Welte Family History Research

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For over 40 years, I have been researching my family history. Now that I'm retired, I can devote more time and effort into more research, compilation, and organization of that work! Over the past 12 years, I have been very fortunate in teaching genealogy classes, along with my computer experience, at Blackhawk Technical College. I've also created a business - "Field of Genes" - a "Ride-N-Seek" experience to help other families find their own ancestors.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

52 Ancestors: #12 Beryl Imogene Swanson and Some Not-So-Wonderful South Dakota Memories

Mom’s Young Years
In 1925, my mother, Beryl Imogene Swanson, was born on the rented Gardner farm in Broadland, near Huron, South Dakota. After her family moved to another farm in the surrounding area, she and her younger brother, Wendell, would play hopscotch in the dirt. They lived there until 1934 when they moved to northern Minnesota.

Back Row - Maxine, Teckla,
Front Row - Beryl, Thelma
When my mom was just a baby, her sister, Thelma, who was seven years old, wanted to hold her and my grandmother said it was okay. Thelma was trying to go down a flight of stairs at the time, but she lost her footing. My mom, who was in a blanket, fell out of her sister’s arms and tumbled the rest of the way on her head to the bottom of the stairs! My mother always said that she had a head injury that day and that was why she wasn’t as smart as her siblings. She always said that she couldn’t understand why her mother would allow a seven-year-old child to hold a baby while going down the stairs.

Gypsy Fears
In the South Dakota years, gypsies roamed the countryside. As a form of fear and punishment, my grandmother would tell my mother and her siblings that if they didn’t listen to her and do what they wanted, she would “sell them to the gypsies” when they came through the town.

The gypsies would have large wagons filled with what they were selling, along with their own worldly belongings, a team of horses in front, and straggler horses, dogs, and children lagging behind. They were considered an inferior group of people, and it was rumored they drove through cities and farmlands and snatched children from their families to sell them and make money. As a young child, my mother didn’t know any different and she was fearful when the gypsies appeared on the roads. In her later years, she finally found out that these stories were untrue.

End-of-the-World Fanatics
Even in the early days on the South Dakota plains, there were those who believed that the world would come to an end on a specific date. My mother told me of several times when complete families, with their so-called faith leaders, would go to the highest point in the area, a mound, or a ridge, and claim to be ready to “meet their maker.” The group would then stand and pray that they would be taken to see their God because they were ready to go.

After a few hours, however, no light appeared, no clouds parted, and no voice came from heaven. With heavy hearts, they dispersed and went down the hillside to wait for another day. My mother said that over a short period of time, the group would be there again, in their designated places, and pray for the end to come, but it never did!

School Day Taunts
My mom wore flour-sack dresses to the one-room country schoolhouse outside of Huron. Her mother used to get cotton flour sacks which happened to have a flower design. When she could afford it, her mother ordered material from Sears so that she could make mom’s dresses with straight seams. She remembered that her schoolmates used to say about her - “Here comes the girl with the flour-sack dresses.”

Mom’s sister, Georgia, sent clothes back home which were former “flapper” dresses that she had from nightclubs. Mom sometimes was embarrassed because these “flapper” dresses had sequins which did not go over too well at the one-room school house with the schoolteacher.

Depression Years
She and her parents lived through the Depression which was from 1929 through 1940 and was known as the “Dirty 30s.” Her mother was never able to really clean  because when the dust storms came through, lasting for several hours at a time, there would be an inch of dust on everything in the house. She remembered that the as the storm hit their house, she would see the dust “sift through” cracks in the wall. What made it worse was that there was no electricity or running water, but they did have an artesian well.

Even though my grandmother was a good cook, during the Depression, sometimes there was only oatmeal or raisin-sauce on bread slices that they had for dinner. Thank goodness there was a garden because that supplied much of the needed vegetables. If you were lucky, you could have meat or your own chickens or turkeys and have a nice Sunday turkey dinner.

