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A Discouraging Year So Far

On this beautiful Cinco de Mayo, the second anniversary of my nephew Tyler William Reed’s death, my thoughts wandered to family deaths in general. I realized that in the first four months of this year, we already have had four deaths in my extended family. Not a good start.

In 2016 we have lost the following loved ones:

  1. Ronald Duane Bentsen, my uncle, passed away January 15, the day after his 85th birthday.
  2. Angela Nicolucci, my second cousin, died February 5 at the age of 43.
  3. Sharon Flageolle, with whom we share a granddaughter, lost her cancer battle on March 22 at the age of 53.
  4. Judith Ann Tegg, my mom’s cousin, died on April 9 at the age of 73.

Four months, four deaths. Usually they do not come so quickly, one after the other like this. Each month, I have had the unpleasant job of collecting obituaries and photos for these people and entering the information into the family history that I keep. Now their names appear on the family tree with birth and death dates in neat brackets.

The reminders of these sad deaths remain raw, but I feel the need to memorialize these family members while memories of them remain fresh, too. I want them to be remembered. So I continue to work on the tree, adding death dates no matter how unwelcome the news. We just have had so many in such a short time.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks nos. 11 & 12—Ole Bentsen & Sofie Sivertsdatter

Between the years 1865 and 1930, an astonishing 780,000 Norwegians left Norway for the United States. Rapid population growth coupled with slow industrial growth in Norway left little opportunity for the young. Consequently, only Ireland with its potato famine contributed a greater share of its population to American immigration. Ole and Sofie Bentsen were among those who left in search of free land in America.

They came from the Land of the Midnight Sun where the sun neither sets in the summer nor rises in the winter. The Bentsens both hailed from the scenic Versterålen island group of Norway’s Lofoten archipelago in the Norwegian Sea. The main towns in this municipality, Andoy, Bø, Hadsel, Sortland, and Øksnes, sit on the narrow coast between mountain and fjord. Although far north of the Arctic Circle, the islands enjoy a maritime climate with mild winters. The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, regularly offer a spectacular display to the people of Vesterålen. Perhaps this compensates some for the scarce winter daylight.

In this stark, treeless land, Ole Jorgen Lorentsen was born on September 6, 1880 at Bø to Lorents Nikolai (“Nick”) Anderson and Karen Marie Johansdatter. Norway did not require surnames at this time, but by the time Ole was born, the family had sometimes begun using the Bentsen (or Bentzen) name for everyone. Ole was baptized on December 12, 1880 at Bø parish. He grew up as the youngest child in the household with his parents and two older sisters, Lina and Riborg. Two foster children, Fresenius Pedersen and Riborg Hansdatter, also lived with them.

Vesterålen’s main industry is cod fishing supplemented with a little agriculture. By 1900, twenty-year-old Ole was one who made a living this way, sometimes spending two or three weeks at sea. According to the Norwegian census that year, Ole and Fresenius Pedersen worked as fishermen away from home at Aalesund, Norway.

Ole also served in the Norwegian military, as required by law, where he earned an award in marksmanship. During his service, he completed an assignment on the Arctic island of Spitsbergen, home of the fairy-tale Snow Queen. While he was there, he found two petrified leaves that he always regretted leaving behind. Today Spitsbergen houses the Global Seed Bank.

After leaving the service, Ole went to Stokmarknes to work. There he met Sofie Marie Sivertsdatter, daughter of Sivert Knudsen and Martha Karoline Dorthea Hansdatter. Ole and Sofie married on Easter Sunday, April 3, 1904 at Hadsel Church in Stokmarknes. Born July 3, 1878 at Valfjord and baptized on September 1, 1878 at Hadsel in Hadsel parish, Sofie was a bit older than her husband, as were many Norwegian brides. She was the youngest surviving child of her parents. Others included a half-brother Johan Martinessen, a sister Kaspara Helmine Sivertsdatter (Mina), and a brother Hans Sivertsen. As many as eight other siblings pre-deceased Sofie.

Sofie had a typical Norwegian upbringing. As a child, she walked a long way to school every day. Teenaged Sofie served as godmother to her brother Hans’ son Sydolf in 1894 and to her sister Mina’s daughter Helene in 1897. Before moving to Stokmarknes as a young woman, she lived for a time in a nearby village. There she cared for livestock for a man named Elias Knudsen, who was perhaps an uncle.

