Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Eat Turkey, Give GenThanks

This blog usually comes on on Thursdays. Thanksgiving always falls on a Thursday. What is a blogger to do?

Get the blog out early so that the Fonkert and Tidball families can read it before traveling over the river and through the woods to wherever they might be headed.

What is a genealogist to do on Thanksgiving? Eat turkey. Maybe watch some football (although the game that really matters is Friday). Give GenThanks.

Genealogists are thankful for all the usual things -- family and friends, good crops, plenty of food on the table, a roof overhead, beautiful land, and  the luxury of living in a civil society, to name a few. But, this is a genealogy blog, and genealogists give GenThanks for all the things ancestors have passed forward across time to us. Things like:

  • Names -- what is your favorite ancestral name?
  • Memories -- what story do you like most to re-tell?
  • Traditions -- what is your favorite holiday meal?
  • Recipes - Which side of the family does the scalloped corn recipe come from?
And, then there are genes -- those wonderful, hard-to-imagine sequences of nucleotides that chromosomes pass forward across generations. Genealogist give GenThanks for genes. I'm not going to wax eloquent, or wax at all, about DNA. But, on this Thanksgiving, I want to give brief mention to the four sets of great-grandparents that helped make our two daughters who they are. They are the eight individuals in places 8-15 on our daughters' ahnentafel charts.

Jan (John) Fonkert (8) and Trijntje (Kate) Zorgdrager (9). This set of great-grandparents make our daughters one-quarter Dutch, but Jan and Kate were American-born. Jan Fonkert's parents came from Zuid Holland -- his mother in 1848, his father in 1870. Kate's parents were born on Terschelling, a barrier island in the North Sea off the coast of Friesland.

Johan Emmanuel Månsson (Hanson in America) (10) and Edith Romkee (11). A 19-year-old who had lost an eye in a farm accident, came from Hyssna, Sweden, to Tingley, Iowa, in 1908. (Previous blogposts tell some of his story). Edith, or Eda, was born in Tingley to German parents -- Ernst Friedrich Wilhelm Römbke and Cahta Gerloff. Yes, Römbke was Anglicized to Romkee or Romkey. The Römbkes came to southeast Iowa from Windheim on the Weser River. Cahta Gerloff, 17 and single, landed at New Orleans in 1846; her parents and birthplace are not known -- yet.

Aubrey Tidball (12) and Carrie Ehlenbach (13). Aubrey was born in Steele County, Minnesota, to John Tidball and Mary Ann Lee, who had emigrated from Bristol, England, just days after their marriage. Born at Arcola, Illinois, Carrie was a daughter of James Frank Ehlenbach and Elizabeth Ann Fawkner. Yes those Fawkners, the Fawkners I have spent much of the past six months blogging about. I'll be getting back to them soon.

Carl Ferdinand (Charles) Falk (14) and Barbra Kolberg (15). Swedish Charles Falk married Norwegian Barbra Kolberg in Two Harbors, Minnesota in 1919. Charles was one of 10 children born to a family that emigrated about 1890 from the parish of Drev in Småland. Barbra was born at Drøbak, south of Oslo. Barbra's mother, Anna Marie Morstad, brought five children to America in 1906 after her husband, Marthin Kolberg died. There are stories in the Morstad family to rival the Fawkners; perhaps I will eventually get around to telling some of them.

If my math is correct, this all adds up to my American daughters' heritage being one-fourth Dutch, one-fourth Swedish, one-fourth German (with a little Danish mixed in), one-eighth Norwegian, and one-eighth English (with some Irish and Welsh behind the scene). It's not the most exotic heritage, but it is what it is.

But, here's the thing with those genes: because father's and mother's DNA recombine every generation, not all ancestors' genes get passed down equally. Thus, these heritage fractions are not precise. The Swedish might have won out over the German. Let's just say this is a plain old Northern European heritage.

I leave you with one thought: Ancestors are not optional. We are here because they were. For better or worse.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Ringgold Swedes: So, Who was Erik Anderson?

About a month ago, when I wrote my first blogpost about my Swedish grandfather, John Hanson (Johan Månsson), I really didn't think there was much to his story. I had not actively researched him for several years, but when I went back to review my files, I realized his story was richer than I remembered. This is the case of a young man, who lost both parents by age 14, lost an eye while working on a neighboring farm in Hyssna, Sweden, boarded a ship bound for Hull, passed by rail to Liverpool, landed in Quebec, and made his way to Ringgold County, Iowa, where a judge dismissed his petition for citizenship because in America he chosen to use his father's patronymic name as a surname.

