Tuesday Newsday

Rare old picture from Fjotland around 1850

If our information about this picture is correct, it is a rare opportunity for us to present such an old photograph.  The little girl’s name is Asgerd, born 1851.  She is sitting on her mother, Torborg Eielsdatter Engedal’s lap.  Torborg Engedal born 1822 – died 1874.  The father, Tor Oddson Eiesland, born 1811 – died 1877.

Last row: Karen Tonette  1836 – 1916 and Nils Olaus 1842 – 1918

Both children from Tor’s first marriage.

Nils Olaus signed up with the 25th Wisconsin Regiment and fought in the Civil War, a war we are watching every week on TV right now.  He was taken prisoner and sat in Libby Prison, Andersonville, GA where 12,286 of the North’s soldiers died during a 14 month period because of hunger and awful treatment.

Asgerd left home at age 18 in 1869 to go to her brother.

The picture was found in a crack in a wall when the house on Eiesland was torn down.  It is supposed to have been taken by a man from Fjotland who had brought photo equipment from the US.  Photography was seldom used in Norway before 1880.  The first photographers came to Flekkefjord around 1860.  It is a rarity to have a photograph from as early as 1850.  There are a few more early pictures from this Norw/American.

There are relatives after Torborg and Tor on Eiesland, Haaland, Gunstenslf, and Veggeland.

Translated from AGDER  No. 99 August 1987

Ancestors in Salem, Massachusetts

Goodale/Goodall/Goodell Family

We had always been aware that my husband had New England ancestry. His grandmother had been told stories of Patriot ancestors that fought during the Revolutionary War and she had passed those stories on to her children and grandchildren. That particular branch – the Ehle family – had come to the colonies in the mid 1700’s and were of German descent. The Ehle brothers and their children married into some of the families descended from some of the earliest settlers to come to New England.

When we (finally) discovered the lost parentage of Harriet Elizabeth “Libby” Sharp, it opened up a whole new avenue of research in New York and other New England states. It turns out that Harriet’s great great grandmother was a woman named Sarah Goodell. Sarah had married Solomon Sharp in Connecticut in 1739 and this is where the Sharp and Goodell family lines meet.

Sarah was the daughter of Thomas Goodale and Sarah Horrell and the granddaughter of Zachariah Goodale and his wife Elizabeth Beauchamp. Zachariah and Elizabeth were both born in Salem and remained residents of Salem presumably until their deaths sometime after 1715. As residents of Salem, they would have been witness to many of the events leading up to and surrounding the notorious witch trials of 1692-1693. Zachariah was listed in the membership of the church lead by Samuel Parris.

Zachariah’s father, Robert Goodale, was an English immigrant who settled in Salem in 1634. In the years following his immigration, Robert purchased land in the village amounting to nearly 500 acres. Robert gifted his children with generous parcels of land when they married, and some he sold off to other residents. In 1660, Robert sold 50 acres to Giles Corey. (You can read more about Robert Goodale here.)

excerpt from Salem Quarterly Court Records and Files

The Corey farm was about a mile from the farms of Zachariah Goodale and his brother Isaac Goodale. The youngest Goodale son, Jacob, was a hired worker at the farm of Giles Corey. In 1675, Jacob was caught stealing some apples and Giles beat him so severely that he died. Giles was put on trial and even though several village members testified against him, Giles was fined and released. (You can read the court transcript here.)

There are varying versions of the story in biographies on Giles Corey, but the overall impression is that some people thought that Giles Corey bought his way out of a murder charge. There is also some speculation that Jacob may have been mentally challenged in some way. In any case, Mr. Corey was evidently not the most popular man in the village.

Giles had a long history with the law in Salem. In the early court records he is mentioned on several different occasions being accused of stealing, shirking his duty on watch, and even arson. Seventeen years after Jacob Goodale’s death, when the strange happenings began in Salem and citizens were being accused with alarming speed, Giles and his wife Martha were both among them.

Martha was arrested first and Giles spoke against her in court. A month later, Giles was arrested on the same charge. Giles Corey was pressed to death in September of 1692 because he refused to plead to the charges against him in court. It took 3 days for him to die. He was 80 years old at the time. Martha was hanged 3 days later. (There is a great website dedicated to the witch trials and you can see images of original documents here.)

