Our Dahlby Family: First Others in Cumberland WI

Gunder Olsen Dahlby and our own Elen Oline Olsdatter were storied pioneers in the annals of Wisconsin immigration. Their Norwegian heritage was equally exciting and largely unknown in those tales, so we will meld their old and new world experiences.

If the Church Books be true, then Gunder arrived in Elen’s neighborhood in 1871.1 They married that very May on its 29th day from her Nerli farm in the Hatfjelldal Parish of Nordland County. Surely we missed something. By April of 1873, they had packed up their movable belongings for Wisconsin, along with Elen’s son from a previous liaison.

Elen fit into our family as pictured in the 1865 census. Gunder Olsen, who had moved to Oslo in 1862, was born on the Dahlbye Farm in Hedmark’s Vang Parish, in 1842.2 (His earlier heritage is captured in Note A, after the post.) Elen’s niece, housemate and bosom pal on the Nerli Farm was our great-aunt Pauline, who was daughter to the cousin-couple, Hemming Paulsen and Gurine Olsdatter, of the Grorli Farm.

We had lauded Elen not only as a woman, but also, as the only emigrant fathered by our patriarch, Ole Hemmingsen. Our last post, though, showed that her brother, Andreas, tested the waters first and literally so. He sailed off to Quebec in 1868, almost undetected, but snuck back to Norway to marry on 9 June of 1872. Celebration of that happy event would no doubt replay time and again for Gunder and Elen when in Wisconsin.

Now, with the comings and goings of the almost-emigrant Andreas amplified by the to-dos of Gunder and Elen, well, Ole Hemmingsen’s head might just have exploded over Nerli! He had not yet adjusted to the death of his brother Paul. That was in 1869 and although Paul was not a young man, his demise narrowly followed the near concurrent three-generational emigration of both their widowed sister-in-law and sister to Minnesota – our “Mali Matriarker” of the last post.

When was it going to stop? It would not, for Ole, now seventyish would reach ninety-six, with ships ever increasingly to sail his loved ones westward. Many would stay home, whom we have sketched via PDFCLICK, and many would go. But then, had not Ole and Paul set the stage in the first place, by their 1840s migration from Nord-Trondelag County to Nordland?

Stay tuned; worse crises hit Ole and his Inger between now and when the Elen story repeated itself at the dawn of the next decade, in that of co-conspirator, Pauline. The women’s tales were matched by improbable husbands, both outsiders wedded in 1871. The gentlemen, each born in 1842 and from Hedmark via Oslo, came, saw and squired their ladies across the sea; one sooner, one later. That Ole was upset is not an idle notion, rather, such was put to Pauline’s words a century later, voiced by her daughter, Gina. It was Gina who threw out the name “Dahlby” and that tidbit of connection resulted in this series.

Of course, all this leave taking was in response to the famine in Europe at the end of the Little Ice Age. Some simply had to go elsewhere. Elsewhere for Gunder was Wisconsin; now, on with that.


How Gunder was important to Wisconsin was told by a local, Ruth Walton, in “The History of the City of Cumberland”, published by the Cumberland Advocate.3 Our Gina showed he was just as important in our family as the point of US contact for our later Wisconsin-bound emigrants.

Walton reflected that the Dahlby threesome first located to central Wisconsin at Stevens Point, in Portage County. He worked in a sawmill, but had homesteading skills behind sawmilling.

The next year, 1874, he was advised of an opportunity in the more northern Barron County, on an island at Beaver Dam Lake. It became Cumberland. He speculated on 80 unseen acres there, but then we knew him as a risk taker! Dahlbys were its first non-indigenous settlers.


Still 1874, Gunder built an 18 square foot log cabin on this land. The family shared it with the next settler who arrived that December – and with the next. At least they were already acquainted. Unimaginably, in order to get build-ready for spring, the men split pine blocks inside, in the dead of winter. They made shingles and such.

