Probably the best discovery I made during the past six weeks here in Bismarck
is the North Dakota Heritage
Center. Located near the capital, it's a wonderful resource for anyone
interested in researching their North Dakota ancestors. It contains an
amazing collection of old documents, maps, newspapers, books, photos, and census records of
Iíve spent the past
four weeks at the Heritage Center poring over old plat maps, reading through
countless microfilmed newspapers and going through census records searching for my
ancestors, all with the help of the Center's director, a wonderful woman named
Susan Dingle. In doing so, I slowly reconstructed my
motherís childhood, the stories of her parents, Helga Swang and Edward Reinhard, and the stories of their parents.
next two pages describe their stories.
left: The North Dakota Heritage Center in
Bismarck. Note the
"rebar buffalo" sculpture on the left.
archives room of the Heritage Center. This is terrific resource for anyone
interested in North Dakota history. I spent about a month here researching
my Mom's family history. The staff here was really friendly and helpful --
thanks, Susan and Greg!
right: The Heritage Center also contains
a fantastic museum. I spent over five hours here one day and still didn't see it
Swangs: Anna's Story
grandmother, Helga Swang (pronounced "Swong"), was born in 1898 on a farm near Webster, South
Dakota. I spent several weeks in the Webster area in August
researching Helga's parents, Nels and Anna Swang, who had come from Norway to
America as children (see News:
30, 2001). Nels and Anna lived on farms near Webster
only a few miles apart, married in 1896, and had five children including
Helga. Nels and Anna, with Helga and her four siblings, all moved to Fessenden, North Dakota in 1902 where Nels
got a job as an engineer on the Sault Ste. Marie ("Soo") Railroad.
I learned in the Heritage Center, Nels
and Anna divorced around 1910, which was pretty rare in those days (I don't
know why they split up) and Nels
apparently left the state, leaving Anna to raise their five children alone.
I also learned that after Nels left, Anna worked
as a laundress out of her house
in Fessenden to support her family. From Anna's photos, I learned that she
avid photographer and enjoyed
gardening, and from the captions that she wrote on some of her photos, I got the sense
that she was smart, talented, and had a good sense of humor. Anna Swang
died in 1933 at age 65 and, according to her obituary, she "worked
endlessly, practically giving her life to raise her five children."
Here's a tune
about a small town in 1910 and a famous comet. Once again, this is Mary
Chapin Carpenter, this time singing Halley Came To Jackson. It makes
me wonder what my grandparents thought about Halley's comet.
RealPlayer. If problems, see
afternoon, I decided to drive up to Fessenden, a town of about 600 people located about 60
miles north of Bismarck. I knew there weren't any Swangs in the area but I
wanted to see if Anna's house was still standing and I also wanted to visit Anna's grave. I
had a few photos of Anna's house taken in 1916 so I spent a few minutes driving
around Fessenden looking for it. I couldn't find Anna's house so I stopped by
the Wells County Courthouse and, after spending an hour in the Recorder's office poring through huge
Deed books, I learned where Anna's house was and I drove over to it.
first, I thought I had the wrong address because the house didn't look like the
one in Anna's old black-and-white photos, but after a while I realized that it,
indeed, was the same house. Unfortunately, no one was home but I enjoyed
walking around the yard. Most likely, none of my relatives had been
here in over 50 years.
It was pretty
interesting to finally visit Anna's house
because, for the past several years in Portland, I had wondered where in North
mysterious house was... and now here I was in her front yard. By visiting
Anna's house and piecing together her story, I felt like I had somehow known her,
even though she died many years before I was born. As I discovered, Anna Swang was an amazing person. Indeed, of all the people that
I've researched on this trip, Anna is probably the one that I would have enjoyed meeting
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 (Anna in Helgeland, Nels in Hallingdal), emigrated to the U.S. as children, married in
1896 in South Dakota then moved to Fessenden, North Dakota six years later. Two of
their five children, Betsy (left) and Albert (center) are
standing behind them. For some reason, my grandmother Helga wasn't 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 August 2007, a website reader
named Kristin from Norway wrote to me and kindly provided this
translation of the 1928 postcard:
Dear mother, I will send you this card so
that you can see how we look like these days. You probably don't know
them. He who stands is Albert and she who stands to the left is Alma,
his wife, and I'm on the right side, father and mother you must know.
