Family History >
My Mother's Ancestors >
my mother passed away a few years ago, I knew nothing about Anna Swang; indeed,
I'd never heard her name. As
I learned, though, Anna was my grandmother Helga’s mother.
Helga’s photo album, which I discovered only after my mother passed away, contained several old snapshots of Anna taken
during her middle and later years, up until about 1930.
Through research that I’ve done over the past few months here in
Bismarck and previously in South Dakota, I’ve pieced together Anna’s story:
Abrams was born in 1868 in Helgeland, Norway.
At the age of 21, she sailed with her family to America and settled near
Webster, South Dakota where she met a young farmer her age named Nels Swang who
lived on a farm with his parents, Ole and Birgit, about two miles away.
Anna married Nels in 1896 at the age of 28 and by 1901 they had four
children, including my grandmother Helga.
1902, the Swangs moved to the small but growing town of Fessenden in central
North Dakota, where Nels got a job as a train engineer on the Sault Ste. Marie
(“Soo”) Railroad. A few years
later, Anna bought a two-story house in Fessenden in 1907 for $500.
Around 1910, Anna and Nels separated and Nels left for California,
leaving Anna to raise the five children (ages 8 to 13) alone.
To support herself and her children, Anna started a business as a
laundress, working out of her house and laboring incessantly to provide for her
children. She was a talented woman
who enjoyed playing the piano and taking photographs.
Anna also had a good sense of humor and was a caring mother.
When her daughter Helga took a job teaching in a one-room “country
school” (i.e., a rural school, as opposed to “town school”) many miles
away, Anna sent photos of their home in Fessenden and of their family to her
homesick daughter, Helga.
continued to work into her 60’s. In
the spring of 1933, she developed an illness and died quietly in her sleep on
May 9, 1933. She is buried in the Hillside cemetery near Fessenden.
parents are judged on the accomplishments of their children, Anna was a
wonderful mother. Her oldest son,
Albert, volunteered for the U.S. Army at the outbreak of World War I but was
rejected because he was too young. After
turning 18, he enlisted and was sent to France to fight in the trenches where he
fought in several bloody battles, including the Aisne-Marne and Meuse-Argonne.
Albert was gassed during the War and never fully recovered. He returned to North Dakota in 1919, married in 1926
and moved to Minneapolis.
second son, Henry, was a bridge engineer and moved to Monterey, California in
the early 1930’s where he worked on several bridges, including the Bixby Creek
Bridge (see News: June 14,
A few years later, Henry moved to San Francisco where he helped design
the Golden Gate Bridge.
described Anna's daughter, Helga (my grandmother)
on another page. I
don’t know what happened to Anna Swang’s two other children, Betsy and
Elvin, but if the stories of Albert, Henry, and Helga are any indication, Anna
was a wonderful person. It’s
taken me several years, but I’m glad that I was able to reconstruct her life
left: These are my great-grandparents
(seated): Anna Abrahms and Nels Swang, in a photo taken around
1928. Anna and Nels were born
in Norway, emigrated to the U.S. as children, married in
1896 in South Dakota then moved to Fessenden, North Dakota six years later where
Nels worked on the Soo Railroad. Two of
their five children, Betsy (left) and Albert (center) are
standing behind them. For some reason, my grandmother Helga was not in
this photo. Anna
and Nels divorced around 1910 and Anna raised their five children alone, so I don't
know why Anna and Nels sat together for this portrait in 1928.
right: The family photo was made
into a post card and this is the writing on the back, but it's all
in Norwegian! I think
this was written by Betsy to her grandmother who was in Norway. Piecing
together the story of the Swangs has been a
giant puzzle and there are a lot of questions that I haven't yet answered.
Note: In April of 2005, a kind reader named Bill Arlander,
an American with Norwegian roots, wrote to me and provided this
translation of the postcard:
I wanted to send this to you so you could see what we look like now. He that is standing is Albert, and her standing on the left is Anna,
his wife. I am on the right. Father and mother you probably recognize. The
little girl is Albert's daughter. How are you, we are doing well. Must stop. Greetings from all of us, and mostly from your daughter Louise.