Friday, January 28, 2011

Forebear Friday – Ella Monsen Christensen

Gabriella Alfhilde Monsen looks like just a wisp of a girl, but she must have been tough.  Born in Bergen, Norway in 1884, Ella was the daughter of Gabriel Monsen and his wife Alvilda Marie Olsen.  Her father, a fisherman by trade, was caught in a violent storm off the coast of Norway when Ella was about 7, and vanished.  After the death of her father, the family lived in a small apartment in Bergen, her mother taking in washing to put food on the table.  By the time Ella was 16, she was helping to support her family by working as a domestic servant. 


In April of 1904, at the age of 20, Ella boarded a ship destined for the United States, to the home of her paternal uncle Rasmus “Rob” Sandene in Miner County, South Dakota.  She would never return to her home country again.  “Uncle Rob”, who had himself left Norway in 1887, helped the new immigrants of the family, one by one, to acclimate to their new culture.  It was there that Ella learned English, and then again forged out on her own, taking a job as a domestic servant in Huron, about 60 miles away.  In the next five years, her brother and sister also left Norway.  Alvilda did not join her children here until 1915.

Ella married Peter C. Christensen, a Danish immigrant who owned Bell Bakery, in May of 1911.  They also spent time farming in rural Beadle County.  She was a farm wife who raised five children – Lillian, Raymond, Clarence, Edna and Sylvia, and later helped to raise Lillian’s children, who lived on a farm just down the road.  Her granddaughter Betty has some very fond memories of her, and what a fun grandmother she was. She was nice to everyone, but she was also stern.


In 1947, they sold their farm in Beadle county and left behind the hard work and brutal winters.   They retired to a lovely home with a park-like corner lot in Gardena, California, where they enjoyed fruit trees and a koi pond.  Their children Clarence and Sylvia married and raised families there as well.  She was just 67 when she died at her home of heart failure five years later.  She is buried at Roosevelt Memorial Park Cemetery.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Forebear Friday – Abial Adams

Above: Abial Abbott Adams and his wife, Irene Gray
My first post for Forebear Friday highlights Abial Abbott Adams.  How can you not love facial hair like this? 
Abial Adams was born about 1802 in Newport, Orleans co., Vermont, said by some to be the first white child born within the present limits of that town.  He was the son of Revolutionary War patriot Martin Adams and his wife, Mercy Ryder Adams.
He married Irene Gray about 1825, and they appear to have spent their lives in Newport, appearing there in each census from 1830 through 1870.  He supported his family by farming, and he also owned a sawmill.
Abial and Irene were the parents of 15 children: Ira, David, Daniel, Lucretia, James, John, Abel, Oscar, Mercy, Newell, Orin, Harriet, Donald, Ransom, and Frank.
It is unclear exactly when Abial died, some time between 1879 and 1881.  I could locate neither Abial nor his wife in the 1880 census.  She died 01 Apr 1885 in Newport.  Both are buried in Lake Road Cemetery in Newport.

Future Friday – Photo Albums with a Twist

Thanks go out to Jenn at Your Growing Tree for the idea of Future Friday.  The idea is to get us thinking about helping future generations to know *us*. A few weeks ago I set a goal for 2011: to create biographies and record family stories of the more “recent” generations of our family. 
My first project will be to “enhance” our family’s photo albums.  As a finished product, I envision scanned photos of ample size for easy viewing of details.  Each photo will have all persons and places identified, as completely as possible, with any background stories or interesting tidbits included. 
I planned to attack this project by sitting down with my mother, a photo album, and a digital voice recorder.  Together, we will go through the albums and reminisce, capturing our conversation on the recorder.  Thanks to the recorder, we should be able to concentrate more on telling the stories and less on the business of preserving the stories.
To prepare, I dug out my RCA Digital Voice Recorder, which I had not used in 2 years, and re-familiarized myself with its operation.  I then gave it fresh batteries, and started testing various settings and recorder placement to ensure a good finished product, easy to hear and understand, since we have only one shot at this with any sort of spontaneity.
We got comfortable at the dining room table, with the recorder, a photo album, and a notebook and pen, just in case we needed to write something down, although the idea was to be less structured and more conversational.  It took very little time to forget that the recorder was on, although I did try to note every time we turned the page, and give a quick, descriptive comment on the first photo on the page, as a “landmark” I can use when matching the conversation to the correct photos. 
It took us about an hour and a half to go through the album, and we had a great time.  I learned more about our family’s activities and chronology than I could have hoped for.  These were all things that my mom had not thought to mention, and I never knew to ask.  And best of all, I wasn’t desperately trying to write all of this down, or remember it correctly; the recorder was taking care of that for me.
The next step will be scanning the album pages, in order, and in a large enough size to make the faces and details easily seen.  I am still considering how to organize these photos.  Currently, I have my old digitized photos organized into folders by year, and within the folders, by file name – not exactly ideal for my purposes now.  I had considered looking for photo album software, but would prefer something in a more universal format for sharing and backing up.  I am looking into the various online photo storage sites.
I will then transcribe our recorded conversation and comments verbatim.  I’m still working on exactly how I’m going to put the comments and stories together with the photos, but will likely extract facts from the transcription, and enhance the pages of photos with them.
I’ll keep you posted!

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Diary Project

Tonight I finished transcribing one of the two existing diaries of my great-grandmother, Elvirta Graves Knutz; she started this particular journal in 1956 at the age of 66.  I have 221 typed pages representing eleven years of her life.
When I started this project, I had hoped for two things: 1) to glean genealogical information, and 2) to get to know my great grandmother in a deeper, more personal way. 
I did indeed fill in a lot of dates and family happenings, but was a little disappointed when it came to getting her perspective on life.  She was very good at reporting events, both major events and daily activities, but she didn’t share much of her feelings about those events.  Once, she did let a little anger show regarding her husband’s unwillingness to sell the farm and move to town; and another time, a bit of smug satisfaction at having shown him she wasn’t quite as dumb as he seemed to think.  It was fun to see these emotions in an otherwise quiet and dutiful wife and mother.
Not everyone has the opportunity to go back in time and spend 11 years with family members they love and miss; I have been extremely blessed to get to do just that.  Over these years, I not only “spent time” with my great grandparents, but my beloved grandparents, and even my own parents, as teenagers and then newlyweds.  In many ways, I felt like Marty McFly in “Back to the Future,” watching as my parents courted, married, and began to raise a family.  I found this becoming less and less of a transcription project, and more and more of a chance to spend time with people I hadn’t seen in a very, very long while.
I didn’t realize just how deeply I had been absorbed into this until the last few months of my great-grandfather’s life, “listening” as my great grandmother told the difficult story of his death, and the days after.   Like her, there were times I didn’t think I wanted to keep going.  But at the same time, I couldn’t stop. 
The diary ends abruptly the following year.  Elvirta had gone to Arizona to visit her daughter, and had been there 7 months, and suddenly, there are no more pages.  She lived another five years, so I assume there was another notebook somewhere.  I hope the rest of it turns up some day, and I can resume our visit and finish her story.