Sunday, 28 May 2017

Nels Nelson (1868-1931), Bachelor Homesteader in Saskatchewan

Nels Nelson about 1905

Children love stories involving treasure or buried loot. Dad told us tales of mysterious treasure said to be hidden in or under the derelict farmhouse that had belonged to his Uncle Nels. By the 1950's, when Dad was farming this land, my siblings and I took every opportunity to do some sleuthing. We never found a single thing.

Uncle Nels with a neighbour's child in front of his house

The story no doubt started as many family stories do, based on supposition and questionable theories. No money had been found when Nels died just after Christmas in 1931. It was thought that since he had remained a bachelor for life (unlike his family-oriented sisters) he would have been able to accumulate considerable wealth.

His farm was located on the historic Battleford Trail between Swift Current and Battleford, Saskatchewan. The Trail had been used by First Nations and then became a major supply route in the late 19th century. At the time of the Northwest Rebellion of 1885, it was used by Colonel William Otter and his men to reach Battleford from Swift Current to take part in the Battle of Cut Knife on 2 May 1885. Although the Cree and Metis won this battle decisively, the government forces would ultimately prevail and settlement by Europeans would occur. By the time the railroads came through the area, the trail had decreased in popularity but was still in occasional use into the 1920's.

Marker on the land north of the Nels Nelson property where the trail is still visible in the prairie

Dennis Nelson's relative visiting Ken Bardahl at the Battleford Trail marker 

Having a fairly large house enabled Nels to provide accommodation to travelers on this route. Still, did any of the homesteaders in the early days of Saskatchewan truly become wealthy? And how much could he have earned from providing accommodations to sporadic travelers? Really, I think the tales of hidden treasure were quite simply wishful thinking on the part of his surviving relatives.

But what of Uncle Nels? People who don't leave descendants often seem to get short-changed in the memory department. What can we learn about his life and times?

Nels Nelson was the second child born to Carl Johan Nelson and Karen Marie Nilsdatter, the first to be born in the United States after the family emigrated from Norway in 1867.

Church record from Ringerike, Buskerud, Norway indicating the departure of Carl, Karen and baby daughter Gunhild (Julia)

Nels would be the only son in a family of 8 children, the youngest of whom was my Grandma Louise. The family first settled in Wisconsin for three months but then moved to Le Grand, Douglas County, Minnesota. Nels was born on 26 September 1868 in Douglas County. By the time he was confirmed in the Pomme de Terre Lutheran Church on 30 November 1884, they were residing at Pomme de Terre, Grant County, Minnesota.

Carl and Karen Nelson with their children c1890 - Nels standing centre rear immediately behind my Grandmother Louise

Throughout the various census records from 1875 (Le Grand, Douglas County, MN) until 1905 (Erdahl, Grant County, MN), Nels is listed living with his parents and some or all of his sisters. In 1906 he was one of the witnesses to the marriage of his sister Louise to John Bardahl in Erdahl.

Nels Nelson (rear) farming with father Carl, 1898 Minnesota

In addition to his farming ventures, he was also in business with his brother-in-law Gus Gilbertson from 1903 to 1910. They had a general merchandise and hardware store in Erdahl. In 1906 they moved from a location on Main Street to one on Elm Avenue. "Farmers should remember that we buy cream - 21¢ per lb. of butter fat; eggs - 13¢ per dozen. Bring us your produce."

By 1910 when he left home, Nels would have been 42 years of age. In the census for that year in Erdahl, Carl and Karen are listed along with just one daughter and four grandchildren. The nest must have felt terribly empty for Carl and Karen. Several of their children had moved away, some to North Dakota and several, including son Nels, had taken up homesteads in Saskatchewan, Canada.

Family Picnic in Saskatchewan 1910
adults left to right: John Bardahl, Louise Nelson Bardahl, Josephine Nelson Nelson, Dennis Nelson, George Gilbertson, Nels Nelson on the far right (missing from this view of photo was Selma Nelson Gilbertson holding baby Marvel Bardahl)
children left to right: Wallace Nelson, Lyla Gilbertson, Lorraine Nelson, Arnold Gilbertson, Joetta Bardahl, Vernon Nelson, Francis Gilbertson

Father Carl died shortly before Christmas in 1911 and his widow Karen survived him by just over 4 years. Both died of stomach cancer and are buried in Erdahl Lutheran Cemetery in Grant County, Minnesota.

In Canada, the siblings settled near one another and provided a good deal of support to one another as they worked to establish farms, build houses and barns, churches and schools and a whole new community in the Atlas school district near Leinan, Saskatchewan. Nels filed for his own homestead near sisters Louise (and husband John Bardahl), Selma (and husband Gustav Gilbertson), and Josie (and husband Dennis Nelson). Another sister Laura (and husband Steve Bardahl) homesteaded a few miles away but don't seem to have remained long in the area. Nels's homestead application was dated January 1910 for the N.E.17-18-14 W3M. He later picked up the pre-emption on N.W. 16-18-14.

