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An Old Violin

At last week’s meeting of the Colorado Genealogical Society, members showcased family heirlooms. My husband/tech advisor participated by displaying and discussing our family violin.

This instrument is quite old, and we have a record of its history. In 1977, his father wrote it down as he remembered it.

According to him, the instrument traveled from Norway to North Dakota in the 1850’s in the possession of the Wild family. Eventually Bill Wild sold it to an August Johnson. Mr. Johnson spent many winters on the farm of Anton Hjelmstad, my husband’s grandfather. Anton purchased the violin from August Johnson in 1931.

Anton played the violin for many years, until his death in 1957. He maintained it as best he could, occasionally restringing the bow with hairs from the tail of the horse in his barn.

My husband remembers times spent as a small child listening to his grandfather play. When he began his own violin lessons, he received the violin. He played it through high school, until he needed a better one.

The old violin saw some rough times through its history. Anton Hjelmstad had played it at barn dances, and it was damaged in a brawl at one of those. He repaired it, but eventually the front began to collapse. The violin became unplayable.

Now it sits in a shadow box along with some remembrances of its Norwegian heritage–a piece of Norwegian hardanger embroidery and a stalk of wheat like that grown by Anton Hjelmstad. It serves our family as a wonderful reminder of our roots.

Don’t Forget County Death Records

Most genealogists know that state registration of deaths usually did not begin until the early 20th century. So we are out of luck in finding these vital records for people who passed away before then, right?

Not so fast! Individual counties began keeping records of local deaths earlier than the states did. These listings often provide surprisingly complete information on the deaths of a persons in the county. Usually the counties began recording deaths in the 1870’s or 1880’s, so you can reach back another 25 years or so from when state registration began.

Although Illinois did not initiate death certificates until 1916, Coles County began keeping a death register in 1878. Many people in my Reed and Carter families lived in Coles County from 1878 on, and many died there. I have found several of their death records.

Yet, many other family members are missing from the register. These include:

  1. Susan Carter Austin, died 3 May 1884
  2. Henry Paul Bovell, died 3 June 1886
  3. Eliza Reed Walton, died 20 September 1886
  4. Martha Jane Collins Carter, died 11 January 1888
  5. Emma Jane Reed Dudley, died 13 June 1888
  6. Albert M. Reed, died 8 March 1890
  7. Shelton Carter, died 25 May 1890
  8. Robert A. Wright, died 27 March 1895
  9. James Galbreath, died 19 April 1896
  10. Jane Reed Galbreath, died 11 October 1899

All these people lived in and were buried in Coles County, but after careful review I did not find their names on the Death Register. Why not?

My best guess is that compliance with the registration requirement was spotty in those days. In the early days of registration, when a person passed away out in the country people probably did what they always did. Perhaps they never thought to notify the County Clerk. Unless a physician filed a report, no one added the death details to the county register.

I am grateful to have found all the Coles County death records from the 1870’s – 1900’s that I did. It was so easy; I simply ordered the microfilm from Family Search. I just wish the deaths of the missing 10 people had been recorded as well.

Early Deaths

This week I made my way over to my local Family History Center to view a microfilm that I had ordered. I looked at the earliest death register for Coles County, Illinois where my Carter and Reed ancestors were original settlers.

Coles County began registering deaths in 1878. They did a good job, too, because the register contains quite a bit of valuable information for each decedent. I can learn the person’s place and date of death, age at death, place of burial, birthplace, current residence, and marital status.

The register also has a column for cause of death. This provides a little window into the times of my ancestors. So many children in the 1800’s died of diseases that we can prevent today—diphtheria, whooping cough, measles.

What heartache our ancestors must have endured when a child suffered and died. Sometimes entire families were wiped out in a couple of weeks when an epidemic struck.

These sicknesses were terrible and ruthless. I know that when I came down with measles when I was 10 years old, I was the sickest I have ever been. My mom, recalling her own battle with this fearsome illness, took all of my siblings for gamma globulin shots. These boosted their immune systems so they would not contract the disease. Of course they despised me for creating a need for shots, but my mom’s action protected them. Pioneer women did not have this option.

Parents today can be proactive. Vaccinated children today can count themselves fortunate that they will not suffer an early death from these preventable diseases.

Join Your Bygdelag

Anyone who has some Norwegian heritage and an interest in learning about Norwegian ancestry or native culture does not have to look far. Norwegians in America have long banded together to share their Norwegian ways.

Most descendants probably know of the fraternal organization, the Sons of Norway ( Women, too, can join this club and enjoy getting together for Norwegian food and activities.

Maybe fewer know about the numerous Bygdelagenes groups that focus on areas of origin in Norway. My family certainly never mentioned these organizations, so I do not think any of my Norwegian-American ancestors belonged to one. Most of the Bygdelagenes seem centered in Minnesota and Wisconsin whereas my family settled in faraway Montana.

