Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Brush with Stardom…

Lawrence Welk
Except it was well before stardom hit Lawrence Welk.  As a young man, he and his band traveled throughout North Dakota and eastern South Dakota playing for dances, and one of those jobs was at Cottonwood Lake, near Redfield, South Dakota, when he was just 17.

One night, he asked 19-year-old Mary Joyce out on a date.  After that date, he told Mary she was too old for him, so asked her 15-year-old sister Ag out instead!  She went out with him a few times, but eventually declined his requests as his breath was terrible!

There are a few things about this story that don’t line up perfectly – Mary and Ag’s ages would make the year 1916, but Welk would have been only 13 then.  Perhaps it was a few years later – but Mary was married in 1920, so it would likely have been around 1919.  This story came from uncle Jimmy Yost, about 2002, through his nephew Brian.
Mary (left) and Agnes Joyce

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Holiday Meals

If I sit quietly and block out the real world, I can remember vivid snippets of holiday dinners at Grandma and Grandpa's house.  Thinking back to our arrival at their home, I can still smell the aromas of some wonderful things cooking in the oven, and hear the rattling of the pressure cooker control.  I can see the pink bowl on the table, always filled with something really, really good; I can see plates with slices of different pies on the buffet.  I see a pretty pink popcorn cake that was destined to be munched on all afternoon, long after dinner was gone and everyone had thought they were full.  No matter the holiday, it was always a full and delicious meal, and lots of good company and conversation.

Now that I have a fair number of years doing Grandma's job, it occurred to me that I probably never told Grandma how much I enjoyed and appreciated all those fantastic meals - all the potato peeling, the cooking, the baking, the trips to the grocery store, all the money they spent, all the cleaning poor Grandpa had to do in preparation... and they probably had no idea that they were making such comforting and lasting memories.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A Passion for Mechanics

The year was about 1917, and the place was rural Beadle county, South Dakota, and the Will Knutz family was going for a ride in the new car!  But first, photos had to be taken.  People piled in and out of the vehicle, in various configurations, until it was finally time to take a spin.  For little Bill "Willie" Knutz, sandwiched in the back seat between his uncle Delbert and Aunt Lulu, and behind his brother Howard, this was a life changing event.

Bill told the story of when he was just a lad, and the car needed repair.  Will took the car to a mechanic in Huron, and as the man worked on it, Bill watched his every move.  The mechanic finally noticed, and invited young Bill to take a look under the hood, and took the time to explain all the parts to him and what they did.  He was fascinated at how it all worked together, and from that point on, Bill was deeply interested in mechanics.

As a young man, Bill worked as a farm hand.  He told of many cars that he had bought and sold, and he tinkered with them all.  Only one got the best of him; he told how it sat in the barn for months while he worked on it, and he never did get it running.

Over the years, Bill used that mechanical ability to fix just about anything that needed fixing; they never had the money to just replace things, so you could argue that it was out of necessity. But I think otherwise - when he would get our attention as children, he'd take us to his basement workshop and show us whatever he had apart at that moment, and how it worked, in detail.  Then he'd fix it.  And I suspect he would have fixed things regardless of his financial condition, because on that day in the mechanic's shop long ago, he'd found his passion.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Vintage Recipes

I just finished transcribing recipes out of a charming old recipe book, which my grandfather purchased from the U. S. Department of Agriculture in 1957.  He gave it to my mother when she got married that year.

Anyone who knows my mom will not be surprised that nearly 60 years later, the book is still in fantastic condition!  My grandmother was a cook; but cooking was not among my mom's interests. As a matter of fact, I remember coming home from junior high one day, and meeting my brother as he arrived home from grade school.  A strange smell greeted us as we walked in the door - it almost smelled like... brownies!  And it was.  They were awesome - and it's a good thing that we enjoyed it, because that was the only time it happened!

While not a natural-born cook, Mom did crank out a few things from her kitchen that were especially good.  She made a casserole with mixed vegetables, meatballs, onions, cubed potatoes, and cream of celery soup sauce that was fantastic. I always loved that aroma coming from the kitchen.  And once in awhile she'd make a black cherry jello salad with raw apples and walnuts in it, which was also a welcome sight at the dinner table.