With her hand-me-down clothes from her sisters, mom always tried to hide the pictures of her in her “snuggies” that fell around her ankles. Then to her surprise, one of the relatives would go through their photo albums and bring out the same picture!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

52 Ancestors: #11 Rocks, Weeds, Grass, and Stone

Rocks, Weeds, Grass, and Stone

I went back to find my life in the past
Safe in the thought that memories last
But with the setting sun where there once was a home
I could find only rocks, weeds, grass, and stone

Steps are all that remains of Zaiser School 
Bigfork, Minnesota

Silence surrounds me there all alone
I remember the places that I’ve always known
 Just like the wind, once here then gone,
They’re now filled with rocks, weeds, grass and stone

My ancestor’s graves lie there on the hill
Marked reminders of time that just seems to stand still
I can only imagine the wind carrying their souls
Up to heaven from rocks, weeds, grass, and stone

I try hard to find just what life somehow means
I close my eyes and think of lost dreams
Just like their graves and their homes that are gone
I now only find rocks, weeds, grass, and stone

If all of those souls came back here to earth
They’d probably smile and question life’s worth
Had they made a difference before being called home?
Or were they just memories in rocks, weeds, grass, and stone

I went back to find my life in the past
Safe in the thought that memories last
Those memories are with me, they’re all that I own
Till I’m buried beneath rocks, weeds, grass, and stone

Copyright © 2014 Deborah I. Welte Gosa. All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

52 Ancestors: #10 Three Different Ways of Getting Around - The Welte Way

It’s great to know how our ancestors traveled from one place to another, and I know that this is the case for all generations. In the first example, family gatherings brought everyone together and before cars and trucks, there was “horsepower.” The next example is that having a nice car said much about how successful a man was in order to provide for his family and to be respected in the community. Lastly, it was not always about getting to a destination that mattered, but the interesting story about “who was driving what” that made for a good laugh.

My grandfather, William Welte, was an early homesteader in the northern Minnesota area of Bigfork. Here is a picture of the William Welte Rivernook Farm and the house in the middle of the picture where my dad grew up. In 1913, it looks like there was a family gathering or a holiday that brought everyone to the farm. The horses in the picture were, of course, one of the ways to get from Point A to Point B in the early days. I tell my grandchildren that there were no cars and that horses were very important to each family. The horses are covered with "fly covers" because with the northern Minnesota heat and humidity, the horses needed extra protection against big deer flies, horse flies, and mosquitos. Their eyes opened wide when I told them how big those insects get and that they really bite!

The next picture is William’s 1923 Willys Overland touring car. My uncle, Harold, pictured here as the eldest of William’s boys, sitting on the running board, had written on the border of the photo that this car was a “Red Bird” touring car with “maroon buff top Red wheels, 4 cyl” and the car was a Model 92 which boasted a “…rich Mandalay maroon finish, khaki top, nickel trimmings…” according to an old postcard[1]. His dad, William, who was a very influential person in the Bigfork, Minnesota area, died about six years later.

The Welte bus, driven by William, was another example of how important each vehicle was to transport children to the area schoolhouses in and around the Bigfork area. It even looks like him in the driver’s seat! But William was not the only one who drove that old bus. My own dad, Irving, had a frightening experience according to the story that his mother told me. My dad had turned up missing and she couldn’t find him anywhere. There was a river behind the Rivernook Farm and a wooden pile bridge that connected one piece of farm land to another. She pointed to the remaining pilings in the river of where the bridge used to be located and she said the next thing she knew, she saw the bus coming across the bridge. She knew that it wasn’t her husband, William, because he was in the house. She saw the bus slowly and gingerly cross the bridge at a slow speed, and she had a suspicious feeling that she knew who was driving the vehicle. It was my dad! He was about 7 years old and she figured out very quickly that he had to have a little help with reaching all of the controls. He had put a wooden block on the accelerator pedal so that he could push it down and drive the bus over the bridge. He did quite well, but he did get into trouble for it and he never did it again!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

52 Ancestors: #9 The Importance of Keeping Family Treasures

How sad it is when family members want to clean out their desks, closets, or attics, and then they quickly throw away memories such as letters, receipts, pictures, etc. without knowing that others think of them as treasures. These pieces of family history may never be seen again. It is very important that you let other family members know of your interest in these items so that they will not be thrown away.

I remember my mother told me about the time when her family was cleaning out her own maternal grandmother’s home after she died. They came across a phonograph player that was in the attic. My mother said that her mother didn’t see the importance of keeping such an ornate machine as the phonograph because it wouldn’t be needed anymore. My mother said that they just threw it out with the rest of the unwanted items and pieces of furniture. She said that she wished now they had not thrown it away because that machine would be priceless today in regard to our family history.

The phonograph was probably played quite a bit out on the South Dakota prairie because my grandmother, Teckla Esterberg Swanson, liked to play the piano, especially for church socials and dances. There was no electricity, so kerosene lamps were hung on the walls of the church where couples danced by the light’s amber glow. My mom not only remembered her mother playing uplifting ragtime tunes on their upright piano, but also mom closed her eyes and envisioned her mom’s wavy curls bouncing up and down, in time to the beat. I close my eyes and I can see that vision in my own mind’s eye and I can almost hear the music!