Monthly Archives: October 2012

Wilhelm Schmidt – Journeyman Carpenter

My great-great grandfather, Wilhelm Schmidt (1862-1925) was a “Zimmergesell” [a Journeyman Carpenter] in Germany before he came to the US in 1885.  This means he was fortunate enough to be a participant in a fascinating, complex, traditional ritual that was meant to allow you to grow as a human being and as a craftsman while you plied your trade across the countryside.  You would travel, work, and learn your craft in each town you’d visit.  At the end of your journey, you would return home a master craftsman.

The Zimmergesell was first required to be unmarried, childless, and debt-free so that he could truly give himself to the experience without avoiding social obligations.  He would leave home with 5 deutsch marks on his person, and was expected to return home with exactly that sum so that he would neither acquire nor waste money during his journey.  He was not allowed within 50 km of his home town during the journey except if someone in the immediate family died.  He wore a special costume with broad-rimmed hat, waistcoat, and black bell-bottom pants, and carried a special, curled walking stick.  This allowed the journeyman to be recognized as a Zimmergesell, which would potentially help him get work and also encourage people along the way to be kind and charitable toward him.  He wore gold earrings and bracelets that could be sold in a pinch, or could be used to pay the gravedigger if worse came to worst.

Modern Zimmergesell in the traditional costume.

The Zimmergesell had a little passport booklet that he carried, and he got it stamped in each town where he worked.  This book would be checked at each stop to verify his credentials, and would be checked at the end of his journey to verify that he completed it successfully.

The journey would last either 2 years and 1 day or 3 years and 1 day.

It’s thrilling to think about my grandfather, at the age of 20 or 21, wandering the German countryside in his black bellbottoms doing carpentry here and there, learning to become the best craftsman he could be.  Unfortunately, we only have record of three of the towns where Wilhelm was working as a carpenter: Ahlum, Germany in May, 1884, Salzdahlum, Germany in June, 1884, and Wofenbüttel, Germany in August, 1884.  It must have been the end of his journeyman experience, because he was back home to his family in Gornitz, Posen, Prussia by November of 1884.  Still, we have a glimpse of that last bit of his youth when he was still single, young, and relatively carefree.

His biggest adventure lay just ahead; he would leave behind everything he had ever known to emigrate to the US in the Summer of 1885.

Delia Bacon and Fred Thomas Sr.

My great-grandmother Delia Bacon was born in Burlington, Vermont on 17 Oct 1885.  She was the daughter of Jean Gregoire “John” Bacon (1850-1936) and Cordelia Olivier (1850-1918).  Her parents were, as their names suggest, French Canadians.

Delia’s father, Jean Gregoire Bâcon, came to the US about 1872, emigrating from Joliette, Québec to Burlington,Vermont.  The Bâcon family had been in Québec since 1645 when Gilles Bâcon arrived on the shores of North America from Caen, Normandie, France.  He was a Jesuit missionary, and one of the first settlers of Québec.  His daughter Marie Madeline Bâcon was one of the nuns in charge of l’Hôpital Général, which oversaw care for the poor and infirm under the auspices of the church.

So for more than 200 years, the Bacon family lived in Joliette/Berthier/Berthierville.  They were farmers, and they had a lot of kids.  It wasn’t uncommon for my Québéquois ancestors to have eight, ten, twelve or more children.  When a wife would die in childbirth, the men would remarry and continue on having kids.  Families grew up in large, multi-generational homes.  Almost all of them were illiterate.  Over and over in the church records, after births, marriages, burials,  one finds the notation “…qui ont déclaré ne savoir signer”… “who stated that they did not know how to sign [their names]”.  Jean Gregoire was one of the only Bacons to sign his name after such documents.  He was one of 12 children in his family.

Cordelia Olivier had a very similar background.  Her ancestors were also farmers from Berthier/Joliette, Québec with wonderfully French names like DesRosiers, LaFerrière, Tellier, Bérard, and DuCharme.  Her great-great grandfather, Captain Louis Olivier dit LaVictoire (1720-1785), was born in Paris, France and came to Québec sometime in the early 1740s.  He was a merchant and a captain of militia whose first wife had died after giving birth.  He remarried and had more children, including Cordelia’s great-grandfather  François Olivier dit LaVictoire (1760-1844).

Cordelia and Jean Gregoire Bacon were married in Québec 4 Sept 1871, and hopped over the border to Burlington, Vermont about 1872.   Jean worked as a wheelwright in a wagon factory.  They had five children there: Alexander Moses, Oliva (who went by “Eva”), two children who died in infancy, and finally Delia Rosanna Bacon who was born on October 17, 1885.

Delia grew up in Burlington, and attended the Cathedral High School there, graduating about 1903.

Cathedral High School, c 1922.

Cathedral High School, c 1922.

[Photo from “Burlington: Volume II” by Mary An DiSpirito”]

After graduation, Delia continued to live with her parents in the family home at 24 Cedar Street in Burlington.  She worked from 1906 to 1908 as a bookkeeper for Raine & Burt, a grocery store at 28 Church street.

Ad for Raine & Burt grocers, 1908, when Delia Bacon worked there as bookkeeper.

Ad for Raine & Burt grocers, 1908, when Delia Bacon worked there as bookkeeper.

This photo shows Church Street in 1907, when Delia was working there.  The grocery store where she worked was about half-way up the block on the right.  [Photo from]

Church Street, 1907

Church Street, 1907

The next year, in 1909, Delia went to work as a bookkeeper for William McBride, the husband of my great-aunt Anna Thomas.  William owned a grocery store in Winooski, Vermont, that he had taken over from his father who opened the store in 1886.  William McBride’s brother-in-law Fred Thomas was working at the store as early as 1903, and even after he quit, he likely still came in to see his sister regularly.  Fred almost certainly met Delia for the first time in that store sometime between 1909 and  1911.

The Bacon Family c1905. Olive, Delia, & Alex (back row). Jean and Cordelia seated in front.

The Bacon Family c1910. Olive, Delia, & Alex (back row). Jean and Cordelia seated in front.

A young woman named Marie Laramay lived with the Bacons, and is seen in the 1910 census with them.  She was about five years older than Delia, but the girls still became fast friends.  Marie eventually moved to about 20 miles north to Milton, VT.  The local newspapers mentioned Delia and her sister Olive visiting Marie Laramay in Milton on many occasions.  In one such article from 1912, the paper mentions Delia’s boyfriend “Fred Thomas”, as well as her cousin Delia Perreault:

St. Albans Messenger, 1 Aug 1912

[Genealogical side-note: Delia Perreault was the daughter of Delia Bacon’s cousin Cordelia Olivier (b 1867), who has the same name as Delia Bacon’s mother (Cordelia Olivier, b 1850).  The younger Cordelia was the child of her mother’s brother, Octave Olivier… very confusing!]

About two years later, Marie Laramay was getting married to her fiancée, Henry Vincent.  She asked Delia to be her maid of honor, and the couple were married 3 Sept 1914 in a beautiful ceremony described in the local paper. “The maid of honor, Miss Delia Bacon, of Burlington, wore pink crepe-de-chine with a black velvet hat and carried a shower bouquet of sweet peas”.

The bride and groom posed for photographs with various wedding party members in a convertible car.  It is believed that this photo shows Marie Laramay in white, Henry Vincent in the back seat, and Delia behind the wheel in the slightly darker dress:

Vincent/Laramay Wedding, 1914

About a year later it was Fred and Delia’s turn to be married.  The Thomas family was Episcopalian, but the marriage was a catholic ceremony (Delia’s family were Catholic) and it took place in Burlington, Vermont.  Delia’s address was given as “26 Cedar Street” in Burlington (her family home), and in the wedding announcement it was said the couple was going to “be at home” there after their honeymoon trip to Montréal.  So, at least briefly, the newly-married couple lived with Delia’s parents.

Burlington Weekly Free Press. October 14, 1915

Burlington Weekly Free Press. October 14, 1915

Thomas/Bacon Marriage Record, 1915

The newlyweds eventually moved to 67 Park Street in Burlington, and their first child, a daughter named Grace Eleanor, was born on 12 Dec 1916.

Grace Thomas Birth, 1916

Grace Thomas Birth, 1916

Fred’s WWI Draft Registration card from June, 1917 describes him as tall, slender, with brown eyes and black hair, and working as a salesman for “Swift and Company” (a restaurant supply distributer).