I never knew the term Bygdelag until last weekend when I attended a Norwegian genealogy meeting. There I learned that over 30 of these groups exist, and each focuses on heritage from a particular county, or fylke, in Norway. Since my family emigrated from Nordland, I could join the Nordlandslag ( Descendants of those from the far north in Norway, (the counties of Nordland, Troms, and Finnmark) belong to this group.

Maybe I will look into joining. Other members of my Norwegian genealogy group have found Bygdelag memberships fun and helpful. For just $15 a year I would receive a newsletter and the opportunity to attend an annual get-together called a stevne.

I cannot make this year’s June stevne in Minnesota, nor can we get to my husband/tech advisor’s Hedmarken Lag stevne in Wisconsin in August, but perhaps we could plan for one in the future. We do have relatives and ancestors in both states, and I am always looking for that next genealogy road trip.

Look for your Bygdelag and find some like-minded Norwegians today!

Will the Real John Carter Please Stand Up?

My Carter ancestors, Mary (Templeton) and John Carter, were born in Tennessee and settled in Kentucky after the War of 1812. The family migrated to Coles County, Illinois from Wayne County, Kentucky to become original pioneers in 1830. They remained in Illinois where John died in 1841 and Mary in 1857. Both are buried, side by side, in the Ashmore, Illinois cemetery.

Together, they had nine children who survived infancy, Susan, Shelton, Nancy, Bailey, Thenia, Jane (my ancestor), Joseph, Elizabeth, and Catharine. I have spent many hours in 2015 researching this family.

Once I had plenty of information on all these folks, I hoped to post my findings on Family Search’s family tree. Imagine my surprise when I found Mary Templeton Carter already there with two husbands, both named John Carter.

One was her true husband, John Carter (1790-1841) who was born in Tennessee and died in Illinois. The other was obviously a different John Carter (1795-1864) who had been born in North Carolina. All of Mary’s children were erroneously attached to him!

This week I have tried to untangle this mess on Family Search. To begin, I was not familiar enough with the software operations necessary to complete this task. I have learned as I have gone along, but I am still not finished.

The project is worth the time, though. John Carter of North Carolina needs to find his own family. So far as I know, he does not belong in mine.

Genealogy Road Trip (And a Wedding!) Ahead

Summertime looms, and with it comes my annual genealogy trip. This time we will head south for my niece’s wedding in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Of course I want to attend this lovely wedding in the historic Wren Chapel at the College of William & Mary. Both the bride and groom attended this school. What a fabulous setting for them!

Because I live in Colorado, the question of how I will get there has already arisen. I thought about flying because Virginia lies so far away from here. But I really, really hate the ordeal that flying has become. Trying to remember all the TSA rules while packing, enduring embarrassing security checks at the airport, and sitting in an uncomfortably squeezed airplane seat for hours– all have a chilling effect on purchasing that airline ticket.

And then I remembered that the route from Denver to Williamsburg could retrace the steps of my ancestors as they moved west. What if I drove to Virginia, stopping in all the ancestral counties along the way? The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. My husband/tech advisor agreed to the plan.

So we will travel through the upper south with these stops along the way:

  • Texas and Wright Counties, Missouri where my grandfather, Owen Herbert Reed, was born in 1896 and my great-grandmother, Petronellia Sherman Reed, was buried.
  • The Richmond, Kentucky area, home to my Day and Sherman ancestors.
  • Wayne County, Kentucky where my great-great grandmother, Jane Carter Reed, was born in 1824.
  • Greene County, Tennessee where my third great grandparents, Mary Templeton and John Carter, were married in 1816.
  • Lunenburg and Augusta Counties, Virginia, home to my Day and Howe ancestors.

I am working hard on these ancestral lines this spring to ready myself for this trip. I can’t wait to see this part of the country.

A Surprising Connection

During the past year, my husband/tech advisor and I have become active members of our local Sons of Norway chapter. Among other Norwegian cultural pursuits, the lodge offers access to a Norwegian genealogy study group. They meet once a month to exchange information on researching Norwegian families.

At my first genealogy meeting, I recognized another woman whom I had seen at other genealogy events around town. I had not realized she is a fellow Norwegian. I amazed to learn that her family had settled in the same rural Montana county as my Bentsen family. We both have roots in Sheridan County.

Anyone doing research in that county knows that the bible of information is a series of books called Sheridan’s Daybreak. My own relatives contributed articles, but no copies of either the writings or the book series came down to me. Today the books sell for hundreds of dollars, so I am not in a hurry to purchase them. Denver Public Library does not own a set, and no place will send them out on inter-library loan. As far as I know, they have not been digitized.

But guess who has a complete set of the books? The nice woman at the Sons of Norway lodge! She has offered to let me search it for my family articles. I am thrilled to find out all about those collateral relatives, the Bedwells, Flemings, Overbys, and Scollards.

All homesteaded in the harsh climate of northeastern Montana at the turn of the last century. On this land close to the Canadian border, they grew wheat. My family still owns the original homestead in addition to other acreage they picked up along the way. I am so eager to find out about their lives by reading Sheridan’s Daybreak.

Thank you, Donna!