Last week's post told the story of Andrew Swanson (Anders Svensson), who apparently recruited Johan Månsson to work as a farm laborer near tiny Tingley, about 15 miles from the Missouri line. This week, I am digging a little deeper into the immigration story. The same day (17 February 1912) that John Hanson declared his intention for citizenship at the courthouse in Mt. Ayr, another Swede, Erik Anderson also made his declaration. Who was Erik? What relation did he have, if any, to John Hanson?

The first clue came from Erik Anderson's citizenship file. A witness for his 1914 petition for citizenship was J. W. Fender, who stated he had been born in of Mercer County, Illinois -- the same county where Andrew Swanson had farmed before coming to Iowa. This was perhaps mere coincidence, but having followed the same migration path, perhaps the Fenders and Swansons knew each other. In 1910, Erik was a "servant" on the Fender farm in Liberty Township.

So, who was Erik? American immigration and Swedish emigration records reveal his identity. Erik Andersson landed at New York 21 March 1909 on the Baltic, which had sailed from Liverpool on the 12th. He had told authorities he was destined for Lamoni, Iowa (about 15 miles from Mt. Ayr), where he would be met by a "friend," A. W. Swanson. He gave his birthplace as Sätilla -- a parish a mere three miles west of Johan Månsson's home parish of Hyssna. Göteberg records list the 9 March departure of Erik Andersson of Sätilla.

The Baltic manifest stated that Erik's nearest relative at home was his father, August Anderson. Indeed, Sättila parish records list the birth and baptism in March 1886 of Erik, son of Carl August Andersson and Anna Charlotte Andersdotter. The 1925 Iowa state census of Ringgold County named the parents of Eric Anderson: Carl Anderson and Anna Anderson. Bingo!

It appears that Erik Andersson, like Johan Månsson, was recruited to Ringgold County, Iowa, by farmer Andrew Swanson. Johan had crossed with Swanson in the fall of 1908, and Erik followed the next spring. They had met on Swanson's farm the spring of 1909. If either ever worked on Swanson's farm, it was probably for only a short time. Both seem to have soon struck out on their own. By 1910, Erik worked on the Fender farm in Liberty Township, while Johan, now known as John Hanson, was on the Ashenhurst farm in Tingley Township. Eric Anderson married Luella Loy 5 September 1917. John Hanson married Edith Romkee 13 August 1918. The marriage records of both accurately named their fathers, but did not name their mothers; both stated they were born at Göteberg (spelled differently).

Here's the maddening part. I remember clearly that the packet of letters that produced the postmark that led me to my Hyssna cousins(see October 22 post) included two postcards sent him by Erik Anderson. From Boston, as I recall. Alas, I can not find them. We moved two years, and things are still appearing in the oddest places, so I'm confident that when they surface, they will help me wrap up the story.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Question in Hyssna: Why Iowa?

Johan Emmanuel Månsson was the youngest child of Måns Hansson and Christina Andersdotter. Måns was 49 when he married 27-year-old Christina in 1871. (Yes, Måns had not married before). He was 67 when Johan was born. You can probably guess what comes next.

Johan was only 10 when his mother died in 1899. Four years later, in 1903, his father died. Johan was just a lad of 14. From the journal I kept on our 1996 trip comes this story, from the neighbor lady, of Johan's father's death. "The clock in the parlor started chiming when he died and would not stop until someone opened the clock and stopped it. Also, the door to the house started banging by itself." On our first trip in 1993, we had heard the story about Johan's mother's death. She, we were  told, died from pneumonia after standing under the downspout of a gutter to cool of in the rain after working in a hot field all day.

About the time of his father's death, Johan went to work just across the road for the owner of the Löcko farm. Most of the stories that might have been told from the next five years have gone to the grave. We do know that Johan lived with the family across the road and worked as a farmhand, and we gather that he lost his left eye in a farm accident (see 5 November 2015 post).

Probably with only a single trunk of belongings -- the one that sits in our family room, Johan boarded the S.S. Ariosto 11 September 1908 at Göteborg bound for Hull (view photos of the Ariosto). He held a ticket through to Chicago. After a train ride across England, he sailed from Liverpool on the S.S. Kensington 17 September and arrived at Quebec 28 September. From there, he entered the United States by train and likely went to Chicago by train, and eventually on to Iowa.

