Five Years at the SCGS Jamboree

This was my fifth year attending the Southern California Genealogical Society’s Jamboree, which took place 9–11 June in Burbank, California. It was my fourth year hosting a meetup of the NextGen Genealogy Network, and my first year as a speaker.

“The Next Generation: Young Genealogists and Your Society” with Eric Wells, Deborah Sweeney, Lisa Medina, Melanie Frick, Randy Whited, and Paul Woodbury. Photograph courtesy of Victoria Wells.

On Saturday, 10 June, I moderated a panel discussion, “The Next Generation: Young Genealogists and Your Society,” with a stellar team of panelists: Lisa Medina, Deborah Sweeney, Eric Wells, Randy Whited, and Paul Woodbury. One hour flew by as we discussed how genealogy societies can welcome young genealogists, how societies can avoid making them feel out of place or undervalued, and what makes a young genealogist want to engage with a society. I was glad to see many society leaders in attendance, and there were a number of questions and comments from the audience which made for an interesting discussion.

“The Next Generation: Young Genealogists and Your Society.” Photograph courtesy of Victoria Wells.

Following the panel was the fifth annual meetup of the NextGen Genealogy Network, which I co-hosted with Eric Wells. We had a good turnout including several familiar as well as new faces! I was glad to have a chance to meet the recipient of the 2017 Suzanne Winsor Freeman Student Genealogy Grant, Mindy Jacox.

2017 NextGen Genealogy Network Meetup at the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree.

This was also my briefest year at Jamboree due to an unavoidable scheduling conflict. I only managed a quick peek at the exhibit hall and a few hellos with friends, and, unfortunately, was unable to stay for any other sessions. However, even in the short time I was there, I could tell that the conference organizers put on another fun and high-quality event. There were many sessions I would have loved to have seen, from DNA analysis to cluster research to dating fashion in old photographs. Next year!

The Danish Pioneers

Erik and Inger Marie (Hansen) Bramsen were in their sixties when they left their native Denmark to settle with their adult children in Dakota Territory.1 They had married on 1 September 1832 at Skrydstrup Kirke in Skrydstrup, Gram, Haderslev, Denmark, when Erik was twenty-eight and Inger Marie twenty-four.2 It was four decades later when they bade a final farewell to their farm, Hørløkkegaard, and their homeland.3

Erik Bramsen (1803-188–), circa 1870-1880; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2017.

Inger Marie (Hansen) Bramsen (1808-1885), circa 1870-1880; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2017.

These undated photographs, circa 1870-1880, may have been taken before or after the couple made their ocean voyage; as I have not seen the originals, only photocopies, I am unsure of their format or any other identifying information. Erik wears an unbuttoned double-breasted wool overcoat; while seated, it reaches his knees. Little detail can be discerned about the shirt he wears underneath, which has no visible buttons, but his trousers are of a straight, loose cut. He is clean-shaven, his hair is trimmed and combed to the side, and his eyes appear light in color. Seated in a chair with an arched back, Erik rests his left arm on a small table covered with an embroidered cloth. Tassels from a curtain are visible in the background.

Inger Marie sits before the same background, with the chair situated to the right of the table instead of the left and her right elbow resting on the table. It seems possible that she has suffered a stroke, as her mouth appears uneven and one eye droops. A bonnet with a white frilled trim frames her face and ties below her chin with a large bow. Her dress has fitted sleeves with ruched cuffs, and the bodice is of a darker color than the full skirt. The fabric has a sheen to it, and, while simple, the dress appears well-made and carefully fitted. Several elements of her attire support a date sometime in the 1870s, including the frilled trim on her bonnet and its substantial bow.4

The couple arrived in New York aboard the Cimbria on 14 August 1872, within weeks of their fortieth wedding anniversary.5 They appear in the 1880 U.S. census for Yankton County, Dakota Territory,6 and both passed away in the years thereafter, Erik circa 1880 and Inger Marie in the spring of 1885 when she succumbed to tuberculosis.7 Erik and Inger Marie (Hansen) Bramsen are said to be buried in unmarked graves at Elm Grove Cemetery (formerly Maple Grove Cemetery) near Tabor, Yankton County, South Dakota, alongside many of their children and grandchildren who, like them, were pioneers.8

Copyright © 2017 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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A Marriage in Mecklenburg-Schwerin

Although more and more genealogical records are being digitized and made available online, images of German church books—those faded ledgers filled with seemingly indecipherable old script that record baptisms, marriages, and burials—are often few and far between. That’s why it was a cause for celebration when I discovered that the scope of Ancestry.com’s “Germany, Lutheran Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, 1519-1969” encompassed the middle-of-nowhere German communities where a number of my ancestors lived and worshiped in the nineteenth century.

