A Scene from the Past

This cool August morning I made a trip to Osseo to find old newspaper stories about ski jumping in the area. The woman at the Tri-County News office was helpful, and I made some progress in filling a gap in my knowledge (of course, there are many such gaps, a subject not to be here explored).

On the way home, however, I took this photo which brings back thoughts on another era.

Pigeon Falls tobacco shedJust a mile or so north of Pigeon Falls on the west side of Highway 53, this old tobacco shed gamely stands erect despite the ravages of time and inattention of farmers. Once it was filled from floor to ceiling with tobacco-strung-from-lathes, smelling only as damp tobacco can smell, curing until the next step on the way to becoming cigar wrappers. She remind reminds me of a very old but poor stately lady, dressed in her tattered best, determined to meet her end with dignity.

Four generations of Borresons were in the tobacco-raising business, although I suppose that’s more a bare fact than bragging rights anymore. Four generations raised tobacco to buy a car, pay a mortgage, send a kid to college, or just try to get ahead. This scene brought back these thoughts.

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One Less Mystery

After all my discoveries about Adolph Borreson, a second cousin to Emil and Gina’s children, another mystery is now solved: What did he look like? As of a couple weeks ago, we have a photograph of this younger Adolph in a stylish bowler hat.

Adolph BorresonThe person I have to thank for this photo is a daughter-in-law of his, Georgia Rossin. She and her sister-in-law, Adolph’s daughter Mabel Albrecht, are the two members of his family left in that generation. I have enjoyed several phone conversations with both of them and Georgia was gracious enough to share a rare find, a picture of our mystery man Adolph, born 1899 and died 1972.

I continue to work on gaps in his story, such as his World War II service mentioned in his obituary – and the question of another possible child born to his first wife near the end of their marriage.

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DNA Analysis

DNA analysis is one the amazing tools of our time, helpful even to genealogists. Some time ago, our son Erik has his analyzed: that way his mom and I would get results for both our families.

We used 23 and me for the analysis, and I must admit, there were no surprises. (Maybe that’s good.) The reading indicated 99.9% of Erik’s ancestors were from northern Europe. Since both Mary and I know we have Norwegian ancestors for at least 150 years or more, this made sense. Here’s a more detailed per cent breakdown:

  • 82.2 Scandinavian
  • 11.8 British and Irish
  • 5.8 Broadly northern European
  • 0.1 Broadly European

I ascribe the British and Irish elements to the marauding of the Vikings…maybe, but even Aunt Clara’s history of our family included a Dane back in the 1600s. The other detail in that list was that less than one ten of one percent was Eastern Asia or native American. (That element must go back a long way!)

So, I guess we didn’t learn much this way, but did have our history confirmed. Some of my cousins who married non-Norwegians will get a different story if one of your children has the analysis done.

The other benefit is that I’ve been making contact with a few distant relatives – the fourth and fifth cousin category – and even that is interesting.

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Making Connections

If you’ve read my three blog postings about Adolph Borreson, second cousin to Emil and Gina’s children, you know there have been plenty of surprises. Now there are more!

A daughter-in-law of Adolph happened upon this Borreson Cousins blog and began reading about her husband’s father with whom there had been little or no contact through the years. A few days after I received an e-mail about this from Georgia’s friend Mary W., I called Georgia who lives in Waterloo, Iowa, and we had a long and lively conversation. After Adolph and Nina divorced, it appears that, for whatever reasons at the time, Adolph had little contact with his four children. One of the older boys spent a few weeks with his dad, but that may have been all. I did learn that Adolph was known as “Al” within his own family. Georgia said she had or has no knowledge of other members of the extended Borreson family. I told Georgia I’d send her some family tree information and I have done that.

A few days after this conversation, I received a phone call from Adolph’s daughter, the only one of his four children still living. Again this conversation – with Mabel who lives south of Winona, Minnesota – was warm and interesting. Mabel doesn’t remember her birth father because she was just three years old when her parents divorced, so again, she knows little about her father and practically nothing of the larger Borreson family. It was fun to talk with her and share with her some information that I had found.

