New Year, New Discoveries

Documentation for the death of Bernt Borresen, our grandfather Emil’s uncle and godfather, continues to elude me, but a recent return to led me to a host of discoveries about his children.

For some time I’ve know that Bernt and his wife Clara lived in La Crosse, Wisconsin, in the fading years of the 19th century, but only days ago did I learn that they also had a son as well as four daughters. Bernhard Hjalmar, born in 1885, was the first of their five offspring, a fact I might have discovered if I’d dug deeper into the old records of Trinity Lutheran Church in North La Crosse. (These five would be second cousins to Emil and Gina’s children.)

All seven members of this family had left La Crosse by 1900, a move that I found when I located them in census records for nearby Monroe County. They were farming, renting actually, near Leon, in the area where Bernt’s Clara grew up. Perhaps they were even back on her home farm, but that would only be a guess. By 1905 Clara is a widow and remarries. What happened with Bernt, when or where, I am still trying to learn.

I have discovered, however, information about all five of his children. Four of them ended up in North Dakota and a fifth one in Canada.

Josefine, second in the family order, married Hjalmar Olson while she was still in La Crosse, but some time in the next decade, this family traveled, via Minnesota, to New Rockford, North Dakota (where they were residing at the time of the 1920 and 1930 censuses). New Rockford’s a small place maybe 60 miles north of Jamestown.

An old photo of Kenmare

An old photo of Kenmare

Bernice, two years Josefine’s junior, married Cleve G. Beehm between 1910 and 1915, and they were off to Kenmare, North Dakota, perhaps 30 miles south the Canadian border and NW of Minot. Cleve was a hotel cook in little Kenmare in 1920, but ten years later, he was at a restaurant in Minneapolis (living on well-known Hennepin Avenue).

Florence, born in 1892, must have found her way to North Dakota, too, (perhaps with a sister’s family) because in 1920, she married John Albert Landis in Minot. They appeared to have lived many years in Kenmare, the same town where Bernice and her husband started out.

Cora, the youngest born in 1895, is more of a puzzle. By 1915, she was in North Dakota, too, living with sister Bernice and husband Clete in Kenmare. But where after that, I’m not sure. Perhaps she’s the Cora Borreson who shows up in a public records index in Williston after 1950, but I’ve yet to determine that.

That leaves just one, the son Bernhard, the most surprising discovery.

A recent Ponteix area photo

A recent Ponteix area photo

My search yielded a U.S. Border Crossings from Canada for the summer of 1937. There was Bernhard Hjalmar Borresen (born 10 Jan 1885 in La Crosse) entering the U.S. at Turner, Montana, by auto, with his wife Edna for a ten-day visit. He was identified as a farmer from Ponteix, Saskatchewan, who had been in Canada since 1909, and was now a citizen there. (Elsewhere I learned that he had lived at Swift Current, too, for a time.) I found that his wife’s maiden name was Stevenson and she had been born in Ontario. Both Bernhard and Edna died at advanced ages in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1974 and 1977, respectively.

About the families/descendants of these five siblings, I know little. Josefine and Hjalmar Olson had a son and a daughter, and Florence and John Landis had a daughter. If there are other children, I am not aware of any at this time.


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A Christmas Tradition Question

I subscribe to the blog of Wisconsin writer Jerry Apps who wrote of his family’s Christmas Eve tradition of oyster soup or stew, of doing it again this year and hoping it would continue to the next generation. He mentioned that he knew this stew was a tradition for others as well.

That got me remembering. When I was elementary school age in the fifties, Mom would prepare an oyster stew for Christmas (but no other time). I recall enjoying the crackers, but maybe not so much the stew. But perhaps this tradition was abandoned even before my younger siblings could enjoy it, I’m not sure. I suspect the tradition may have come with those Norwegians with a closer proximity to the sea – Mom’s family was from Hardanger fjord – so perhaps not with our mostly inland-Norway Borreson or Estensen families. My wife Mary, for example, had the same tradition in her home, and she thinks it probably came through her mother’s ancestors from Sogn.