It is a gruesome piece of American history and sadly also a part of my husband’s personal history. Try as I might, I cannot find any evidence that the Goodale’s testified against anyone in the trials and they were not among the accused. As Salem residents during this time, the Goodells had to be very aware of the accusations and trials. What would it have been like to live in the village during that time? Surely the Goodells knew many if not most of those accused and those convicted personally. I’m sure the family was present for some of the church sermons, the trials, and the executions.

I wasn’t sure what I would find as I researched this branch of the tree. In reading many of the court documents and various versions of the events published, I was left with a sense of profound sadness for the people who died so needlessly during the hysteria surrounding the trials. It is a relief to know that our ancestors seemed to have skated the edge of this tragic event with out coming to harm or causing harm to anyone else.

Portraits

Nels Olavus Thorson

Nels Olavus Thorson ca. 1861

Nels Olavus Thorson was born at Eiesland Gaard, Eiken, Haeggebostad, Vest-Agder, Norway on 8 January 1842.  He was the second child born to Thor Oddson Eiesland and his first wife, Asgerd Gassesdatter Veggeland.  Asgerd died when Nels was just 5 years old, leaving him and his older sister Karen in their father’s care.  Thor later married Torbjorg Eielsdatter in 1850 and they would have 8 more children.

Nels emigrated to the US when he was 19 years old.  According to church records, he would have left Fjotland on 9 April 1861.  The family story is that he came with his friend Didrick Njatvan to Winnebago County, WI where they had no family or friends.  With the ships of that time, it is likely that Nels would have arrived at a port on the east coast of the US or Canada about 3 weeks after his departure from Norway.  He would then have had to travel by boat or by train along the Great Lakes for another several days to a week, eventually reaching Wisconsin.

No one knows why Nels came to America.  Perhaps it was the idea of rising above the strict class system in place in Norway, or just the idea of owning his own land and making a living for himself.  For a 19 year old man and his friend, the simple idea of adventure may have been reason enough.

The American Civil War began as Nels was on his way to the US.  The Union Army was offering a $100 bounty, $13 a month, free clothing and food to any man willing to enlist.  In 1861 land was being sold for about $1.25 an acre, so enlisting probably sounded like a good prospect to many of the new immigrants who were trying to start their lives in America, including Nels.

In Wisconsin, there was a desire to have an all Norwegian regiment due to the amount of new immigrants who did not speak much English.  There was a large amount of interest from this group in joining the army due to the incentives offered by the government.  In December 1861, the 15th Wisconsin Regiment was formed at Camp Randall in Madison and mustered into service on 14 February 1862. The man chosen to lead the regiment was Colonel Hans C. Heg, a Norwegian who came to the settlement of Muskego in Racine County as a young boy in 1840 with his parents.

Nels was enlisted under the name Nels Olans into Company B of the 15th Wisconsin Regiment on 6 January 1862 for a 3 year term of service.  (It was not unusual for the men to use alternate names when enlisting.  As you might imagine, there were several “Nels”, “Oles”, etc. and the aliases were sometimes necessary in order that the men could be told apart.)  Nels was mustered into service with the rank of Private on 18 January 1862 and at that time he was listed as 20 years old, not married, and a resident of Winchester, Winnebago County, Wisconsin.

Thorson, Nils Olavus aka Olans, Nils

After about 6 weeks at Camp Randall learning to be a soldier, Nels left there on 1 March 1862 in a snowstorm with his company and regiment to join the war.   He was listed as “present” with the 15th until September 1863.  As such, he would have participated in several significant events including; the battle at Island No. 10 on the Mississippi River in Tennessee, the raid on Union City, Tennessee, the 400 mile retreat with U.S. Major General Don Carlos Buell up to Louisville, Kentucky, the Battle of Chaplin Hills, the battle at Knob Gap, Tennessee, where the 15th captured a brass cannon, the Battle of Stone River, Tennessee (also called the Battle of Murfreesboro) where the 15th was cited for bravery, U.S. Major General Rosecrans’ Tullahoma campaign, and General Rosecrans’ Chickamauga campaign which would be the last battle that Nels would participate in.

Nels was present at the early morning crossing of the Tennessee River on 28 August, which the 15th led.  He was also present at the 19-20 September, 1863 fighting at Chickamauga, Georgia – the second bloodiest battle of the Civil War.  There he survived the vicious fighting around Viniard’s Farm on the first day, but was taken prisoner around noon on the 20th near Brotherton Field during Longstreet’s Breakthrough.  That was the last time he was with the 15th during the war. 

