Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Norene... you're making this difficult!!!

I've read a lot of how-tos for breaking through brick walls, but nothing that will help me with Norene.  It's almost as if Norene prefers to remain anonymous.  I've dealt with ancestors that, for various reasons, have situations that make them hard to track, but Norene has not one, not two, not three, but four things working against me, all at the same time.

First, Norene was not her given name.  It was actually Molly Norene.  She occasionally went by her first name, but more often went by her middle name.  Sometimes she was Molly, sometimes Mollie, even Molley, sometimes Norene, Norine, Noreen, and I've even heard her referred to as Maureen. 

Second, she was married at least three times.  And her husbands all had common surnames!  Her maiden name was Henard, but she married a Hall, a Vinson, and a Madsen.  Combine that with the possible first names used, and we have a mess on our hands...  I have no idea of the first names of these men, except Victor Hall, or when or where they married or divorced.

Third, she moved around a lot.  Texas, Colorado, several locations in California, back to Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, back to Colorado... Uff-da!  I'm getting tired just thinking about it!

Fourth, lack of much family knowledge about her.  She had one son, who moved around a lot.  The son had a daughter (my DIL), who didn't know her father well, and her grandmother even less well.  Norene's next closest relatives would be her sisters' children.  The sisters were married numerous times too, so I have no idea who the nieces and nephews are.

The only way I've been able to piece together what I know is from documents of others around her.  Her son's birth certificate refers to her as "Mrs. Molly Hall."  Her mother's obituary refers to her as "Mrs. Norene Vinson."  When her son joined the military, his records showed her as "Molly Norene Vinson" and by the time he was discharged four years later, she was "Molley Norene Hall".  When she died in 1987, she was Norene Madsen.  I have been fighting, begging and jumping through hoops with the State of Colorado for her death certificate, to no avail, and cannot find anyone in Bent county, Colorado who can look for an obituary for me.  I may end up driving the 900 miles myself to get it, and with my luck, it still won't tell me what I need to know.

Some people have described their research as being like their ancestor was begging to be found.  Well, Norene is probably amused at how little I still know about her.  But I'm still hoping that someday I'll have the last laugh.  :)

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Oscar II

Weighing nearly 10,000 tons, the "Oscar II" cut through the waters of the Atlantic ocean at a speed of 15 knots, with over 1,000 passengers on most of her voyages.  She hauled thousands of Scandinavians from Europe to their destinies in America, until she was scrapped in 1933, after 32 years of service.  Among those Scandinavians looking for a better life were my grandparents, Adolph Hammer and his young wife, Agnes, and their 11 month old daughter, Mary. 

I've often wondered how Agnes must have felt on that trip.  Aside from being 7 months pregnant, and tending to a young child, I wonder if she was excited about their prospects in a new country?  What did she think of the spectacular New York skyline - did they, in some imaginative way, remind her of the fjords of Norway?  Was she was homesick for her father, mother and brothers?  Was she afraid she'd never see them again?  (She didn't.)  When she dreamed of their future, what did she envision?

How many young Norwegian women must have crossed the Atlantic with those thoughts in mind...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Sweetest Chocolate-Covered Cherries

I'm sure it was Lillian's best Christmas present ever.  When she and Bill had been married some 23 years prior, they had eloped, and she had only a simple wedding band as a symbol of their commitment to each other.  There had been no elaborate wedding, and her dirt-poor farmer could not give her a diamond ring, but I never heard her complain.  She often said that she would never have chosen anyone else to spent her life with, regardless of how much money he had.

As Christmas approached, they also prepared to celebrate their wedding anniversary on December 28.  Bill had something different in mind this year. Typically, for Christmas, they gave each other the same simple gifts: she gave him a can of pipe tobacco, and he gave her a box of chocolate-covered cherries.  But this year, he had something different in mind.  Lillian's wedding band was wearing thin, so he took it to the jewelry store to have it "fixed", but instead had it incorporated into a new ring, complete with a diamond.  He then took the traditional box of chocolates, hollowed out one of the candies and placed the ring inside.

Their four teenaged children, who were in on the surprise, carefully picked around the "special" chocolate as she passed her gift around to them.  She knew something was going on, and eventually discovered her special present.  At the age of 46, Lillian finally had her diamond wedding ring.

Friday, November 13, 2009

And So It Goes... Mothers and Daughters

Firstborn daughters of firstborn daughters...

Alfhilde Olsen Monsen, widow of Gabriel Monsen, with her baby daughter Gabriella (later known as "Ella"), this photo was taken about 1885 in Bergen, Norway. Her husband, a sailor, died at sea in a boating accident, leaving her with three small children.

Ella Monsen Christensen immigrated to the United States from Norway at the age of 20, learned English, and worked as a houshold servant.  She later sent for her mother and siblings.  She married Peter Christensen, a baker, in Huron, South Dakota.  She is pictured here with her daughter, Lillian, about 1912.

Lillian and her first child, daughter Betty, on their farm in Beadle county, South Dakota, about 1939.
Betty, with her first daughter, Karen (me!), about 1959.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Kreativ Blogger Award

I'd really like to thank Carol, from Reflections From the Fence for this nomination, and for her encouragement with this blogging stuff.  If you're interested in RVs, family history, or just like a Good Read, check it out.

The winner of the award has to list seven things about themselves and then pass the award along to seven other bloggers.  So here we go:

1) I've got an incredible God who sustains me minute by minute, and crams each day full of blessings I don't deserve.  It's been a Wild Ride, and I can't wait to see what's next!

2) I've got the most wonderfullest husband in the world.  Oh heck, just throw in the whole family - they are the best.  Add the dogs in there too.  Never a dull moment!

3) I love doing family history - mine, or anyone else's, for that matter.  I enjoy doing lookups and research for people, each time remembering how great it felt when I was first starting out and some very kind and generous people helped me get going, and still how good it feels to discover something new or meet a new cousin.

4) I'm addicted to making websites, of course, pertaining primarily to genealogy and history.   I am a volunteer for GenealogyTrails, and host the state site for South Dakota, as well as Beadle and Hand Counties, and Olmsted county, Minnesota.  And I'm the webmaster for the Peoria County (Illinois) Genealogical Society.  Can't get enough.

5) I really need to get off this computer and do something active more often.

6) I love cheesecake, which necessitates that I get off this computer and do something active more often.

7) I love to quilt, crochet, and bake good things!

It's hard to nominate only 7 of the blogs I read... there are some really, really good blogs out there... but here goes, in no particular order:

1) Kathy's Kampground Kapers

2) Those Old Memories

3) Random Relatives

4) Lessons from my Ancestors

5) We Tree

6) Desperately Seeking Surnames

7) Mom's Country Cookin

I hope you check out some of these blogs, if you haven't already.

Delbert Dee Graves, World War I

Any mother sending her son off to war has to do so with such mixed feelings - pride, tempered with fear; faith, battered by the reality of death.  So often I have tried to imagine what my great great grandmother, Nettie Graves, must have felt as she watched her only son, Delbert, leave for Camp Dodge, Iowa, on a warm Thursday in June of 1918.

