View Teri Hjelmstad's profile on LinkedIn



52 Stories #7—Finding A Spouse

Last week I wrote about how my parents and grandparents found their spouses. This week I will tell how I found mine.

As teenagers, my friends and I often thought about our future marriages. Even in those “Women’s Lib” days, I think most of us wanted to find a Prince Charming–someone tall and handsome. Beyond that, I wanted a guy who was smart, responsible, nice, Lutheran, and a non-smoker.

Looking back, my odds probably would have been better had I attended a Lutheran college. Unfortunately, those institutions were all far away from my small, Wyoming town, and they cost more than the state schools did. So I dutifully went off to the University of Wyoming and hoped for the best. After all, I thought, my parents had met there.

Before long, I, too, had found the almost-perfect person to marry. He was an engineering student, a couple of years older than me. Mutual friends introduced us.

Our first date presented some difficulties. When he first called me and suggested going out, I already had an out-of-town trip planned for that day. Luckily, he called again and suggested another time, which I happily accepted. Then I got sick. Not wanting to postpone again and risk losing him forever, I skipped classes that day in hopes of getting better fast.

That evening, still not feeling great and probably contagious, I went out with him anyway. As the evening progresses, we talked non-stop and found we had so much in common. Same home town. Norwegian heritage. Mothers who were teachers from Minnesota. Interests in music and the outdoors. We even learned that I already knew several of his cousins.

There was only one problem. He was Roman Catholic. This would be a deal-breaker for me. I have always felt families should attend church together, but there is no way I could convert in good conscience to Catholicism and subscribe to some of their beliefs.

Luckily for me, he was not all that committed to the Roman faith himself; in fact, his father’s family was Lutheran. My true love was willing to leave the Catholic Church and embrace his paternal Lutheran religion. And he did.

Yes! Now he truly was perfect, and we married in the Lutheran Church a couple of years later. We still belong to a local Lutheran congregation. Activities there constitute much of our life together. This year we will travel with the church choir to the Land of Luther to see all the German sites associated with our Lutheran heritage.

To this day, my spouse fits the bill—tall, handsome, smart, responsible, nice, and a Lutheran!



52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks #57 & 58—Simon Myllynen and Sofia Ampuja

During the 19th century, my Myllynen ancestors lived near what was then Finland’s second-largest city, Viipuri. This municipality lies east of the Baltic Sea on the Karelian isthmus at a distance of 81 miles northwest of St. Petersburg. It is known for its landmark Vyborg Castle, built by the Swedes in 1293.

When the Viipuri parish was ceded to the Soviet Union after World War II, all the Finns left and resettled in other parts of modern Finland. Today the town of my ancestors is known as Vyborg and only Russians live there.

Simon Mattson Myllynen was born at Tervajärvi on July 8, 1810 to Matti Johansson Myllynen and Anna Simonsdottir. They had him baptized a couple of days later in the Viipuri rural parish. When Simon grew up, he married a local girl, Sofia Hendriksdottir Ampuja. Their marriage took place in the Viipuri rural parish on December 11, 1831 when he was 21 and she was about nineteen. They made their home and raised their children at Tervajärvi.

Simon and Sofia had ten children:

  1. Matthias, born February 10, 1834,
  2. Elisabeth (Liisa), born April 25, 1836, my second great-greatmother,
  3. Henric, born December 24, 1838,
  4. Helena, born May 27, 1841,
  5. Henric, born May 27, 1841,
  6. Regina, born June 1, 1844,
  7. Philip, born April 15, 1847,
  8. Adam, born March 11, 1849,
  9. Adam, born May 30, 1851,
  10. Filip,born May 20, 1851.

Simon worked as a farmer. He did not have along life, and he passed away at Tervajärvi on April 10, 1857 at the age of forty-six. He was buried at the Viipuri rural parish a week later on April 17, 1857.

