Sleuth or Snoop?

I sat down at a table in the Archives office with a mix of excitement and trepidation. There were three files in front of me: two thick (folded) files each labelled “Robert Marshall” and one flat, fairly thin file labelled “Laurence Christie.”

I opened the thick file and immediately could tell that it contained the will and probate records of my grandfather. I didn’t expect an actual will, but there it was, a thin piece of paper covered in type, signed and witnessed. Its contents was unremarkable: He assigned his wife executrix of his estate and bequeathed unto her all the property, real and personal, and effects….” It was dated 16 March 1922.

Although it begins includes the customary phrase “considering the uncertainty of this frail and transitory life,” I’m sure he had no idea it would be needed just three years later.

In August, my grandmother testified in open court verifying his death, her relationship to him, and the birth of his children. The will was proved in September and Janet Bitcon Marshall was was named executrix.

In October, she gave birth to David Marshall, my dad. On November 24, Laurence Christie testified as “just a friend” to amend the heirship to include “David, his posthumous son” as an heir.

Initially Robert Marshall’s estate included $4,000 cash in the bank and a claim against the Pennsylvania Railroad for $10,000 for wrongful death. No other property or assets. By the next summer, it was clear that “it would be almost impossible to recover a case of a suit brought against the Railroad company.” Instead, a settlement of $750 was offered and accepted.

The rest of the files included the Final Account, dated 26 December 1926 and several additional files in the ensuing years to allow my grandmother to use money for the care and support of her children. In November 1930, her twelve year old son died so she had to petition the court for the $70.85 remaining in his account. In 1937, when son Edward reached his majority, there was another file releasing funds to him. Even as late as 1941, Janet had to request funds from the court for care and support of David.

Five years later, Janet was back in court with a handwritten will from Laurence Christie. I found a copy of it in my dad’s dresser after he died. I thought it was the original, but when I opened the files in the archive office, I saw that what I had was a copy. On the back of my copy was a stamp saying it was denied. Laurence Christie wrote the will in 1933, long before he convinced my grandmother to marry him*. It was signed, witnessed and dated, but apparently the court denied it because he married her after the will was executed.

An interview in open court by my grandmother, 9 October 1946, established possible heirs: his widow, two brothers (both in Scotland) and a nephew (in Chicago.) Letters were sent to these individuals by the court with apparently no claims made. Eventually my grandmother received two lots (valued at $100), 75 shares of Stock from Armour & Co. His entire estate was valued at $1500.

I read through all these documents, one by one, and took pictures of most of them with my cell phone (as instructed by the archivist.) It felt strange to handle these documents that ranged in age from 75-90 years and probably hadn’t been touched or viewed for well over 60 years. I don’t imagine anyone will ever look at them again. But they are stored somewhere in the archives and will remain so.

I spent the rest of the day in the Tract Office, looking at records for the house at 8221 S. Ridgeland in Chicago. My grandmother lived in it from 1933 until 1940 and again, in 1946 after Laurence died. I hoped that my grandfather’s business built the house, but I’m guessing that is not true. The owner at the time of building was Buchanan & Norton. In 1928 it was quit claimed to Laurence Christie and then sold to Robert Stewart. In 1929, Laurence quit claimed it to my grandmother and in 1934, Robert Stewart quit claimed it to her. (Anyone want to explain that?) In 1935, my grandmother took out a mortgage on the home. In 1948, Janet quit claimed it to a friend and he quit claimed it back to her the same day. Someone in the office told me that was probably an easy way to have her name changed on the record. She gave it to the friend as Janet Marshall and accepted it back as Janet Christie.

My parents lived in the house from 1947 until 1952, while my grandmother was in California caring for her sister, Martha (for 6-1/2 years.)

In August 1951, my mother gave her 54-year old Ridgeland neighbor a ride to LaGrange to visit her mother. They must have picked up the woman’s mother and were heading elsewhere when my mom ran a stop sign at the intersection of 55th and Wolf. The neighbor and her mother were both killed; my mother (expecting my brother Larry) and David (2) were taken to Wesley Hospital in the city. The other car carried two women and five children, all taken to MacNeal Hospital in Berwyn.

