Martha Karoline Dorthea Hansdatter was born on 20 March 1841 on the Dungan farm in Øksnes, a municipality on the large island of Langøya in the county of Nordland, Norway. She was baptized in the Øksnes church in 1841 and confirmed there in 1858.
Her family included her father, the husmænd Hans Enok/Enoch Pedersen (1813-1898) and her mother, Maren Anna Serina Andersdatter (ca. 1812-1886). Martha had at least one sibling, her brother, Enok Andreas K. Hansen, born about 1850.
In 1861, twenty-year-old Martha gave birth to her first son, Johan Andreas Martinsen, son of Martin Grunbek Kaspersen. No record of a marriage to Martin has been found, but the baby’s patronymic Martinsen tells us that the father must have acknowledged the child.
Martha married Sivert Knudsen several years later on 11 September 1865 in Øksnes parish. The couple and young Johan settled on the Roten farm in Øksnes for a few years before moving on to nearby Valfjord. Only three of the eight children born over the next twelve years survived to adulthood:
- Kaspera Helmine Siversdatter (1866-?)
- Hans Edvard Sivertsen (1870-?)
- Sofie Marie Sivertsdatter (1878-1966)—my great-grandmother.
We know very little about Martha’s life outside of her role as a wife and mother. In 1885 she served as godparent for her granddaughter (Johan’s daughter) Olina Johansen.
Martha passed away on 21 October 1900 at the age of fifty-nine. She barely outlived her father Hans Pedersen who had died a couple of years before. Martha died from a lung problem, perhaps asthma or tuberculosis. Because the ground had already frozen at the time of her death, she was not buried until the next spring on 20 May 1901.
We cannot visit her grave today. In Norway, burial sites are rented for just 20 or 30 years. The rental contract can be renewed up to three times if the community has no immediate need for the grave. Once the family stops paying the rent or the contract expires, the headstone is removed, and the gravesite is reused. Today, we know Martha only through the Øksnes parish records. Her American grandchildren, all born after her death, knew next to nothing about her.
We had vacation time last week and took a trip to Wyoming to visit family around that state. We also spent a glorious day swimming in the hot springs at Thermopolis State Park. And off course, we stayed with my mother-in-law for part the week.
She used to pursue genealogy, trying to track her Walz and Flottemesch families back to their German and Dutch homelands. Over the years she accumulated several folders full of documents on these lines.
We borrowed the folders from her and brought them home to add her information to our genealogy database. This week my husband/tech advisor has worked to scan and preserve those records we did not already have. Being a tech guy, he enjoys the computer aspect of our genealogy work.
As he works through this task, he has compared his mother’s genealogical conclusions with his own. Sometimes they differ, and he also enjoys resolving the conflicts by reviewing all the evidence.
In this way, he makes sure that we update our website with the most accurate information we can find. We always try to abide by the Genealogical Proof Standard by doing a reasonably exhaustive search for information and explaining any discrepancies we find.
These Germanic lines often present a challenge. Working with the language, the Gothic script, and the name variations make German research notoriously difficult. My mother-in-law made it a little easier by collecting and saving so much information.
In Norway’s Nordland County, on the Vesterålen archipelago, the Øksnes municipality covers part of the large island of Langøya as well as many smaller islands north of there. Bø and Sortland municipalities share Langøya with Øksnes.
The Øksnes Church, built in 1703, stands on one of the small islands, Skogsøya. The actual parish grounds have been maintained since the 1400’s, and parts of the present church building date to the 1600’s.
Sivert Knudsen was born in this parish at Roten farm, probably on 23 July 1843, to Knud Sjursen and Brita Kristoffersdatter. The date is questionable because his baptism record does not provide a birth date, and subsequent records give conflicting information. Sivert’s confirmation record, arguably the most reliable record, (because the information likely would have been provided by his parents) gives the 23 July 1843 date. Sivert’s youngest daughter Sofie’s baptism registration offers an earlier birth year of 1842. His death record gives a third birth date of 3 June 1843. The July date is probably correct given that he was then baptized a month later on 27 August of that year. Norwegian babies were usually baptized shortly after birth.