Walton noted he did not successfully farm the homestead. Gina opined he worked better with his mind, so, instead, he logged and employed his oxen team to supply goods to areas of railroad construction – and listened. Soon a larger home was built; one floor with two rooms that was designed by an architect.


Gunder was thirty-eight in 1880. His year looked never ending, but it left solid documentary evidence on which we could add to, and back up his timeline and the tales that were told.

Local lore tells of a wedding at the new house in April of 1880. The bride was Elen’s niece, Susan Marie Olsen, born 1857, in Norway. It is also recorded in Wisconsin marriage records where her mother was disclosed as Ingaborg Olsdatter, who is pictured in the above graphic.4 Old Ole Hemmingsen must have been grief stricken when this granddaughter sailed off to America.

The chronicle mentioned that Gunder later admitted to having mitigated his risk by reckoning that the proposed North Wisconsin Railway would not only be approved, but would intersect his island. Now, having worked hard and smart on this and winning this bet on the land, he deemed 1880 the year to sell his homestead. It went to a lumber company.

Hindsight reveals his obvious added insight: a port on Lake Superior, Ashland WI, was to be the northern terminus of the railway. Merchandizing and logging enterprise along the expanding rail route would be his way forward.

After the homestead sold, Walton moved Gunder a tad north to Spooner WI and noted him as its U.S. Postmaster, with a small store. It was actually Chandler then, but Federal Records confirm this appointment effective January 6, 1881.5

However, 1880 was a Federal Census year. “Keeps store” is how Gunnard Dalby and Elen O. were captured at Wood Lake, Burnett County, WI on the 1st day of June 1880.6 Wood Lake is about 40 miles due west of Spooner. Spooner is 22 miles north of Cumberland and follows the rail expansion, which reached Spooner in this timeframe.

Gunder’s influence may have been on display. Census 1880 showed that Edwin Dahlby remained in Cumberland. At just fifteen, he was a telephone operator. This first high technology social media was only three years into Wisconsin. Would not such a forward looking sit-down job be highly prized? (Edwin and his parents remained very close; his heritage and that of his marital family is given as Note B.)

In December of 1880, Gina’s father set forth from Norway, for Cable WI in Bayfield County. Forty miles northeast of Spooner, it had attained the status of rail destination that November. His contact was “Dahlby”. Soon exclamations went home of Gunder’s successful logging business and general store. However, the town burnt to the ground in 1882, leaving no record to clarify if there had been yet another store.

That was the life of Gunder Dahlby in 1880. Would it have been materially different than any other, for this man who left home in 1862 for Oslo, at 20, was at Elen’s at 29 and in Wisconsin at 31?


The next mention of a successful general store came from Gina’s father in 1882 with respect to Mason WI. It was fifteen miles south of the port of Ashland. That was the year John Alexander Humbird built a sawmill on the White River and founded the town.7 Pauline was already two years at home there, and that was the year her brother, Ole, our great-grandfather, arrived.

Gunder and Elen, Pauline’s sidekick, stayed put for a bit. Our granddad Matt Hemmingsen, Ole’s son, did not arrive there until aged eleven, in December of 1887. For all the hardship associated with his late arrival, he may have taken heart to find his family celebrated.

G. Dahlby, chairman of the town of Mason, was in the city Monday for a few hours.

E.M. Dahlby, of Mason, came up Thursday night to attend the masquerade ball.

The Washburn News, Washburn, WI, November 26, 1887.8


Early 1895, Gunder and Elen joined Edwin and his family in North Branch, Chisago County, MN where the men were merchants.9 By 1900, Edwin was named household head; Gunder was listed, but with no occupation mentioned. He was now fifty-eight. He passed on 25 February 1901.10

Dahlby: Monday of this week a telegram from E. M. Dahlby, of North Branch, Minnesota, to the publisher of the Press, announced the death of his father, Gunder Dahlby, a former prominent citizen of this county. Mr. Dahlby was the pioneer merchant at Mason and for years was chairman of that town and a member of the county board. (BCP 2MR1901)

Bayfield County Press, Bayfield WI, 2 March 1901

We do not want to overstate or understate in this reveal of ancestors.  We do not know if Gunder had an ever moving singleton, or a network of stores. On the other hand, the History of Cumberland did not include that in 1878, he was permitted to maintain a Ferry at Beaver Dam Lake.11 It is safe to conclude, though, that he and his family were forward thinking, enterprising and engaged citizens of their new country.