I first heard this story when I was in my late teens. When I was researching at the Chicago History Museum a few weeks ago, an article popped on the screen with the name Eldora Marshall in the middle of it. I freaked a bit–that is not exactly a common name. And then read the article about my mother’s accident.

Apparently the neighbor who lost his wife was less-than-gracious in the months that followed. Larry was born in December and in May my folks moved away and Gramma sold the house. When she returned home from California in 1953 (my birth year) she moved into an English basement apartment at 89th and Bishop, the only “Gramma’s house” any of us remember. She lived there until 1970, when she went to live with Aunt Jean & Uncle Kas.

If you’ve stuck with me this long, my apologies. My friend always says “long story short” and I think this was a short story made long. I love the details, but I understand if others don’t. I’m also not sure how my grandmother would feel about this. She was a very private person so I don’t think she would necessarily applaud my curiosity. In fact, I think I may get a scolding when I meet her in heaven!








* Laurence’s will used a lot of similar phrases but added “In consideration of love and affection” just prior to bequeathing Gramma with all his possessions. He also seemed to be writing all others out of his will, allowing at most that anyone claiming heirship be given no more than one dollar.


Every November I put myself through the paces of writing 50,000 words for National Novel Writers’ Month (on the website, 750 Words.)

I write a minimum of 750 words a day to qualify and anywhere from 1500-2500 words to keep up the necessary pace. I usually pick a line of my genealogy research to explore so my writing is a combination of fact and fiction.

This year I focused on my grandmother, Janet Bitcon, and her two husbands, Robert Marshall and Laurence Christie. I’ve written about them before, putting together a series of vignettes.

Since I last wrote about them, I’ve learned a few things:

1) My grandparents bought the cottage in Cedar Lake just seven days before his death. I found the title, dated June 23, notarized by Laurence Christie. He died on June 30. My grandmother sold the cottage to Laurence Christie before the month was over.

2) A story circulated around the church was that the man sitting in the car stopped at the railroad crossing was a friend. He and Robert had been racing to see who could get to the lake first. The story was that Robert saw this as his chance to slip through and get ahead while his more cautious friend waited for the train to pass.

3) We always wondered how Robert Marshall (husband number 1) and Laurence Chrstie (husband number 2) met. Looking at their respective Ship Passenger Lists from 1908 and 1907, I noticed that both men listed John Halcrow as their contact in Chicago. That seemed like an impossible coincidence until I noticed that Robert’s sister-in-law listed her birthplace as Shetland. It’s very likely that they met through this mutual friend.

4) I found the building permit for a home my Gramma lived in from 1933 until at least 1951. I’m hoping that it might lead me to information about the side business of building spec houses that my grandfather helped organize. It’s possible that his business built the house. (He died a year before the real estate bust of 1926, which decimated  the “fortune” Robert had left her and ruined Laurence Christie’s real estate business.)

5) I also visited Cook County Archives and ordered the files from Probate Court for both men, which I should be able to view next week. Laurence actually made a handwritten will  giving all he had to my grandmother–five years before she agreed to marry him. The will is stamped “Denied” and therefore would have gone to Probate. I’m assuming that Robert Marshall, aged 34, did not even have a will. “All the more reason for probate,” is what the archivist told me.

A friend recently advised me to write and write and write. He also told me my story needed a beginning and an end, so I spent time working out a good ending (I already had a beginning) and an outline. These last few days, I wrote and wrote and wrote. My tendency is to focus on research and procrastinate on the actual writing. I decided that I would be happy with writing a story for my family. He told me even they still shouldn’t have to read something boring!

So, 53,130 words later, I am claiming my NaNo “prize.” I hope to keep writing, but the pace will definitely slow down. Christmas is coming and then, in January, a five-week trip to New Zealand. I think I have a few things to do.

Sew Organized!

We are continuing to settle into our new home–and getting ourselves organized.

