Friday, 27 February 2015

Louise Nelson 1882-1985 (52 Ancestors #9) Theme: "Close to Home"

Louise Nelson was my paternal grandmother and the wife of John Bardahl whose story was told a few weeks ago in the 52 Ancestors challenge. My siblings and I called  her Grandma B. She survived John by 40 years to die at the age of 103. She and John had homesteaded together in the new community near Leinan and Stewart Valley, Saskatchewan, Canada. This is the community and the farm where I grew up. The house where I spent the first decade of my life had been Grandma B's house first so she is my "close to home" ancestor.

John Bardahl and Louise Nelson as newlyweds in 1906

Louise was born 5 August 1881 in Erdahl, Minnesota, the youngest child of Norwegian immigrants Carl Johan Nelson and his wife Karen Marie Lykken Nelson.

1890 Family Photo: Parents Carl and Karen seated centre front with daughter Louise standing between them
Louise's siblings are left to right top row: Julia, Hannah, Nels, Laura and Josie
Seated front left is daughter Selma and front right is Lottie
After their marriage in 1906, John and Louise made their first home together in Skogmo, North Dakota, but moved to the new Province of Saskatchewan in 1909 to homestead north of Swift Current in a predominantly Norwegian-speaking community. Several of Louise's siblings homesteaded in the same area: brother Nels and sisters Selma Nelson and Josephine Nelson with their husbands. Another sister Laura had married John's brother Steve and homesteaded a few miles away in the community. (All of the siblings except for Louise and unmarried brother Nels moved off their homestead farms within the decade.)

4 July 1910 Family Picnic - recent American immigrants still celebrated the 4th!
John Bardahl seated at left, Louise beside him and then her sister Josephine with husband Dennis Nelson, George Gilberston; Children front left to right: Wallace Nelson, Lyla Gilbertson, Lorraine Nelson, Arnold Gilbertson, Joetta Bardahl, Vernon Nelson and Francis Gilbertson; Present but missing from photo are Nels Nelson, Selma Nelson Gilbertson, infant Marvel Bardahl and Gus Gilbertson - Photo taken and developed by Gus Gilbertson
Louise gave birth at home every couple of years to a string of daughters - Joetta 1908, Marvel 1910, Mildred 1912, Hazel 1913, Lillian 1916 and Inez 1918. Finally, in 1920 a son James was born, followed in 1926 by a second son Kenneth when Louise was 45 years of age. Since Ken was my Dad, I am very glad she had this one final child late in her childbearing years!

Louise and John were very active in community life and, in particular, in the building of Bethel Church just north of their homestead. Louise was a charter member of the Bethel Ladies' Aid and was the last survivor of the original charter. It was the Ladies' Aid that put on bake sales, fowl suppers and craft sales to assemble the necessary funding to enable building the church.
Unknown event at Bethel Church in the early years

As with other homesteading wives, Louise was kept busy with all of the domestic duties without the modern conveniences that we take for granted. I recall my mother using the old wringer washing machine that had no doubt belonged to her mother-in-law before her. There was no running water in the house, so water had to be hauled in by buckets from the well and then heated in a large boiler on top of the wood stove. A long solidly constructed clothesline outside the front door had been given to Grandma B in exchange for her having provided meals for the crew installing the telephone lines in the area in 1917. In the bitterly cold winters, any laundry hung outside on the line would freeze into rigid slabs so the laundry was often put to dry indoors. Ironing was a major event using sad irons that were heated on the cookstove. This family of 10 lived in a 2 bedroom home with just kitchen and living room. Where they all slept I cannot imagine; there were just 5 of us when we lived there and all three of us kids shared a bedroom. There was no indoor bathroom. A trip to the outhouse was required summer and winter and baths were weekly affairs using shared water in a galvanized tub set up to take advantage of the warmth of the stove in the kitchen. Yet the family always looked clean and well turned out, something that must have required a good deal of effort on the part of Grandma B.

No store-bought baking for this family - all the breads, cakes and pies were made from scratch at home. The separate pantry off the kitchen was very charming but not very large for assembling all the great food that must have come out of it. Feeding hungry threshing crews during harvest required constant cooking, baking and cleaning up. There was a large bin for flour in the pantry - I believe it held a full 100 pound bag of flour and no doubt still emptied frequently.

John and Louise in front of their home about 1944
I always enjoyed it when Grandma B would come to visit us. She had moved to Vancouver with her husband John to retire not long before  his 1945 death and I think she always missed the farm.  When she came, she would take lids from tin cans and nail them over any knotholes showing up in the chicken coop or any other building. She would sit and darn socks very patiently and always seemed to be busy. I think she found great comfort in just being in her old home. Although I always thought of her as a very serious woman, she had a really wild sense of humour that would often get her bubbling with laughter.

Visiting Grandma B always meant lots of food, and my siblings and I used to love her packed lunches that she would send our family off with for our return trip from her home in Calgary, Alberta, to the farm in Saskatchewan. We never made it past the outskirts of Calgary before begging to be allowed to get into the sandwiches and cookies and fruit that she had packed for us. Another fond memory is of the huge cardboard box full of Christmas presents and treats that she would send each year. (No doubt she sent similar packages to all 8 of her children and their growing families and it boggles the mind to think of the logistics of it all!). She always used so much tape and string that there was no hope of any of the packaging coming apart to show off the contents before Christmas.