One of the things I noticed in these old recipes was "table fat" as an ingredient.  I was not able to figure out exactly what this refers to.  Some suggestions were fat trimmed from meat, or lard.  As I transcribed, I noticed that "table fat" was an ingredient in some of the cookies and cakes, so I doubt it was meat fat.  I also noticed that butter was conspicuously absent.  Perhaps "table fat" refers to butter, lard or margarine.

I hope you enjoy perusing the recipes from this old book - you can find them here.  There are some old stand-bys, as well as recipes I'd probably never cook (tongue, for instance), but it was fun to see what was served up on the dinner tables of the 1950s.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

William Graves of NC, OH, IL

William and Rebecca (Stretch) Graves
William Graves and his wife Becky Stretch will always be special to me, though I never even came close to meeting them.  Back in the late 1990’s, when my interest in genealogy became re-kindled, it was with them that I began my research. 

Bill Graves was born 20 Nov 1820 in Chatham county, North Carolina to John and Elizabeth (Freeman) Graves, the fourth of twelve children.  The following year, his family removed to Ross county, Ohio, where many of his father’s siblings had already gone.  There he married Ann Ratcliff, daughter of Simon and Rachel (Dixon) Ratcliff in 1842, on his 22nd birthday.

In 1844, Bill’s brothers Thomas and James had sojourned to Stark county, Illinois to see if the grass was greener there.  It was, they determined, and sent for their parents and siblings.  As John and Elizabeth prepared for the trip by
covered wagon, John took ill and died.  Elizabeth painfully continued the preparations and continued westward.  Everyone went except Bill and Ann – Bill owned about 210 acres of land in Liberty township, nearby that of his father-in-law, Simon Ratcliff.  They continued on in Ross county with their children Simon, b. 1844; Martha Madaline, b. 1846; and Saran Ann, b. 1855.  Their third child, James Newton, lived less than a month and was buried at Friends Church Cemetery near Londonderry, Ohio.
Six months after the birth of her youngest child, Ann died, and was buried near her son.  Six months after her death, Bill married Rebecca Stretch, daughter of Thomas and Rebecca (Rains) Stretch, who had helped out with the children after Ann’s death.  About 1864, Bill, Becky, and their family set out to join the rest of Bill’s family in Illinois.  Simon and “Madaline,” as she was called, went with their father, and Sarah Ann (“Annie”) stayed behind to be raised by her maternal grandparents.  In addition to these two children, Bill and Becky’s family consisted of Cynthia (4) and Thomas (2),   They purchased a farm in Peoria county, Illinois, just across the border from Stark county, and there they prospered.  Their twin sons, Oscar and Austin, were born in 1870.  Bill eventually had purchased enough land to give each of his children, including the girls, an 80-acre farm. 


William apparently retired at a fairly early age, as the younger children didn’t remember him working.  According to his granddaughter, Myrtis, William never hurried at anything, and was an easy going man.  He “made it a point to be out at the gate when he saw a wagon coming, which in those days of slow driving was not hard to do,” she said.  He always went to bed before dark, never smoked, drank, or kept late hours, and lived a long life to show for it.  He was also interested in his family’s history, and kept many of the birth and death dates in his Bible.  Though his people had been Quakers, Bill never professed any certain religion himself, and saw no need to “pay a preacher to tell people how to live.”  This perturbed his wife to no end, having been brought up in a church-going home, and the daughter of a choir-master.  He did, however, insist that his children attend Sunday school.

IMG_6506 Eventually their children grew up and left home – Simon sold his farm to younger brother Oscar and went to Nebraska; Madaline married Monroe Cox of Stark county; Annie married Monroe’s brother Charles Cox, also of Stark county; Cynthia married David Evans of Peoria County; Thomas also sold his farm to his brother Oscar and moved to South Dakota; and Austin did likewise, settling in Minnesota.  Oscar’s descendants continued on the farm, with his grandson still owning it as of at least 2008, making it eligible for designation as a “Centennial Farm”".”


Rebecca suffered a fall, breaking her thigh bone, and died a month later, the official cause of death being tuberculosis.  She passed away on 26 May, 1905 at the home of her daughter Cynthia.  Bill then lived with his son Austin at Stringtown, just across the border in Stark county, where he died on 16 Jun 1908.  Both Bill and Becky are buried at Sheets Cemetery in Stark county. 