I started with my sewing area in the basement. I bought an Ikea Kallax 8-bin unit to define my space and set up a boundary with the kids’ play area. Bins organized toys and fabric and an attached table made a nice home for my new sewing machine. I returned to Ikea for another table for my serger and a cutting board, and an even bigger–16 bin–unit to store my fabric. A re-covered design board, a new ironing board cover, and a table skirt to hide more bins of stuff, completed my sewing room by mid-July.


With Lizi moving back home, I organized the closet in her room to compactly hold–and organiez–her clothes and my (non-sewing) hobbies.


I needed to cram a lot of books and files into a small space. Back to Ikea (several times) to pick up pieces of the Algot system and figure out how to use the space well. I finished our new, organized closet by the end of August.






Last, but certainly not least, we were able to get our garage organized by the end of September. Another Kallax system and more bins, a massive workbench and pegboard, and numerous shelves. Our bikes are stored up high on pulleys for easy access and sports bins hold the balls, discs, and skates. A rail system holds gardening tools, etc. Plus we either stored (garage attic) or threw out the rest of our junk.

Best of all, we are able to park two cars in the garage for the first time since we left our Bellwood home in 1980! We are so excited to be able to pull in and out of the garage,
away from the elements. And yes, I have ball hanging from a rope to guide me into my space 🙂


One more thing: My threads for weaving are finally “organized” after what seems like months of stops and starts. Before we left Elmhurst I laid out 400+ threads on the warping board and tied them neatly. In August, I managed to get all the threads onto the loom, but didn’t finish dressing it until this week. For me, that means going over and over it to get it right: the pattern, the threading of the heddles, the sleying of the reed and then, the tension. I love how it looks when it is all done, though I have to say the process of getting to this point is more than tedious. Now I’m ready for the fun of weaving 🙂







Really, sew organized!


New House/ Blank Canvas

We bought a house in the burbs!

After our lost bid, John spent the next day (while I worked) researching and looking at houses. He found a ranch that he said was “nice, but no glamour–functional, light.” It’s selling point was that the basement was entirely finished and very light and sunny.

We looked at it again the next day and also looked at another that had a lot more glamour but a completely unfinished basement. It also smelled like a smoker lived there.

We ended up going back and forth between the two, choosing the finished basement, clean home (the previous owner’s wife had problems with allergies so it was the polar opposite in air quality) and ranch style, which seemed wise for a couple in their mid-60s.

It’s a little boring, but I’m looking at it as a blank canvas. There is very little work that needs to be done, so we can concentrate on making it our own in other ways.

It is also relatively new–only 11 years old with one owner. This will be a new experience for us as we have always lived in old houses (with the exception of the duplex in Alaska.) It has a brand new furnace and air conditioner and a clean 2-car garage. The main floor walls are all white and the “lower level” is a pleasant yellow. (My friend said it shouldn’t be called a basement.) The deck is functional but uninteresting and the yard is mostly undeveloped, but sunny.

The kitchen/dining room is large and open, a huge contrast to the claustrophobic kitchens I’ve had in the last two houses. I haven’t measured yet, but I think there must be  a good 16-18 feet of countertop compared to what I have now and lots of drawers and cabinets. It will be our first house without a separate dining room, which I think will be a nice change. It also has a small island with a “breakfast bar.” The entire room, including the dining area, is 16’x20′.

This morning I cooked up a Tartan Room, an Alaskan Room, and a sewing area in the bright corner of the basement. There’s even room for a longarm 🙂

This is going to be fun.

(If you are the nosy type, you can look it up on Zillow: 2225 Roaring Creek Dr., Aurora.)

P.S. Today is our 40th anniversary! The proscribed gift for 40 is a ruby, but I think this is better.


We are in the home stretch (we hope) in getting our house ready for market. It has been a long, tedious process, one that feels like it will never end.

Fortunately, I have plenty of distractions to help maintain my sanity and joy.

This week I moved my loom upstairs to my “project room.” I cleared out a lot of stuff that was cluttering up the room: journals, scrapbooks, bins of organized family pictures and old letters, and more bins of neatly folded fabric. My u-shaped room now has a weaving area, a sewing area and a desk for my genealogy.