Most Norwegians during this time belonged to the state-supported Lutheran Church, and Ole and Sofie joined, too. She was confirmed June 18, 1893 at Eidsfjord parish, and he was confirmed on September 13, 1896 at Hadsel parish. The church recorded each confirmand’s knowledge of the catechism, as Very Good, Good, or Not So Good. Both Ole and Sofie had Good ratings.

After marrying Sofie, Ole left for America to make a home for his five-foot, four-inch, auburn-haired bride. He traveled first to the Norwegian port city Trondheim. On April 20, 1904, he started the next leg of his journey aboard the Cunard ship Salmo bound for Liverpool, England. There he boarded the Ivernia, and two weeks later on May 4, 1904 he arrived in Boston, Massachusetts. He took a train to Lake Park, Minnesota and worked there for the Northern Pacific Railroad earning a dollar a day. Sofie remained behind with her family to await the birth of her first child, Riborg Marie Hansene Bentsen (1904). Riborg’s baptism record states that her father lived in “Amerika”.

The following spring, Sofie and Riborg left Trondheim on the Tasso on April 12, 1905. They sailed on the Dominion from Liverpool and arrived in Quebec on May 3, 1905. Sofie remembered the trip well; the ship ran aground on a sandbar in the St. Lawrence and took several days to get moving again. When they finally could disembark, Sofie and her infant daughter traveled by train to Chicago and then on to Lake Park to meet Ole. They lived there for a couple of years and welcomed their first son, Bjarne Kaurin, into the family in 1906.

By 1907, they were ready to claim the free land the government offered on the grassy sea of eastern Montana. The family traveled together by train and landed in Culbertson, Montana on July 30, Sofie’s 29th birthday. Settling on a quarter section of land in a Scandinavian community near Medicine Lake, they built a two-room sod house that was lined with wood boards.

Another daughter, Signe Eline, joined them in 1908. The Bentsens had her baptized in a hayloft during a meeting of area ministers.

In 1909, in nearby Williston, North Dakota, Ole filed a Declaration of Intention to become a citizen of the United States. His application describes him as 5 feet 10 inches tall with black hair and brown eyes.

The new homesteaders tried to be self-sufficient. Sofie made the children’s clothes on a hand-powered sewing machine she had brought from Norway. She also knitted the family’s stockings. She even found time to do beautiful Hardanger embroidery. Still, Ole and Sofie found that making a living on just 160 acres in the arid west was not easy.

The U.S. government finally recognized the problem and began opening areas for larger homesteads of 320 acres. The Bentsens sold their quarter section and filed on a half section of land 13 miles southeast of Redstone, Montana, near the Canadian border.

In later years, they reminisced about that first summer of 1910 on the new place. They had few neighbors, and the family of five lived in a 10×12 foot shack that Ole built. But that summer the bright and beautiful Haley’s Comet appeared, relieving the tedium and loneliness.

The Bentsens had acquired livestock including three horses, some cows, sheep, and chickens. The new area had been surveyed only by township units at that time, so Ole estimated where his section line would be. He plowed a furrow to mark it, using his three horses and a walking plow. When the rest of the surveying was done, most of his fence posts stood in that furrow.

The first winter on the new homestead, Ole took a team and sled on a 35-mile trip back to Medicine Lake for supplies. While stopping over at his parents’ home near Homestead, he became ill with typhoid fever. He remained there for 6 weeks, leaving Sofie home alone with three little children, ages 6, 4, and two.

That winter was very hard for Sofie. Every morning she would go to the nearby creek to chop a hole in the ice so the livestock could water. One bleak day when all seemed hopeless with food and coal nearly gone, a couple of neighbors arrived. They brought her some coal and butchered a calf for her. The family all remembered the happy day when Ole finally returned home.

During the following summer of 1911, Ole built a two-room house which they added on to in later years. Originally, for illumination at night they used kerosene lamps, which they cleaned and filled daily. They dug a 15-foot well by hand. Ole hauled the first crop to the nearest railroad at Medicine Lake. Bjarne later recalled helping his father build a barn.