At least some of Adoph’s family came to know of his marriage to Florence McDonald in Rockford, Illinois, and as I recall, I was told that someone of them had actually spoken on the phone with Florence after Adolph’s death and had been told by her that Adolph had been “a good husband.”

One item that these family members do have that I don’t is a photo of Adolph, and another of his marriage to Nina Books. One day I hope to have a copy myself.

In the meantime, what a nice surprise to speak with these two women who eagerly participated in our conversation. They were so gracious. Yes, my connection to Mabel and Georgia’s husband is just third cousin – not so close in our world – but it has been fun to discover it all the same. Thanks, Georgia and Mabel, for helping this happen.



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The Adolph Mystery, Part 3

So, now we know that Adolph Borreson, supposedly a single man, had married three times: in 1918 to Herbertine Dettinger, in 1924 to Nina Books, and in 1948 to Florence McDonald. Well, make that four times. I am quite certain he was married twice to Florence McDonald: from 1943 to 1946, and then from 1948 until his death in 1972.

But the greater surprise? Adolph had children!

Adolph had a family of four children with Nina Books. They lived together in Winona, Minnesota, until in 1939 she divorced him for deserting her September 15, 1936 – which begs the question, What happened that she could name that specific day? She married Frank Rossin, a livestock buyer in Winona two days after her divorce was granted, but it appears Adolph was out of her life long before that. She, a woman with one year of high school and few employment possibilities, must have had her challenges raising four children alone.

I find no indication that Adolph’s family remained part of his life. And when he died in 1972, there is no mention of his prior marriages or his children. One can only wonder how much his widow Florence knew about his earlier life.

Adolph and Nina’s four children were:

  • Hugh St. Clair Boreson, born November 13, 1925;
  • Hubert Leslie Rossin, born July 8, 1929;
  • Harold Arden Borreson, born July 28, 1932; and
  • Mabel Diane Borreson, born about 1933.

I have discovered some information about part of this family, but I’ll limit what I put out here in the blog.

Hugh St. Clair used a Boreson spelling with one “r,” a practice that seemed to adopted by some others in the family as well. Hugh went to school in Winona, including Winona Business College, found his way west, and met his future wife Shirley while serving in the Navy in Spokane, Washington. He and his wife had six children who with their families live in the Northwest. Hugh died in 1983 and is buried in Lewiston, Idaho.


Hubert Leslie adopted his father’s surname Rossin. I found his obituary in a Waterloo-Cedar Falls, Iowa newspaper after his death September 1, 2013. He’d married a Georgia Todd in Winona, Minnesota in 1950, and it appeared he lived a good full life. He worked many years for a Viking Pump Company, and he’d served as Superintendent and teacher in his Lutheran church’s Sunday School. Hubert and his wife had three sons and four daughter, most of whom lived in the Midwest.

Harold Arden, as well as his sister Mabel, also adopted the Rossin name as  some point. After a stint in the Air Force, it appears that Harold lived in or near Winona until his death in 1993. From the old Winona newspapers I consulted, it appears he had some brushes with the law but I doubt he ever served time. Before they divorced, he and his first wife Charlene had six children, about whom I know nothing. He married again and his widow Betty survived him until her death in 2004.

The youngest of the four, Mabel Diane, probably is still living at Dakota, Minnesota, at least she was in 2013 at the time of her brother Hubert’s death. In 1951 she married Wayne Albrecht, and they had three sons.

The mother of these four, Nina Rossin, died September 20, 1988 in Winona, Minnesota where she must have lived most of her married life, first to Adolph and then to Frank Rossin.

These four children of Adolph and Nina would be third cousins to us “Borreson Cousins” of this blog (Emil and Gina’s grandchildren) – although I would be surprised if they know we exist (any more than I knew they existed until very recently). Who knows if contact from us would even be welcome. (Still, I find this a very interesting discovery.) There are a few Boresons among them, spelling the name with one “r”.

After I began this three-part posting on Adolph, I had some surprising good fortune of learning about his first wife Herbertine Dettinger of Galesville, the one from a family of thirteen. Nevertheless, a major quesstion remains here too. By the 1930 census,  Herbertine was married to Jewitt Lund – whether her second marriage or third, I’m not sure – and one of their children listed is Herbertine’s daughter Helen. That would mean Helen was born about in 1922 when, as far as I can tell, Herbertine was still married to Adoph. So, would Helen be another child of his?