Fred Thomas WWI Draft Registration, 1917

Around this same time a photo was taken of Delia.  She’s standing in what looks to be a back yard.  She’s wearing a white dress and holding a 10-month-old Grace in her arms.  She’s beautiful, young, and healthy.

“July 30, 1917. Grace & Mother” – Courtesy of Marti Benz

A son followed for the Thomases.  My grandfather Frederick Clifford Thomas Jr. was born 18 Jun 1918 in Burlington, VT.

Fred Thomas Jr. birth, 1918

Fred Thomas Jr. birth, 1918

Unfortunately, the new family would have less than two months of relative happiness to enjoy before the unthinkable happened.

About the 13th of October, Delia started having symptoms of the dreaded Spanish Flu pandemic which had been sweeping across the country.  She was cared for at home for almost a week, but she grew weaker as the days went on.  A petite woman, she just didn’t seem strong enough to fight off the sickness.  Eventually she began to cough and fluid collected in her lungs.  She died at 4:00pm in her home at 67 Park Street on 20 Oct 1918.  The cause was “lobar pneumonia” which followed (as it often did) from her weakened state as a result of the Spanish Influenza infection.  Her husband Fred was so ill with the flu himself that he would later be unable to attend his own wife’s funeral.

Delia Bacon Thomas’s obituary, 1918

Delia’s mother, Cordelia Olivier, also living in Burlington, died from the same pneumonia caused by the same influenza only four days after her daughter’s death.  Cordelia and Delia were both buried in Mount Calvary Cemetery in Burlington.  Between 20 and  50 million people were killed in the pandemic between 1918 and 1920.

Gravestone of Delia & Fred Thomas

Grave of Jean Bacon and Cordelia Olivier

Fred Sr. with Grace and Fred Jr c1919, just after the death of Delia Bacon.

Fred Sr. with Grace and Fred Jr c1919, about a year after the death of Delia Bacon.

Unable to emotionally or logistically care for two young children following the death of his wife, Fred made the decision to give the children away to family members who could better, in his mind, care for them.  Fred Jr. went to live with Delia’s sister Olive “Eva” Bacon and her husband James Halloran.  They had lost a son that January when he was accidentally smothered at two days of age.  They were grateful to have the chance to raise Fred, who was less than two months old.  They were living in the family home on Cedar Street in Burlington, so it was very close.  In the 1920 census Fred is listed as living with Eva and Jim.

Eva Bacon and Jim Halloran in front of their home at 24 Cedar St. in Burlington, VT, 1924.

Eva Bacon and Jim Halloran in front of their home at 24 Cedar St. in Burlington, VT, 1924.

Grace went to live with “Aunt Anna”, Fred’s sister Anna Thomas, and her husband William McBride, who owned the store where Delia had been employed.

Anna Thomas & William McBride

For a time, Fred Sr. also lived with the McBrides. The 1920 census shows this odd arrangement; William and Anna McBride are living with their daughter Agnes, and Fred Sr. is living in the same home with his daughter Grace.

1920 Census for Winooski, VT

1920 Census for Winooski, VT

At the time, the McBrides had a large, beautiful, corner home in Burlington at 61 East Allen Street, and there was a servant to help with things around the house.

61 E. Allen St., Winooski. Taken in 2015.

61 E. Allen St., Winooski. Taken in 2015.

Fred Jr., on the other hand, was living with the Halloran family in the Bacon family home at 24 Cedar Street.  James Halloran was a weaver in a wool mill, a laborer.  William McBride was a business owner.  There was likely quite a difference in terms of the type of upbringing.

About four years later, on 29 Sept 1922, Fred Sr. got remarried to Irene Fogg (1893-1980), the daughter of a bedding manufacturer from New York.  With someone to be at home and take care of children while he worked, Fred came around to collect his children from the families where they’d been living for almost four years.  I’ll let my father, Fred Thomas III, tell the story:

Yeah. When he — when his wife died — my grandfather took his two children — there was my Aunt Grace and my father.  And he put them in foster homes, sort of, with relatives.   And Aunt Grace went to live with — it would be my grandfather’s sister.  I always thought Aunt Anna was the oldest, but I see that she was the second oldest. And, anyway, Grace went to live with Aunt Anna and Uncle Bill.  And my father went with his mother’s sister and her husband.  They all lived in either Burlington or Winooski.

So anyway, when my father was about three years old, my grandfather remarried.  He married Irene.  And soon after they were married he went around to recollect his children and bring them home again.  He first went to the sister — sister-in-law — that had my father and of course she didn’t want to give him up.  She’d had this baby for three years, you know?  But she deferred to his wishes and gave him up.  There was a picture in the family collection of pictures of my father taken when he was about 3 or 4 years old, and on the back it says, “Taken the day he was… [chokes up]… the day he was taken away.”  I always wondered, “What does this mean anyway?”  Well, it was written by my aunt when she gave up this baby to my grandfather.  So then he went to get Aunt Grace.   But he hadn’t counted on Aunt Anna! [laughs]  So he goes to collect Grace and Aunt Anna says, “Grace has been living with us for three years and she’s going to continue to live here!”. [laughs]  And she wouldn’t back down.  So Grace lived there, with Aunt Anna and Uncle Bill, until she got married.

Grace Thomas, on her wedding day (11 Jun 1941) in front of the home at 186 Summit St. in Burlington where she grew up with the McBrides.

Unfortunately things weren’t so rosy for my grandfather.  His father and Irene started their own family; Charles Fogg Thomas was born in 1924 and his brother Horace Thomas was born in 1926.  Different family members recalled that Irene made no effort to hide her preference for Charles over his brother and half-siblings.  My grandfather, for his part, spoke of feeling like an afterthought in the household.  He started spending a great deal of his time with his uncle Erwin [Robert Erwin Thomas (1887-1965)], a former farmer who had become a paint salesman in nearby Essex Junction, Vermont.  Eventually my grandfather came to think of Erwin almost as a father to him.  They were very close.  His real father only came around rarely after my grandfather was an adult.  His children and Grace’s children would only see Fred Sr. on holidays and a few other times during the year.  They regarded him as distant and aloof, for the most part.

Fred Thomas Sr c1928

Fred Thomas Sr c1928

Four generations: Martha “Marti” McDonald (holding her daughter) with Grace Thomas and Fred Thomas in 1975.

Grace Thomas & Fred Thomas Jr., the two children of Fred Thomas Sr. & Delia Bacon. Christmas, 1978. Courtesy of Marti Benz.

Many members of the family remain convinced that my grandfather, Fred Jr., never got over the wounds left by his childhood.  He never knew his mother, and his father first abandoned him, then treated him like a second-class citizen, preferring his new family with his second wife, Irene.  It led to an emotional turmoil that could come out unexpectedly when my grandfather was raising his own children, but also an empathy for children he knew in similar situations.

Fred Thomas with grand-daughters Sherry and Debbie Thomas c1975

Fred Thomas with grand-daughters Sherry and Debbie Thomas c1975

Fred C. Thomas Sr. became a museum security guard in his later years.  Family legend has it that he had a mistress on the side with whom he somehow managed to spend every Christmas Eve.  He was a complicated and enigmatic figure for most of the family members who knew him.  He passed away on 15 Jan 1976.  He was 86 years old.

Beriah Thomas & James Thomas

One of the longest-dangling threads in my family tree was, oddly enough, the Thomas line.  I knew my grandfather Frederick Clifford Thomas Jr., and obviously I knew his father was Frederick Clifford Thomas Sr. (1889 – 1976).   It was relatively easy to discover, through the census records, that his father was Horace Luther Thomas (1846 – 1929), and my grandfather had quite a bit of documentation from Horace and his family in his archives, which were passed from my father to me.

Horace Luther Thomas

Horace’s father, I discovered, was Charles H. Thomas (1821-1873), a blacksmith who was born in Chazy, NY.  He subsequently moved to Burke, NY, and finally to Canton, NY where he died and was buried.  Charles was married to Louisa “Lois” Pond, a member of a venerable New England family which traces its roots back to the Pilgrims in Massachusetts in the 1630’s, and includes many Revolutionary War veterans.  Among her ancestors are well-documented families such as the Morses, the Lathrops, the Adamses, and many others.

Family Tree of Louisa “Lois” Pond

I also spent months filling out massive amounts of detail about the family of Charles H. Thomas, and I know about the lives and families of each of his children in intimate detail.  I am in touch with several living descendants of my grandfather Horace’s brothers and sisters.