In the early years on the homestead, wild game was plentiful so Sofie cooked many meals of duck, prairie chicken, and rabbit. She did the cooking on a coal stove, and in summer the children gathered cow chips. They burned these in the stove, and it worked very well to save on coal. The family and their neighbors mined their own coal from a mine about five miles away.

Sofie did the clothes washing on a wash board, and she boiled sheets in a boiler. For wash water, she collected rain water in a barrel in summer and melted snow in the winter. If the rain barrel was empty, she would fill it with well water (which was very hard water), mix in some lye, and let it stand overnight. By morning the lye would settle and leave the water soft. She heated sad irons on the stove for ironing.

A bachelor homesteader arrived in the area and asked Sofie if she would bake bread for him. He said he had tried, but even his dog wouldn’t eat it. She baked for him as long as he was on the farm, into the 1920’s.

Coyotes were numerous and a menace. One morning Sofie was milking a cow when a coyote jumped out of the brush and killed a sheep just a few yards away. The coyote did not get to enjoy his kill because the Bentsens got the mutton.

The free range cattle in the area were very dangerous, too, and would attack anyone on foot. One day Ole’s horses broke loose and strayed, so Ole walked 30 miles to see if they had gone back to the Homestead area. On the way there, he was semi-surrounded by range cattle ready to attack. He waved his jacket at them. They retreated just far enough to allow him to duck below a nearby creek bank. He walked in a crouch along the creek until he was out of their sight. He later found the horses near Homestead and was able to ride back home.

Ole and some neighbors hauled lumber from Culbertson and built the Two Tree schoolhouse for the neighborhood. Riborg was one of the first students, and her parents began to learn to speak, read, and write in English when she started school. The community also used the school building as a community hall, church, site for pie and basket socials, and even an occasional dance. The school closed in the late 1940’s with Riborg’s daughter Shirley Bedwell serving as the last teacher.

One of the first years on the homestead, the family wanted a Christmas tree. Ole cut a poplar pole and drilled holes in it. He inserted juniper branches and they decorated it with little baskets and chains made of tissue paper. They also drained some eggs, wrapped the shells in tin foil, and hung them on the tree. Neighbors thought the tree was real and wondered where he got it.

The year 1918 was a busy one for the Bentsens. On July 8, 1918 Ole, Sofie, and their children became naturalized citizens of the United States at Plentywood, Montana. Bjarne, Signe, and Jennie Wilhelmine (born at home in 1916), were named in the naturalization process although they already were citizens, having been native-born. That summer Ole also registered for the WWI draft. He bought his first car, a 1918 Overland touring car which he did not use much that winter because the roads were poor and not plowed. The last child, Otto Sigurd, was born at home in November that year.

The next year, on July 26, 1919, Ole received a Patent for his 320 acres near Redstone in Sheridan County, Montana. He continued to farm the land for the next 33 years. In January 1952, he and Sofie sold their farm to their younger son, Otto, and his wife Bernice.

Ole and Sofie retired to Plentywood where Ole did Norwegian wood carving and made model boats. He also built a two-room storage area behind their small house. Sofie called it “Ole’s dog house.” Sofie was active in the ladies’ group at the Lutheran Church. She continued cooking and baking, making lefse and fattigmand every year for Christmas until 1965 when she fell ill.

Sofie died from emphysema and chronic bronchitis at age 87 on January 19, 1966 at Sheridan Memorial Hospital in Plentywood. She was buried on January 24 at Redstone Cemetery. At the time of her death, she had very little grey hair. She had always compared herself to one of her grandfathers who had lived to be 80 but also did not turn grey.

After Sofie died, Ole lived alone. He had given up his car and subsequently rode a bicycle around Plentywood until he was 90 years old. After that, he walked the 8 blocks to downtown. In the winter months he went to stay with his youngest daughter Jennie in Havre, Montana. This continued until 1972 when at age 92 he moved into Pioneer Manor in Plentywood.

After 10 years of widowhood, Ole died of uremia on his son Bjarne’s 70th birthday (August 26, 1976). Like Sofie, he passed away at Sheridan Memorial Hospital in Plentywood. He was 95 years old and still had a full head of white hair. He was buried beside Sofie on August 30 at Redstone Cemetery, Redstone, Montana.








