Thursday, May 1, 2014

Some Family History


I have learned about my mother's side of the family because of, primarily, the "History" written by my great grandmother's three surviving children. Plus the family treasure of Maurice Matzen's diary from the middle 1930's. Then the work of a relative in Denmark that traced the ancestors back into the 1500's.

But I had filed away and not reviewed the history from the other side of the family, the Peterson side, that had been developed by our cousin, Lester Peterson. There is confirmation of work he did as early as 1938 when the Swedish church records were confirmed by that church. His work is more genealogy (as I understand it) and less "history" in that there isn't much color to the information. Just the birth-death-marriage-offspring stuff.

Sadly, Lester's facile mind that knew so much and had experienced so much was silenced by Alzheimer's dementia prior to his death in the mid-1990's. He was in an institution in Omaha after he threatened to shoot my brother with his pistol.

Much of this blog is about my life, my observations and the stories that I find interesting, so when I think of the history of the family, the stories come front and center and the details I leave to others. Our family seemed to be predominantly "field hands" and "maids" as noted in the old Swedish registries, and despite my search for a bit of drama, excitement or intrigue there are no horse thieves or fallen women in the bunch.

The farthest back this information goes is to the late 18th century, 1787, when Jöns Hansson was born in the parish of Västra Nöbbelöv near Warmlosa, Sweden. In 1819, he married Marna Rasmusdotter, born 1798, in the parish of Solberga, Sweden and there were ten children "of this union," among them, Par or Pehr Jönsson, born 1826 and described as a farm hand, like his father. These locations are in the southern tip of Sweden where we visited relatives in 2000. Note the use of the umlaut, the o with the two dots. Swedish and German are two of the languages that have that as a separate letter in their alphabets. Do not ask me how it is pronounced because I think you have to be a native speaker to do it right.

The year of Jöns' birth was the year the US Constitution was crafted, when Mozart created the tune of "Nachtmusik" we all recognize and the French were holding a revolution. When he was married in 1819, Alabama was admitted as a state and France was done holding revolutions for a while, having banished Napoleon to a distant island in the Atlantic Ocean and sold the land where we all ended up to the US, largely to finance some past and future wars. The world had experienced the "year without summer" in 1816 due to the eruption of Krakatoa and we had the New Madrid earthquake in Missouri in 1811.

Pehr Jönsson, (note the last name that is different than the last name of the parents, a practice abandoned in recent times in Scandanavia) the fourth of the ten children of Jöns and Marna enters our story in the year when both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on the 50th anniversary of the July 4th signing of the Declaration of Independence and the first railroad was chartered in the US. The year was 1826. He emigrated to America in 1882, along with his wife, Kersti Svensdotter, born 1830 in Skivarp, Sweden.

When they emigrated, Pehr and Kersti became known as Pete Peterson and Christena Peterson, the names on their tombstones in the Lingle cemetery overlooking their son, Samuel's, farms.

Sam, born Sven, was the first of their eight children, the patriarch of the family as I know it, my paternal great grandfather. He arrived in New York City at a processing facility located in Battery Park in 1872 (visited by Marcee and me in about 1988, an emotional experience for me) with, the story goes, 25 cents that he had hidden in his shoe. All the rest of his money was confiscated by the ship's captain, who was the law on the open seas. He was determined to walk to Illinois where some relatives were located, and he mostly did so, working and riding along the way.

Sam accumulated some money in Illinois, took the train to Nebraska and looked at several pieces of land including the property where the state capitol sits in Lincoln (poor land, no good) and the hills around Salem. My father, Wallie, was forever grateful he met a man named Hosford (need citation on this, not sure of name or spelling) on the train who had homesteaded the farm the previous year and sold it to him. Wallie, you see, really did not like farming hills or trying to drive a truck in them and often noted that the Lord must have liked hills and homely people because he made so many. Nance county was late to the homestead party as it had been designated to be Indian Reservation. When the land appeared to be too valuable, the Indians were shipped off to Oklahoma and the county opened to homesteading.

The homesteader was probably a speculator as he only plowed enough to qualify, built the house and placed the barn in the far northwest corner of the property as required by the homestead law. The farmstead was located on the "lots" that were irregular parcels north of the road/section line but separate from the regular section where most of the land was located. Sam moved the barn to its present location in short order.

It was 1884. The land was devoid of trees because this was prairie where fires wiped out trees before they could get established. Sam hitched a wagon to a team and drove to the nearest place where trees could be found, islands in the Platte River near Silver Creek 22 miles away, and hauled saplings back. Many of those trees survive around the farm buildings today, 130 years later.

Sam prospered, some of it due to his reported tireless energy; some because his oxen were well-suited to digging the "Big Cut" for the railroad. While not a large man, he was energetic and it was said that he planted a lawn that stretched from the western boundary of the property for a quarter mile to where he planted an ash tree that was there when I was a boy. While the men and horses rested in the heat of the day, Sam would push a lawnmower on that lawn.

Sam married Ella Jackson in 1878. They had evidently met in Illinois, and, yep, they were then "Sam and Ella." Wonder if they ever got that joke? Ella's mother came to live with them at some point bringing a huge wardrobe with her. The wardrobe would not fit up the stairs, so they removed a window to get it in the bedroom where it remained and intimidated me as a youngster. The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe was not fiction to me.