The grave of Charles H. Thomas in Bridge Cemetery, Canton, NY.

Eventually I was able to determine that Charles’s father was James S. Thomas (1782-1863).  He was born in Massachusetts in 1782, and married Sophia Ransom about 1815.  They had 8 children that I know about, including an eldest son named Beriah Ransom Thomas.  All of James and Sophia’s children were born in Chazy, NY between 1816 and 1835.

Trying to find out who James’s father was proved to be very difficult, but eventually I found a gravestone which I wrote about recently.  It was the gravestone of an Elizabeth Hutchinson Thomas, who died in Chazy, NY in 1814.  Her husband was a Beriah Thomas, who would have been born in the early 1740’s.  He was just the right age to be the father of James.  As I wrote in my previous entry, I spent a great deal of time studying Beriah Thomas and learning all I could about his life.  In an odd twist, one day I discovered that I was, in fact, related to Beriah Thomas, but only by marriage.  His son John Thomas had a daughter named Elizabeth Ann Thomas (1801-1879) who married Guy Ransom (1779-1870).  He was the first cousin of my afore-mentioned grandmother Sophia Ransom.   So Beriah and I were, in fact, related by marriage.

Elizabeth Ann Thomas, who married Guy Ransom.

Eventually, however, enough evidence piled up to convince me that there’s a better than reasonable chance that my grandfather James Thomas was the son of Beriah Thomas.  I’ll try to make my case here, briefly, and leave it up to the reader to decide.  [Note: Some of this assumes you’ve read the previous article about Beriah and know the details of his life.]

1) My grandfather James S. Thomas was born in Massachusetts about 1782.  In 1781 Beriah had just been mustered out of the Continental Army after the Ambush at the West Canada Creek.  The next place we know he was living was in West Stockbridge, Mass in the 1790 census.  It seems reasonable that after the war he went to West Stockbridge.  That would put him there between 1781 and 1790, inclusive.

2) James Thomas’s eldest son was Beriah Ransom Thomas.  Ransom for his wife, Sophia Ransom.  I’m guessing Beriah for his father.

3) In the 1790 census for West Stockbridge, MA, there is a son living with Beriah who is < 16 years of age (born between 1774 and 1790).  In the 1800 census for Middle Hero, VT, there is a son listed as living with Beriah who is between 16 and 25 years of age (born between 1771 and 1784).  In the 1810 census for Middle Hero, VT, there is a son listed as living with Beriah who is between 26 and 44 years of age (born between 1766 and 1784).  That means this son was born between 1774 and 1784.  My grandfather was born in 1782.  Matthew, John and Leonard Thomas are listed separately on the same census, so it wasn’t them, and they are too old to be this son in any case.

4) The papers from the Chazy Historical Society speak several times (from different sources) of James Thomas being a son of Beriah, and that this son James lived in Chazy, NY.

  • “1813 Beriah Thomas comes to Chazy to live.  James was his son.”
  • (In a letter regarding Beriah’s son Matthew Thomas and the family of Beriah Thomas) “James Thomas married Sophia, the daughter of Dr. Luther Ransom – moved from Chazy, I think to Essex County.”
  • “Beriah Thomas, a Revolutionary soldier, came from Grand Isle to Chazy in 1813.  He had a family of six children.  The name of only one is known, James.  [..] James Thomas married Sophia Ransom.  They moved away.”

5) My grandfather James Thomas was living in Chazy by 1816 because that was the birthplace given for his eldest son Beriah Ransom Thomas.  His obituary from 1918 states “Mr. Thomas was born in Chazy, NY, January 4, 1816.”  All of James Thomas & Sophia Ransom’s other children were born in Chazy also, including his youngest son Joel Wells Thomas, whose death record states he was born in “Chazy, NY, Oct 19, 1835”.  So James and his wife and family were in Chazy from at least 1816-1835.

6) The James Thomas, son of Beriah, who lived in Chazy, NY was said to be living in Burke, NY in 1854 per a letter written to Judge Hubbell that the Chazy Historical Society had at one point.  I know my grandfather had moved from Chazy to Burke because he is in the 1850 census for Burke, NY with his family, including his wife Sophia and three of his children.

7) Beriah Thomas said he moved to Chazy in March of 1812 per his pension deposition and lived there until the end of his life.  We know he was still living there in 1832 at the time of his deposition and that he was living there in 1834 per his pension papers.  He died there sometime between March 1836 and Sept 1836, per the pension paperwork.  We would expect to see him in the census for 1820 for Chazy and 1830, yet he is not in there.  He would have been 78 in 1820 and 88 in 1830.  The obvious conclusion is that he is living with someone else in Chazy who is listed as the head of the household for the census.  But who?

8) In the 1830 census my grandfather James Thomas is listed as living in Chazy, NY.  Listed in the census under his name are 2 boys between 5 and 10, 2 boys between 10 and 15, 1 man between 40 and 50, 1 girl under 5, and 1 woman between 30 and 40.  His household at the time looked as follows:

James Thomas     48
Sophia Ransom    38
Beriah R Thomas  14
Luther R Thomas  13
Jeremiah Thomas   9
Charles H Thomas  8

Daughter Mary had died in March that year, so she wasn’t around for the census.  So you see that apart from a daughter under 5, it all matches up.  I believe there was a daughter born about 1827 that we don’t know about yet.

ALSO living with James in Chazy in 1830?  A man between 80 and 90 years of age.  Beriah Thomas was 88 years old, and is not listed elsewhere.  I believe he was living with my grandfather James, and I believe he was living there because James was his son.

9) As Dave Momot pointed out, Elizabeth Hutchinson Thomas’s gravestone says “A husband [and] 6 children are left to lament their loss.”  We have no other candidates in any documents for the sixth child besides James.

That’s about it.  Lots of circumstantial evidence.  Nothing that’s a true “Smoking Gun” like a death record for James listing Beriah as his father would be.  But until I have better info one way or the other, it’s what I’m going with.

Norwegian Cousins

My 2nd cousin Kay Rhyner was kind enough to send me a batch of information she had about the Norwegian side of our family.  I’ve written previously about my great-grandparents, Ovidia Olson and Jens Rasmussen Østrem  (a/k/a “John Hanson”).  While entering all this information into the family tree today, I found out that my third cousin Lisbeth Holand was a member of the Norwegian Parliament!  I’m quite proud.

Lisbeth is a descendant of my great-great-grandfather’s brother Rasmus Rasmussen Østrem (1852-1936).

Lisbeth Holand (born 20 January 1946 in Vikna) is a Norwegian politician for the Socialist Left Party.
She was elected to the Norwegian Parliament from Nordland in 1989, and was re-elected on one occasion. She had previously served as a deputy representative during the terms 1985–1989, and later served in this position from 1997–2001.
Holand was involved in local politics in Brønnøy municipality. She is also a former leader of Nei til EU. In 1968–1970 she was a member of the national board of the Young Liberals of Norway.

Outside of politics, she graduated as cand.polit. from the University of Oslo in 1975. She worked as a school teacher, since 2000 as a lecturer at Nesna University College.

[Taken from her Wikipedia entry:]


Strehlow Records from Pomerania

Jörg Schrick, my invaluable genealogical contact in Germany has been in touch with his friend Björn Buerger. Björn has searched the entirety of the Eventin parish records from Kreis Schlawe in Pomerania for Strehlow records and was able to find 10 children of Johann Ferdinand Strehlow (b 1805) and Christiane Maria Plath (1804-1856). As he states below, out of 10 children there were four sets of twins. The odds of that are about 1 in 1,156,000!


I have looked through the entire Eventin parish register to 1857, and I can report that Johann Strelow and Christina Plath had 10 children.  Incredibly, of those children there were 4 sets of twins!

I was also able to determine that Ludwig was their child [at first his birth record was not found].  He was born in 1836 but I didn’t find a record of him until 1840 and thus he was already 4 years old.

I find it very interesting that the wife of my ancestor Caspar Strehlow, (Regine Barske) was a godmother of your Ludwig Strehlow. So there probably is a relationship between our two families.

Here are the children I have discovered for the couple Johann Ferdinand Strehlow and Christine Marie Plath, who were married 12 Nov 1828 in Wandhagen, Kreis Schlawe, Pomerania, Prussia:

1. Johann Ferdinand
Born: 1 Mar 1830 Wandhagen
(Not 1831 as a previous record said.  I believe it was mis-copied into the registry.)
Christened: 7 Mar 1830 Wandhagen
1. The carpenter Caspar Strelow from Neuenhagen.
2. The peasant farmer Hans Lau from Wandhagen.
3. The wife of the peasant farmer Peter Verhs, née Regina Plath.

