  Despite being new to the area and people, her medical services out on the prairie were in demand, day and night.   The roads were often poor, or there were no roads at all; and typically she made her house calls on horseback.  At night she used a compass, or tried to follow the railroad tracks to keep from getting lost.  

With the exception of occasional preaching, William was unable to work much once the family moved to the homestead, so Freide’s medical practice became vital not only to her patients, but to her family as well.

And then, her story takes a turn.   There is curiously little written about her personal life during this time.  One biography, however, mentions that she was “left a widow.”   She and her children moved into nearby Huron and she went on to marry Henry Van Dalsem, a local publisher.   The Widow Feige was beginning a new chapter in her life.  There was only one problem.

William Feige wasn’t dead.

To be continued...   Part 2

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Carroms - The Game of OW!!

"It's your turn."   "Okay ... OW!!!!  Let's play checkers instead!"

And so went our games of Carroms at our grandparents' house.  Most of the time when Grandpa would play a game with us, it involved the Carrom board, either playing our own version of the game on one side of the board, or flipping it over and using the other side for a game of checkers.  We never did know the real rules for Carroms but instead would play it like billiards, only on a board.   The little pool cues that came with the set disappeared long before we started playing with it (or did Grandma decide the last thing she needed was three wild children running around with little sticks?) so we'd "snip" the carroms with our fingers into the little net pockets.  The first game usually wasn't bad, but after that our fingernails really, really hurt.

I never thought about where the carrom board came from, only that it was always there, and still is (somewhere).   Last week, while cleaning out a closet full of games, I found a rusted coffee can filled with the old wooden carroms, and I started wondering how this relic made its way into our family.  A few days later, I was going through family photos and there it was, in the background of several photos from Christmas of 1958!   It was perched under the Christmas tree, all pretty and new, just waiting for someone to try it out.  And later, apparently someone did - my aunt June and her boyfriend (and future husband), Everett, were playing a game of checkers on it in one photo (I wonder if Grandma took the sticks away from them, too...)

Christmas, 1958.  If you peek behind Everett, under the Christmas tree, you can see the Carrom board in all its sparkly newness.

June and Everett checking out the new game.

I will have to remember to drag out the Carrom board when my granddaughters are visiting, just to see how long they put up with "snipping" those hard little carroms around the board.  I'm guessing just once.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Independence Day, Great Depression Style

In the southern part of Beadle county, South Dakota, Cain Creek meanders through the slightly hilly terrain of Clifton township.  Nearly 50 miles long, the creek enters western Beadle county and winds its way southeasterly, emptying into the James River.  A small portion of the creek just barely caught the northwest quarter of Will Knutz's 80 acre farm, and as my mother remembers, was down a rolling hill from their house.   In the weeks before the Independence Day holiday in 1933, someone looked at that creek and had a great idea...

The dot inside the red circle shows the location of the farmhouse of the Will and Virta Knutz family, and its proximity to Cain Creek.  The road just to the left of the red circle is Highway 37, south of Huron.

Neighbors and friends gathered to build a dam on the creek, forming what was said to have been an excellent, and very popular, swimming hole.  The Knutz children, among others, spent their days enjoying a refreshing swim and the company of others there for the same purpose.  Young Richard Knutz, just 16 at the time, "just about lived in that pool," said his mother, Virta.  Will Knutz gave his blessing to the project, on the condition that everyone pick up after themselves before they left.   A small baseball diamond was added as well.

A group of young swimmers at the Knutz swimming hole

The swimming hole was the site of an incredible 1933 Independence Day party.   On July 3, some of the ball players showed up and "fixed up" the diamond, cleaned out the tree grove, and "penned off a corner of the pool for the little kids to swim in," Bill Knutz wrote.  And the Knutz family prepared for the onslaught of guests the following day.

Swimmers - from left, Bill Knutz, Lillian Christensen (who would later become his wife), and second from right is either Howard or Richard Knutz. 

It was estimated that about 1,000 people showed up for the festivities, starting with a "kitten" ball game for the youngsters, commencing at 10 am and stopping at 12:30 for a picnic lunch.  Afterward was the women's ball game, and then the races - first the younger kids, then the young men's race, the married couples race, and lastly the "fat man's" race.   Cash prizes were awarded for first and second places for each race.  The "big" baseball game followed the races, and it was estimated that as many as 90 cars were parked there at that time.   Pop and ice cream were sold; horseshoes, and of course, swimming, were all-day events.  It was noted by Bill Knutz that there were so many people in the pool that the water was nearly to the top of the dam.  All the neighbors for miles around were there, "and then some," noted by one of them, Miss Edna Christensen.

