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Hunting for Johan’s Family

In preparation for our upcoming trip to Norway, I had planned to investigate the roots of my Bentsen line. Plans change. I am fortunate enough to have a husband/tech advisor who likes to do Norwegian research, and before I could even begin, he was off and running. I decided to leave him to it and turned to a different Norwegian ancestor family.

My second great-grandmother, wife of Lorenz Nicolai Bentsen, was Karen Marie Johansdatter (1851-1916). This week I refreshed my memory of her family, and I hope to fill in a little more information.

Karen was born to Johan Larsen (1824-1876) and Sara Andrine Möllersdatter (1814-1880) on Titternes farm in the Helgeland District of Nordland, Norway. I have a photo of myself standing beneath the Titternes sign. This beautiful area lies on a western coastal island just south of the Arctic Circle.

My ancestor had five siblings, but for most of them I do not know the names of their spouses or their death dates. Did any of them come to America?

Of the parents, I know a little. Johan died away from home, up north in the Lofoten fishing area. Several other men died there the same day. Was there an accident?

Sara died just a few years later, in the same municipality and parish where she had always lived. I do not think she had remarried.

I am planning to work my way through Norway’s digital archives to find whatever I can about this family. Perhaps I can locate a bygdebok, or Norwegian local history book, for the Titternes or Skei farms where the family resided.

We will not visit this area again on our upcoming trip. Our journey will take us on the train from Oslo to Bergen, far south of where my ancestors lived in the latter part of the nineteenth century. But did they always live there?

Some may have migrated northward from these southern valleys to take advantage of fishing opportunities in the cod fishing grounds. Only if we work backwards on all these family lines will we know which ancestors might have done that and where they may have originated. I am beginning with Johan and Sara and their children, Johana, Bergitta, Karen, Ludvig, Anne, and Mortine.

Genealogy and Databases Galore

Not that long ago, most genealogy work involved a boots-on-the-ground approach. Either the researcher visited repositories and cemeteries in person, or he located someone to do the searching on his behalf. When information began to become available electronically, we often speculated on how long it would take for resources to be digitized. We did not think that day, they day we could sit home in our pajamas doing our research, would come during our lifetimes.

Yet more and more often, we can do so much in just that way. We can use free databases like those at Family Search, the Library of Congress, the Government Land Office, or the Norwegian digital archives all from home at no charge. We can also subscribe to many others. These tools provide information for our ancestors ranging from vital records and newspaper accounts to land transactions.

If a genealogist does not have the means to subscribe to everything he needs to do a complete research project, help exists. Local libraries often subscribe to databases such as Ancestry.com for their patrons. Family History centers offer a lot of electronic genealogy resources, too.

This week our local Highlands Ranch Genealogical Society met once again at our Family History Center for a workshop. Last month we had gathered there to learn about their newspaper databases. This time, we looked at the Fold 3 database for military records. We will go there again next month to look at some international options.

The center encouraged all of us to come back and use their computers to do our research in all databases they have available. No need to spend the money for subscriptions to these sources unless you want to.

Of course, having the option to do unlimited research from home late at night remains the ideal. Paying for subscriptions offers us the option to do just that for so much of the information we need. I personally pay for a couple of databases that I use regularly. For the rest, I am glad to have the option to visit the Family History Center.

Even at that, not everything can be found online yet. Just last summer, I felt the urge to take one of those old-fashioned genealogy road trips. There, in a hot courthouse attic in McCook, I found Nebraska school records for my grandmother’s brother. These have not been digitized, and there are no plans to do so. Many other interesting records around the country are tucked away in a similar fashion.

Perhaps we were right when I was a young genealogist. Not everything will be digitized in my lifetime.

A Bentsen Project

This year I plan to do some research on my Nordic ancestors. First up will be my third great-grandparents, Anders Bentsen (d. 1857) and Anne Larsdatter. I know very little about them.

They married in Bø parish, Nordland, Norway in 1851. I do not know whether she had always lived there or came from elsewhere. The area had few permanent residents at that time. Anders arrived in the parish in 1844, from where I do not know.