Although the family was generally a very close and loving one, there was one unfortunate period in 1959 when elder son James decided he wanted to take over farming the homestead land. Louise still held title and had been renting it to my Dad who was her younger son. It must have been a difficult decision for her to make, but no doubt she felt she was doing the right thing in helping James get on his feet. We were forced to leave our home, resulting in some ill-feelings. That summer we weren't on the best of terms with Grandma B who was back on her homestead keeping house for son James. I remember sneaking over there after church one day to visit her; she fed me a cheese sandwich made with store-bought white bread, something I had rarely tasted.

Predictably, the farming career of son James did not last the year and Ken bought the land from Louise, forestalling any future issues. Warm family relations returned. But we never did move back to that house.

We did still have our garden there, though, and on one of her visits, Grandma B followed me into the barn after we had done some gardening. Wearing her customary dress and laced up Granny boots, she made me promise not to tell anyone that she was going up into the hayloft in the barn. This was not up a staircase, but a ladder built into the studs in the wall. She was over 80 years old at the time and climbed up there like she'd been doing it all her life! (I did keep her secret until after her death, but I do love to tell the story now because it says so much about her.)
John Bardahl and sons haying early 1940's; this is the hayloft into which Louise ascended decades later
When I was in my twenties, I once again had Grandma B close to home. She had been living in Calgary, Alberta, for decades and we moved to the same city for my husband's work. It was lovely to be able to visit her again and have my children get to know her.

Louise and youngest son Ken, 1970's
She was in good health for most of the first century of her life. She lived on her own until she was about 100, but eventually time took its toll and she was in an auxilliary hospital at the end. She died on 16 February 1985 at the age of 103 in Calgary and was laid to rest next to her husband at Ocean View Burial Park in Vancouver, British Columbia. After 40 years apart, John and Louise were together again.


  • Bardahl, Ken, Private memoirs written for grandson Grant McClure 14 November 1991
  • "Memories to Cherish: Stewart Valley and Leinan" published by Stewart Valley - Leinan History Book Committee 1987
  • Photographs from the collection of Ken Bardahl

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Ellen Newton, Plymouth Landowner 1623 (52 Ancestors #8) Theme: "Good Deeds"

If I could sit down to interview just one long-dead ancestor from my family tree, it would probably be my 8th great grandmother Ellen Newton (sometimes Eleanor or Elinor Newton) who lived from 1598 to 1681. She arrived in Plymouth Colony from England aboard the ship Anne in the summer of 1623, less than three years after the Mayflower. She seems to have come on her own, with no parents, siblings or husband. Was there some tragedy or scandal that she was escaping? Was she simply an adventurous young woman with an urge to expand her horizons? The mystery surrounding her reasons for making this 3 month voyage to an unknown new land is one that I would love to be able to discuss with her.
Although Ellen did not arrive on the Mayflower,
the Anne would have been smaller but similar in appearance to this replica Mayflower II in Plymouth Harbor
Ellen was one of the 27 women arriving aboard the Anne. William Bradford, one of the prominent Mayflower passengers, is quoted by Willison as having written that the company was "about 60 persons for ye generall, some of them being very usefull persons . . . and some were so bad as they were faine to be at charge to send them home againe ye next year." Undoubtedly Ellen was among the useful group!

Shortly after her arrival, Plymouth Colony made a division of lands among the colonists living there at the time. Each person was allotted one acre. Ellen Newton is listed by name for her acre "this goeth in with a corner by ye pond". Although not a "deed" in our usual sense of the word, this allotment was legally binding and indeed a "good deed" for this single woman. Her decision to come to America may not have been such a bad one - she probably would not have had title to any land had she remained in England.

Her English background remains unknown. Her single status upon arrival has caused much speculation over the years since it would have been very uncommon for a single woman to make such a trip on her own. Some say she was a relative of one of the other passengers on the Anne, in particular Bridget Lee Fuller, but the reason for this is simply because their acres of land were adjoining. Some say she was a young widow when she arrived, but this has never been proved either.
Memorial Plaque to those who, like Ellen, came aboard the ship Anne in 1623
Although she was not previously engaged to marry anyone, there were many unmarried men in Plymouth and available young women were in short supply. In 1625 Ellen married John Adams who had arrived in Plymouth in 1621 aboard the ship Fortune. Both Ellen and John were classified as "Strangers", a name given to those who arrived without having been part of the religious separatist group of Puritans (sometimes called "Saints") who had spent time at Leiden, Holland to avoid religious persecution in England. The Strangers were motivated more by a desire for land and improved economic prospects than for obtaining religious freedom. No doubt there was also a sense of adventure calling them across the sea.

John and Ellen had three children prior to his death in 1633: James, John and Susan Adams. In the 27 March 1634 tax list, "Widow Adams" is taxed for 9 shillings. Citizenship granted rights to land but also the obligation to pay taxes!