Weaving. I bought a warping board on my birthday (early October) and started the process of dressing my loom to make sampler tea towels. I was aiming for a 9-yard warp of 300 strands of 8/2 cotton. I thought I’d complete my project before Thanksgiving but it took all those weeks just to get the loom dressed (i.e. ready to weave.)

Once completed, however, it has been such a pleasure to weave! In the midst of life, it’s so sweet to sit down for 20 minutes here and there and weave for awhile. I love the rhythm of it as well as the challenge of catching mistakes and fixing problems. Love learning new skills.

Genealogy. I bought myself a DNA kit in December and sent it off for analysis. The results were no surprise: I am 49% Scandinavian, 30% split between the UK and Ireland, and another 11% Western European. I suppose the biggest surprise was that Western European piece. My maternal grandparents were both very Swedish; my paternal grandparents both very Scottish, though a few generations back one of the families lived in Ireland. I don’t know any ancestors that lived in Western Europe, but I suppose my genes could have traces from people that migrated north before records were preserved.

Through the process, I met an Irish 6th cousin who lives 15 miles down the road from the little town of Donaghadee, County Down, where our mutual great-great-great-grandfather was born in 1787. I spent a week or so studying his descendant tree to learn all I could about the family. About half of them emigrated to Australia and another third of them ended up in either Canada or America. Very few of them remained in the Scotland or Ireland.

Through this cousin I also found transcripts of 48 letters written by my grandmother’s bachelor uncle to a niece back in Scotland from 1905 to 1942. Uncle Andrew emigrated to America in 1905, spending a year on the east coast in shipbuilding. His name and address in Quincy, MA are listed on my grandmother’s passenger records as her sponsoring relative. However, both she and her uncle came to Chicago where they joined another uncle and his family.

Writing home, Andrew reports that “we have Jenny Bitcon here with her companion Mary Turner. We have christened Jenny “Clipper.” She has a tongue that would clip clouts.” He also mentions that “Jenny and Mary got situations both in the same house.” In 1911, he reports that “Jenny will be married soon,” commenting, “that will be all married now. My, what a great relief for the mother.”

These kind of distractions make me happy 🙂

P.S. I googled “a tongue that would clip clouts” and found this in a Dictionary of the Scots Language: a tongue that wad (cud) clip cloots (clouts), a sharp tongue; Gen.Sc.; (4) clip-clouts, a sharp-tongued person; (5) to clip cloots wi’, to quarrel with, find fault with (someone). 


scan-11I love this picture of four sisters: Jennie, Maggie, Martha and Lizzie. They were born to James and Agnes (Gray) Bitcon during a ten-year span of years from 1881 to 1891 in Dumbarton, Scotland. By 1897, they were fatherless, with limited resources and no social security. They worked together to make ends meet. All but one would eventually emigrate to America to seek a better life.

I’m fascinated by the way these sisters’ lives intersected in spite of time and distance, helping one another in times of crisis.

  • Jennie was the first to emigrate (1906.) She made two voyages back to the Old Country to visit her mother and sisters, one in 1911 before her marriage, and another in 1922 with three children.
  • Martha emigrated to Canada in 1911 and then to California in 1923. Two years later she traveled to Chicago—and stayed for six months—to help Jennie after the sudden death of her husband and the subsequent birth of her son.
  • Lizze’s husband accompanied Jennie and her children on their return trip to Chicago in 1922. He found a job and saved money to bring Lizzie and their four children over the following year.
  • Maggie and her husband, Peter, remained in Scotland, caring for her aging mother. In 1937, Maggie took a six week trip to America, visiting both Chicago and California.
  • Jennie, in 1946, after the sudden death of her second husband, went and stayed with John and Martha Greenlaw for six-and-a-half years, helping to care for them in illness and in death.