Nels Nelson in front of his home on the northeast quarter of section 17

The 1911 Canadian census is the first in which Nels appears as the head of his own household. He is 42 years old, single, of Norwegian extraction and a farmer. Listed just beneath him are his sisters Selma and Josephine with their husbands and children. He was still farming in the same area by the time of the 1916 Saskatchewan census and by then had become a Canadian citizen.

In 1918 when he made a visit to family in the United States, he was required to fill in a "Alien Registration and Declaration of Holdings" form. In it, he said he had been residing in Elbow Lake, MN since 21 December 1917 but was about to return to his home in Canada the following month (March 1918). His listed property included two quarter sections in Canada and a 1/8 interest in 240 acres in Grant County which he inherited as part of his mother's estate.

My cousin Roger believes that Nels moved to Medicine Hat around 1920, but attempts to find him in either location in the 1921 census have so far proven futile.

Nels died in hospital in Medicine Hat, Alberta on the 29th of December 1931 and is buried at Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Swift Current, Saskatchewan.

Nels Nelson's stone in Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Swift Current, Saskatchewan
Sisters Josie Nelson and Louise Bardahl administered his estate and nephews James and Ken Bardahl were the next owners of Nels Nelson's land.  Niece Joetta (Bardahl) Gordon lived in the home with her husband Ed Gordon and their young family for a few years in the 1930's. After that, the house was left to decay.  Only a few stories and family references to "Nels's place" remain to mark the dreams and efforts of this early Saskatchewan bachelor farmer.


  • Canadian Encyclopedia article on the Northwest Rebellion accessed online 22 May 2017 at
  • Wikpedia article on the Northwest Rebellion accessed online 22 May 2017 at
  • Memories to Cherish: Stewart Valley and Leinan, Stewart Valley-Leinan History Book Committee, 1987
  • 1887 Erdahl Centennial 1987 - Reunion July 2-3, 1988,The Erdahl Centennial Committee, 1987

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Humphrey Turner (1594-1672): The Well-ordered Life of an Early American Immigrant

Humphrey Turner was a tanner who emigrated to Plymouth Colony in its early days from somewhere in England. Some claim he was from Essex; his tombstone lists him among the men from Kent. Nothing is really known of his life in England except that he would have been married there (once if not twice) and had the first four of his children there. He married Lydia (possibly Gamer) in about 1618. Like so many other of my New England ancestors, they were undoubtedly religious dissidents who migrated to obtain religious freedom.

Cemetery in Scituate MA

Humphrey and Lydia were my 8th great grandparents. Their daughter Mary Turner (my 7th great grandmother) was born at Scituate, Massachusetts on 25 January 1634/5, the first of their children to be born in America. They probably arrived in 1633 but no record of them can be found in any of the ships' lists. In any event, he was listed as one of the freemen of Plymouth in 1633.

Humphrey certainly shows up in numerous records thereafter. It can be seen that he is a family man trying to make a living for himself and his family, that he is a staunch church member, that he was very active in community affairs and that he was a family man. He didn't seem to get into any trouble that landed him in the records for any misdeeds except for being fined 3s. two times by the court for non-appearance. 

Probably first landing at Plymouth, the family had moved some 20 miles to the new town of Scituate by early 1633. Humphrey was a founding member of the Scituate church on 8 January 1634/5, just a couple of weeks before daughter Mary was born. He built a log house on his lot on Kent Street and also one at his farm on the east side of Colman's Hills at  Scituate.  Thatch for the roofs would have come from the sedges of the nearby salt marshes. His farm was next to that of John Lothrop, the minister. Beyond the minister's property was the lot assigned to another of my ancestors, James Cudworth.

Memorial to Original Settlers of Scituate including Humphrey Turner
Photo courtesy Scrib & Barb Kelly of Find a Grave

On 1 January 1637/8 Humphrey was just one of many freemen of Scituate who complained that their land allocations were too small for them to subsist on. As a result, the court of assistants granted some extra land on condition that they inhabit those lands. Over the years, Humphrey bought and sold many parcels of land, including many properties deeded to his sons as they came of age.

Map of Settlement of Scituate 1633
Humphrey Turner's land highlighted in yellow

He did his part for his community:
  • Deputy for Scituate to Plymouth General Court (1640-1653)
  • Constable for Duxbury (1635-1639)
  • Plymouth jury and Grand jury (1638, 1642-1643)
  • Committee to divide lands in Scituate (1640)
  • Supervisor of highways (1647-1648)
  • Coroner's jury (1666)
Wife Lydia predeceased him by just a couple of years. Humphrey died sometime between 1 November 1672 and 29 May 1673. In his will he left his farm to son John Turner, his livestock to son Nathaniel Turner, clothing, bed and bedding to son Thomas Turner and money to other children and grandchildren. It isn't clear whether Lydia and Humphrey are buried in Scituate or in nearby Norwell since both cemeteries have memorial stones for them installed at a later time.