2. Johanna Albertina Maria (twin)
Born: 25 Mar 1833 Wandhagen
Christened: 26 Mar 1833 Wandhagen
1. The wife of Büdner [owner of a small rural property] and Holzschläger [woodsman] Hans Plath, née Regina Pitzken(?)
2. The household servant [Dienstmädchen] Regina Germanzen(?)
3. The peasant farmer Peter Verse.
All from Wandhagen.

3. Stillborn female (twin)
Born: 25 Mar 1833 Wandhagen

4. Charlotte Louise
Born: 14 Sept 1834 Wandhagen
Christened: 18 Sept 1834 Wandhagen
Died: 19 Sept 1834 Wandhagen
Buried. 23 Sept 1834 Wandhagen
Godparents: 1. Wife of the peasant farmer Hans Lau, Maria Plath.
2. Daughter of the woodsman [Holzschläger] Hans Plath, Louise Plath.
3. The peasant farmer Caspar Strehlow.
All from Wandhagen.

5. Hanne Caroline (twin)
Born: 9 Apr 1836 Wandhagen
Christened:13 Apr 1836 Wandhagen
Died: 5 May 1836 Wandhagen
Buried: 9 May 1836 Wandhagen
1. The wife of the carpenter Caspar Strehlow, Christine Schwarz from Neuenhagen.
2. The farmer’s daughter Christine Plath from Wandhagen.
3. The farmer’s son [Bauernsohn] Ludwig Schwarz from Wandhagen.

6. Ernst Ludwig (twin)
Born: 9 Apr 1836 Wandhagen
Baptized: 13 Apr 1836 Wandhagen
1. The peasant farmer Martin Schwarz from Beelkow.
2. The farmer’s son Ernst Verse from Wandhagen.
3. The wife of the peasant farmer Caspar Strehlow, Regine née Barsken from Wandhagen  (This is Bjoern’s family member.)

7. Johanne Caroline (twin)
Born: 22 Sept 1839 Wandhagen
Christened: 22 Sept 1939 Wandhagen
Died: 19 Dec 1839 Wandhagen
Buried: 29 Dec 1839 Wandhagen
1. Marie Lau née Plath, wife of a peasant farmer [Bauerfrau].
2. Anna Regine Verse, farmer’s daughter [Bauertochter].
3. August Krakow, tenant blacksmith [Pachtschmid].
All from Wandhagen

8. Charlotte Louise (twin)
Born: 22 Sept 1839 Wandhagen
Christened: 22 Sept 1939 Wandhagen
1. Anna Barske née Schuranz ? (probably Schurvanz or Schurwanz).
2. Regine Pieper née Dahnz, tailor’s wife [Schneiderfrau].
3. Caspar Plath, peasant farmer.
All from Wandhagen

9. Carl August (twin)
Born: 12 Nov 1842 Wandhagen
Christened: 18 Nov 1842 Wandhagen
1. Ernst Lau, Bauersohn from Wandhagen.
2. Jacob Papenfuß, son of peasant farmer [Bauersohn].
3. Anna Strehlow née Hain, carpenter and wife of peasant farmer [Zimmerman and Büdnerfrau] from Neuenhagen

10. Wilhelmine Albertine (twin)
Born: 12 Nov 1842 Wandhagen
Christened: 18 Nov 1842 Wandhagen
Died: 30 Jun 1843 Wandhagen
Buried: 4 Jul 1843 Wandhagen
1. Regine Schwarz née Lau, wife of a peasant farmer [Bauerfrau] from Beelkow.
2. Sophie Wiehe, daughter of a peasant farmer [Büdnertochter] from Neuenhagen,
3. Peter Schwarz, servant [Dienstknecht] from Beelkow.

Among the records, I also located one of the bans of marriage between Johann Ferdinand Strehlow and Christine Marie Plath:

Groom: Johann Ferdinand Strehlow, carpenter [Zimmerman] from Wandhagen, 26 1/2 years old
Bride: Wilhelmine Marie Schwarz, farmer’s daughter [Bauerntochter] from Böbbelin, 26 years old
Father of the Bride: Peter Schwarz, peasant farmer [Bauer] and school-master [Schulmeister] from Böbbelin
Date of marriage: There is only one ban, so the day of marriage is not mentioned

And a record of the birth of their first child:

Ernstine Johanne Louise
Born: 26 Oct 1857 in Wandhagen
Christened: 1 Nov 1857 in Wandhagen
1. Johanne Schwarz, farmer’s daughter [Büdnertochter] from Böbbelin.
2. Louise Strehlow, a farmer’s daughter [Büdnertochter] from Wandhagen.
3. Ernst Lau, farmer’s son from Wandhagen.

Beriah Thomas – Revolutionary War Hero

It all started with a gravestone.  For some reason, I was doing a search on for anyone with the last name Thomas who was buried in Chazy, NY.  Chazy lies on the shore of Lake Champlain, which itself sits at the nexus of Vermont, New York, and Canada.  So it was, in a way, a bustling “port town” with goods and people coming and going.  For reasons I haven’t yet quite discovered, Chazy was a big center for my Thomas family, and I knew that my 4x great grandfather James Thomas (1782-1863)  had lived there, and that all of his children were born there, including my 3x great grandfather Charles H. Thomas (1821-1873).

I was doing a search for Thomas family members buried in Chazy when I discovered the gravestone for an Elizabeth Thomas.  Remarkably detailed, it says:

In memory of Mrs. Elizabeth.  Consort of Beriah Thomas who departed this life December 19th AD 1814 in the 79th year of her age.  A husband – 6 children are left to lament their loss.

Gravestone for Elizabeth Hutchinson Thomas, Chazy Landing Cemetery, Chazy, NY.

I was immediately struck by the date.  Elizabeth was born about 1743.  For her to be the “consort” of Beriah Thomas, he must have been born about the same time, which put him the right generation to be the father of James Thomas.  The other thing was the name.  My grandfather James’s first child was named Beriah Ransom Thomas.  Ransom from his wife, Sophia Ransom.  Was Beriah a family name?  Did he name his eldest son for his father?

I spent many months researching the life of this Beriah Thomas, without knowing if he was related to me at all, and what I found was a fascinating man. I want to introduce him here, and I will address the issue of whether or not he is related to me in a separate blog that you can read here… because it’s not as straightforward a question as it might seem.

Beriah Thomas was born in 1742 in Simsbury, Connecticut.  It’s not at all certain who his parents were, but it’s quite possible they were John Thomas and Abigail Griffin who were married 2 Oct 1736 in Simsbury.  Beriah seemed to have a soul for travel and adventure.  In 1758, when he was only 16 years old, he signed up to fight with Phineas Lyman’s 1st regiment/1st company in the French and Indian War.  In 1759 he is on the payroll for Captain Noah Humphrey’s 1st regiment, 10th company.

After the war, Beriah went to Great Barrington, Massachusetts where he married Elizabeth Hutchinson on 19 Mar 1763, according to the existing “declaration of intent to marry”.  We know that his daughter Margaret was christened in Great Barrington on 23 Oct 1763, and another daughter Garrattee was christened on 19 Jan 1766.  In between, son John Thomas was also born in Great Barrington in 1764.  Next came son Matthew in 1768 and son Leonard in 1770.  That same year, according to the book “History of Great Barrington”, Beriah and some other citizens were granted permission to expend their tax money to create a school “amongst themselves”.

In 1775, following the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” in Lexington, Beriah (then living in Nine Partners, NY in Dutchess County) was one of the men to sign the “Association from Dutchess County”.  Essentially it was a pre-revolutionary document designed to “secure unanimity and harmony of action in the ranks of the lovers of liberty, and also to ascertain who could be relied on in the expected struggle” [History of Dutchess County, Phillip Henry Smith, 1877].  Beriah signed in July of 1775, stating that he was willing to fight for the Revolutionary forces.

The Dutchess County Pledge, signed by Beriah Thomas in 1775.