Memorial to the Pilgrim Maiden, Plymouth, MA
Statue sculpted in 1924 by H H Kitson in honour of the English women, like Ellen, who came to Plymouth Colony
In June of 1634, Ellen married again, this time to Kenelm Winslow, my 8th great grandfather. Kenelm was one of several prominent Winslow brothers who were living in Plymouth Colony. Two of them had arrived in Plymouth aboard the Mayflower in 1620 and eldest brother Edward was one of the leading men of the colony, acting as its Governor for a period of time. Others had arrived aboard the Fortune in 1621.  Kenelm didn't come on the Mayflower in 1620, although it is generally said that he arrived on the Mayflower when it returned in 1629. Ellen and Kenelm made their home in the new town of Marshfield from 1641; this was one of the earliest towns to be established after Plymouth.

Kenelm and Ellen are the 4th and 5th people listed on this memorial to the early Marshfield settlers
Unlike his brothers, Kenelm was not a Saint but a Stranger. He was a maker of fine furniture and coffins. I often wonder if Ellen was the envy of the community by virtue of having a house full of wonderful furniture, or if she was like the proverbial shoemaker's children who went barefoot.

Ellen must have had a merry ride during her marriage to Kenelm. He was a very litigious man and was always either suing or being sued and generally getting into scrapes of one sort or another. No Saint he! Ellen would have stood by her husband through the following situations:
  • In 1638, Kenelm and his brother John were witnesses against Stephen Hopkins for selling wine at excessive prices.
  • While Kenelm was the surveyor of the town, he was fined 10 shillings in 1640 for neglecting highways.
  • He complained of injustice in a suit against John Maynard on 4 June 1645, but the committee found the judge and jury to have been without fault and ordered Kenelm to be imprisoned and fined 10 pounds. On his petition that same day in which he acknowledged his offence and apologized, he was released and given a suspended sentence. If he then showed good behavior, the sentence would be remitted completely.
  • On 5 May 1646 he was sued by Roger Chandler. Roger said that Kenelm had detained Chandler's daughter's clothes for the reason that she owed him further service. (It was common in Plymouth Colony for children to work for other families as servants.)  The court ordered Kenelm to return her clothes.
  • Kenelm was jailed for 6 weeks in 1646 for "approbrious words against the church of Marshfield, saying they were all lyars" according to Willison. When he refused to find sureties for his good behavior, he was put into prison until the next court date.
  • On 7 March 1653/4 he complained against John Soule for speaking scandalously of Winslow's daughter and carrying reports between her and Josiah Standish.
Notwithstanding all of this, on 1 June 1647 he was chosen constable for Marshfield. From 1649 onward, he was frequently a deputy from Marshfield. Perhaps his good family connections caused some of his irascibility to be overlooked.

Kenelm was not only busy in community life, but he also fathered four children by Ellen: Kenelm (my 7th great grandfather) in 1635, Eleanor in 1637, Nathaniel in 1639 and Job in 1641.

Kenelm died 12 September 1672, but his widow Ellen lived until 5 December 1681, dying at the age of 83. She is buried at Marshfield, Massachusetts. Ellen Newton Adams Winslow was among the first of my ancestors to be a landowner in America - a "good deed" indeed!

Old Burying Ground in Marshfield no doubt contains Ellen's remains


  • Willison, George F., "Saints and Strangers", New York: Reynal & Hitchcock 1945
  • Johnson, Caleb H., "The Mayflower and Her Passengers", Xlibris Corporation 2006
  • "New England Marriages Prior to 1700" (Provo, UT, USA, Operations Inc., 2012),
  • "Mayflower Source Records: Marriages, Deaths and Burials" from the Early Records of Marshfield, MA
  • Banks, Charles , "The English Ancestry and Homes of the Pilgrim Fathers" 1929 reprinted 2006
  • Massachusetts General Court, "Records of the Colony of New Plymouth" Volume XII 1861
  • Stratton, Eugene A., "Plymouth Colony: Its History and People 1620-1691" 1986

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Idella Edwards 1897-1976 (52 Ancestors #7) Theme: "Love"

Idella Edwards, known to her friends as Della and to my siblings and me as Grandma A, was my maternal grandmother. She felt like a kindred spirit. Neither of us was particularly demonstrative and we certainly did not spend a lot of time hugging and gushing over each other; in that, too, we were alike. We were both first-born children, both loved word games, cooking, baking, books, music, needlework and nice china and fabrics, and had both been teachers for a short while in our lives. Neither of us was fond of living on a farm, something both of us did for part of our lives. You wouldn't have wanted to take Grandma A camping; those who ventured out into the wilderness in a tent with me found out that I shouldn't have been taken camping either. Our temperaments were, I believe, quite similar. I loved her dearly.  

Della in the 1940's
Della was the first-born child of Charles Edwards and Mary-Jane ("Mayme") Wescott. They had been married the previous year and were living in Great Falls, Montana when Della arrived on the scene on 28 July 1897. The next year, Charles decided to seek his fortune in the Alaska Gold Rush and headed north but returned empty-handed within a few months. While he was gone, Mayme took baby Della to Wisconsin to stay with her family, returning when Charles came home to resume his regular work with the Great Northern Railroad. Charles went back to Alaska in 1900, but again returned within a few months with no gold to show for his efforts. 

Brothers and sisters arrived frequently: Everett in 1899, Marion in 1900, Ora in 1902, Grace in 1904 and Merton ("Chuck") in 1908.

