View Teri Hjelmstad's profile on LinkedIn



Thanks to an Earlier Generation

As we approach Thanksgiving later this month, my thoughts turn to reasons for thankfulness. I need to practice this virtue more regularly because too often I get caught up in the frustrations of my daily life. Yet if I look at just the homesteading stories from my own family history, my frustrations look like nothing compared to what my ancestors endured. A few examples:

  • Laura Riddle (1853-1933) raised a family including two disabled children while homesteading by herself in Nebraska,
  • Anna Petronellia Sherman Reed (1865-1961), as an older woman in her 50’s, homestead alone in Wyoming,
  • Sophie Marie Bentsen (1878-1966) spent the winter with three small children and very little food on their Montana homestead while her husband lay ill in town with typhoid.

I certainly face nothing like the life of a homesteader with complications such as children with special needs, an aging body, or a suddenly-absent spouse. Even without these challenges, homesteading was not easy.

My father’s second cousin Olive Griffith Rector provided us with tales of some of the hardships the homesteaders faced. Her family settled in Oklahoma in 1901.

In her words, they arrived at the most barren looking place one could ever imagine. Her father had put up a one-room board shack for lodging. They heated it with a little stove using cow chips. Their beds were boards placed on sawhorses. They had to carry water. That fall they began work on a dugout that was finished just in time for cold weather. It had a dirt floor they swept with a weed. They used old cement sacks on the floor if they could get them. Their mother worked in the fields for three years to save enough money for a sewing machine. Olive claimed that their father built better housing for his livestock than he did for his family. She thought they would have stayed in the dugout forever if “the roof hadn’t rotted off and it leaked like a sieve”.

Does not sound like much fun to me. These people made huge sacrifices in an effort to make a better life for themselves and their children. I can be grateful for all they did, because I have benefitted from their efforts. My parents and I did not have to live this way. My petty annoyances in the 21st-century suburbs cannot begin to compare with the hardships of life on a homestead. These people took a long view of life and ignored everyday frustrations in their efforts to get ahead.

Uncovering Jane’s Life

As is my custom, this holiday season I will add a chapter to my ongoing family history project. Each year I choose an ancestral couple, write their story, and compile relevant photos. My subjects this year are my great-great grandparents Jane and Caleb Reed of Ashmore, Illinois.

Through 2015 I have worked mostly to research Jane and her family because so much was already known about Caleb. I even had the opportunity to visit Jane’s birthplace in Wayne County, Kentucky.

Towards the end of the year I thought I had uncovered all the information I could about her. Then I decided to dig into a Boyd notebook left to me by a relative who passed away earlier this year. Jane had a sister who married a Boyd.

The notebook was not about those Boyds, but it did contain a remarkable document. In 1988, Jane’s great-grandchildren through another line had compiled a lengthy family history of their own, A Wright Interesting Story by Jean Greggs Wright and Mary Jane Wright Coartney. It contained a lot of their grandmother Martha Reed Wright’s memories of Jane, stories that had not come down through my own family.

Armed with this information, I can now prepare a much more personal account of the lives of my great-great grandparents. Before my discovery, I knew just the dates and places for Jane. Now I feel like I know her a little bit.

This discovery just goes to show the importance of searching for collateral relatives. Had I not sought to look for more information on Jane’s Boyd in-laws or recognized her daughter’s married name of Wright, I would not have found this information. My own family history will be the richer for it.

Genealogy Serendipity Strikes Again

Earlier this spring I inherited the genealogy library of my father’s cousin, Alta Marie (Reed) Kaessinger. Over the summer I have cataloged most of her 400+ books, and now I have begun to look through her numerous file folders and notebooks.

I made a delightful find in a notebook this week as I pulled one labeled Boyd from the shelf. It caught my eye because I had recently discovered two Boyd cousins who reportedly perished in the Civil War. Unfortunately, this notebook mentioned nothing about them, but it did contain a family history of my great-great aunt Martha Ann Reed Wright (1849-1918), first cousin of the Boyd brothers through their mothers, Jane and Nancy Carter.