When Sivert was a small boy, his family moved on to Hadsel parish. Sivert was confirmed there at age 17 on 9 June 1861. Of course, like most Norwegians, he had already received his smallpox vaccination several years earlier in 1856.
Until 1865, Sivert worked to help his father who was a tenant on the Bjørndal farm in Hadsel. That autumn on 11 September he returned to Øksnes and married 24-year-old Martha Karoline Dorthea Hansdatter. They wed in the same Øksnes church where his parents had been married. When Sivert married Martha, he acquired a step-son, Johan.
After Sivert and Martha married, they and her son settled on the Roten farm in Øksnes where Sivert had been born. Sivert made a living as a farmer and fisherman.
The couple lived at Øksnes for three years and began adding to their family. According to family records, they had twelve children in all, including:
- Johan Martinsen (Martha’s son and Sivert’s stepson, 1861- ca. 1889) eventually became a fisherman and married Jakobina Bergite Antonsdatter in 1884. His stepfather Sivert served as his best man. Johan and Jakobina had a daughter, Olina, and two sons, Helmer and Johan. The boys emigrated to America and married sisters, Alfreda and Marie Susag, in North Dakota. Helmer remained in that state where he farmed and raised a large family. Young Johan, who became known as Johnnie Johnsen, moved on to Bremerton, Washington. He, too, had a large family. Tragically, he died in 1947 while fishing in the Gulf of Alaska when he was washed overboard during a storm.
- Kaspera Helmine Sivertsdatter (1866- ), born at Øksnes. She was known as “Mina” by the family, and she married Petter Jentoft Nilsen, a shoemaker, in 1885 at Eidsfjord. They had 8 children and never left Norway.
- Anna Marie Birgitte Sivertsdatter (1868-1869) born at Øksnes, buried at Hadsel.
- Hans Edvard Sivertsen (1870-?), born at Valfjord. He was a fisherman and married Ingeborg Karoline Reinholdtsen in 1894. They had one son, Sydolf Sigvard Hansen in 1894. Hans and Ingeborg never left Norway.
- Karl Nordal Sivertsen (16-25 July 1872) born at Valfjord.
- Unnamed Sivertsdatter, stillborn 11 May 1874.
- Unnamed Sivertsen, stillborn 27 April 1876.
- Sofie Marie Sivertsdatter (1878-1966) born at Valfjord. Sofie married Ole Jørgen Bentsen in 1904 and emigrated to America the next year.
- Unnamed Sivertsdatter, stillborn 21 September 1882.
No record of the remaining reported children has been found.
Eventually the family left Øksnes and relocated to the settlement at Valfjord. By 1900, Sivert was a leaseholder in a fishing operation there. Over the years, he served as a baptism sponsor for several of the grandchildren:
- Johan’s daughter Olina Andrea Johansen baptized at home on Oshaug on 21 June 1885,
- Mina’s daughter Karoline Berntine Pettersdatter baptized 15 July 1888 at Eidsfjord parish, and
- Hans’ son Sydolf Sigvard Hansen baptized at home on 25 November 1894.
Martha passed away in 1900 leaving Sivert a widower. He died at Øksnes a few years later on 10 Dec 1907 at age 64. The ground was frozen so he was buried the next spring on 2 May 1908 at Eidsfjord i Hadsel parish, where his wife had been buried. No cause of death was recorded in the parish records.
I happened upon a treasure the other day. While contemplating the next step in my Sherman family research, for some reason I looked into a desk drawer that I had not opened in a while. There I found a folder marked “Sherman.” I had forgotten all about it.