So, my question: Do you remember the Christmas oyster stew as part of your family’s tradition? Or do you remember any other Christmas tradition in your own family which may have had its roots in our ancestors from Norway?

P.S. My brother Paul wonders if anyone has a good oyster stew recipe. Let me know and I’ll pass it along to him.

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Gale College Again

Because of the Borreson family’s strong ties to Gale College, I’m posting a couple more items, courtesy of a Christophersen descendant, Carson Taylor, who has been gracious enough to share these with me.

Gale 1906 high school diplomaThis 1906 diploma dates about 20 years before the first of the Borreson siblings attended Gale College. Does any Borreson cousin have a diploma for their parent? I wonder if the diplomas from the 20s and 30s looked the same.

Gale C 1912 BB team ValborgHere is a girls basketball team photo from Gale in 1912, again before any Borresons were in attendance. When I graduated from Blair High School in 1962, there was not yet such an opportunity for girls, but here was Gale, a Lutheran high school, fifty years earlier, with a girls team. Pretty impressive! With Carson I find myself wondering how it was that this school seemed to be so ahead of the times.

And since this is the Christmas season, this post closes with part of an article from the La Crosse Tribune and Leader Press, Thursday, December 17, 1931, p. 9, when three Borresons – Ednar, Edgar, and Garven – would have been students at Gale.


Elaborate plans are being made for the annual Christmas program at Gale College with which that school will close the old year on the evening of Thursday, Dec. 17. The program, which is to be in the nature of a public number, will be given in the college chapel, and included among the numbers will be an address by the Rev. O. G. Birkeland, Whitehall pastor, a play by students, and music by various organizations of the school…[omission of several paragraphs and names].

The college choir will sing “Holy Night” and “The Cherubim Song,” and the talk by Rev. Birkeland will follow. Concluding numbers will be two songs, “Christmas Lullaby,” arranged by Malmin, and “Beautiful Savior,” by Wick, sung by a double trio of girls. These are Helen Enghagen, Margaret Underheim, Alice Bakke, Kerstan Amundson, Oline Dale and Amy Yahr.

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Grandfather Emil’s Sister Emma

One of the sad notes among the stories Aunt Clara Cook tells in her family history, Homestead, is the fate of our grandfather Emil’s sister Emma. (In a recent post, I had included a photo of her.)

Emma was born in 1879, about seven years younger than Emil and the fifth of six children born to Elias and Kari Borresen. We have known little about her except that she married Carl Olson in 1907, and the couple moved to the Dakotas. Two years later, Emil has the sad duty, Clara tells us, of going to “the Dakotas” to assist Carl in bringing back the body of his young wife for burial in Pigeon Falls, Wisconsin. The Whitehall paper reports that both Emil and brother Charlie both made this trip. On March 9, 1909, she had fallen into on open well or cistern (from which she was pulling water) and drowned. That’s about all we have known.

I’d done some searching on but without success. Then recently I returned to my search in this source and, surprise, it had automatically connected me with a page from the South Dakota Death Index, 1905-1955. There was Emma Olson’s death recorded – AND the county where it had occurred: Kingsbury. So we add one more fact to her story: she and Carl must have settled in this county and there she died.

Kingsbury County is in the center of eastern South Dakota, a lightly populated county even today – just over 5,000 residents. The county seat is De Smet, of some note because it was the childhood home of Laura Ingalls Wilder. The Whitehall Times & Blair Banner, I found later, reported March 18, 1909 that Carl and Emma’s home was actually in De Smet.

Of the sisters who were able, two of them – Selma and Emma – married and left Wisconsin for points west: Oregon and South Dakota. (Syverine, of course, had special handicaps.) Of the sons who grew to adulthood, both – Emil and Charlie – remained in Trempealeau County. (Bernt died as a ten-year-old.)

An interesting sidelight to this story is that ten days after Pastor Christophersen conducted the funeral for Emma, he himself suffered a “paralytic stroke” and died shortly thereafter at the age of 53 years. Perhaps Emma’s was the last funeral over which he presided, certainly one of the last.