Once war was declared, he enlisted at Nine Partners, NY in 1776.  I will let Beriah tell his own story of his Revolutionary Adventures, which was dictated by him, under oath, in order to obtain a military pension in 1832 at the age of 90 years:

On this sixteenth day of July in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty two, personally appeared before Miles Stevenson, one of the judges of the Court of Common Law of the County of Clinton, Beriah Thomas a resident of Chazy in the County & State afore-said being ninety years last February, who being first duly sworn according to law, doth on his oath, make the following declaration in order to obtain the benefits of the act of Congress passed June 7th 1832 —

That he was born in Simsbury in the State of Connecticut and is ninety years old since last February (b Feb 1742), has no record of his age – that he lived in a place called the Nine Partners in the County of Dutchess, State of New York during the Revolutionary War – since that period has been in West Stockbridge, County of Berkshire, Massachusetts and in Grand Isle Vermont from whence he removed to Chazy aforesaid whence he now resides and has resided twenty years last March.

That he entered the service of the United States under the following named officers and served as herein stated — That he entered at Nine Partners aforesaid the same year that New York was taken by the British [1776], in Captain Brinton Payne’s [Paine’s] company  of Infantry in Colonel Roswell Hopkins Regiment Militia [Dutchess county Militia, 6th Regiment] of the State of New York for the term of Five Months — that the said company was stationed at Harris Neck (?) and Merrimack a part of the time, that he served out the said five months and returned home – that he received no discharge as none was given. –

That he immediately again enlisted for the term of three months at the same place, in a company commanded by Captain Elijah Herrick Lance Regiment [Dutchess County Militia, 6th Regiment], that during the said three months he was stationed at Fort Independence [Annsville, New York], that their company was to stop boats passing up the Hudson for examination, that he duly served his time out and returned home.  Has no discharge —

That he again enlisted at Nine Partners in the year 1778 as near as he can recollect for the term of Nine Months and served under Captain James Tallmadge [6th Regiment] & Lieutenant Robert Wood in Hopkins’ Regiment of New York Militia. – That he was stationed at a placed called the “Log Jail” about twenty five miles from the Hudson in the interior and whence prisoners were sent for safe keeping – that he duly served out said term of nine months, but got no discharge —

[The “Log Jail” was, as its name implies, a roughly-constructed structure to confine prisoners of war.   Betsy Strauss from the Amenia, NY Historical Society clarifies: The book “Early History of Amenia” by Newton Reed, published in 1875, has a lengthy chapter on the Revolutionary War, including some of the activities of the 6th NY Regiment, and it mentions the log prison.  The author states, “A rude prison, constructed of logs, was use for confining Tories and any other suspected persons.  This was built about 1/2 mile east of present day Amenia, and north of where the turnpike runs (the road was called ‘the turnpike’ in his day).  The remains of this prison were there a few years ago (i.e., in the early 1870’s).”]

That he went into service again, as he believes about one year before the ?? of the war — the company of militia to which he belonged were hiessie (?) and he was hired by the clerk for the term of Nine Months — Edward Perle was the captain of this company — that they went to Saratoga whence they lay about a fortnight when they were ordered up the Mohawk River to Fort Plain — at this place Captain Solomon Woodworth had the privilege of picking from the Regiment forty men to be used as scouts — that this deponent [Beriah Thomas] was selected by him for the first man, that while in that service Captain Woodworth went in pursuit of the Tories and Indians, when each man took ten days provisions with the other accouterments on their backs, after a march of a few hours they were ambushed and fired upon by the Indians – Captain Woodworth & twenty five of his men were killed on the spot and two wounded, who with the remainder fell back to the front — this component was followed by the Indians and fired upon – one ball passed between his legs and struck a log and through [threw] the bark in his face – one ball passed through the crown of his hat the other near his head – this deponent with fourteen others got back to the fort with the loss of every thing but life & gun. –

[1780 – In the Town of Herkimer, NY a Marker was placed on Smith Road in 1938 to mark the site of the ambush in 1780 of a Battle at West Canada Creek. It reads as follows: “MAYFIELD MEN – buried with 25 of their Men where they fell. They gave the Full Measure of Devotion to the Cause of Freedom. Captain Soloman Woodworth, Sergeant John Dunham of the Frontier Rangers. Killed in Battle of West Canada Creek – Sept. 1780.”  Another account: “On July 2, 1781, a party of 50 American rangers, under Capt. Woodworth, left Fort Dayton to scout along West Canada Creek. They were ambushed by a large party of Indians at present Kast’s Bridge (3 m. n.) and after a fierce fight, 35 were killed, including their commander. The site will doubtless later be marked.”]

At this time Colonel Marinus Willett commanded the Fort & Regiment to which Capt. Woodworth was attached – Major [Josiah] Throop was also ?? often then ?? as adjutant of the fort a part of the time — in consideration of the service performed by this deponent, Major Throop, in the absence of Colonel Willett, gave this deponent a permit to go home home one month before the expiration of the Nine Months, got no regular discharge, nor anything for his services. –

[Beriah Thomas is, indeed, recorded among those serving under Willett and Throop in “New York in the Revolution as Colony & State” by James Arthur Roberts.]

That he has no documenting evidence and knew of no persons whence testimony he can produce, as to his services, except the annexed evidence of Ezra Pike [who was similarly in the Duchess County Militia under Colonel Roswell Hopkins] and his son Matthew Thomas.

Beriah X Thomas

His mark, 16th July 1832 

Beriah’s son Matthew further testified that Beriah was his father, and that he grew up hearing the stories of his father and older brother John’s service in the Revolutionary War.

After the Ambush at West Canada Creek in 1781, it is likely Beriah returned to Massachusetts.  He is listed in the census for West Stockbridge, MA in 1790.  There is a son listed as living with him who is < 15 years old (born between 1774 and 1790).  In the next census in 1800 he is living at Middle Hero, VT, as he stated in his pension deposition.  Also on the same census are his sons Matthew, John and Leonard Thomas.  There is one male son listed living with him between the ages of 16 and 25, who would have been born between 1771 and 1784.  This means the “missing son” was born between 1774 and 1784… an interesting point.  Beriah and family are still in Middle Hero, VT for the 1810 census.

Per his deposition, Beriah moved to Chazy in March of 1812.  His wife Elizabeth died in 1814, leaving the tombstone in Chazy Landing Cemetery that I found.  He is not listed in the census for Chazy in 1820 nor in 1830… a point I will return to later when I address his potential relationship with James Thomas.

The last bit of evidence from his life we have at this point is that his pension payments from the US Government stopped in September, 1836.

Army pension statement for 1836 showing that Beriah’s payments stopped after March.

His pension of $76.66 was made in two installments every six months.  The payment for March, 1836 was made, but the payment was not made in September, meaning that Beriah passed away sometime between March and September.  So far his grave, which should be in Chazy, has not been located.  The historical society there has no record of him dying or being buried there, despite the fact that he almost certainly died and was buried there.

John Forrest & Annie Duff – Portraits

My cousin Tom Forrest sent me these new scans of some fantastic portraits.  They were taken about 1910, almost certainly in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.  They show my great-great grandparents John Forrest (1842-1920) and Annie E. Prescott Duff (1847-1930) posing in a portrait studio.

John Forrest

Annie E. Prescott Duff

John Prescott Forrest (1884-1947)

My great-grandfather John Prescott “Jack” Forrest (1884-1947) was, for a long time, arguably the biggest enigma in my immediate family tree.  He was born into a wealthy and influential family, the Forrests of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada (about whom I’ve already written several blogs) on 4 Sept 1884, the youngest child of John Forrest and Annie Prescott Duff.  He lived in Halifax until about 1903, when he immigrated to the US at the age of 19.  Jack began working for the Remington Typewriter Company in October of 1905 cleaning typewriters, and quickly worked his way up the corporate ladder as a mechanic and salesman, first in New York, then in New Jersey, then in Montreal, Canada.

Interestingly, Jack’s brother Archie Forrest married the daughter of the founder of the Remington Typewriter Company, Helen Benedict.  Archie and their other brother George Munro Forrest seem to both have gotten cushy executive positions with Remington as a result of this nepotism.  This does not seem to have been the case for my great-grandfather.  All indications are that he worked his way up from the bottom hitting every rung along the way.

John Prescott Forrest, about 1930.

It was in Montreal where he met my great-grandmother Lulu Maria Cairns (1888-1975), and they were married at the American Presbyterian Church in Montréal on 4 Dec 1912.

Forrest / Cairns Marriage record, 1912

Forrest / Cairns Marriage record, 1912

Shortly after that, Jack was named the district manager of the Richmond sub-branch of Remington Typewriter Co, and the family relocated briefly to Norfolk, Massachusetts.  About a year after that, in November of 1913, Jack was appointed manager of the New Haven, Connecticut office.  An article about his appointment (which appeared in the November, 1913 issue of “The Remington Budget”) praised him as having “a well rounded-out record, without a single link missing in the chain of experience”.