It contained several Sherman-related documents I have collected over the years. I had tossed them in the folder awaiting a time when I could focus on the Shermans. Surprisingly, some of the papers were documents I had just been considering seeking as a next step in my research. What a find! (not to mention the opportunity to clean out something from the desk drawer).
First I turned my attention to a Civil War Widow’s pension file. It pertains to my ancestor Thomas Sherman’s brother-in-law, John Alvey. I learned the following from this file:
- Private John Alvey’s widow Evaline (Thomas’ older sister) filed for a pension in 1867, and she began receiving $8 per month. The pension continued until her death in 1922—a period of 55 years.
- The discrepancy on the 1851 Alvey marriage record between her name Evaline Sherman and the recorded name Emeline Shearer was explained as an Estill County, KY scrivener’s error.
- Pvt. John Alvey enlisted as a Union volunteer in August, 1862 at Hendersonville, KY. He served in the 8th Kentucky cavalry.
- Pvt. John Alvey died of diphtheria in January 1863 in a hospital at Hopkinsville, Kentucky.
- When Evaline filed for the pension, both she and two sisters who served as witnesses (Elizabeth Sherman Glover and Gilla Sherman Cobb) had moved from Kentucky to Williamsburgh, Indiana.
- Evaline and John Alvey’s only child, Roena, was born December 25, 1852.
Finding this Sherman folder just when I needed it becomes another example of that genealogy serendipity I experience every so often. Other genealogists talk about it, too. It is almost as if our ancestors want to be found, and they nudge us in the right direction. I cannot wait to see what else I find in this long-forgotten folder.
Karen Marie Johansdatter, daughter of Johan Larsen (1824-1876) and Sara Andrine Möllersdatter (1814-1880) was born on 7 April 1851 at Titternes farm in the Næsna municipality of the Helgeland traditional region of Nordland, Norway. This farm lies on beautiful Dønna island in the part of Nordland county south of the Arctic Circle. There she was baptized at home on 15 June 1851. The Dønna i Næsna parish recorded this event.
She was confirmed at age 16 in the same parish on 23 June 1867. As was the case for most other Norwegians of the time, her confirmation record indicated that she had received the prerequisite smallpox vaccination.
I visited her birthplace on Dønna in 2013:
Karen’s family lived on several Dønna farms, ultimately residing on the Skeidsøen farm. They probably lived in modest wooden houses with a grass roofs.
Karen was a middle child in the family. Her siblings included:
- Johana Maria, born 25 September 1845;
- Bergitte Susanna, born 8 September 1848;
- Ludvig Edvard, born 17 May 1855;
- Anne Margrete Kristine, born 12 March 1859; and
- Mortine Lovise, born 19 June 1863.
On 11 August 1873, in Nordland’s Bø parish far away from her home on Dønna, Karen married Lorents Nikolai Möller Bentsen. He was 19 and Karen was twenty-two. How had she ended up in a place that even today is a day’s drive from where she grew up?
Assuming that couples usually married in the wife’s parish, we can surmise that Karen had relocated north to Bø at some point. A couple of explanations come to mind. Perhaps they met when he visited her island on one of his fishing expeditions and she then followed him back to Bø. Or maybe she traveled initially to the Bø area to join relatives or to work and became acquainted with him there. However it happened, the couple settled in Bø after their marriage.
The young bride often saw her family. Her sister Anne’s children, Fresenius and Helga, lived with Nick and Karen in 1900. So did her sister Johana’s granddaughter, Riborg. Perhaps she also met with her father a time or two when he visited the northern area to fish.
Nick and Karen raised their family of two daughters and a son in Bø. Once the children had grown, the two surviving children (Lena and Ole) both decided to emigrate to America, so Nick and Karen followed them in 1905.
They found work in Minnesota to save money for a homestead, and then they moved on to Montana where land was available. They settled in a Norwegian community near Medicine Lake in northeastern Montana.
