Brotherly Love

It might have been a late summer’s day when brothers Roy and James Walsted of Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa posed for this snapshot circa 1924. Six years apart in age, Roy was perhaps twelve and Jim perhaps six when this photograph was taken some ninety years ago.1 The park-like setting and the blanket at their feet suggest that the occasion may have been a picnic. Classic car aficionados could likely date the vehicle parked behind the boys.

SCAN0323 - Version 2

Roy Louis Christian Walsted (back) and James Herman Walsted (front), Sioux City, Iowa, ca. 1924; digital image 2015, privately held by Valene Petersen, 2015.

Roy suffered from polio as a child, which resulted in a limp as one leg was left shorter than the other. His younger brother was said to have come to his defense when Roy was bullied or was the last to be chosen for a neighborhood baseball team.2 Even in this photograph, it appears that Jim stands guard in front of his brother, his arms protectively curved back around Roy’s legs as Roy clasps his hands atop his brother’s head. Both boys wear short pants and newsboy caps; Jim is in a sailor suit, a style that remained popular for young boys in the post World War I era.3

I have to wonder who the man off to the side of the photograph could be. I have only seen two small snapshots of Roy and Jim’s father, both of which were taken late in his life. (I suppose there is a third if I count a postmortem photograph of him at his own funeral.) From those, I know that he was a man of slight build, but beyond that, I have no way of telling whether this gentleman in a straw boater hat and rolled shirtsleeves is in fact James Jacob Walsted or not. If this picnic was a family affair, perhaps the boys’ mother, Kathrine, was behind the camera.

This charming snapshot is one of a handful of photographs that I have in my digital collection of the Walsted brothers and their parents, both of whom were immigrants who came to Iowa from Denmark in the early twentieth century. For more photographs of the family of James Jacob Walsted (1886-1956) and Kathrine Christensen (1886-1971), check out my new Walsted Family Album

Copyright © 2015 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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The Proud Owners of a New Piano

You never know what might have made the news a century ago. In Iowa, for example, news might have been made when someone acquired a piano. Although mail-order catalogues like Sears, Roebuck & Company made owning a piano more affordable than ever thanks to convenient financing options,1 such a substantial purchase was still of great interest to those in rural communities and small towns across America.

These were the years before Victrolas became widespread.2 Pianos were a ready source of music and entertainment, and people of all ages might have enjoyed gathering at the home of a friend or family member with a piano for an evening of playing and singing.

pianoloc

“A Pleasant Evening at Home,” Prints & Photographs Online Catalog, Prints & Photographs Reading Room, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/90709337 : accessed 5 August 2015).

In the northwestern corner of Iowa, The Sibley Gazette reported on 24 May 1900:

John Hoffman and family are the proud owners of a new piano.3

And in the northeastern corner of the state, The Guttenberg Press reported on 25 June 1909:

Miss Roselyn Thoma is the happy and proud possessor of a new piano.4

John Hoffman was the second husband of Sarah Ellen Hall; married since 1883, they would undergo a tumultuous divorce in 1902. At the turn of the century, however, they were still married with a twenty-year-old daughter and a sixteen-year-old son at home.5 Their acquisition of a piano adds a bit of brightness to what was painted in their divorce proceedings as a rather dim time. Although Sarah led a difficult life, her granddaughter remembered that she had loved fine things; this piano was likely a prized possession.6 As she was said to be a religious woman, perhaps she enjoyed hymns played on the piano either by herself or her children.

Roselyn Thoma was the daughter of Fred and Matilda (Hammond) Thoma and was seventeen years of age in 1909.7 She was the last of four surviving children still at home, her younger sister having been lost to a diphtheria outbreak three years prior.8 Perhaps it was with a newfound appreciation to seize the moment that her parents supported such an extravagance for their daughter, or perhaps the same inheritance that had recently spurred them to purchase a farm made the purchase of a piano possible as well.9 Roselyn would marry two years later, and one can imagine that her piano might have accompanied her to her new home.10

Whether the Hoffman and Thoma families enjoyed idyllic moments crowded around their pianos à la Little Women or not, it is clear that the addition of a piano to a household in their humble Midwestern communities was worthy of note – and pride. However, even in these rural areas, it would be only a matter of time before new forms of entertainment overtook the novelty of owning a piano.