Carter Cousins II

Recently I wrote that my great-grandfather Samuel Harvey Reed (1845-1928) had several Reed cousins known to me. He also had numerous Carter cousins on his mother’s side of the family, but I knew virtually nothing of them, not even their names.

Well, throughout the month I have looked at many U.S. census records, and I think I now have a pretty complete list of the Carter cousins in Samuel’s generation. A revised list follows, with new names in bold:

Children of Susan Carter and John Austin

  1. James Austin
  2. Mary Austin
  3. William Austin
  4. Edith Austin
  5. Thomas Austin

Children of Shelton Carter and Eliza Jane Ashmore

  1. Joseph B. Carter
  2. Jane Carter
  3. James Carter
  4. Mary Carter
  5. John W. Carter
  6. Samuel Carter
  7. George Robison Carter
  8. Edith Carter
  9. Jane L. Carter
  10. Louis S. Carter

Children of Nancy Carter and Robert Boyd

  1. Susan C. Boyd
  2. Caleb Boyd
  3. G. R. Boyd
  4. Gus Boyd
  5. Tabitha J. Boyd
  6. Mary Ann Boyd
  7. John Boyd

Child of Bailey Carter and Mary Ann McAlister

  1. John M. Carter

Children of Thena Carter and Solomon Collins

  1. John J. Collins
  2. Elijah Collins

Children of Joseph Carter and Martha Jane Collins

  1. William J. Carter
  2. Thomas B. Carter
  3. David W. Carter
  4. Mary J. Carter
  5. Alice M. Carter
  6. John A. Carter
  7. Delilah B. Carter
  8. Jacob S. Carter
  9. Margaret Ellen Carter

Children of Elizabeth Carter and James Cox

  1. John W. Young
  2. Susan J. Young
  3. Harvey Young

To this list, I should add the names of Samuel Harvey Reed himself, as well as the names of his own siblings, the children of Jane Carter and Caleb Reed:

  1. Samuel Harvey Reed
  2. Mary C. Reed
  3. Martha Ann Reed
  4. George Robert Reed
  5. Thomas B. Reed
  6. Emma Jane Reed
  7. John Carter Reed
  8. Thomas Logan Reed
  9. James N. Reed
  10. Ida May Reed
  11. Albert M. Reed

So this makes a list of 48 grandchildren for the Carter patriarchs, Mary Templeton and John Carter, Illinois pioneers of 1830.

Illinois Research—Genealogy Trails

My roots run deep in Illinois. About 1830, my great-great grandparents, Jane and Caleb Reed, moved from Kentucky to Coles County, Illinois. Young children at the time, they traveled in covered wagons to their new home with their parents, Ann (Kirkham) and Thomas Reed, and Mary (Templeton) and John Carter.

The families settled near each other, and descendants remain in Coles County today. Consequently, I am very interested in Coles County records from inception to the modern day. I love when I locate something online.

One source that I have found quite valuable in researching my Reed and Carter families is Illinois Genealogy Trails ( About 15 years ago, volunteers dedicated to putting historical and genealogical information online began this wonderful website.

This week I have spent time pulling marriage information from their online index to Coles County marriages. Both Jane and Caleb came from large families, and I found the dates and spouses for all their siblings’ marriages.

This marriage index offers just one example of the information one can find at Illinois Genealogy Trails. You can bet that I plan to spend more time on this website. They encourage submissions by users, too, so I may contribute an obituary or two.

Sites like Illinois Genealogy Trails make needed records so much easier for us to find. We can quickly move ahead in our research with all this at our fingertips. I feel fortunate that my ancestors chose Illinois.

My Irish Heritage—Or Not

With St. Patrick’s Day coming up next week, I began thinking about all those Americans who celebrate their Irish heritage that day. I used to be one of them.

I grew up in a small Wyoming town among many Irish-Americans. The locals even chose the name for my high school, Kelly Walsh High School, to honor of one of them. The Irish had settled in Wyoming over a hundred years earlier when they arrived to work on the trans-continental railroad.

Surrounded by so many Irish descendants, I probably felt like I fit in better if I, too, had Irish ancestors. Besides, I thought I had understood my paternal grandmother to have told me so.

Turns out, she claimed nothing of the sort. She said that our Reed family was “Scotch-Irish”. In my naiveté, I took this to mean we were Scotch and Irish. Never mind that Scotch is a beverage, not a nationality.

Only years later did I learn that the correct term, “Scots-Irish” referred to the American descendants of the Ulster Scots of Northern Ireland. These Presbyterians had come originally from the Scottish Lowlands to settle on the Irish plantations. Later, many of them moved on to colonial America. There they lived mostly on the frontier, as my family had.

I should have shown more suspicion about my supposed Irish roots for that and other reasons. Our family did not have a recognizable Irish surname (Reed?). My dad’s family was mostly Presbyterian, and we have not a Roman Catholic to be found.

Although I can no longer celebrate an Irish heritage, I can and will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. I have pulled out my St. Paddy’s Day decorations and purchased my corned beef. My grandson and I have baked cookies decorated with green sugar. We are ready. Erin Go Bragh!