Tag Archives: 1900s

A Woman on Horseback

Just two years apart in age, Ellen Eskeline Walsted and Jens Jacob Walsted were the youngest of eight children born in Denmark to Christian Jens Jacobsen Walsted and his wife Johanne Marie Larsdatter.1 Ellen and James, as he was known for most of his life, were the last of their surviving siblings to immigrate to America, with Ellen arriving in New York aboard the aptly-named New York in 1900 and James arriving in Boston aboard the Saxonia in 1902.2

James Walsted, Juanita Hansen, unknown, Clifton Walsted, and Ellen (Walsted) Hansen, Iowa or Oklahoma, ca. 1907; digital image privately held by Paul Hansen, 2018. Provenance of the original unknown.

The siblings soon reconnected in Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa, and were by all accounts close; James witnessed his sister’s wedding to fellow Dane Hans John Hansen in 1904, and later joined the Hansens on their move to New Hampton, Chickasaw County, Iowa.3 Eventually, Ellen and Hans moved on to Oklahoma, while James returned to Sioux City and married there to Kathrine Christensen, also a native of Denmark.4 

Although numerous photographs survive of Ellen, who was once noted to be “a lady of fine appearance” in a local newspaper, until this photograph was uncovered, only two snapshots, both taken in his later years, were known to exist of James.5

In this photograph, dated circa 1907-08, James and Ellen may both have been in their late twenties; Ellen would celebrate her thirtieth birthday in 1908, while James would turn thirty in 1910.6 Pictured, from left, are a young man in a bowler hat with a pipe between his teeth, believed to be James Walsted; a girl in a knee-length dress, believed to be Juanita Hansen, stepdaughter of Ellen; an unidentified boy perched atop a cellar door, perhaps a nephew of Ellen and James; a small boy standing before a horse, identified as Clifton Hansen, son of Ellen; and on horseback, an elegant young woman identified as Ellen (Walsted) Hansen.7

Ellen sits with poise on horseback, a hat with a broad upturned brim atop her head. While not a small hat, it is of a more modest size than those of the Merry Widow style which exploded in popularity after one was worn by actress Lily Elsie in 1907’s The Merry Widow.8 Ellen’s bodice appears to be pigeon-breasted, her skirt reaching her natural waist, and long riding gloves cover her hands and forearms.9 Horseback riding may have been a skill that she acquired in America, rather than during her upbringing in Denmark, where her father alternately worked as a baker and shoemaker.10

The provenance of the original photograph is currently unknown, and until it is recovered and the reverse checked for any possible inscriptions, questions about it remain. Where were James and Ellen when this photograph was taken? The group poses casually outside of a house with wood siding and a stone foundation; a cellar door and the corner of a porch are also visible. Two narrow windows, one open, offer a glimpse of fluttery ruffled curtains. It is possible James might have visited Ellen in Oklahoma, where she spent several years; alternately, it might have been taken at the Iowa homes of their sisters Jensine (Walsted) Winther or Anna (Walsted) Johnsen, both of whom had young sons who could be candidates for the little fellow seated on the cellar door.11 Regardless of the location, however, this informal outdoor photograph gives more insight into the personalities of these immigrant siblings than most studio portrait ever could.

Copyright © 2018 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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The Nelson Family at Home

The leaves had already fallen from the trees surrounding the modest two-story farmhouse belonging to Fred and Christina (Schmidt) Nelson when this photograph was taken in late 1904.1 Situated near the scenic bluffs along the Missouri River west of Yankton, Yankton County, South Dakota, the house was said to have had a creek running through the corner of the kitchen as a source of fresh water.2 Its simple, symmetric design featured a center door and four front windows on its clapboard walls, with a chimney appearing above the gable roof on one side. The house was likely painted white with a trim of a different color around the windows and door. Many trees surrounded the house, which was situated on an incline; the remote, wooded landscape seems to lend truth to family lore of the children fearing howling wolves (or coyotes?) as they walked to and from the nearest country school.3

Fred and Christina (Schmidt) Nelson and Family, Yankton County, South Dakota, 1904; digital image 2017, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2017.

Fred and Christina, both of whom immigrated from Denmark as children, married in 1890.4 Fred, at left, was forty years old in late 1904; he wears a loose-fitting sack suit and hat and sports a mustache.5 At center stands son Ole, ten, beside Christina, thirty-five.6 She holds baby Mary, who was born in February of that year.7 While Ole is clearly dressed for the outdoors in a coat and cap, Christina, like her daughters, wears no jacket or shawl. Her simple buttoned bodice and unadorned skirt appear comfortable for a nursing mother as well as household duties.

