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Celebrate St. Urho’s Day

Perhaps you have not heard of Saint Urho. Tomorrow, March 16, will be St. Urho’s Day, and Finns like me will gather to celebrate.

This special day falls one day before that of the more widely-known St. Patrick’s Day. The date is fitting because St. Urho and St. Patrick have something in common.

St. Patrick, as you probably know, is famous for driving the snakes from Ireland. St. Urho accomplished a similar feat. He drove the grasshoppers from Finland, saving the grape crop and the jobs of Finnish vineyard workers. He used the famous phrase Heinäsirkka, heinäsirkka, mene täältä hiiteen (meaning “Grasshopper, Grasshopper, go to Hell!”).

Now, if this story sounds suspicious to you, perhaps it is because St. Urho is a made-up character. His feast day began in the 1950’s in the upper Midwest of the United States. Finns there wanted a reason to begin drinking green beer a day before the Irish. From there the hilarity spread, and nowadays Finns everywhere, even in Finland, celebrate St. Urho’s day. They mark the occasion by wearing the colors of grasshoppers and wine, namely Nile green and royal purple.

If you want to get a head start on your St. Patrick’s Day festivities, go ahead and join all the Finns in raising a glass to St. Urho. I will be joining some Finnish friends to do the same.

Three Nebraska Homesteads

The Homestead Act of 1862 opened up settlement in the western United States. Adult heads of families could apply for land at little or no cost in return for five years of residence on the land. A quirk in the law, intentionally or not, allowed women to apply for a homestead. This enabled many women with no other means of support to establish small farms and later sell them, pocketing a nice sum of cash to live on.

My great-grandmother, Laura Riddle (1853-1933), was one of these women. She had three homesteads in Nebraska:

  1. Lands near McCook, Red Willow County. In 1885, Laura made a cash entry on a tract near one owned by her sister and brother-in-law, Theodocia and John Evert. Laura was newly-arrived from Michigan with three young sons in tow. That summer she paid the cash entry fee of $200 for 160 acres in Section 22: T 3 N, R 29 W. She and the boys lived there nearly 10 years.
  2. Lands near Palisade but in Hayes County. In the early 1890s, the Everts decided to move on to northern Nebraska. They left Red Willow County. We do not know why Laura did not accompany them. Perhaps she had a boyfriend. Whatever the reason, she and the two sons remaining at home instead headed west to the Palisade area and filed on a quarter section in Hayes County. Laura proved up this homestead in Section 33: T 5 N, R 33 W in 1899.
  3. Lands near Haigler, Dundy County. A 160-acre homestead in the arid west did not provide much of a living. Laura had a very hard time. Finally, the government came around and allowed for larger homesteads, more suitable for stock raising. At the suggestion of her friend Leslie Lawton, Laura decided to take advantage of this opportunity. She and her sons Lewis and Joseph left Palisade and filed on larger homesteads that had become available farther west. In 1912, she proved up her claim to lands in Sections 8 & 9 in T 3 N, R 41 W.

Eventually, when she was in her early 70’s, Laura decided to sell out. About 1926, she returned to Palisade and bought a house with the proceeds from the sale of the Dundy County homestead. Lewis and Joseph went with her and took odd jobs in town. All three lived out their days in the small community. They are buried side-by-side in the Palisade Cemetery. Homesteading had offered a way for all of them to make a living.

Now I want to see these homesteads. This summer I plan to take a genealogy road trip to visit each one. I will also stop at the local libraries and courthouses to look for more information on the lives of these Nebraska ancestors. Many years ago, I made the same trip, my first research journey. I had much less information about these people then, and I did not have the location information for the homesteads. We can be more thorough in our research this time.

Unknown Brothers

Years ago, when I first began researching my paternal grandmother’s family, I asked her for some family history. She claimed to know nothing about her family other than her mother’s name, Laura Riddle. She suggested that I contact my grandfather’s sister Bertha instead. I thought this a little strange, wondering how a sister-in-law would know more about Grandma’s family than she did herself. I failed to follow up at that time.