The Busy Local Genealogy Scene

This week I reconnected with some genealogy friends I had not seen in a while. We gathered at Lucile’s restaurant in Denver, a Creole and Cajun place, for lunch.

Sandy Ronayne, President of the Colorado Genealogical Society (CGS), organizes these monthly lunches for the club. I cannot always attend, but this month I made it. We chatted about happenings in the local genealogy community and discussed our current research projects.

This month we talked about the good opportunities we have had this month to further our genealogical education. Several people had been to hear CeCe Moore’s presentations on DNA and genealogy at the CGS 2016 seminar. Most folks have already registered to hear F. Warren Bittner, CG, speak on April 30 at the Palatines to America Seminar and Book Fair. In the Denver area we often get to hear these and other nationally-known speakers.

We have some wonderful local resources, too. John Putman was to speak on New England research at the CGS meeting in April. Unfortunately, that meeting was cancelled due to snow. We hope Mr. Putnam can be rescheduled.

With all this going on, I find myself having to draw a line on how many events I attend. I need research time as well as fellowship and education time, so I must strike a balance. This month I participated in the lunch, and I have registered for the Palantine seminar. I also went to the Norwegian genealogy group meeting earlier this month. Despite taking time for three genealogy outings, I still had some time to pursue my own family history research project.

We have a wonderful genealogy community in the Denver area. One can participate as much or as little as one likes, because some group always has something going on.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks no. 10—Laura Ruamy Riddle (1853-1933)

Laura Riddle’s name seems appropriate for a person who led a puzzling personal life with the men who fathered her children. After she reached adulthood, her family knew and referred to her as Laura Edmonds and a couple of her sons carried the Edmonds name, but she never used that name herself. Instead, she always conducted business and signed documents with her maiden name, Laura Riddle.

She began life ordinarily enough on October 9, 1853 as the fifth of eight children born to John Davis Riddle and Olive Dunbar. On their farm in Mendon Township, St. Joseph County, Michigan, she learned to keep house, raise crops, and care for livestock. She used these skills the rest of her life.

At about age 20, she reportedly married George Edmonds. Although women of her era usually married either in their home church or at their father’s house, no record of this marriage has been found in any county in Michigan. All her sisters and two brothers had marriages recorded in St. Joseph County, but Laura did not.

Laura and George did have three sons. Francis (Frank) was born in 1876 in adjacent Berrien County. Both Lewis and Joseph, in 1877 and 1880 respectively, were born in St. Joseph County. That year, George and Laura lived near Laura’s family while he worked as a laborer on a farm and she kept house.

After 1880, George Edmonds disappeared from Laura’s life. No divorce or death record for him has been found, but a man named George Edmonds did marry another woman in St. Joseph County in the early 1880’s. Laura seems to have been left alone to support three little boys, two of whom were always described as “slow”.

Like many other single women, she headed west to find opportunities for making a living. Her older sister Theodocia had already moved to Nebraska with her husband John Evert and their children. Laura joined them in McCook.

In January 1885, she settled north of McCook on a 160-acre tract adjacent to land owned by her brother-in-law in Red Willow County. On June 24, 1885, she went to the McCook Land Office and filed a pre-emption claim on the land. By then she had erected a 14×16 house with a door and 2 windows and had broken 18-20 acres. She reported herself to be a single woman, but oddly claimed to have just 2 children. Perhaps one son had actually stayed behind in Michigan for a while or was living with John and Theodocia Evert. Unfortunately, no record for Laura and her boys has been found on the 1885 Nebraska census, so we do not know who resided in her household that year.

That August the Land Office approved her claim. She paid the $200 cash entry fee, a rate of $1.25 per acre, for her land.

Laura remained in Red Willow County for several years. It must have been hard for her when John and Theodocia Evert decided in 1888 to relocate to the Sandhill region of northwestern Nebraska, near Hyannis. Laura stayed behind in the McCook area. Perhaps she had a boyfriend.