About 63% of the 15th’s soldiers who were at Chickamauga were killed, wounded, or taken prisoner.  Colonel Heg was one of those killed at Chickamauga.  Before he died, he said that “he was glad the 15th had held their places like men and had done their duty to the last”. His own life, he said, was given for a just cause.

Colonel Heg’s body was returned to Muskego, Wisconsin where he was buried.  He was the highest ranking officer from Wisconsin killed during the war. Today, at Chickamauga battlefield a pyramid of cannon balls stands to mark the spot where Hans Christian Heg fell at Viniard’s farm along with a monument to the 15th Wisconsin Regiment.  In Madison, on the grounds of the State Capitol, stands a statue of Col. Heg.  Replicas of this statue stand at Lier, Norway and at the old Muskego community of Racine.

After the battle at Chickamauga, Nels was marched under guard to Tunnel Hill, Georgia, along with other captured 15th soldiers.  Then he was transported by railroad train to Atlanta, Georgia, and further on to Richmond, Virginia, where he was confined beginning 29 September 1863. The Confederates held Nels as a prisoner of war for 359 days before paroling him to Federal authorities on 12 September 1864.  He was then reported as being “sick” in a U.S. Army hospital at Annapolis, Maryland, and then later in a hospital at Louisville, Kentucky.

Although it is not specifically stated in his papers from the war, I found the name Nels Olans on the list of prisoners held at Andersonville, Georgia – the most notorious prison camp in the south.  When Nels was taken prisoner, he weighed 180 pounds.  At the time of his parole, he weighed just 106 pounds. 

Nels was mustered out of service on 18 January 1865 at Madison, Wisconsin 6 weeks after the expiration of his 3 year term of service and the muster out of Company B on 1 December 1864, at Chattanooga Tennessee.

After the war, Nels returned to Winchester and would marry a young widow named Birgit Knudsdatter – known better to most of us as Betsey Johnson- on 11 November 1867.  Betsey had a daughter, Evalina, from her first marriage.  Over the years, Nels and Betsey would continue to live on their farm in Greenville, Outagamie County and would raise 10 more children together.

In 1917, just a year before his death, Nels would write a letter to the Adjutant General’s office describing an event that took place during the war in which he saved the life of an officer.  Nels felt that his actions placed his own life in jeopardy and that he therefore was deserving of the Medal of Honor.  The reply from that office was simply that they could not find his name in the roster of the soldiers of the 15th and that his request could not be further investigated for that reason.

I found that reply interesting in that they seemed to be able to find his name in order that he received not only his regular pension, but also the pension due him for his time served as a prisoner of war.  His name is also clearly listed in the index of civil war soldiers compiled by the state in 1885, 1895, and 1905.

Nels died on 29 September 1918 at his home.  His funeral was held on 1 October 1918 in Winchester.  It was written that his funeral was one of the largest ever held at Grace Lutheran Church.  According to the diary of Adolph Erickson, the pallbearers were his five sons Tobias, Gilbert, Alvin, Julius, Charlie and his nephew Theo Larson.  Six surviving members of his Regiment also accompanied the casket.  At the time of his death, he left behind Betsey and 10 of their children, 51 grandchildren, and 7 great grandchildren.

Proving Connections

Finding family in New England wills and probate records

I have been spending a lot of time in New England records over the past few months. Finding the family of Harriet Elizabeth Sharp Ehle (the 2x great grandmother of my husband) opened up a huge new door to research in New York and beyond. (You can read the posts on that story under the heading “Ehle” on the home page)

After that initial research, I had found Harriet’s parents, Henry Sharp and Susan Gordon Sharp, and her grandparents, Thomas Gordon and Sylvia (King?) Gordon. In trying to go back further, I came across a lot of trees that listed parents for Thomas Gordon, but few listed any sources and some disagreed altogether.

I found that Thomas Gordon was buried at Lake School Road Cemetery in Jefferson County, New York. His wife Sylvia is buried there as well. The headstones are viewable on Find A Grave. This matches the information I had about his location based on census records. I searched the New York Probate 1629-1971 records for Jefferson County on Family Search. These images are not all indexed and it can take some digging to find the record you want. Thomas Gordon’s will can be viewed here.