My grandmother passed away several years later at the age of 79, but her sister-in-law lived much longer. When she was nearly ninety, I finally contacted Bertha and asked about Grandma’s parents.

She responded immediately, and her letter contained surprising information. She told me that Laura had been married to a man named George Edmonds. Even more surprising, she said that George and Laura had three sons. My grandmother had three older half-brothers, men my grandmother had never mentioned to her own children and certainly not to me. Bertha provided their names but said she thought they were all dead.

Armed with this information, I have been able to verify her information and document the lives of the brothers. All were born in Michigan around 1880 and before. While they were still young, George Edmonds left the scene for an unknown reason while Laura and her sons migrated to a Nebraska homestead.

After learning this, I began gathering any information I could find on these men, my great-uncles:

  1. Francis “Frank” Edmonds (1876-1944). He became a sheep herder in Wyoming and Montana. He died from a broken neck when he fell from his horse, and he is buried in Great Falls, Montana.
  2. Lewis “Louie” Edmonds (1877-1935). He traveled between the homes of his mother in Nebraska and his relatives in Michigan doing odd jobs. A distant cousin recalled that he carved little wooden toys for her. He is buried in a family plot in Palisade, Nebraska.
  3. Joseph Enis “Joe” Edmonds (1880-1956). He lived always with his mother. Together, they left the Palisade homestead about 1904 and took up new homesteads near Haigler, Nebraska. Several years later, they retired back in Palisade. I have a good description of Joe from his WWII draft registration card where he was described as 5’10” tall and 135 pounds with brown hair and eyes.

Why had my grandmother never mentioned her brothers? Bertha said Grandma had known them but did not like them. Perhaps she wanted bad memories to stay buried. I never heard her say an unkind word about anyone. She may have subscribed to the old advice that if you cannot say something nice about someone, do not say anything at all.

Grandma definitely kept her own children in the dark about their maternal family. Yet thanks to her hint about contacting Bertha, I have filled out her Family Group Sheet.

Sidetracked

My self-assigned genealogy task for this year is to further the research on my Riddle line. This week I got sidetracked. I made no progress on that line, but I did locate information on another.

One of the genealogy blogs I follow provides a regular list of new databases on Ancestry and Family Search. I scan the titles for resources I might be able to use. This week I saw that Montana divorces had become available.

I have Montana ancestors in my Norwegian line, but as far as I knew, none had been divorced. Still, there was one great-aunt who I thought was a possible candidate.

I had met her only a couple of times over the years, and we did correspond some. Her husband had worked in another state, so I never knew him. I did know that they lived apart, but no one ever said they were divorced. I just thought he found work more easily elsewhere.

Nevertheless, the search of the Montana database was simple, so I plugged in their names. Sure enough, I found a Montana divorce certificate issued for the couple when I was just a toddler.

Norwegians in my family are notoriously private, so no wonder I never heard about this divorce. No one would have said anything about it to me unless I had come out and asked directly. Of course, I never would have dared offer such an intrusive question. Now that both parties are deceased, it does not feel so nosy of me to learn more about this couple.

I spent the rest of my research time this week documenting this event and trying to learn more about the man who had once been part of my family. I found his memorial on FindAGrave.com. I found his family entry in the county history for Sheridan County, Montana.

I did get sidetracked, but I did not waste my time. Next week I will get back to the Riddles.

A Possible Breakthrough on the Riddle Line

This year, my research focuses on my ancestor John Davis Riddle (1821-1896). His origins have eluded me despite many years of searching. Other descendants have had no better luck.

From family papers we knew he was born in Pennsylvania. This source does not name a specific town or county, nor does it name his parents. Only genealogical research could reveal this information.

A study of his life showed us that J. D. Riddle, as he was known, had moved his young family to Mendon, Michigan in the late 1840’s. He farmed there for the rest of his life. We easily documented that period.