There they farmed and raised sheep as everyone in Norway had done. In the spring they put their sheep on an island in Medicine Lake so they did not need herding. Karen had brought from Norway her spinning wheel, which would have been a valuable item. She could spin the wool and weave it into cloth to make clothing.
Nick became a naturalized citizen on 10 November 1913 at Plentywood, Sheridan County, Montana. At that time, women could not hold citizenship in their own right. They became citizens of their husband’s country. Karen, then, became a U.S. citizen, too, by virtue of Nick’s citizenship.
After seven years of homesteading, Karen died on 14 November 1916 at age 65. Although the State of Montana had kept death records since 1907, compliance was spotty in the early years, and they do not have a death record for her.
Nick finally acquired title to his own land the spring after Karen died. He received the patent for his homestead from the U. S. government on 25 June 1917. It must have been a bittersweet day without Karen.
With his wife no longer at his side, Nick took steps to sell out. He sold the land and auctioned off their belongings. What became of Karen’s spinning wheel? The family eventually lost track of it, and her granddaughter Signe Bentsen Fleming speculated that it was sold in the auction sale.
When Nick died two and a half years later, he was buried beside Karen at Big Lake [Homestead] Cemetery, not too far from where they homesteaded.
For more than half the year as I have searched for information on my ancestor Thomas Sherman (1841-1912), I have focused on people with a Sherman surname, namely Thomas and his brothers Anderson, John, and Jasper. I feel that I have about exhausted the research I can do on them from home.
Now I will turn to the Sherman sisters, Polly, Evaline, Emily, Eliza, Gilla, and an unknown sister. As genealogists know, finding information on women presents a more difficult case. So far, I have this evidence for them:
- Polly A. Sherman. She appears as a tick mark in her father’s household on the U.S. census for Morgan County, KY in 1830. She still lived in his household Estill County, KY in 1850, where she is named with an estimated birth year of 1828. She did not live with her father in 1860 or with her mother in 1870.
- Unknown daughter. This girl also appeared as tick mark on the 1830 census. The 1840 census for the Daniel Sherman household has not been found, and by 1850 this daughter was not in the household.
- Evaline Sherman. She was born 5 Aug 1834 in Kentucky, and she married John Alvey in Estill County, KY in 1851. They had a daughter Roena before John was killed in the Civil War. Evaline migrated to Illinois where she worked as a dressmaker in Coles and Edgar Counties. She died in Paris, Illinois on 9 September 1922 and is buried in the Mound Cemetery in Charleston, Illinois.
- Emily E. Sherman. Her first appearance in the record was the 1850 U.S. census listed above with an estimated birth year of 1836. She did not live in her father’s household in 1860.
- Eliza A. Sherman. Like Emily, her name first appears on the 1850 U.S. census. She was born approximately 1838.
- Gilla Ann. Her name appears variously in the records as Gilla Ann, Gilly Ann, and Gillian. This sister was born 26 March 1843 and married John Cobb in Johnson County, Indiana on 4 August 1864. They had five children (Albert, William, Amanda, John, and Walter). They ultimately settled in Barton County, MO. Gilla died 16 March 1923 and is buried in the Lake Cemetery in Barton County.
The Kentucky records present a couple of interesting questions for these girls:
- Who was the Elizabeth Sherman who married John H. Glover in Madison County, KY in 1853? Was she Emily E. or Eliza (who would have turned 15 that year) or the unknown sister? The marriage bond was signed by the father Daniel Sherman and witnessed by the brother Anderson and the sister Pollyann. The 1880 census record for the John H. Glover household in East Nelson, Moultrie County, IL gives Elizabeth’s birth year as approximately 1836, the same as for Emily E. Sherman.
- Who was the Louisa Jane/ Luezah Jane Sherman who married Stephen Dyke in Madison County, KY in 1856? Again, the marriage bond was signed by Daniel Sherman. Was this the same couple that appears in 1870 in Johnson County, Indiana (near the Anderson Sherman household) with a wife named Eliza Jane born about 1839?
