I’ve written before about the mysteries and misfortunes inherent in family history and I’ve written a couple of times about mysteries in my own family’s past. The further away we are in time from an event, the more likely it is that it will be difficult to know every fact or detail about the event. Without access to the living people who attended or caused the event, we’re dependent on written records which are often incomplete or missing or which never existed. Even if you know the names, dates and locations, there are often inferences or nuances that are enigmatic and often dark.
My mother, Patricia Femrite Bergeson, was the family historian on her side of the family and I have a binder of hers that I believe was prepared by a professional genealogist. Not only did the researcher record names, dates and locations, but fascinating notes which in several cases bear tragic news.
The binder focuses on her grandmother Hansine (Sina) Lindseth Tryggeseth’s family; surname Lindseth (United States), Lindset (Norway). It’s sobering to view generations of tragedy and sadness in one’s past, particularly in just one lineage. For example, the oldest note says “Ole drowned in the Driva River”. Another note about Ole says “Last of family on Linset farm.” Ole Steingrimssen Lindset was my great-grandmother Sina’s uncle. His brothers were younger and had to move off the farm after coming of age and his sons either predeceased him or moved to the United States.
In 1870 at the age of 57, Ole drowned in a nearby river. Was he swimming or fishing or crossing a bridge and fell in? That’s the mystery. Turns out that the Driva River today is the #1 trout fishing river in all of Norway. There’s little room for error in a swift-flowing river. (While doing research for this post, I found a YouTube video of a 30-minute marathon effort to land a 28lb salmon on the banks of the Driva back in 2012. Give it a look!) Ole’s death caused the loss of his farm which had been in the family for nearly 100 years.
The note in the title of this post “killed by gunshot from landlord” concern’s Sina’s niece, Madlyn G. Lindseth. She was only 19 when she died in Minneapolis. What could possibly have precipitated the gunshot? Theft? Romance gone bad? Horrible accident? Unless I find a living descendant or get lucky in a newspaper archive, I may never know. A sad postscript to this story is that Madlyn’s father, Halvor Lindseth, died less than three months later at the age of 44. Broken heart?
More notes in the binder provide context for other events in Sina’s extended family. Her brother, Hans Adolph Lindseth, had two children who died on the same day in 1911. The notes say “d. @ 6 yrs scarlet fever” (Clifford) and “d. @ 3 yrs scarlet fever” (Bernice). Another brother, Peter Christian Lindseth had twin boys, Leon and Louie. There’s no note for Louie, just dates: “born 19 Jan 1907″/”died Jan 1907”. The note for Leon says “d. of heart attack while singing in H S concert.” Leon was 19 when he died.
Lest we think that my great-grandmother’s family had a lock on tragedy, I can cite circumstances gathered on a summer trip to Cape Cod last year. My wife’s paternal family history began in Massachusetts in the 17th century. Her 6th great-grandfather, John Rider (4), died of small pox in 1766 in Chatham. So did his wife, four of his children and 11 other members of his extended family.
We visited Nickerson Cemetery in Chatham where there are only three graves: John, his son Zenas and Zenas’ wife, Elizabeth. All of them died in the same week.