Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tombstone Tuesday - Another Brennan family tragedy

As I was wrapping up my post about Frances Alvira Brennan yesterday, I went looking for a little more information on Frances' parents and siblings. I found that her father, David D. Brennan, was a World War I veteran, having served as a medical officer in France from 1918-1919. I also found that he and his wife Clara Bergstad had several more children besides Ellen, Betty, and Frances. There were also Thelma, Violet Mae, Daniel, and Ida. Crazy that out of seven total children, only one was a boy.

Violet Mae Brennan memorial, Findagrave.com

David died in 1968, and was buried in Belfield Lutheran Cemetery in Belfield, North Dakota. I searched Findagrave.com to see if any other Brennans were buried there, and found David's wife Clara and daughter Violet. Violet's record stuck out because she was only 20 at the time of her death in 1954. I thought there had to be a story there, so I went looking. I soon found her death record, but from an unusual place - Washington state. How did she die in Washington when the rest of her family was in North Dakota?

I figured the best way to find out the rest of the story (if it could be found) would be in digitized newspapers, so I hit up Newspaper Archive (which I have a free subscription to thanks to my local library). I soon found what I was looking for: a death announcement from November 9, 1954.

The article said Violet (who was apparently living in Washington state at the time) fell out of a vehicle being driven by a Glenn Lamb, and that Lamb was subsequently charged with negligent homicide. That phrase really jumped out - negligent homicide. Glenn wasn't charged with outright murder, but it wasn't manslaughter either. The car was moving at 30-40 miles an hour when she "fell out". I thought there had to have been more going on, so I kept searching. Soon I found another article from a Spokane newspaper dated November 8, the day Violet died. It gave a little more information.
Spokane Daily Chronicle article about Violet's death
The additional information in this article was this - that Glenn Lamb and Violet Brennan had (according to an eyewitness) been having an argument and Violet had fallen out of the car during the argument. I don't know anyone who was sitting on the front porch of a cafĂ© (like the eyewitness was) and watching cars go by (which he must have been) could have known there was an argument between two people in a car going 30-40 miles an hour, unless there was something very obvious about that argument. And for Violet to "fall out" of the car during an argument suggests that, unless something really unusual was going on, she fell out because of something the driver did - maybe a punch, slap, push, or wild swerve? At any rate, it seems that things got out of control, and as a result, Violet lost her life. 
It was really heartbreaking to discover a second tragedy to hit David and Clara's family (third if you count the house fire and Frances' death as separate). I wonder how they coped with the losses. I'm also curious to find out what happened to Glenn Lamb, and see whether he was convicted on the charges of negligent homicide. Maybe on my next trip out to Spokane I'll head up to the Pend Oreille county courthouse and see if I can find out. I'd kind of like to know what happened to the rest of the Brennan kids, just to see if any of them had a happy ending. I sure hope they did.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Church record bonanza - Lutheran church records in US Midwest

Earlier this month I received a text message alert from Twitter, notifying me of a new tweet from FamilySearch. The tweet mentioned several record sets that had been posted or updated by Ancestry.com, one of which was the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Records, 1875-1940. I was really intrigued by this, because my Norwegian ancestors were staunchly Lutheran, and lived in Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and North Dakota after immigrating to the US. I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to find more information about them, and maybe even fill in a few gaps.

Little did I know how right I was. Just searching for the surname Bergstad generated 219 hits! Many of these turned out to be for people not connected to me (not that I know of, at least). But I did find 70 records of my family - baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and a few burials. Most of the records were in Norwegian, right up until around the early 1900s-1910s, though the books used Norwegian titles and column headings up into the 1920s and beyond. I knew there were areas in the US where German immigrants clung onto their identity and language for many years after coming to the US (my Waechter and Beilstein ancestors were prime examples of this), but I had no idea that Norwegians had clung just as tenaciously to theirs. It was fascinating to see generation after generation of my family documented in these books, with the entries continuing in Norwegian decades after they came to this country.

Of all the records I found, three records really stood out:

Baptism records of the four oldest Bergstad children

First is the baptism record of four of my grandfather Tom Bergstad's siblings. Virgil and Clayton were children of John Knute Bergstad and his first wife, Mamie Wells, while Katherine and Lorraine were children of his second wife, Katherine Hammer. These were all of the children living at the time, and they were all baptized on the same day in 1928. Maybe they had lapsed in church attendance, or maybe something about Lorraine's birth (sixth months before the baptisms) spurred them to get everyone baptized. Whatever the case, I was really interested to see that they had all four of their children baptized on the same day.

Baptism record of Roland John Thomas Bergstad

Next up is the baptism record of my grandfather, Tom Bergstad. I wasn't expecting to find a record for someone so closely related to me, so this was a pleasant surprise. For some reason I'd always thought that he was named Roland John Bergstad, and that Thomas was a nickname or added into his name later. This pretty well proves that Thomas was part of his name from the beginning. It's interesting that, after four older siblings were all baptized together, that Tom's baptism didn't happen until he was over a year old. His older sister Helen, born in 1929, was baptized at seven months, so it just seems odd that they'd wait until Tom was twice that age almost. But then, I'm not Lutheran and I don't know their customs that well, so maybe this wasn't unusual.

The record that impacted me the most, though, was this one. This is the baptism record of Frances Alvira Brennan, a first cousin twice removed (our common ancestors were Knute Bergstad and Betsy Olson, my second-great-grandparents). Before finding her baptism record, I had no previous records of her existence. I tried searching Google, Ancestry, FamilySearch, MyHeritage, Newspaper Archive, and Findagrave.com, and can find no other records of her anywhere. So far as I can find online, this is the only record of her out there, which makes it all the more important. What gets me about this record isn't that it's a baptism; it's the little note at the far right. Next to the names of the witnesses (Mr. and Mrs. Knute Bergstad, Frances' maternal grandparents) is a note that says "Burned in fire that destroyed home in Bad Lands, died next day." It doesn't give a death date, and I don't know where the home in "Bad Lands" was. But that's a horrible way to die at any age. Her baptism occurred a little after her 3rd birthday, so I know she lived to be that old at least. I don't see her in the 1930 census, so I'm inclined to say her death occurred between Nov 1928 (the baptism) and April 1930 (the census). If that's true, she would have died at 4 1/2 at the oldest. What a tragedy for that family.

In short, I am once again blown away by the wealth of information contained in church records. I now have exact birth dates for several dozen more relatives, and a greater sense of the role religion played in the Bergstad side of my family. The records also led me to the short story of one little cousin, and even if I'd found nothing else, I'd be glad she can now be remembered.