I have more documentation for Evaline and Gilla Sherman than I have for the other sisters. This is because they are named as survivors of Thomas Sherman in his 1912 obituary. Given their places of residence that year, it was not too difficult to find additional records on them.
After the nineteenth century, I have no information on the other sisters. I plan to begin hunting for the remaining Sherman sisters by following the paths of the Glovers and the Dykes to see where this leads me.
In the late nineteenth century, the Bentsen clan lived in Bø Municipality on the southern coast of the Vesterålen District of Nordland, Norway. There, on the Fjaervold farm on the island of Langøya, Lorenz Nikolai Möller Andersen was born on 5 July 1854 to Anders Bentsen and Anne Larsdatter. To shorten up this long name, he usually went by “Nick”.
When he was three months old, Nick was baptized into the Lutheran Church of Norway at the Bø parish church built in 1824. The pastor baptized several babies that day, the 16th Sunday after Trinity.
Nick’s legal name has created some confusion. Our American family records do not match the official Norwegian records recording his name. Nick’s descendants remembered him as “Nikolai Lorenz” rather than “Lorenz Nikolai Möller”. Perhaps they assumed his first name was Nikolai because he went by the nickname “Nick”. They may never have known he had a second middle name because he seems to have dropped it after he came to America.
The descendants also knew him by the “Bentsen” surname he adopted when he immigrated to the United States. In Norway he had used the patronymic name, “Andersen”, derived from his father’s first name, rather than a surname. Norway did not require surnames until the 1920’s, long after Nick had left.
When Nick was born, his family consisted of his parents and an older sister, Kristine Andrea Andersdatter, born in 1851. An unnamed younger brother was stillborn in February 1857.
According to the Norwegian records, Nick’s father was Anders Bentsen (1823-1857). This lineage differs from what Nick’s granddaughter, Signe Bentsen Fleming, has reported in her book Bentsen-Sivertsen History 1800-1988. She states that Nick’s father was a man named Peter Kolbentsen.
Which is correct? Every Norwegian record lists Nick’s patronymic name as “Andersen”, not “Petersen”, indicating that his father’s name was in fact Anders, not Peter. Nick’s baptism, confirmation, and marriage records all report his father’s name as Anders Bentsen. Furthermore, both Nick and his son Ole took the surname Bentsen, not Kolbentsen, when they immigrated to the United States. Indeed, Ole and his sisters had used the Bentsen surname name occasionally even in Norway. It seems likely that Nick’s father was in fact Anders Bentsen. More research remains to be done on the identity of Peter Kolbentsen and his relationship to the family.
Nick’s father passed away in 1857 when the boy was just three years old. By 1865 Nick and his sister Kristine were living on different farms as foster children. “Necolai Andersen”, age 12, lived that year on the Svinøen farm owned by Nils Holgersen. Nick was listed in the household of Anders Grægusen (who had been one of his baptism sponsors) and his wife Andrea Krane.
A couple of years later on 30 May 1869 Nick was confirmed in the same Bø parish where he had been baptized. He was 14 years old. The record indicates he had received his smallpox vaccination four years earlier, in 1861.
On 11 August 1873, again in Bø parish, Nick married Karen Marie Johansdatter, daughter of Johan Larsen (1824-1876) and Sara Andrine Möllersdatter (1814-1880). Nick was 19 and Karen was twenty-two.
The couple lived on the remote island fishing village of Skjæringstad in Vesterålen, Nordland. Over the next several years they moved around to Svinøya and ultimately to Hadsel. Nick engaged in the treacherous fishing industry in addition to his farming work
During this time, they had at least four children:
- Peter Andreas Norum Lorentzen, born 13 September 1874 at Barstrand Farm. He was baptized 11 October 1874 but does not appear on the 1875 census, so he probably died in infancy.