Jack and Lulu had three girls around this time, Helen Duff Forrest (1913-1992), Mildred Jean Forrest (1915-2006), Elizabeth Cairns “Betty” Forrest (1918-1988).  Mildred (or Jean, as she preferred to be called) was my paternal grandmother.

My great-grandfather was naturalized a US citizen in 1913, and in 1918 the family moved again, this time to a home on 21 Alexander Avenue in Madison, New Jersey. Jack had accepted a promotion to become the State Manager for Remington in New Jersey.  His office was at 20 Clinton Street in Newark.

John & Lulu Forrest with daughters Helen and Mlidred and an unknown blonde friend, c1920.

John & Lulu Forrest with daughters Helen and Mlidred and an unknown blonde friend, c1920.

Two years later, Jack’s beloved and renowned father John Forrest passed away.  I’ve already posted the letter John wrote his son only weeks before his death.  On 23 Jun 1920, Jack received a telegram from his brother Archie informing him of his father’s passing.  It was short and to the point:

Telegram sent by Archie Forrest to his brother Jack informing him of the death of their father.

Jack went home to Halifax, leaving his wife Lulu and their three daughters at home.  The funeral was, by all accounts, quite a grand affair.  John Forrest was the former President of Dalhousie University, and he was widely respected and beloved.  My great-aunt (and his grand-daughter) Helen Forrest had a very large collection of newspaper clippings about his funeral.  Noteworthy people sent letters of condolence.  He was described as “one of Nova Scotia’s most distinguished and venerable sons”, and “a familiar and beloved figure”.  The pulpit and pew in the church where the family worshiped was draped in mourning.  University members “lined the street from the house to the church”.  When the funeral was over, Jack took a moment to write a letter back home to his wife.

By all accounts, behind the scenes there was trouble at home.  My grandmother said that Lulu had been having affairs with other men, which drove Jack to drink.  Then she became angry with him for drinking.  The letter, preserved by Helen Forrest and passing to her nephew Tom Forrest, shows the strain and the desperate emotion that Jack must have been feeling about his marriage.  It’s a very rare and intimate look into his mind.  The letter reads:

Dear Lou: The funeral is over and we are all back at the house.  The streets were lined all the way from the house to the cemetery and there were hundreds of people more there.  I will not try to tell you about it as I have all the papers to bring back with me, and I will get tomorrow’s with the report of the funeral in it.  The North British Society pipers were there and played all the time.  I only wish that you were with me too.  I feel this very much, and it only goes to show that you never know what people are to you until something happens.  I am not sure when we will start for home, but it will be around the first of the week.  I will write again in the morning.  I sure will be glad to get back to you again and tell you how much I love you.  All my love and kisses to you and the children, ever dear Lou.  Your loving husband, Jack.

Letter to Lulu Cairns from John P. Forrest, June 1920.

Jean, Betty, and Helen Forrest c1923

Jean, Betty, and Helen Forrest c1923

Jack and Lulu did have another child, their only boy.  John Prescott Forrest Jr. (“Red”), was born 27 May 1923 in Newark, New Jersey.

Helen, John Jr, and Jack Forrest, c1926

Helen, John Jr, and Jack Forrest, c1926

After that, things become less clear.  His mother Annie Duff’s obituary says that Jack was still living in New Jersey in 1930, but Lulu and the girls had moved to Bethel, Vermont.  Lulu married her second husband, Lou Whitney, in 1939.

I have had no luck finding my great-grandfather in the 1930 or 1940 census reports.  One of the last records we have for him is from 1942.  He filled out a WWII Draft Registration Card which says he was working as a “Partner of Gerald Liebow” in Vineland, New Jersey.  He was living on South Brewster Road, and he was 57 years old.

John P. Forrest’s WWII Draft Card from 1942.

In fact, Jack was living with Gerald Liebow, whose own WWII Draft Card shows the same address.  Gerald was a 51-year-old from Stryj, Austria, and according to the 1941 City Directory for Vineland, New Jersey he ran the “Brewster Poultry Farm”.  It seems possible that Jack had been asked to be a partner in that business.  The back of the draft card has a physical description, which is very interesting.  It describes him as 5″11″ and 140 pounds [VERY thin!] with blue eyes, gray hair, and a ruddy complexion.

Back of WWII Draft Card

Back of WWII Draft Card

When his brother, Archie Forrest, died in 1946 his obituary mentioned that Jack was still living in Vineland, NJ.  My father had always heard that Lulu divorced him for drinking, and that Jack died from the effects of alcohol.

Then, finally, in September of 2013, I managed to locate my great-grandfather’s death record with the help of a kind woman I recruited on the forums:

John Prescott Forrest, d. 4 May 1947; Place of death, Pittsgrove Twp., Salem Co. [New Jersey]; Residence, R.D. #1 Elmer, Pittsgrove Twp., Salem Co. [New Jersey]; SS 155-18-3559; Divorced; b. 4 September 1884; Birthplace, Nova Scotia; Occupation, Retired Salesman; Father, John Forrest, b. Nova Scotia; Mother, Annie Duff, b. Nova Scotia; Cause of death, Possible Coronary Occlusion; Burial, Silver Brook Crematory, Wil. Del. [Wilmington, Delaware]; Informant, George M. Forrest, 250 Post Rd., Rye, NY.  Source:  1947 NJ Death Certificates, Microfilm 972 (Trenton, NJ:  State Archives)

So at the age of only 62 years my great-grandfather died in the town of Elmer, New Jersey from a likely heart-attack.  He appears to have been cremated and the document indicates he was interred at Silverbrook in Wilmington, Delaware.  However, the curator there has written to me to say that his remains are not there:  “I was unable to locate him at this time.  There is a possibility the cremains were turned over to a family member.”

So the most likely scenario is that his brother George spread his ashes somewhere or kept them in an urn.

The last 25 years of his life remain shrouded in mystery at this point, but at least now his descendants can know his fate.

Ovidia Kristine Olesdatter – a/k/a Ovidia Kristine Olson

“Grandma Hanson” – Ovidia Kristina Olson Hanson – as told by her daughter Olga Hanson Schmidt, to her granddaughter, Gloria Johnson, on July 27, 1981.

[You can find the other part of this story here.]

The Hanson Family about 1917. Standing: Roy Hanson, John Hanson, Mabel Hanson, Olga Hanson. Seated: Ovidia Olson, Jens Hanson.

My mother was born April 14, 1866 on the island of Vikna, Rjüm, near the village of Rørvik, Norway.  She died August 19, 1956 at the age of 90.  Her father was Zechariah Olson [Ole Zachariassen (1828-1913)].  He had come over the Dover Mountains to Norway [The Dovre mountains (“Dovrefjell”) in central Norway form a natural barrier between Eastern Norway and Trøndelag, the area around Trondheim.  Zechariah was from Vuku, a town near Stiklestad on the southern coast of a large peninsula about 110 miles to the south of Rørvik].  Her mother was Kristina Olson [Christine Christiansdatter Slâterøy (1829-1914)]. My mother had a sister, Kristina Olson Trana, and two brothers, Albert and Serun.  [There were actually six children in the family: Caroline Margrethe Olesdatter, Søren Christian Olesen (who died in infancy), Søren Kristian Oluff Olesen (who survived), Albert Marthin Olesen, Casper Odin Olsen (who also died in infancy), and Ovidia.]

Ovidia’s grandmother lived with the Kristina and Zechariah Olson family in Rørvik until she died.  Ovidia had some memory of her grandmother.  She remembered the planning of her burial with all sorts of goodies that were available in the cellars, such as cheeses and preserves.  Ovidia often wondered as she grew up where her grandma had gotten the pretty cashmere shawls and jewelry – especially a special pair of gold earrings she had.  Ovidia was given those earrings because she liked them so, and then later Ovidia gave the earrings to a special friend, Laura Smith, when Laura went to America.  Ovidia and Laura were friends for many years.  They pastured cows and sheep together on the side of the mountain near home and played together.

When Ovidia was six years old, her brother, Albert, served in the Army for one year.  When he came home he brought her a large book.  She read in it about America.  She was very interested in America and the adventures there.  She learned to read at a very young age.  The schools she attended were held in area homes where the teacher would stay a few weeks at a time.  The bible was their reading book.  People lived so far apart that often the children also stayed at those homes where classes were held.  The shoemaker came once a year and made shoes for the whole family.  He would stay for days until all those shoes were completed.