Delbert, being the only boy in the family, had spent a lot of time with his father, helping him with the farm work, and together, they constructed numerous buildings on the flat plains of eastern South Dakota.  Delbert worked for a dray business, and raised hounds, and often helped his brother-in-law, Will Knutz, on his farm.

Delbert's absence from his family was no doubt immediately felt.  His father, Tom, mostly did carpentry work after Delbert left, probably finding the farm to be a burden to handle alone.  Delbert's younger sister Lulu, often pictured with him, must have had a difficult time adjusting to his absence.  And then there was his mother, Nettie.  I know how I would have felt, and not sure there are words to adequately express it.

Delbert's first stop was Camp Dodge, Iowa, pictured at left.  He often sent his little sister postcards, one, sent in August, just prior to him being relocated overseas, read, "Hello, Lulu, Have had a couple of easy Days work lately.  Good Bye, Best Wishes, D.D.G."  Delbert was a member of Company H of the 351st Infantry, commonly called the "Doughboys."  From Camp Dodge, he was sent to Fort Des Moines, and then to England at the end of August, and shortly afterward, to France. 

 Influenza was rampant, and struck the military in France especially hard.  After being in France a mere two weeks, nearly the whole Company came down the the flu.  Makeshift hospitals, such as those pictured here, were quickly constructed to deal with the incredible numbers of sick soldiers. Delbert's friend, J. W. Hofer, who had gone through Camp Dodge with Delbert and was assigned to the same Company, told of being sick himself, but not so severely as Delbert; he made sure Delbert was covered up, and brought him food, as often as he was able.  Still incredibly weak from his illness, Delbert was not able to go with his Company when they moved on.  On December 5, his condition worsened, and he was admitted to Base Hospital No. 18, with a diagnosis of Scarlet Fever.

Delbert died December 12, 1918.  His family was notified shortly thereafter.  His body was laid to rest in the American Cemetery at Bazoilles-sur-Meuse, Vosges, France.  However, reports kept surfacing from some of the other men who had known him, that they had seen him after this time, leaving the family with an incredible amount of anxiety, but hope as well.  More military investigations took place, and his death was definitely confirmed in April of 1919, some four agonizing months later.  I cannot imagine how many sleepless nights his family endured during this time, not knowing the fate of their son for so long.  They began making arrangements to have his body returned home, and laid to rest in their little town of Carthage, South Dakota, in Pleasant View cemetery, just outside of town. 

In June of 1920, Delbert finally came home.  A brief service was held at the family home - not exactly the homecoming they must have dreamed about for their beloved son and brother.  A public funeral was held at the cemetery, with The Delbert Graves Post of the American Legion in charge of the services, with full military honors.  A tremendous number of area people came to pay their respects and comfort the family, as can be seen from the photo above.

We should always remember our soldiers, each and every day.  Each one of them, and their families, have sacrificed *something* to do the work that needs to be done.  Some of these people have sacrificed EVERYTHING.  I know how Delbert's death and absence from the family affected the remainder of his mother's life.  Tucked inside one Delbert's books from his childhood, Nettie had placed a small piece of paper that she wrote some 10 years after his death -

"If you only could come home,
Friends may think we have forgotten, 
when at times they see us smile,
but they little know the heart aches
that our smiles hide all the while,
Sweet and peaceful be thy rest
Forget you, we can never;
God called thee, he knows best
His will be done forever."

God bless you, Delbert, and thank you for your sacrifice.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Sunday Drive in Rural South Dakota

This photo depicts the Will Knutz family of rural Huron, South Dakota, enjoying their new car.  The photo was taken prior to 1918, and includes Will Knutz behind the driver's wheel; his wife Elvirta beside him, and in the back is little Howard, their son, Delbert Graves (Elvirta's brother) and Lulu Graves (Elvirta's sister).  Will and Elvirta's sons William and Richard are not in the photo.

It was said that it took Will awhile to refrain from pulling the steering wheel and saying "Whoa" to get the car stopped!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Are you having a Ruhamah Day???

It is with great relief that I report that I'm not a blood descendant of Ruhamah Jones Nickerson.  I am, however, a direct-line descendant of her father-in-law, William Nickerson.  But he's a topic for another Black Sheep Sunday.

Ruhamah was born about 1650, and married Joseph Nickerson, and they lived in Massachusetts.  The Nickerson family is well known there; Joseph's father William (mentioned above) having founded the town of Chatham.  But Ruhamah was well-known in her own right.

While described as being a beautiful woman, she was also known as being, according to the Nickerson Family Association, "of a disagreeable nature," to put it mildly.  She *lived* for harassing people.  She was not burdened with the constraints of manners or polite social behavior.  Both the Indians and her white neighbors alike were afraid of her, and went out of their way to avoid making her angry.  If anyone provoked her, she would "play havoc with their washing, their choice plants, and the fruits of their harvest."  Any time, day or night, Ruhamah was Ready To Rumble, and never backed down from a confrontation. Oddly enough, Edward Bangs, an early colonist and a direct-line ancestor of mine, once argued with her, and his barn burned down a short time later.

Ruhamah outlived her husband, and another family took her in, while the townspeople were ordered to pay them for her support.  No matter what the compensation, I'm sure it wasn't enough!  She lived to a ripe old age, and had spent so many years sitting that when she died, it was "thought best to bury her in the same crooked position".  And they did.  Perhaps their way of getting the last laugh?

Sometimes we all have a Ruhamah Day, and would love uproot the tomato plants of the $#*()!! who just cut us off in traffic.  It's okay to savor the thought.  You aren't grumpy, you're just Getting In Touch With Your Inner Ruhamah.  Think about it all you like, just don't do it, or people might be remembering you, too, some 400+ years later!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

An Unlikely Sentimental Treasure

    It's hard to imagine how a green electric frying pan could be among *anyone's* sentimental things.  Especially this one.  It's not much to look at, with it's late 1960s olive green finish, blotched with permanent stains, like battle scars, from years of use.  The bolt holding the leg on doesn't do much for its looks either.
    But I still remember the day I got it, in the very late 1970s.  My parents were freshly divorced, and oddly enough, no one fought for custody of the olive green electric frying pan.  It was not one of the things my mother took when she left, and my father never used it. I stopped over one day and he was going through things in the cabinets.  He pulled out a step stool, climbed onto the stove and opened the cabinet just under the ceiling.  From the back, he pulled out this frying pan, and asked if I wanted it, or if he should throw it out.  Of course I wanted it!!  It was like new, and it was larger than the typical square electric frying pans.  The finish was the old Silverstone, which wore like battle armor.  I didn't have much money at the time, and could never have afforded such a nice frying pan, so I was elated.  I used it regularly.
    As I married and my family grew, the frying pan was a staple in the kitchen.  I was heartbroken when I accidentally broke one of its legs, but my Grandpa Bill Knutz, an old "do it yourself" farmer, fixed it.  And fixed it, and fixed it.  Eventually it got to be a heated competition between Grandpa and that frying pan leg.  Over and over, he glued that leg on, each time vowing it wouldn't come off again.  The last time I took it to him to fix, he carted it down to his basement workshop, and brought it up with a bolt holding the leg on.  He said that leg would outlast the frying pan.  He was right.
    A couple of months ago, I was preparing to fix chicken and dumplings in my frying pan, when it was accidentally knocked off the kitchen counter.  All off the legs were shattered.  Well, not all of them.  One held tight.  My husband looked at the numerous broken pieces and declared it dead.  I'll be shopping for its replacement today, not that anything could truly replace it.  It and I have been friends for 30 years.  Every time I saw that bolt in the leg I think of my dear, dear Grandpa Bill.  Call me silly, but I put the pan in the back of the cupboard, where it would be out of the way, with the shattered leg pieces, and the one solid leg.  I can't throw that pan away.  Some day, when my sons sort through what's left of my earthly belongings, they'll find that pan, and sentimentally say, "Mom was crazy."  :)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Three-Legged Horse of William Lair