I knew something about the lives of Ernst and Friederike (Wegner) Stübe in America, where they had immigrated with their two-year-old daughter in 1869, but I had known little about their lives in the old country, the former Mecklenburg-Schwerin. Thanks to this record collection, I learned the following:

  • Ernst was christened Ernst Daniel Joachim Stübe following his birth on 29 January 1839 in present-day Starkow, Thelkow, Rostock, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany, the son of Hans Arend Heinrich Stübe and Maria Elisabeth Twert.1 He was baptized on 3 February 1839 at the village church of nearby Walkendorf, which still stands today.2

“Dorfkirche in Walkendorf,” 2008, Walkendorf, Rostock, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany; Wikimedia Commons, copyright Ch. Pagenkopf.

  • Friederike was christened Friederike Johanna Dorothea Christiana Wegner following her birth on 9 August 1841 in present-day Selpin, Rostock, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany, the daughter of Johann Wegner and Regina Lewerenz.3 She was baptized on 15 August 1841 at the village church of nearby Vilz, which still stands today.4

“Kirche in Vilz bei Tessin,” 2008, Vilz, Rostock, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany; Wikimedia Commons, copyright Schiwago.

It is likely that Ernst and Friederike grew up on the manorial estates where their fathers were day laborers (Tägelohner).5 Serfdom had ceased in Mecklenburg-Schwerin only in 1820; landless men remained tied to the land where they toiled as contracted laborers on these estates, their wives often working alongside them.6 As children, Ernst and Friederike would have lived in estate-owned huts that were shared with their immediate families as well as, perhaps, their extended families or the families of other laborers.7

Childhood, however, was brief; by the time they were seven years old, Ernst and Friederike may have been hired out to work, or at the very least by the time they reached adolescence. Granted room and board for their services as a farm hand and maid, respectively, they would also have received a modest annual wage.8 Throughout their years of service, they may have moved among different estates and had the opportunity to mingle with a number of other young people at local festivals, and perhaps this is ultimately how they became acquainted.9

  • When they married on 24 October 1866, Ernst was twenty-seven and Friederike was twenty-five; they were married at St. Johannis in present-day Tessin, Stadt Tessin, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany, which still stands today.10

“Stadtkirche St. Johannis in Tessin,” 2008, Tessin, Rostock, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany; Wikimedia Commons, copyright Schiwago.

As it so happens, Ernst and Friederike’s wedding day fell upon the date that the contract year for laborers typically concluded; as this was the beginning of a three-day holiday after which contracts might be renewed or laborers shifted to different estates, the young couple may have decided that this would be a practical time to marry and set up house once permission had been granted for their marriage.11 Indeed, as marriage restrictions in Mecklenburg-Schwerin remained strict at this time, a wedding was a true celebration and traditionally included several days of feasting.12

Following their marriage, Ernst and Friederike appear to have lived on the grounds of the estate Friedrichshof, located between Selpin and Walkendorf, where Ernst, like his father before him, was a day laborer.13 Friedrichshof is no more, although notably, it was the birthplace of Richard Wossidlo, a renowned folk historian and ethnographer.14 It was likely here at Friedrichshof where the Stübe couple’s first child, Emma, was born on 27 September 1867.15 Two years later, amidst a stream of emigrants from Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Ernst, Friederike, and Emma Stübe boarded a ship at Hamburg, and the rest, as they say, is history.16 

Copyright © 2017 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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The Iowa Asylum

“Timothy Adams, living near Moville, was sent to the insane asylum the past week.”1

When a casual online search turned up this statement printed long ago in a small-town Iowa newspaper, I was intrigued. There are three generations of Timothys in my family, and all three might have lived near Moville, Woodbury County, Iowa at the time of publication of this issue of the Sioux Valley News on 9 January 1890.2 Which Timothy, then, was sent to the insane asylum? For that matter, which asylum? And why?