Bø lies on an island north of the Arctic Circle, part of Nordland’s northernmost island archipelago, called Vesterålen. In the 1800’s, seasonal cod fishing attracted fishermen to the islands from the more southerly coastal areas of Norway. Traders from Bergen made regular trips north, too, especially during fishing season.

Perhaps Anders Bentsen pursued one of these occupations. If so, he may have been born on a farm in the Bergen region.

For many areas of Norway, farm histories, or bygdebøker, contain a lot of information about the residents of the farm. They provide a great resource for research on Norwegian farm families. Unfortunately, I have not found any for the northern islands that can tell me anything about Anders and Anna. Yet if they were born further south, perhaps they were born on a farm with a bygdebok. I could learn something about their families from this source if I can find out where they were born.

This will require some digging in the Norwegian archives. Both my husband/tech advisor and I did search for this information several years ago, with little success. We ran out of time to do more.

We have more experience with Norwegian records now, and I am making time to do some looking. I hope we can achieve a better result this time. The family story for Anders and Anna ended tragically, with a stillborn son and a husband who died young. I would like to learn more about this couple and their origins.

A New Dilemma, or Where Can We Meet?

Here in the Denver area we have so many organizations devoted to genealogy. They provide rich pickings when a person looks for genealogical support or education. For many years now, these clubs have run smoothly and predictably.

Recently, however, every local group I attend has had difficulty keeping its long-time meeting space. Leaders of all these groups find themselves struggling with reserving a monthly spot for the club. No one has a good answer to the issue:

  1. Colorado Genealogical Society (CGS). This group meets the third Saturday morning at the central library building of the Denver Public Library system. We get a nice meeting room, access to the conference center for our annual seminar, and members can stay after the meeting to do some research in the superb genealogy collection. The building lies on a bus route for those with access to public transportation. For everyone else, however, this location presents a real headache. Parking anywhere near the building has become scarcer and almost prohibitively expensive. During downtown events, the city often closes the nearby streets. Some CGS members feel intimidated by the large numbers of homeless people who gather in and around the building. Now the library is planning a renovation, and it may shutter for a time to complete this work. If the library does not have meeting space for CGS during the renovation, the club will need to find short-term space. Or should we leave altogether for a space that offers better access and parking? I stopped attending the club meetings when they moved from a church to the downtown library a few years ago. I still try to register for seminars, and I am a regular at the CGS Lunch Bunch, but I miss the meetings.
  2. Highlands Ranch Genealogical Society (HRGS). Since its beginning, my local club has met at the James LaRue library. The building is now closed for four months while it undergoes a complete renovation. HRGS has scrambled to find space elsewhere. This month and next, our local branch of the Family History Center is welcoming us. After that, and until LaRue reopens, we will meet at other Douglas County library branches. After that, we will return most months to the LaRue library. Unfortunately for us, the room reservation system will change when the building reopens. We can no longer reserve a meeting room for the first Tuesday evening of each month. Instead, we must compete with other community groups for this slot every time. Without a predictable meeting space, our attendance my drop, and casual visitors may not be able to find us. Should we try to find a guaranteed space elsewhere? Where?
  3. Sons of Norway genealogy group. This study group gathers before our regular lodge meeting on the first Saturday. For several years we have met at the local Lutheran church, and we pay for this privilege. We have a contract with them. Norwegians like the Lutheran church because of its historical tie as the official church of Norway. Several of our members belong to this congregation. But the congregation no longer welcomes us. They bump us from the calendar by scheduling other events during our time in the meeting room, sometimes without even telling us. Losing paid-for space at the last minute makes us exasperated and angry especially after we have put a lot of effort into planning programs and publicizing our activities. We believe we are good renters—we are quiet and leave the place clean. The site meets all our needs with a bright meeting room, a spacious kitchen, and a piano. We have invested money in building a shed for our supplies, and all our publicity materials are printed with this time and location. We cannot leave easily. Yet we can no longer seem able to work effectively with the church office. They willingly take our money, but they do not seem to want us around. We do not know how to resolve this situation, but we cannot continue this way.