I would imagine he didn't get the family to town very quickly, but the three-legged colt belonging to William Lair, of Princeville, Illinois must certainly have caused quite a stir in the small town. I wasn't terribly surprised to find this postcard in a large and dusty collection of old postcards kept over the years by my great-grandmother's family, but what did surprise me was finding two other copies of it on eBay!

William Lair was the younger brother of my gr-gr-gr grandfather, Lawson Lair. William spent the bulk of his life in the Princeville area, working as a farmhand until his enlistment in the Civil War. Described as nearly 6'2", with dark hair and gray eyes, he and twelve of his comrades were known as the "Lucky Thirteen" - all local boys who fought in the war and returned to their homes and families; William had served three years, and then re-enlisted as a veteran. After his return to Princeville, he married Susan Hammer Givens, a widow with a young daughter. In addition to this girl, he and Susan took in a boy in need of a home.

Despite being one of the "Lucky Thirteen," William was not quite as "lucky" as the name implies. His health suffered greatly from his years of service in harsh conditions, often spending days at a time in dark, cold marshes, breathing less than the purest of air. William's lungs were never the same after his service, and this "lung disease" eventually took his life twelve years after his military discharge, at the young age of 35.

I have often wondered what became of this "famous" three-legged horse, and why so many pictures of it have survived the ~140 years since this photo was taken.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Non-Related Ancestor

George MacConnachie will never have a descendant to memorialize him, but no history of our Joyce clan would be complete without his inclusion. Stories at the last Joyce family reunion often included his name - sometimes a jovial story of drinking whiskey on the front porch with the Joyce men, other more somber times when he was present in a more official capacity.

Father George MacConnachie came to the plains of eastern South Dakota on Oct. 1, 1900, assigned to St. Bernard's Catholic Church at Redfield. He was just 25 years old. He had been ordained in Spain the year prior, and with his parents in Scotland both being deceased, he put his life and soul into the pioneers on the prairie.

The Michael Joyce family came to South Dakota in 1884, having slowly made their way inland after immigrating from Ireland some 40 years prior. Mike Joyce died in 1914; while his obituary does not mention who officiated at the service, I have no doubt it was Father MacConnachie. When Mrs. Joyce died in 1924, it was Father MacConnachie who presided over her last service, and comforted her family. As the grandchildren married, it was Father MacConnachie who joined them in holy matrimony. As they died, it was Father who preached the last sad sermon for them. He baptized their children, and comforted them in times of illnesses and death.

He also enjoyed a relationship of friendship with the Joyces. Father MacConnachie loved to fish and hunt; and like the Joyces, he had a sense of humor and a gift as a storyteller that made him a most enjoyable conversationalist. He made many visits to the various Joyce homesteads in Spink and northern Hand counties.

But Father George MacConnachie's firm dedication to his life's work and the God he served was always his foremost priority. In his years at St. Bernard's, he erected the parish house, and every rock in the church was blasted by him. In his first 15 years at the church, he never missed a service.

He celebrated his Diamond Jubilee at St. Bernard's in 1959, and died four years later in Pierre, South Dakota, at the age of 87. He was buried in the cemetery at Redfield, among the families he served for so many years. He will forever be a part of our family memories and stories, and judging by the stories I've heard, I suspect he is an important part of many other families' legacies as well.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Family Reunions - Never a Dull Moment

Family reunions… No two are alike, and large or small, they're always interesting. One branch of our family has small, annual gatherings, while another has a huge, weekend-long event every three years.
The pastor of our church once said, "There's no finer food on earth than at a church potluck." I disagree! A family reunion potluck is every bit as good, perhaps even better! I can still see the three picnic tables put end to end, and covered with casserole dishes, cake pans, salad bowls, drink coolers, etc. The descendants of three brothers, Oluf, Emil, and Adolph Hammer, would gather each year, most living within a couple of hours away, so the potluck was a perfect format. A mouth-watering meal was served, seconds and thirds were had, recipes exchanged, and a happy, satisfied digestion commenced.
There was never a shortage of things to do, regardless of one's age. Young cousins tried to drown each other in the swimming pool, while their dads got a softball game together, and their grandpas played horseshoes. Moms and grandmas tended to the food, and got "caught up" on everything happening with each others' families. There were new cousins to meet, laughing till your belly hurt, and getting tormented by goofy Uncle Jim. There were White Elephant gift exchanges, and howls of laughter as your staunchly democratic cousin gets a sack full of republican paraphernalia, and Aunt Joyce goes home with a giant rubber ducky for her next bath.
But there are deeper, more meaningful aspects of a family reunion. It's here that many of the younger generations will learn about family traditions, and come away with a feeling of deep, strong roots. Family history is discussed and enjoyed and discovered, even by people who didn't think they were interested in it. Adult cousins, circling the campfire late at night, will discover that their most treasured memories are also each other's most treasured memories. It can be a bittersweet time, when, reunion after reunion, you see the older faces being slowly replaced by younger faces. As we grow older ourselves, we know we won't always be here to keep things going, but building a tradition among the younger generation most certainly will.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Who Are You???

What a frustrating enigma! I hold my "mystery photograph" in my hands, and look hard at the face, as if by staring at it a little longer, the lips will move, and the Mystery Woman will give me a hint... It's hard to know the woman in this photograph is a beloved ancestor, and have no idea who, specifically, she is.

I know one thing. It's not Julia, as was labeled on the back by a fellow descendant, who likes to guess at such things, not always accurately. I might have been tempted to make the same assumption, as this woman's photograph was among others from that family, had I not already known what Julia looked like. I have two photographs of Julia, both known to be her, although older in years in both of them. Her straight, white hair, parted down the middle, frames her oval face with its fine features. She's a small woman, with a little bit of a scowl on her face. The woman in the Mystery Photograph is a plump, hardy-looking middle aged woman with short dark hair, curling like scallops around her soft, square face. Her ears lay flat below her round-brimmed hat, while Julia's are quite the opposite. The Mystery Woman, wearing a long, double-breasted coat that appears to be wool, clutches a pair of gloves in her hands, and is standing beside an ornate, very unusual table that no doubt is among the photographer's props. No photographer, nor location, is mentioned.