As it turns out, this Timothy Adam was the youngest of the three, the son of Timothy and Odile (Millette) Adam, and the grandson of Timothée and Marguerite (Chicoine) Adam. He was born on 26 September 1869 in Chicopee, Hampden County, Massachusetts,3 where his parents, French Canadian immigrants, were employed in the area’s cotton mills.4 The family remained in Massachusetts until 1883 when they traveled west, first to southeastern South Dakota and then to homestead near the community of Moville in northwestern Iowa.5

When Timothy, Jr. was seven years old, he suffered a fever that led him to experience what was described as a fit.6 These fits continued, “sometimes three or four in succession,” although a week could pass before another occurrence.7 Apparently, however, Timothy “was never [a] very bright boy,” and furthermore, as he grew older, his condition became more unmanageable.8 He suffered memory loss and “wanted to run away constantly without occasion.”9 It was for these reasons, including his first unmanageable fit, that his father had Timothy evaluated and committed to the Clarinda State Hospital in Clarinda, Page County, Iowa, on 7 January 1890.10

“Iowa State Hospital for Insane, Clarinda, Iowa (1908),” Prints & Photographs Online Catalog, Prints & Photographs Reading Room, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pan.6a04897 : accessed 28 March 2017).

One can only speculate as to what condition or conditions might have ailed Timothy. While the fits he suffered were perhaps epileptic seizures, low intelligence and a desire to run away from home were noted as secondary issues. Timothy was not the only child to cause his parents similar distress, as his younger brother, Edward, had run away several years earlier. In addition, upon Timothy’s entry into the asylum, it was noted that a member of his extended family had also been institutionalized: his mother’s younger brother, Joseph Millette, had entered the poorhouse in Beekmantown, Clinton County, New York, in 1869 at the age of nineteen.11 Records state that Joseph was an “imbecile,” intemperate, and, though he was of “respectable parentage,” his parents, too, were unable to care for him.12

At the time of Timothy’s admission to the asylum in the winter of 1890, the Clarinda State Hospital was brand new. Its first patients were received less than thirteen months before, and in fact, construction would not be complete until 1897.13 The Second Biennial Report of the Board of Trustees of the Iowa Hospital for the Insane at Clarinda reported a commitment to humane treatment, with avoidance of extreme measures such as restraint and isolation, and it can be hoped that Timothy and his fellow patients were treated with respect and kindness.14 Indeed, whether embellished or not, the Second Biennial Report stated of the years 1890-91, “Perfect harmony seems to exist between our superintendent and his subordinates.”15

The hospital housed a daily average of two hundred and sixty-one patients in January of 1890, a number that climbed over to over three hundred within a month.16 Although Superintendent Lewellen applauded the facilities as a whole, he also admitted that the hospital was overcrowded due to an influx of patients, many of whom had transferred from Iowa’s other mental institutions.17 However, the Second Biennial Report offered an encouraging perspective as to the overall conditions of the hospital, and plans were outlined for future improvements, including additions to the building and grounds as well as opportunities for patients to engage in both amusements and meaningful work.18

Timothy was discharged “without improvement” on 31 October 1891 after nearly two years at the hospital, perhaps once it was determined that no available treatment would be of help to him.19 It is not known whether he ever returned to his family. Sadly, Timothy died at the Clarinda State Hospital on 1 December 1894 at the age of twenty-five. Epilepsy was reported as his cause of death, which suggests he may have returned to the hospital due to a fatal seizure.20 He is buried in the hospital’s cemetery, many miles from his family and his former home.21

Copyright © 2017 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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A Baby Carriage in Dakota Territory

A new arrival in the family has meant that blogging my research findings has taken a backseat in recent months, but with babies on the mind, here is a peek at a sweet little one posed with his mother in the nineteenth century:

nielson_harry_andresen_hannah_1888

Hannah Marie (Andersen) Nielsen with Harry Niels Nielsen, Yankton, Dakota Territory, 1888-89; digital image 2014, privately held by [personal information withheld].

