A South Dakota Thanksgiving

How did your ancestors celebrate Thanksgiving? As the cooking commences, I can’t help but wonder when Thanksgiving truly became a tradition among the different branches of my family tree, and how the celebrations might have varied.

NelsonFamilyFarm

Fred and Christine (Schmidt) Nelson Family Farm, Yankton County, South Dakota, ca. 1911-1917; digital image 2013, privately held by [personal information withheld].

I do know that the family of Fred and Christine (Schmidt) Nelson of Tabor, Yankton County, South Dakota celebrated the holiday more than a century ago. In 1908, their daughter Anna, seventeen, wrote in her diary, “Nov. 26, Thanksgiving day. Uncle Andrew, Aunt Mary and little cousins, also John S[ch]neider came down and had dinner with us and spent the day. It was cloudy most of the day and a rather cold wind.”1

Her guest list indicates that they had quite a crowd for dinner. By 1908, the Nelson family numbered ten,2 so with the addition of John Schneider and Andrew and Inger Marie “Mary” (Schmidt) Schmidt, who came with their three young children,3 the number at the table was brought to sixteen.

TurkeyValleySchool

Turkey Valley School, date unknown, Turkey Valley, Yankton County, South Dakota; digital image 2010, privately held by [personal information withheld].

As the Nelson children grew and completed school, several of the six daughters scattered about the county on teaching assignments. In the fall of 1916, Andrea, age nineteen, boarded with the Skov family in Turkey Valley. Andrea was in the midst of her first term as a schoolteacher, having recently graduated from the Springfield Normal School.4

On 18 November 1916, Andrea wrote to her parents, explaining that she had spoken to the members of the local school board to ask if she could take off the day after Thanksgiving:

“Mr. Hinseth said that for his part he didn’t care how many we took off as he had no kids to send and Mr. Mikkleson said sure we could take the day then could see later about making it up. […] I haven’t asked Mr. Andreason about the day but it won’t do him much good to kick as it’s three against one.”5

Andrea was pleased, as this meant that she could return home for Thanksgiving and the three days following. No doubt she was eager to show off her new overshoes, purchased the previous afternoon in Irene. Although she reported woefully that they had made a dent in her monthly “warrant,” she continued, “Mr. Skov gave his ‘womenfolks’ a scolding because we hadn’t gotten overshoes a week ago Sat. when we were in town so I thot [sic] I had better get me a pair yesterday or I’d be scolded again, ha!”6

With these overshoes, Andrea would have been prepared for the blustery winter days on the eastern South Dakota prairie, and she would have stayed warm for the duration of the forty-mile journey home for the holidays. Now, if only we knew what was served for dinner!



SOURCES
1 Nelson, Anna. “Diary.” MS. Yankton County, South Dakota, 1908. Privately held by [personal information withheld].
2 1910 U.S. census, Yankton County, South Dakota, population schedule, Township 93 Range 57, enumeration district (ED) 447, sheet 2-A, p. 186 (stamped), dwelling 24, family 24, Fred Nelson; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 26 November 2013), citing National Archives microfilm publication T624, roll 1489.
3 1910 U.S. census, Yankton County, South Dakota, population schedule, Township 93 Range 57, enumeration district (ED) 447, sheet 3-A, p. 187 (stamped), dwelling 46, family 48, Andrew Schmidt; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 26 November 2013), citing National Archives microfilm publication T624, roll 1489.
4 The Echo, Vol. 1, “Andrea Nelson,” Springfield, South Dakota, 1916; privately held by [personal information withheld].
5 Andrea Nelson to Fred and Christine (Schimdt) Nelson, letter, detailing Thanksgiving plans, 18 November 1916; privately held by [personal information withheld].
6 Andrea Nelson to Fred and Christine (Schmidt) Nelson, letter.

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