I recall stories of genealogy researchers, standing in a cemetery, looking for their ancestor's grave, when suddenly they realized they are standing on it... or by some other miraculous occurrence, happen to find what they are looking for against the odds. While waiting for a similar miracle to fall from Heaven regarding my Mystery Woman, I keep trying to make contact with as many other descendants of this family as possible, hoping one of them will have send me a photograph with those familiar-looking eyes. And while they lips won't move, they will surely speak to me about this dear lady's identity, and her place among my ancestors.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Beadle County and the Deadly Blizzard of 1888

     The most brutal blizzard Beadle county, South Dakota, and most of the rest of the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Minnesota has ever seen, raged into the area on Thursday, January 12, 1888. Blizzards are nothing new to the area, but several factors combined to make this one of the most deadly winter storms in history.
     First, there was a temperature increase of nearly 20 degrees between the day before, and the day of, the storm. At 19 degrees above zero, Beadle county residents must have considered the day a balmy one, with the weeks of sub-zero temperatures they had previously endured. However, a brutal drop in temperature was yet to come before the day was over. Adding to the danger, wind speed just before noon was 24 mph; in less than two hours, the wind would increase to a roaring 60 mph, with higher gusts.
     With the warmer weather, more people were out tending to their business, and more children were sent to school. The timing of the storm’s arrival could not have been worse; workers were in the middle of their work day; farmers in the middle of their chores, and school children in the middle of their studies. Had this storm hit in the middle of the night, countless lives would have been spared. In addition, the significantly warmer temperatures of the morning meant that many of these people were not adequately dressed for what was to come.
      The storm roared in with such suddenness that people did not have time to protect themselves, nor to make any preparations in advance. The storm came with such ferocity that one three year old, identified only as Timmy, thought “God’s thrashin’ machine is coming to pieces!” The tiny shards of ice and snow came pelting down with such force that visibility was next to nothing in a very short time. Farmers in their barns were unable to find their way back to their houses. It hit overwhelmingly hard and fast.
     Stories of affected Beadle county residents were not hard to come by -
Emil Gilbertson had come to Dakota Territory from Chicago some five years previous, answering the call of free land. His claim was 11 miles southwest of Altoona, and it was there that he was headed as he left town on Wednesday. He was found Friday, about 2 ½ miles west of town, frozen to death.
      Another Altoona resident, 60 year old Lewis Merriman and his 18 year old son Hallie, came to Dakota Territory from Whiteside county, Illinois. They were just a mile away from home when the rage of the storm hit Beadle county. They knew they were lost, and conditions so bitter that survival was not likely; Mr. Merriman was exhausted and could not continue; his son took off his overcoat and put it on his father, and attempted to find help. Mr. Merriman’s body was found a half mile away, and his son’s body just a short distance from their home.
     Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Gilkeson, who came to Dakota Territory from New York, lived on the Caldwell Dairy Farm, three miles south of Huron. On Thursday, he and Otto Gose headed east of the farm in order to get hay. The storm hit just before they started for home. Once they realized that they were lost, they tied the team of horses to the wagon and started out separately. Gose wandered the rest of the day, but eventually made it to the farm, although badly frozen. Searchers went out early Friday morning, but there was no sign of Gilkeson. It was not until the following Monday, when Frank Miller, who lives 12 miles from Huron, was walking to town, and happened to notice a piece of cloth sticking up from the snow. He found the body of a man, arms folded across the breast to keep his coat tight, and his hat pulled down over his ears. He had nothing on his hands. A piece of the man’s coat was taken to Mrs. Gilkeson, who confirmed it was her husband’s. The body was later taken to the Gilkeson residence. Their daughter came from Wessington, riding on the snow plow.
     Meanwhile, Michael Hand, a farmer, took his cattle to a nearby well for water. The coming of the storm was so sudden that he could not see the barn, and wandered for some time before stumbling over a gang plow. Knowing the plow was only about 10 feet from the house, he started in what he thought to be the right direction, but it was not until he came to a harrow which was a half mile from the house that he knew he was lost. He stumbled about all night; by morning, his eyes were frozen shut. Later that morning, William Morse was out doing chores when he found Hand, and took him to shelter. Hand’s clothes were frozen to the extent that they had to be cut from him. Hand had wandered more than 10 miles before being found.
     Two neighbors, J. A. Scoville and S. W. Campbell, had close calls as well. Scoville had been at Campbell’s before the storm. By the time he started for home, it was too late; he became lost, and was wandering on the prairie for more than three hours, finally finding his farm. He warmed up, and then went to his cattle sheds to tend to his livestock, but as soon as he opened the door, the roof collapsed under nine feet of snow, burying Scoville under the mess. One of the farm hands, who luckily was nearby, began shoveling and finally freed Scoville. Scoville recovered fully from the events of the day. Meanwhile, his neighbor Campbell, was forced to shave off his mustache with a pocket knife, when it became so encrusted with ice and snow that it froze to his face, and made it very difficult for him to breathe.
     The Nierson brothers, Frank, 22, and Willie, 16, left their family in Chicago to come to Dakota Territory to farm. On Thursday morning, Mr. J. F. Wilson came to their place to “doctor” a sick horse. The storm rolled in while Wilson was there, and the boys, fearful of the storm, decided to accompany Wilson back to his farm, just two miles east. Heading in the right direction, the visibility was so poor that they walked past the Wilson farm, coming within 10 rods of the house. Realizing they were lost, the began to look for some sort of shelter from the fierce wind and biting ice raining from the sky. After several hours, Frank fell to the ground, exhausted, and died within minutes. Wilson and Willie Nierson continued their search for shelter, and eventually Willie collapsed and died as well. Wilson rested for a short while in a deep drift in a cornfield, until his knees gave way, and he had to resort to crawling. About 10 o’clock Friday morning he crawled to a house belonging to John Bremerman, having wandered at least 10 miles. The bodies of the Nierson brothers were retrieved and taken to the mortuary to be prepared for shipping to the family in Chicago. While badly frozen, Wilson recovered.
     South of Cavour, Ezra Fuller and his housekeeper, Miss Pearson, were going to Fuller’s house to work, when they were caught in the storm. They wandered all Thursday night; when found, they were nearly buried with snow, several rods apart. Mr. Fuller’s left arm, face and feet were badly frozen, and Miss Pearson’s legs were frozen, as well as her hands and face.
     In a touch of irony, Sergeant Glenn, whose duty it was to predict weather for the Huron office, started for home Thursday, but before reaching his street his eyes were nearly frozen shut with snow and ice. He was confused, and became lost. He wandered for some time before being put on the right road to his house. He arrived exhausted, but unhurt, for the most part.
     One of the saddest stories is that of Robert Chambers and his two young sons, aged 9 and 11, who left their home on Thursday morning, headed to the Rush place a mile away, to water some cattle. When Mr. Chambers saw the storm approaching, he immediately sent the older boy home, as the child was afflicted with rheumatism and could not be out in the cold weather. The boy reached home safely. Mr. Chambers and the younger boy, Johnny, began driving the cattle home, but soon became confused and lost. Johnny, who survived the ordeal told what happened to the local newspaper, as follows:
… when his father saw that they were lost he made a place in the snow for him, and wrapped him up the best he could. They had no over coats, or extra clothing. Johnny says that he was so covered up that he was warm. His father went out and called, and called, and the St. Bernard dog barked, but no answer came. Then father and the dog got into the snow beside him. While he was warm he knew that his father was getting very cold. He urged father to go on and try to find the trees, and then he could make the house. But the father said, "No, I cannot go and leave you here." The boy urged, but the father would do no more than to call for aid within certain reach of the boy's bed of snow. The dog also kept with the boy. Through the long night they had conversations about perishing, but the father kept assuring the boy that they would get through all right if he would only be sure and lie still! The boy knew that father was freezing, but was quite comfortable himself, and finally fell asleep. When he awoke it was evidently near morning. Father was still alive. Discovering that Johnny was awake the father said to him, "Now, Johnny, you pray, and I will pray, and then I know God will take you through all right." They prayed as proposed, and soon after the father was dead. The boy, entirely covered up, except a little breathing place through the snow, laid still. The dog stood sentry, and afforded the cue by which the bodies were found soon after daylight, by a searching party. Johnny thinks his father had not been dead more than an hour when they were found.
     A huge cause for concern once the weather turned bad were the hundreds of school children throughout the county. At the Utah school in Huron, some children insisted on leaving the building, some of whom were retrieved and the building locked for their safety until help arrived. In order to get students to the nearby home of J. W. Campbell, a rope was attached to Mr. Campbell’s fence, and carried to the school building. Students were able to make their way to the house, where Joe Bloodgood, with his horse and sleigh, took children home. Ben King and his hired man did the same, until everyone was safely delivered to their families. At the Illinois school, teachers and students stayed together until each child could be taken home.
     However, it was the rural school teachers, all alone on the frozen prairie, often without enough fuel to last, who had difficult decisions to make. Miss Hattie Grant, teacher of 12 pupils in the Goodell neighborhood six miles west of Huron, saw the storm approaching as the children were getting ready to eat their lunches. She advised them to save a portion for an evening meal, if needed. She continued on with her teaching, and with the help of three older students, got enough coal to last the night. They sat around the fire, told stories, and talked until the small children fell asleep, and again with the help of the older students, kept watch over the fire. They were all rescued safely about 8 o’clock the next morning.
Miss Hacket taught in the Bloodgood addition; aided by others, she was able to get all the children to the residence of A. Bloodgood and Eli Brockman, and notify parents that their children were safe and being cared for overnight.
     There was no shortage of heroes in Beadle county. When it was realized that there were missing school children, a call was made for volunteers to brave the elements and bring the children to safety. A number of railroad boys were the first to answer the call. As written in the Daily Huronite, They threw on their overcoats, pulled down their sealskin caps and were quickly out in the storm. It was not too severe for them to aid in the search for the little ones. They didn't wait to be asked to go - but went voluntarily. Their eager desire to take part in the search showed the goodness of their hearts, and their promptness in duty as railroad employes. ‘By their works ye shall know them.’”
     Jud Spaulding, Mr. Ritchlag, W. B. Joy, J. B. Coffin and many others also aided in the search for missing people. Mr. Spaulding came up with the idea of sounding the railroad whistle, and many lost and confused people were able to follow the sound back to town, and numerous lives were saved as a result of his clear thinking.
     Reactions of the county residents to the storm were mostly awe and grief, but M. J. Dineen summed up the spirit of the Dakota pioneer: “We survived the big winter. This storm may be a little severe, but we were here first, and are going to stay.”