Pictured is Hannah Marie (Andersen) Nielsen, wife of Ole Nielsen of Yankton, Yankton County, South Dakota, with her infant son Harry Niels Nielsen.1 Harry was to be the couple’s only surviving child; a daughter died in infancy.2 He was born 25 May 1888 in the town of Yankton,3 only a few months after the infamous Children’s Blizzard; his parents, both Danish immigrants, had married in 1880.4 At the time of Harry’s birth, Ole managed a dray line in Yankton, transporting heavy loads in a specially built wagon.5 Later, he would take up farming east of the nearby community of Mission Hill.6

In this photograph, Hannah, forty years of age, wears a dress with a full skirt, fitted sleeves, and a bodice fastened with no less than a dozen buttons.7 A brooch is pinned at her high collar and a flat-brimmed hat atop her head is adorned with feathers, adding an elegant statement to her otherwise relatively simple attire. What appears to be a strip of fabric is wrapped around the palm of her visible hand.

Harry, who looks to be less than a year old, dating this picture to South Dakota’s pre-statehood days of 1888-89, is dressed in a light-colored gown and a snug bonnet. He looks directly at the camera and a belt around his middle secures him to the seat of a baby carriage. The slatted basket is long enough that a smaller baby could lay flat until, like Harry, sitting upright against the fringed backboard would be possible.

I love that a baby carriage is featured here, unlike in any of the other nineteenth century baby photographs in my collection. However, I do have to wonder how practical it would have been at this time and place. While a bustling prairie town in its own right, Yankton was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a particularly urban environment, where a baby carriage might have proven more useful. Was it a prop at the Janousek studio, then, or did it belong to the Nielson familyperhaps a special luxury for a woman who had waited out eight years of marriage for a healthy child?

Whatever the case, this is a charming look at a proud mother and her well-behaved infant striking an elegant pose on the frontier. And, I have to say, the picturesque baby carriages of the nineteenth century were certainly more worthy of studio portraits than those of today!

Copyright © 2017 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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A Genealogical Year in Review

Since I began blogging in August 2013, I made an effort to never miss a single month as an opportunity to share a snippet of family history on this blog. Over the course of three years, I shared over one hundred research findings, favorite old photographs, and updates on my experiences at genealogy conferences and beyond. However, this past August, a special new addition to our family meant all self-imposed deadlines were off.

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Despite the blogging hiatus and the transition to full-time motherhood, which I absolutely love, 2016 was still a banner year for my personal genealogical endeavors:

  • I attended the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy and shared what I learned on Adventures in Genealogy Education, a blog by Angela McGhie. While in Salt Lake City, I also logged a number of hours with old German records on microfilm at the Family History Library.
  • The NextGen Genealogy Network continued to occupy my time, and I contributed a resource for societies interested in engaging young genealogists. My proposal to lead a panel discussion on the same topic at the 2017 Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree was recently accepted, and I look forward to the discussion with a fun team of panelists.
  • Speaking of the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree, I attended in 2016 for the fourth time, hosted a meetup of the NextGen Genealogy Network, and was honored to receive the Suzanne Winsor Freeman Genealogy Grant, with many thanks to Denise Levenick, blogger behind The Family Curator.
  • Through the month of August, I also continued in the position of editor of the APG eNews for the Association of Professional Genealogists, as well as in a volunteer position as a proofreader of the NGS Magazine for the National Genealogical Society. I thoroughly enjoyed being involved with these incredible organizations.
  • In addition, I was featured on Geneabloggers, wrote about my passion for antique photographs for MyCanvas, completed several memorable client projects (including copyediting Deborah Sweeney’s Lots of Love, Daddy: The World War II Letters of Roscoe and Gladys Yegerlehner), delved more deeply into DNA research, conducted interviews, photographed family historical sites in South Dakota, and made some exciting research discoveries of my ownalong with, of course, adding a new generation to the family tree…

2017 is likely to be a less-involved year, genealogically-speaking, but I look forward to researching, writing, and sharing many more family history stories in the months to come!

An Ancestor with an Alias Revisited

In the past, I’ve touched upon the mystery surrounding George Hiram Thoma, who used an alias for a number of years before reverting back to the use of his original name. Born on 29 September 1880 in Clayton County, Iowa to Fred and Matilda (Hammond) Thoma, census records indicate that George remained in his home county at least until 1895.1 Family lore states that he left home as a teenager due to a poor relationship with his father;2 he was said to have bicycled from northeast to northwest Iowa where the next definitive record of his existence shows him marrying Anna Leota Fenton in the spring of 1902.3 However, he married under the assumed name of George A. Neilson, and later affidavits attest that this was one and the same person.4 George continued to use this assumed name for a number of years before finally reverting to the Thoma surname.