A Wright Interesting Story, prepared in 1988 by Jean Greggs Wright and Mary Jane Wright Coartney, relates much about Martha’s life. It lists her descendants, with many photos, as known when the document was written. Best of all, it provides a great deal of information on her mother (my great-great grandmother) Jane Carter Reed.

This fall, I plan to write a character sketch about an ancestral couple, as I usually do for the holidays. I had already chosen my subject for this year, Jane (Carter) and Caleb Reed. What a serendipitous find this family history makes! I now have a great deal more material for my writing project than I ever dreamed I would have. Alta collected an amazing amount of information, and it needs to be shared. Jane Carter Reed’s half of the story landed on my bookshelf just at the right time.

Our Lost Boys

The Civil War has always fascinated me. Like so many families, we suffered some of the 250,000 Union losses. Perhaps that is why I feel a personal connection to the war.

Recently I discovered two more possible Civil War casualties in my family tree. If proven, both of them were first cousins of my great-grandfather Samuel Harvey Reed.

Samuel’s maternal aunt Nancy Carter married Robert Boyd in 1840 in Coles County, Illinois. This couple had four known sons. According to 1850 and 1860 U. S. census records, their two oldest children were boys, G. R. born about 1843 and Jas born about 1845. Both these boys were the right age to serve in the Civil War. Their younger male siblings, Caleb (b. abt. 1857) and John (b. abt. 1859), were too young. Why do I believe the two older sons perished in the Civil War (1861-1865)?

I have the following evidence:

  1. Neither G. R. nor Jas has been found on the 1870 U. S. census. Perhaps they died before that date.
  2. I have a photocopy of an undated scrapbook page created by Olive Rector, a great-great-niece of Nancy Carter Boyd. She wrote that two of Nancy and Robert Boyd’s sons, Robert and Riley, were killed in the Civil War—one at Shiloh and one at Fort Donaldson (sic).
  3. The Regimental history for the 8th Illinois, Company C (raised in Coles County) lists two Boyd casualties. Private George R. Boyd was killed near Vicksburg on 1 July 1863 and is buried there. Robert Boyd died about 20 Feb 1862 of wounds received at Ft. Donelson.

Although interesting, this evidence does not make the case that Nancy Boyd’s sons died in the war. Too many questions remain:

  1. The names do not match up perfectly. I can hypothesize that the G. R. named on the census was George R. Boyd. Maybe the initial R stands for the son Riley mentioned by Olive Rector. Secondly, perhaps Jas was the Robert who died of wounds received at Fort Donelson. His full name could have been Jas Robert or Robert Jas. But without further proof, it is a stretch to conclude that the boys listed on the census are the Boyd casualties from the 8th Illinois.
  2. Olive Rector claimed that one of the sons died at Shiloh. George R. Boyd fell at Vicksburg. Was Olive mistaken about the site of the battle, or are these records for two different men? Civil War casualty lists for Shiloh do not include anyone named Boyd. A great-great-niece, writing many years later, could have named the incorrect battle.
  3. Our Boyd cousins may have served in a regiment other than the 8th Illinois.

Without further proof I cannot conclude that my great-grandfather lost his Boyd cousins in the war. If he did, I cannot say for certain which son died at which battle. I need a little more evidence to substantiate this sad conclusion.

Our Mystery Man

We have a branch missing from my family tree.

My paternal grandmother never knew her father. She claimed she did not even know his name, and perhaps she didn’t. Her aunt, not her mother, raised her.

This unknown man contributed 12.5% of my ancestry, yet I have no information on his family or heritage. Endless searches of records on my grandmother and her family have yielded no clues.

Recently we embarked on our last, best hope, DNA testing. We opted for autosomal testing because we are not looking for a straight maternal or paternal line. If we could only find someone with no discernable matches to my documented family tree, that person could be related through the mystery man.

Matches have begun to come back, and most of them seem to connect through lines I currently have documented:

  • One match also had Reed and Carter ancestors.
  • One match and I both descend from the Puritan Edward Bangs.

Strangely, several matches came in from Australia. All the paternal ancestors I know about have lived in America since colonial times, and I know of no relatives who relocated to Australia. Could these people be related to my unknown great-grandfather?