Ray Christensen- Making a Night Fighter out of a Farmer

FO Ray_Color
© Karen Seeman.
Whatever possessed Ray Christensen to do an about-face on the life he had planned, and enlist in World War II?  He was 28 years old; had two and a half years under his belt at the University of Minnesota, and was working on an agricultural degree; he had a job selling insurance for State Farm, and admittedly had a “pretty good setup” living rent free as a grounds-keeper in a women’s boarding house (not bad for a self-proclaimed “ladies’ man!”)  

Agriculture was in Ray's blood, and after high school he continued to help his father on the family farm, then traveled the midwest as a hired man.  Autumn of 1938 finds him at the University of Minnesota to work on a degree in agriculture.  I don’t know what his plans were – go back to farming?  Extension work?  Something else?  But he worked hard to pay his tuition, and was the first in his family to go to college.

And then suddenly, between semesters, he enlisted.  Did the attack on Pearl Harbor 3 weeks prior have anything to do with it?  I don’t know, but before you can say, “What happened?” he’s at Scott Field in Illinois.

Scott Field, 1942
One of his first letters home says he’s learning code and electricity, and eventually will learn radios.  He’ll have to “work like heck to make it,” but hopes to make the grade as a radio man on a bomber, or an instructor.  His scores on the exams are high - sometimes the highest.  Well, he did work like heck, and he was eventually a navigator on one of the most wild rides a soldier could get – an assignment to a night fighter squadron.

A typical radio class at Scott Field.

Ray seemed to enjoy his time at Scott field – good food, comfortable bed, and only four men to a room.  The food was so good, in fact, that he complained about his uniforms getting “a bit snug.”  The only problem is that passes were hard to come by, even on the weekends, and for a guy like Ray who loves who loved to dance, well, that part did not go over well.
By June, Ray had completed his coursework at Scott Field and has moved on to the AAFTTC Technical School in Boca Raton, Florida, which had just officially opened for business on June 1st.1

The main mission of the Boca Raton AAF was radar training – a field that was considered top secret at that time.  The personnel attending this school had to pass a “rigorous background investigation” and be among the most highly ranked candidates academically.2  During this time, Ray was also doing some instructing of some sort; his letters don’t say much, but do frequently mention his students.

During his time at Boca Raton, Ray passed the aerial gunnery board, and was anticipating gunnery school before going “across.”  

In March of 1943, 7 months after arriving at Boca Raton, Ray is still there, but anticipating being sent to Japan “any day now.”  By the time of his next letter in June, he has been sent to Kissimmee, Florida, and would then go to the 417th Night Fighter Squadron by way of the British Isles for additional training.  The night fighter assignments were so dangerous, men were considered on a volunteer basis only.  I don't know what might have prompted Ray to ask for this hazardous work - perhaps an adventurous spirit, perhaps something else.  From the British Isles, he began his career as a night fighter navigator in the European Theater.  So much for going to Japan! 

More on Ray's story in a future post~


Photo of Scott Field and Radio class: “Scott Field, United States Army Air Corps: A Pictorial and Historical Revies of Scott Field.”  1942
Various Letters from Ray Christensen to his sister, Lillian.

Charlotte Debolt: Making a Case for her Parentage

Charlotte Debolt was my fifth great-grandmother, and someone I’m still getting to know.  Information has been hard to come by, particularly concerning her relationship with her husband, and discovering the identity of her parents.  Charlotte was married to Daniel Debolt, a man about fifteen years her senior.  They were the parents of seven children, at least that I’ve been able to identify so far.  The 1820 and 1830 censuses find them in Licking county, Ohio, and in 1840, Charlotte is still there and identified as “head of household.”  Daniel seems to spend the remainder of his life in the households of two of his children, but not again with Charlotte.  Charlotte and several of her children removed to Peoria county, Illinois, where she passed away in 1851 and is buried in Princeville cemetery. 
There’s certainly more to learn about Charlotte’s relationship with her husband, but I may be asking for too much.  However, I may be having some luck in identifying her parents.  I found a Charlotte Debolt listed in an index to abstracted wills in Washington county, Ohio.  She was listed as an heir of Patrick Burnsides.  My bubble was burst, however, when I saw that this Charlotte's husband was named William.  But something kept bothering me, so I decided to see review my documentation of Charlotte.
Charlotte was born in New Jersey about 1790.  I did find a Patrick Burnsides in Essex county, New Jersey in a tax list dated 1793, which of course, doesn’t prove much.  In 1830, when Daniel and Charlotte lived in Licking county, Ohio, they lived next to a William Burnsides – perhaps a coincidence.  I decided to go ahead and order the probate file for Patrick Burnsides from Washington County.   Sure enough, right off the bat Charlotte is mentioned with her husband, William Debolt.  However, further into the probate file Charlotte is mentioned again, this time with her husband named as “Daniel” DeBolt!  Also listed among the heirs was William Burnsides... the same William Burnsides who lived next to Daniel and Charlotte in 1830?   Hmmm....
This is not exactly ironclad proof, but I’d say I probably have the right father for Charlotte, at long last.  Now, if I could just figure out why she and Daniel parted…