Their second child, first son, my paternal grandfather, Homer was born April 24, 1888 at home. The location was called "Woodville," despite the lack of any trees. Place names were often established by developers and land speculators to entice settlers/buyers. Evidence? Garden City, Kansas! There was a railroad siding and several stores in Woodville at one time, but by the time I remember, there were a few houses (including the Clark house with all the snakes), some remnants of the lumber yard, cattle pens on the siding, but there is nothing there today that would indicate a lively community.
A cousin, GK and her husband, Barney, stopped for gas in Genoa in the late 1960's and somewhat timidly asked the attendant (whose name escapes me right now but might have been Art Poole??) if he knew my dad. They thought it was a long shot, but they needed directions in the days before GPS, so they gave it a try. "Hell, yes. Everybody knows Wallie!" That fellow teased my dad about being "the mayor of Woodville," which was an empty title if there ever was one.

Sam died at the age of 72 in 1924 and is buried in the Salem cemetery. Ella preceded him in death in 1905.

Since I often write at the table he used as a desk, his presence remains.

Homer married Emma Martenson on July 1, 1908 soon after she had been sponsored by a cousin, Matilda Olson, to emigrate to the US and take a position as a "hired girl." Emma was born November 5, 1886 in the same southern part of Sweden as the rest of them. Her namesake, Emma Peterson was born to her great grandson and his wife, Kevin and Kim, on November 5, 1999. The birth date/name connection was not discovered until Linda and I framed one of Emma's crocheted doilies and presented it to Emma the Younger at her baptism; whereupon we discovered the same birthdates 113 years apart.

They came home from a day at the Boone County fair in Albion when Emma did not feel well and collapsed. She was stricken with infantile paralysis, polio, it was the fall of 1918 and it "left her an invalid" the rest of her life. I remember her in that wheelchair until her death in 1958.

They apparently lived on the farm for the first 10 years of their marriage but Homer decided to move to town and took a job as manager of the grain elevator. So he would not be accused of starting a fire, he stopped smoking and started to chew "snoose," the moist snuff we know today. He built her a house with steep stairs on the big hill in Genoa...right before her paralysis. My dad, Wallie, was raised in town and moved to the farm with his parents upon graduation from high school in 1930. Just in time for some really hard years.
Emma and Matilda would "sit in the dark and talk Swede," according to Wallie. That came to an end during WWI when speaking a foreign language was prohibited. I think German was specifically targeted, but it would be difficult for most to discern the difference. The potential of becoming bi-lingual evaporated.
There was friction between the established residents and the new immigrants, and in my town the new immigrants were the Poles. Since they were the last to arrive, they got the land that no one else wanted, and that was "south of the river." Near the confluence of the Loup and Platte rivers, the land between was basically sand. Fairly good pasture, but not much good for farming...until Gotlieb Groush drilled irrigation wells and Lloyd Spackman brought nitrogen fertilizer to the country. The Polish farmers had the last laugh.
Still, Wallie said that, "My family has had trouble with them immigrants ever since we come to this country." I am pretty sure he said it tongue-in-cheek, or at least I hope so.

These first years on the farm in the 1930's were years when they saved for two years to enable Homer to get a painful hernia repaired. These were years when, after my parents were married in 1934, they lived with Homer and Emma on the farm and Wallie somehow accumulated enough money to buy a truck. He would farm all day, load livestock (hogs or cattle, usually) and haul them to Omaha to the stockyards. The lines were long, it would take hours and hours to unload and he would often get back to the farm just as my mother and Homer were finishing "chores," the milking and feeding livestock. He would then spend the rest of the day in the field. If he was "lucky," he would do this three days in a row, often remarking that he would not remember the drives back from Omaha. Or, if he was lucky, he would scoop snow all day for the county for $1, bring your own scoop.

My parents were married in 1934, my brother was born in 1940 and I came along in 1945. When I was born, my mother apparently issued an ultimatum that somebody was going to move--the grandparents or her! My grandmother never forgave me for uprooting her. She made just a few entries in a diary that we found when Dick died, but one of them quoted Dickie who had just turned five years old, "That baby looks like trouble." A vision I believe she endorsed.

Sam's brother, Henry (born Hans) was 22 years his junior (b. 1874) and married Sarah Ellen, "Sadie" Price. Their children were the aforementioned Lester (b. 1907) and his sister, Martha (b. 1906). Lester traveled the world, took many trips to Antarctica photographing penguins (no reason asked or given, I guess), hunted polar bear in the far north, traveled to equatorial Africa and to India and authored the family genealogy.

Jay and Hazel Lingle (known to my brother and me as "Hay" and "Jazel" which cracked us up every time) farmed the quarter (160 acres, a quarter of a section/square mile) that mostly forms the hill southwest of the main home place and the rim of the valley. It is the location of the Lingle cemetery. Hazel was the half-sister of Sadie.

Martha had no children. Lester had no children. Hazel had no children. When Martha died, her land was inherited by Lester. When Hazel died, her land was inherited by Lester. When Lester died, his land, Martha's land and Hazel's land was bequeathed to Dick and although not exactly, that nearly united the farm broken up when Sam died in 1924.

So many of the characters that I remember from this group were heavily influenced, linguistically, by Swedish patterns. For example, the elongated "oo" sound in a word like "do." The common "to be" verb, "is" rhymes with "hiss" and Hazel is pronounced "Hay' sul" The "ing" was often elaborately pronounced, not dropped, so "something" had a definite ring to the end. A boss I once had, Bob Carlson, who learned English as a second language from Swedish would exhort us to "Doooo something, even if it issss wrong." And it had a lilt.

Like the story of families, this story doesn't have an ending. There are namesakes, Kevin and Kim's daughter is Emma and their son is Sam. Descendents spread out and live all over the US and have jobs that do not generally involve agriculture. Still no horse thieves, though. Ride on.

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