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52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks #24—Karen Marie Johansdatter (1851-1916)

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.

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