Two weeks ago I wrote about genealogy patience. This is a follow up that I’m having difficulty writing because I’m so overwhelmed with joy at the moment I can hardly contain myself! Now this story is also just plain weird and I think proves that the universe has a wicked sense of humor so I hope you enjoy what I’m about to relate.
I have searched for a picture of my husband’s maternal Great Grandmother Lovisa “Louise” Carlson Johnson for years (pictured above with her three daughters). When a DNA match was discovered two years ago in August I sent an email asking if the match had a picture. He responded this year on Halloween that he didn’t think so but would check with another family member who had a box of unlabeled photos and would get back to me. I put it out of my mind as I wish I had a buck for every time a family member said, “I’ll check and get back with you.” My people procrastinate and they never seem to followup up unless I keep bothering them. I figured, with the holidays approaching and people getting busy, I’d wait til after Thanksgiving and send a gentle reminder.
I went about my business and was volunteering two weeks ago at a local genealogy library event assisting interested patrons in finding their roots. I had helped 2 wonderful retired teachers when things got really slow. I considered leaving but the event was supposed to continue for one more hour and I don’t like to cut out early when I’ve committed so I decided to bring up Arkidigital.com, a Swedish genealogy site, that is awesome. I used to belong but found most of my husband’s Swedish records so I didn’t renew. Since it was free for the weekend I decided I’d revisit and see if they had added any new records. I was still bringing it up when a new patron stopped by. So, you can probably guess that the woman had deep Swedish roots. What a coincidence, I thought, and told her I just happened to open up the free site. She was interested in discovering information about her great grandfather who settled in Minnesota. She thought he had changed his name at Ellis Island so she wasn’t sure how to verify the story.
I didn’t need Arkivdigital for that so I went in search of naturalization records and World War I and II draft records to see if we could find a clue. There it was – he hadn’t changed his name at all. What she had thought was a last name appeared to be a Confirmation name that he had stopped using between 1917 and 1942. He had emigrated under the name he had arrived with in the U.S. and continued using it; it is on his tombstone.
By the time we had found the evidence, the event was ending so I showed her how to go to Arkivdigital to search for his birth record in Sweden. Turns out, she was also a former educator and she told me a funny story of her attending a conference in Wales several years ago. I replied I wanted to go there, to Croatia and to Sweden to see family’s old haunts but I couldn’t find a tour that went where my husband and my people lived. She told me she had gone on a fantastic trip to Sweden through a group out of Minnesota and gave me their website. I told her I’d check it out when I got home.
On the way home I stopped in a store to pick up a few items and yes, they were already playing holiday muzak. What was on was Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer. Geez, I thought, what a dumb song. I couldn’t get it out of my mind.
I got home and told my husband I’d love to go to Sweden next summer and was going to check out a tour group. Sure enough, the tour went exactly where we needed to visit. Wow, I thought, that’s coincidence number 2 for the day – the last lady just happens to give me the info that I’ve been looking for. I sent the company an email.
After dinner I decided I’d bring Arkivdigital back up and search for a bit. I had my tree up on one screen and the website I’d be searching on the other when an Ancestry little leaf appeared. As I’ve written several times, I typically just ignore the hints but this time something told me to check it out. It was for my husband’s paternal great grandfather, Samuel Samuelson, who had died in 1908. It was a link to Find-A-Grave. I already had that info but clicked to go to Find-A-Grave anyway. I’m so glad I did because a man interested in history had recently posted a newspaper story from a Chesterton, Indiana paper that is not available anywhere online regarding the circumstances surrounding Samuel’s death. The information hadn’t been there the last time I looked (so you have to go back and look over sites again or you might miss something important). I had the death certificate which noted accident – skull crushed but I assumed that was the result of a farming accident of some sort. Nope, the accident explained that Samuel and a neighbor were crossing a train track when the sleigh they were in was hit by the train. Both men and horse died. Okay, so here’s the weird, twisted part – I couldn’t get the reindeer song out of my head. I was humming it when I read this. I got a sick feeling – I’m humming a song that’s supposed to be funny but I just discovered someone’s gruesome death in a related accident. That was the 3rd coincidence that day. The individual who posted the article had also posted the obituary which said, “…his youthful looks and manner, his good nature, and never failing sense of humor made him a delightful companion…”. Somehow, I thought he would be amused by this twisted occurrence. And learning about his personality, the man sounds just like my husband.
By this point I was just done with genealogy for the day so I thought I’d check my email and then call it a night. There was an email and it was from the DNA match who said he’s get back with me – he had found a few pictures that were labeled and they were of my husband’s maternal great grandma! It must have been Sweden Day as the photos he sent me were of different stages in the woman’s life. He promised to send me a thumb drive with all the photos of other relatives he had but warned me that most weren’t labeled.
I just got the thumb drive – my, oh, my, what a wonderful early Christmas present! There was my husband’s maternal grandparents wedding photo which was also the earliest photo of his grandfather I had ever seen.
There were photos, labeled, that had stepchildren of his great great grandfather. There were church records! Someone had gone to a long closed church and photographed the handwritten membership list. There is so many genealogical gems that I haven’t even gone through everything yet.
Oddly, he had even sent photos of my husband’s paternal side of the family who isn’t even his relation. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised but in 1917, they all had attended a wedding for one of his relatives. Living in the small farming community, it shouldn’t have been surprising a wedding would have brought neighbors together. I just never expected to find so many of my husband’s great and grandparents in these photos.
But that’s not all! I had a grainy photo of the Harbaugh family reunion but I could never make out most of the individuals because someone had moved the camera as the photo was taken. It was also a far shot and the people were so tiny. Enlarging the photo only made it more blurry. Turns out I had the first photo and the photographer decided to take a second shot. I can tell as the man in the front row far left has turned to walk away from the group. Unbelievably, the photo I just received has names attached and is clear as can be:
Check out the man in row 2, third from left that looks like Abe Lincoln. That would be my husband’s maternal great grandfather. It is the only photo known to be in existence of him! His wife is right in front of him. I had a grainy photo of her from a church group shot taken about 10 years before this one. All of my husband’s great aunts and uncles are also pictured and we never had any of their photos, either! The mysterious Louisa, who I had originally contacted the DNA match for a photo, is also shown.
So my patience really paid off and I highly encourage you, this upcoming holiday season, to ask for the stories – photos – documents – DNA tests – that will enhance what you’ve already discovered and give you a more complete story of your ancestors. Happy Hunting!