Excerpt of the will of Thomas Gordon 1870

Thomas Gordon’s will lists his wife, “Sylva”, and children, Wilbur C Gordon, Emily A Peck, Mary E Donelly, Harriet E Sharp, John M Gordon, Daniel Gordon and the location of each at the time of the writing. His will also lists the children of his deceased daughter Susan Sharp – and she is named as such – providing proof of that relationship for my tree. Her listed children are Martha J Brown, Lydia A Rawson, and Elizabeth Sharp (not yet of full age). This is another important link in the tree. The youngest child, Susan, is not listed which implies to me that she had died prior to the writing.

Thomas Gordon’s father according to many other trees and the New Hampshire Births and Christenings, 1714 -1904 records on Family Search was William Gilman Gordon. There was a son Thomas born to this man and, according to birth records, William’s wife was Nancy. There is a marriage for William Gilman Gordon and Nancy Poor in 1801, but this was several years after the 1797 birth date of Thomas. Some local history and genealogy books listed 2 or 3 wives of William Gilman Gordon with Nancy Poor being the last. William was said to have married Mary Shaw first, had one child, married Hannah Swain second, had 4 children with her before her death in 1799, and then married Nancy Poor in 1801 having 7 more children with her.

In the New Hampshire birth records, there are 12 children attributed to William G Gordon and “Nancy” between 1790 and 1818. The only time the surname POOR was used was in the marriage record from 1801. SO – it doesn’t make sense that this couple would have 5 children together before being married in colonial New England. “Nancy” can be a nickname for Hannah as well. A closer look at the images on Family Search shows us that these records are COPIES of the originals. They were done between 1905 and 1906. It is very frustrating to not be able to see the original records to see if there was any kind of error in the transcription. I could not prove it, but I am guessing there was at least 1 more wife prior to Nancy Poor.

I searched for a will or probate record for William Gilman Gordon but I have yet to locate one. I decided to look keep looking further back to William Gilman Gordon’s parents to see if they would shed light on any relationships. William’s father, Capt Thomas Gordon did have a will on file which leaves us another clue.

Capt Thomas Gordon wrote his will in April of 1817. In it he lists his (second) wife Mary, sons Ephraim (executor), and William Gilman Gordon, daughter Dorothy Brown, and grandchildren (Children of deceased daughter Mary Morrill) Dorothy Morrill, Zebulon Morrill, and Mary Gordon Morrrill, and he lists grandson Thomas Gordon.
Capt Thomas Gordon does not list his 2 daughters Betty and Hannah so I presume they are deceased without issue by 1817.

The will does not explicitly state that Thomas (the grandson) is the son of William. William does have several other children by his other wives by this point as well who are not mentioned. I am GUESSING that Thomas is named in the will because he would be the only grandson of Capt Thomas (other than Zebulon Morrill) who is an adult at the time of the writing of the will. Thomas would have been 20 years old.

Again, we have some interesting information, but we still don’t have anything tying Thomas Gordon (father of Susan Gordon Sharp) to his propsed father Willian Gilman Gordon. We do have a definite link between William Gilman Gordon and his father, Capt Thomas Gordon, so we are just missing the proof of the relationship between Thomas and William to tie this line together.

Excerpt from the will of Levi Swain 1839

Working on faith that the local history may have been accurate and Thomas’ mother was Hannah Swain and not Nancy Poor, I started doing research into the Swain family. After fleshing out a tree for Hannah Swain, I started looking for wills and probate for her family in New Hampshire, Rockingham County. Her father Jonathon Swain is listed in the index but the images of the wills don’t begin until 20 years after his death. Hannah’s brother Levi, however, does have a will on file. In his 1839 will, Levi names his sisters as heirs after his wife, and he also lists Mary Gordon, Betsy Gordon, Thomas Gordon, and Hannah Judd. The relationship to these people is not stated – BUT – these are the children that were born to William Gilman Gordon and “Nancy”(in the correct birth order) between 1793 and 1799. Levi’s sister Hannah died in 1799 and so was not named herself in his will. After seeing those names listed, I have no doubt that Thomas was the son of William Gilman Gordon and Hannah Swain.

Excerpt from the will of Thomas Gordon 1772

Using the wills and probate reocords from New Hampshire, I was further able to connect Capt Thomas Gordon to HIS father, also Thomas Gordon(1701-1772), and in the same will, Thomas Gordon names HIS father – also Thomas Gordon(1678-1762). After that, I could make one last leap to Alexander Gordon (1635 -1697) who was the founding member of the Gordon family in the English Colonies. He was a Scottish Prisoner of War and indentured servant and you can read more about him here.