In looking through Clara’s 1980 family history, I think the minimal information she had about Adolph reflects his lack of connection and contact with the rest of the Borreson family. Perhaps his marriage to a Scottish woman meant that he had found a home among people of his father’s ancestry. I hope so. But I’m saddened by what appears to be a lack of contact with his own children, the reasons for that we may never know.


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The Adolph Mystery, Part 2

Adolph Borreson was intriguing to me because Aunt Clara knew so little about him. I was convinced, in fact, when I began researching him, that he had remained single. How far from the truth that was! Not only did I have a hint that he was married to a certain Herbertine when he was about 20 years old, but I learned he left a widow, Florence (McDonald) at his death in 1972.

Now, more of the story.

Adolph’s marriage to Florence was the one that “took:” they were husband and wife for 24 years. Married June 5, 1948, they lived on Benton Street in Rockford, Illinois, for most of those 24 years. Seventeen of them Adolph was employed by the National Lock Company, his longest employer. In December 1961 his name even appears in a large newspaper ad for First National Bank: Adolph had won second prize in the bank’s 107th anniversary celebration – but the bank didn’t identify the prize.

He died on March 2, 1972, at Rockford Memorial Sanitarium after a brief illness. Two days later, he was buried in Scottish Cemetery of Willow Creek, Arygle, Illinois, with a service at a funeral home led by a Presbyterian minister.

A brief newspaper item opened the door to another question. In March 1946 Adolph was charged with drunkenness by Florence M. Borreson from whom he was separated. The item gave their marriage date as July 17, 1943, five years earlier than the date I have. Perhaps they were married in 1943, then divorced, and remarried?! Of course, the obituary indicated 24 years, which would support 1948, not 1943. The questions persist!

There is also the matter of Adolph’s military service. Again his obituary indicated that he had served in the Army in World War II and he held membership in the Veterans of Foreign Wars. This I have yet to verify.

My searches on Ancestry.com, triggered by a couple items on GenealogyBank.com, began getting results, very interesting results.

Adolph’s obituary mentioned only his marriage to Florence, although I knew of Herbertine when he was a young man, followed by a question of a woman named Nina in Winona. Suddenly, the name of Nina Books appears with him in online searches, and here’s the sum of them.

On December 12, 1924, Adolph married Nina Books near Mason City in Mason township, Cerro Gordo county, Iowa. Apparently, Adolph was a cafe bookkeeper in Rochester, Minnesota at the time, and Nina was living there and going to high school, even though Rochester was not her hometown. In the online marriage license I saw, she indicated she would be 19 years old at her next birthday, but I have discovered that she should have said 17 years. (Note: the license indicated this was Adolph’s second marriage.)

Within less that three years, the couple was living on West Third Street, and later East Fourth, in Winona, familiar territory to Adolph who was now employed at the Foot Schulte Company. It appears that Adolph and Nina lived in Winona for 15 years. During that time, Adolph worked at several companies, including Northern Engraving in La Crosse. Never had I seen census information on the couple; if I had, the next news would not have shocked me so.

On November 1, 1939, Nina was granted a default divorce from Adolph and awarded $12 a month support for custody of their four children from Adolph who was working for the WPA in La Crosse (just down river from Winona). Four children! I had no idea Adolph had any children. Nina married Frank Rossin of Winona two days after the divorce – in Decorah, Iowa, in the parsonage of a Lutheran minister.

What a turn this story had taken! His obituary mentioned nothing of previous marriages, surely nothing of children. I will return to Adolph’s “new” family later.

About this same time, I followed my inclination that Adolph’s first wife Herbertine, of whom I knew nothing, may have been from the Galesville area. Doing a search of Winona newspapers online, I learned, through a bit of trial and error, that Adolph had married Herbertine Dettinger on December 21, 1918. Both were 19 years old and, perhaps, had been high school classmates in Galesville.