After dark, another neighborhood acquaintance, Mr. Baum, hosted a barn dance for which Bill Knutz and His Harmonians supplied the music.

After the Fourth of July party, the swimming hole continued to be a hot spot for the rest of the summer, with cars coming and going all day, "up until midnight," said Mrs. Knutz.  But the following spring, when the snow began to melt and the rains came, the dam washed out.  The neighborhood came together again to rebuild it, and they enjoyed another summer of swimming.  But the following spring, in 1935, the waters proved too much for the dam and again, it wouldn't hold.  This time, it was not reconstructed.  The days of the Knutz swimming pool were over.

Cain Creek today, photo courtesy of Google Earth.

Elvirta Knutz's Life Story, as written by herself
Letters of Bill Knutz to Lillian Christensen
Letter from Edna Christensen to Lillian Christensen
Huron Daily Plainsman, 20 Feb 1966
List of Playing Dates for Bill Knutz and His Harmonians
1949 Beadle County Plat Map, R. C. Booth Enterprises
Betty Hammer
Google Earth

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Run For Your Life - A Story of Strength from World War II

Many of our ancestors faced situations that required every bit of strength and courage they could muster.  But few of those situations could compare with running for your very life from the Nazis.

My grandmother, Lisa Hammer, had a life that repeatedly required strength, from the time she was a toddler pining away for the home and mother that she'd never return to, to teaching and ministering to the poorest children in Norway, and much more in between.  But the astounding story of her fortitude during World War II shows what she was made of.    I can't tell the story like Lisa could, so I will let her do it.  Keep in mind as you read the story that she got terribly seasick on boats, and that the Nazis had mined the waters.  Also please keep in mind that English was not her first language.

With that, may I introduce my guest host for this posting, Lisa Hammer.


In 1940 the World War II broke out and lasted five years.  There was very little food around.  We fed the kids oatmeal soup and cod liver oil in the school and when the weather was bad, the fishermen stole the fish they had sold the day before.  The kids were not fed the way they should be and many times it was a lot better to give them a bath and teach them history and something else.  After the war I got a year off and went to a garden school.

The country was neutral but in big trouble because the Germans took the food for the soldiers.  For three weeks at the school we ate sour rhubarb jam with no butter on the bread.  The people were often put in camps because they didn't join the Nazis and they were starving to death.  The farmers in the south smuggled food in in empty garbage cans.  We could not write to our mothers because all mail was opened up and every telephone call taped.  All radios were taken away and nobody knew for sure who the next man was so we never dared to talk freely.  I stayed with one of the teachers at the school and had a very good year with them.  We made a lot of potato flour to take home and we bought a lot of caraway seed for tea.

Kjollefjord, 1928.  Original source of photo unknown.

In 1945 the Germans lost the war but before they left they burned the country and they evacuated us to the southern part.

We heard the news about the burning but did not know how serious the situation was before we saw the smoke come rolling over the mountain from Kjøllefjord.  We came together for a meeting and decided that all the men should go home and pack and all the women should bake bread so we could take it with us the next day.  It was in November and still no snow on the ground.  I lived alone but neighbors helped and we all worked together.  I went to bed and slept to 5 A.M.  Somebody knocked on the door and asked if I would go with my friends who had an old mother and were leaving.  I said no because I was sad and there were many who needed help.  I slept again until 7:30 A.M. and had another knock on the door.  This time the Germans were on the harbour, shooting down the pier and coast light.  I took the bike and my valuables up in the mountains to a small lake where we had water.  The Germans threw hand grenades in all the houses and that evening, not one house was left.  We had bought coal for heating for winter and all was burned up.  They put us in a fishing boat and said go to the south.  They were sure we would be bombed on the way but the first night the weather was so bad we couldn't go to the boat.  We made a big fireplace outside and fried sheep meat and drank beer.  We roasted the sheep and ate them.  The cows were running wild around; we milked them before we left and took as many pails with us as we could.  Of course we were to have food for three days.

Lisa's home in Kjollefjord

It was early Sunday morning the Germans come and they threw the grenades in the houses and we were all up to and before evening came, there wasn't one house left from all the places where we had the winter coal saved for the next year.  And we went down there and tried to find ourself but we couldn't find it because it was too dark and I was wondering where my map was at and all my papers and I couldn't find it and one of the neighbors who was born there, she came with a lantern and she said you follow me and I will find it, and she found it up in the rocks that night.  We had big bowls of sweet stuff, the cranberries, the blueberries and the snowberries we had saved for the winter, we dug them under the sod in the fence of the graveyard.  When we saw we couldn't take it with us we sat and ate out of the crocks.