Michael Joyce: The Man Who Can’t be Pinned Down

MichaelCatherineJoyce Michael and Catherine Joyce When you’re researching a man named Michael Joyce from Ireland, you have to expect that things aren’t going to be easy.  Probably much like researching a man named John Smith from New York City, I’m assuming.  I have been able to prove Michael and his wife, Catherine Finnerty, back to 1850, but no further.  With a date of birth, emigration from Ireland, death date, etc., I was hoping for a way to differentiate him from all of the other Michael Joyces out there, and find his immigration information as well as maybe trace him back to to Ireland.

Ah… we can always hope…

So, when and where was Michael born?  His obituary states that he was born in 1829 in Fraemstown, County Gall, Ireland.  However -

     -1855 Massachusetts State Census indicates 1830
     -1870 Federal Census indicates 1830
     -1880 Federal Census indicates 1831
     -1900 Federal Census says Sept. 1830
     -1910 Federal Census indicates 1830
     -his obituary says Sept. 29, 1830
     -his death certificate says Oct. 2, 1829
     -his original headstone says Sept. 29, 1829.

And regarding his place of birth – there is no county in Ireland by the name of Gall, and “Fraemstown” appears to be nonexistent.  The general vicinity for the Joyce family in County Galway has been established, but an 1781 map of the area doesn’t show “Fraemstown” or anything similar, which is a bit troubling.  His wife was still living at the time of his death, and came from the same area of County Galway, so if it were she who supplied the information, one would have to give it some sort of credibility.

Michael supposedly emigrated from Ireland aboard the “Victoria” but I have not been able to find a ship by that name operating in the appropriate time and place.  And when did he emigrate?

     -1848, per his obituary
     -1846, per the 1900 census
     -1849 per the 1910 census

He married Catherine Finnerty in 1851, according to his obituary.  Their first child was born in May of 1852, so this seems to fit – for a change.

They supposedly relocated from Massachusetts to Wisconsin in 1851, but birth places of their children make 1855-1857 more feasible, and a Michael and Catherine Joyce with two children by the appropriate names appear in the 1855 Massachusetts State Census, making the 1855-1857 time range more likely.

And his death? At least it’s either October 5 (death certificate and probate papers) or October 6 (original headstone).  Ironically, his obituary never exactly states when he died.

My conclusion is that Michael Joyce just dropped out of the sky and landed in the United States, and from thence we all sprang.  Seriously, the only solid information (I’m making a big assumption here) are the names of his parents from his death certificate.  Unfortunately, his father has a common name as well (Patrick) and his mother is Rose “Maden” – or perhaps Madden.  There are plenty of Maddens in the same area of Ireland as the Joyces, but no Madens that I have been able to find.  Hopefully, I'll be able to find a solid piece of information that will set him apart from the others, and help me to work back back a generation or two.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