A Genealogical Spring Ahead

We have unseasonably warm weather in the Denver area right now. It feels like spring. When that season finally arrives on the calendar, I have some exciting genealogy activities planned:

  1. On April 1, my husband/tech advisor and I will present a Sons of Norway program on the reasons for Norwegian emigration to America.
  2. On April 8, I will attend the annual Colorado Genealogical Society seminar. David Allen Lambert of the New England Historic Genealogical Society will discuss various aspects of New England research. My dad’s Bangs, Burgess, Dunbar, Hall, Hathaway, and Snow families lived in Massachusetts during colonial times, so I am hoping to pick up some tips for researching these lines.
  3. On May 6, Dr. Fritz Juengling, a German research consultant at the Salt Lake Family History Library, will speak at the Palatines To America seminar. I am devoting my research time this year to identifying my German ancestors, if any, and I hope to get some ideas for moving forward on this.
  4. My church choir will tour the Land of Luther in Germany this year as part of our celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. I come from a Lutheran family on my maternal side, and the opportunity to see the Luther sites fulfills a lifelong dream of mine. As a bonus, my husband/tech advisor and I will leave a few days early and visit his family villages in western Germany.

Each of these events offers the chance for me to pursue my genealogical education. With this varied mix of experiences, I hope to get some insights into many aspects of my heritage—Norwegian, German, and English. If I am truly fortunate, these opportunities will translate into a spring forward with in my research.

52 Stories #6—Parents and Grandparents

Ah, love is in the air this week, and for this week’s assignment I will retell the stories of how my parents and grandparents met and married.

My Parents

My mom and dad, Earl and Joyce, met in college at the University of Wyoming about 1950. Both needed to work to get through school even though my father had money from the GI Bill after his naval service in World War II. He had always liked to wash dishes, and he took a dishwasher job in the women’s dining hall. My mother worked as a server there. Imagine that, a college eatery where they had wait staff instead of a buffet line. Anyway, they met at work.

They dated for several years, even after my mother graduated and moved on to a small Wyoming town to teach high school. It was important to her to get two years’ teaching experience before she got married. During those years, my dad worked odd jobs around Wyoming and Colorado and went to school off and on.

I asked Mom once about his wedding proposal. All she would say is that it happened in a car.

They married in the Lutheran church on December 22, 1952 in Rapid City, South Dakota, where her parents resided. For their honeymoon, they drove to Salt Lake City because they wanted to see a city that was new to both of them. There, in a store window, they saw television for the first time.

Mom and Dad had been married for 47 years when she passed away in 2000.

My Dad’s Parents

Owen Herbert Reed (1896-1935) and Grace Riddle (1896-1976) met when he moved west from Missouri to work on her family’s Nebraska ranch near Hyannis. Herbert’s father, a couple of brothers, and a sister had already moved to the area, so it must have been natural for him to follow them.

Grace’s cousin Henry Evert had previously married Herbert’s sister Bertha. The marriage of Herbert and Grace strengthened the tie between the two families. My grandparents were married by the Grant County Judge on April 18, 1918. I wish I had thought to ask her about her wedding.

Unfortunately, their marriage was not a long one. My grandfather died in a road accident in 1935 after they had been married for seventeen years. Grandma never remarried.

My Mom’s Parents

Bjarne Kaurin Bentsen (1906-1986) and Martha Louise Mattila (1906-1977) met when she left her Minnesota home after finishing college and went to teach at a country school in Montana. Teachers there boarded with the families of their students, and she lived on the Bentsen homestead near the Two Tree School. My grandfather had two younger siblings in her class.

Both Bjarne and Martha grew up in Lutheran families, but for reasons unknown to me, they did not marry in the local Lutheran church. Instead, they went to the nearest bigger town, Plentywood, and married at the Congregational Church on June 2, 1928. Again, I wish I had asked my grandmother why this was. They raised their children as Lutherans.