Now, a century has passed, and none of his living descendants, including his youngest daughter, seem to have even heard of the Neilson alias! In an effort to learn more about the potential cause of George’s name-change, a closer look was taken at his movements during his late teens and early twenties:

Did George leave home as a teenager? It was said that George had a poor relationship with his father, and recently uncovered evidence shows that he did, in fact, leave home as a teenager. However, at least at first, he didn’t go far. At the time of the 1895 Iowa State Census, George was fourteen and lived at home in the community of Garnavillo.5 Two years later, sixteen-year-old George attended high school in Postville, a town about twenty-five miles away.6 As George’s maternal grandmother also resided there, it’s certainly possible that he may have lived with her while completing his education.

“Postville Firemen Of 1897 On Dress Parade,” 28 January 1940, Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette; clipping privately held by David Adam, 2016. George Thoma is seated second from right; text reads, “George Thoma, clerk in Waters and Nicol[a]y hardware store, left in early 1900’s for Sioux City where he has represented wholesale hardware firm on road for many years.”

Also in 1897, George served with the Postville Fire Department.As reported in a local newspaper decades later, “Back in 1897 […] the Postville fire department members wore white duck trousers, red sweaters and blue military caps when on dress parade, and on dress parade they often were, for that was the period when firemen in Iowa towns met regularly for field days and what a time they had, with contests, feasts, and dances.”8 George, slim and clean-shaven, sits cross-legged in the front row of the group of twenty men, among whom he may have counted both former classmates and kin. At this time, after having dabbled previously with the idea of becoming a tinner,9 he was a clerk at a local hardware store.10

Did George really ride a bicycle across Iowa? Although family lore states that George left home as a teenager and bicycled across Iowa, I’ve always questioned whether this particular tale was entirely true or, indeed, even possible. As it turns out, George did, in fact, have access to a bicycle, and according to a blurb in the Postville Review in the summer of 1898, he “took an overland trip by bicycle to Farmersburg last Saturday, returning on Sunday.”11 From Postville to Farmersburg was a distance of more than fifteen miles—more than thirty miles roundtrip—which, with an eye to both the quality of bicycles of the era as well as the condition of the roads, frankly impressed me. Maybe he did bicycle across Iowa, or at least part of it, but from this clipping we are able to learn that he did not make the journey before he was eighteen; he remained close to home and was known as George Hiram Thoma at least until 1899. In January of that year, the Postville Review shared that he had spent several days visiting his parents in Garnavillo.12

How long did George use an alias? Thanks to the record of his daughter’s birth as well as the discovery of the record of his relinquished homestead, a fairly concrete date can be determined for the conclusion of George’s alias. His eldest daughter was born Fern Neilson in September of 1907;13 George A. Neilson appeared in a city directory printed in late 1908;14 and in February 1909, George H. Thoma made application for a homestead in western Nebraska.15 Perhaps the need to sign a record at the federal level inspired George to embrace his true identity once again! As for when George first used his alias, however, I have as of yet discovered no definitive records of his life between February of 1899, when he was known locally as George Thoma, and March of 1902, when he was married as George A. Neilson.16

What could have happened in those three years to give George reason to change his name? His experiences between the ages of eighteen and twenty-one remain a mystery to me. While I don’t yet know why George Hiram Thoma used an alias throughout a seven to ten year period of his early adulthood, however, I do have a more complete picture of his life during his late teens: he was a high school student, clerk, and fireman who lived apart from his immediate family but maintained a relationship with them, and he was apparently known well enough in his community to be mentioned routinely in the local newspapers.

Further complicating matters, however, is the fact that, in December 1905, during the midst of his documented use of an alias, a newspaper in his home county noted that “George Thoma, from Nebraska, is visiting with home folks since Friday.” This suggests both a continued relationship with his parents as well as the fact that his alias was either unknown or unacknowledged by those in northeastern Iowa. In any case, further information gleaned from historic newspapers could ultimately narrow the search for answers as to why, exactly, George Hiram Thoma was known as George A. Neilson.

Copyright © 2016 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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