It appears that Adolph and Herbertine farmed his grandfather Andreas’ place for a couple years, then moved to Winona where they lived and worked until July 1924, when the fate of their marriage was waiting to be settled in divorce court.

But what about Herbertina’s family? I learned that she was born in the town of Gale to William and Minnie Dettinger, farmers near Galesville. She was from a large family, one of thirteen children, and a twin to Georgiana.

The name Dettinger had my attention from my work as a pastor here in Holmen. In November 2002 (I looked it up), I had the funeral at Holmen Lutheran Church for a John Dettinger, a wonderful old gentleman, and I began wondering if there might be a connection to Herbertina. Imagine my surprise when I determined that John was Herbertine’s brother! I’d had the funeral for the brother of Adolph’s first wife! I had to sit down and think about that.

The man I thought had been single, had in fact been married three times. And he had children. How much we didn’t know! Come back again for something about Adolph’s family in Part 3.

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The Adolph Mystery, Part 1

Aunt Clara gathered an amazing amount of information for her Borreson-Estenson family history, Homestead, published in 1980. I think she was both persuasive and timely to accomplish what she did. My experience today is that many folks are more reluctant to respond; perhaps they are too busy, more private, or just uninterested. Nevertheless, even Clara found that she knew very little about some people. Adolph Borreson, a second cousin to Emil and Gina’s children, was one of them.

Adolph was born in 1899 in South Beaver Creek in Ettrick Township, Trempealeau County, on the farm his grandfather Andreas (Andrew) homesteaded some years earlier. Clara thought Adolph’s mother Amelia was unmarried, but as I shared in an earlier post, that wasn’t so. She also knew Adolph went to Galesville High School (a few miles from Ettrick). She thought he went “further north” in his later years and, after his death at 75 years was buried in the South Beaver Creek Lutheran Church cemetery.

As you can see, there are big gaps here, and let me tell you, the gaps are very interesting. Adolph took his mother’s surname, even though in the 1900 census, he was Adolph Mitchell, the first clue I had that his mother had married. Eventually, I learned that Adolph’s father was an Englishman or a Scot named Harry Mitchell who, in the marriage information, identified himself as a cigar maker from Minneapolis. Later I learned that Adolph himself did know his father’s name, even though he was using the Borreson surname.

Another subject: I assumed that Adolph likely remained single. Not so! In fact, he was very much “a marrying man.” The 1920 census gives the first clue about this: Adolph, about 20 years old, is married to Herbertine and the two are living on the family farm in South Beaver Creek, a farm now in the hands of one of his aunts. About Herbertine, however, I have been unable to learn more. (I am guessing she may have been from Galesville or Winona.)

The twenties bring indications that Adolph and Herbertine have moved to Winona, a city where other family members had moved or would one day. Then I see that 1923 brings radical changes: a civil case in district court in Winona has the case of “Herbertina Borreson vs. Adolph Borreson” coming before a Judge C. E. Callaghan. That looks like a divorce proceeding to me, and later I became positive this took place. One day I may need to go to Winona to see the documents and details. (By the way, Adolph’s mother had moved to Winona before or after 1916 when she married James Bryant; her first marriage to Harry Mitchell must have been formally dissolved.)

Somewhere along the way I learned that Adolph was still living in Winona in 1941, but he was working as a buffer at Northern Engraving in La Crosse. This followed being employed at J. R. Watkins and Interstate Packing, both in Winona, I think. Maybe he was also the Adolph Borreson who had applied for a trapper’s license in the mid-twenties.

Clara thought Adolph had gone “further north” in later years, but I had my doubts when I found a 1951 obituary for one of his aunts indicating he lived in Illinois. Probably it was a search on Ancestry.com that gave me my break: Adolph had been living in Rockford, Illinois at the time of his death in March 1972. And he wasn’t buried in South Beaver Creek, but in a Scottish cemetery in Argyle, Illinois.

But the surprises didn’t end there! He left behind a widow named Florence, whom I later discovered had the surname McDonald. So how’s this for full circle? Adolph, who is half Scot or English, marries a Scot and is laid to rest in a Scottish cemetery. If the surprises had ended with this, I would have been satisfied, but no, there are more twists and turns in the mystery of Adolph. Return for Part 2.

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