We always liked to say that theirs was a mixed marriage because he was Norwegian and she was Finnish. Indeed, their marriage was a stormy one that ended in divorce thirty-two years later in 1960, a couple of years after their youngest child had left home.

My grandfather remarried right away, but my grandmother never did. They carefully avoided one another when I was young. We were all surprised when he attended her funeral.


Combing the Indiana Records

The hunt for information about my 2nd great-grandmother, Katherine Stillenbaugh, continues. To make any progress I must follow a disciplined research plan.

I start with the only fact I know about her. She lived in Indiana in 1865. There she bore a daughter, my great-grandmother Anna Petronellia Sherman, in April of that year. The family always reported that Anna Petronellia was born at Indianapolis and Katherine died there, but Anna P.’s 1885 Kansas census record gives her birthplace as Edinburg, Indiana. This town lies 20-30 miles south of Indianapolis in Johnson County near the intersection of three counties—Bartholomew, Johnson, and Shelby.

With Indiana as a starting point, I began my research by identifying what Indiana records might exist and where they might be housed. During a visit to the Denver Public Library a couple of weeks ago, I consulted the National Genealogical Society’s Research in The States guide for Indiana. It provides many research options.

I decided to begin with online offerings at the major state repositories. These include the following:

  • Allen County Public Library,
  • Indiana Historical Society,
  • Indiana State Archives,
  • Indiana State Library,
  • Several academic libraries.

Over the last two weeks I began visiting the websites for these institutions. I found little useful information on the Allen County site, and I learned that the Indiana Historical Society has no online databases.

The Indiana State Archives offers a digital archive. There I found some military records and commitment papers for the Stilgenbauer family but nothing for the Shermans. I continue to work under the hypothesis that because of the similarity of names, the Stilgenbauers might be my Katherine’s family, so I collected their information. Unfortunately, nothing here offered any evidence of a connection to my ancestor.

The Indiana State Library has several digitized genealogical resources, and I looked first at Bartholomew County, for no other reason than it is first alphabetically on the list of the three counties of interest. The library holdings included county histories from 1888 and 1904—long after my ancestor died and her daughter had moved on to Illinois and beyond. Neither volume mentioned the Sherman family at all nor did they contain any relevant information about the Stilgenbauer family. The third book was The People’s Guide, an 1874 county directory that serves as a census substitute in the absence of a state census.

The People’s Guide tells me that Nicholas Stillabower, born in 1823 in Germany, lived seven miles west of Taylorsville (about 5 miles south of Edinburg). He had settled there in 1851. He was a Democrat and a Lutheran. From earlier research, I know that Nicholas did have a daughter Catherine who was born in 1847, the right age to be my Katherine. Unfortunately, this Catherine married someone named Long and lived until 1883. The only way she could be my ancestor is if the story of Katherine’s death in childbirth is wrong. Instead, the death story would have been concocted after she and the baby’s father had separated. Before going down this road in my research, I plan to continue the search for my Katherine elsewhere. Still, it is a possibility to keep in mind.

My next step will be to continue my research at the Indiana State Library by moving on to Johnson County. This takes a tremendous amount of time, but I must search every source available. Doing it from home certainly takes much less time and money than making a trip to Indiana to do it. I may need to go there eventually, but much remains for me to do from Colorado first.



52 Stories #5–Friends

As I begin to work my way through the suggested Story topic for February, I come to Friends. Here again, I have some difficulty addressing the proposed subject. I am a bit of a loner.

In my early years, I played mostly with my brother, who is just 20 months younger than me. We served as each other’s best friend. We lived in North Dakota, where the weather often made it too cold to play outside much. In those days, parents never dreamed of arranging play dates. Most kids simply played with their numerous Baby Boomer siblings when we were not outdoors.