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Rose Tree

It's every bride's dream to "set up housekeeping" with her husband in a home of their very own. But the year was 1940, and money was still tight; if it weren't for my grandmother's ability to spot an opportunity and take advantage of it, my grandparents may not have even gotten a farm of their own. There was certainly no money to spend decorating, or anything of the other things the woman of the house would desire to do. But a few flowers would certainly dress up the yard a bit...

You had to be tough in the "Dirty Thirties," whether you were a farmer, a farm animal, or a plant trying to put down roots in the blowing sand. "Rose trees" grew wild in the South Dakota ditches, so, armed with a shovel, my grandmother dug up a few of them and re-planted them in her yard. Years went by, times got better, more flowers were added, but the rose trees thrived and multiplied.

Seventeen years and four children later, a bolt of lightning took just about all they had, leaving a charred pile of rubble where their home once stood. And once again, the not-so-new bride started from scratch with a house in town. Of course, rose trees were brought in from the farm, bringing a sense of continuity when everything else had changed. 35 years later, their sweet aroma brought some comfort to her grieving family. For the next 15 years, the house was inhabited by my mother, and the rose trees proliferated throughout the yard. The time came for Mom to make her home with us in another state. As we left the house for the last time, armed with a shovel and some buckets, I dug up three small rose trees from the yard, and moved them 300 miles to their new home. On late spring days, the fragrance is sweetly comforting, reminding me that life continues. Traditions continue. I wonder where the rose trees will be in another 70 years...

Friday, May 22, 2009

Memorial Day

I would like to pay tribute to a couple of the men in our family who gave their lives in defense of their country. Being a student of our family history, I have seen what price their immediate families have paid as a result of their service, and as a result, have a much better appreciation for our military men and women, and their families.

Delbert Dee Graves, 1891 - 1918, died in World War I, in France. He was the only son of Thomas and Nettie Graves. He joined the American Expeditionary Forces (aka "Doughboys") on June 27, 1918, and was assigned to Co. H of the 351st Infantry. After training, he was sent overseas to England on Aug. 28, 1918, and then to France shortly afterward. He worked in difficult circumstances, cold and damp, and his mother would knit him sweaters because he just could not keep warm enough in his surroundings. As a result he contracted an illness which led to scarlet fever, and died in a makeshift military hospital in France. He was buried in France, but a few years later was brought home to a hero's welcome in his small town of Carthage, South Dakota, and buried in Pleasant View Cemetery. The American Legion Post in Carthage was named in honor of him. Delbert was my great-grandmother's younger brother; he had worked as a drayman, carpenter and farmer, in conjunction with his father, and enjoyed raising hounds.

Raymond Christensen, 1914 - 1944, was killed in action in World War II. He interrupted his education at the University of Minnesota to enlist, and enrolled in officers training school in Florida. He was a flight officer in the 417th Night Fighter Squadron. He was one of a crew of two in an English Beau Fighter, and flew some of the most dangerous missions in the war. He was initially listed as Missing in Action, but his status was later changed to Killed in Action over Sicily, on May 13, 1944. He is still remembered for his wit and humor. He sold insurance policies while he put himself through school at the University of Minnesota and the St. Paul Agricultural College. He was a masterful practical joker. He was my grandmother's younger brother, and my grandfather's best friend.