Ovidia’s father, Zechariah, and two brothers, Albert and Serun, were fishermen.  They sailed in open boats wearing all homespun wool socks, mittens and jackets lined with real wool.  They fished cod near the Lofoten Islands near the Maelstrom; the Maelstrom was a terrible current that had to be avoided.  In the Summer, the young people helped with the cod and had fun getting together.  They had big racks on which the cod was dried.  Later, after Lutefisk was prepared from the cod, it was shipped out.

In the Summer it was much work to get ready for the long Winter.  They burned turf for heat – turf was thick marsh growth that was cut in squares and dried and piled up like wood.  Turf was also used for roofing.  Grain and all other food stuffs were gathered by hand.  All dairy products were also made at home – including many kinds of cheeses.  There was a dairy business also on the estate, and a maid was in charge of the dairy.  Various products, such as the cheeses, were made on the farm, stored, and then shipped out to nearby fishing villages along the North Atlantic shores.

Most of the island was owned by old families for years.  Ovidia’s father had a 90-year lease for his land and then his son could have the land for another 90 years.  Albert took the land over and raised his family there.  The landowners, the Gundbjørnes, lived on the estate at the time Ovidia was growing up and they were very well-liked.  When Ovidia was 16 years old, she was asked if she would like to come and help care for the Gundbjørne grandmother.  This grandmother was very special.  She had her coffee in bed every morning and Ovidia had the responsibility of her complete care.  She liked it very much.  For a year’s salary, she was paid $10.00 and the wool from two sheep.  In 1963 when Olga Schmidt visited Rørvik, she met a banker whose name was Gundbjørne.  He and Olga were introduced, Olga as being Ovidia’s daughter.  He remembered Ovidia!  Ovidia now had learned to spin, crochet, knit and weave.  When she was there a year, she bought a beautiful piece of cashmere brown material.  Later she made her wedding dress from this cashmere.

John Hanson had two brothers nearby, Andrew and Hans, that had farms.  Ovidia often helped in the estate dairy when not busy otherwise.  One day she was out in the yard near the dairy and a young man came to borrow a tool for his brother.  She saw him but did not meet him.  A short time later, John brought the borrowed tool back and Ovidia was the only one there, so they talked.  She inited him to come to  a harvest party in the neighborhood and he accepted.  Well, three weeks later they were married in Rørvik and on their way to America  – fulfilling a dream she had since she had received the big book when she was six years old.  She had made up her mind a long time before that she wanted to go to America.  Dad had his job waiting for him in Wausau, Wisconsin.  They did stop in Bergen to visit his mother on the way to America.

Kristina and Zechariah Olson visited their daughter, Ovidia, on the Hanson family farm when Olga was two years old [1893].  Kristina liked it here, but Zechariah did not, so they returned to Norway.  

[You can find the other part of this story here.]


Jens Rasmussen a/k/a John Hanson (1847-1923)

On July 27, 1981 my mother’s first-cousin Gloria Johnson sat down with her grandmother Olga Johanna Hanson Schmidt (1891-1990) and took notes while my great-grandmother recounted the life story of her parents (my great-great-grandparents) Jens Rasmussen (1847-1923) and Ovidia Kristine Olesdatter (1866-1956).  I’m going to present the story as it came from my great-grandmother: in two parts.  The first part is mostly about her father, and the second part is mostly about her mother.  I’ll interject in square brackets if there are parts that need explaining or expanding in some way.

First, a word about Norwegian names.  Up to about 1900, it was common to use the name of the father’s first name + sen [son] for men and name of the father’s first name + datter [daughter] for women.  So a son of Hans would become Hansen.  A daughter of Ole would became Olesdatter.  This is confusing to Americans.  We’re used to the last name being invariant for men, and only changing at marriage for women.  With Norwegians, it changes every generation, and siblings of different sexes have different last names.  Also, just because someone has the same last name as you doesn’t imply anything about your relationship to them.  It just means their father has the same first name as your father.

After 1900, Norwegians often took the name of the farm they lived on as their last name.  If you lived on Østrem farm you’d be Jens Østrem.  So my great-great-grandfather was actually born Jens Rasmussen, and his wife was Ovidia Kristine Olesdatter.  After 1900 many of his family members took the name Østrem.  Ovidia’s family took the name Ryum.  In America, Jens Rasmussen took the last name “Hansen”, which was his father’s last name, and Americanized this name to “John Hanson”.  His wife became Ovidia Kristine Olson.

Ovidia Olson and Jens Hanson around the time of their arrival in the US, about 1885. She was 18, he was 37.

“Grandpa Hanson” – John R. Hanson and His Life With Ovidia Olson Hanson – as told by his daughter Olga Hanson Schmidt, to her granddaughter, Gloria Johnson, on July 27, 1981

My father’s name was Jens Rasmussen.  Later he [Americanized his name to] John, rather than Jens.  His last name Hanson he took from his Grandfather whose name was Hans.  He was born January 26, 1847 in Bergen, Norway [he was actually born in nearby Lindås] and died December 14, 1923 in the town of Rib Mountain, Marathon County, Wisconsin.  My father was one of eleven children.  All were boys, except for one sister, whose name was Olivia.  [The sister’s name was actually Sirina.  The brothers were Hans, Peder, Andreas, Ole, Carl, Gullak, Rasmus, Ivar, and a stillborn son who was born in 1862.]

Map showing Rørvik (northern marker), birthplace of Ovidia Olesdatter, and Lindås (southern marker), birthplace of Jens Rasmussen.

As a teenager, Jens worked as a seaman, first on smaller boats that carried freight from village to village, then on the large three-masted schooners which traveled the open ocean.  One of his most interesting trips was to go to Peking, China to bring home a load of rice.  A round trip took three years.  It started out from Portugal, with loads of bananas, trading from city to city.  Then proceeded down the west coast of Africa and around Cape Good Hope, up the East coast of Africa to Calcutta, India.  He did not like some of the poverty and sights he saw there.  When they reached Peking they loaded the ship with rice.  Dad explained much of the trip to his grandson, Edwin Jr. [Edwin Friedrich Schmidt Jr (1914-2002)], when Edwin was about three or four years old.  He told him “it took three Chinamen to lift a bag of rice!”.  Many of these stories stayed with Edwin and gave him an appreciation for the life of adventure – especially sailing. On the way home along the east coast of Africa the pirates would often rob the ships, so they stayed close to the mainland.  When they were near Cape Good Hope they spotted two pirate ships and they pulled into Cape Good Hope to stay a few days until the pirates left.  It was just a very small village at the time.  Then they went up the African coast back to Norway.  Another trip he talked about was going around Cape Horn.  He mentioned Buenos Aires, Montevideo and Valparaiso and the Golden Gate, (Norwegian – Gul Gata), the first name of San Francisco.  He always said he crossed the Atlantic seven times.

My father’s last trip as a sailor was when they stopped in New Orleans.  There they heard about the timber up in the northern part of the US.  So, as he said, he and a friend “jumped ship” and got a job on a river boat up the Mississippi River to Prairie du Chien, then got up the Wisconsin River to Portage, to Stevens Point, and up to Wausau, arriving in Wausau the year after the railroad came in, about 1872.  Walter Alexander Stewart, owner of the sawmill business, owned a forty acre plot of land right across from where the Grandfather Falls is today.  Dad’s first job was to clear an acre of that land.

When winter came, dad was in charge of the logging camp as cook.  He also had a “cookie” [an assistant] to do chores and help the lumberjacks.  In summer, he cooked in the boarding house for the sawmill crew.  The boarding house stood where the Post Office is now [in Wausau].  The west side of Wausau and all of Marathon County were woods.  While he “had his job in his pocket”, he thought he’d better go to Norway and get married.  So he did.  His girlfriend lived in Bergen, as did his mother.  But, rather than go to Bergen directly, he first decided to go visit his three brothers who lived north in Rørvik [Rasmus, Andreas, & Hans].  One day he was sent over to the farm of the big landowner, Gundbjørne, to borrow an item.  He saw Ovidia Hanson there but they did not get to talk.  Later, when he brought back the borrowed item, he did talk to her and she invited him to a harvest party.  He accepted the invitation, and three weeks later they were married and on their way to America!


Rasmussen / Olesdatter marriage record, 12 Sept 1884, Vikna, Nærøy, Nord-Trondelag, Norway.