Elen Oline Olsdatter, Ellen O. Narle (Nerli), Ellen O. Dahlby survived her husband and two sons. Andrew, her son with Gunder, was born in Cumberland, but lost in infancy, according to Walton. He is not found in record, other than by Elen’s haunting tick on her 1900 Census attesting to two live-born children; one deceased. Her parents would have yet been alive. That is our untold early pioneer agony, for mother, Inger, was not available to comfort her, through his birth or death.

Elen moved to Saint Paul MN with Edwin and his family after Gunder died. Her 1910 Census has her as a wage earner; a Commercial Agent for Freight Lines. Has not that the ring of a seasoned silent business partner of many years running and the strong woman behind a successful man?

The family maintained a home at 1168 Portland Avenue from at least 1908 until 1924.12 Edwin passed in Saint Paul in 1922. Elen died on 28 February 1926 in Juneau County, WI.13 Mausten there was the birthplace of her daughter-in-law, Lena, and is likely where they moved together, after the home sold.

We are going to leave our dear great-great-aunt enjoying a picnic in 1920 and full of life – a pioneer picnic at Cumberland, in Barron County of Wisconsin, in the United States of America.14 She is its first female European settler and now, at 75 years of age, is telling of the old times. Ole Hemmingsen would have been perfectly proud of his Elen, this daughter of the Nerli farm in Hattfjelldal Parish of Nordland County of the Nord-Norge Region of Norway.

Notes and Sources

Update: the graphic display was updated on 03-10-2023

Note A: Heritage of Gunder O Dahlby (1842-1901); [Gunder Olsen, Gunder Olsen Dahlby]. Born 23 Oct 1842 on Dahlbye Farm in Vang Parish of Hedmark County, Norway. Church Book (CB) from Vang Parish (P), Vang Local P. 1832-1854) // On 1824-06-10, Ole Olsen, b. abt. 1800, wed Oliv Borresdatter of Melbye, Vang, Hedmark, b. abt. 1803. Oliv died in 1861, at Dahlbye, Vang Parish, and Ole, between 1847 and 1865. CB from Vang P. 1813-1817. // Church Books from Vang Parish suggest the following children for Gunder’s parents: Agnetha 1824, Borre 1827, Ole 1832, and at Dahlbye; Olea 1835, Gunder 1842, Sivert 1845. // The 1824 marriage document named Ole’s father as Jacob Schieset and Oliv’s, as Gulbrand Schieset. Perhaps the reference was to rural residence Schiseth Ovre or Schiesæt, Vang. Oliv’s parents were possibly Borre Gulbrandsen and Marthe Jorgensdtr who wed in 1802. // Gunder left Vang for Kristiania (Oslo) on 1862-05-12, migrated into Hatfjelldal in 1871 where he wed Elen Oline Olsdatter. They emigrated from there in 1873. CB from Vang P., Vang Local P. 1855-1870. CB from Hatfjelldal P. 1860-1878. Gunder had a biological son, Andrew, who died in infancy, and Edvin Marius.