With no regular meeting place available, what will happen to these societies? They do not ask for monetary support, but they do need community support in the form of consistent meeting space and convenient parking. Otherwise, membership will dwindle, and the clubs will just disappear. What else, then, will step in and offer the same value to our society–social opportunities, intellectual stimulation, cultural preservation? Those in charge of all these venues seem to think someone else should take responsibility for offering appropriate meeting space for community groups, but we all suffer when everyone tries to pass the buck.

 

 

Writing and More Writing

I seem to be busy with writing projects this month. I have some related to genealogy, some not. Working on these has taken up a lot of my time lately:

  1. The Colorado Genealogical Society has hosted a writing contest in recent years. I have been working on a submission for the Black Sheep portion of the contest. My subject, Seymour Riddle (1858-1934), served prison time for larceny and then became a sheepherder in Wyoming and Montana. In his final days, he lived as a recluse under a bridge.
  2. Every week, I try to write a genealogy-related blog post.
  3. I serve as my neighborhood’s representative to local government. I write a monthly newsletter to keep my neighbors informed on actions that affect them.
  4. This year I was elected Secretary of my local Sons of Norway lodge. Every month I need to write up the minutes of our lodge and Board meetings.
  5. Annually, I choose an ancestor and write about his or her life. I distribute these to several relatives at Christmas time. I have been doing this for over ten years, and I have completed character sketches for my great-grandparents and my great-great grandparents. This year, I will step back another generation. I hope to uncover some new information to write about third great-grandparents in either Norway or Finland—Anders Bentsen (1823-1857), Anne Larsdatter (ca. 1820-?), Johan Larsen (1824-1876), Sara Andrine Möllersdatter (1814-1880), Knud Sjursen (1816-1885), Brita Kristoffersdatter (1816-1887), Hans Enok Pedersen (1813-1898), Maren Anna Serina Andersdatter (c1812-1886), Abel Andersson Mattila (c1798-1852), Greta Caspersdottir (c1798-?), Simon Mattson Myllynen (1810-1857), Sofia Henriksdottir Ampuja (c1812-?), Henric Mårtensson Lambin (1806-1837), Walb Johansdottir Ruottin (1808-?), Henric Henricson Miettinen (c1804-1836), and Anna Andersdottir Toivain (1802-?).

Soon I will finish up the writing contest submission. After that, the Christmas project requires a lot of research before I can begin choosing a subject and drafting the story. During the months in between, I can manage the shorter, regular writing tasks.

Newspaper Hunt

Historic newspapers can hold a wealth of information for genealogists seeking to fill in their ancestors’ back stories. Local papers often carried detailed coverage of the happenings in their communities. They sought to name as many residents as they could. This encouraged people to subscribe.

This week I attended a Highlands Ranch Genealogical Society (HRGS) workshop on using two newspaper databases, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/) and Newspaper Archive (https://newspaperarchive.com/), to locate historic newspapers. I had previously used the former, but I had never looked at the latter. By attending this workshop, I wanted to learn more about these databases and to beef up my skill in using newspapers as a genealogical resource.

Over the years, I have often searched for old newspapers. I discover them in several ways:

  1. Repositories. Many historic newspapers have been aggregated and are managed professionally. For example, the Nebraska Historical Society holds newspapers from around the state. Once I traveled to Lincoln to look at those for the southwestern Nebraska counties where my family homesteaded. The newspapers I found there did not contain the juicy details of rural life that I expected. I found no mention of my family, or of many other people. The papers housed at the historical society seemed focused on boilerplate national news lifted from the news wires.
  2. Newspaper morgues. These files hold back issues of local newspapers. Last summer my husband/tech advisor and I visited my Nebraska counties and asked about local storage of old newspapers. We found some in a dusty courthouse basement, others in a local historical museum. The basement newspapers were unbelievably fragile, and I fear they will not survive much longer. The historical museum was taking steps to preserve and index the papers from their county. Neither set of papers had any articles about my family although their names occasionally appeared on the regular report of land transactions.
  3. Online sources. The Library of Congress (https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/) has digitized many of America’s historic newspapers, but I have not found any of interest on this free site. My family lived in rural areas whose papers have not been collected by the Library of Congress. The online Newspapers.com and Newspaper Archive require subscriptions.

