The Joke’s on Me

About Theodore J. Thorson (d. 1924), Aunt Clara wrote in Homestead that he became “a very successful businessman,” but also that he “played the violin and became a leader and instructor at Wimbleton” (p. 9). Later he returned to help his aging father save the family farm and he became a successful breeder of purebred Shorthorn cattle.

But Wimbleton?! Tennis? Yes, I know that’s “-don,” not “-ton,” but I thought it must have been a typo. I’ve always been intrigued by this seemingly out-of-place reference in the Borreson family history.

A few days ago, as I was following up on some ski jumping history at the La Crosse Public Library, I came across this bit of news on page 4 of the Whitehall Times & Blair Banner for January 18, 1912: “T. J. Thorson, a former Pigeon boy, now in charge of a lumberyard at Wimbledon, N.D., in sending along the wherewithal for a renewal subscription, says he is getting along nicely and that business is booming in his berg.”

A lumberyard in Wimbledon, North Dakota?! Population, 216, in the 2010 census. No kidding. Maybe not tennis at Wimbledon, England? I burst out laughing! That makes sense – and the joke’s on me. (And now I have no reason to travel to England to examine old tennis records for traces of our ancestor. Too bad.) I loved the surprise. Of course, I still don’t know: was he a leader and instructor of violin at Wimbledon, ND?

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At Home in Pigeon Falls

A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit with some Estenson relatives at the home of Dorothy (Kjos) Every who told me, some time ago, that she remembered our grandmother Gina coming to La Crosse for visits with her mother. Dorothy’s brother Vernon was present at this gathering too, and he was good for more than a few stories.

A couple memories of Vernon’s were of Bennie and Garven. Bennie he recalls ski jumping, standing at the top of the jump, ready to take off with a shout of the words, “Look out below!” And he would be off. Vernon also tells of being at Emil and Gina’s farm helping my father Garven at silo filling time. (This must have been the late thirties, and I figure Vernon must have been about 10.) Up in the silo Garven handed him the rope on tube or pipe aiming where the silage would go, distributing the chopped corn stalks evenly as they poured in. Even better, Vernon remembered that Garven gave him a fifty-cent piece for his help – enough to pop his eyes wide open in those days.

Just today another person in that gathering, David Schaefer, sent me a couple photos I’d never seen previously. One of these I must share here.

Bertinus Estenson's house_1This is the home of our great-grandparents, Bertinus and Maria Estenson in Pigeon Falls. As was sometimes the practice of the day, they had the photo reproduced as a postcard and this one was mailed to Bertinus’ brother Peter in 1911. It appears that Bertinus and Maria are joined by their four adult daughters for this photograph. David added the translation as well.

1911 Norse note, Bertinus_1Noteworthy for being so common among our ancestors is the style of the house. In fact, the house where my siblings and I grew up in North Beaver Creek once had the same shape. It’s also a treat to see Bertinus’ handwriting from a hundred years ago.

I had estimated that the Estensons had moved into Pigeon Falls about 1904, but I’m not sure. Maybe it was later, being Bertinus was sharing this with Peter in 1911. In any case, my thanks to David for sharing a photo I’d never seen before.



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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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