Saturday, January 27, 2018

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks - Invite to Dinner

My mother and me raking leaves ca. 1971.
When I first saw Amy Johnson Crow's prompt for this week, I started making a mental list of all the ancestors who died before I was born who I might want to have for dinner. Would it be my 2nd great-grandfather, Benjamin Smith, so I could ask him who his parents were and exactly where he was born? Or would it be my 4th great-grandmother, Betsey Kezar, who was Hatley, Quebec's first schoolteacher, making her way home each evening through thick woods always on the lookout for bears apparently, until she married Moses Bean, raising at least six children in the virtual wilderness?

The answer that I came away with surprised even me. Although there were many tempting guests, my ancestor dinner would only include people who I knew in life. I would have one last holiday dinner with both of my parents and all of my grandparents; out of, this group only my mother and I are still alive.



Thanksgiving 2010 was the first time that I had the opportunity to host Thanksgiving dinner. My father, who was almost always the holiday cook, had passed away in 2005. After that, we had Thanksgiving at the Long Island Ronald McDonald House where Donalds' mother, the House Manager, spent all day in the kitchens making dinner for dozens of guests. In 2010 she had retired and was recovering from minor surgery, giving me the opportunity to host.



That morning I was out of bed before sunrise and out walking our dog, DJ, while there was still a hint of darkness to the West and a little bit of fog. The village was eerily quiet as we set out with no one in sight. A few blocks into our walk, we found ourselves at the corner of the street where I grew up, our little house about six houses down. In the quiet and fog and nostalgia of that morning I had this overwhelming feeling that if I just turned the corner instead of crossing the street as planned, that I would find that the clock had turned back over thirty years; my grandfather Matthews' Buick would be in the driveway, my father would be in the kitchen and one of my Grandmother Matthews' infamous cheesecakes would be tempting us from inside the fridge.



What an amazing day it would be; the house filled with the aroma of the turkey roasting in the oven, maybe a fire going in the fireplace, definitely the sounds of laughter if my grandfather Smith was regaling us with a story or two.



I would ask all the questions I would never have thought or known to ask the last time we were all together for Christmas in 1978. I would gather all of those mystery photos and take copious notes about the subjects and the events. I would tell my grandfather that I had found his parents' wedding date and the last name of his father's first wife.

Mostly though, I would revel in the unconditional love of my parents and grandparents and the familiarity of our little house on Windsor Avenue. And before the spell was broken and DJ and I returned home, I would make sure that they all knew how that love was returned.

Friday, January 19, 2018

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks - Longevity

This week's prompt for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge is Longevity.



This is Lillian Hildur Ingeborg Johnson, my paternal grandmother's first cousin, photographed at my grandparents' 50th wedding anniversary in 1981.

I didn't know Aunt Lil, as she was known to me, very well, I am sorry to say. Since I began researching my family I have discovered that she was a very interesting person, and I wish I had known her better.

Aunt Lil in an undated photo seated between my great-uncles.

Aunt Lil was born on February 16, 1897 in South Manchester, CT to Anna Olivia Johnson and Carl Johan Johnson, a police officer. (Anna Olivia was the sister of my great-grandmother who I mentioned in my last post. They came to America together with their friend Selma.) She also had twin brothers, Ragnar Wilbert Luther and Carl Herbert Martin born in 1903 (3).

Lillian married Harry Leonard Gustafson on August 12, 1922, in Manchester. Together they had one son, Donald Harry born in 1927. Harry predeceased Lillian in 1978 (3).


Undated photo probably taken in the mid- to late-1950s. Lillian and Harry are circled.

When I was preparing for my first visit to Manchester as a researcher and the first since my childhood, I was very surprised to learn that Aunt Lil lived to be 107, dying in 2004, just one year before my own father.