- Lina Andrea Bentsen, born 29 January 1876 at Skæringstad. Lina worked as a seamstress until she was 28, and then she married Johan Jorgen Kristian Johansen in Hadsel in 1904. They moved on to Troms and had one daughter named Betty Karoline on 23 October that year. Nick and Karen both served as baptism sponsors for Betty. Lina’s family emigrated to the United States in 1909 and settled in Seattle. Johan disappears from the record after that, and Lina then married Emil Torbergsen in 1915. She died in Seattle at the age of 55 in 1932. Her daughter Betty married twice, first to James E. Harrigan about 1925 and then to Howard Cummings in 1949. Betty and Howard lived on Langley Island near Seattle, and there she came to a terrible end in 1954. While driving home from work one day, Howard heard on the radio that his 49-year-old wife had been found brutally murdered in the woods behind their home. A teenaged boy was tried for the crime but was acquitted. Later, a local handyman confessed to the murder.
- Riborg Oline Bentsen, born 18 April 1878 at Skæringstad. Riborg died in Hadsel parish on 13 July 1894 at the age of sixteen. The parish record does not give a cause of death.
- Ole Jörgen Bentsen, born 6 September 1880 at Svinøya. In 1904 Ole married Sofie Marie Sivertsdatter at Hadsel. Nick served as a baptism sponsor for their first child, Riborg Marie Hansene, on 23 October 1904 in the same parish. Interestingly, Riborg was baptized the same day her cousin Betty was born. Riborg’s baptism record gives her father’s residence as “Amerika”. By then, Ole had already emigrated to make a new home for his family. Sofie and the infant Riborg joined him the following spring.
By 1905, then, what was left in Norway for Nick and Karen? They were 51 and 54 years old, no longer young, living the hard, hard life of most Norwegians. They had buried two children in Bø. Their daughter had moved to Troms and perhaps already was making the plans for her eventual emigration in 1909. Their only surviving son and their nephew Fresenius had already gone to America.
In addition to these local concerns, big changes were in the wind in Norway that year. After nearly a century of Swedish rule, Norway achieved its independence that May. Uncertainty lay ahead. With no close familial ties in Bø, and facing life under a new and untested monarch, Nick and Karen made the decision to leave. They were expatriated from the Lutheran Church of Norway on 2 September 1905.
They emigrated at the end of the month on 30 September 1905. Traveling under the “Andersen” surname on the steamship Salmo from Trondheim, they changed ships in Liverpool, England and sailed on to Montreal on the Parisian. From there they took the Canadian Pacific Railway to the U. S. port of Sault Sainte Marie. On 21 October 1905 they headed for Lake Park, Minnesota to join their son Ole and his family.
Nick worked alongside Ole on the railroad in Minnesota. Over the next couple of years, they must have carefully saved their money while they searched for an opportunity to acquire the free land they craved.
During this time, in Becker County, Minnesota, Nick pursued American citizenship. The Declaration of Intention papers he filed on 28 December 1907 described him as five feet, nine inches tall, 180 pounds, with light complexion, grey hair, and dark brown eyes.
In 1908 Nick and Karen again followed their son’s family, this time to a Scandinavian community in Montana. The town of Homestead was a Great Northern Railroad stop on the Big Muddy River south of Medicine Lake. The elder Bentsens moved in with Ole and his family in a 2-room sod house. Nick located a likely homestead, and that summer Ole helped his dad build a house on this land, the NE/4 of Section 8, T30N, R56E, Montana Meridian.
The next spring Nick began farming his intended homestead, a quarter section (160 acres) located a mile away from Ole’s place. He broke 20 acres for flax that year. On 29 June 1910, when he was 55 years old, Nick officially filed for his homestead at the Government Land Office in Glasgow, Montana. Each year after that, Nick broke 10-23 more acres until 1916 when he was farming 100 acres of flax, oats, and wheat.
He and Karen also raised sheep as everyone in Norway had done. In the spring they put their sheep on an island in Medicine Lake so they did not need herding.
