Sunday, February 2, 2014

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.

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