According to an online obituary and an issue of the journal of the Manchester Historical Society which I have yet to verify with original records, she was the charter member of the society, which thrives to this day, and one of the first women to vote in the State of Connecticut (6). A videotaped interview with Lillian was inventoried in the donation of another member of the historical society. I have been trying to track it down but haven't had any luck so far.

I plan to research Lillian's life further and honor her memory by telling more of her story.



(1) Johnson, Lillian Hildur Ingeborg. Photograph taken in October of 1981, privately held by Anna C. Matthews [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Rockville Centre, NY, 2018. The image was digitized from a slide among a collection of the Anna’s father’s slides and was given to her by her stepmother December 25, 2006, her father having died in 2005. The image was cropped to highlight the subject.

(2) Johnson, Lillian Hildur Ingeborg. Photograph taken ca. 1899 or 1900 as estimated by the apparent age of Lillian who was born in February of 1897, privately held by Anna C. Matthews, see above. It was found in the basement of her stepmother’s home in 2015. Subjects are identified by number and by writing on the back of the photo. The writing is believed to be that of Anna’s grandmother, Dagmar Alice Viola Anderson.

(3) Annie & Bertil Freidlitz, Kyrkebo-Släkten Släktbok for Ättlingar Till Helje Larsson och Maria Ericsdotter I Kyrkebo, N. Hestra [Kyrkebo Family Book for Descendants of Helje Larsson and Maria Ericsdotter from Kyrkebo, N. Hestra], 1968; I: Andra grenen [Second branch] VIII: 4-1 Privately held by Anna C. Matthews, This book offers only a generic list of sources consulted with no specific documentation for any piece of data.

(4) Johnson, Lillian Hildur Ingeborg and Gustafson, Harry Leonard. Photograph taken ca. 1955 as estimated by the apparent ages of the subjects, privately held by Anna C. Matthews, see above. It was found in the basement of her stepmother’s home in 2015. Subjects are identified on the back of the photo. The writing is believed to be that of Anna’s grandmother, Dagmar Alice Viola Anderson.

(5) Headstone of Lillian Hildur Ingeborg Johnson. Photograph taken on May 2, 2015, at East Cemetery, Manchester, CT, and privately held by Anna C. Matthews. She rests in the same plot as her husband and other members of the Gustafson family.


(6) “We Will Miss…” The Courier, quarterly newsletter of the Manchester Genealogical Society, Inc. -  39, No. 4 (September 2004): 5.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks - Favorite Photo

Nothing like a photo prompt to get me to join a blogging challenge!

Since uncovering car-loads of genealogical goodies in my stepmother's basement two years ago, this wedding photo of my paternal grandmother's parents on their wedding day has become my favorite photo.


My great-grandparents, Carl Johan Anderson and Mathilda Alfina Johnson, were married at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in South Manchester, CT on August 4, 1893.

Carl and Alfina knew each other in Sweden and were childhood sweethearts. They immigrated to America separately in 1888 and 1890 respectively, Carl alone and Alfina with her sister Anna and friend Selma. Carl found permanent work as a velvet weaver at a large mill in Manchester within eight months of his arrival and eventually they were able to build their own home, half of which was a boarding house.

Carl and Alfina had three children who all lived to adulthood: Axel Henrik Waldemar born in 1894, Elmer Carl Ragnar born in 1896 and my grandmother, Dagmar Alice Viola born in 1905.

Alfina died in 1955, Carl in 1956. I believe that they both died at a home in Massachusetts near their son Axel, but I have yet to verify this. They are buried in East Cemetery, South Manchester, CT in a plot with their boys and their wives, and Elmer's son who died at nine days old. Buried near them in their own family plots are Alfina's friend Selma and her sister Anna.


Anderson, Carl Johan and Johnson, Mathilda Alfina. Photograph taken 1893 privately held by Anna C. Matthews, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Rockville Centre, NY, 2018. It was found in the basement of her stepmother's home in 2015, her father having died in 2005. Subjects are identified by writing on the back as well as their resemblance to other photos.