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 (  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.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Chapter 23: Cyrus Dies at the Sailors and Soldiers Home

Military pension files can be rich sources for biographical information because applicants had to establish details of their physical condition and, oftentimes, the facts of marriages and family relationships. Physician's reports and affidavits regarding personal habits dominate Cyrus Fawkner's file.

Cyrus had multiple physical ailments, including heart disease and a double oblique inguinal hernia. Several affiants -- all using the same language -- attested that the hernia was not caused by "any vicious or immoral habits." They said the hernia was not any fault of the veteran. In a May 1895, while a resident in the Sailors and Soldiers Home at Quincy, Illinois, Cyrus swore that the hernia was sustained about 1884 while working with hogs. Cyrus said that he could secure no testimonials for the cause of the hernia because his wife and daughter "who knew of it are dead and no one here knows about it." He said it happened some 200 miles away (in Fairbury) and consequently he could not witnesses who knew of it. In August, he stated that the injury was sustained in January 1888 when he took a severe fall in the hog lot.

Details of the accident may be sketchy, but Cyrus most certainly was in the hog business. A February 1881 newspaper reported that Thomas Weeks of Fairbury had sold "to Fawkner & Hanna this week, 20 head of hogs that averaged 480 pounds each. A run in with a 480 pound hog could do a man some damage!

An acquaintance from Fawkner's Fairbury days observed that he "was a drinking man but her never saw him drunk and that he [claimant] might have been drunk a good many times and affiant not know it." Genealogists understand the logic: just because there is no evidence of something happening doesn't mean it didn't happen. Another affiant state,"the claimant is a moderate drinker.” The Special Examiner for the Pension Bureau responded: “The claim will probably bear investigation.”

It is not clear how long he lived in the Soldiers and Sailors Home in Quincy. He may have lived in St. Louis at least part of the time between 1900 and 1910, because he was examined by doctors there in April 1905 and February 1907.

He apparently recovered enough to be able to live semi-independently for at least a short time. The 1910 census recorded him as a boarder in a private home in St. Louis, Missouri. At age 72, he was still working as a saddler in a harness shop. However, he soon moved into the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Danville, Illinois – a mere 60 miles from his hometown of Danville, Indiana. Cyrus died at the Soldier’s Home 22 June 1911.[14 Burial was in section 6, row 8, lot 1,478 of the Danville National Cemetery.

NOTE: The 4Gen Genealogy blogger is hitting the road again this morning for a visit to Wyoming and Colorado to commune with geysers, hot springs, and granddaughters. He expects to resume blogging in the last half of October -- perhaps venturing into entirely new territory.