If Only November Had Been August: What Came Next

In our last post, we lamented the heartbreaking emigration from Norway to Wisconsin of titleonlywidgetMathias Olson, and his sister, Henriette. It was late 1887. She was about to celebrate her 13th birthday and he was months beyond eleven.  We have no account of first sight of a father not seen in six years, or of their mother, not hugged, in one. We know nothing of how the family celebrated Henriette’s first teenaged day, or of the travelers’ first American Christmas.


Those things we will likely never know. But, we have it on good authority that 1888 began with their father, Ole Hemmingson a widower.1 Their mother had spent much of her own immigrant time preparing for the birth of George, who had blessed the family in October. Our dearest hope remains that she lived to welcome Henriette and Mathias to their new land.  This begins the tale of what happened next.

This New Year’s Day came thirty-three days after the children docked in New York.2 Now Ole, Henriette and Mathias were not the only ones grieving. Three younger siblings emigrated with their mother in 1886.2 They had already relinquished their Olson surname to Hemmingson, to conform to American custom.  It was now time for the elder two. It would have been a fun distraction, for name changes did not end there.  Eight-year-old Marie, could still be Marie. But Harald would be Harry, and Einar would be Ed. The younger children would giggle as Etta and Matt forgot themselves or uttered names with Norwegian inflection. Better command of American English would go to the younger three, to the dismay of the elder two. We can imagine word games, aplenty.

Aunt Pauline and Uncle Lars Rued lived right next door, but  in farm context.3 Pauline was Ole’s sister. They had a number of children already, with a new one expected. George’s care, then, most likely fell to Etta. After all, she had just proven herself, being in charge of Matt on their journey together. Lars was a farmer, but Ole had two jobs; his farm and his day labor of road construction and surveying.1 3 Matt most likely freed some time for Ole, by working the farm.

Family lore tells us that Matt had only a fourth grade education. He was our grandfather, so, we heard about him. More than likely, Etta got no more schooling either, beyond what she got in Norway. That Ole had a Civil Engineering Degree hints to the hard choices that he had to make for them. The younger children probably fared better in the schooling department.


The family lived in Mason, Bayfield County. Raspberry Island, one of Lake Superior’s Apostle Islands, is in Bayfield County too.  Old World Wisconsin includes a one-room sOWWpathchoolhouse taken from Raspberry Island, as part of its wonderful Norwegian Homestead experience. As the building is ca 1900, it is a decade too new to exactly mimic what our family would have attended. Even so, two of Matt’s descendants recently tried it out, to their great pleasure. Actually, OWW is treasured family destination.  One never tires of strolling with our ancients, with picnic spot picking in mind. 


In truth our generation’s eldest attended a one-room schoolhouse while we lived in Port Renfrew, BC. “Really, Mormor” questions the grandchild? “Really?” Yes, really!


Matt and Harry: Matt was not destined for life as a farmer. John Hemmingsen, his son and our father, wrote our Family History. He noted that Matt started working on river drives in 1890. He was just fourteen and setting out to become an entrepreneurial “Woods Pioneer”. He is subject of many posts under “Memories”.  Dad said:

 “In Wisconsin, logs were brought out of the forest by horse-power dragging a sled loaded with logs in winter time, on snow roads. These logs were then decked* by river banks until spring when rivers were in flood – at which time the decked logs were put into the raging waters and so the river drive commenced.”

Sadly, the logging account went on.

“* Note: in 1892-1893 Harry and Matt were working on one of these decking operations when a log near the top of the deck slipped out of its parbuckle and rolled down, killed Harry, in sight of brother Matt.”

Now we know that Harry was a hard working young teenager too and a casualty, at about fourteen. Their first parting had been in 1886, when Harry accompanied their mother to America. The boys were about a year and half apart, such that the rupture would have been particularly painful. Witnessing Harry’s death after being together again, now by six years, must have been pure agony. Matt was unable to use his brother’s name for his sons. Harry was irreplaceable.

One more note on Matt to complete his early profile:

“By 1894, Matt had created a more than first class reputation for this abilities in all phases of the logging and delivery systems in use in Wisconsin. He came to the notice of Mr. Humbird, who, with the Weyerhaeusers, owned and operated a very large logging and sawmilling company in Wisconsin. In 1894, Matt accepted that company’s offer of a job of supervising a large area of Humbird’s logging operation.”

Ed: Meanwhile, Ed was heavily involved in both the farm and logging.  

