Tuesday, 24 May 2022

1816: The Year Without a Summer (52 Ancestors 2022 week 21, variation on the Theme: "Yearbook")

Spring 2022 has been unusually cold and wet where I live on Canada's west coast. As records here have been broken, it has come to my attention that there was another year with worse and more widespread broken records. The year 1816 is often referred to as "the year without a summer" or as "Eighteen-hundred-and-froze-to-death".

Snow storms blanketed the ground in Europe and North America in May that year. A huge storm in early June covered Eastern Canada and Northeastern United States from Maine and upstate New York to Pennsylvania with up to 30 cm of snow. The cold weather continued with frost occurring every month of the year in many places. The sky was dark and had a strange reddish cast. Some of the snow that fell was brown or red.

Crops froze and were replanted only to freeze again. Yields were terrible, just when the world had been hoping for an abundant harvest to recover from the Napoleonic Wars. (1816 was the year when Napoleon was finally defeated and sent into exile on Saint Helena. It has even been suggested that Britain's victory in the Battle of Waterloo that year could be at least partially attributed to the wet and  muddy conditions.)

Summer temperatures in Europe were the coldest on record for the period 1766-2000. Switzerland, for example, reported summer temperatures that year between 2.5-3 degrees C. cooler than the norm. Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Godwin (who later became Mary Shelley) spent the summer near Geneva, Switzerland. The cool weather and endless rains reportedly kept them indoors writing, resulting in the creation of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein". 

Other artistic creations from 1816 include Lord Byron's "Darkness", Jane Austen's "Emma" and Rossini's "Barber of Saville".

Although the actual temperature of the planet dropped less than 1 degree C., the effects were widespread and catastrophic. Crop failures led to famine resulting in the deaths of an estimated 100,000 people. It was the worst famine in mainland Europe for the entire 19th century. Major typhus epidemics occurred in Europe in the years immediately following,  running rampant through a population weakened by malnourishment. As one might expect, political and economic consequences were profound. Despair prevailed.

Hunger in der Schweiz 1817 
Painting by Anna Barbara Giezendanner (1831-1905) Public Domain image from Wikimedia Commons 

At the time, there was no good scientific explanation for why this had happened but many theories were put forward. It is now generally accepted that a major cause was volcanic ash sent into the atmosphere by the explosion of Mount Tambora on the island of Sumbawa in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) in April of 1815. This explosion was the greatest in at least 1300 years. Serious local repercussions ensued and thousands died in the immediate aftermath. The following year had bad weather in Asia, much as in Europe and America, with China reporting severe floods and famine. 

 Tambora volcano on Indonesia's Sumbawa Island was the site of the world's largest historical eruption in April 1815. This NASA Landsat mosaic shows the 6-km-wide caldera truncating the 2850-m-high summit of the massive volcano. Pyroclastic flows during the 1815 eruption reached the sea on all sides of the 60-km-wide volcanic peninsula, and the ejection of large amounts of tephra caused world-wide temperature declines in 1815 and 1816. (Photo is in the Public Domain as a screenshot from NASA's globe software World Wind using a public domain layer)

We all would have had family affected by this event. At the time, many of mine were in Norway and the Northeastern United States (mostly in New York and Pennsylvania). We don't have any stories or diaries from my family members to let us know specifically how they fared, but the general conditions in the areas would have been their experiences. As there were dozens of family members alive in 1816, I will select just a few to highlight.

New York

Upstate New York, one of the areas worst hit by the weather disaster, was home to many of my ancestors in 1816. 

Upstate New York - Family Locations inn 1816 (Google Earth image)

The John Bullen family of Paris, Oneida County, New York had lived in this area since his escape from Massachusetts for his part in Shay's Rebellion after the Revolutionary War. Enumerated in the 1820 census, two adult children were living with the parents John (and presumably his wife Mary Whitcomb Bullen). There was an unnamed female between the ages of 26-44 and an unnamed male also between 26-44. Two men were engaged in agriculture. Since the only other son of the family was married and living on his own at the time, most likely the unnamed son would be my 3rd great grandfather David Bullen, aged 32 in 1816. 

1820 U.S. Census for Paris, Oneida County, New York - John Bullen family

A few years later, David would marry Jane Murdie (1801-1857), my maternal line ancestor whose mitochondrial DNA has come down to me and my family. Notionally, my mitochondrial DNA spent the year without a summer in the safekeeping of Jane in Hannibal, Oswego, New York.  

A bit of a mystery surrounds Jane's family but my best guess at present is that her mother was most likely Jane Davidson (or Davididson) whose Murdie first husband had gone missing and was presumed dead sometime around 1815. The mother then remarried in about 1816 to a man named John Chambers and had three more daughters with him. By the time of the 1820 census for Hannibal, we might conclude that the 5 people listed were John and his wife Jane Davidson Chambers, their own two infant daughters under age 10 (Kate and Louisa Chambers) and Jane Murdie for the female aged between 16 and 25.    

1820 census for Hannibal, Oswego, New York - Murdie/Chambers household

We don't know exactly what impact the year without a summer had on Jane Murdie who was a young woman at the time, but she would not have been enjoying wearing lighter summer attire that year. It was said that everyone bundled up in their greatcoats all through the summer.