We also learned that he and his wife Olive Hall Dunbar were married in Summit County, Ohio in 1843. Her family lived there, but we could not identify a family for John in the area during that time. Nothing we could find provided a clue as to his family or birthplace.

Who were his people? When and why did he relocate from Pennsylvania to Ohio?

This week, for the umpteenth time, I decided to look at the family trees on Ancestry and Family Search to see if there was anything new on John Davis Riddle. I have always hoped his information had been preserved by a collateral line.

And this week, I found a tree claiming to connect John Davis Riddle to a Pennsylvania family in the 1830’s. Eureka!

I will not post this information to my own tree until I have been able to verify it. If correct, this will be a huge find. I can hardly wait to get started.

A Return to the Riddles

Back in the 90’s, I spent a tremendous amount of time researching my Riddle family line. I had a great deal of assistance from two other Riddle researchers, James Anderson and Ruby Prestly, both now deceased. We compiled our information and related our findings in a short book about Olive Dunbar Riddle (1823-1902) and her descendants. We used Olive as our subject because we could trace her ancestry to colonial times.

Her husband, John Davis Riddle, provides more of a challenge. We never could find a birth family for him. Now, twenty years later, I plan to spend this year trying to find out more about him.

I have these facts about his life:

  1. John Davis Riddle was born on either the 10th or 15th of May 1821 in Pennsylvania. I do not know the birth county or who his parents were.
  2. He married Olive Hall Dunbar on 12 January 1843 in Summit County, Ohio. Oddly, his name on the record appears as John Davis, not John Davis Riddle.
  3. On 9 September 1847, John and Olive sold Ohio land she had inherited.
  4. By 1849, they had moved to Mendon, St. Joseph County, Michigan where they spent the remainder of their lives.
  5. John (or J. D., as he was commonly known) and Olive raised a family of eight children. They also raised a grandson.
  6. John became blind in his later years. He lost one eye in an accident, and he developed a cataract in the other.
  7. Fearing blindness and poverty, John committed suicide by hanging himself in his barn on 20 August 1896. He was 75 years old.

Thus, my family tree for the Riddle line ends with John Davis Riddle. I would love to extend it this year.

When I worked on this project previously, James and Ruby and I represented family lines descending from three of the Riddle children. James’ ancestor was Theodocia Riddle Evert, Ruby’s was John Hoxey Riddle, and mine was Laura Riddle Edmonds. Now, I know of no other Riddle researchers in this family. I am in this alone.

My research resumes with investigation all the rich resources on the Seeking Michigan website (http://seekingmichigan.org/). They have collected all sorts of Michigan records that I had not seen in my previous research. Last week I found John and Olive on the 1884 Michigan state census.

With new records to find, it should be a satisfying year for research. I hope I can move this family back a generation.

On the Hunt for George Edmonds

This year I am resuming my research on the Riddle line. My Riddle great-grandmother, Laura, reportedly had a husband named George Edmonds in the 1880’s. He left behind very few records, and I know little about him. Something bad or tragic seems to have happened between the two of them because he disappeared from her life, leaving her with three young sons to raise. Laura resumed the use of her maiden name and never married again.

George Edmond’s name appears in just a few Michigan records:

  1. The 1880 U. S. census record for Leonidas, St. Joseph County, Michigan where George Edmonds appears as a 31-year-old farm laborer and head of household with his wife, Laura and 3 sons. This census record reports that George was born about 1849 in New York.
  2. The birth record for the youngest son, Joseph Enis, on 15 January 1880, at Leonidas, St. Joseph County, Michigan lists the father as Geore Edmonds.
  3. The birth record for the eldest son, Francis, on 8 April 1876 at Niles, Berrien County, Michigan lists the father as George Edmuns.
  4. The 1870 U. S. census record for Hamilton, Van Buren County, Michigan enumerates a George Edmonds who may or may not be the same man. This 21-year-old George, also born about 1849 in New York, worked as a farm laborer in the Jacob Mayer household. The Mayer family was from New York.