Etta: Dear Etta must have been one of those marvelously accomplished young women, full of grace and caring.  Matt had been entrusted to her care on their emigrant journey, and possibly for the year of their mother’s absence. She was just a child herself. That quest ended with her becoming sister-mother to five siblings. We saw in a prior post, that at sixteen, in October of 1892, she had just completed a trip to Emmet County Iowa to assist her dying Aunt Anna. Anna was a “double-aunt” being Ole’s sister, whose husband was Berith’s brother.  Etta was also a farmer.  Matt honored her in the naming of his first child, Margaret Henrietta.

Ole and Aletta: Ole married Aletta Ingebrightson in April of 1892.5 She and her son, Torger, did not arrive in the US until mid-1888.3 It is not clear when she began as housekeeper to Ole and his children. They had seven children together. Since George and Torger were both born in 1887, the marriage started off with two five-year-olds – and a newborn about to follow. The marriage probably freed Etta up to travel to Iowa for Aunt Anna.

Marie: Sadly, little is known of Marie. Like her mother, only an emigrant record and corresponding ship’s manifest document her in the United States. Dad wrote that she succumbed to tuberculosis around 1898, when nineteen. Etta was six years her senior, and only sister. We shall see about George, that it was probably in Etta’s loving care, that Marie passed. Matt named his second child Agnes Marie, but she was known as Marie.

WHAT CAME NEXT: 1900 -1903

Etta Church and George: Aletta’s youngest child was under one year at the 1900 Census.3 She was expecting another. Not surprisingly, twelve-year-old George was found with Etta in the adjacent county of Ashland. The census commenced in June. June marked both the census and Etta’s marriage to the farmer, William Wallace Church, such that she was enumerated as his wife. 5 George was both a farm laborer for 3 months, and at school for the other three.

George died of appendicitis not long after the census take.1 Etta, the child, had cared for him at infancy through their first bereavement, she had cared for him during his childhood, and in her arms, her little American brother sobbed his pain, and passed. Etta died childless. In the best sense she did not, for the goodness of her being entered the essence of her brothers, so they passed her love down.  

US Census 1900, Others: The census enumerated the seven children of Ole and Aletta. He was a day laborer, living on a mortgage free farm.  They were still right next door to Ole’s sister Pauline Rued. Torger was missed in the census, but not gone. Ed was a laborer in a lumber mill and Matt, in a lumber camp.  They were all in Mason Town, Bayfield County.

Ole Mathias Hemmingson (1851-1903) 

Berith Hass Mathisdatter left Ole with six children. They were from almost thirteen to newborn. Ole left Aletta Ingebrightson with eight, including her son, Torger, at sixteen. Her seven with Ole were twelve to newborn.  Their story will be told in a later post. 


After Ole died, Etta, Matt and Ed migrated to the west coast. Etta and William Wallace Church settled in northwestern Washington State, Matt went to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. Ed was variously of Washington State and Vancouver Island.  

Ed and Anna Tobias Thompson: Ed married Anna who arrived from Norway in 1901. Their marriage record was not found, but their George was born in Washington State around 1907.3 They were close to Matt in 1911 in Comox-Atlin BC and to Etta in 1920 in Whatcom County WA.3,4 They later came back to BC.  

Ed was an entrepreneur too; a farmer, hotelier and lumberman. He named his son George. 

Matt and Caroline Dybedal: Matt was found in the 1905 Wisconsin State Census at Mason, next door to Lars and Pauline Rued. He had married Caroline on May 17 1905.5 Neither Etta nor Ed were enumerated in the census. They were probably already west.

Dad wrote: “About a month before leaving Wisconsin for Chemainus, B. C., Mathias (Matt) Hemmingsen had married Caroline Dybedal. On arriving in Chemainus, Caroline was so ill (diagnosed with T.B.) they returned to Wisconsin where she died in Feb. 1907. Matt returned to Chemainus shortly after the funeral”. 

Dad’s statement has an underlying significance. Matt was on a path to a remarkable career. Family mattered more. He put his job on hold to take his dear ailing wife home. He stayed by her side until he was needed no more. Granddad had that goodness about him for family, for friends, and for his employees and colleagues. So did Etta and Ed.

Matt married Margaret Naysmith Alexander in 1910 and their granddaughter is writing this. 

Etta, Matt and Ed Grew Older

The siblings lived productively well into their 80s and 90s. They will be found in stories under “Memories”

Documentation after Wisconsin almost always cited Wisconsin birth instead of Norway.  It feels as though they had made a pact; a recognition of their common trauma in their immigration experience. 

You know, you can see northern Washington State from Southern Vancouver Island. Three very dear hearts were never without each other again.

Articles published by doublegenealogytheadoptionwitness are copyright © Marilee Wein 2018-2019. All rights reserved.

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