Other branches of my mother's family were living in the area of Butler, Wayne County, New York in 1816. My 3rd great grandparents Stephen Wescott and Catherine Barton were both children living with their parents at the time. Stephen, born 1809, would have been about 7 years old and Catherine, born 1812, would have been just 4. Not for them the summer fun of playing outdoor childhood games in the sunshine. Although children are generally pretty adaptable, it must have been a very strange time where everyone was just making the best of a bad situation. We don't know if or how badly they suffered from lack of food production on their families' farms. Any economic stress would have been felt by the family as a whole. 


Although Norway also experienced terrible weather conditions in 1816, no sources could be located to provide evidence of any worse outcomes that year than other tough years in the 19th century. Still, one might assume that subsistence farmers were challenged by reduction in farm output. 

Those living near the Norwegian coastlines no doubt made good use of the resources provided by the ocean. For example, my paternal Bardahl line lived near the Norwegian Sea on the west coast of Nordland, Norway. My Dad's great grandfather John Christian Larsen Hellesvig was born in 1800 in Stamnes, Alstahaug, Nordland and most likely was still living with his parents in 1816. As a young man, he was probably learning to fish; years later, the 1865 census gave his occupation as both farmer and fisherman.

My paternal 3rd great grandparents Andris Erikson Elton and Tora Iversdatter Kjerstein were newlyweds, having been married 6 July 1815.

Valdres, Oppland, Norway Kirkebok - Marriage Records for 1815

Their first child, my 2nd great grandfather Erick Anderson Elton, was born 12 January 1817, meaning Tora had been pregnant during the year without a summer. What was that like, I wonder? Was she able to get adequate nutrition for her developing baby?

My maternal line had another newlywed couple in Norway in 1816. Another set of my 3rd great grandparents, Knud Olson Vralstad and Gro Torgrimsdatter Tveitane were married 3 December 1815 in Telemark, Norway. Gro became pregnant almost immediately and gave birth to their first child, daughter Signe, on 28 September 1816. Again, one might wonder how the prevailing conditions affected her pregnancy. Baby Signe did not survive childhood and her name was recycled for use by a sister born in 1828 when conditions were probably more conducive to a  healthy outcome. That second Signe was my 2nd great grandmother who emigrated with her husband Torkel Jorgenson Heimdahl and children, leaving for America in April of 1862. 

Signe Knutson Tveitane (1828-1904), the second Signe born to Knud and Gro

Having examined my family database, I can find no evidence of any family members actually dying of famine during this trying time in human history. A good number of all our ancestors lived through the year without a summer and went on to leave a healthy supply of grateful descendants. 

Some Sour

  • Univerisitat Bern, Tambora and the "Year without a Summer" of 1816: A Perspective on Earth and Human Systems Science, accessed online 23 May 2022 at:  https://www.geography.unibe.ch/unibe/portal/fak_naturwis/e_geowiss/c_igeogr/content/e39624/e39625/e39626/e426207/e431531/tambora_e_webA4_eng.pdf
  • Dr, Matthew Genge, reported by the Evening Standard, "Volcanic Eruption helped with the Battle of Waterloo, Scientists Claim" accessed online 23 May 2022 at standard.co.uk
  • Buffalo, New York Evening News 1944 - 8853.pdf, issue 25 January 1945, available through Old Fulton New York Post Cards accessed online 23 May at https://fultonhistory.com/Fulton.html

Tuesday, 5 October 2021

Margaret Chandler (1577-1645) 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks 2021 # 41: Religious Changes

My 10th great grandmother Margaret Chandler was born in 1577 in Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, England to Tobias and Joan (Mumford) Chandler. Bishop's Stortford is a market town about half-way between London and Cambridge.

Google Earth image showing location of Bishop's Stortford

The second oldest in a family of  11 children, Margaret was baptized in St. Michael's Church there, no doubt with the use of this marble baptismal font that had been in the church since Norman times.

Wikimedia Commons Image by Colin Smith / St Michael's Font / CC BY-SA 2.0

Like the rest of England, Bishop's Stortford had undergone several abrupt religious changes during the 16th century. This link contains photographs of St. Michael's Church and  a more specific description of the impact of the changes on this parish. 

As a reminder: King Henry VIII had split from the Roman Catholic Church in a dispute between pope and king over Henry's wish to divorce his wife so as to be free to remarry and sire a male heir.  The result was the establishment in 1534 of the independent Church of England with the King as its final authority. Although much remained unchanged from the Catholic Church, many changes were made in accordance with the more wide-spread Protestant reformation that had been sweeping much of Europe at the time. As might be expected, not all Henry's subjects were happy with this change. Nevertheless, the country remained Protestant under his son Edward VI, but Edward's early death led to his Catholic half-sister Mary becoming Queen in 1553. Over the years, many people on both sides of the religious divide were martyred for their beliefs. When Protestant Queen Elizabeth I succeeded her half sister Mary to the throne in 1558, one might have thought that at least the Protestant faction might once again be happy with the change. Some were, but many felt the Protestant changes in England had not gone far enough away from Popish ways and wanted to further purify their religion; this group became known as the Puritans. 

