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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