What did I learn at the workshop?

Newspapers.com, to which I subscribe, is probably the best resource for me. It covers many rural midwestern papers. Indeed, I have learned more about my family that I ever thought possible by reading the paper from Mattoon, Illinois on this site. Newspapers.com, an Ancestry affiliate, continues to add newspapers to their collection.

Newspaper Archive does not have much of interest for me. At the workshop, I had the opportunity to browse their holdings. Although they have some international newspapers as well as American ones, they have nothing from anyplace my family ever lived.

The evening we spent at this workshop gave us some dedicated time to learn about and use these subscription databases. While our regular meeting place at the local library is being remodeled, the new Family History Center in Highlands Ranch hosted this meeting and provided the use of their subscriptions to these databases. We had not previously visited this family history location, and I appreciated their hospitality in welcoming HRGS this week.

New Year, New Projects

As 2019 begins, I have my office all cleaned up and ready to go for the new year. Now I can begin work on fresh genealogy projects. I have several in mind:

  1. To get ready for a trip to Norway and the Baltic later this year, I will turn my attention to research on my family lines from those areas. I need to post and file all the Bentsen, Lampinen, and Mattila documents I have collected since I last worked on those ancestors.
  2. My husband/tech advisor teaches a Norwegian genealogy research class in connection with our Sons of Norway lodge. Beginning this Saturday, I will start attending those meetings. There I can get some expert help in using the database at the Norwegian national archives. I hope to extend my Bentsen line back in time from the mid-1800’s when my ancestors settled in Vesterålen in the northernmost part of Norway’s Nordland county. Before that, many of them may have lived in southwest Norway, near Bergen.
  3. For my Finnish line, I will continue corresponding with recently-discovered cousins in Finland. One of them has posted a tremendous amount of information for our common Lampinen line on WikiTree. I plan to explore the idea of joining that group.
  4. The Colorado Genealogical Society, to which I belong, sponsors a writing contest I hope to enter this year. They suggest a couple of themes including Black Sheep—The Skeleton in My Closet for submissions to the contest. I have several black sheep in my dad’s family. It will be fun to tell one of their stories.
  5. Another writing project I do every year involves collecting photos and writing a character sketch of an ancestor for distribution to relatives at Christmas. This year’s subject will be my Norwegian great-great grandparents, Karen and Nick Bentsen. They left Vesterålen and homesteaded in Montana in the early 1900’s.

Can I accomplish all this in a year? I do not know, but I am eager to get started. My Scandinavian families may offer an easier research path than I have pursued in recent years. My dad’s line has so many brick wall ancestors, and I have not made any significant breakthroughs there in a long time. Perhaps I can make quicker progress on my mom’s Nordic roots.

Genealogy for Christmas

Did you give or receive any genealogy-related gifts for Christmas? I did.

Every December I write a character sketch for one of my ancestors and distribute it to the family. Christmas provides a good opportunity for this because it falls at the end of my research year and provides a natural gift-giving opportunity. The relatives seem to enjoy learning about their forebears without having to do the research themselves.

Because genealogy is such a big part of my life, I also enjoy receiving any genealogy gifts that come my way.

This year, I received a great one. My husband/tech advisor gave me a reprint of the 1891 edition of Black’s Law Dictionary. I have long coveted one of these. Why?

This book will help me immensely with research on my colonial and nineteenth-century ancestors. Many came from England. They lived there and in the United States under what is known as the common law. The legal documents and court cases dating from this time were filled with now-archaic legal terms that are not included in modern legal dictionaries. So where does one turn to find definitions of these strange words?

Henry Campbell Black, a New York lawyer and legal scholar, published his first comprehensive law dictionary in 1891. The original edition did contain common law legal terms that have now become obsolete. Armed with a copy of Black’s 1891 dictionary, I will have a much easier time deciphering any legal documents I discover as I pursue my research.