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A 1933 Gale College Program

Five of Emil and Gina Borreson’s children attended Gale College, an academy of the Norwegian Lutheran church, located in Galesville, Wisconsin. Here’s a graduation program for three of them who graduated in 1933. (The program was 15 inches long so I scanned it in two images. My thanks to cousin Carol for the copy.)Gale graduation program 1933aGale graduation program 1933bEdgar, Ednar, and Garven were graduates in this class of 1993. Edwin and Gilbert were Gale College grads in the 1920s. I am guessing that Rolf Christopherson (-sen) may be Pastor Einar Christophersen’s son. The latter served for a time on the board of Gale College. (I recognize the Engelien name from French Creek, Hoff from Whitehall or Pigeon Falls, and Schilling from Galesville.) Gale College was an important place in the life of many Lutherans, operating from about 1901-1940, even briefly as a junior college in the mid-thirties. Through the years I have been surprised how often I have heard people refer to it.

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Add Another Distant Relative

If you have followed my account of Adolph Borreson (second cousin to Emil and Gina’s children), you have read that this previously-thought-to-be-single man had been married three times. And by his second wife Nina, he had four children. Here he is pictured with her (my thanks to the Rossin family for this photo).

Adolph Borreson and Nina BooksWell, there’s more. For some time I thought he may have had a child by his first wife from the Galesville area, Herbertina Dettinger. Herbertina showed up in the 1930 census married to Jewitt Lund, and with them was a daughter Helen whose age was 8 years, dating her birth to the time Herbertina and Adolph had been married.

After several twists, turns, and dead ends, I learned that the family was living in Holmen and that Helen may have been confirmed at Holmen Lutheran Church. I was pastor for that very church before I retired, and we continue  to live in Holmen, so I “ran right over” there to check the confirmation records.

Sure enough, I found her confirmation record – June 21, 1936 – and her parents were listed, not only Herbertina who’d remarried, but also Adolf Borreson as her father. I’d found the evidence I was after.

As I researched, I found a lot more. Helen was an exceptional student at Holmen High School, including winning second place for an essay in a state contest of the American Legion Auxiliary. She went on to nurse’s training in Madison. For a time, she was married to Norman Blume (a doctor), from whom she was later divorced. Subsequently, she married Richard P. Schubring of Madison. With her first husband she had at least one child, and with her second several more. After she and Richard retired, they appeared to have lived in Land ‘O Lakes, Wisconsin.

I thought for a time she was still living and I could make contact with her. Not so. She died in October 2002, and I found her obituary in a Madison newspaper. So Adolph’s family line continues here as well as with the Rossins, but I have not tried to be in touch with Helen’s children.

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A Old Prediction Come True

One of my favorite sources for both genealogy and local history is the large, nearly-100-year-old volume, History of Trempealeau County Wisconsin, published in 1917 (although its not very helpful in researching Borresons and Estensons).

As I was perusing the book a few days ago, I noticed the pastor for the Emil Borreson family, Einar B. Christophersen, had written an article entitled “Whitehall and Pigeon Creek Congregations” (pages 833-835). He told briefly the stories of these churches, including the division in 1885 that resulted in two Norwegian Lutheran congregations in Pigeon Falls. (The same schism happened many places.)

After he wrote of the June 9, 1917 merger of three Norwegian groups (synods) which brought the two Pigeon Falls churches back into the same national body, Pastor Christophersen concluded his article with this interesting prediction:

“Locally the two congregations continue as two separate organizations, but the future will undoubtedly see them united in one congregation” (page 835, emphasis mine).

Undoubtedly united. That was his prediction in 1917. I wonder what folks in Pigeon Falls thought of his prediction at the time. And I wonder how distant Pastor Christophersen himself thought that united future would be. Only after lightning struck and one of the churches was damaged beyond repair August 1, 2011, did that one-congregation-prediction come to be. That was nearly 100 years and perhaps four generations later. Pastor Christophersen was correct, of course – if you were willing to wait long enough. It’s good to remember that history often has a very long arc.

[P.S. Type “Pigeon Creek Lutheran Church” in the Search box on this blog for articles about this congregation, including the fire.]

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