Jens Rasmussen & Ovidia Olesdatter  during a visit to Bergen, Norway in October, 1884. They left for America shortly after.

While crossing the North Sea, they stopped at Seaport Hull, Scotland [Hull, Great Britain on England’s East coast].  Ovidia had never seen such a sight as she saw there.  There were rugged coasts, rocky ledges and people old and young moving around.  The people had long hair and ragged clothes.  It took about two good weeks to cross the ocean.  Ovidia was sea sick all the way over.  She was proud to say she walked across the Brooklyn Bridge [completed in 1883] – there was so much to see.  Dad would just keep walking, bachelor that he was.  All at once the bridge started to raise up.  She was so frightened when she saw it open – she just jumped and made it!

In Wausau they must have stayed with a friend until time for dad to go to the logging camp.  Mother had her board and room at that camp.  The walls of her room were wall-papered with English language newspapers.  She said she stood day after day and studied, and before long she could read English.  They spent four years on that job – four summers cooking for the sawmill crew and four winters in the logging camps cooking for the lumberjacks.  During those years, a baby boy was born and lived for eighteen months [Roger Hanson 1887-1888].  he died of a fever.  It was a sad and lonely time for mother during those years.  The Walter Alexander’s had a pair of twin girls that died of diphtheria.  Mother said she spent some time with Mrs. Alexander.

At that time they had saved money enough to buy four forty-acre plots of land on the west side of Mosinee Hill.  Their first housekeeping was upstairs in the Ole Wick House on the corner of 1st Street and Fulton Street in Wausau.   Later they moved to live on the land.  A house had been built by a homesteader.  He had left.  The house was on a very good foundation with a good cellar.  Later an addition was built on.

Dad hired out to cook for a camp in Rhinelander, so mother went to live with a family named Larson who were friends.  In mid-February she was six months pregnant.  The weather was warm and dad sent for her to come up to Rhinelander for a while at the logging camp.  She thought it was a good idea, and there was a freight train running between Rhinelander and Wausau.  She took her dog, Billy, a revolver, and a big homespun shawl with her.  She got on the train heading toward the camp in northern Wisconsin.  Early the next morning, around 5:00am, the train stopped and left her off.  She got down in the darkness, the train went on, and she stood there getting her bearings.  Luckily, it was a moonlit night.  All she saw was a large pile of railroad ties, and she quickly realized she had been let off in the wrong spot; this was not her destination at all!   She could hear wolves howling in the darkness nearby, and Billy was wild with fright.  She climbed up on the piles of ties and Billy climbed up also.  He did a lot of barking.  She often got down to walk to keep warm.  It must have been almost two hours later when she heard a train whistle blow.  She got down onto the track and waved her shawl.  The train picked her up and in a very short time she was at the station.  Dad picked her up and on they went to the camp.

Later, when the snow was gone, they returned home to Wausau.  Then problems developed.  My birthday was to be the end of May.  Instead I was born March 25, 1891, two months premature.  I had no toenails or fingernails.  I was wrapped in a wool bat and bathed in oil for six weeks.  My father sued the railroad.  The trial was held in Rhinelander when I was two years old.  A Wausau lawyer, Neil Brown, won the case, and Dad received some money.

When I was born, our neighbors by the name of Gross lived in a log house across the forty.  They were grandparents of Leonard Wolf, Town of Weston.  Dad had Mrs. Gross stay with mother while he went for the doctor.  Mr. Gross came along since Mrs. was there.  He delivered me.  Later, when I was two years old, father was hired to cook for a log drive which started early in spring as soon as the ice was out of the river.  They started up in Merrill (then known as Jenny), and Tomahawk.  The entire river was open then.  Logs were floated down to Prairie du Chien to go down the Mississippi.  Mother said she sat up all night.  The Mat Rhyners (brother to Robert Rhyner, Louis’s father), lived across the forty from where the Gross family lived.  Mat Rhyner was a teamster – he hauled logs to Wausau.  His light would go on at four o’clock in the morning.  Then mother and I, knowing that daylight had arrived, would go to bed.  The dark nights were long when she was alone in such wilderness.

Many of the men who were woodsmen were out of work during the summer, so they hired out to the people that were starting farms – clearing land, blasting out stumps, etc.  Dad had plenty of help clearing one forty for building.  Dad generally had two men helping him to cut hay and to cradle grain.  Hay was cut by hand and raked by hand and piled in heaps to dry.  I can remember carrying water down for them to drink mid-morning and mid-afternoon.  Then came potato fields.  Potatoes were dug.  My brother John Hanson and I came home after recess to pick potatoes.

Ovidia Hanson in her garden, about 1942.

I clearly remember the first cream separator – the LaValle.  It separated the cream from the milk.  The milk was used for the calves, and the cream for butter.  There were generally five or six calves.  Then came the hay mower and the hay rake.  Later, corn was raised rather than wheat and oats.  Then, of course, came silos.  Next were added purebred Gurnsey cattle.  Their milk has a high percent of butterfat.  There were four herds of Gurnseys in the neighborhood – the Hanson’s, Thomson’s, Bandy’s, and the Beans’s.  Soon a neighbor came across the forty – named Wright.  They had purebred Holsteins.  Everybody in the county went to Holsteins.  They had perfect milk for cheese-making.  The milk was hauled to the cheese factory in Marathon City by truck.

Dad and mother had five children: Roger Hanson ( who died at the age of 18 months), Olga Johanna Hanson (Schmidt), John Albert Hanson, Mabel Esther Hanson (Hummel), and Roy Sigvard Hanson.

We were all at the farm until we married except for John who went to college.  Roy continued to farm.  My sister, Mabel, married and settled in the Town of Weston.  I married and settled also in the Town of Weston, until later it became Rothschild.

Ovida Olson, John A. Hanson (standing) Jens Hanson (l to r). Mabel Hanson, Roy Hanson (seated), on the family farm about 1921.

Being the oldest in the family, I was the one who had the most responsibility.  The folks had to drive to Wausau at times.  But mother really did all the business and delivered butter, cream, etc. to customers.  Once, Roy had surgery in Merrill.  Mother had to stay in Merrill for two weeks.  Dad had hired a man to work in the woods.  Of the three other forties, two especially were well-stocked with timber.  I was thirteen years old.  I did the cooking and took care of the butter-making with the help of brother John.  One day the butter was churned and washed and worked.  There was twenty-five pounds of butter.  It was weighed and one ounce of salt had to be added to each pound.  I waited until supper was over and then we were ready to salt the butter and form it into pounds.  Dad always bought one hundred pounds of sugar and one hundred pounds of salt in the fall.  I sent John upstairs to weigh twenty-five ounces of salt.  Well, we worked it in and I happened to taste it, and it was sweet!  I nearly died!  How terrible!  I finally got back to normal, so I said to John, “you go up and weigh twenty-five ounces of salt.”  He did and we worked and worked to get all of the whey out and put the butter in pounds.  The butter was delivered to customers.  I told mother when she got home.  So, the next trip to Wausau with butter she asked a couple of customers how the butter had been the week before.  They replied that it was the “best they ever had!”  That and many other times did I have problems with my help.

I, for one, loved the animals and everything on the farm – the beautiful woods, the wildflowers, the wild strawberries, the wonderful blackberry patches, and raspberry patches.  Many of dad and mother’s Norwegian friends came out on bicycles to pick berries. My father, born and raised with European ideals, worshipped the trees and the good soil.  On a rainy day father would go down into the trees and thoroughly enjoy working in the woods.  He died the year that Olga’s daughter, Norma, was born, December, 1923, of angina.  He was seventy-seven years old.

Mother lived for many years after dad’s death on the farm.  Roy worked the farm, and with Clara, raised his family.  Mother developed circulatory problems and eventually one leg had to be amputated.  She lived to the age of ninety, and died in August of 1956.

Four Generations: Ovidia Olson Hanson, Olga Hanson Schmidt, Edwin Schmidt Jr. and Edwin Schmidt III taken about 1948.

We grew up in a most wonderful neighborhood of farmers.  We had wonderful parents.  They were well-liked by everyone.  When mother was ninety years old and an invalid, many of the young people would buy her birthday gifts and a birthday cake.  At the hospital where she died, one of the young men came to see her and he said, “Mrs. Hanson, I don’t think you know me.”  “Oh yes,” she said.  “You’re Hibby Tesch.”

Ovidia Hanson, about 1956, shortly before her death.