Friday, 4 December 2015

Anna Ericksdatter Elton (1849-1938) (Week 49) My theme: "Saudade"

Several years ago, my husband and I had the pleasure of sailing our boat through Gwaii Haanas Park on the southern end of Haida Gwaii (former Queen Charlotte Islands) off Canada's west coast. This National Park is unique in that it is jointly managed by Parks Canada and the Haida people. To oversee and protect the delicate ecology and history of their traditional territories (and sometimes to offer tours and talks to visitors), "Watchmen" are stationed at the various historic locations for a few weeks at a time. These are regular Haida people of all ages left in a very remote region with no television, roads, internet or cell phone coverage. Contact with the outside world is made by VHF radio in short conversations, which in their case meant using a list of shorthand "code" numbers. When we visited Hot Spring Island (before a 2012 earthquake put the three hot pools in jeopardy) two women were acting as Watchmen at the site. As we were the only visitors there that day, they kindly invited us to join them for lunch after we soaked in the hot pools. The thing that stands out in my mind (aside from the nice hot lunch that they shared with us) was how one woman was so badly missing her grandchildren back home. She had an ache in her heart that showed on her face and in her voice; she needed to see her grandchildren. Apparently she had called her supervisor using something like "code 9" on the VHF radio, but there really was no code number to effectively express her problem. There simply is no adequate word in English either.

I claim no Portuguese ancestors, but the Portuguese do have such a perfect word for this strong emotion - "saudade". Saudade describes a deep nostalgic or melancholic longing for an absent person or place that one loves deeply. Sometimes it can include the knowledge that you will never see that person or place again. I think it could even extend to family members one has never met. It can include terrible sadness and feelings of loss or absence, but it can also include the recollection of happy times past and bittersweet joyful recollections. If you have experienced it, you know that it is a much stronger emotion than merely missing someone; perhaps it most closely resembles a bad case of homesickness.

The closest thing in Norwegian (the mother language of my great grandmother Anna Elton) might be lengsel etter fravaerende familie.

Anna Elton c1890
Having children and grandchildren of my own in distant places sometimes leaves me with saudade of them. But I know I can talk to them on the telephone or by Skype or quite easily go to visit them. Such was not always the case for my ancestors. When they left their homelands to emigrate to America, they must have known in their hearts that they would probably never again see family, friends and the community they were leaving behind. Sometimes family groups travelled together and that no doubt eased some of the anguish, but even once in America, families often dispersed into new areas. Many people grew up never meeting their grandparents or aunts and uncles. Many grandparents never knew the joy of watching their grandsons and granddaughters grow up. Saudade must have been common. 

When my paternal grandparents decided to uproot and move across the border to homestead in Saskatchewan, Canada, it meant they were too far from their own parents in Minnesota to have them involved in their children's lives. The result was that my Dad only met only one of his 4 grandparents and that was during one single visit to Minnesota when he was just 4 years old. The grandparent he met was Anna Elton, his paternal grandmother ("bestemor" in Norwegian, or even more specifically, "farmor" to distinguish his father's mother from his mother's mother who would be his "mormor").

Anna (sometimes called "Annie") Ericksdatter Elton (sometimes spelled "Ellent" or "Elson" or "Eltun") was born in Vang, Valdres, Oppland, Norway on 14 March 1849.

Pin marks location of Vang, Oppland
Google Earth image

She was baptised 9 April 1849 at the local Lutheran church at Vang. The church was at that time quite new, having been completed just 10 years earlier. The church records also show her being vaccinated for smallpox on 19 September 1851 at the age of 2 3/4 years.

Vang Kirke
Photo Courtesy John Erling Blad on Wikimedia Commons

Øye i Vang in Valdres, Oppland, Norway
Photo courtesy John Erling Blad, Wikimedia Commons

When her parents Erick Anderson Elton and Sarah Holien emigrated to the United States in 1854, young Anna was listed in the church records as leaving for America with her family. She was 5 years old.

Her father died tragically the following year after being crushed by a falling tree. Times must have been very difficult for Sarah and her young family. We don't have any details of how they survived, but it has been suggested by a descendant of Erick's sister Sigrid Andrisdatter (who had come to America with her brother's family and who also became a young widow) that the sisters-in-law probably banded together for support. No doubt saudade was a common emotion for missing both their deceased husbands as well as their traditional family support systems back in Norway. But the women would have had to soldier on, day after day doing what it took to raise their children. This was the situation in which Anna grew up to young womanhood.