This picture, taken in 1937, fascinates me. I’ve long wanted to write a story about these four sisters, so this month—November, National Novel Writer’s Month—I focused on them during my annual project to write 50,000 words. I spent a great deal of my time and writing doing genealogical research, trying to find out anything I could about the real women portrayed here.

Jennie, of course, is my grandmother. Maggie was the first-born; Martha was second-born; and Lizzie was the baby of the family.

Last week I started asking relatives about their memories of one of the sisters. I learned that the story is more complicated, messier, than I imagined. That shouldn’t have surprised me. I had vague memories and impressions that at least two of the sisters did not get along. Jennie had a sharp tongue and could “kill you with kindness and cut you to the bone if so inclined.” Lizzie was “difficult.”

This could actually make my story much more interesting, adding tension to the plot. The challenge is to do that without disparaging any one sister and/or offending living relatives. If I ever write my story it will be a fictionalized, imagined story, loosely based on these four women. It will be honest about their lives and personalities, but full of grace without (I hope) being sappy.

Last week I found two more pictures of the sisters. The one on the left was taken in Scotland, circa 1911. The second has Jennie “photoshopped” into the picture. Both pictures, likely manipulated with whatever limited technology was available back then, are good metaphors for the lifetime of relationship shared by these women, across miles, oceans and separation.











I never had a sister. In the past, that hasn’t bothered me, but at this stage in life, I’m starting to wish I’d had a sister or two—or three!

I do have daughters though, and in three short weeks, these sisters will be together for a short time, also crossing miles and oceans and separation, to be together. So grateful that we get to do these long-distant relationships in a time when travel and technology make connection much easier, much more frequent.

Birth Story

By now the news of Charlotte’s birth is on Facebook and pictures of our sweet grand baby have been posted. The text messages that have been flying between here and Chicago are slowing down. It is time for the birth story. Gramma’s birth story.

Image-1Last Sunday night, James, Anne and I hiked to the glow worm cave with a group of campers. I’ve done this hike two times before and knew it was a short though strenuous hike. It required climbing up and down a steep trail, sometimes scrambling over fallen trees, wading through a cold stream to the bottom of a ravine where a waterfall met sky and darkness, and the walls of the “cave” were lit up with glow worms. I also knew that James would take good care of Anne during the hike.

If Anne hoped to start labor by this means, it was a successful endeavor. She was four days past her due date and oh-so-ready for baby to arrive. Contractions started within a few hours, around 1 a.m. I slept through the first several hours, vaguely aware that there was movement in the house and something might be happening.

Anne labored through the morning and talked to her midwife a couple of times. Before noon, they decided to go into town, to a friends’ house, to be closer to the birthing center. On the way, they stopped in at the midwifery clinic to ask a few more questions. There they learned that her water had broken and it was stained with meconium. She was sent to the hospital for monitoring.

I followed them, first to Leamington, and then on to Hamilton. At first, I settled in at a nearby cafe to read and wait for news. After an hour or so, I texted James to see what was being said, and told him that I was in the area. They invited me to come up and visit.

Annie had asked for an epidural so I hung around for the procedure and then returned to the waiting room. In the meantime, they worked at regulating the epidural and started oxytocin to increase the strength of her contractions. Later that afternoon, I went back in, staying longer than I’d planned as I watched the nurses and doctors evaluating her contractions and the baby’s response.

I finally pulled myself away and went to find a nearby hotel room. Just before I left, they mentioned the possibility of a c-section.

I’d settled in and started a bath when James called to say they were going in for a c-section. Another doctor and their midwife had conferred and then discussed it with James and Anne. They were given the option of waiting longer, but told that a c-section was likely. (It wasn’t an emergency yet.)

James asked for a few minutes to pray. They agreed and started filing out of the room, but he told them they were all welcome to stay. They did—doctors and nurses and midwives bowed their heads while James prayed. Peace settled over them and they decided to go ahead.

Anne already had the anesthesia needed for the surgery (epidural) so it wasn’t long before Charlotte entered the world with a good, strong baby cry. She was suctioned (because of the meconium) but was heathy and strong–perfect!