It does not appear that Margaret's parents were among the dissident Puritan group. Although we can't know for certain, they seem to have come through the religious changes relatively unscathed and one might assume that Margaret's childhood during the reign of Queen Elizabeth was relatively stable. (Another of my ancestors, Thomas Morse,  was not so fortunate, ending up in a lot of hot water while trying to retain his career as a dissident parish priest throughout all these changes.)

When the plague struck the town in 1582-83, Margaret was just 5 or 6 years of age, but she and her family also appear to have survived that challenge unscathed.

At the age of about 23, on 02 April 1600 she married Henry Monke (or Monck) in Albury, a town about 5 miles west of Bishop's Stortford. The couple had one child, a son named George Monke, prior to Henry's untimely death; Henry was buried at Bishop's Stortford on 10 December 1602. 

On 7 November 1603, the young widow remarried. Her second husband was William Denison, a man some five or six years her senior. This appears to have been William's first marriage. The couple would go on to have seven children, their youngest being my 9th great grandfather George Denison born in 1620.

Like many other men of Bishop's Stortford, William was a maltster. The town was perfectly situated amid the farms of East Anglia and Hertfordshire, producers of the barley to be changed into malt for dark ales popular in nearby London. It is said that the aroma from the maltings filled the surrounding area for centuries.

At some point, probably in the late 1620's, William became a convert to the Puritan cause and in 1631 decided to move his family to New England where they would join like-minded families. (There is some thought that Margaret was a bit reluctant and did not join her family until the following year, but no actual record can be found of her departure from England or arrival in New England. The pervasive sexism of the times has many of the records completely ignoring women migrants.)

As William and Margaret's oldest son John Dennison (born 7 April 1605) was already well established in a position as vicar of Standon, Hertfordshire and had a family of his own, he remained in England. 

Second son William (born 1606) had gone to be a soldier in Holland; he took part in the Siege of Breda and was never heard from again. 

Their third son, George (born 1609), died at the age of five. Their only daughter, Sarah (born 1615), lived just one week.

Daniel (born 1612), Edward (born 1616) and George (born 1620) were the three sons who headed to America with their father (and perhaps their mother). Daniel had been studying at Cambridge but was removed by his father in order to make the move. Also mentioned as being with them on that voyage was Reverend John Eliot, suggested by some to have been the boys' tutor. The family settled in Roxbury (now a suburb of Boston), one of the first settlements in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Reverend Eliot became the pastor of the First Church Roxbury, where William Dennison became member #3 of the congregation.

Not all was smooth sailing as William appeared to have another change of heart with respect to religion. He was one of five Roxbury men to be disarmed on 20 November 1637 for supporting Mr. Wheelwright and Mrs. Hutchinson. This was in regard to the Antinomian Controversy which raged in Puritan New England from 1636-1638. It pitted the majority of the Puritans against the adherents of a "covenant of grace" espoused by Cotton Mather and supported by Anne Hutchinson and her brother-in-law Reverend John Wheelwright. Apparently William Denison was a supporter. The Antinomians were generally regarded as heretics against the established religious laws. Concepts regarding gender and politics added to the disagreement. We don't know whether Margaret was one of the numerous women who followed Anne Hutchinson's teachings.

What we do know is that Margaret was a bit of a hold-out when it came to declaring her faith. Presumably she had been Anglican from birth, but it does not seem that she converted to Puritanism with her husband. When she was finally admitted to the Roxbury Church as member #33, the event was apparently deemed worthy of note:  “Margret Dennison, the wife of William Dennison, It pleased God to work upon her heart & change it in her ancient years, after she came to this land; & joined to the church in the year 1632”.  

The only other reference that has been found of Margaret is that  ”Old Mother Dennison” died Roxbury 3 February 1645/46. She is buried in the Eliot Burying Ground at Roxbury but no stone marks the place of her final rest.

Some Resources: 

  • Anderson, Robert Charles, "The Great Migration Begins, Immigrants to New England, 1620-1633", Volume 1; Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1995
  • "Bishop's Stortford and Thorley: A History and Guide" located online at https://www.stortfordhistory.co.uk/
  • A history of the Protestant Reformation in England and Scotland located online at https://www.britannica.com/topic/Protestantism/The-Reformation-in-England-and-Scotland

Thursday, 5 August 2021

Leigh Hovland (1890-1903) 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks 2021 Week 33 - "The Chicago Iroquois Theater Tragedy"

from the funeral program of Leigh Nicea Hovland 3 January1904

When my third great grandfather Erik Anderson Elton immigrated to America from Norway in 1854, he was accompanied by his 24 year-old sister Sigrid Elton. 

Tragically, Erik died the following year at age 38 when he was hit by a falling tree. One might speculate that Erik's sister Sigrid would have offered support to Erik's widow Sarah Knutsdatter Holien and her two young daughters. 

Sigrid Elton would marry another Norwegian immigrant, Anders Lien, in 1857 and go on to have a family of 8 children with him. The oldest daughter in the Lien family was Anna born in 1860.

Anna Lien (1st cousin to my Dad's grandma Anna Elton)

When Anna was 21, she married another man of Norwegian heritage, John P. Hovland. 