I am just beginning to wade into this new world of DNA testing. I have learned a couple of things as I try to understand how it works. For example, descent from a common documented ancestor does not mean that the DNA match is necessarily from that ancestor. One must triangulate results to prove a match from any given ancestor.

With no scientific training beyond college biology, this DNA world presents me with a daunting learning curve. But if I ever want to discover my great-grandfather, I need to become proficient in this science.

Kudos for Norwegian Research



The Sons of Norway organization encourages members to learn cultural skills reminiscent of their Norwegian heritage. They offer many courses of study including rosmaling, hardanger embroidery, Norwegian cooking, and Norwegian music. Members can work through three levels of expertise in each skill.

This week our Lodge recognized my husband/tech advisor for his mastery of Norwegian genealogy. To earn his Level 1, 2, and 3 beautifully-enameled pins, he had to research his Norwegian ancestry and complete the following:

  • Seven Ancestor Charts and Family Group Sheets for people in his family tree,
  • Source citations for all his information,
  • Stories about three people on his pedigree charts.

To those of us who pursue American genealogy, this may sound simple. Trust me, it is not!

The researcher in Norwegian records must master many specialized skills:

  • An understanding of the historical social structure of Norway because different social classes created different records.
  • An ability to use the patronymic naming system because most Norwegians had no surname.
  • A vocabulary of the words used in Norwegian records and an ability to read pre-20th century handwriting.
  • A familiarity with the record-keeping practices and formats used for vital records by the state Lutheran church.
  • A conception of the geography and governmental administrative divisions pertaining to the area in which one’s ancestors lived.

My husband/tech advisor did all this and more. He mastered the use of the Norwegian Archives database and then taught others in our Lodge how to use it. He did lookups for those who struggled with it. And he went far beyond the number of Ancestor Charts and Family Group sheets required, even tracing one line of his family back to the 1400’s.

I hope his work is serving as an inspiration to others in our Lodge to document their own family lines. Receiving beautiful pins from the Sons of Norway for all the work makes it even more worthwhile. If you are Norwegian, join your local Lodge and get started today.

Following in the Footsteps of the Rich and Famous

Recently we returned from a driving trip through the upper South. Along the way, we visited places where my ancestors had lived. As always, I found it moving to walk on the same land where they walked.

On this trip, I learned that several of these ancestors may have rubbed shoulders with notable people of the time. Some examples:

  • John Day (1760-1837) was born near Patrick Henry’s home in southern Virginia.
  • Thomas Reed (1783-1852) and his wife Ann Kirkham (1782-1869) married and began raising their family south of Louisville, Kentucky at the same time a boy named Abraham Lincoln was born nearby.
  • My great-grandparents Samuel Reed (1845-1928) and Anna Petronellia Sherman (1865-1961) already farmed about 20 miles from Mansfield, Missouri when Laura Ingalls and Almanzo Wilder moved there in the mid-1890’s.

Finding these connections provides much context for the lives of my obscure ancestors. The lives of famous people living nearby, often heavily-researched and with available biographies, provide insight into the lives and activities of my own people.

As we visited the boyhood home of Abraham Lincoln with its tiny log cabin, I tried to imagine Ann and Thomas Reed living in similar surroundings. At the Laura Ingalls Wilder home I picked up a book by her daughter, the writer Rose Wilder Lane. Our Home Town contains a wonderful chapter on daily life in the Ozarks at the turn of the last century.

Whenever I discover an ancestor at a new time and place, I look at the local history to see if anyone famous lived nearby. For example, I know that my family and the Lincolns were also neighbors in Hingham, Massachusetts and in Coles County, Illinois. Following these parallel lives helps me understand the lives of my own ancestors.

They Followed the Waterways

I have always lived in states that use the Public Land Survey System. This surveying method organizes land into neat squares by Section, Township, and Range. Initially proposed by Thomas Jefferson, this system describes most American land west of the original thirteen colonies. It makes perfect sense to me.

My family, however, did not always live in the West. Like many pioneers, they landed on the east coast and worked their way westward over several generations. To research these families, I need to look at their land records.