Edwards Children: Idella on the left, Marion and Everett
Her younger years sound quite pleasant. Sister Marion Edwards Miller recalled on page 4 of her memoirs that: "They lived in Great Falls for 12 or 13 years and he (Dad) was home quite a lot of the time. He made good money and  they were able to afford a maid, or as we called them in those days a "hired girl". We had a nice home right across from the Longfellow School. We had passes on the railroad so Mother took us kids quite often to visit her people. Those trips stick in my memory, sleeping in the berths, eating in the diner, was really fun. She would have us all dressed up so nice. I can remember the trip when I was seven. She had made white coats for Ora and me and we had white embroidered hats. . . . Dad made a merry-go-round in our backyard and all of the school kids used it, as we were right across the street."

Oh, Grandma A, now some of us can see where we get "the hair"!
When Della was about 12, Charles moved the family to a small fruit farm near Kalispell, Montana, about 30 miles from the western entrance to Glacier Park. The children attended Cayuse Prairies School, three miles from home. Freight rates were high and Charles couldn't make a go of his fruit farm, so returned to the railroad.  When the Great Northern workers went on strike in 1914, Charles went to Canada to work for the CPR. That afforded him the opportunity to see lands available for homestead in Saskatchewan and he moved his family there once a home had been built. Della was just finishing high school at that time and stayed in Kalispell to finish her education.

Della Edwards 1918 in doorway of Wayne Valley School where she taught

By the Fall of 1916, Della had joined her family in the Lancer area of Saskatchewan and was teaching school in the area as a substitute until a trained teacher would arrive. When the school inspectors caught wind of this, she was sent a letter acknowledging the situation and granting her an interim teaching certificate until Christmas time, but advising her to then obtain proper credentials. She did just that by taking a three month teacher training course in Swift Current Saskatchewan in the winter of 1917. Until the end of the school term, she taught at Oroyo School near Beverly, Saskatchewan and then received an appointment to become the teacher at Wayne Valley School for the following school year. 

Della right rear beside her mother Mayme;
front are probably sisters Ora and Grace Edwards
Like his other ventures, the Saskatchewan farm was not a success for Charles, mostly because all the good land had already been picked up by earlier homesteaders and the Edwards parcel was of very poor quality. After their house burned down and Charles lost his land, the Edwards family returned to the northwestern USA.

All the family, that is, except for Della.  By then she had met a local young homesteading farmer named Ingwald Anderson, and, much to her parents' disapproval, had fallen in love with him and married him on 29 December 1919.  Della continued to teach until June of 1920 but remembered driving by horse and buggy the four miles to her school, leaning over the side with morning sickness. She was pregnant with their first child, Robert, who was born in December of 1920.

Notwithstanding her disappointment and disapproval of the marriage, Della's mother Mayme made a beautiful wool log cabin quilt for her eldest daughter and her new husband as a wedding gift. Although now somewhat tattered after almost 100 years, it remains a poignant tangible reminder of a mother's love for her daughter and that daughter's love for her new husband.

Other children followed over the next years: one more son and four daughters including my mother. My mother recently gave me some beautiful dainty handkerchiefs that had been Della's. Apparently Della had done a few days of substitute teaching years after her marriage and had bought these as a special treat to herself. The family was not well off and beautiful personal treats were not normally within the family budget.

Della and Ingwald and their family survived the Great Depression and the "Dirty Thirties" on the farm. Although their children made the best of it and have a lot of fond memories of their lives growing up, it must have been very difficult for the parents. Della was an excellent cook and seamstress and made do with what was available to provide food and clothing as best she could for her family. She was a stickler for good nutrition.

Della with her 3 oldest children, mid 1920's
Della did not like the farm. She probably should not have been married to a farmer and should instead have spent her life in a city with all its cultural facilities. In the mid 1940's, they bought a house in Swift Current and she ran it as a boarding house until the late 1950's while Ingwald continued to farm in the summer and live in town in the winters. My early memories of my grandmother are from this time and I remember her fabulous meals for her boarders and how she had them trained to return their dirty dishes from the dining room to the kitchen after they had eaten. I think she had us trained too.

Della Edwards Anderson in her boarding house kitchen 1950's
The apple-shaped cookie jar on her kitchen counter was always full of delicious cookies, mostly oatmeal or raisin. The only bad memory I have of staying with her was her insistence that I drink a glass of milk, something that I really detested. The same glass of milk appeared at every meal. There was no arguing when she said, "Eat your greens and drink your milk."

Anderson Family 1948: Ingwald and Della in rear
In December of my first year at school I was hospitalized in Swift Current for a serious ear infection resulting from red measles. (This was before the era of vaccinations and we had been snow-bound on our farm during my illness.) When I was released from hospital, I stayed with her for follow-up medical visits. She and I baked Christmas cookies and she gave me my own copy of Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty", a children's version that I played over and over again until I knew all the words. I think she had been horrified at the possibility of my going deaf without ever having heard good classical music. 

Grandma A was an opera fanatic. She had an excellent collection of records and was a faithful follower of "Saturday Afternoon at the Opera" on radio. We all knew that you did not phone her or drop in for a visit during her opera time on Saturday afternoons.