And the little girl is Albert's daughter. How are you doing? We're all
doing well. I have to finish. Greetings from everyone, but most from
your daughter Louise.
left: Anna Swang outside her house in
1916. This picture was in her daughter Helga's photo album that I discovered after my
Mom passed away a few years ago. Before arriving in North Dakota, I wasn't
sure where this photo was taken but I discovered that Anna had lived in the town
of Fessenden and had died in 1933. But was her house still there?
center: I spent an hour in the County
Courthouse in Fessenden to find out.
right: Sure enough, it's still there. It's been remodeled a bit
(note that the second-floor window was removed and the porch was
expanded). As I discovered, Anna bought this house in 1907 for $500 and worked as a
laundress here for many years as a single mother to support her five children, including my
left: From the photos in Helga's
album, I got to know her mother Anna pretty well. Here she is in her
garden in 1916.
Fortunately, she wrote captions on some of her photos. As I learned from
reading Anna's captions, she had a pretty good sense of humor.
center: Anna Swang died in 1933,
after raising her five children alone. The newspaper wrote a very
flattering obituary about her. One son, Henry, helped to build the Golden
Gate Bridge (see News: June 14, 2001), her son
Albert fought in the trenches in World War I, and her daughter Helga was my grandmother...
and a wonderful person. I've learned a lot about Anna during the past few
weeks and I greatly admire her.
right: Driving back to Bismarck after spending a day in Fessenden.
Swangs: Helga's Story
and Nels Swang named their second child Helga. Helga was born in Webster,
South Dakota in 1898 and in 1902, she moved with her parents to Fessenden, North Dakota. A few years later, Nels left Anna and Helga was raised
by her mother Anna, with whom she was very close. Helga graduated from Fessenden High School
in 1915 and afterwards taught in a one-room "country school" (as opposed
to a "town school") in rural North Dakota. Back in those days,
all you needed was a high school degree, if that, to become a school teacher.
teaching in the one-room school house for a few years, Helga attended Minot
State Teachers College and graduated with a teaching degree in 1921. A few
months later, she landed a teaching position at the Canfield Consolidated
School, four miles east of the small town of Regan, North Dakota (pop. 70). There
were three teachers at the Canfield School: Helga taught primary grades
(Kindergarten to Fourth Grade), a woman named Martha Pfaff (who would later
marry my great-uncle Dewey) taught secondary grades (Fifth
Grade to Eighth Grade), and the Principal taught High School to a
few students in the school's basement.
teaching at the Canfield School, Helga met Ed Reinhard, a local farmer, and they married in 1923.
The following year, my mother, Anna Mae, was born and in 1927, a second girl was
born, followed in 1931 by their third and final child, also a girl.
Learning all of this was interesting to me because I had always thought that my
mother had grown up in a well-to-do family in Bismarck and that her father had
been a lawyer.
Farming was difficult during the 1920s, though, and like many farmers during the Great Depression, Ed lost his
farm. After losing their farm, the Reinhards moved to the small town of
Wing and then to Wilton before moving to Bismarck around 1934. Three years
later, Ed died in a
Shortly after Ed died, Helga taught herself shorthand and got a job in Bismarck as a secretary to
support her three girls including my Mom. Interestingly, just like her mother Anna, Helga was now a single
parent raising several children alone, which must have been pretty difficult
considering the limited career opportunities and salaries for women in those
mother left Bismarck at age 19 and married my Dad, who was going to Naval
Officer Training School in Dickinson, North Dakota. Helga left
Bismarck a few years later and moved to Sturgis, South Dakota where she eked out a
living as a secretary at the nearby Veterans Administration Hospital.