His emigration and immigration records tell two interesting stories. First, as described in this blog two weeks ago, Grandpa Hanson was listed as Johan Emanuel Månsson. That was his patronymic name -- he was Johan, son of Måns Hanson. This caused a problem when he petitioned for U.S. citizenship as John Hanson (see 29 October post).

Second, both his Swedish departure record and the passenger arrival record indicates that he was traveling with Andrew E. Swanson, a U.S. citizen who was returning to the United States, destined for Mt. Ayr, Iowa. The Göteborg port police records show that Johan and Andrew sailed under the same contract number. While the departure record said both were traveling to Chicago (probably the endpoint in their contracts), the arrival record stated that both were destined for Mt. Ayr, Iowa. In the column naming the passenger's nearest relative at home, the manifest stated that Andrew Swanson had been naturalized in 1896 in Mercer County, Illinois. Removing any doubt that the two were traveling together, the second page of the arrival record states that Johan was traveling with "Andrew Swanson (friend)" of Mt. Ayr.

Andrew did first settle in Mercer County, Illinois, where he married Amelia Johnson 12 December 1894. By 1899, he had taken his family 240 miles west to Ringgold County, Iowa, where the 1900 U.S. Census listed a son born 1896 in Illinois and a second born 1899 in Iowa. Andrew Swanson told the census-taker that he had immigrated in 1885.

Why was Johan Mansson traveling to Mt. Ayr with Andrew Swanson?  The 1908 passenger arrival record did not name Andrew Swanson's home parish because he was a U.S. citizen. However, a search in 1885 Göteborg departure records reveals that 21 year-old Anders E. Svenson from Hyssna parish sailed on  6 March 1885. Hyssna parish records state that Anders Emil, born 28 February 1864 to Sven Jonasson and Anna Britta Andersdotter, had departed Hyssna 27 February 1885 for Illinois.

Was Anders/Andrew related to Johan Emanuel Mansson? Working back through the Hyssna parish records to the baptisms of Andrew's father and mother in 1827 and 1833, respectively, gives no indication of a family relationship. This may simply have been a case of a Swedish immigrant Iowa farmer returning to Hyssna for a visit after 20 years in America, during which time he induced Johan, a man with one eye and few prospects in Hyssna, to join him in Iowa, possibly to work on the Swanson farm.

Of course, as in all immigration stories, the question remains: What drew Anders Svensson, aka Andrew Swanson to Illinois in 1885.  Did he have friends or relatives already there? And, if so, why did they chose Ogle County? Andrew is not my ancestor, so I'll let someone else tackle that question.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Glass Eye: Memories Fade, Records Preserve

On the scale of family history, memory is an ephemeral thing. Facts that are recorded -- for example, births, marriages, deaths, inheritances, or military service -- can be rediscovered generations later.  Oral history fades quickly, if not recorded, a memory can fade within a single lifetime.

I think that is why I am compelled to write this week. The only grandfather I knew died when I was in junior high school. I remember too little about him. The story about killing rattlesnakes. Walks to the Breckenridge's general store in Tingley. His old Model A Ford. The awful cigar smoke. Watching the Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday night  and the Friday night fights (boxing) on TV. The great Swede, Ingemar Johansson, was his idol. (When I looked at Wikipedia just now, I was surprised to learn that Johansson died only five years ago). I laugh when I remember the time he proudly made his first batch of popcorn (my parents were out for the night), using vinegar instead of Wesson Oil.

Oh, I also remember him taking out his glass eye to show my brother and me.  I don't recall ever wondering why he had a glass eye. I don't remember really thinking about what it was like to see with only one eye. I might have even thought he could see with through the glass eye.

John E. Hanson World War I draft registration, Ringgold County, Iowa
Over time, I might have forgotten about the glass eye, but unbeknownst to me, at least part of the story was preserved in records. I wish I could remember when and how I found the records, but I was just a hobbyist genealogist at the time and didn't keep a research log. John Emanuel Hanson's World War I draft registration described him as tall (an exaggeration, I think), of medium build, with blue eyes, and light-colored hair (not bald) -- a fair description of a Swedish young man. The form also asked about any lost arms, hands, legs, feet, or eyes. The answer: "lost one eye."

After my mother died, I remember finding a small box with the glass eye and a receipt from the  American company that sold it to him -- I think I am remembering correctly, but I honestly don't know what happened to the items. In any case, I assumed Grandpa must have lost his eye after coming to America.