In the summer of 1958, my parents went on holidays and left us to stay with our grandparents at their farm. They were studying to learn how to manage a motel and I remember Grandma A learning to type because, she admitted, her writing was almost illegible. While we were there, Grandpa A took my sister along on a trip to the grain elevator with a load of grain and when he had driven the truck into the elevator, he had a heart attack and died. It was a terrible shock; he was only 65. 

Grandma A carried on with the motel plan, buying a place in Watsonville, California and moving there to run that for several years. She then moved to be near her sisters in Moses Lake, Washington where she worked in a flower shop. When she finally moved back to Saskatchewan, I was in high school and delighted to have her back.
Idella serving tea to her sister Grace (left) and friends in Moses Lake Washington 1960's
She was a woman of many interests. Her passion for knitting resulted in many welcome gifts to family members of hand-knit sweaters, baby shawls and hats, mittens and vests. She loved to read and was always up-to-date on popular culture. She would often have a Scrabble board set up in her living room for two players; she would place a word, score it and then the next time she entered the room, she would move to the other place and play that person's tiles. She was a creative cook, never falling into the trap of just making do with something from a tin for a meal for herself in her widowhood. Her recipes remain family standards. 

Della knitting, about 1970 (no, she never smoked - the ashtray would be for guests)

Della was never one to wear black or beige. In the late 1960's she asked me to select fabrics and sew her a couple of dresses with the stipulation that it not be any of that dark, boring "old lady" stuff! 

Della died 5 January 1976 at the age of 78. I was taking down the Christmas tree at the time I received the sad news and have never once taken down a Christmas tree since without remembering and missing this lovely woman who was my much-loved and much-loving Grandma A.


  • Province of Saskatchewan Death Certificate for Idella Marguerite Anderson, registration no. 76-07-001179
  • Robert W Anderson family history composed c. 1970
  • Delayed Certificate of Birth for Idella Edwards issued by the Montana State Board of Health File No. 5809
  • Marion Edwards Miller personal memoirs "My Memories"

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Hans Bardahl 1841-1922: A New Name in a New Land (52 Ancestors #6) Theme: "So Far Away"

Hans Bardahl was my paternal immigrant ancestor.  Although most of my ancestors originated far away in Europe, I think of Hans as having come from the most remote of places.

Hans was the father of my grandfather John Bardahl, the subject of last week's story. My brothers carry their Y chromosome.

Hans Olai Johnson Bardahl
Most of my ancestors were Scandinavian, with the majority being Norwegian. Although Hans may not have come from much farther away than some of the others, the place he came from sounds like the ends of the earth. Hans came from a small area in Nordland, Norway, far up the outer Norwegian Sea coastline. The area was called Bardahl (the Norwegians have dropped the superfluous "h" in this and similar words subsequent to Hans's departure, and thus you would now find it spelled "Bardal"). Current population within 7 kilometers of Bardal is fewer than 300 people. So far away - remote and isolated! Situated at 66 degrees 16 minutes 20 seconds North, it is most similar in latitude to Inuvik or Frobisher Bay in Canada's Northwest Territories. However, the winds and ocean currents make the climate at Bardal less severe than in those Canadian places of similar latitude. It is the land of majestic fjords and islands and far enough north to be the Land of the Midnight Sun.

Hans also seemed culturally and linguistically distant to me when I first started to research his background. Not understanding Norwegian made the task seem insurmountable at first, but with knowledge of the name of the area he came from, perseverance and a good English-Norwegian list of common genealogical terms, I was able to order the relevant microfilms from Salt Lake City and learn how to decipher at least some of the Gothic handwriting in the foreign language. Slowly things started to make sense. The Lutheran Church records (kirkebøker) are excellent because, as the state church, it was mandated in 1688 to keep all the records for the country for baptisms, marriages, burials, movements in and out of the community, confirmations and smallpox vaccinations. This duty was taken seriously and the resulting records are among the best anywhere. There were good census records available on microfilm as well for the years 1801, 1865 and 1875; these are called "folketelling" in Norwegian, a word so suggestive of its English meaning that it is easily remembered. (The scanned church records and census records are now made available free of charge online in Norway's digital archives.)

Hans Olai Johnson was born 30 April 1841 in Hemnes, Nordland, Norway and baptized a couple of weeks later on 15 May, as shown in the baptism record above. His parents were John Christian Larsen (note, not "Bardahl"!) and Oline Maria Olsdatter. Census records indicate that father John was a farmer and fisherman. Unusual for the times, Hans had just one sibling. This may be partially explained by the fact that his older sister Anne was born 4 May 1834, some five years before their parents were married. (Norwegian church records are very forthright about illegitimacy, clearly differentiating between children whose parents are "gift" (married) versus "ugift" (unmarried). Fathers' names are stated for all children.) On 18 September 1845 Hans was vaccinated for smallpox on the same day as Anne. He was confirmed in 1857, a notation of which was added to his baptism record in the kirkebøker.