George Adams, Glover

I was delighted to inch my way back to 14 generations of my husband’s Adams line, back to George Adams, the immigrant ancestor.  I was even more delighted to find out personal information about him, something more than birth and death dates.
George Adams, son of George Adams and Martha Streetholt, was born ca. 1620 in England, and was a glover by trade.
George and his family may have been a part of the Puritan immigration into Massachusetts, as they entered the New World during the same time frame and settled in the same general area.  Many of these immigrants sold themselves into slavery for 6-8 years to pay for their passage.  George and his family are first documented in Watertown, Massachusetts.
George may have gotten himself into serious trouble by engaging in illegal trade with the Indians.  He had been granted 20 acres of land in Lancaster for his home, and as a result of his illegal transactions, it was “reconveyed” and given to a man by the name of Jonas Fairbank.  George was censured on 18 May 1653 in Watertown by the General Court for selling two guns and “strong water” to the Indians.  Since he had no money with which to pay the fine, he was ordered “whipt & discharged out of prison.”
In 1655, the Watertown selectmen granted him four acres of land on “Kinges Comen.”
In 1661, he and his family of five children were declared to be “living in need” by the town of Watertown.
In 1664, the family moved to Cambridge Farms, George selling his home in Watertown in November of that year.
In 1670, George was a landowner in Lancaster, Massachusetts.  He attempted to regain the land that had been “reconveyed” there many years prior, but since another family had put down roots there, he was unsuccessful.  The General Court, realizing that Adams had some valid claim to that land, granted him 60 acres near “Washacombe” in return for he and his son John dropping the matter, to which they both agreed.   George would eventually build a home there.
At the same time, George asked the General Court to reaffirm his ownership of 200 acres of land he got from the Sachem Shoniow.  On 12 May 1675, the Court did affirm George’s rights to this land, called “Washaame Hill.”
Late in the summer of 1675, and again in February of 1676, during King Philip’s War, Indian attacks devastated Lancaster, and after the latter attack, the town was abandoned. George was said to have served in Captain Joseph Sill’s Company in the war.  George and his family appear to have gone back to Cambridge Farms.  While he does not appear to have returned to Lancaster, a 1684 list of landowners who lived elsewhere bears his name.
A Cambridge Farms tax list for the year from 01 May 1692 – 01 May 1693 has both George’s name and that of his son George.
George’s life came to an end on 10 Oct 1696, at the age of about 76, “by the fall of a rock.”
     Elmo Walter Adams, Genealogy of the family of Charles Adams, 1772-1801 : a fifth (5) generation American of Farmington, Connecticut : a record from his first New England ancestors, George and Frances Adams, settlers in Watertown, Massachusetts, 1645, and a record of certain of his descendants, including some representatives of the twelfth American generation to 1969. Burlingame, Calif.: 1969.
     Gerald James Parsons, M. S. (L. S.), F. A. S. G. (The American Genealogist, Vol. 55, No. 4).
     George Norbury Mackenzie, LL. B, Colonial Families of the United States of America, Vol. I. Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc.
     Notes from Chedwato. Vol. 7, No. 6, November, 1960.
     Unknown author, The Adams Family: Levi Finch and Hulda Adams, their descendants. 1926.
     Phelps, Oliver Seymour and Servin, Andrew T, The Phelps Family of American and their English Ancestors. 1899, Eagle Publishing Co., Pittsfield, Mass.
     Gene Pool Individual Records via
     Massachusetts Town Birth Records (