Our family moved to a new house when I was a preschooler, and there I met the girl next door, Linda. She was a year older than me, but we spent a lot of time together. By then I was old enough to use the telephone, and on my own I could arrange get-togethers with her. Linda had several older sisters who were even older than us. The one closest to her in age, Linnea, played with us quite often. Linnea taught us how to catch butterflies and mount them in a display case. Linda and I liked to play in my backyard where we had very little supervision because my mother stayed inside doing housework and tending to my brothers. Once when Linda and I were out on my swing, I got my long hair caught on the chain. Linda ran inside to alert my mother to come and free me. Another time, as Linda attempted to climb over our locked gate, her jacket hood caught on a picket and left her hanging in the air. My mother finally heard her frightened shouts and ran outside to lift her down.

We left North Dakota when I was six, and I never saw Linda again. Of course we were too young to keep in touch with letters.

After a couple of moves, my family ended up in Wyoming. During my school years there, I had a couple of good friends. Karen lived nearby, and we met in the third grade. In high school, we teamed up as debate partners for two years, and that required us to work closely and travel together. We went on to the same college where we were roommates for a year. After that, we seemed to grow in separate ways, and we no longer keep in touch.

I met Penny when I was in the third grade, too. She and I sang together in the children’s choir at our church. We both liked to participate in church activities, and you could find us together at those as we grew up. Penny and I served as Maids of Honor for one another when we got married. Our children are close in age, and she is Godmother to one of mine. She now lives in South Dakota, while I live in Colorado, but we keep in touch and have enjoyed occasional visits over the years.

During college, I met Heather, who is just like me. We have so many interests in common—love of history and genealogy, pursuit of handiwork hobbies like knitting and embroidery, interest in book clubs and libraries, and a desire to make music. We moved to different states after graduation but have always corresponded. We often find that we independently do the same things. One year we discovered that we had both planted the same variety of cherry tree so that we could make pies. I see her sometimes when she comes to Colorado to visit her mother.

Nowadays, my husband/tech advisor is my best friend. We do everything together—music activities at church, Sons of Norway events, genealogy. I was comfortable with him on our first date while we were in college, and we have been inseparable ever since. Outside of our little duo, we participate in various civic groups, but mostly we tend to keep to ourselves.

Like I said, I am a bit of a loner. I find it stressful to be around other people too much. It is enough to keep in touch with Penny and Heather and to know all my neighbors.


A Surprising Opportunity

Occasionally an opportunity to volunteer for a short commitment comes along. One of these came my way a couple of weeks ago.

I had gone to lunch in January with a group of other members of the Colorado Genealogical Society (CGS). We went to a Chinese place to celebrate the new Year of the Rooster. The group had a great time talking about genealogical things as we bonded over Chinese food. Afterwards, I went home to resume my solitary genealogical pursuits.

The next day I received a request from the person who had sat next to me at lunch. Would I help judge this year’s CGS writing contest? What? Someone thinks I know enough about writing to judge a contest?

I have never done anything like that before. I am not a professional writer. Yet I have done a lot of writing, both in law school and at work and occasionally for magazines, including the quarterly journal that CGS publishes. I also write this blog. Perhaps these credentials counted enough for what they needed. By serving as a judge, I could benefit personally, too. Judging the contest would give me a chance to stretch myself into something new while simultaneously assisting the Society. I accepted immediately.

Shortly, I received the contest rules and writing guidelines, blind electronic copies of nineteen submissions, and the contact information for two other judges. We began our task by corresponding a bit to settle on a judging process.

After I had read all the contest entries, I selected my favorites. The other judges did the same. Then we met at Denver Public Library to compare notes.

Luckily, we easily agreed on the contest results. We then submitted our decision to the person who had recruited me originally. Because several of the submissions have a Colorado connection, they will go on to be considered for publication in the CGS Quarterly magazine if the author so desires.

Serving as a contest judge was a wonderful experience. I felt I did something worthwhile, and I truly enjoyed reading the stories written by those who took the time to enter the contest. We have some good genealogists out there.