The open door behind Christina suggests that perhaps she and the girls had just stepped outside for the photograph. In a cluster at right stand Anna, thirteen; Helena, nearly or barely four; Louise, five; Julia, twelve; and Andrea, nearly eight.8 All of the girls wear their hair neatly parted and plaited down the back; it was said that the sisters would line up each morning, oldest to youngest, to braid each other’s hair.9 They wear dresses that, with the exception of the youngest’s, fall below the knees, and all wear dark stockings. Their dresses have high necks and full bishop sleeves; a few additional details can be distinguished, such as the plaid fabric of Andrea’s dress and the belt at Anna’s waist.10

The occasion for this photograph is not known, although perhaps it was taken by an itinerant photographer who made stops at rural homes throughout the Midwest. Unlike formal studio portraits of the era, this photograph is as much about the place as the people, allowing a glimpse into the lives of the Nelson family that would otherwise be missed.

Copyright © 2017 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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The Royal Neighbors of America

When Melanie (Lutz) Adam of Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa became a member of her local chapter of the Royal Neighbors of America as a newlywed in 1906,1 she could not have known how much her role as a Neighbor, as members called themselves, would define her adult life.

Founded in 1888 as a social organization, the Royal Neighbors of America incorporated as a fraternal benefit society in 1895 and became known as one of the nation’s first insurers of women.2 Following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, the Royal Neighbors of America developed a disaster aid program,3 and perhaps it was hearing about these worthy efforts that encouraged twenty-two year old Melanie to join later that year.

Melanie (Lutz) Adam, in hat with dark sash seated center left, on a local outing with the Royal Neighbors of America, Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa, 1916; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2017.

Melanie was first a member of the Evening Star Camp before transferring to Sioux City’s Twilight Camp #6674.4 In 1922, she began her first term as oracle (leader) of the Twilight Camp, a position she held for nine years, and in 1925 began work as a field representative.5 She traveled frequently throughout northwestern Iowa as a life insurance agent, which provided a welcome source of income—particularly when her husband was unable to find steady work as a carpenter and after his death in 1944.6 Melanie retired as District Deputy in 1959, having served a total of fifty-three years with the Royal Neighbors of America.7 Upon the occasion of her retirement, she was honored with a speech, special guests, and the presentation of a scrapbook, “This is Your Life,” assembled by her colleagues.8

Melanie (Lutz) Adam at Royal Neighbors of America retirement, Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa, 1959; digital image 2017, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2017.

From her earliest years with the organization, Melanie found a strong circle of female friends among her fellow Neighbors, and photographs showcase countless gatherings, both formal and informal. Called “Mala” by those closest to her,9 notes in her retirement scrapbook call up a number of lighthearted memories within the organization as well as glowing praise for her work:

“You are to be congratulated […] for having accomplished, in good measure, what every person who does much thinking so very much wants: That is, to be remembered for something good they have done. Could you ask for more than – At the end of a cold, snowy day of driving in Monona County, as you drove home late and tired, to know that it had been you who had guided and influenced a young family in the start of a plan that has materially helped to educate their fine children? […] And perhaps that same cold day you had been responsible for the protection that later was the means of keeping together in the home a young mother with her children; because you had urged the young father that night to protect his family with Royal Neighbor insurance.
“We could look into many homes in Sioux City and the counties around, where you find Neighbors to bless you for the little extra you urged them to save. This little, now added to their Social Security, makes the difference between a bare existence and many of the good things of life.
“Perhaps many remember the good times at meetings and conventions and Royal Neighbor trips together. All that has been enjoyable and a happy way of life. And when you can add to it the sure knowledge that you can be remembered in so many places for something truly good, that you have done, you can say with certainty that yours has been a most worthwhile life as a Royal Neighbor Deputy.”10 

The Royal Neighbors of America remains an organization with a rich tradition, and in addition to the scrapbook received upon her retirement, Melanie tucked away a number of other mementos of her time with the organization. One, a book, Rituals for Local Camps, details the many ceremonial aspects of the organization and also notes the tenets of faith, endurance, courage, modesty, and unselfishness upheld by its members.11 As a champion for women and children, the Royals Neighbors of America was known also for their support of the suffragette movement, and Melanie may well have taken part in local efforts to secure the right of women to vote.12

Although enrollment has dwindled in Sioux City, the Royal Neighbors of America remains active nationwide today, a fact that would certainly have pleased Melanie who had a profound appreciation for the friendships, leadership experience, and career opportunities she enjoyed during more than half a century as a Neighbor.