Laura and I had been texting back and forth waiting for news from the hospital. Finally, we both texted James (he was a little busy) for an update and got the word that all was well. I was invited back to the hospital to spend the night with Anne, as James wasn’t allowed to stay overnight on a women’s ward.

I met Charlotte Aroha Bruce in the recovery room—the midwife snuck me in—but didn’t hold her til several hours later. I tried to stay on the edges of things until after James finally pulled himself away. He went and used my hotel room for a few hours of badly needed sleep and I camped out at Anne’s bedside.

Sometime around 3 or 4 in the morning, I asked if I could hold her and sat snuggling with her for the next two hours while Anne dozed in and out of consciousness. When James returned, I went back to the hotel for some sleep, then stopped by for another visit before going home to shower and rest in the sun. I went back late in the evening to do another shift with Anne. This time she was more awake and eager to hold her baby. It was a sweet night.

The next day I went back home and stayed away, resting and doing laundry etc. They moved to a nearby birthing center where they could spend 48 more hours together with support staff on hand. (All this free through socialized medicine!) Others visited throughout the day and their first night was fairly peaceful.

I visited the next afternoon, along with more visitors, and headed home to await their arrival the next day. But that night didn’t go so well, so they asked me to come back in the morning and hold Charlotte while they slept. Oh, yeah.

Gradually, we packed up stuff, took a walk, and then I left, planning to be there to welcome them home. I took a detour to find a baby store and then decided to find a helium balloon for the gate or mailbox. They ended up beating me home by a few minutes and were happy to find the house clean and warm. (I hadn’t been able to figure out how to turn the heat down before I left so it was toasty warm.)

They were still feeling sleep deprived and unsure what the night ahead would hold so they asked me to hold Charlotte while they tried to sleep a few times during the day and evening. The ABS staff came by to greet Charlotte and then we had dinner. I got in one more cuddle session with Charlotte while they rested and then left to stay in town, so they can have time alone as a family.

Anne is loving being a mum, adapting well to all the challenges. It has been sweet watching her blossom as a mama.












Charlotte is a happy and well-loved baby.









James is over the moon.








And Gramma is blissfully content.










“Toto, I have a feeling we ARE in Kansas.”

IMG_3266 2For some reason I am getting a kick out of being in Kansas. I came to attend a conference on Swedish Genealogy, but have also been able to visit with two “gold friends” while here. Last night I got to watch the lunar eclipse/red moon from a balcony overlooking the little ArKANSAS river. (That’s how they say it.)

I flew to Witchita in a long narrow plane and was picked up at the airport by one of my nursing school friends, Jeannie (Kirstein) Hett. We chatted as she drove me out to the little Swedish town of Lindsborg. We had dinner at the Swedish Crown and then she left me at the opening event of the conference. The next morning I spent a few hours in the computer lab asking questions that I’d come across in my research. (“Does that phrase really mean divorce? This one seems to be saying that he was punished for stealing. Am I right? What does this phrase mean? Oh, ‘escaped from service’ next to ‘leaving for America.’ Cool.”)

FullSizeRenderThat afternoon and the next day were spent in lectures about burial practices and graveyards (I had a hard time staying awake through that one,) finding living relatives, military records (I do have a couple of soldier ancestors and had already found my way around some of these records,) and two sessions on understanding Swedish written in Gothic handwriting. It’s fairly easy to use the Swedish records for the basic facts of an ancestor’s life, but interspersed in the records are all kinds of remarks, written in Swedish in this old style of writing. Many S’s look like f’s, which is true in English as well, but I learned that most a’s aren’t closed so that they look like u’s; e’s look like n’s, h’s can look like g’s and so on. The above example is a gothic font (so much more uniform than normal handwriting) of Three Blind Mice in English. Look closely to see how challenging reading it can be, and then imagine the variations of handwriting, the extra flourishes, and the Swedish language.