Anna Lien and John P. Hovland
married 14 March 1881
Albert Lea, Minnesota

Anna and John had two daughters born in Albert Lea, Minnesota: Edna born in 1887 and Leigh in 1890.

Leigh (left) and Edna (right) about 1893
(Leigh and Edna were 2nd cousins to my grandfather John Bardahl')

Sometime before the 1900 U.S. census, the family moved from Albert Lea, Minnesota to Chicago, Illinois.  John was a successful businessman with a chain of clothing shops and a partnership in a silk importing business in Chicago. He was well able to provide his family with many of the fine things that life in Chicago could provide at the turn of the last century. 

One of those fine things was the wherewithal to attend live theater performances in the burgeoning theater district of Chicago. On 30 December 1903, with school out for Christmas vacation, the two Hovland daughters had tickets for the matinee performance of the popular musical comedy "Mr. Blue Beard" at the recently opened Iroquois Theater near the corner of Dearborn and Randolf Streets.

Advertisement from the Kansas City Times, 31 December 1903, page 4
The Iroquois was casting its net for audience members far and wide.

Location of Iroquois Theater Dearborn and Randolf (later the home of the Nederlander)

The elegant new theater was packed that afternoon with over 1700 people dressed in their holiday finery.  No doubt the teenagers Edna and Leigh Hovland were dressed in their nicest dresses and had been anticipating this outing to the theater in downtown Chicago. They were accompanied that afternoon by their 21 year-old cousin Clyde Thompson, a student at Wisconsin University. Clyde had been a holiday houseguest at the Hovlands home at 33 Humboldt Boulevard. He is sometimes referred to as Leigh's "fiance" and it is possible that marriage was their long-term goal, notwithstanding their close kinship and her young age which make this sound unlikely to our modern ears. 

According to a newspaper article from the following day, it seems there were 16 people attending from a two-block stretch of Humboldt Boulevard, including 13 year-old Josephine Pilat with her mother and younger sister of 34 Humboldt. It is not much of a stretch to assume the Hovland girls and their cousin were with neighborhood friends.  The majority of the audience members for this midweek matinee were, not surprisingly, women and children. The first act went just fine, but a few minutes into the second act, a spark from a  stage light caught on some of the stage material and soon engulfed the building in flames. An asbestos curtain that should have prevented the spread of the flames jammed uselessly.

Tragically, it seems that many corners had been cut in an all-out effort to have the theater completed in time to take advantage of the busy theater season. Bribes may have enabled bypassing crucial inspections and safety equipment. Far from being "absolutely fireproof" as advertised, the Iroquois Theater was actually a firetrap. Exit doors had been locked; those that worked opened inward such that the crush of people trying to escape made it impossible to get the doors open. Younger children were trampled. Fire escapes led nowhere. Some doors also led nowhere. No exit signs had been lit since it was thought they would distract the audience from the performance. Family members easily became separated from one another in the mayhem that ensued.  

The Chicago Tribune 31 December 1903

602 people died that afternoon, including 13 year-olds Leigh Hovland, her cousin Clyde Thompson and her neighbor Josephine Pilat. Leigh's older sister had managed to escape, as had Josephine's mother and younger sister.

The Inter Ocean (Chicago, Illinois) · 31 Dec 1903, Thu · Page 5 

It took some time for all the bodies to be identified and returned to their families for burial. Although classified as "missing" the day after the fire, Leigh's obituary was printed just 3 days later. 

Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) · 3 Jan 1904, Sun · Page 7

Leigh was buried at Mount Olive Cemetery which had been started by the Scandinavian-American community of Chicago in 1889. The cemetery contains a tower with a bell which is rung each time a funeral procession enters through the limestone arch at the entrance. Presumably it was rung for Leigh on the afternoon of Sunday 3 January 1904. A photograph of her headstone can be seen on this Find a Grave memorial page for her.

An excellent series of photographs from the time showing the elegant new theater before the fire and then the terrible aftermath can be found on a video at this link

Leigh Hovland was my second cousin twice removed. She didn't have the opportunity to grow up to have a family of her own so as to leave direct  descendants to remember her. (Her sister Edna did marry and have a family and lived to the age of 82.)

The Iroquois Theater fire of 1903 has the sad distinction of appearing as the 5th most deadly fire/explosion in American history. Surprisingly, it is not nearly so famous as the less deadly Great Chicago Fire of 1871. In the aftermath, a series of investigations pointed to many faults and rampant wrongdoing, from the Mayor on down, but no one was ever held accountable.

The legacy of the terrible tragedy that took Leigh's life along with that of her cousin and 600 other people is that safety measures are now the expected norm. New standards were established in Chicago and most other jurisdictions with respect to aisles, exits, lit exit signs, fire alarms and other equipment. Exit doors must open outward (with "panic bars" or "push bars") so that they can open if there is a crush of folks trying to escape a burning building.

Although I live a long way from Chicago, I have twice had the opportunity to attend live performances at theaters there, most recently "Hamilton" in 2019. Located just blocks from where the Iroquois Theater fire had taken the life of Leigh Hovland, our enjoyment of the performance was not marred by concerns for our safety.