Copyright © 2017 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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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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The Relinquished Homestead

Not all homesteaders made it. As far as I know, George Hiram Thoma was the last of my direct ancestors to stake a claim, which he did in western Nebraska on a February day in 1909. George and his brother-in-law Clare Eugene Gibson arrived together at the land office in Valentine in order to pay their respective filing fees; each was granted about six hundred acres of land on adjoining claims in the desolate Sandhills of nearby Rock County, Nebraska.1 While earlier claims under the Homestead Act of 1862 allowed each individual only one hundred and sixty acres, later amendments granted settlers more land in certain areas where, for example, the soil and climate might be less conducive to raising crops. The Kincaid Act of 1904 applied specifically to thirty-seven counties in northwestern Nebraska that contained non-irrigable land.2

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 1.12.48 PM

Google Earth certainly doesn’t make this part of the country look particularly inviting, and life there may have been even more difficult than expected. The homesteads were located more than twenty miles from the nearest town of Bassett, and the families had likely never experienced such isolation. However, Clare Gibson, along with his wife, Alpha, and their four children, Bernice, Pauline, James, and Florence, stuck it out; his homestead was patented in February 1913,3 and the Gibson family remained there for years to come.4

George Thoma and his wife Leota, on the other hand, lasted only a little more than a year. On 4 May 1910, George relinquished his homestead,5 acknowledging defeat and, apparently, accommodating his wife’s wishes to leave an area that his daughter later described as “all sand, horrible, no trees.”6 To make matters worse, there were rattlesnakes, and with a rambunctious six-year-old son, Fenton, and a two-year-old daughter, Fern, to keep safe, this was perhaps more than the couple had bargained for. They cut their losses, bade farewell to Clare and Alpha—sisters Alpha and Leota would never again have the opportunity to live as neighbors—and moved to town.7

Thoma_George_Homestead_01

George H. Thoma (Rock County) homestead file, case no. 1383, Valentine, Nebraska, Land Office; Serialized Land Entry Case Files That Were Canceled, Relinquished, or Rejected, ca. 1909-ca. 1918; Records of the Bureau of Land Management, Record Group 49; National Archives at Kansas City.

I may never have come across this record had I not attended the course “Advanced Research Tools: Land Records” at the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy. [Read about my experience HERE.] It was there that I learned about tract books, bound volumes maintained by the Bureau of Land Management that faithfully recorded the filing of all land transactions—including claims that were later canceled, relinquished, or rejected. These claims cannot be found indexed at the Bureau of Land Management, typically my go-to resource for locating land records. Fortunately, however, the United States Bureau of Land Management Tract Books are available online at FamilySearch, and a handy Tract Books Coverage Table makes it possible to navigate the unindexed record images.

While I knew my great-grandmother had said that her father had homesteaded near Bassett, Nebraska, when no final patent could be found on the Bureau of Land Management’s database, I initially came to the conclusion that he must not have actually homesteaded there. Perhaps the family had lived with relatives or rented a farm during their brief time in Bassett, I thought. After all, my grandmother was only a toddler at the time, so her recollections might well have been dim. Well, as it turns out, George Hiram Thoma did indeed have his very own homestead, albeit briefly, and as a bit of a research bonus, the federal records that this homestead created mark the conclusion of his mysterious use of an alias.

Copyright © 2016 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.
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A Sioux City Streetcar

One might not expect that a community in Iowa was the first in the world to have an electric-powered elevated streetcar system, but in the early 1890s, Sioux City blazed that trail.1 It was already the third city in the United States—after New York and Kansas City—to host a non-electric elevated streetcar system, and for years to come, streetcars served to connect its far-flung neighborhoods, offering a convenient and affordable transportation option to its citizens.2

Henry_Adam_Streetcar

Henry Joseph Adam, center, Sioux City, Iowa, circa 1903-07; digital image 2010, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2016.