Once you get the letters figured out, you still have to figure out the meaning of the Swedish words. But what fun when you untangle something interesting, like that 1908 divorce or two oåkta or illegitimate great and great-great grandmothers! A mormor (grandmother on the maternal side) and farmor (on the paternal line) grew up as fosterdotters, one because both parents died by the time she was six and the other, presumably, because the mother was unable or unwilling to take care of her. I love the stories.

When the conference was over, Jeannie picked me up again and we met a Chicago friend, Richard, for supper. In a few free minutes I’d called the Hammers to tell them about a mutual friend’s death. I started out the conversation by saying “Guess where I am?” and Richard immediately guessed Witchita, Kansas. He was here too, closing on his mother’s house in the morning and then traveling with her to her new home in Arizona.

And then we came back to Jeannie’s condo just in time to watch the lunar eclipse from the balcony. Pretty cool. I’d arrived in Kansas to dark clouds reminiscent of the early scenes in the Wizard of Oz and then spent the next three days under blue skies and a brilliant sun (and a red moon.)

And I will return home with bulging bags and a boggled mind, ready to continue my Swedish research on a different level. Not that I will have time to do so–the next trip is only three weeks away and requires a bit of prep. I’m going to New Zealand with my friend Marilyn, with stops in Tuscon, Phoenix, LA and Hawaii along the way 🙂 I also have to finish one more week of full-time/vacation coverage work, plus another 5 days in early October AND I want to get all our NZ Christmas and birthday gifts ready.

But Kansas was fun and a little crazy.








I just completed two tedious projects. I found that combining them made both a little easier.

When I didn’t have enough fabric for a Swedish flag to cover the entire back of my quilt, I decided it would be fun to add an “almanack” or Swedish calendar for the year 1873. I could include birthdays of various ancestors, holidays (holy days) and name days, which are quite popular in Sweden. If you are lucky enough to have both a birth day and a name day, you get to celebrate twice. (I’m thinking that children born now would never manage this with all the unusual names their parents are choosing for them.) I thought I’d seen an almanack that looked something like this:FullSizeRender


and decided to sew the lines–365 of them–with a longer one each week for Sunday. I counted the stitches between each line, beginning with 7 stitches each time. When I finished one half of the almanack, it was too big so I started over with less stitches, and this time it worked out perfectly.


Meanwhile, I’d also wanted to find records for my maternal great-grandfather. In the Family Record book someone had filled in some of the blanks on a page devoted to him. August W. Linden, born April 7, 1863, Sveden. The only other “place” information was that he was converted or confirmed May 12, 1877 in Västergötland, Jelsta. I couldn’t find a “Jelsta” so I decided to search through the entire province of Västergötland–made of three separate counties with somewhat changing borders–looking for an August or August W. that was born on April 7, 1863.

At the beginning, I had great hopes for almost every “click” on my computer. I’d find 1863, scan for the month of April, and scroll down looking for August. April wasn’t actually a prolific month for births in much of Sweden, which made my job a little easier. Sometimes there was one or two births, sometimes none. I probably only found a total of ten April 7th birthdates, and none of them were boys named August. I looked through a LOT of records. I kept track of the last county (Skarasborg lan) and searched over 200 parishes. I’m pretty sure I could multiply that number by 3 and have a good guess that I searched through at least 600 books. Of course, clicking through books is a lot easier than it would have been even a few years ago. I didn’t have to travel or even spend time loading microfilm or microfiche. The clicking process went something like this:

Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 9.14.04 AM Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 9.12.18 AMScreen Shot 2015-04-04 at 9.21.21 AM Screen Shot 2015-04-04 at 9.23.26 AMStill, in the end, it was like looking for a needle in a haystack.

And I didn’t find the needle.

But I did finish sewing my almanack lines. I eventually found that if I alternated between sewing and clicking, both were more tolerable.

And now I’m going to embroider the names of the months, trying to copy some of the old world style of handwriting. That’s one thing I really enjoyed while searching through the haystack. Some of the pastors who recorded the births of had exquisite handwriting.

And I’m not done looking for August W. Linden. I’ve just got to go at it from a different direction.