It appears that Anna gave birth to a son Erstein (or Steve) at Canon Falls, Renville County, MN in September of 1868 when she was 19. Unlike the Norwegian church records, American records do not provide us with the name of Steve's father. (The only surname ever associated with him was "Bardahl", the name of Anna's future husband. Even Steve's death certificate names Hans and Anna as his parents. However, it is highly unlikely that Hans was Steve's birth father since there would have been no reason for him not to marry Anna at the time of her pregnancy rather than waiting until 5 years later.) (2018 updated information: Steve was born 8 September 1868, named for his father Osten Ostenson. He was baptized 20 December 1868 according to US Evangelical Lutheran Church Records, Transcribed and obtained from , record 10 for 1868 births and baptisms, Holden Lutheran Church, Goodhue Co., Minnesota.)

In 1873, Anna married Hans Bardahl in Goodhue County, MN. The witnesses to their wedding give us some idea that Anna had been among extended family: her older half-brother Hans Asbjornsen was one witness and the surname given for the other witness was Elson, quite possibly also a relative or at least a close friend from Norway. The newlyweds soon moved to Renville County where they farmed and started their family.

Anna would give birth to 10 children over her lifetime, 7 of whom survived infancy. Sarah was born in 1876, my grandfather John in 1879, Ole in 1883, Susie in 1886, Hanna in 1887 and Ella in 1890.

Bardahl Family late 1890's: Top row left to right - Hannah, Ole, John, Susie;
Seated left to right - Sarah, Hans, Ella and Anna; Steve is absent

The same year that youngest daughter Ella was born, the family moved to Grant County where they farmed 3 miles south of Barrett, MN. Upon their retirement in 1918, Hans and Anna moved into the village where they were living when two of their young adult daughters, Susie and Hannah, died tragically in the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic. Four years later Hans died too.

Anna age 81 with sons Ole and John, 1930
This was the only time that Anna met some of John's children
and she appears delighted to be with two of her three sons
After her husband's death, Anna continued for awhile to live in Barrett. At the time of the 1930 census, son Steve was living there with her; she owned her own house, valued at $2800 (which sounds low to us but this was the most valuable house listed on that page of the census).  It was in the early summer of 1930 that Anna's son John and some of his family made the visit during which my father Ken, age 4, got to meet his grandmother for the first and only time.

Kenneth Bardahl (age 4) lower left in front of his oldest sister Joetta;
2 Christenson cousins on right side during the visit to Minnesota in 1930

Anna Elton Bardahl summer 1930 with some of her grandchildren
Eventually she moved to live with her youngest daughter Ella and Henry Christenson, first in North Dakota and finally in Appleton, Swift County, Minnesota. Although she didn't get to see much of son John's children, she would have had other grandchildren to offer her joy.

Anna Elton Bardahl July 1935

Anna passed away 77 years ago this week on Saturday 3 December 1938 just before midnight at the Christenson home. Her death was attributed to old age (she was aged 89 years, 8 months and 19 days). Her obituary said that she and her husband Hans had been active members of the Lien Lutheran Church and that "their home radiated with true friendship and with a hospitality which their hosts of friends will never forget." Funeral services were held at the Lien Lutheran Church on the afternoon of Wednesday 7 December. The Lien choir sang "Sweetly Resting" and Karen Samuelson sang "Den store hvide flok". She is buried in the Immanuel Lutheran Cemetery near Barrett, Grant County, Minnesota beside her Hans.

Headstone for Hans and Anna (Elton) Bardahl
Photo by Ken/Elinor Bardahl


  • Minnesota Death Index, 1908-2002; Evangelical Lutheran Church of America Records 1875-1940; Minnesota Find a Grave Index 1800-2012; 1930 United States Federal Census
  • State of Minnesota Marriage Licence and Certificate for Hans Bardahl and Anna Elton
  • State of Minnesota Certificate of Death 4733 for Anna Bardahl
  • Kirkeboker for Vang, Oppland, Norway (microfilm 307321) and Norwegian digital archives


  1. This is quite the family record, Joanne. I hope you have shared a paper record with family, too. Well done.

  2. Beautiful post. I liked how you introduced your theme to describe how a family moves on to perhaps never see each other again. Very touching.

  3. What a beautiful post about your great-grandmother, Anna. Thanks for sharing in such detail, and I now have a new word, so evocative: saudade. Hope you have wonderful holidays with your family...

    1. Thank you, Celia. I discovered the word while working on this story - it seemed there just HAD to be a word for it in some language. Wishing you happy holidays with your family too - and no saudade!

  4. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this touching family tribute with so many photo treasures included. I can image Anna's joy at the 1930 reunion, banishing some of her saudade for a time. A great new word of the week! Do you know how it is pronounced? In true English fashion I'm thinking "sod-aid" when I'm reading it. Probably corrupting it thoroughly! ... Another great post.

  5. Thank you, Claudia. I am not sure how it is pronounced, only ever having seen it in print. When I look at the pronunciation guide, it looks more like saw-daddi, if I'm not mistaken. Maybe some Portuguese speaking person will correct me on this.