Hans can be found in the 1865 folketelling for Hemnes, Nordland, Norway, where the 25 year-old is working as a hired man on the Storbjerka farm for a man named Kristoffer Pedersen. Hemnes is very near to Nesna and to Bardal in Nordland. Hans O Jonsen is the 4th last person listed on the farm below:

Hans could probably only dream of becoming a landowner in Norway at this time. Seeking to improve his lot, he emigrated to the United States in 1866. His name until that time had been Hans Olai Johnson (or sometimes Jonsen) in the Norwegian patronymic naming tradition of adopting as your surname the first name of your father with "son" or "datter" added to that. Once he was in the United States, Hans Johnson started to call himself Hans Johnson Bardahl and sometimes just Hans Bardahl (or Bardal) obviously after the name of the parish and area in Norway he came from. (Thus, searching for the surname Bardahl for any ancestors of Hans is completely pointless.) He certainly didn't change his name because of any difficulty with any nameless official not being able to spell his foreign name - how difficult can it be to spell Johnson? I really believe he changed his surname from Johnson to Bardahl in order to stay connected to the distant place of his birth.

Hans went first to Goodhue County, Minnesota for one year after arriving but then moved to Renville County where he farmed until 1890.  On 21 May 1873 he married Annie Erickson Elton. 

There was a son Astien (or Erstine and more commonly called Steve) born 8 September 1868, five years before their marriage, in Cannon Falls, Renville County, Minnesota; it isn't clear whether Steve was their son, or Annie's son from a previous relationship. Records in the United States were not nearly as clear about these matters as the Norwegian church records had been. 

Other children arrived in 1876 (Sarah), 1879 (John), 1883 (Ole), 1886 (Synnova or Susie), 1887 (Hannah) and 1890 (Ella). All were born in Rennville County, Minnesota. Other children were born but must have died young since in the 1910 census, she is said to have given birth to 10 children of whom 7 were still alive. 

Hans and Anna seated center front with Ella between them and Sarah seated on left
Back row, left to right: Hannah, Ole, John and Susie; photo about 1895-1900

We are able to follow the movement and growth of the family through census records from 1875, 1880, 1895 and 1900.  By 1900 they were in Elk Lake Township, Grant County, Minnesota listed as Hans Bardahl, born May 1845, Norway, farmer; Anna, born March 1850, Norway, married 26 years, sons John born May 1874 and Ole born 1883, daughters Sonava born 1886, Hanna born 1887 and Ella born 1890. All the children were born in Minnesota. The family moved to Sanford Township, Grant County in 1890 and then in 1895 to Elk Lake Township where Hans had 280 acres in section 30. By 1910, Hans and Anna are living at this same place with the two youngest daughters Hannah and Ella. Daughter Susie and her husband Carl Estergren are listed just two households away.

Original Hans Bardahl barn near Barrett, Minnesota

He engaged in general farming and stock raising until 1913 when he retired at age 74 and moved into the town of Barrett. 

Original Hans Bardahl home near Barrett, Minnesota

The Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 hit this family hard. Two of the daughters, Hannah (31) and Susie (a.k.a. Synnova) (32), succumbed to the disease, both after just 4 to 5 days' illness. The obituary for daughter Hannah gives a sense of the horrible tragedy: "He who spares neither age nor sex in the relentless toll of death has again entered a happy home and called away another dear daughter, sister and friend. Hannah Amalia, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Hans Bardahl of Lien, answered the final summons Monday, Nov. 18th, after a four day illness of influenza-pneumonia.  She was a sweet winsome young lady, and held a warm place in the hearts of all she met on life's pathway. She was earnestly interested in the church and all its activities, and will be greatly missed by all. Her sister, Mrs. Ed. Estergren, passed away Nov. 9th. Death has indeed laid its hand heavily upon this family, and the bereaved ones have the heartfelt sympathy of the whole community in their sad hour of affliction."

The 1920 census has Hans and Anna with youngest daughter Ella still residing at Elk Lake, Minnesota.  Living next to them was son Ole and his wife Annie and their children.

According to a local history book from the area, Hans was a member of the Synod Lutheran Church and took an active interest in the work of the church. He was also active in the civic life of the community and was associated with the Republican party. 

When he died 13 March 1922 at age 80, his newspaper obituary indicated that "Hans Bardahl, a prominent and respected resident of Barrett, passed away at his home in that village Monday evening, March 13. Death was caused by chronic cystitis. Mr. Bardahl had been ill for several months." His funeral was held at 1 o'clock from Our Savior's Church in Barrett and from the town of Lien Church at 3 o'clock. He is buried in the Lien Cemetery at Barrett, Minnesota.


  • Lutheran Church kirkebøker microfilm LDS 307102 for Nesna, Nordland, Norway
  • Norwegian digital archives record for the 1865 census at Hemnes, Nordland, Norway for the Storbjerka farm
  • Photo of Hans Bardahl headstone and Hans Bardahl barn and home by Ken and Elinor Bardahl, 1992
  • US Census records from and
  • Barrett, Minnesota local history book page and newspaper obituaries provided 2 April 1988 to Kenneth Bardahl by his cousin Harold Bardahl, (unfortunately not including more detail as to original sources)
  • State of Minnesota Marriage License 484 dated 14 May 1873 and Certificate dated 21 May 1873
  • Google Earth map 

Sunday, 1 February 2015

John Bardahl 1879-1945 (52 Ancestors #5) Theme: "Ploughing Through"

I never knew my paternal grandfather John Bardahl because he had died by the time I was born. His story is in many respects a fairly typical story of a man from an immigrant farming family who made a life for himself and his family as pioneers in the Canadian west. (My other Scandinavian grandfather, Ingwald Anderson, also moved from North Dakota to Saskatchewan in the early 1900's; Ingwald was just 17 when he came north to homestead with other family members including his grandfather, Israel Anderson.) It is because of the decisions made by my two sets of grandparents, and their determination to "plough through" and persevere as homesteading farmers, that our branches of the extended families are Canadian.

