I got so wrapped up in Ancestry.com that I didn’t even post last week. This website is the absolute, be-all end-all of genealogy online research, as advertised. Through this website, I gained access to the census records and was able to make great strides in locating material about my other great grandmothers. Allow me to introduce you:
Edna Noonan Kingsley – born in 1901, she lived and died in Duluth MN. She was orphaned at age 9 and, well, I’m not sure who took her in yet. But by age 18, she was a live-in servant for the family of Curtis Johnson in Rush City, where she lived along with his wife, two adolescent sons, and two other female lodgers. She married Crawford Kingsley and mothered my grandfather and his siblings. I’m planning a visit to Great Aunt Norvella for the whole scoop.
Birgita Christine Nelson Olson – born in 1896 somewhere in Varmland, Sweden, I cannot seem to find hide nor hair of her life before she arrived in Minnesota. Her census records state that she came to the U.S. in 1913 with her older sister Martha. She married quite shortly after her arrival to David Olson (also from Sweden) and her first son was born in 1918. In the 1920 census, she had not yet been naturalized but David had submitted his papers. The last record I located of her was the 1940 census – I can’t figure out when she died. I’m making efforts to reach out to family members who may have learned more. I heard a rumor that someone located our relatives in Sweden and I’m eager for more information!
Susan Irene Olmstead Redding Frink – born in 1889 in Rapid City, South Dakota, Susan (sometimes also known as Irene) is my only great grandma to brave the open frontier and the only one to have gotten a divorce. I find this to be significant and I think it speaks to how powerful her personality must have been and her low tolerance for nonsense. There are SO MANY DOCUMENTS on ancestry about her – photos, records, bios, accounts of family members, even an account from my own grandfather – I’m very hopeful that I will be able to learn a lot about frontier life from her.
As I fall deeper and deeper into research, I find it difficult to come up with new things to do like my great grandma. The point of this project was to connect with the legacies of my great grandmothers and the times that they lived in, but I find that my busy schedule and my penchant for novelty are slowing me down somewhat. Many of the things that my great grandmothers would have done on a daily basis are similar to what we do now. The technology has changed and the social roles have changed a lot but the necessities are the same. Baking, cleaning, cooking … that’s all I can find so far. I could go to church but that is hardly different from nowadays and it would, in many ways, feel a little disrespectful for me to go and worship the way they did when my heart isn’t in it like their’s were. I want to simulate things I know that they did, but there is very little record of the activities they enjoyed, clubs they may have joined, and the friends and communities they shared.
March is women’s history month and I have come to realize that in many ways, women have indeed been erased from our history, especially the women who lived normal, everyday lives consistent with the traditional gender roles of the time. Under occupation in the census records, many of my great grandmothers have (with the exception of Irene, Restaurant Proprietor) their career listed as a great big “None”. As if they did nothing in their lives, as if their role in the home was nothing. This mystery nags me – I want to know who they were, what they did, and the struggles they overcame – not just when they were born, married, had children, and died. I can deduce a lot about the men from their careers listed in the census, the wars they fought in, the honors they received – their efforts are recorded and accessible. Not so with the wives. Their achievements are locked away in the memories of their children in the form of recipes and traditions, are discarded when they pass away as mundane or irrelevant, or in many cases, they themselves discard their own histories under the belief that these things are of no account. So I struggle to find ways to relate to them when their identities are hidden away, the evidence of their lives sparse (or in the case of Birgita, virtually non-existent).
I’m by no means discouraged. Only more eager to get to the bottom of these mysteries. It’s time, I think, to gather my courage and begin calling people I have never met.