Ole Mattis Brevik Frendahl - Looking for the Rest of the Story

I looked a good, long time for Uncle Matt, as I’d heard him called.  My Aunt Mary and I would have some enjoyable conversations about family history, and we did a lot of wondering about him.   He was Aunt Mary’s maternal uncle, and a bit of a mystery.
Matt Brevik.  He left Norway at an early age and never looked back.  His sister, Agnes Brevik, had married my grandfather Adolph in 1921 and had come to the United States in 1923.  Matt would disappear and resurface again periodically, Aunt Mary said.  He had red hair, and was a lot of fun – the kids loved him.  The last time she saw him she was seven years old.  She speculated he was “in trouble with the law.”  Mary said she thought that her father and my father had made contact with him, and visited with him sometimes in the 1960s.
I was thrilled to have a clue!  My father confirmed that he, my mother, and his dad went to Iowa, where Uncle Matt was working on a farm.  Dad thought he was married to the woman who owned the farm, but he could not remember where in Iowa they lived. I searched every census I could find from 1920 onward for him.  I searched and every other database or forum I could find.  I looked for any sign of Matt Brevik in Iowa, or anywhere else, but I found nothing.
Meanwhile, across the ocean, a descendant of Matt and Agnes’ brother was trying to find out whatever had become of them.  She found Agnes’ son’s obituary, and made contact with our family.  What she told me about Matt was a game changer.
She told me that he had left Norway and severed ties with his parents over some matter that was apparently very serious.  They never heard from him again.  She was surprised that Agnes had used the name Brevik – Agnes’ father had used it at one time, when they lived on the Breivik farm, but after moving to Frendahl, they took that surname.  She also said that Matt’s given name was actually Ole Mattis.  Armed with a new name to search for, I started again, and this time successfully.  The Social Security Death Index gave me a “last residence” for him, and the rest is history.
Ole Mattis Frendahl was the son of Justin Meyer Frendahl and Oline Marie Evensdotter, born 01 May 1902 in Norway.  He left Norway for good on March 23, 1923 aboard the Frederick VIII, and arrived at the Port of New York on April 4, 1923.  He was headed for South Dakota to his brother-in-law, but the man he lists was actually his brother-in-law’s brother.  He is described as 5’9”, fair-haired, blue-eyed, with a “fresh” complexion.  He is listed as 18 years old, when he actually would have been 21.  There is little doubt this is him, as he also lists his father’s name as “Justin Brevik Frendal.” 
Between Dec. 6, 1923 and Nov. 10, 1930, the name “Mathis” or “Mathias” Brevik appears on numerous “List or Manifest of Aliens Employed on the Vessel as Members of Crew.”  The earliest manifest lists Mathis Brevik, 24 years old, 5’5” as a sailor.  He is said to have 7 years’ service at sea.  The final manifest I could find, Nov. 1930, lists Mattis Brevik’s age as 30.  Our Ole Mattis would have been 28.  There are enough similarities to our Ole Mattis to make me wonder if this is him, but a few discrepancies, particularly with age.  However, Ole Mattis had a tendency toward inaccuracies in his documents, even when he gave the information himself.  In some cases, he flat out lies. And our Uncle Matt seemed to have dropped off the earth between April of 1923 and 1932.
He appears next in Palo Alto County, Iowa in 1932, according to his obituary, where he would spend the remainder of his life.  He was married for the first time in 1938, and would have four wives before his death from cancer on Christmas Day of 1976.  He had no children.      
Various newspaper articles would indicate that Ole Mattis had his demons and difficulties.  Despite them, he was said to have been a good carpenter, building homes and furniture.
His obituary, as well as his death certificate, state he was born in New York.  Perhaps “re-born” in New York would be more appropriate, considering his split with his parents and his past in Norway.   I believe that in order to understand him and his life, it would be imperative to know what happened in Norway.  Regardless, I hope he was able to make peace with it all.

Andreas and Anne Larsen of Hundhammer

I had scanned hundreds of photos that evening, most of them with no identification, and most so small it was hard to see much without scanning.  My eyes were tired.  My back was aching.  I had two piles for the completed photos - the Unknown pile and the Known pile, depending on what, if anything, was written on them.  The Unknown pile was heaping, and I feared most of the little photos in the old trunk would end up there.  My grandmother had moved to another town, and did not want these mystery photos, nor did she want to go through them.  My father, knowing my affinity for family history, grabbed the beat up rusted old trunk from her pile of things to go to the trash. 

I scanned the little photo of a headstone, and as the scan came up on the screen, I had the photo halfway to the Unknown pile.  I did a quick look at the name, and was ready to move on when something stopped me.

I was pretty sure I would not know most of the people in those photos.   My grandmother, Lisa, was technically my step-grandmother, and these photos were hers. She married my grandfather, a widower in the United States, when she was 50 years old and had come here from Norway at that time.  Much of her life had been in Norway with her own friends and family, and I didn't know any of them.  After hours of scanning, this little epiphany was enough to make me want to quit wasting my time and go to bed.

And then I scanned the headstone photo.

Lisa had grown up on the Klungseth farm next to my grandfather's family's farm at Hundhammer.  As a child she played with my grandfather and his siblings.  And she had known my great-grandparents.  Their names, she had told me, were Andreas and Anne Larsen.

I nearly fell off my chair when I saw that the headstone photo was that of my great grandparents.  I knew so little about them, and here they were, right in front of me.

From that point on, I learned more about them rather quickly.  Andreas was a farmer, and the area where they lived was exceptional for fishing, so he built a boarding house to rent beds to fishermen, and did a brisk business.  Anne took care of the house and the animals.  Lisa told me she was an incredible storyteller, and would entertain the children with her tales.