That’s it. No marriage record and no death record for George has been found. He disappears from the record after 1880.

By 1884, the Michigan State Census reports Laura Edmunds and the three boys in the household of her father, J. D. Riddle in Mendon, St. Joseph County. Laura is listed as married, not widowed. The next year, she drops her married name, and she and her boys join her sister Theodocia Riddle Evert in Nebraska. Laura acquires a homestead in Red Willow County near McCook.

What happened to George? Where was he from, and who were his people? As I search for information on the Riddle family this year, I hope to uncover some answers.

 

Away Too Long

After many years of diligently posting to this blog, suddenly last fall I became overwhelmed with life and just could not find the time. Why? My dear Dad and one of my brothers passed away within a month of each other. As guardian and executor for both of them, I really had a lot to do. Now, after quite an absence, here is a post in remembrance of them.

 

Earl E. Reed (1927-2017)

Dad was born in Wheatland, Wyoming, the fifth of six children. His father died in an accident when Dad was seven. Without a breadwinner, the family moved to Loveland, Colorado where an uncle made a house available to them. All the boys went to work, and Dad helped deliver milk. Dad graduated from Loveland High School in 1945. He immediately enlisted in the Navy and served aboard a minesweeper, the USS Seer, in the South China Sea. After his service, he returned to school, eventually graduating from the University of Wyoming with a degree in business in 1954.

Dad joined Marathon Oil Company (formerly the Ohio Oil Company) as a petroleum landman. He spent his career with them in Bismarck, North Dakota; Sidney, Nebraska; Casper, Wyoming; and Cody, Wyoming. In his free time, he participated in team sports like bowling and volleyball, served as treasurer of his son’s Scout pack, and ushered at the local Lutheran Church. He was an avid reader, and he liked to fish. He belonged to the Elks club and enjoyed taking meals at Elks lodges whenever he traveled on business.

Dad married Joyce Bentsen while he was still in college. Their marriage lasted 47 years until she passed away in 2000. After his retirement, they enjoyed traveling from Wyoming to the east coast to spend the winter in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He referred to those years as “golden”.

Dad lived alone in Casper in the years following Joyce’s death. When he began to need more assistance from family members, he moved to the Denver area and remained there for the rest of his life.

People always described my Dad as a real gentleman. He was generous and provided well for his family. He valued education and was the first in his family to finish college. He was a great Dad despite having lost his own at such a young age.

Dad was buried next to Joyce in the Casper cemetery. On a cold November day, Navy service members from Cheyenne, WY traveled to Casper to stand guard during his burial service and to fold the flag that covered his casket. Dad had lived to the age of 90, longer than any of his siblings. It was time for him to rest.

 

James E. Reed (1959-2017)

My brother Jim enriched our lives by being different. He was born in Bismarck, North Dakota, the third child of four in our family. He had severe developmental disabilities and needed care all his life.

Jim lived at home until he was nine, and then my family placed him at the Wyoming Life Resource Center (formerly the Wyoming State Training School) in Lander, Wyoming.

Some people think institutional life is a terrible thing, but it was not so for Jim and the other clients in Lander. They lived on a beautiful, tree-filled campus with easy access to everything they needed—cozy houses, a recreation center with swimming pool, a canteen, medical and dental offices, and a chapel. They had the opportunity to attend school and other therapy. Staff provided wonderful leisure activities like parties, dances, holiday celebrations, and picnics. For all of this, they had the freedom and safety of the large campus. Jim never had to be confined to a small group home in a busy city where he would have been locked in for fear that he would wander into traffic.

He and the other residents who were able enough had meaningful work to do in the gardens, in the craft center making items to sell, or helping with janitorial services. Jim worked as a janitor for many years. Towards the end of his life, when he grew more frail, he helped with paper shredding and mail delivery. These jobs gave structure to his life and provided interaction with others.