Copyright © 2015 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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The Pomeranians: Identifying a Family Photo

If you’d asked me about this photograph a few years ago, I might said that Joachim and Sophia were, in fact, Ernst and Friederike. That is, I might never have identified the couple in this cabinet card photograph if it weren’t for a few subtle clues that pointed me conclusively in the direction of one immigrant couple over another.

My grandmother’s paternal grandparents both came to America as infants, the son and daughter of Pomeranians from the region now known as Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany. The first couple to reach America, Joachim and Sophia (Cammin) Wiese, traveled from Hamburg in 1868.1 The second couple, Ernst and Friederike (Wagner) Stübe, traveled from Hamburg in 1869.2 Both couples settled initially in Chicago, although within a few years, Ernst and Friederike would move to a rural community outside the city. The couples were born within several years of each other, and no other identified photographs of either couple existed in my collection in order to aid in their identification. Based on the provenance of this photograph in a family collection, I knew that it must show one of these two couples.

JoachimWieseSophiaCammin

Joachim and Sophia (Cammin) Wiese, ca. 1885-1890, Chicago, Cook, Illinois; digital image ca. 2000.

The man and woman in this photograph are perhaps in their mid-fifties, give or take a decade. The photograph itself, taken by an unidentified Hansen of Chicago, is a cabinet card, a style that became popular after the Civil War.3 This, of course, fits the time period in which the Wieses and Stübes would have lived in Chicago. However, as both couples were only around thirty years of age in 1870, this photograph was more likely taken at some point between 1880 and 1900.

The woman in the photograph wears her hair parted in the middle and pulled back snugly, a no-nonsense style that is not specific to any era. Her ears are pierced and she wears what appears to be a dark wool suit with a fitted basque jacket featuring a high ruffled collar, a single row of buttons, and cuffed sleeves. Notable is the double row of boxed pleats on her underskirt; this style was popular in the latter half of the 1880s, as was the style of her jacket.4

The man is clean-shaven except for a trimmed neckbeard, and his hair is brushed away from his face. He has light-colored eyes – blue or green – and wears a typical three-piece suit. The age of the couple in this photograph as well as their style of dress suggest that, if this photograph was taken to mark a particular occasion, it may have been to commemorate an event such as their twenty-fifth anniversary.

Joachim and Sophia would have celebrated their twenty-fifth anniversary circa 1890, a date calculated based on their ages and the birthdate of their eldest known child.5 Ernst and Friederike, however, did not reach such a milestone; Ernst died in 1879 at the age of forty.6 As the woman’s clothing in particular is markedly different from the styles of the 1870s, this photograph could not have been taken before 1879, and thus cannot be a photograph of Ernst and Friederike (Wagner) Stübe.

A final clue comes from the notation penned at the bottom of the cabinet card by a descendant: “Fatte + Matte?”7 A letter written by the granddaughter-in-law of Joachim and Sophia noted that his grandsons could not recall their names, but had called them “Fatta” and “Mota.”8 Coincidence? I don’t think so. My hunch is that these are phonetic spellings of perhaps an old dialect-based variation of the German words for father and mother, Vater and Mutter. This is how Joachim and Sophia (Cammin) Wiese were remembered by their children and grandchildren.

Copyright © 2015 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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The Last Canadian

In honor of Canada Day, I introduce my last ancestor to live and die a Canadian: Leon Chicoine, who was baptized Joseph Leon Chicoine on 12 April 1785 at St-Charles-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, the son of Francois Chicoine and Marie Elizabeth Tetreault.1

St-Charles-sur-Richelieu

“View of St-Charles-sur-Richelieu from St-Marc-sur-Richelieu,” 2014, Saint-Charles-sur-Richelieu, Montérégie, Québec, Canada; Wikimedia Commons, copyright Tango7174.

Little is known of Leon’s early years. By the time he was twenty-five, he had made his way to Longueuil, located on the south shore of Montreal. It was there that he married Longueuil native Marie Varry on 17 September 1810.2 Their marriage took place at the impressive Cathédrale St-Antoine-de-Padoue in a ceremony led by Father Augustin Chaboillez, who, according to contemporary accounts, managed his parishioners with a firm hand. In fact, earlier that same year, he had a parishioner jailed for daring to interrupt his sermon!3

Leon and Marie did not remain there for long; they soon settled in St-Marc-sur-Richelieu, a rural community just across the Richelieu River from where Leon himself had been born. They remained in this area for the rest of their lives.4 Family lore states that Leon served in the military during the War of 1812.5 Then, twenty-five years later, war came to St-Marc when British troops defeated a number of Canadian rebels there during what is known as the Patriot War.6 Leon was in his fifties at this time; might he have participated in the futile attack? We may never know for sure.