Then, an uncle produced a photo of them, and cousins in Norway that I had met had photos to share as well.

Andreas and Anne Larsen

Andreas and Anne, with my grandfather Adolph, who was the baby of the family.  Photo courtesy of Ivar Wiik.

Their farm at Hundhammer.  Photo courtesy of Tove Fagerhøi.

Steine Kirke, their church and cemetery, is just minutes from their farm.  Photo courtesy of Iren S. Flasnes.

I'm so glad I did not give up on all those tiny photos.  There were a few other gems hidden amongst the unknown photos as well, but none like the headstone photo.

Nicolai Knutz - Looking for a Better Life

Franken  and Nicholas Knutz
[photo courtesy of Mabel Seigenthaler]

After 16 days aboard the Amalfi, the Port of New York must have looked good to Nicolai Knutz.  With his wife, Franken, and children Andreas, Georg, Hannchen, Boye Friedrich, Nicolai Jr., Wilhelm and Anna, they set out from their home in Tatting, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany, for Missouri.  Life had been hard for them in Tatting, and Franken's brother Boie Nissen had come to America two years prior, and said the future held more promise than in Germany.  So Nicolai sold the family's meager home to the city, getting enough money to pay for their passage on the ship and get them to St. Louis.
The small house south of Sedlia, Missouri, where the Knutzes raised their family.
[photo courtesy of Mabel Seigenthaler]

Once they made their way to Missouri, they settled on 40 acres of land in Pettis county, about 5 miles south of Sedalia, where they grew vegetables to sell.  They lived in a small house with their seven children.

My grandfather, who was their grandson, met Nicholas and Franken once, as a small child when his family make the long journey from South Dakota to Missouri.   He remembered Nicholas as "seeming like a giant" and having coal black hair and a red, brush-like mustache.  While he did not remember his grandmother at all, his younger sister remembered that Franken would hand-piece quilts for them, which helped greatly during the harsh South Dakota winters.

Nicholas died in January of 1925 at his home, a result of chronic kidney problems.  Franken died in October of 1933, also at her home, from complications of cancer.  They are both buried at Crown Hill Cemetery in Sedalia.

A Second Look at the Life of Susan Bliss

In all the research I have done into the lives of my ancestors, never have I uncovered such a chronic set of poor circumstances than those of Susan Bliss.  There is just something about her life story that is so sad, but brings up so many questions.

She was born in 1838 in Pennsylvania, and married Jacob Givens there.  Three children were born to them - Ella, Josephine, and a little boy, who lived such a short time that, except for Ella's obituary, there's no trace of him.  And they would lose little Josephine within a few years.

About 1865, Jacob, Susan, and Ella came to Princeville, Illinois, where Jacob was a wagon-maker for O'Brien Brothers.  When the company expanded operations to Kewanee, Illinois, Jacob took his wife and daughter there, but he contracted typhoid fever and died.  Susan moved back to Princeville, where several of her siblings had made their home.

Two years later, Susan married William T. Lair, a young farmer and Civil War veteran.

William had no children of his own, but apparently was close to Susan's daughter Ella, who named one of her sons after him, and William provided for Ella in his will.  A young man by the name of Franklin Stallman also made his home with William and Susan, and shortly before his death, William added a codicil to his will stating that he considered Franklin "a member of my own family."  Franklin was also an heir in the will, provided he stayed with Susan after William's death, and that he contributed to her support.

During William's Civil War service, he contracted a "lung disease" from sleeping on damp ground and in swamps.  The last two years of his life, he was unable to perform any manual labor.  He did, however, own properties in Princeville.  William died in 1877.

By this time, Susan's daughter Ella had left home and married; Franklin Stallman, whom William considered one of his own family, was gone.  Seven months later, Susan married prominent druggist and grocer Solomon Bliss.  I found Franklin Stallman in the 1880 census, and he was in the home of Susan's sister Sarah, listed as her grandson.  I was surprised to see that he was just 12 years old.

1896 would be a difficult year for Susan.  Her third husband Solomon Bliss would die in September, but prior to that, it appears, trouble was brewing.  The Bureau of Pensions received an anonymous letter from someone in Princeville accusing Susan of pension fraud.  That anonymous person, who later was revealed to be a man named D. M. Potts, stated that Susan had been drawing a pension on the service of her husband William Lair, and had continued drawing it after her marriage to prominent businessman Solomon Bliss.  The letter alleges that she was still using the name "Lair" and getting her mail in nearby Peoria.  An agent was sent to Princeville to investigate.