P.S. I actually completed the embroidered months before posting this. I loved the hand work and even considered hand quilting the quilt (now that I theoretically have more time.) I thought it would be nice to add some flowers and searched for Swedish floral motifs. I found this, which I was able to do on my friend’s embroidery sewing machine. My job was change the thread colors when instructed to do so and to watch for thread breakage. The machine did the rest. I supervised.

IMG_2421 IMG_2420





Quilters please note: All this is for the back of my quilt. Crazy, eh? (But so much fun.)


Tre Kvinnor (Three Women)

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about three women: Johanna Andersson, Ingar Jönsdotter, and Hanna Persdotter.

A few weeks ago I plunged back into the Swedish records for ten days, focusing on my maternal great-grandmother and her Swedish roots.

IMG_2288IMG_2296All I had to go on was an old book that I inherited from my great-aunt Caroline. It was “Family Book” that may have been given to her mother and father on the occasion of their marriage on Januari de 26 i 1893 in Chicago.

The section titled “Our Ancestry” is, sadly, blank. Names, dates and stories that were forever lost when August Linden and Johanna Andersson both died early.

A few pages later, under the heading of “Our Family”, someone–presumably Johanna–did write some details in a mix of “Svedis and Englis” in pencil. Pages for the Husband, Wife, and three Children were completed.



Name: Johanna Anderson.
Birth: 4 Mej 1872 in the län of Skåne–Bjerstjäladugar, Sveden.Baptism: in Kjärrstorp socken, Sweden, by Pastor X. Converted or Confirmed: 1886. Education: Skol in Sveden. Occupation: husvarak an landres. Married to Agust W. Linden de 26 Januari 1893 in Chicago, Il. Residence 132 E. Superior St.Death: the 12 of October 1908. Died of canser.


My first challenge was to figure out the names of the town and parish (socken). Someone had repaired a tear with tape long ago–right over the name of her parish–now it is discolored and difficult to read. It took awhile but eventually I found a map of hundreds in Skåne, and located a parish labeled  Öster Kjärrstorp. I signed on for another week of ArkivDigital and found the parish, and then the Birth & Christening Records for 1872. It didn’t take long at all to find May 4th and Johanna’s name.

Johanna was indeed born on May 4, 1872. Her mother was “Pigan” (maiden) Ingar Jönsdotter and there was no father listed. In later records, Johanna has the word “oäkta”(illegitimate) written alongside her name.

I spent 10 days obsessing (as before) my way through the records, searching for clues about the lives of these women. By the time Johanna was 3 years old, she was living with foster parents and Ingar eventually went on to marry and have three more children. It does not appear that Johanna ever lived with her mother in her new life. She took on the surname of her foster parents, first as Andersdotter, later as Andersson, and eventually Americanized it to Anderson.

When she was 9, her foster mother died and her foster father remarried a year later. By the time she was 12 or 13, she was living, probably as a maid, away from her foster parents, and by the time she was 20 she was headed towards Amerika.

Johanna’s mother, Ingar, was also born to an unmarried woman named Hanna Persdotter on December 1, 1825. At her baptism nine days later, a young man named Jön Jönsson was one of four witnesses and I’m guessing that he was the father since Ingar was always known as Jönsdotter. Hanna also eventually married (not Jöns Jönsson)  but I think that Ingar grew up in her home, as her stepfather attended both the baptism of her daughter (Johanna) and her wedding.

I was able to follow the families through several moves and many years. Johanna’s foster father (and family) and her mother’s new family both lived in the area for many years, dying as old folks.

By then, of course, Johanna had emigrated to Amerika.

I’m planning to quilt a family tree into the design of my Swedish quilt and like the idea of three lone buds representing these single women who gave birth and most likely lived, at least for awhile, in difficult circumstances. I don’t know their stories, but I wouldn’t be here without them! And so my quilt will somehow honor them. I doubt if they were honored much in life. Perhaps they didn’t even deserve honor–and yet, grace surrounded them.

Johanna, Ingra, and Hanna.

(Story to be continued….)

Here is my finished quilt top and the Swedish flag I made for part of the backing.

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(Story to be continued….)