The author and her husband attending "Hamilton" at the CIBC Theater 27 February 2019

Some Resources:

  • Beatty, Jill, whose father was Leigh's first cousin, for sharing many of the family photographs and memorabilia shown above.
  • Everett, Marshall; The Great Chicago Theater Disaster: The Complete Story Told by the Survivors; c. 1904 D.B. McCurdy, Publishers Union of America, 389 pp., available online at http://livinghistoryofillinois.com/pdf_files/Great%20Chicago%20Theater%20Disaster,%20The%20Complete%20Story%20Told%20by%20the%20Survivors,%20by%20Marshall%20Everett%201904.pdf 
  • Podcast: Stuff you Missed in History Class, "The Iroquois Theater Fire" episode of 8 December 2014 accessible here: https://podcasts.google.com/feed/aHR0cHM6Ly9mZWVkcy5tZWdhcGhvbmUuZm0vc3R1ZmZ5b3VtaXNzZWRpbmhpc3RvcnljbGFzcw/episode/aHR0cHM6Ly9wb2RjYXN0cy5ob3dzdHVmZndvcmtzLmNvbS9oc3cvcG9kY2FzdHMvc3ltaGMvMjAxNC0xMi0wOC1zeW1oYy1pcm9xdWlvcy10aGVhdGVyLWZpcmUubXAz?hl=en-CA&ved=2ahUKEwjRl7Ok99bxAhXUrJ4KHZZ6CNoQjrkEegQIAhAF&ep=6
  • Uenuma, Francine; "The Iroquois Theater Disaster" article from the Smithsonian Magazine 12 June 2018 accessible here: https:www.smithsonianmag.com/history/how-theater-blaze-killed-hundreds-forever-changed-way-we-approach-fire-safety-180969315/

Sunday, 21 February 2021

Lawrence Wilkinson (c1620s-1692) (52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks 2021 #8) Theme: "Power"

Lawrence, one of my 9th great grandfathers, was born about 1620 in Lanchester, Durham, England. The Wilkinson family had been associated with Harpley House there for generations. They were staunch supporters of the throne, which support had garnered them large landholdings in the area.

All Saints Parish Church, Lanchester, England
Google Earth Street View Image

Lawrence (sometimes spelled Laurence or Lawrance) got caught up in the Siege of Newcastle in 1644 when the Scottish Covenanters, unhappy with the strictures put on their Protestant religion by King Charles 1,  joined forces with the Parliamentarians. This was part of an ongoing battle for power generally referred to as the English Civil Wars. True to his family's allegiances, Lawrence took up arms and joined the Royalist forces in defense of King Charles. He has been said to have served as a lieutenant and as a captain in the Royalist forces. Tragically finding himself on the losing side in this battle, Lawrence was taken captive but eventually freed. Like many other Royalists, Lawrence Wilkinson had his properties sequestered. Strong support for his King had equally powerful repercussions; it became obvious to Lawrence that he might be well-advised to take his leave of the country.

Lawrence arrived in Providence, Rhode Island in 1645. On the 19th of the 11th month of that year his name was added to the original civil compact agreed by the original founders. Providence was less than 10 years old at the time, having been established by Roger Williams in 1636 after being banished from Massachusetts for his religious beliefs. Rhode Island was known as a welcoming location for newcomers of many political and religious stripes. Although most of my other early immigrant ancestors were Puritans who were largely supportive of Oliver Cromwell during the English Civil Wars, even Royalists like Lawrence Wilkinson found a welcoming home in Rhode Island. By signing the compact, he received a free grant of 25 acres of land.

Before long, he married Susannah Smith and settled down to raise his family in Providence. (It should be noted that there is some thought that their marriage and birth of eldest son Samuel had occurred in England.) 

Even the breadth of the Atlantic Ocean could not insulate Lawrence and other newcomers from the ongoing power struggles in England between King and Parliament. The original civil compact for Providence signed by Lawrence in 1645 had acknowledged the struggle by hedging its bets with the phrase ". . . and hereby do promise to yield active, or passive obedience to the authoritys (sic) of King and Parliament."  After the death of Oliver Cromwell and the return of King Charles II, the Providence records for 6 May 1673 include a remonstrance against the oath of allegiance required by the King of England.

Lawrence took part in the affairs of the community throughout his lifetime. Some examples can be found in the town records. On 27 January 1659 he was chosen one of the jury men and on 15 August of that year he was chosen Commissioner of the Court of Commissioners to be held at Portsmouth later that month. In 1667 he was chosen as one of the Commissioners or Deputies to the General Assembly. The 28 April 1673 minutes of the town meeting indicate that Lawrence Wilkinson was chosen to serve as Deputy to the General Assembly at Newport. He was obviously a leading figure in the early Providence community.

His name frequently arises in town documents recording the descriptions of various parcels of land acquired by him over the  years. It is interesting to note the descriptions refer to specific trees on the land as markers - walnut, pine, white oak, red oak and black oak - as well as topography including swamps and the Moshasuck River. Reference is also made to the "World's End Meadow" and scenery being "sacredly romantic". All in all, the records would indicate that Lawrence took up about 1000 acres of land in the Providence area. Having lost his family land in England by sequestration for his role during the power struggle there between King and Parliament, he more than made up for it in the new world.