Note B: Heritage of Edwin M Dahlby (1865-1922) and his family. [Edvin Marius, Edvin Marius Sachariassen/Zachariassen]. Born 5 Mar 1865 to tailor, Edvard Zacharissen and Elen Olsdtr – Church Book from Hattfjelldal Parish 1860-1878. Death 27 Apr 1822 at Ramsey, MN – Minnesota Death Index, Ancestry.com. // Gunder Dahlby married Elen Olsdtr in 1871 and assumed loving responsibility; the three emigrated in 1873. // Edwin married Lena Alsbacher in her town of birth, Mausten, Juneau County WI, in 1891-source 4, below. Her folks were Isaac Alsbacher and Mary Barker of Mausten. Edwin gave himself as a banker of Grantsburgh WI and his mother as Ellen O Narle. He and Lena located to North Branch, MN around 1894. // Their daughter, Ruth A, had been born in Mausten in 1892- All Wisconsin, U.S. Birth Index 1808-1907. Edwin and Lena had a son Myron 1896-1897 – Findagrave.com Memorial ID 176198537, Mauston-Oakwood Cemetery. Mauston, WI. // Glenn Edwin Dahlby was born in North Branch in September 1901- Web: Minnesota, U.S. Birth Index, 1900-1934 at Ancestry.com. Glenn was part of the Saint Paul household until it sold around 1925 – Source 10 below. We left him at Census 1930, married, and in Fort Wayne, Allen, IN and Lena, widowed head of household in Mausten, Juneau, WI. // Then the 1950 Census became available. Ancestry.com: Lena, now 79 was living with her daughter, Ruth A Winsor in Eau Claire, Eau Claire, WI. Son-in-law George was a State bank examiner, and granddaughter, Jean, a college librarian. // Edvard Johan Zachariassen b. 14 Nov. 1835 Hemnes to Zacharias Hansen and Pernille Eliasdatter. CB from Hemnes P 1826-1841. In 1885, he married Maren Johanna Cristensdtr who was the widow of Ellen Dahlby’s cousin, Ole Paulsen. (see graphic above). CB Hatfjelldal P. 1878-1898. Edwin M Dahlby was the only child found for him.


Background for this genealogy comes from the Memoirs of Matt Hemmingsen, 1954, output of audio of Gina Dahlby Plocker (born Rued), 1959 and the family history of John O Hemmingsen,1999, all unpublished, and protected here. Other:

  1. Norwegian National Archives, digitalarkivet.no. At Nord-Norge, Nordland, Church book from Hattfjelldal parish 1860-1878 for data in ¶ 2,4,5,7.
  2. Norwegian National Archives, digitalarkivet.no At Ostlandet, Hedmark Church Book from Vang Parish, Vang Local Parish 1855-1870 for ¶3.
  3. Cumberland, Wisconsin’s Island City: Centennial 1874-1974. Published by the Cumberland Advocate 1974. Reference to Chapter 1, written by Ruth Walton entitled “Background and Early History” to “History of the City of Cumberland, History Through the Years” graciously permitted by its donor, Linda Mott.
  4. Pre-1907 Ashland-Barron: Wisconsin U.S. Marriage Records 1820-2004 for Susan Marie Olsen April 1880 at Ancestry.com and for Edwin M. Dahlby October of 1891.
  5. All U.S., Appointments of U. S. Postmasters, 1832-1971 for Gunder Dahlby at Ancestry.com
  6. US Federal Census Collection at Ancestry -years 1880-1950 at Ancestry.com
  7. Mason Area Historical Society Inc at MasonWisconsinHistory.org
  8. The Washburn News was accessed at newspaperabstracts.com
  9. Minnesota, U.S. Territorial and State Censuses 1849-1905 at Ancestry.com
  10. Minnesota Death Cards, Web: Minnesota, U.S. Obituary Index 1891-2003 Ancestry.com.
  11. Bill 293 A of 1878 – Journal of Proceedings of the Session of the Wisconsin Legislature by Wisconsin Legislature Assembly.
  12. U.S. City Directories 1822-1894; 1908-1924 for Saint Paul, MN at Ancestry.com
  13. Wisconsin, U.S., Death Records, 1959-2004 at Ancestry.com. While Ellen died in 1926, her record is referenced in this tranche at Ancestry, but its source is cited to Wisconsin Department of Health Services; Madison WI, Wisconsin Death Record, 1907-1932.
  14. The Cumberland Advocate 2020-07-08 Wed July 8, 2020. 1920: “Socialization Returns to the Island City” by Mark R. Fuller.

Updated 21 Sep 2022 with item 11

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