Delbert and Raymond's families bore tremendous pain and long-lasting implications at the loss of their sons/brothers, as do the families of all fallen soldiers. It's so easy to forget that this holiday is more than a three-day weekend, filled with camping, fishing, cookouts, etc. It's a day to remember and honor these men, and their families who paid a huge price for all we enjoy in the U. S. today. Take some time to remember all of them with gratitude.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday, Grandma Lill!

Whenever this day rolls around, it's a little bittersweet for me, but when I start thinking about all the wonderful things Grandma Lill left us with I can't help but smile and realize she was one of the sweetest gifts from God. She is present in every one of my days, despite the fact that I can't hear her voice or see her face - but I can feel her soul.

I don't think I will ever look at a flower without remembering her taking my little five-year-old hand, and walking me around her beautiful yard, showing me every flower and telling me it's name, and taking all the time in the world while I marveled at the shapes and colors.

I don't bake anything without remembering standing up to her kitchen table, rolling out pie crusts on bread wrappers, or taking incredible-smelling cookies out of the oven, and her saying that Grandpa works so hard, we have to take care of him because he takes such good care of us, and that wonderful feeling of value and worth and love that my little heart felt from that simple act of baking cookies.

I can't see a soap operat on TV without, just for a brief second, being transported back to the living room on a warm summer day, when Grandma first started letting me watch soaps with her rather than booting me outside with the little kids; I can almost see her curled up on the couch, barefoot, and me in the chair next to her; and her telling me about Bob Hughes' long, sordid history and all the women on the show he's been married to, with an almost naughty glee in her voice, but then pointing out that that's not the way nice people live!

Sometimes a little wisp of an old song will seem to pop into my head for no apparent reason - "Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley," or "Little Brown Jug," or "Yellow Rose of Texas"... I know it's not coincidence, it's Grandma singing in my ear, with me sitting next to her at the piano, showing me where to put my fingers on those rich ivory keys, while Grandpa tooted on his saxophone, and I remember the delight I felt when what *I* was doing, what Grandma was doing, and what Grandpa was doing all came together into one unbelievably lovely and unique sound, something special none of us could have created alone.

I remember her spreading out the newspaper on the floor, and tracing around my Barbie to make a pattern for a skirt; the indignant feeling I had when she made me turn the wheel on the sewing machine by hand, and the scary thrill when she let me use the electricity for the first time, as I envisioned stitches made firmly across my finger if I went too fast, just like she'd warned.

I can't see a pimple without thinking about that poor unfortunate school chum of hers - the one who squeezed the pimple on Friday, and was dead on Monday...

I can't say a bad word without tasting those rocks and dirt that were coming out of my mouth...

She's here every time I make baking powder biscuits, every time I say something snotty to my husband ("ta-Ta-ta-Ta-ta-Ta!") and every time I make an ugly face ("It's going to stay that way!"). When she left us, she didn't leave us. She nestled herself firmly in our hearts and souls and personalities.

Have a wonderful birthday, Grandma Lill, whatever you're doing. I hope you're remembering these wonderful times too.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Adventurous Adams

I've always longed for an adventurous spirit, but have finally come to the conclusion that I just don't have it in me, and probably never will. I come from a long line of hard-working, quiet farmers. They labored diligently, and invested in their families, but you won't find a lot about them in the history books. Researching my husband's Adams line, however, has been an exciting thing; they led bold lives, and have led me to believe that the tendency toward adventure must be genetic!

With each generation of this family, I have uncovered details about individuals that aren't afraid to take chances, and would stand up for their beliefs.

John Quincy Adams was born the sixth child of fifteen, in Vermont. At the tender age of 16, he left his father's home, bound for college. An industrious young man, he worked winters teaching school to earn enough money to support himself and pay his own tuition. After two years, he returned briefly to his father's farm, and then, alone, headed west. He ended up in Stephenson county, Illinois, where he again taught school, and worked as a carpenter to save up enough money to go to California to work the gold mines. Two years later, like many young men anxious to find their fortune, he headed west again. He was there five years, and returned to Illinois with $1,000, and purchased a 240 acre farm near Florence Station, in Stephenson county. He then settled down, got himself a wife, and raised a large family.

John's grandfather, Martin Adams, was a Revolutionary War patriot, who, after serving his time, re-enlisted again. After the war, Martin, along with his parents and siblings, loaded up their belongings in three boats at their home in Springfield, Massachusetts, and set sail, all seven of them, upstream until they got to the present site of St. Johnsbury, Vermont. There, they built the first home, from logs caulked with a mixture of mud and twigs, with pine boughs laid crosswise for a roof. Other settlers moved in during the months to follow.

This sort of behavior must have delighted Martin Adams very much, as he did it again after his marriage. This time, he and his brothers, plus their young wives, set out from St. Johnsbury, making their way through heavy forest with all their earthly possessions, to the Barton river. Here they constructed canoes, and rowed to the present site of Duncansboro (Newport), on Lake Memphremagog, in Vermont. They were impressed by the fact that the frost had not destroyed the vegetation there, while everything growing on the hills had been killed, so here they settled, around 1793. By 1800, there were eleven families who had settled there.

In looking at the photo above, I can see why they made their decision to stay.

As already mentioned, Martin's father, James Callendar Adams, led the family's expedition to St. Johnsbury, with three canoes, seven children, provisions, and everything they owned. Now that's bravery!

Personal information on generations previous to this is hard to come by, so I had wondered if they were as hooked on excitement as these more "recent" generations. And then, I uncovered information on George Adams, the immigrant ancestor of James Callendar Adams, and I was not disappointed.

George Adams and his wife Frances, left their home in England to come to the New World, specifically, Watertown, Massachusetts. Details of their reasons for making such a perilous journey are a little murkey, but many settlers in this area were Puritans from England, looking for religious freedom, and it was not uncommon that these brave souls sold themselves into slavery for 6 years or longer to pay their fares. The family lived in poverty much of the time, but George had ideas for prospering himself. Perhaps out of ignorance for the law, but more likely due to his strong personal constitution, he bought land from the Indians, paying for it with guns and "strong water." Bad idea! The colonial government was less than pleased, and seized his land, and he spent much of the rest of his life fighting to get it back.

Eventually the court realized he had some validity to his claims for the land, but by that time it had been "re-conveyed" to someone else; so in return for his agreement to let the matter drop, they granted him another parcel of land. However, he continued his fight, and eventually the General Court vindicated him, and gave him back his land, plus allowed him to keep the land from the lower court, for his trouble.

Along with way, George fought in King Philip's War, was whipped and imprisoned, struggled for years and years with the Court, and survived an Indian massacre. He had the tenacity of a bulldog. It took a falling rock to stop him at the age of 76, at his home in Massachusetts.

What was his father like? Or his grandfather? I can only guess! And hopefully some day I'll find out. Until then, I will continue to enjoy the adventurous legacy that this family left to their descendants.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

You Can't Go Home Again

You Can't Go Home Again. That's what they say. I never fully understood that phrase. You could always go home. If nothing else, you could always drive by your old home and remember the good times. And I often did that when I found myself back in my hometown.