Moshasuck River, Providence, R.I.
Lawrence had lands somewhere along its 8.9 mile length
Public Domain Image by Marcbela

 Some Resources: 

  • Wilkinson, Israel; Memoirs of the Wilkinson family in America : comprising genealogical and biographical sketches of Lawrance Wilkinson of Providence, R.I., Edward Wilkinson of New Milford, Conn., John Wilkinson of Attleborough, Mass., Daniel Wilkinson of Columbia Co., N.Y.; Jacksonville, Ill., Davis & Penniman, Printers, 1869.

Friday, 18 December 2020

Elin Persdotter (1739-1810) (52 Ancestors 2020 Week 52) Theme: "Resolution"

For several years, the database for my Swedish 5X great grandmother has indicated that "I need to resolve conflicting birth and death dates and two sets of possible parents for Elin." This final story for 2020 seems like a good time to see if I can make any progress toward a resolution. And, if not, perhaps this is slated to become a resolution for further research in 2021.

Laxarby Church photograph 2018 by Vogler
Wikimedia Commons under creative commons license

The Swedish branch of my mother's family is on her paternal Anderson line, with immigrant ancestor Israel Anderson. Elin Persdotter was Israel's great grandmother. (Israel's story was the first one I wrote five years ago when I last did the "52 Ancestors" challenge, making it appropriate to bookend this year by ending with one of his Swedish ancestors.) 

Elin appears in the marriage record for 1 January 1765 showing Elin Persdotter of Germundebyn marrying Nils Enarsson of Prestegarden in Laxarby, Älvsborg, Sweden.

Laxarby, Älvsborg Marriage 1 January 1765

Nils moved from Prestegarden to Elin's family area at Germundebyn where records for their growing family are easily found. Birth/baptism records from the Laxarby church books can be found for the following children:

  1. Britta Nilsdotter b. 17 January 1766 (my 4X great grandmother)
  2. Olof Nilsson b. 16 January 1768
  3. Enar Nilsson b. 23 November 1770
  4. Pehr Nilsson b. 5 April 1774
  5. Ingrid Nilsdotter b. 11 March 1777
  6. Bryngel Nilsson b. 14 July 1779.

(As an aside, a census of Laxarby today would not yield a significant population; apparently fewer than 900 people now live in the area. At the time my Anderson ancestors lived there, Laxarby was part of Älvsborg, but in the late 1900s it became a part of Västra Götaland.)

Laxarby, Sweden location of Elin's family, Google Earth

Among the best sources of information for Swedish families are thHusförhörslängd (household examination records kept by the State Lutheran Church). These are essentially annual censuses of all family members. The Household Examination Records for Nils and Elin's family make it easy to follow them from year to year between 1774 and 1810. Nils and Elin disappear from the household examination records after 1810.

Household Examination Record for Nils and Elin's family 1774-1779

The record for the period 1795-1800 is of interest since it records that my 4X great grandmother Britta has left the family to marry and move to Korsbyn. 

Household Examination Record for Nils and Elin's family 1795-1800

The problem requiring resolution is that there are records for two different Elin Persdotters in Laxarby in the relevant time period. For a long time, the only record I had located was for Elin Persdotter born in December of 1741 to Per Egelsson and Christin Jonsdotter. (Most online family trees use this Elin with these parents for my family group.)

 Elin, daughter of Per Egelson and Christin Jonsdotter, born in Laxarby in 1741

Then, an indexed source pointed in another possible direction. There was an Elin born 24 March 1739 and baptized the following day at Laxarby to parents Per Olsson and Ingri Jonsdotter. However, the original church record is almost unreadable,

Birth/baptism record for Elin, daughter of Per Olsson and Ingrid Jonsdotter, 1739 Laxarby church records

Unfortunately, only one year (1757) of the Household Examination Records for the relevant Germundebyn farm is available for the entire time of Elin's youth.

1757 Household Examination Record for Germundebyn farm

Most likely this is Elin's family since it is on the right farm (Germundebyn in Laxarby Parish) and has the possible mother (Ingrid Jonsdotter) but it seems that Elin's father Per has probably died and the farm is now being run by a man named Bryngel Mathisson. One possible death record for Per (Pehr) Olsson has been located but I have a difficult time convincing myself that I can actually read his name for this 50 year-old who died at Germundebyn in 1748. 

Possible death record for Per Olsson 18 February 1748

Two brothers of Elin's also appear in the household record family group: Jon Persson b 1735 and Olaf Persson b1740. There is also a child named Jacob (could it be Bryngelsson?) born in 1749. Finding their birth records is definitely in order as part of this whole resolution process. 

Has Ingrid remarried to a man 19 years her junior or what is the explanation for this family group? Ingrid would have been 49 years old when this child was born, so this seems unlikely. Who was Bryngel and how does he connect to the family?  I'm  finding more things to muddy the waters - and more things requiring further research! 

Elin's birth year is consistently recorded in the household examination records as 1739, leading me to conclude that she was NOT the Elin born in 1741. These records continue through 1810, but for 1811, both Nils and Elin are no longer included in the family listing. Their death records occur on opposite pages in the church records, his in 1809 at age 70 and Elin's 6 May 1810, also at age 70. She was buried 20 May 1810 at Laxarby. 