Attack-on-Saint-Charles

“Attack on Saint-Charles 25th Novr. 1837,” 1840, Lord Charles Beauclerk (1813-1842); McCord Museum, Montreal, Quebec.

In any case, the majority of Leon’s life was likely spent in a more peaceful manner as a forgeron, or blacksmith.7 He fathered at least ten children, including my ancestor Marguerite Chicoine, although not all survived to adulthood. Sadly, Leon’s wife, Marie, passed away before she was forty; Leon remarried to Francoise Desautels in 1829.8

Leon Chicoine would live to the age of ninety two. When his granddaughter recorded his death in January 1877, she noted that he was by that time the grandfather of fifty-six grandchildren.9 His burial occurred at his birth parish of St-Charles-sur-Richelieu, likely in the churchyard of the striking eighteenth-century stone church located on the banks of the Richelieu River.10

Copyright © 2015 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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A Letter From the Shipyards

Although Henry Joseph Adam was sixty years old when the United States entered World War II, he made the decision to apply his skills as a carpenter more than fifteen hundred miles from home at the Kaiser Shipyards in Portland, Oregon.1 This was one of several emergency shipyards established during wartime that oversaw the construction of numerous Liberty and Victory ships.2

Henry_Adam_Carpenter

Henry Adam (seated at center) at work, Sioux City, Iowa, ca. 1930-40; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2015.

Henry ventured to Oregon in 1942, although he was not there continuously; his wife of thirty-seven years, Melanie, remained at their home in Iowa.3 However, we know that Henry was in Portland in June of 1943 when he mailed the following letter:

6-4-43
Dear Mealane
red your letter last night and it seam funey to me to here of so many people dying sent i left. i just got back from supper i was out to cool and here it is quarty to eight so will send you my first check rent i got sick and it leave me purty short you ask me what i am doing well i send you the slip of the copany witch i am with and i is house prog work and i am in side setting up book case and kitchen cabinet and thresh hold and it is a snap so far. and the Boos pick me up right at the door so that make it fine i leave here at half past 7 and we get back about 5.75 and by the time i get to cool it is 6.00. well Mealane i will send you my driver licin so you get me a new one and i wish you would send me the last MWAR so i can go and play cribag with the man that live in the back room that old lady say you aught to be out here now to see the purty flowrs and so many it rain every day a little bit and the night are fine so i guest that about all i think of so good By and good luck
Henry xxxxxxxxxxxxX

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I don’t have the impression that Henry had occasion to write many letters in his lifetime. His spelling errors are numerous, and at times humorous – for one, his wife actually spelled her name Melanie, not Mealane! However, his apparent lack of practice in spelling and grammar is understandable for a hardworking tradesman of the era. After spending his early years in Massachusetts surrounded by so many relatives of French Canadian descent that he had no reason to speak English until he entered school, Henry moved to Iowa where he spent the remainder of his childhood on his father’s homestead. He did not attend school beyond eighth grade, at which point he likely entered the workforce.3 By the time he was thirty, he had settled on carpentry as a profession.4

A carpenter Henry remained until his death. On 28 March 1944, Henry suffered a fatal heart attack in Long Beach, California, where he had been a resident for less than a week.5 He had likely pursued work at the US Naval Dry Docks, later the Long Beach Naval Shipyard, as the United States was still in the throes of World War II. His letter, written less than a year prior to his death, documents this final chapter of his life.

Copyright © 2015 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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2015 SCGS Jamboree

It seems there has hardly been a chance to catch my breath since I was in Missouri for the NGS Family History Conference last month – and I suppose with good reason. My husband and I managed to fit a road trip with visits to ten states in ten days (not to mention three national parks in twenty-four hours) in between! This past weekend, then, only added to the blur as it was time to attend my second conference of year: the Southern California Genealogical Society’s Jamboree in nearby Burbank, California.

There were several memorable sessions and I made a point to Tweet some of the many highlights. I started off learning how to create a “Genealogy Disaster Plan” with Denise Levenick and picked up some great tips about how to handle an abundance of genealogy materials, including a recommendation for a fireproof safe for irreplaceable items and guidelines for backing up digital files. Levenick even shared a “Genealogy Preparedness” checklist, available for download at The Family Curator. I also enjoyed a case study on tracing common surnames (the “Jones Jinx”) from Tom Jones, insight into the records of poor ancestors from Paula Stuart-Warren, thoughts on immersion genealogy and family history travel from Lisa Alzo, and songs and stories of farming ancestors from Jean Wilcox Hibben.