S.S. Kensington passenger manifest, Quebec,28 September 1908
Wrong. He crossed the Atlantic on the S.S. Kensington with only one eye. The passenger manifest forms asked about physical defects of immigrants. In the case of Johan Emanuel Mansson: "lost left eye through accident." This record also gave a slightly different physical descripton: 5' 9", "fresh" complexion, reddish hair, grey eyes.

Remember the neighbor woman in Hyssna who told the story about Johan selling all his belongings before leaving for America? My memory is fuzzy, but I think I remember her also telling me that Johan had lost an eye in a farm accident. I am not a journal-keeping type, but I did keep a daily journal of our family trips to Sweden in 1993 and 1996. Had the neighbor lady told me the story, you would think I would have written it down. I did record some other interesting stories (next week's post), but perusing my journals today, I don't find the story of how Grandpa lost his eye.  However, the journal tells me that my memory was mostly correct when I wrote last week about Johan selling everything and his family worrying that he would not survive the trip. According to my journal, the neighbor woman didn't tell the story; Åke did.

Memories warp, then fade. Or, perhaps they fade, then warp. Anyway, unless recorded, they eventually go bad. A memory worth preserving is a memory worth writing down. This is why people  should write down family stories, but also why family history researchers are thankful for records that preserve information about their ancestors.

Next week, I will return to the Kensington passenger manifest for clues that will help unravel how Johan Mansson ended up in Iowa, where he was known as John Hanson.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Though he killed Rattlesnakes, he was Denied Citizenship

Johan Emmanuel Hansson, aka John Hanson, was the only grandfather I knew. (My Fonkert grandfather died five years before I was born.) Last week, I told the story of how a postmark from old family letters led me to my second cousin's home in Hyssna, Sweden, where a photo in my cousin's mother's photo album drove home the fact that Åke and I were, in fact, cousins.

Grandpa and Grandma Hanson lived in the small -- actually, tiny -- town of Tingley in Ringgold County, Iowa.I have fond memories of twice yearly visits to their small wood frame house along the main street of the town of perhaps 300 souls. My father was a teacher, so there was usually a summer trip to Tingley. At least several years, we also made the 200-mile trip from "North Iowa" to "Southern Iowa" on Thanksgiving Eve. Leaving after school on Wednesday, we usually made it just past Des Moines by the time "The Wizard of Oz" came onto the radio. Winding up and down the hills of Southern Iowa in the dark, I was terrified by the Wicked Witches. (Oh, I have no idea why the northern part of Iowa is called "North Iowa" and the southern part is called "Southern Iowa.")

John Hanson, circa 1920s
Grandpa was a gentle man. The two things I remember most about him in Tingley were his ancient Model-A Ford (maybe it was a slightly newer model, but I swear I remember him cranking it), his cigars, and his stories about killing rattlesnakes in his pasture. With a pitchfork, as I recall. He was an honest man.

Born in Hyssna, Sweden, in 1888, he worked on a farm across the road from his home. On our 1993 trip, a descendant of the farmer told me that Johan sold everything he owned to pay for his passage across the ocean in 1908, under the name Johan Emmanuel Månsson -- son of Måns Hansson. He had taken no food with him and his family worried he wouldn't survive the trip

Record of Departure from Hyssna Parish

Passengers leaving Göteborg
He did arrive and soon was crossing another ocean, this time of grass, on his way to Ringgold County, where Swedes were a novelty. He filed a declaration of intent for citizenship in February 1912.He went back to court in October 1915 to file his petition ("second papers") for citizenship. The judge rejected the petition in part because, in the judge's eyes, Johan/John had used an assumed name.  In a motion to dismiss the petition, the Chief Naturalization Examiner for the State of Iowa concluded that Johan/John's application "was not made in his full and true name as demanded by statute" and that Johan/John used "an assumed and fictitious name."  In response to a question, Johan/John had admitted "his true name in his native country was Manson." You see, my grandfather had chosen to use Hanson instead of the patronymic Månsson, just as his siblings back in Sweden had done about that time. Patronymics were going out of style, and no true American would use them.

S.S. Kensington Manifest, Arriving Quebec
To be fair, the judge also ruled that the required witnesses "must cover the full period of residence" and in this petition did not. Why not? Because John Hanson told the court that he had been gone from Iowa for two short periods, the first from August through October 1911 and the second from late July through October 1915. Why? To earn money helping with the wheat harvest in South Dakota.

I felt a deep sense of injustice when I read the file. He must have subsequently appealed and received his citizenship because the 1920 census stated he was a naturalized citizen and he later received a Social Security number. There should be court records to confirm this; I need to search for them.