By 1892, Laura also decided to move on from the McCook area. She filed a claim on a 160-acre homestead north of Palisade, Nebraska in Hayes County, claiming she supported 3 children. There she and the boys built a 14×18 frame house and a sod stable, a cave cistern, a hog corral, and a chicken house. They cultivated 45 acres. In 1896, Laura’s daughter Grace was born there, father unknown. Laura received the final certificate for this homestead in January 1899.

Sometime during this period, her son Frank left the family home. He moved on to Wyoming and Montana, working as a sheepherder. He registered for the WWI draft in Big Horn County, Wyoming. In 1944 he died from a broken neck when he was thrown from a horse in Montana’s Lewis and Clark National Forest. He is buried in Great Falls, Montana.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Laura’s household in Hayes County consisted of herself (“Laura Riddle”) and three children (Lewis, Joseph, and Grace “Edman”). According to Grace’s sister-in-law, Bertha Reed Evert, “They were very hard up (or poor). Grandma [Theodocia] Evert went to visit Laura. Grandma Evert told me Laura was a widow then and was having a hard time making a living as the boys wasn’t (sic) big enough to get work all the time. So Grandma Evert brot (sic) Grace home with her.”

Bertha Evert thought Grace was about 2 years old when she went to live with the Everts, but the 1900 U.S. census for Hayes County lists 4-year-old Grace in her mother’s household. By 1910, however, 14-year-old Grace was enumerated with Theodocia Evert in Grant County. Interestingly, another member of the Evert household that year was a laborer named Samuel H. Reed, who later became Grace’s father-in-law.

Theodocia raised Grace as her own child and left Grace a share of her estate equal to that of her natural children when she died in 1929. How typical this was of the generous Theodocia whose son Warren’s wife, Blanche, described her as the “most kind and loving person I ever knew.”

Perhaps Grace’s move took place in 1904 when Laura and the boys decided to take new homesteads even further west in Dundy County, Nebraska. Congress had recently passed the Kincaid Act which allowed larger homesteads in western Nebraska. Several Palisade-area homesteaders sold their small farms and moved on. That year, Laura had inherited some money, $43.14, for her share of the proceeds from the sale of her mother’s farm in Michigan. Laura, Lewis, and Joseph sold their place in Hayes County for $350 and each filed claims on adjacent tracts near Haigler, Nebraska.

Again, poverty made life difficult. A neighbor’s affidavit described Laura as a poor widow who “has had to work where she could for a living while holding this [Dundy County] homestead. With her son they took nearby pieces of land without even a team to start with, buying a horse at a time”. She worked for a neighbor in Palisade in return for a wagon and harness. Eventually she improved the homestead to include a 20×26 house of stock boards with a board roof covered with tarred paper and sod, a well and pump, a corn crib, a stable and chicken house, 2 miles of wire fencing, 20 cottonwood trees, and 60 broken acres. She rented pasture space to neighbors.

Acquiring the final certificate for this homestead proved difficult. The case file is marked “Confidential” because neighbors contested her claim, alleging that she had not spent the requisite time actually living on the homestead. The Field Division in Cheyenne, Wyoming referred her case to the U.S. Land Office in Lincoln, Nebraska for investigation.

Her 480-acre Dundy County land finally proceeded to Patent in 1912. The investigator found “Inasmuch as the claimant was very poor when she took this land and has had to work for her living, and is well along in years, and seems to have complied with the law as to residence and as to improvements in a substantial manner, and apparently good faith, commensurate with her means and ability, I recommend that final certificate issue and the case pass to patent.” He suspected that at least one of the neighbors had given self-serving testimony in hopes of acquiring her land for himself.

Lewis and Joseph faced similar difficulties and allegations. Joseph’s land finally proceeded to patent, but Lewis surrendered his claim.

Lewis and Joseph continued to live with Laura and remained with her through most of their adult lives. About 1926, Laura and Joseph sold their homesteads and moved with Lewis back to Palisade, Nebraska. Joseph purchased a house in town, and the mother and sons lived there together. Their neighbor, Kenneth Ungles, recalled that Laura was a big, strong woman. He remembered Lewis and Joseph doing odd jobs like raking leaves.