Another informative session was “Genetic Genealogy and the Next Generation” led by Blaine Bettinger and Paul Woodbury. As a big fan of genetic genealogy (my grandparents have submitted to multiple DNA tests for me at this point!), I agreed with their suggestions that DNA offers a tangible opportunity for education and engagement among youth within the realms of both genetics and family history. What was especially interesting to me was a discussion of the correlation between an interest in genealogy and the number of generations of displacement from one’s cultural roots.

NextGen Genealogy Network Meetup, 2015 SCGS Jamboree

Of course, the Jamboree provided a great opportunity to socialize with several friends and fellow genealogy bloggers. This included Deborah Sweeney, who kindly provided me with a copy of her beautiful new book about the lives of her grandparents during World War II, Dear Mother, Love Daddy. I also hosted an informal meetup of the NextGen Genealogy Network and was glad to see nearly twenty attendees stop by our table, whether fellow “young genealogists” or our staunch supporters. It was a great way to conclude my last day in Burbank, as I chose to attend the conference virtually on Sunday. After so much of the past month spent away from home, it was nice to be able to catch up some things around the house while listening in on the free live stream of selected sessions – including one by sixteen-year-old genealogist Matthew Hovorka! The next generation of genealogy is here indeed.

Read about the 2014 SCGS Jamboree here.

Copyright © 2015 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

2015 NGS Family History Conference

Last week was spent at the National Genealogical Society’s 2015 Family History Conference in St. Charles, Missouri. This was my third NGS conference in as many years, and as always, it was a fantastic time of education, inspiration, and connecting with colleagues and friends.

IMG_0792Despite missing the first morning and final afternoon of the conference, I managed to pack in fourteen sessions in addition to the NGS luncheon and a lovely breakfast hosted by Findmypast. (No, I didn’t get much sleep.) From legal lingo with Judy Russell to tracing kinships through indirect evidence with Elizabeth Shown Mills, I came away with plenty of new ideas for tracking down some of my more elusive ancestors. Other sessions ranged from Federal Military Pensions to Scandinavians in the Midwest, and I also enjoyed learning about Illinois resources, pre-statehood and beyond, as a number of my ancestors entered Illinois Territory more than two hundred years ago.

One standout session was Baerbel Johnson’s “So You Think You Want to Get Married: German Marriage Records, Laws, and Customs.” Let’s just say that all of the obstacles in the way of marriage during different points in German history – including age restrictions (brides had to be twenty-two and grooms had to be twenty-five!), parental permission, proof of means of support, and taxes galore – go a long way in explaining just why so many German children may have been born out of wedlock.

My favorite discovery from a session? That would have to be HistoryGeo.com, a resource that maps “First Landowners” and can pinpoint the exact site of your ancestor’s land on Google Maps in just a few clicks. This eliminates the need to painstakingly cross-reference historic plat maps with modern road maps as I did last summer when identifying the location of the homestead of one of my ancestors. If you have any first landowners in your family tree, this is a resource you won’t want to miss.

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At this year’s conference, I especially enjoyed getting to spend time with two fellow members of the Leadership Team of the NextGen Genealogy Network. We hosted an informal meetup event for other young genealogists in their twenties, thirties, and into their forties – and those who lend their support, including a friend of mine from graduate school. A handful of us stuck around to swap our best family stories into the night, and from black sheep to DNA discoveries, we covered it all. It was the perfect way to pause and unwind halfway into the conference!

All in all, I was impressed with the stellar organization of this year’s conference by the National Genealogical Society, the St. Louis Genealogical Society, and conference center staff, as well as the tireless speakers, volunteers, and exhibit hall vendors. The conference center was a short walk from my hotel, and there was a Cracker Barrel in between – what more could one want? Oh, food trucks, of course. Lots of fun details of the conference were captured on Twitter under #NGS2015GEN.

I didn’t have the chance on this trip to explore what historic St. Charles and St. Louis have to offer, but I will definitely need to return at some point for a research venture – after all, my southern Illinois ancestors settled just a couple of hours away. Now I know how to find their land!

Read about the 2014 NGS Family History Conference (Richmond) here.
Read Ten Tips for NGS Family History Conference Attendees here.

Copyright © 2015 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.