John Bardahl age 27 and Louise Nelson Bardahl age 25
Growing up on John's homestead farm in Saskatchewan,  I could feel his presence in my surroundings: in all the trees surrounding the farmstead, the house, chicken coop, wash shanty, bunkhouse, garage, blacksmith shop and barn, and Bethel Prairie Lutheran Church just across the field, all of which he had been instrumental in establishing.

John was born in Rennville County, Minnesota on 1 May 1879 to Norwegian immigrant Hans Olai Johnson Bardahl and his wife Anna Elton. He had a half-brother Steve, a brother Ole and four sisters (two of whom would succumb to the 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic).

The family moved around a few times, but always within Minnesota, eventually settling in Grant County.  By the time John reached manhood, he stood 6 feet 4 inches tall and was a big man in every sense of the word. On 15 January 1906 he made application for a marriage license for his marriage to Louise Nelson.  The wedding was held nine days later in Erdahl, Grant County, Minnesota with John's sister Hannah Bardahl and Louise's brother Nels Nelson acting as witnesses. 
Wedding invitation hand-written by bride's father, Carl Johan Nelson
One hundred invitations were issued for the reception and it was well-attended, according to the Grant County Herald newspaper of 25 January 1906 which also indicated that: "Both bride and groom have grown up here in Grant County, and have a host of friends who admire them for their industry, spirit, affability and probity of character. The groom has a homestead at Skogmo, N.D. and we understand the young couple will go there in the spring to make their future home."

John and Louise moved to Skogmo where their oldest child, Joetta was born in 1908. The only picture I have from their time there shows a lone house in a rather bleak winter landscape.  My grandmother told me that the best land had all been taken up in North Dakota by then, with little hope for expansion into a profitable farm for them. Thus, they moved north in 1909 when opportunity for land was available in the Canadian prairie.

Bardahl homestead, Skogmo, ND
My father Kenneth Bardahl related that early in the twentieth century, "the government was very interested in getting western Canada settled.  To this end, they encouraged homesteaders to come in. The homestead quarter of land could be purchased for a fee of $10.00 with several stipulations, six months residence on same and a certain amount of breaking of land, plus improvements such as buildings, water wells, fences, etc.  After a given period of time, if one survived the hardships and did comply with their wishes, title of said land was given to the homesteader. Today this sounds easy but if one tries to consider the problems they encountered, it is mind boggling.  First, they had to locate land that was available. keeping in mind mile upon mile of virgin prairie.  Even locating the survey pegs was a job unto itself. There were occasions when someone would deliberately change these pegs to add to the confusion, perhaps trying to keep an area open to friends or relatives who would be arriving later.  Sometimes, also, the homesteader would locate several parcels of land, so that he would have an option when he went to apply for a homestead.  This was a very smart move, because originally this all had to be done through the Moose Jaw land titles office." (Moose Jaw was well over one hundred miles away!)

John Bardahl breaking the prairie sod about 1910 (helper probably daughter Joetta)
In August of 1909 John applied for a homestead and pre-emption on the SE and SW quarters of Section 15 Township 18 Range 14 W3M in the south-western part of the recently formed province of Saskatchewan. This area was being settled at the time, mainly by people of Norwegian background.  No doubt there was some sort of comfort in numbers. Several of Louise's siblings also moved into the same area to homestead at the same time. 

John originally built a homestead shack on the SE quarter but then decided there was a better home site on the SW quarter so switched his homestead and pre-emption quarters. By 1913 he had completed the requirements to obtain title to the land. In his sworn statement, during his four years on the land, he had broken over 115 acres of land, had stock and a stable, built a 26 foot by 26 foot home, dug a well and fenced 40 acres of his land. There was nothing but open prairie when they arrived: no automobiles or roads, no communication systems, no buildings. Everything had to be brought by horse and wagon. Yet by 1917, the Bardahl farmstead consisted of a house, a large hip-roofed barn and several out-buildings. By then, the family consisted of John and Louise and daughters Joetta, Marvel, Mildred, Hazel and Lillian.

The Bardahl homestead 1917

My Dad described the importance of the barn: "It must have been a dream come true when in 1917 they were able to build a 32' X 60' hip roof barn with a hay loft to hold the winter's supply of hay. This barn was ample storage for up to 6 head of horses, which were his pride and joy. Even now, names as Pearl, Lucy, Minnie, Kernel, Dandy, Doc and Stella cling to my memory. He was able to finance the whole building with the proceeds of one flax crop." (By the time I came on the scene, the only one of those horses still around was white Stella and she was teamed up with a black horse named Fly. Horses no longer did much farm work by then, but my very first memory is of dashing through the snow in a wagon being pulled by Stella and Fly, snow flying up into my delighted 2 year-old face as I kept ducking behind my protective father's bulk.)