Kudos to CGS for running this contest. It accomplished so many things. It encouraged nineteen people to write about their families. It solicited some good content for our CGS publication. And it gave me the chance to learn a new skill.


52 Stories no. 4–Achievements

As I attempt to fulfill the goal of recording 52 stories of my life this year, I am having a tough time with this week’s topic. I am to relate the hidden achievements and the greatest achievements in my life so far. I have to say, nothing readily came to mind, but after some reflection I can list a few ideas.

The term “hidden achievements” means those things that I have found challenging even though they might have seemed simple to someone else. Many people find it easy to create beautiful things, but I am not one. I have little artistic ability. Nevertheless, I have some hidden accomplishments in the artistic realm:

  1. I learned to play the piano at a young age. This musical training enabled me to serve as pianist on various occasions ranging from accompanying the choir for my 6th grade Christmas program to serving currently as the Musician for my local Sons of Norway lodge. With my piano background, I learned to play handbells many years ago and participated in a couple of church handbell choirs over the years.
  2. Nearly a decade ago, I returned to the church vocal choir after an absence of many years. I enjoy singing even though I do not have a great voice. With this choir, I have had the good fortune to sing with two wonderful, demanding directors, and a couple of our concerts stand out in my mind. I have successfully sung Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s St. John’s Passion (in German, no less!).
  3. My mother taught me to embroider when I was young. Later, I built on those skills to teach myself Hardanger embroidery, a Norwegian craft. I have never felt inspired to develop my own designs, but I have stitched some beautiful pieces from patterns created by others.

Still, my meagre talent does not allow me to truly excel in the arts. Where, then, would I look for my greatest achievement in this life?

Since adolescence, I have felt a strong desire to uncover and share my family history. Here I found my passion. The information I have gathered, analyzed, and documented certainly stands as my legacy and my life’s greatest achievement.

I have devoted 50 years to this goal, and I like to think I do genealogical work on a professional level. I have developed quite a family tree that I continually share with my extended family. I have also contributed to the genealogical community by sitting on the Board of Directors of the Colorado Genealogical Society, by writing articles for their quarterly magazine, and by serving as a judge for their writing contest. I have taught genealogy classes at my local public library. I enjoy everything related to the pursuit of family history.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks #55 & 56—Abel Mattila and Greta Caspersdatter

This week my Finnish line of third great-grandparents begins its turn to have their stories told. These last posts in this series will have to be brief because I know very little about these people.

Abel Andersson Mattila (1798-1852) was born about 1798 during the time when Finland was under Swedish rule. The Swedish language predominated in the country during that time, but we do not know whether Abel was bilingual. His family probably spoke Finnish, although the country kept legal records in Swedish. Abel must have had exposure to Swedish because the southern part of Finland where he lived was heavily populated with Swedes during his early years.

While Abel was still a boy, the country changed hands after several hundred years of affiliation with Sweden. Finland became a Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire in 1809 when the army of Czar Alexander I took the country in the Finnish War. The Russians were more accepting of the Finnish language than the Swedes had been, but Finnish did not achieve equal legal status until 1892, long after Abel’s death.

After Abel reached adulthood, he married Greta Caspersdatter, a woman of his own age who was also born about 1798. The couple settled at Kimböle, in the Uusimaa Province of southern Finland. Abel made a living as a “bonde”, or farmer.

The couple had five known children:

  1. Eva Mattila, born 1824,
  2. Anders Abelsson Mattila, (1826-1882), my great-great grandfather,
  3. Abel Mattila, born 1829,
  4. Anna Mattila, born 1832,
  5. Johannes Mattila, born 1842.

Abel died of a heart attack on April 22, 1852 at Kimböle when he was about fifty-four years old. Heart disease was rampant in Finland in the nineteenth century, and even today many of my Finnish relatives die from it.

Abel was buried May 9, 1852 in the Lapinjärvi parish of Uusimaa.