1810 Death record for Elin Persdotter of Germundebyn

Once again there was a record of another Elin Persdotter (quite probably the one born in 1741) who died in 1812. Unfortunately, no marriage or household examination records have been located for this other Elin Persdotter. 

Death of an Elin Persdotter in 1812 at age 75

Given "my"  Elin's disappearance from the Household Examination Records for 1811, coupled with mention of the Germundebyn farm in her death record, it is most likely that she was the Elin who died in December of 1810. 

Have my issues been resolved? I believe it is most likely that my Elin Persdotter was the one born in 1739 to Per Olsson and Ingrid Jonsdotter and that she died in 1810.

More research will definitely be required for some of the other issues uncovered, but I think that belongs in my list of 2021 New Year's Resolutions. 

Some Resources:

  • Familysearch Research Wiki for Sweden, accessible online at https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Sweden_Genealogy

Friday, 11 December 2020

Marith Christophersdatter (c1768-1848) (52 Ancestors 2020 Week 51) Theme: "Winter"

Some countries have a natural affinity with winter. Canada, where I live, is one of them. Norway, where my 3X great grandmother Marith lived, is another. 

This branch of the family lived up the west coast of Norway in Nordland. The area they came from included the area now called "Bardalssjoen" and is the source of our family's Bardahl surname.

The Bardahl family came from Nordland, Norway - Google Earth Image

Norway is often called the "Land of the Midnight Sun" because sometimes the sun shines there 24 hours a day. This occurs in the polar regions of earth in summer. The opposite of this "polar day" is the "polar night" when the sun does not appear above the horizon for a period of time in winter. The duration of the polar night depends on how far north one lives. This does not necessarily mean that everything is pitch black for weeks on end. In fact, there is a phenomenon known as the "blue hour" when the landscape appears a beautiful surreal blue.  This, and the northern lights that often appear in the northern arctic region can, at least in normal times, be a big tourist attraction. Although many would find the weeks without sunshine to be depressing, it is said that many Norwegians enjoy the quiet beauty of this special time of year. 

Polar night blue hour and snowfall over Øvervatnet lake in Fauske, Nordland
28 December 2016 photograph by Frankemann
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

The Arctic Circle runs through northern Nordland but the Arctic Circle Center is located in Mo i Rana, not far from where Marith and her family lived. The polar night would have been a familiar feature of their lives in winter.

Map of Nordland showing location of Frankemann's blue hour photo, the Arctic Circle Center
 and Marith's family sites

Marith was born between 1766 and 1768 in Nordland, Norway. So far, no birth or baptism record has been located for her. That her father's first name was Christopher is clear, but beyond that we can only guess. Marith was married in winter and died in winter, but we don't know the season of her birth.

The first record of which we can be certain is that for the marriage between Lars Joensen Hellesvig and Marith Christophersdatter on 6 January 1793 in Alstahaug, Nordland. Lars would have been about 33 and Marith 25, fairly typical marrying ages in Norway at this time. 


Lars and Marith were the second couple listed for 1793 marriages in Alstahaug kirkebok

Four sons and two daughters were born to them between 1793 and 1807, including my 2X great grandfather John Christian Larsen. Interestingly, all of her children were born between the months of April and October, with not a single winter birth. (That would mean, however, that their children were conceived during the long Norwegian polar winter.) 

At the time of the 1801 Norwegian census, Lars was 41 and a farmer. Marith was listed as his wife, age 33. 

1801 census for Hellesvig farm, Alstahaug, Nordland, Norway

Living with them at the time of the census is widow Sara Andersdatter, age 67, who could be Marith's mother. There was a marriage between a Sara Andersdatter and Christopher Pedersen in Hemnes, Nordland, Norway in 1767; this couple could certainly be Marith's parents, but without finding her birth/baptism record, we cannot be certain. 

Marith's husband Lars lived to the age of 85, dying on the Hellesvig farm on 25 April 1845. Marith died there on 7 January 1848 at the age of 82. She wasn't buried until 23 April when the ground thawed in the spring. Several others were buried that same day. Although this was normal for the time and place, it nevertheless must have added another whole layer of anguish for Marith's family and the others who were forced to grieve a second time when the burial couldn't occur until after winter ended.

Not where Marith is buried! Image from Wikimedia Commons.
Painting by a contemporary of hers, Norwegian painter Johan Christian Dahl (1788-1827): 
"Megalith Grave near Vordingborg in Winter" 

Sunday, 6 December 2020

Robert Moulton, Salem Witch Trial Witness (1644-1731) (52 Ancestors 2020 Week 50) Theme: "Witness to History"

Being a witness at one of the infamous Salem witch trials definitely qualifies my 7X great grandfather Robert Moulton as a witness to history. I had already written about him in 2016, but his story seems well worth revisiting in relation to this week's suggested theme.

Robert Moulton was my 7X great grandfather. His father was also Robert Moulton (1607-1665) and his grandfather likewise Robert Moulton (1587-1655). It was Robert's grandfather who had emigrated from Ormsby St. Michael, Norfolk, England in 1629, bringing with him his grown son Robert who was a Church of England minister. This older immigrant ancestor was a master shipbuilder who was said to have been the first well-equipped shipbuilder to arrive in New England, building the first vessels that were built in Salem and in Medford, near Boston. Son Robert attempted unsuccessfully to establish the English church in Salem, but this was rejected as not in accord with the prevailing Puritan beliefs in New England.  Both men were active in community affairs, politics and business matters. Clearly the family were upstanding and well-respected members of the community.