Laura passed away from a stroke on September 2, 1933. She left an estate of personal property worth $900; Joseph received all of it as compensation for taking care of his mother from 1929-1933. Lewis died a couple of years later on November 23, 1935. When Joseph became too infirm to care for himself in 1949, Clyde Coles, the same man who had rented pasture land from Laura 40 years earlier, became his guardian. Joseph died on January 3, 1956. The mother and her two sons are buried next to each other with a single headstone in the Palisade Cemetery.

Regardless of the mysteries surrounding the men in her life, some things about Laura Riddle are very clear. She led a hard life. She struggled as a single mother to support disabled children, and she had to give one child away. She endured spitefulness and condescension from some of her neighbors. Yet she also made life-long friends and had the support of a loving sister. Despite every hardship, she always made her own way and never gave up.





Some Norwegian Research Tools

Genealogists like to take training classes to keep their skills sharp. Here in the Denver area I have many opportunities to attend seminars offered by well-known American genealogists. But for Norwegian genealogy, I do not have a lot of options.

This week I came across not just one but two chances to learn more about Norwegian research methodology:

  1. Of course my local Sons of Norway lodge offers my first and best option. We meet nine times a year to exchange research tips and information. This month my own husband/tech advisor led a program on how to use bygdebøker—local history books that contain a wealth of genealogical information. Several hundred rural communities in Norway published these books. Some members of our Norwegian research group have purchased these for the areas where their ancestors lived in Norway so we had a chance to thumb through a couple of the books. Of course, they are written in Norwegian, so that presents a problem for those of us who do not read the language. For those with some fluency who do not want to purchase one, some college libraries in Minnesota and North Dakota have collections of these.
  2. We have become acquainted with a Norwegian genealogist, Martin Roe, who writes a blog in English. Hooray! I have subscribed to his blog at, and I expect to learn a great deal about Norway and Norwegian genealogy from him.

Slowly but surely I am gaining more expertise in Norwegian research. Although I am not actively researching a Norwegian line this year, I will have the tools when I need them.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks no. 9—A Mystery Man

Great-grandfather, who are you?

The identity of one of my great grandfathers remains a mystery to me. My grandmother Grace Riddle Reed stated that she did not know her father’s name and never met him.

Grace was born on a homestead near Palisade, Nebraska on August 30, 1896. Her mother was Laura Riddle, and Grace had three much-older brothers (probably half-siblings), Francis, Lewis, and Joseph.

Laura was supposed to have been married in Michigan in the 1870’s to George Edmonds although no marriage record for them has been found. George seemed to be out of the picture by the time Laura relocated to Nebraska with her sons in the mid-1880’s. By then, Laura had resumed using her maiden name Riddle, and her middle son Lewis went by that surname, too. Francis and Joseph continued to go by the Edmonds name. As far as I know, Laura never remarried.

Grace was born while Laura worked her second homestead near Palisade, Hayes County, Nebraska more than ten years after moving to that state. We have no clues in our family papers for the identity of Grace’s father. We know only of these associates of Laura:

  1. George Edmonds. Perhaps Laura reconnected with him at some point, either if he traveled through Nebraska or she returned home to Michigan for a visit.
  2. Robert Mickey and Wm. Hyatt. These men witnessed Laura’s intent to make proof of her claim for her first homestead near McCook, Red Willow County, Nebraska in June, 1885.
  3. William F. Smith and John Lane (Layne). These men also witnessed her intent to make proof, and they subsequently executed affidavits in support of her homestead claim in August, 1885.
  4. Cyrus “Si” Smith. Laura worked at his wagon and harness shop in Palisade, Nebraska. He executed an affidavit in support of her Palisade homestead in 1898.
  5. Richard Ryan. He also executed an affidavit on her behalf in 1898.
  6. Leslie Lawton. By 1904, Laura knew this Civil War veteran, and she also worked for him near Palisade. He was instrumental in encouraging her to relocate from Palisade to Haigler, Dundy County, Nebraska to take up a larger homestead. They lived together for a time while Lawton was separated from his wife.
  7. Clyde Cole. This son-in-law of Leslie Lawton homesteaded on a place adjacent to Laura’s in Dundy County. In later years, he served as guardian to her son Joseph Edmonds.
  8. Wm. Palmer and C. F. Fay. These men served as witnesses for Laura’s intent to make proof of her Dundy County homestead in 1911.
  9. B. H. Bush, and W. J. Hacker. These men signed affidavits in support of Laura’s Dundy County homestead application in 1912.