The one place that was sacred to me in that whole town was the home of my grandparents, where we learned just about everything in life that we needed to know. I learned to hem my pants in that house, and it was in the kitchen that I learned to bake. It was where I learned how to control my temper and behave in a civilized manner. I learned about life and death there - watching with fascination as the guppy had babies, and in sadness when realizing the dog's bed was now empty...

The sight of that big Victorian-style house sitting on the corner lot, with it's white porch surrounded by the brilliant colors of roses, geraniums and zinnias, is a scene that will be etched in my mind forever, and it will still lower my blood pressure considerably just thinking about it. That house was more than just happy memories at Grandma's - it was a haven from the rest of the world, a little speck of normalcy in a life that was anything but normal. Turning onto their street and seeing the house sitting there like a beautiful fortress brings back just as many comforting feelings as it does tender memories.

The old folks had been gone a long time, but still I made it a habit to drive by on my rare trips back home. As I'd turned the corner, the eyes of my soul would see it all over again, and it felt good.

I don't know what happened. Perhaps I'd finally started seeing the old place with my eyes instead of with my heart. As I came around the corner, I saw a house much, much smaller sitting on an overgrown lot. The front steps, which we used to love to sit on, were sagging, and the paint was chipping off. I barely recognized it.

I spent the rest of the day driving around town, looking for something, but not really knowing what. I went to the park where we used to have family picnics. Everyone was gone now - just an empty pavilion remained. I drove out to the old family farm, to the site of the old grocery store, to the cemetery, past all of our old houses. Everyone and everything was gone. At some point, you truly can't go home again, no matter how long you drive.

It was several weeks later, back in the comfort of my current home with my family, working on a family history project, when my thoughts took me back again, walking through the park-like yard, holding onto my grandmother's hand while she taught me about flowers. And it was then I realized that while you can't go back home again, home can indeed come back to you.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Chip, chip, chip...

Chip, Chip, Chip... that's what it sometimes takes to bring down a brick wall. Victor Eugene Hall was just about the slipperiest ancestor I've ever tried to investigate. Oh sure, there are difficult ancestors from way back before good records were kept, but Victor did not fit into that situation. He was of this century, and there *should* be a paper trail *somewhere*. Finding it though, wasn't so easy.

I started out knowing that his name was Victor Hall. He was married maybe twice, maybe three times, once to Molly Norene Henard, and they had a son named Ronald. One wife's name may have been Gloria. Another wife's name might have been "Cubby". He had ties to the Kansas city area, and may have inherited land there, somewhere. And he moved around a lot. The relative lack of good clues might have been easier to work with if his name was something a little more distinctive than Victor Hall. Or if he had a lot of descendants also working on their ancestry. But he had only one child, and that child had only 3 biological children. I thought I'd die wondering about Victor Hall.

I started looking for Victor Halls, born in Missouri. I had no trouble getting plenty of hits - but which one, if any, were him? Thank goodness for online resources - I knew his son was born in California, so I consulted the California Birth Index, and ordered his birth certificate. I got a few good pieces of information, primarily Victor's age, and hence knew he was born about 1901.

I started looking at censuses for Victor Halls born in Missouri in 1901 - I had a number of men who could be him. The Social Security Death Index and other online sources gave me other Victor Halls who fit the bill - two born 11 Feb 1901, and one born 11 Feb 1903. What??
One of the men was born in Canada, according to census information, so I tentatively eliminated him. I felt sure that I had found the right Victor at one time, in California, so I found someone to look up the obituary for me. I was disappointed once again to learn that this Victor had been happily married to the same spouse for 52 years, and a had a number of children. Having spent countless hours trying to sort out this mess, I was ready to put it "on the shelf" for awhile.

Late one night, a few months later, I was browsing through some Ancestry databases and noticed that there was a listing of Missouri marriages. On a whim, I entered "Victor Hall" and pressed the Search button. Up popped Victor E. Hall, born 6 Feb 1901, married in Jackson co., Missouri to Reba A. Cubbison. It took a minute to connect "Cubbison" with "Cubby", the name of one of his wives, but once I did, I felt a new hope that this could be him. I still could not connect this Victor with any of the ones in the SSDI, so started looking for Reba. Through the SSDI, I got a date of death and place of last benefits for Reba - Kansas City. I ordered her death certificate, and learned she was buried in Benton county, Missouri, in New Home cemetery. Thanks to Johna at, I was able to make the first major breakthrough in my quest for Victor. Johna had inventoried the New Home Cemetery, and her online data not only confirmed the birth date for Victor, but most importantly, gave me a date of death! I sent an email to Johna to thank her for all of the work she has done on her most wonderful website, and in reply, and sent me a picture of Victor and Reba's headstone! The kindness and generosity of people never ceases to amaze me.

At this point I started organizing my Victor Hall information on a spreadsheet, until I had come up with 5 different Victor Halls, plus the one I *knew* was mine. I went through them, one by one, and kept researching, until I was able to eliminate that particular man as him. I ended up with one, which I could neither eliminate nor confirm as mine.

Armed with a date of death for my Victor, my next quest was for a death certificate and obituary. I could not find what I was looking for online, so scooted over to Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness, and located a great volunteer by the name of Electa, who not only got me an obituary, but did so with amazing speed! She must have sensed how anxious I was! The obituary confirmed that this was indeed my Victor Hall. Not only that, but it also confirms that the one remaining Victor Hall on my spreadsheet, whom I could neither confirm nor eliminate as mine, is the right one. Checking censuses has given me two generations further back.


That's the sound made by a big portion of the brick wall hitting the ground, after a series of "chip, chip, chips". I still have a long way to go. I have no idea where Victor was between 1920 and 1942, when his son was born in California. And I have no idea where he was between 1942 and 1953, when he married Cubby in Kansas City. Back to Chip, Chip, Chip...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Life Well Lived

If she was ever afraid, I never knew it. She tackled the experiences of her life with a measure of purpose and pure guts, and a faith in God that everything would come out okay, no matter what happened. I only regret that while our lives intersected, that I did not spend more time learning life's lessons at her feet.

Lisa came into our family a long time ago - long before my time. She and my grandfather grew up as childhood friends among the fjords of Norway. The area where they lived was particularly harsh, but an excellent area for fishing and farming, and so their families made a living.

People are destined to be challenged during their lives; some wait for rescue, and others overcome and become stronger. Lisa was among the latter. Her challenges in life started early, when both of her parents were seriously ill, and several of the children of the family had to be sent to live among relatives. Lisa was sent to her Uncle Benoni and Aunt Lovise, a childless couple who lived on a neighboring farm. She grew up doing the farm work usually reserved for the boys in the family, but as her Uncle Benoni's only helper, it was a role that needed to be filled, and she did it. While she lived in the reality of her situation, she indulged in a deep, but distant, adoration for her mother, Bergitte. She idolized Bergitte's beautiful black hair and deep blue eyes, her smile, and how she could do things most women could not; her craft projects won prizes at the county fair; her singing voice was loud and clear, and she knew every hymn in the church hymnal. She grew up wishing to go home and be with her mother, but it was a dream that was never realized.