My Dad told me that he remembers our family stopping by to visit Helga in
Sturgis during their cross-country vacation trips in the 1950ís.
Helga lived in a tiny cabin, and although she obviously didnít have
much money, she would always load up our familyís station wagon with
sandwiches to eat during the trip.
1960, Helga, at age 62, moved to Capistrano Beach, California to be with her
middle daughter, Betty, where she lived in a small guesthouse adjacent to
Bettyís house. Helga died of a
heart attack four years later. I have what is probably the last letter Helga ever wrote, which
she sent to my Mom two days before she passed away.
left: Anna's daughter, my grandmother Helga at age 23, in
1921. The guy may be one of her three brothers and possibly Henry,
who helped build the Bixby Creek Bridge
near Big Sur, California (see News
June 14, 2001) and later worked on the Golden Gate Bridge. This is in Minot, North Dakota when she graduated from
Teacher's College before getting a teaching job near Regan.
center: This was one of many mysterious
photos in Helga's photo album. I assumed this was Helga's school
but didn't know where it was or what it was called. Fortunately, a few
weeks ago I saw a picture of this same
school in a book in the
Bismarck Library. It was called the Canfield School and was located
just a few miles from Regan, where her future husband, Ed Reinhard, lived.
As I learned, the school was built in 1916 and burned down in 1928. Helga
taught here from 1921 to 1923.
right: My grandmother Helga in 1922 at the Canfield
School, at about the time she met my grandfather, Ed Reinhard.
left: Another photo from Helga's
photo album. This was a Canfield schoolteacher, Martha Pfaff,
students in calisthenics.
center: After learning that Helga
taught at the Canfield School, I drove out to see it... or what remained of it
(I knew that the school burned down in 1928). This is the lot where the school
sat. The small building was a schoolhouse that was moved here in the
1960s, well after Helga had taught here. Even though there's nothing left
of the Canfield School, it was pretty interesting to
walk around the school grounds and think about what life for my grandmother must have been like
here during the 1920s.
Above right: There are many
abandoned one-room school houses still dotting the North Dakota prairies,
including this one near Wing. To learn more, see my page on
One-Room Country Schools.
left: My grandmother Helga with my Mom around 1926,
three years after Helga married my grandfather, Ed Reinhard.
center: This photo of my grandmother
and mother (center) captivates me. More than any other, it's the picture
that compelled me to visit North Dakota and to find out what I could about my
mother and her relatives.
(on the left) with my
parents in Florida in 1944, shortly after my folks got married. My Dad was going through
Navy Seal training in Fort
Pierce at this time.
Helga died in
the mid-1960s and I
only vaguely remember her. People tell me
that she was
a wonderful person and
that my Mom was very fond of her.
most amazing event of my seven-week visit to North Dakota occurred
only a few days before I headed back home. As I poked
around the nearly-deserted town of Regan on that cold and gray afternoon, I met a
fellow named Otto Uhde who was a little older than myself. When I told
Otto that I was a descendent of the long-gone Reinhard family, he suggested that I
talk to a woman named Hester Bailey. Otto glanced at his watch and said,
"You know, it's almost 5 o'clock so I'm sure Hester's eating dinner over in
Wing. Why don't you follow me, because I'm going over there in a few
minutes." I told Otto that I wanted to stop
by the cemetery first and said that I'd meet him in Wing.
Twenty minutes later I pulled into the small town of Wing,
about 10 miles east of Regan, and found the town's only restaurant, called
the Chat & Chew Cafe. Otto had arrived a minute earlier and we walked into the small, dark and smoky
cafe. Otto walked over to an elderly woman eating alone in the
nearly-empty restaurant and introduced me to her. "This fellow is
related to the Reinhards who lived in Regan," said Otto, as I shook Hester's
hand. As I sat down next to her,
Hester told me that she'd lived in this area her entire life, so I
asked her if she remembered my grandmother, Helga Swang, who had passed away in
To my utter amazement,
Hester told me that Helga was her
very first teacher when Hester was in kindergarten eighty years earlier in 1921
when Hester was 6 years old. Hester remembered Helga fondly and I
eagerly listened to her stories about the Swangs and Reinhards. I
couldn't believe that I'd met someone who remembered these people
who I'd been researching for the past few months. As she sat in the tiny cafe finishing
her dinner, Hester proudly told me that she still has the leather purse
that Helga (or "Miss Swang," as she called her) gave her after she
graduated from kindergarten.