Why did a 20-year-old young Swede go to Southern Iowa to live among English, Germans, and Americans? I will try to answer that question next week.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Hyssna Magic: You Really are My Cousin!

It all started with a postmark.

I remember asking my Swedish grandfather from where in Sweden he came. I seem to remember that he said Gothenburg. At the time, that seemed good enough.

 Johan Emmanuel Hanson died in 1964 in Iowa. His World War I draft registration said he was of medium build, but I remember him being on the slender side. He fit my stereotype of Swedish, with blue eyes and "light" (tending toward blond) hair. I don't know what possessed me (I was at most 13 years old) to ask him where he came from, but beyond his answer to that question, I don't remember him talking at all of Sweden or his family back home.

However, I had a packet of letters addressed to my grandfather in Iowa. Written mostly between 1910 and 1912, they were stamped and postmarked in Sweden and, of course, written in Swedish -- a language that was Greek to me. But, I did understand postmarks. At some point as a child, I had actually collected postmarks -- I'm not sure where I got the idea or what happened to the piles I collected. These letters were boldly postmarked "Hyssna."

 Hyssna was not obvious on any small-scale maps of Sweden. In 1992-93, one couldn't just Google "Hyssna" or type "Hyssna" into Google Maps or the Geonet Name Server (http://geonames.nga.mil/namesgaz/).  Instead, I phoned the American Swedish Institute across the river in Minneapolis and asked for help. They gave me the postal code and told me that Hyssna was a small town of about 700 people about 25 miles southwest of Gothenburg.

I knew no Swedish, but could make out that at couple of later letters from the late 1950s came from Hildur Edberg. So, I did the obvious thing: I addressed a letter to "Family Edberg" in Hyssna, 55102 Sweden. (Wouldn't you know, my current U.S. Zip Code is 55113?). I had no idea if any Edbergs were still in Hyssna, but figured it's a small town, so maybe.

This was, perhaps, January. A few months later, about March or April, a letter postmarked Hyssna came back in the mail.  It was from Hildur's son, Åke. Yes, he remembered his mother saying that she had a cousin (my mother) in America. I wrote back, "Can we visit you in Sweden this summer?" Of course, he answered.

In August we drove up to an ordinary, commonplace red frame house on the edge of Hyssna. Åke and his brother Rolf where there to greet us. Dinner was on the table almost immediately. I have no idea what we had, but I'm sure it was good. (Sandwich cake came later).

After dinner, Åke went upstairs and brought down his mother's photo album. He turned to the first page and asked, "Do you know who these little boys are?" "Of course," I answered. "That's my brother and me."

We had already figured out the genealogy -- Åke and Rolf were my second cousins -- but, the proof was in the picture.  Somehow, a picture of my brother and me had found its way to Hyssna. My mother had sent a picture of her two young boys to her cousin whom she had never met.

Apart from the letters, there had been no contact between the Swedish and American families since Johan Emmanual Hanson emigrated in 1908. He had not returned to Sweden, none of his Swedish family had been to America. Finally, in 1993, the families had reconnected.

 Oh, yes... here's the photo.  At least, I think this is the one that was in
Åke's mother's album. This was 23 years ago, and I didn't think to take a photo of the album page. This photo is from the right time-frame, and it is what I picture in my mind's eye when I think about that evening in Hyssna.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Monty Python is not my Ancestor

As they used to say on Monty Python's Flying Circus,* "And now for something completely different."

A handful of you might have noticed that this blog went AWOL a few weeks ago. The author went car-tripping across the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado, where he communed with bison, geysers, and granddaughters. He was in no position to do any serious blogging.

Before he hit the road, your blogger had spent five months working through the Fawkner family. He still has a long way to go. Some of greatest Fawkner foibles and tragedies are yet to come, but intrepid as he is, the blogger is simply not ready to tell some of the remaining stories the way they ought to be told.

For a mental break and to buy some time to figure out how to proceed with the Fawkners, the blogger plans to wander through some lighter Fonkert and Tidball family heritage stories over the next several weeks. This Thursday, he will tell how a 1910s postmark led to a photo album in Sweden with a 1950s photo of the blogger and his brother on the first page of his Swedish mother's photo album. The following week he will tell how, on the same trip, he met a 9th cousin in The Netherlands.

If you are exclusively a Fawkner follower, you might want to tune out for a while.  But, if you simply enjoy stories of family history discoveries, the blogger invites you to stay tuned over the next month or so while he comes to grips with the Fawkners.

* If you know about about the Flying Circus and things completely different, you are probably over 50.