Community was very important to provide education, religious workship, marriages, baptisms and burials, sociability and emotional support. Two nearby one-roomed schools were established that also provided space for community gatherings and dances. This Norwegian community was Lutheran and building a local church for Sunday worship was seen as a priority. Four acres of land just north of the Bardahl homestead had been donated by two other local farmers for a cemetery and church. Dad described how the church building was funded:"Again these pioneers were faced with the problem of arranging finances for this purpose. Many of the wives of these homesteaders formed a group called "the Ladies Aid". My mother, Louise Bardahl, was a charter member of this group. These ladies would serve lunch after church services, along with Fowl Suppers, sales of donated handicrafts etc and any other projects to make money. These funds  were carefully guided and with the help of this group of ladies, a church, Bethel Church was built in the year 1927. Their funding was limited and a very small cellar was built under the church. This was large enough for the coal and wood furnace which was used for many years." Dad often commented that church services were conducted in Norwegian until well into the 1940's.

Congregational gathering at Bethel Church; date unknown but note cars in background
By the time the church was built, three more children had been added to the family: daughter Inez and at last two sons, James and my Dad Kenneth who was born in 1926 when his mother was 45 and his dad 47. The family had tried to move off the farm in 1919, renting it out to another local farmer and moving the family to the growing city of Swift Current probably so that the children could obtain a better education.  John found work with a man named Grogan who had a farm machinery store, but this was a short-lived career change. The man who had rented his farm died just one year into the arrangement and John resumed farming.

During the 1930's, the depression coupled with years of drought caused many farmers to give up and leave the land. Fortunately, the Bardahl family had become fairly well established by this time. My Dad said: "Mother and Dad had not really gone into debt more than they had to. Dad was a great planner and usually had a few things bringing in some much needed cash. I will list a few things that he did to do this. In 1928 he had purchased a truck and was able to do some custom work, both grain, cattle and gravel hauling. He also set up a building on our farm for custom grain grinding. This grain grinder was driven by a belt from a tractor pulley. Over the years, hundreds of loads (each app. 50 bushels) were ground up for neighbors for their livestock production. A holding bin was built above the grinder and it fed by gravity. After the grain was crushed it was fed into an elevator which carried this ground chop to the back of the building to dump into the waiting wagon. All this for $2.00 a load. My parents always had a lot of livestock. Of course farming was done with horses in this time era. At times he could sell the odd colt or two from the above. On the other end of the barn was the cow barn with stalls for up to 9 head of milking cows. On the other side of the aisle were 3 pens for calves, pigs or whatever. In the mid 30's also the Government of the time were trying to upgrade the quality of these farm cattle. To this end they would supply to an area a registered Hereford bull. To my knowledge, Dad took in one of these first bulls into this area. I can recall helping? when such animal arrived by freight box car in Leinan. He was a big brute, never had I seen an animal of this size. He was very docile though and neighbors for miles about brought their cows for his service. Cost 50 cents which Dad was supposed to collect."

Ken and John Bardahl with John's very useful truck

My Dad went on to add that: "Another venture that Dad had was his threshing machine for harvesting purposes. This machine was pulled with 4 horses and the binder would cut and bind into sheaves in one operation. A unit called the bundle carrier would allow the operator to carry about 6 sheaves when they could be released with a simple fast manipulation. This procedure was very slow, only cutting an 8 foot swath, 12 to 15 acres per day limit. After this being completed, these bundles had to be put up in stooks, grain end up for drying, about 6 or 8 bundles to a stook. People became adept at this and it was a beautiful sight on completion. It was hard manual work with the old water jug not to far away at any given time. The next operation was when the threshing machine pulled into this field. The machine was set on level property, with wind at your back. Next, the 6 or 8 teams of horses and hayracks would load up their bundles. Each man went in rotation taking turns into the machine for the threshing. Each unit was proud of their big and well build loads and if you went in early with a small load, you found out quickly that this wasn't a very popular thing to do. Dad had a machine as such and even though it was not a big money maker, it did help in his financing."
John Bardahl (left) with his threshing machine and crew
I was surprised to learn that my grandparents made a pleasure trip to Minnesota in 1934 to visit family during the tough depressed times of the "Dirty Thirties".  My Dad Kenneth was eight years old and had this single visit with the only one of his grandparents he ever got to meet - John's mother Anna Elton Bardahl.
John and Louise Bardahl family 1934
John and Louse are center front with my 8 year-old Dad Ken between them; Joetta is front left and Inez front right;
back row: Marvel, Lillian, James, Mildred and Hazel
By the autumn of 1944, John's health was deteriorating and he and Louise left the farm for Vancouver to be near some of their daughters.  He died of cancer on 29 January 1945 at age 65 and is buried at Ocean View Burial Park, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Louise would survive him by forty years to die in 1985 at the age of 103. By the time of her death, their descendants numbered 8 children, 16 grandchildren and  29 great-grandchildren, a number that has continued to grow every year since. All of their descendants can thank John and Louise for "ploughing through" the tough times to establish their family in this new community.
Laying John to rest, Ocean View Burial Park 31 January 1945


  • Bardahl, Kenneth, private memoirs written for his grandson Grant McClure early 1990's
  • Grant County Herald, Elbow Lake Minnesota, 25 January 1906
  • Ellis, Hazel (Bardahl) letter to her brother Ken Bardahl dated 10 February (no year specified, early 1980's)