After a while, I brought my laptop computer into
and showed Hester several digital photos from Helga's old photo album including Helga's elementary school,
which had burned down in 1925. Hester remembered the
school vividly and told me stories about the school and about several young
children in the photographs, all of whom were now in their 80's and 90's, if
they were still alive.
Hester also remembered my mother when my
mom was a little girl and told me stories about my great-grandmother Petrina
Reinhard (Edward's mother), who died in 1927.
Before meeting Hester, I had known almost nothing about Petrina, so I was
delighted to hear Hester's stories about her and my other relatives, many who I
knew only in old photos. As we continued to talk, Hester told me that she'd been married for many years but her husband died a while back.
These days, her
entire life revolved around the sleepy town of Wing.
After about two hours, I
told Hester that I had to go. It was obvious from her glowing smile that she
enjoyed meeting her kindergarten teacher's grandson and talking about "the old days."
With a smile, I shook Hester's frail hand, thanked her for her time and promised to write to her when
I got back to Washington, which I definitely intend to do.
As I drove back to Bismarck that night, I realized that
Hester Bailey is probably the only person alive in North Dakota who
remembers my grandmother Helga. Even more amazing, of course, was
that Hester was one of Helga's students.
It was an
unbelievable encounter and something I'll never forget.
North Dakota (pop. 191) is near Regan. As
I discovered, my mother lived in Wing during the early 1930s before she moved
with her family to Bismarck. A local resident directed me to the Chat
& Chew Cafe...
right: ... where I met an 87-year old
woman name Hester Bailey (left). Hester, as I discovered, was a kindergarten student
of my grandmother Helga's in 1921. Hester still has a small leather coin
purse that Helga gave her that year. I spent two hours with Hester, who
told me many stories about my grandparents and great-grandparents. She's a
really delightful woman. That's her friend and cafe owner Alice on the right.
conclusion of this story is posted on October
18, 2001 -- Part 3 (Bismarck, North Dakota).
18, 2001 -- Part 3 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
18, 2001 -- Part 1 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
6, 2001 (Fort Lincoln State Park, North Dakota)
30, 2001 -- Part 2 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
30, 2001 -- Part 1 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
September 15, 2001 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
30, 2001 (Webster, South Dakota)
18, 2001 (Watertown South Dakota)
17, 2001 (Walnut Grove, Minnesota)
14, 2001 (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
10, 2001 (Battle Creek, Michigan)
8, 2001 (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 2)
8, 2001 (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 1)
6, 2001 (Manlius, New York)
23, 2001 (Middleton, Massachusetts)
22, 2001 (Boston, Massachusetts)
20, 2001 (Pomfret, Connecticut)
18, 2001 (Denton, Maryland)
16, 2001 (Cumberland, Virginia)
14, 2001 (Roanoke, Virginia)
9, 2001 (Sevierville, Tennessee)
8, 2001 (Fontana Lake, North Carolina)
5, 2001 (Manchester, Tennessee)
30, 2001 (Hohenwald, Tennessee)
29, 2001 (Corinth, Mississippi)
27, 2001 (Natchez, Mississippi)
24, 2001 (Austin, Texas)
20, 2001 (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)
18, 2001 (Clay Canyon, Utah)
15, 2001 -- Part 2 (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)
15, 2001 -- Part 1 (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)
14, 2001 (San Diego, California)
11, 2001 (San Jose, California)
2, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
19, 2001 (Hillsboro, Oregon)
30, 2001 (Hillsboro, Oregon)
19, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
5, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
* * * * * * *
Travels (2001-02) >
U.S. Trip >
October 18, 2001 (Page 2)