A Sheep on Langøya
Island in Medicine Lake, Montana
As an experienced fisherman who was familiar with the seafood business, Nick began importing frozen fish from Seattle, Washington. Once a week he would leave early in the morning by team and wagon to pick up the shipment at the railroad station in Culbertson, Montana. He sold fish to settlers as he traveled northward on the way home.
Nick became a naturalized citizen on 10 November 1913 at Plentywood, Sheridan County, Montana. Nick finally acquired title to his own land in 1917. He received the patent for his homestead from the U. S. government on June 25 of that year.
Unfortunately, his wife Karen had passed away the previous autumn. With her no longer at his side, Nick took steps to sell out. He sold the land and auctioned off their belongings.
When the sale was over, Nick left the land he had worked so hard to acquire. He lived the remainder of his life with his son Ole, who had relocated to a larger homestead south of Redstone, Montana. Less than two years later, Nick died on April 25, 1919 at 64 years of age. The State has no record of his death.
After a lifetime of hard work, Nick had finally possessed a farm of his own only to give it all up. He and Karen had no time together to enjoy it. They are now buried side-by-side at Big Lake [Homestead] Cemetery, not too far from where they homesteaded.
This week I spent my research time looking at land records for Illinois. My ancestor Thomas Sherman lived there from about 1870, and many of these records are online at Family Search (https://familysearch.org). I hoped to find some mention of his second wife, Mary. Unfortunately, I found no record of land ownership for him in the records I could search from home.
Thomas worked as an itinerant blacksmith for most of his life. After the Civil War, he lived in the following places:
- 1870 – Baldwinsville, Hunter Township, Edgar County, Illinois
- 1872 – Logan, Brouiletts Creek Township, Edgar County, Illinois
- 1880 – Edgar Township, Illinois
- 1881 – East Nelson Township, Moultrie County, Illinois
- 1884 – Mattoon, Coles County, Illinois
- 1887 – Nelson, Coles County, Illinois
- 1889 – Johnstown, Cumberland County, Illinois
- 1891 – Janesville, Cumberland County, Illinois
- 1900 – Morgan Township, Coles County, Illinois
According to the U.S census, Thomas owned no real estate in 1870, but by 1900 he owned a home. From the land records available to me for the intervening years, I can conclude that normally he did not own land. I can still look at a few of the records not yet available online, but I do not expect to find anything.
Thomas probably was a man who followed the work, owning just his personal property and blacksmith tools. His family led a nomadic life. The rich information sometimes found in our ancestors’ land records is not available for Thomas Sherman.
My Grandma Grace probably never met her Grandma Olive. Grace grew up in rural western Nebraska. She never mentioned a visit from her grandmother, nor did she speak of traveling to visit her.
Olive had traveled, though. She lived in three states, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Michigan. Born at Chatham, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod, on June 10, 1823, she was the 10th child of seafarer and salt maker Benjamin E. Dunbar and his wife Rhoda Hall. They lived on the Cape until Olive was about eight years old.
At that time, in the early 1830’s, the market for salt made from sea water had dwindled. The Dunbars sold their holdings and moved inland to then-Portage County, Ohio. They settled in Stow, and the father died soon after their arrival.
Olive probably never saw the ocean again. She and a couple of younger sisters grew up in the home of her widowed mother, surrounded by her older siblings and their families. Her father left her some town property, so a prominent local man became her guardian and watched over her estate. By the time she was nineteen, she had met someone to marry.
She and John Davis Riddle probably were wed on January 7, 1843 by a Justice of the Peace in Summit County, Ohio. Curiously, their names on the marriage record do not match those on other records they created through their lives. He signed as “John Davis”, omitting his Riddle surname. She gave her name as “Olla” rather than Olive.
Olive’s first two daughters, Tamson and Theodocia, were born in Ohio in 1845 and 1847, respectively. John and Olive probably farmed in Summit County.