I know I could get an electronic copy of the dictionary, but I really, really prefer printed books. I will set this one in a prominent place on my desk. I am sure I will use it regularly. The perfect gift for me.

Saving the Year’s Work

The Family Search website (www.familysearch.org) hosts the world’s largest shared family tree. They pledge to retain this information in perpetuity.

Any genealogist can add to the site by uploading a personal family tree created in one of the numerous genealogy software programs for home computers. Anyone can enter or change data in the existing online tree.

This provides an ideal venue for preserving one’s genealogical research. A world-wide tree means that anyone, now or in the future, can find the family information preserved there. For many of us, this means we no longer feel the need to spend the time and expense of writing genealogical histories of our families. Just gather the information, enter it in Family Search, and the family tree appears for all to see.

Several years ago, I chose these means for preserving my own research. If no one in my immediate family cares to carry on my work, I know they probably will discard the documentation I have collected. They will get rid of my genealogy library. Perhaps they will keep the ancestry charts and family photos. No one outside my own family will see any of it.

But if I post these things on Family Search, the information I have collected will live on in a useful format. I devote time in December to updating my family tree there.

This year, it has taken more time than usual. I found some tangled-up ancestors in the tree.

For example, my great-grandparents John and Olive Riddle raised one of their grandsons, Adin Riddle. I found his data mixed in with that of John and Olive’s youngest son, Seymour. It took me awhile to separate the two men and to attach Adin to his mother Tamson Riddle, not Olive.

Other relatives had two entries or incomplete information online. I merged those profiles and I filled them in with additional dates and places. Of course, this works both ways. Some other researchers had attached facts that I had not known previously. I followed up on these by searching some primary sources.

By the end of the month, I hope to have the Riddle family sorted out online. I will have done my part to preserve their history on a site I know will endure.

Old Land Records in the News

Land records can offer a valuable source of genealogical information. They provide evidence that the parties were in a specific time and place, they offer a window into their lives, and sometimes they included interesting genealogical information.

I have learned much about my great-grandmother Laura Riddle (1852-1933) by using land records. She had three different Nebraska homesteads in Red Willow, Hayes, and Dundy Counties.

Although I already had her homestead files from the federal government, I wanted to see what other transactions had been recorded against her land in these counties. To do that, I needed to visit the county courthouses to view the land records. I traveled there over the summer to do this.

At the Red Willow courthouse in McCook, I learned that Laura had made cash entry on her land, mortgaged it, and sold it to her brother-in-law in a short period of time. Who knew? I thought she had owned the land outright for several years.

In Dundy County, I found that she had sold her homestead many years earlier than I had thought. I also learned what a headache this transaction must have been for her. She gave a mortgage to the buyer only to have him default. She had to foreclose and look for another buyer.

The homestead files had disclosed none of these events. It took viewing the county land records to tease out these details. That meant traveling to the county courthouse, an expensive undertaking for an out-of-state genealogist.

Imagine my delight, then, to learn of the example being set in my neighboring county of Arapahoe in Colorado to enable online searches of their early land records. The county just announced an initiative to preserve historic land records from 1865-1900.

Arapahoe was Colorado’s first county and in the nineteenth century included Denver. Early land records were handwritten in iron gall ink made from iron salts and tannic acid derived from vegetable sources. The land books were on acid-bleached paper made from wood pulp and bound with glue in leather books. Now in extremely poor condition due to our arid climate, the ink on the pages is fading and the pages themselves are tearing and turning brown.

Arapahoe County has contracted with a preservation company, Kofile, to clean the pages of dust, sediment, stains, and contaminants. They will flatten, humidify, and deacidify the pages and then encapsulate them in Mylar protective sleeves. These will be placed in fire- and water-resistant binders.

During the process, they will scan and enhance each page. The records will be added to the County’s digital collection of public documents. Arapahoe will be the first county in Colorado to enable simple, online viewing of early land records.

I wonder if other counties across the United States will undertake similar projects to preserve their oldest records. The LDS church has filmed land records in some locations but not everywhere. These important relics across the nation should be preserved for future generations—title companies and genealogists alike.