Jim lived on the Lander campus for 48 years until his health failed. After a funeral in Lander (I never knew he had so many friends!), he was buried in the Casper cemetery next to our mother.

A House History

Earlier this month I needed to search through some old family photographs. I must confess that my photos lack organization. In fact, they are a mess. To find the ones I needed, I had to search through albums (mine and my mom’s) as well as piles and sacks of pictures I have collected over the years but have never taken time to store properly.

One rubber-banded group of snapshots caught my attention. I had forgotten that when we purchased our house, we received a stack of work-in-progress pictures taken when the home was built in 1992. I had tucked the pictures in a cupboard after we bought the place in 2011.

Now the question arises: Should I keep these?

They might prove useful for their X-ray views of the innards of my house. That is probably why the original owners passed them along.

Or I could hang on to them for historical reasons. My home is 25 years old this year. This anniversary would offer a good opportunity for documenting the building of my house, the changes to it over the years, and the people who have lived here. Perhaps I should create a house history using the pictures I found.

Entire websites dedicated to searching and recording a house history exist these days. People like to know the story of their homes. The search process takes time when one lives in an old house.

For my not-so-old house, the work would not take long. Starting with the photos I inherited, I could create a history of the property so far and then document any changes we make in the future. When we leave here someday, we would have a good history of the place to give the new owners.

This small project could mark a start on cleaning up my photo mess. Tackling all prints I have seems overwhelming. Pulling out one group and organizing it properly seems much more doable. A house history sounds like a good winter project.

52 Stories #28—Treasured Memories

So many of us experience the same milestone events in our lives—our wedding day, the births of our children. What are some of my memories of these days?

  1. My husband and I got married during the Christmas holidays while we were between college semesters at the University of Wyoming. We had our rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding in a crowded restaurant at the local airport, not the place I would have chosen. Our simple wedding took place at my home church on the following snowy evening. The church’s Christmas trees still stood on either side of the altar, and we made our vows beneath an archway decorated with pine boughs. My husband chose the processional and recessional, the two versions of “Joy” by Bach and Beethoven. A college friend provided vocal music, “The Wedding Song”. Our attendants wore dark green, and my husband wore a yellow jacket. His brother served as best man and my best friend served as maid of honor. My brother was an usher. I remember that he wanted to get the most out of his tuxedo rental, so he wore it again the next day when he went out cross-country skiing. We had our wedding reception at the local Holiday Inn where the best man and I had both worked a couple of summers. A reception at a hotel instead of the church allowed us to serve alcoholic punch, something my dad insisted upon after having to walk me down the aisle. After the reception, we stayed overnight at the same Holiday Inn. My new husband roused me way too early the next morning so as to make sure we arrived at the airport in time for our flight for a Hawaiian honeymoon. It was a good thing he did, because we got seats when the flight was overbooked!
  2. Our oldest son was born five years later. The baby was due on March 22, but I wanted him to arrive a day earlier on the first day of spring. He complied and came into the world on a beautiful morning. Not only that, but he arrived with the wished-for full head of hair. I had been afraid he would be bald like I was when I was born. His sex was a surprise to us in those days before they offered ultrasounds. I can remember not wanting to look away from his tiny face, memorizing every feature of this new person in my life.
  3. Our younger son came along five years after that. A young man in a hurry, he was ten days early. Again, we did not know ahead of time what sex he was. When he was born, we knew he was ours when the nurse blurted out, “Gee, what big feet this baby has!” This was after we had passed the time in Labor and Delivery watching an Olympic hockey game. Later we learned this was a big mistake. Our child had one goal in life, and that was to play hockey. Beginning just a few years later, we were hockey parents until he completed high school.

Joyful memories, all. Beethoven’s “Joy” as our wedding recessional set the tone for a happy life together.