It is amazing what you can find digging through wills and probate records! I have many hours of searching to do, but these types of records have proven to be a goldmine for making connections between family that are not stated anywhere else. Always check siblings, uncles, etc when looking too – you never know what you might find!

Saturday Mourning

Oscar Carl Widmann

Oscar Carl Widmann was the second son of John A. Widmann and Anna Christina Eckhoff. He was born on 2 May 1893 on the family farm near the community known as Riverside. This community was located at the corner of the present day State Highway 97 and County Highway T north of the bridge over the Little Eau Pleine River between Marshfield and Rozellville, WI. The farm is now located at M405 State Highway 97 – the former Widmare Stables.

Oscar was an intelligent boy and attended school at McKinley High School in Marshfield. During the school year, Oscar lived in Marshfield with his maternal aunt Christina “Tina or Teeny” Eckhoff Thuss and his uncle Willy Thuss. He stayed in town because the daily commute to and from school would have been impossible with the condition of the roads and the type of transportation available in the early 1900s.

In December of 1909, Oscar was home on the farm for Christmas. As Oscar’s youngest brother, Harold, tells it, “When I was born on 10 o’clock Christmas night…in the next few days, while Oscar was at home during the Christmas vacation -he had been living with Aunt Teeny and going to school at McKinley High School- and he came into Marshfield, how, I don’t know, I presume he had to walk in extremely bad weather to tell Aunt Teeny that I had arrived. And then of course he walked home and in doing so he took a bad cold which went into scarlet fever. My mother also had scarlet fever after. And so with that kind of news, Aunt Teeny and Uncle Willy rented a bob sled for someone to carry them out there to see about me and brought me back to town to live with them supposedly until my mother got well.  And a few days later Oscar died. That was the 4th of January.”

The tragic news of Oscar’s death made it in at least two of the local papers. The Marshfield Times and Wisconsin Hub reported that Oscar was “a bright ambitious young boy” and The Marshfield Times published the following:

The Marshfield Times, Marshfield, Wood County, Wisconsin, Wednesday, January 12 1910, Number 13

Oscar’s mother, Anna, did eventually recover from scarlet fever. Little Harold remained living in the home of Teeny and Willy Thuss – the couple were childless. Oscar is buried in Hillside Cemetery in Marshfield, WI.

Thursday Treasures

Jacob Weigel and Viola Widmann wedding party

Wedding Memorabilia from Jacob and Viola Widmann Weigel

I was fortunate to have a few things passed down from my great grandparent’s wedding in October of 1933.

Widmann/Weigel wedding booklet

My great grandmother saved her wedding booklet from the florist, TD Hefko. It is printed on textured paper and the binding is a simple ribbon. The cover is colorized and my great grandmother’s handwriting is on the pages listing guests, gifts, honeymoon plans, and their address at the time.

My great grandmother also saved her headpiece from the wedding. It has been kept by my mother in a cardboard box. The lace and beads are still fairly intact, although there has been some yellowing with age. The colors in the stitching are still very vibrant green and the artificial flowers are still shades of pink and blue.

Viola Widmann Weigel wedding headpiece
Weigel/Widmann wedding certificate

My great grandmother also saved a framed copy of her marriage certificate presented to her by the church. It is printed with shades of gold. The paper is very fragile and brittle with age, but the ink has held up very well. The document is signed by the bride and groom, the priest, and all the attendants.

I am very thankful that my great grandmother passed these treasures on to my mother before she died. Not only are these helpful genealogical items, they are also very beautiful heirlooms that I can pass down to future generations.

Wedding Wednesday

Jacob Nicholas Weigel and Viola Pauline Widmann

Jacob and Viola Weigel

On 18 October 1933, my great grandparents Jacob Weigel and Viola Widmann were married at Sacred Heart Catholic Chuch in Marshfield, WI. Jacob was the son of Henry and Rose Bohman Weigel and Viola was the daughter of Walter and Mary Schalk Widmann.

Jacob’s sisters Dorothy, Isabelle, and Rosalyn were Viola’s attendants and Jacob was attended by Frank Adler, Ed Fleisner, and Herbert Bushman.

Weigel wedding party at Weigelsdorf

After the ceremony, a reception for 150 guests was held at the farm of Henry and Rose Weigel in Weigelsdorf where breakfast, lunch, and dinner was provided.

Jacob had graduated in 1930 from McKinley High School and was employed as a cheese maker at the time of their marriage.

The couple honeymooned at the Chicago World’s Fair, Milwaukee, and Holy Hill.