An 18th-century Finnish farmhouse

An Expanded Search

Despite some diligent research, my attempt to identify my German 2nd great-grandmother, Katherine Stillenbaugh, has gone nowhere this week. I need to broaden the search.

Family lore tells me that this woman immigrated at the age of 8, gave birth to my great-grandmother, Anna Petronellia Sherman, at Indianapolis in 1865, and died shortly thereafter. I have not found a marriage record for her. With no birth and death records kept that early in Indiana, I must use other means to pinpoint this little family of Thomas, Katherine, and Anna P. Sherman. An Indiana census record would have been nice.

As far as I know, Indiana did not conduct a census in 1865 so I am out of luck for that year. Because Katherine had died by the time of the 1870 U. S. census, her name would not appear there. Indeed, by 1870 little Anna Petronellia lived with her paternal grandmother, Rebecca Sherman, in Illinois.

That leaves me looking back before the Civil War to the 1860 U. S. census. Did Katherine live in Indiana in 1860? No family named Stillenbaugh lived there, or anywhere else, for that matter. Stillenbaugh must be a corruption of her family’s true German name.

I discovered a clue to what it might have been by following the movements of the husband, Thomas Sherman. In 1860, he was a single man living in his parents’ household in Kentucky, not Indiana. However, his older brother Anderson did live in Indiana by then, in Hamblen Township, Brown County, just south of Indianapolis. And Anderson was surrounded by German neighbors named Stillabower.

Were these my Katherine’s people? None of the six families had a daughter Katherine/Catharine in 1860 although Michael P. had an 8-year-old Mary C. Family information found on tells me that these families, all related, included three immigrant brothers, Jacob, Adam, and Michael, and three of their sons, Michael C., Michael P., and John. The FindAGrave site also tells me that the Stillabower family had many more members than just these. In fact, the original German name was Stilgenbauer, and they were Lutherans from Bavaria. Some settled first in Ohio and later moved on to Indiana.

Looking beyond the 1860 census, I know that by 1863, Anderson Sherman had moved out of Brown County and into neighboring Johnson County, also just south of Indianapolis. Thomas lived there, too. Another younger Jacob Stillgenbauer lived nearby. Unfortunately, in 1860 he did not have a daughter named Katherine/Catherine either, but he did have a 10-year-old girl named Caroline. Caroline? Catharine? It is a possibility, but she would have been just 15 in 1865. I cannot presume that she was my girl. Still, her later whereabouts are worth a look.

And that is where my search ended this week.

Armed with the information uncovered so far, I plan to do some more investigation of this German Stilgenbauer family, both elsewhere in Indiana and in other states where family members may have resided before landing in Indiana. The Civil War disrupted people’s lives, and folks moved around during those years. My Katherine could have lived anywhere in 1860.

I also hope to learn whether any Lutheran church records for the 1860’s Indianapolis area survive. I have found no county marriage record for Thomas and Katherine in Indiana. If the Stilgenbauers were Lutheran, perhaps this couple married in the Lutheran church even though Thomas probably was not Lutheran himself. He did not seem averse to a church wedding because a Methodist minister officiated at his second marriage to Mary Scott in 1872.

My other research possibility is to look for Stilgenbauers on the 1850 U.S. census. The difficulty with this is that I do not know what year Katherine was born or what year she immigrated. A young woman married to a 23-year-old man (Thomas) by 1865 was likely born in the 1840’s. My family says Katherine left Germany at the age of eight, so perhaps she was in America by 1850. From the FindAGrave information I cannot tell with any precision when the Brown County Stillabowers immigrated. The older Adam was said to have come over in 1836, while Jacob’s son Adam was born in Germany in 1838. If this was my family, other relatives, including mine, may have followed in the 1840’s and 1850’s.

This leaves me with so many people to sort through. The time-consuming search for my Katherine continues. Stay tuned.