Three men seemed to be the most knowledgeable about the situation: D. M. Potts, Fred Gladfelter, and J. A. Pratt.  All three were interviewed under oath.  Potts said he had no firsthand knowledge, only that there was "considerable talk" among the people of their small town.

Gladfelter did a fair amount of backpedaling in his testimony.  His only firsthand knowledge, he said, was that he heard Susan's sister remark that it was odd that some soldiers' widows got $12 a month pension, and others (which he inferred to mean Susan) got only $8. 

Pratt said the bulk of his knowledge on the subject came from Gladfelter.  Gladfelter told him that his sister, Susan Tarbox, who lived with Susan for a time, told him that Susan Bliss was drawing the pension and getting her mail in Peoria.

While Potts and Gladfelter signed their testimonies, Pratt refused.

After all was said and done, it appears that Susan never received a pension at any time, let alone committed pension fraud.*

However, Susan's headaches with the Bureau of Pensions was just beginning.  Solomon Bliss died in 1896, and perhaps he didn't have as much money as generally thought, or perhaps Susan went through it quickly.  But in 1901, she applied for a widow's pension from William Lair's Civil War service.  Apparently bureaucratic red tape was alive and well in the early 1900s, as it took 2 years for her to receive an official rejection letter based on the fact that she was not William's wife during his military service.  Appeals were filed.  Reading over the correspondence between the Bureau and Susan was frustrating and heartbreaking.  Numerous affidavits were given by men who served with William, testifying about his health both before and after his military service, and his lung problems in general.  The government chastised Susan for not providing William's death certificate, though Illinois did not require them in 1877, and no such document existed.  The same documents and affidavits were required of Susan over and over again.  In a letter dated Jan. 2, 1906, Susan states, "while I would not wish to be troublesome to the Department, yet I am very anxious that some action be taken in my case.  I am an aged woman and my health is very poor.  Added to this, I am somewhat in want for the reasonable comforts of life.  I feel if I were to receive anything under my application, I ought to have benefits soon."

Her appeal was finally rejected, again, in January of 1907, this time because she could not prove that William's lung disease was a result of his time spent in the swamps and sleeping on damp ground.  A local attorney came to her aid, and officially questioned the rejection in light of the evidence provided, and on July 23, 1908, received notice that the claim was rejected due to her remarriage.  Unfortunately, it no longer mattered, as Susan had died two weeks earlier.  

As I went through all of this, several thoughts came to mind -

How did Susan go through two estates so quickly?  Were the estates of William Lair and Solomon Bliss not as large as it seemed?

Regarding young Franklin Stallman - how did he come to be in William and Susan Lair's household, and being only nine years old when William added the codicil to his will, how did William expect that Franklin would be able to contribute to Susan's support?  Was William presuming he had much longer to live than he did?  He had been bedridden for the two months' prior to his death. 

Why were some people in Princeville so anxious to conclude Susan was involved in pension fraud?  That the federal government was brought into it based only on conjecture, it would seem that Susan had made enemies.

Regarding her desperate financial condition and poor health when Susan wrote to the Bureau of Pensions - she had written another letter a few months later asking for an update on her appeal, and said that friends and neighbors were concerned about her living alone, but that she had no money to pay anyone to stay with her.  She did not mention that her family was concerned, just friends and neighbors.  Considering that her daughter, and numerous siblings still lived in this small town, it seems that someone could have taken her in.  Was her family not involved with her, and if so, why?  Did she deliberately not mention her family in that letter, and if so, why?

These are all questions that I have little hope of answering, but you never know! 


*The official investigation concluded that if Susan had received a widow's pension, $8 would have been the appropriate amount, but the investigator never cited any records of a pension, which I found odd.  He also concluded that if Susan were receiving a pension after William's death, it would have gone up to $12.  It seems like it would have been an easy matter to consult the Bureau's own records.  In addition, in one of her appeals, Susan asked to collect a widow's pension for the time between William's death and her remarriage to Solomon Bliss, but was told that she did not meet the criteria, so it seems unlikely that she was ever able to receive any monies.