The Robert of our story was the first of my direct Moulton line born on American soil, in Salem, Massachusetts in 1644. He was the second child and oldest son of Robert and Abigail (Good) Moulton. On 17 July 1672, 28 year-old Robert married Mary Cooke and started a family of his own. By the time of the 1692 witch hysteria, they had a family of eight children.

Map of Salem Village 1692
Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=836532

First, a bit of background. There were two towns associated with the "Salem" witch trials: Salem Town and a fast-growing farming area at its northern end called Salem Village (now called Danvers). The earliest events of 1692 started in Salem Village, which contained some 500 people at the time. There would have been another 1500 or so living in Salem Town. The Village had established its own church in 1672, the same year that Robert and Abigail were married. None of its earliest ministers were ordained, resulting in a good deal of instability. Late in 1689, the church finally obtained an ordained minister named Reverend Samuel Parris. Parris had spent time in Barbados and brought to Salem with him a couple of Carib Indian servants; they would have had knowledge of voodoo practices and told tales of witchcraft to the Parris daughters. Things went well with Reverend Parris at the Salem Church at first, but because of his strict religious orthodoxy, dissent soon arose. The Village found itself in turmoil within a couple of years. It is perhaps not surprising to learn that the earliest witch accusations arose in Parris's own home. Starting in February of 1692 with three young girls who experienced fits, over the next few months some 200 people were accused of witchcraft, many were tried and twenty executed.

Closeup of southwest corner of map of Salem Village showing location
of Robert Moulton's home (#138, circled in turquoise)

Salem was certainly not the only place where people were executed as witches. In those days, people in many parts of Europe and North America believed in witchcraft. Many believed the Devil himself was here on Earth. When unusual events occurred,  in the absence of an accepted scientific explanation, a person could be accused of having used sorcery or being in league with Satan. The accused were most often those already sidelined in their societies - the eccentrics and misfits, the ugly, the mentally ill. Women were accused more often than men and spinsters and barren women were an easy target, especially if they were willful or outspoken. 

In Salem, however, several men and pillars of the community also found themselves among the accused; one of those accused was my well-respected 9X great granduncle, John Alden, Junior, son of 1620  Mayflower arrivals John Alden and Priscilla Mullins. Fortunately, he managed to escape from prison and leave town safely. 

Another such pillar of the community was a 71 year-old wife, mother and grandmother named Rebecca (Towne) Nurse. Always a pious and well-respected woman, she was nevertheless accused of being a witch. The Nurse family had been in a number of acrimonious disputes with the neighboring Putnam family. On 23 March 1692, she was arrested on the basis of charges made against her by Edward and John Putnam. She protested her innocence and many in the community did come to her support, but several young girls (including Reverend Parris's daughter Betty and a young Ann Putnam) swooned with fits that they said were caused by Nurse tormenting them.

One of those who gave evidence on Nurse's behalf was my 7th great grandfather Robert Moulton. He testified that one of her young accusers named Susannah Sheldon had admitted to lying.

Testimony of Robert Moulton in the Trial of Rebecca Nurse

A transcription of his testimony is a bit difficult to understand but the general intent is clear:
 “the testimony of Robart Moulton sener who testifith and saith that I waching with Susannah sheldon sence she was afflicted I heard her say that the witches halled her Upone her bely through the yeard like a snacke and halled her over the stone walle & presontly I heard her Controdict her former: disCource and said that she Came over the stone wall her selfe and I heard her say that she Rid Upone apoole to boston and she said the divel Caryed the poole”
As with all the accused witches, she was not allowed a lawyer and had to defend herself. The examining magistrates Jonathan Corwin and John Hathorne seemed sympathetic to her cause. Even the Governor of Massachusetts at one point issued a reprieve. Nonetheless, when the swooning fits of the young girls continued, Rebecca Nurse was ultimately convicted as a witch, excommunicated from the church and sentenced to death by hanging on 19 July 1692.

Rebecca Nurse in Chains
By Freeland A. Carter, artist - The Witch of Salem, or Credulity Run Mad, by John R. Musick.
New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1893. p. 275. See [1],
Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3080307

It would be several years before the Putnam family, the church and the government issued apologies and attempted to make reparation for the wrongful death of Rebecca Nurse. Although Robert Moulton's testimony had not changed her tragic fate, at least he had had the courage act as witness on the side of one of the innocents during this historic time.

Sources and Further Reading:

  • Salem Witch Trials in History and Literature website accessed 18 November 2020 at http://salem.lib.virginia.edu/people/nursecourt.html
  • History of the Salem Witch Trials accessed 18 November 2020  at http://www.history.com/topics/salem-witch-trials
  • "The Salem Witch Trials" website accessed 18 November 2020 at http://www.angelfire.com/mi4/polcrt/SalemTrials.html
  • Essex County Court Archives, vol. 2, no. 128, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Judicial Archives, on deposit James Duncan Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA.