Tag Archives: genealogy

Then and now

I wrote about my recent trip to northern Wisconsin a few inches down this page. The purpose of the expedition was, along with my brothers, to “get to know” one of our great-grandfathers, a colorful Norwegian immigrant named John B. Johnson.

Below is a picture I’ve shared on this blog before, showing John B. and his family (my grandmother is the little girl second from the left). The story of this photo, I’ve been told, is that they’d bought a fancy new glass door for the house, and they wanted to take a picture to commemorate the event (it’s hard to tell here, but under magnification you can see that my great-grandmother Olina, the woman on the left, is wearing an apron embroidered in the Norwegian Hardanger style. Such items were treasures — she had put on her best for the photo). At the last moment, however, a neighbor boy scrambled in to be in the picture too — and stood right in front of the new door. This neighbor boy, the tall drink of water, would years later marry the little girl, and they would be my mother’s parents.

The Johnson place

On our trip, we visited the site of the farm, and saw what was left (just near-buried concrete foundations). This picture shows the hill where the house stood.

The Johnson place 2016

Thus pass the glories of this world. Also its humilities.


I’ve written before, somewhere on this blog (or its previous incarnation) about doing some genealogical detective work. I found a grave for a distant relative in Norway who was curious to find out what had happened to his great-grandfather. I took some pride in hunting the grave down, because I’m not a man designed by nature for sleuth work. Curiosity is not my strong suit, and I’d rather go to the dentist than ask a stranger a question.

There was another family mystery I thought I’d solved too. One of my great-grandfathers was mysterious in his origins. I didn’t know where he was born, and I wanted to know.

But my mother had told me some things about him, and I’d taken notes. One thing she said was that he came from an island known as the “middle island,” which was the largest island in Norway.

I did some web searching, and at last discovered that the island of Hinnøy, almost in the Lofotens, is in fact the largest in Norway, and somewhere I found it referred to as the “middle island.” So obviously, my ancestor must have come from there.

“Wrong, Watson,” said Holmes, smacking him with the Persian slipper.

A family member recently made contact with some relatives who had the straight dope, documents and all. Our great-grandfather came from the island of Ytterøy, near Trondheim.

I plead in my defense that Mom’s clues were misleading. Or someone misinformed her.

This is what comes from unreliable genes. No wonder I grew up to be a novelist.