Would any of these men be a likely candidate for my great-grandfather? Someone fathered Laura’s little girl at the end of 1895, but she did not disclose that information to her daughter.

I think the only way we will ever learn his identity is through a DNA match. My father has taken a couple of autosomal DNA tests, and he inherited 25% of his DNA from our mystery man. Perhaps we can uncover a match if another descendant of my great-grandfather ever takes such a test.




Traveling the Way My Ancestors Did

For some time, my husband/tech advisor and I have pondered traveling by train. We took a half-day trip many years ago, and we kept thinking we might enjoy a longer rail journey. Last week we had the opportunity to try it when he needed to attend a conference in San Francisco. We seized the chance to take the train to get where we needed to go, the same way our ancestors used to do.

We caught Amtrak’s California Zephyr at Union Station in Denver. This line runs daily from Chicago to San Francisco. They say it offers one of the most beautiful rides in North America. We loved the scenery during our two-day trip. Highlights included the Rocky Mountains, the Moffatt Tunnel, scenic canyons, and Donner Pass.

We also loved the pace of train travel. We had a roomette with large, comfortable seats, a table, and big windows. As we rolled along, we relaxed and caught up on reading, napping and conversation.

The train served three tasty meals a day in the dining car. There we had the opportunity to share a meal with fellow travelers. At night, a steward converted our seats into upper and lower bunk beds.

During our trip, I found myself thinking about my forebears who had traveled on the train to new homes. The Bentsen ancestors caught the train to Culbertson, Montana after traveling across the ocean from Norway. My great-grandmother Laura Riddle went by train from Michigan to Nebraska when she began her life as a homesteader. For them, train travel represented the state-of-the-art mode of transportation.

In the mid-twentieth century, my grandmother Grace Reed preferred train travel for her journeys. She took her young children on the train to visit her family. In later years, she traveled from Colorado to Wyoming to visit her grandchildren. I remember her disappointment when the railroad discontinued passenger service on that route in the 1960’s. After that, she took the bus for her visits, but she really missed the comfort of the train.

On our own trip, we learned that we like train travel. Others seem to like it, too. Several of the passengers on our trip spoke of their goals to take all the rail lines in the United States as a way to see the country. Next time we need to travel somewhere, I think we would consider booking another train trip.

We Reluctantly Fill In a Death Date

This week our family experienced the sad side of genealogy. Our three-year-old granddaughter lost her other grandmother to pneumonia, and we regretfully must complete Sharon’s death date space on our family group sheets.

Our granddaughter knows that her grandma has died, but she does not understand what that means, nor does she appreciate the finality of it. This little girl does not fully understand that she will not see her grandma again.

Sharon was a wonderful grandmother who spent countless hours with her grandchildren, taking them to school and soccer practice, cutting their hair, and encouraging them to root wildly for the Denver Broncos. But she will not be there for our mutual granddaughter’s soccer games and school performances. Nor will she be there for the new little granddaughter due to arrive any day now.

Sharon won’t be buying any more Bronco cheerleader outfits and championship T shirts for her granddaughters. She won’t be re-creating her beautiful back yard where they have played every summer. She won’t be hosting any more holiday dinners for them.

It is a sad week for all of us, and our little granddaughter has lost her grandma all too soon.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks no. 8—Anna Petronellia Sherman (1865-1961)

Anna Petronellia Sherman lived a very long life. According to death certificate information provided by her son Thomas Aaron Reed, she was born on April 1, 1865 to Thomas Sherman and Catherine Stanabaugh and died in Clinton, Missouri in 1961 at the age of 95. Contrary to the information on her death certificate, she was probably born in Indiana. No record of her mother has been found, and family lore claims that she died in Indiana before 1870. The mother was reportedly from Germany or Holland, making little Petronellia either half German or half Dutch.