It was very bad weather that night so we couldn't enter the boat - it wasn't possible to come to the boat so we were a mess.  We roasted some sheep, fried them on the fire and we drank some beer.  Milked some cows, packed silver in the shoes and boots so we could take as much as possible and next morning we went to the boat.  It was a fishing boat - we were laying in the bottom of the boat.  One man got crazy but we had a basket that was made up ready to go to the hospital if somebody should be sick.  Of course it was far away to the hospital.  So we tied him up in that basket, it was the only thing to do.  And every place we went by that day there was burning and burning and burning.  We tore apart sheets and bedspreads and washed the kids and one woman got her pants filled up screaming what should we do and throw it in the ocean, no, no, no we can't afford to do that, but there was nothing else to do.

So, for three days we went south and the Germans were sure we would all be bombed and died.  But later the weather got beautiful, we didn't see a plane.  We came to a city Phlocea.  They backed us into some cattle wagons with no windows, just one door, no lights and the rest room outside.

So we came down to a city called Mansus.  That is a side road going down to my home country and I took two families and we ran away in the dark.  The rest came south and I come home to my mother and my father with my two families.


Lisa eventually went back to Finnmark and continued on to build up a fine school district from virtually nothing, and 30 years later she left it all behind for a new life in the United States with my grandfather.

Many thanks to Elizabeth O'Neal for hosting the Blog Party

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Duh! Overlooking A Major Breakthrough in a Moment of Stupidity

Elsie and Jens Eriksen
Subtitled: The Porch Light's On, But Nobody's Home

Like many people who have been working on their family's history for a long time, I've plucked all of the low-hanging fruit.  Sometimes I'll pick an ancestor, block out all other distractions, lay my head back and pretend I'm her (or him).  I'll think about her life, imagine her daily routine and interactions, and sometimes come up with different avenues to pursue in my search for more information. The only caveat is that your assumptions about their lives need to be correct if you're going to have any success.

During one such creative session, I was pondering the life of my great-great grandmother, Elsie Eriksen.  Her son, Peter Christensen, came to the United States at the age of 17 to learn the baking trade from an uncle in Omaha.  What did I know of Elsie?  Not much.  I had one photo of her with her husband, Jens Eriksen.  I had heard that her first husband, Mr. Christensen, was a mailman and had died.   I didn't enjoy researching Elsie, as I knew so little and it was typically a frustrating exercise in futility.  She lived her life in Denmark; I didn't read Danish, there weren't a lot of resources available, and I had no idea how to move forward.  However, I had an idea that I don't even remember now, and began looking at various databases.  To make a long story short, by the end of the night (or should I say the wee hours of the next morning) I had well-documented her life in Omaha, and identified her parents, who, surprisingly, lived in Iowa!

Peter Christensen
One of the things that held me back with this branch of my family were my assumptions - assumptions that led me down a completely erroneous trail for nearly 15 years.  I thought Peter Christensen was the immigrant ancestor, when in actuality, it was his grandfather, Peder Larsen, who, in 1886, at the age of 42, left Denmark for greener pastures in Exira, Iowa.  His daughter, Elsie, chose to stay behind.  As Elsie's children reached adulthood, most of them crossed the pond as well.  And, as it turned out, Elsie and her husband Jens did eventually leave Denmark and settle in Omaha where other members of the family had been for years.

I pulled out every bit of information I had on Elsie's son, Peter, to re-examine what I thought I knew.  And there, on his 1901 ship manifest from his first trip here, it said that he was going to his grandfather, P. C. Larson in Exira, Iowa.  There it was, right there the whole time.  Suddenly I had a flashback to all those years earlier, when I first saw that information.  The lines on the manifest were hard to follow, and there was writing in between the lines that confused things even more.  That is my excuse for being so incredibly dense.  I vividly remember thinking, "His mother was still in Denmark, so her parents surely were there too.  He COULDN'T have a grandfather in Iowa.  Besides, the last names don't match."  I concluded that the information was for the person on the line above him.  I'd love to travel back in time and thunk myself in the noggin for being so obtuse.

P. C. and Jacobine Larson

However, the story does have a happy ending.  I made contact with a descendant of Elsie's brother, who had abundant information and photos, and very generously shared them with me.  Despite myself, I have a goldmine on a part of the family I truly never expected to know.

Many thanks to Elizabeth Swanay O'Neal of Little Bytes of Life for hosting the Genealogy Blog Party.