Those records look very different from the ones in use where I live. They describe lands using a metes and bounds system whereby property lines often follow the contours of the earth. Many mention waterways.

Later this summer I will travel through some of the states that use this system. States where my ancestors lived. States like Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia.

I want to visit the spots where my forebears made their homes, but I am not sure where to look. I have learned that they often settled along waterways. Now I am making a push to identify those waterways. So far, I have come up with a few:

  • John Carter (1790-1841), a War of 1812 veteran, settled along Harmons Creek in Wayne County, Kentucky.
  • John Day (1760-1837), a Revolutionary War veteran, lived along Caney Creek in Morgan County, Kentucky.
  • Caleb Reed (1756-abt. 1832) moved from Pennsylvania to live in Kentucky for several years. He resided variously in Shelby, Spencer, and Nelson counties, as new counties were carved from the old. Old deeds that I have not had proper time to review mention Elk or Elkhorn Creek.
  • Daniel Sherman (abt. 1800- aft. 1863) conveyed land on Clear Creek in Madison County, Kentucky after living in several surrounding counties.

As I drive through these states and counties this summer, you can bet I will be on the lookout for these waterways. I may not yet know precisely where my ancestors lived, but with these creek names, I am zeroing in.


A Summer of Siblings and Cousins

So far this summer I have not had as much time for genealogy as I would like. Why? Well, because I am working on the family tree in a different way by building connections with siblings and cousins. We are enjoying a summer chock-full of family visits.


  1. In June, we traveled to Wyoming to visit a couple of our brothers and my husband/tech advisor’s mom.
  2. Also in June one of the brothers came to Colorado to see us.
  3. In July, my husband/tech advisor’s sister will visit.
  4. Later this summer, we will travel to Virginia for a wedding and a visit with my sister and other brother.


  1. Some of my second cousins have been to Colorado in May and July to settle an estate. They will return another time or two, and we get together when we can.
  2. One of my first cousins and her family will visit us around the Labor Day weekend.

I love these opportunities for catching up in person with all these folks. Preparing for the visits takes time, though. Time away from my research. The ancestors must wait this summer while I re-connect with the descendants.

John Carter in the War of 1812

I am the great-great-great granddaughter of one John Carter. Born in 1790, he came from Greene County, Tennessee and settled in Coles County, Illinois near Ashmore. He died there in 1841.

According to the Portrait and Biographical Album of Coles County written in 1887, John Carter served in Andrew Jackson’s army in the War of 1812, fighting the Creeks. An affidavit filed by his widow Mary in 1857 offers a little more information:

That she is the widow of John Carter deceased who was a private in the Company commanded by Captain Hyle or Register supposed to be in the commanded [sic] by Colonel Gibbs in the War of 1812. That her said husband was drafted at Greensville, Tenn on or about the 1st of February A. D. 1813 or 14 for the term of 3 months.

This week I visited the Tennessee State Library and Archives ( online to look at the rosters for the Tennessee units in the War of 1812. They list only Colonels and Captains, not privates. I found no Colonel Gibbs or Captain Hyle, but I did see a Captain Register under the command of Colonel Samuel Bunch. This 2nd Regiment of East Tennessee included soldiers from Greene County.

The website provided a means to contact a librarian at the Archives for lookups of enlisted men. Within a day, I had a response. They sent me a copy of the page from Tennesseans In the War of 1812 by Byron and Samuel Sistler showing all Carters who served from Tennessee.

There were 15 men named John Carter on that list. None served under anyone name Hyle, Register, or Gibbs. Darn! This is never easy.

Yet a couple of entries do look promising:

  1. Carter, John, Pvt, Col Ewen Allison, Capt. Jacob Hoyal E TN Mil; joined from Capt. McPherson’s Co
  2. Carter, John, Pvt, Col S Bunch, Capt Geo McPherson, E TN Mil; joined from Capt Hoyle Co

The names Hoyal and Hoyle seem awfully similar to the name Hyle as remembered by Mary Carter. Both of these Captains served in the East Tennessee militia raised in my John Carter’s vicinity. I plan to order these John Carter service files from the National Archives to see if I can learn more about my ancestor’s service.