Uncle Benoni and Aunt Lovise helped instill in Lisa a love for and trust in her Lord, and at age ten she experienced a spiritual rebirth, which took her through the rest of her life. After the death of her Uncle Benoni five years later, she and Aunt Lovise took over operation of the farm on their own. Times were hard; they had to carry fire wood from the mountain on their backs, and in tough times they had to dig through snow to find greens to feed to their animals. Aunt Lovise told her, "Don't worry Lisa, some day you will be rich. Martin Luther carried wood on his back too, and became a famous man."

At the age of 18 she made the difficult decision to leave Aunt Lovise and fulfill her dream of becoming a teacher - however, she had no money to advance her schooling. She had a cow, which she sold for clothes and shoes, and her father bought her a new coat; with that, she went to the local bank and signed a loan for the school, and arranged for a kitchen job at the school. Her mother followed her to the ship bound for Oslo, and told her "The Lord will go with you" and He surely did.

She had never been away from home before - she fought homesickness, loneliness, and tried to adjust to a new culture so vastly different from anything she had ever known in the country. At one point she had had enough, and was packing to go back home, but a caring and empathetic house mother convinced her to stick with it - a defining moment in her life, and the only time I have ever heard of her contemplating giving up.

After her schooling, she took a teaching job in northernmost Norway, in Finnmark, which she described as "being about as far away from home as you could get." The school district was among the poorest. The job involved teaching in three different schools, and Lisa, who was very, very seasick, could either take a boat between the schools or walk the 14 miles, over rocks and bushes, with her books and clothing. Many of her students were destitute Lapps and did not speak Norwegian. There was no budget for school supplies, so Lisa herself had to supply whatever she and her students needed.

Despite the circumstances, Lisa fell in love with a handsome accordion player, but would not marry him before she had paid all of her debts. He could not wait, and got another girl pregnant, and married her instead. When overcome with sadness and loneliness, she would walk to Kjøllefjord, where the church was, and console herself in the company of her friends.

The horror of her life came in 1940, when the Nazis invaded Norway. Food was scarce; all radios were confiscated. Those who refused to join the Nazis faced being put into camps. No one dared talk freely, as it was impossible to know who could be trusted.

In 1945, the Germans lost the war and burned and destroyed everything as they left. The townspeople had heard the news about the burning but did not realize the seriousness of the situation until they saw the smoke rolling over from the other side of the mountain. The men went home to pack and the women all began baking bread to prepare for an evacuation. The next morning at 5 a.m., there was a knock at Lisa's door, suggesting that she leave with some friends, but she refused, as there were more people who needed help. Two hours later, the Germans were on the harbor, shooting. She took her bicycle and her valuables up into the mountains to a small lake where there would be access to water, and the German soldiers began throwing grenades into all of the homes, and by sundown that day there was not an intact house remaining.

The townspeople were being rushed into fishing boats and told to head south. One man in Lisa's boat "went crazy" under the stress and they were forced to tie him up and put him in a basket to keep him from attracting the attention of the German soldiers. After three days on the water, they came to the city of Mansus, which lay nearby a road leading to Lisa's home country. She got off the boat with two families and ran away into the darkness, toward the safe home of her mother and father.

The following year, she received a telegram from director of schools in Finnmark, asing her to come back and build up the school. She had already taken a very good job across the fjord from her sister's home in Trondheim, but she could not say no to the job in Finnmark. She packed her things and laid on the pier for three days, calling out to the passing boats, asking if they were going to Finnmark. The reply was all the same - "Are you crazy? The ocean is full of mines!" Finally a boat picked her up and took her to her destination. Upon her arrival, she discovered that there was no schoolhouse, no supplies, no chairs, no books, only children in need of a teacher. The mayor, who was grateful for her coming back, gave her whatever she needed, and she spent the next ten years building a solid school system in Kjøllefjord, one little bit at a time, first as the teacher, and later as principal of a modern school building with a crew of teachers and ample equipment and supplies.

One day years later, her life changed forever, yet again. She received a letter from her childhood friend, Adolph, who had gone to the United States 30 years prior, asking if she had ever considered coming to America. Indeed, she had! As a teacher, and a lover of learning, she was anxious to see what America had to offer. A short time later, she had taken a leave from her job, and found herself at the railroad station in Brookings, South Dakota, in the presence of her childhood friend, Adolph, who was by then a widower with twelve children. A month later, they were married. Again, her life was turned upside down, in a new culture, a very long way from home.

She learned a new language. She saw the country. She learned to relate to twelve children that were not hers. She continued her career in education, this time teaching Americans about life and culture in Norway. She embraced grandchildren, and taught them all she could about survival in an oftentimes tough world. I will never forget her telling me that the last letters in "American" were I CAN. With perseverance and trust in God, we can, indeed, do anything. She spent 96 years on this earth showing us how it was done, and her inspiration lives on.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Rebecca Lair - The Rest of the Story??

I love a good story - and I enjoy it even more when it involves my ancestors. The best story, in my opinion, is something of a mystery, and the pieces are put together slowly, bit by bit. Such is the case with my gr-gr-gr-gr grandmother, Rebecca Lair, of Princeville, Illinois.

Chasing down our female ancestors is often difficult - they tended not to leave as much of a paper trail as their male counterparts. But Rebecca's husband, William Lair, left a sizable probate file that gave me some very intriguing glimpses into her life, but as is often the case, a whole new set of questions were raised.

William Lair and Rebecca DeBolt were married on 16 Jul 1828, in Licking County, Ohio; about 1849, they and their family moved to a farm in Akron township in Peoria County, Illinois.

Rebecca did not have an easy life; she was the mother of ten children, four of whom died as children or young adults. Her husband died in 1857, after an illness of one week, suddenly leaving her with a farm, five minor children, and a long string of IOUs. William owed small amounts of money to everyone - to his son, his brother, his nephew, and others for expenses to keep his farm going and other ventures; he and two other men had also signed promissory notes to the Akron school for their share in boarding the teacher, at 10% interest.

William died intestate. Rebecca was named executrix of her husband's estate, but for whatever reason, she declined, and turned to her brother, George DeBolt, for help.

DeBolt handled the administration of the estate, paying William's debts, but his own fees and commissions for acting as administrator were significant, and the estate was deemed insolvent. To have his fees paid, DeBolt petitioned the court to sell the widow's home, and sued all eight of her children, including the five minors. The family's home was sold to another of Rebecca's brothers, William DeBolt. I can only imagine how betrayed Rebeca felt. In the following years, she worked as a seamstress and "washer woman" to support herself and what was left of her family. Ironically, while she sewed beautiful garments and quilts for others, her own windows were covered with paper curtains.

Seventeen years elapsed before my next substantial piece of information about Rebecca's life. At the time of her death, she owned real estate and rental property in the village of Princeville, and had money to leave to her adult children in her will. She had lost nearly everything in 1857, and had built up an estate for herself by the time of her death in 1874. I would love to know what happened in those missing years. I would love to know more about the woman who was knocked down, but refused to stay there. There's a great story in those missing years, and little by little, I hope to piece it together.

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