The motherless girl strongly disapproved when her father remarried 19-year-old Alice Farris in 1881. Ironic then, that two years later on September 6, 1883 Petronellia herself, at the age of 18, married an older widower, 38-year-old Samuel Harvey Reed, in Coles County, Illinois. She became the stepmother to his two daughters, Annie and Clara. He called her “Pet” and drove her around in a buggy while she held a fancy parasol. She later said she was attracted to his big, white house (which actually belonged to his father) and to the highly-respected Reed name. The Reeds, in turn, hardly approved of Samuel marrying the daughter of a poor blacksmith who drank, especially when Samuel’s first wife had been very well off. Samuel immediately moved his new bride to Kansas and later, to Missouri. They had seven children: Bertha Evaline (1884), Caleb Logan (1887), Viola May (1889), Robert Morton (1891), Samuel Carter (1892), Thomas Aaron (1894), and Owen Herbert (1896 or 1897).

People who knew Petronellia have described her as temperamental, religious, and hard-working. Sometimes she kept a perfect house; at others she allowed chickens indoors. One time she chopped down all the trees in her yard because the songbirds annoyed her early in the morning. She had a fiery temper and could not get along with others. She and Samuel divorced in 1904.

She joined the No. 1 Methodist Church in Mountain Grove, Missouri when she was 23 and remained a member for the next 73 years. She read the Bible completely more than 20 times, played the church organ, and taught Sunday School until she was in her 90’s. She lived a simple, frugal life without an indoor toilet. If her children tried to give her money, she would donate it to Boy’s Town in Nebraska.

Petronellia worked for the Post Office off and on. She met Samuel Reed while working at the Charleston, Illinois post office. She was the first Postmaster at Graff, Missouri, serving from 1895 to 1899.

After her divorce from Samuel Reed, she married Captain James W. Coffey, a Confederate veteran of the Civil War, in 1906 in Texas County, Missouri. Some of her sons worked on Coffey’s farm. The marriage lasted only a few years and ended in divorce. With her children grown and no husband, Petronellia needed to earn a living.

She resumed the Reed surname and decided to apply for a homestead. Selling a proved-up homestead was a good way for single women to build a nest egg. To do so, she needed to move to a public-land state with homesteads available.

Several of her younger children had relocated to the Nebraska-Wyoming area, and her son Robert Morton Reed was the railroad station agent at Farthing, Wyoming, near Iron Mountain in Laramie County northwest of Cheyenne. Petronellia joined him there and took up a stock-raising homestead in 1918. She raised chickens and a few head of cattle, and she tried to grow some crops, without much success. One year, she harvested only a bucketful of potatoes. She became a crack-shot antelope hunter to survive.

By the end of her five-year homestead term, her son’s family had moved on to Wheatland, Wyoming with his railroad job. Petronellia hated the cold, windy, treeless prairie, so she sold her homestead and moved alone back to Missouri. Her homestead is now part of the large Farthing Ranch.

She lived out the rest of her long life in Mountain Grove, Missouri, growing blind in old age and eventually moving into a nursing home the last year of her life. She is buried in the churchyard of the No. 1 Methodist Church. She lies next to the grave of her daughter Bertha’s unnamed stillborn daughter who had been laid to rest there over 50 years earlier, in 1909.

Genealogical Clean-up

I keep several stackable trays on the credenza near my desk. I have each one labeled with one of my family surnames. As I come across documents pertaining to a surname, I make a copy and toss it into the appropriate tray.

If I kept digital copies of these items, I never would think to go back and look at them. But with paper copies staring me in the face, I remember to go through the bin whenever I am working on a surname. This week I pawed through the Sherman tray.

I found several things in there that I had forgotten I had:

  1. Thomas and Anderson Sherman’s 1863 Civil War draft registration record from Johnson County, Indiana.
  2. Evaline Sherman Alvey’s Civil War widow’s pension index card.
  3. Thomas Sherman’s listing as a taxpayer in Edgar County, Illinois in 1878, and as a blacksmith in Loxa, Illinois in 1895.
  4. Sherman death listings in various places where Thomas lived, including Johnson County, Indiana and Coles County, Illinois. Can these people be relatives of his?

All of these documents shed light on the life of my great-great grandfather, Thomas Sherman. I need to analyze them for all the information I can glean. Hopefully they will help me focus my next research steps. I feel like there is so much more to discover about Thomas.

He did not leave many footprints in the historical record. Once I pull everything out of the Sherman bin that pertains to him, I can fashion a research plan that will enable me to learn more about his life.