A few months after Theodocia’s birth, Olive sold her inherited town lots. She and John left for Michigan where they acquired a farm and added to their family. They lived the rest of their lives near Mendon, Michigan. Together they had eight children and also raised one of their grandsons:
- Tamson Rebecca (1845-1922)
- Theodocia Orlinda (1847-1929)
- Isaac Newton (1849-1915)
- Ethan Henry (1851-1931)
- Laura Ruamy (1853-1933), my ancestor
- John Hoxey (1855-1937)
- Seymour Alfonso (1858-1934)
- Olive Delila (1865-1947)
- Aden Ralph (1867-1947), Tamson’s son
Olive reportedly worked hard as farm wife. Her grandchildren recalled that she kept a spotless kitchen floor, scrubbing it daily.
By 1890, the children had grown up. Three of them, Theodocia, Laura, and Seymour, left Michigan to homestead in Nebraska. Did Olive ever see them again?
The passing years did not treat John and Olive kindly. His vision failed, making farm work difficult. The couple finally made a pact for their care with their oldest son Newton. If he remained single, worked their farm, and cared for them, he would eventually inherit the property. Unfortunately, they did not reduce this agreement to writing.
After John committed suicide by hanging himself in his barn in 1896, Olive continued to live on the farm with Newton. When she passed away in 1902, he assumed the farm would be his.
His brother Ethan thought otherwise. He sued his brother for his share of the farm. Because there was no written agreement giving the farm to Newton, Ethan won.
Olive’s farm was sold at auction. Newton received $1174.88 in recognition of his care for his parents, and the other children each received $43.14. Olive’s property had consisted of bushels of wheat, rye, corn, hay, and oats; two cows and a calf; 25 chickens; 16 bed quilts; a feather bed; 4 pillows; 4 cotton bed sheets; a feather tick; table linens; crockery and tin ware; a churn; a milk safe; a clock; 10 chairs; a cooking stove; a rag carpet; an extension table; and 8 framed pictures.
Olive was laid to rest in the Mendon Cemetery, next to John, on June 3, 1902.
Have you ever visited the Pawnee National Grassland in Colorado? The web link to their page on the National Forest Service site is too long to display here, but you can find information easily by doing a web search.
We visited the Grassland with some of our young grandchildren for a camping trip over the weekend. There we found a nice, shady campsite along Crow Creek, short hiking trails suitable for kids, and even a display of old farm implements used by homesteaders.
The grassland lies in northeastern Colorado, near the Nebraska and Wyoming borders. Thus, my Riddle and Reed ancestors had homesteads just across the state lines of those two states. Visiting the Pawnee National Grassland gave me an idea of what those homesteading experiences might have been like. The Forest Service has put up several interpretive signs that helped me understand the history and geography of the area:
- We learned that fur trappers worked along Crow Creek, cowboys drove cattle along a trail running between Montana and Texas, and settlers followed the Overland Trail along the South Platte River. My own later-arriving ancestors homesteaded in Nebraska in the 1880’s and Wyoming during World War I, so I assume they came west by train.
- The prairie sees extreme temperatures. We endured a hot summer weekend with the thermometer reaching into the upper 90’s, just as my ancestors did.
- We saw birds. Boy, did we see birds. The Pawnee National Grassland is a well-known bird-watching area, and we saw our first lark bunting—the Colorado state bird. Okay, perhaps we have seen them before but did not know what they were.
The grandchildren particularly liked the short prairie grass. They loved tramping about in the knee-high greenery. I tried to view it more as my homesteading ancestors must have, seeing what would have been quite a challenge to replace using the primitive farming equipment we saw at the campground.
The Grassland provided a spot for a great camping trip. We loved the opportunity to spend some time with the next generation. I got a renewed appreciation for the hardships my ancestors (both single women!) faced in coming to this part of the country. Although this was not the research trip to a repository or cemetery that I usually take, it had value of its own. It gave me a much better sense of my family’s journey.