As a newlywed in his mid-twenties, Henry Joseph Adam of Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa worked as a conductor for the Sioux City Rapid Transit Company, also known as the Sioux City Service Company.3 This photograph, dated circa 1903-07, shows him in uniform, his suit rather baggy on his slight frame and a cap atop his head. Half a dozen men and women pictured behind him are in the process of boarding the streetcar, while three men at the front seem to be investigating an issue with either the tracks or the car itself. As this seems an unlikely place for passengers to board the car, suspended as they were over the Floyd River, I suspect there was a problem with the streetcar and the passengers had temporarily disembarked, an inconvenience on such a chilly day. That might also explain the occasion for the photograph; the original, mounted on a large piece of cardboard, looks as though it could be a copy of a local press photograph.

Just a few years before, Henry’s parents had had an unfortunate encounter with Sioux City’s elevated streetcars. In the summer of 1896, the Sioux City Journal reported:

Yesterday afternoon Timothy Adams and wife, of Moville, were about to cross the track of the elevated railway at Hedges station, Morning Side, when they met with a severe accident. They were driving a team to a light wagon, and as the electric car approached the horses became frightened. The tongue of the wagon broke and stuck into the ground, throwing Mrs. Adams violently over the dash board. The wheels passed over her, but when Dr. Brown was called it was found she was not much hurt and that no bones were broken.4

Seriously injured or not, Henry’s mother filed a suit against the Sioux City Rapid Transit Company and received one hundred and twenty-five dollars.5 Little could she have known that her son would soon become their employee, and, fortunately for Henry, if this incident was recalled, it must not have been held against him! He was employed there for only a few years, between approximately 1903-07, and spent the rest of his life as a carpenter. In the above photograph, he is working the route from East 4th and College to Greenville, which necessitated crossing the Floyd River on an elevated track.6

As for the streetcars of Sioux City, they peaked in 1933 with around forty-five miles of track that traversed multiple neighborhoods and even crossed the state line into South Sioux City, Nebraska.7 By the 1940s, however, with the introduction of a more-flexible bus system, streetcars quickly became obsolete, and after sixty years of service to the community, operations ceased in 1948.8

Copyright © 2016 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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Suiting Up at the Turn of the Century

I’ll admit I feel rather proud of my namesake for marrying such a debonaire young man. Henry Joseph Adam of Sioux City, Woodbury County, Iowa, pictured at right, married Melanie Veronica Lutz in 1905 at the age of twenty-four, which allows this photograph to be dated to approximately 1900-1905.1

Henry_Adam_1900

Henry Joseph Adam, at right, with an unknown individual, Akron, Iowa, ca. 1900; digital image 2014, privately held by Melanie Frick, 2015. Collection courtesy of David Adam.

Census records confirm that the photographer who made this cabinet card, Gene Frank of Akron, Plymouth County, Iowa, did indeed operate a photography studio in the early twentieth century.2 However, I’m not entirely sure what Henry was doing in Akron himself. He lived in Sioux City, thirty miles south, where there were certainly a number of photographers; however, Akron was a bit closer to the French Canadian communities of southeastern South Dakota where Henry had a number of relatives. It’s also possible that he had hired out to work in the area or that he had simply gone there for a visit – or, as the case may be, for a shopping expedition.

As with all photographs, an important question comes to mind: “What was the occasion?” While I don’t note a strong family resemblance between the other young man and Henry’s male relatives, one possibility is that he could have been a cousin. He could not have been a classmate, as Henry attended school only through eighth grade, but it is possible that he and Henry worked together in some capacity. If nothing else, he was a friend, and I wonder if he and Henry purchased these suits together. The textured suit jackets are nearly identical in terms of cut and fabric, but not quite, while the stiff-collared shirts seem to be the same; the young men expressed their individuality by way of their accessories. The friend, with wet hair slicked in a part, wears a vest with a knotted striped necktie and a watch chain, while Henry omits the vest in favor of a fleur-de-lis-printed necktie tied in a bow. It wouldn’t have been unusual in this era for two young men to have a photograph taken together to document their friendship.

What strikes me about this photograph is that from what I know of Henry, he wasn’t typically quite so refined! He spent his teenage years as a dairy farmer and his adult years as a carpenter, so such dapper attire was in all likelihood limited to his early adulthood and might have been worn to church or while courting. The high detachable collar fully encased his neck, and I particularly like that he wore the fleur-de-lis as an apparent nod to his French Canadian heritage; Henry in fact spoke both French and English.

There are a number of photographs of Henry in my collection, but this may be the most dapper of them all. For more photographs of the family of Henry Joseph Adam (1881-1944) and Melanie Veronica Lutz (1884-1973), stay tuned for the new Adam Family Album. 

Copyright © 2015 Melanie Frick. All Rights Reserved.

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