Memorial to Humphrey Turner, Scituate MA
Photo courtesy Scrib & Barb Kelly of Find a Grave
Generations later, many well-known Americans can claim descent from Humphrey Turner, including the following distant "cousins" of mine:
  • Ernest Hemingway (author)
  • Pete Seeger (folk singer)
  • Chevy Chase (comedian, actor)
  • Ellen De Generis (entertainer)
  • Allen Dulles (longest serving Director of the CIA)
  • John Foster Dulles (US Secretary of State)
  • Humphrey Bogart (actor).


  • Anderson, Robert Charles, The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England, 1620-1633, Volumes 1-3; The Great Migration: Immigrants to New England 1634-1635, Volumes 1-6. Boston: New England Historical and Genealogical Society, 1996-2011 accessed at 22 June 2015.
  • Deane, Samuel, History of Scituate Massachusetts From its First Settlement to 1831, Boston: James Loring, 1831.
  • Famous Kin website accessed 30 March 2107 at

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Visiting England: Locating the Burial Sites for John Mathias Barnard and Florence Hacon

Despite his well-documented life, it proved quite difficult to locate records surrounding the death and burial of my husband Graham's paternal grandfather John Mathias Barnard. Nothing could be located online. No one in the family seemed to possess a copy of his obituary, death certificate or photographs of his tombstone, or any of those for his wife Florence Hacon Barnard.

Contacting local societies and records offices in Suffolk before our visit last summer had not produced any leads. An in-person visit to the Suffolk Record Office in Lowestoft brought results when we visited there with Graham's niece Kate and her husband Mark last August. We knew that John Mathias Barnard had died sometime in January of 1945, but didn't have the specific date. Because he had been Mayor of Lowestoft in the 1920's, we surmised that his death would almost certainly have warranted an obituary, or perhaps even a news item, notwithstanding that the Second World War was still in progress. The local paper in Lowestoft in 1945 was a weekly paper called the "Lowestoft Journal". It was fairly easy to find what we were looking for in the microfilmed edition for Saturday 20 January, 1945: "Death of Former Lowestoft Mayor: Mr. J. M. Barnard". The condition of the record was quite bad with folds or lines throughout, making it very difficult to read. Nevertheless, it was clear that he had died the previous Saturday 13 January 1945 at the home of his daughter Mrs. (Winnie) Smith at Pond Farm, Worlingworth, Suffolk. He was 69.

His business and political life in the town and surrounding area were outlined in his obituary. He had been well known in Lowestoft fishing circles through his ownership of fishing smacks in the firm of Slater & Barnard. He was a representative on the Lowestoft Town Council for several years and served as alderman and then as mayor in 1923-24 and 1924-25. He was appointed a J.P. in 1927. He had moved away from Lowestoft for a number of years by the time of his death, living for some time at Wissett Lodge. His membership in the Halesworth and District Branch of the National Farmers' Union reflected his interest in farming; he was vice-chairman of this organization at the time of his death.

The list of mourners included his widow, son A. J. Barnard and three daughters: Miss F. E. Barnard, Mrs. W. A. Smith and Mrs. B. E. Gethings. His sister Mrs. F. Muir, daughter-in-law (Graham's mother Margaret), two nieces (Mrs. D Bryant and Miss F. Yeoman), a nephew (A. Barnard) and some cousins named Mohan were listed, as was his son-in-law J. Smith. The names of others present at the funeral were also listed. Then came a very lengthy list of all the wreaths given in his memory.

The funeral had been held at St. Margaret's Church, Lowestoft, on Thursday (18 December 1945). Hymns were "Lead Kindly Light" and "Rock of Ages".

St. Margaret's Church, Lowestoft

A visit to St. Margaret's was definitely next on our agenda. After being pointed in the general direction of burial locations from the 1940's, Graham quite quickly spotted the stone for his grandparents.

Kate, Graham and Mark at the grave site

Photo by Mark Churchman

Photo by Graham Barnard

St.Margaret's Church has been the Parish Church in Lowestoft,Suffolk, for over five centuries. The exterior walls are constructed of flint and mortar. The copper spire was new in 1954 so would not have been there at the time of John's or Florence's funerals there. It replaced the original lead on timber spire. The gilded weathercock is the tallest point on any building in the area and is thus a significant landmark. During the Second World War, incendiary bombs fell all around this area. One hit the roof and set fire to the roof timbers, but prompt action saved the church.

The north aisle contains a "Fishermen's Memorial" with the names of local fishermen lost at sea between 1865 and 1923. No doubt many of these men would have been well known to John.

Fishermen's Memorial on wall to right
Photo by Graham Barnard

The brass lecturn is one of very few remaining from pre-Reformation days. It was buried for safety during Puritan times. It was again removed to a place of safety in the crypt during the Second World War, restored to its former position on 19 May 1945, four months after John Barnard's funeral here.


  • Pye, Robert, "A Walk Around St. Margaret's", St. Margaret's Parochial Church Council, Hollingsworth Road, Lowestoft, Tyndale Press (Lowestoft)
  • "Death of Former Lowestoft Mayor: Mr. J. M. Barnard" from the "Lowestoft Journal" 20 January 1945 edition accessed on microfilm at the Suffolk Record Office, Lowestoft,Suffolk