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October 18, 2001 -- Part 3  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

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The Reinhards

With help from the staff at the Heritage Center, I learned that my grandfather, Ed Reinhard, had been a farmer near the small town of Regan, North Dakota, about 30 miles north of Bismarck.  His father, Henry, emigrated from Hanover, Germany to the U.S. with his family in 1872 when Henry was six years old and they moved to southwestern Minnesota.  Ed's mother, Petrina Blege, emigrated from Helgeland, Norway to the U.S. and also moved to Minnesota where she met Henry.  Henry and Petrina married in 1890, had 9 children in Minnesota (including Ed), then in 1907 moved to the small town of Regan, North Dakota, about a half-hour north of Bismarck, where Henry homesteaded on 160 acres.

 

Here's Nanci Griffith singing Trouble In The Fields, a tribute to farmers, like my grandparents, who struggled during the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s.

Requires a RealPlayerIf problems, see Help.

 

My grandfather Ed was the third child in their family of nine kids, grew up on the Reinhard farm near Regan, and became a farmer himself after finishing school.  Ed met Helga Swang, a teacher at the nearby Canfield School, around 1922 and they married the following year.  Ed and Helga farmed a quarter-section of land (160 acres) about a mile from where he grew up.  

 

The 1920s and early 1930s were difficult years for farmers as they faced drought and low grain prices, not to mention bitterly cold winters, hail storms that decimated months of work in a few minutes, and plagues of grasshoppers that did likewise.  During the late 1920s, farming became even more difficult as the prolonged drought ushered in the Dust Bowl era across the Great Plains.  Like many farmers during the Depression, Ed lost his farm and, with his wife and three girls (including my mother), moved to Bismarck where he got a job in construction.  

 

In 1937, when my mother was 13, her father Ed Reinhard died in a car accident.  Desperate to support her three girls, Helga learned shorthand and went to work as a secretary for the state Supreme Court in Bismarck.  Six years later and fresh out of high school, my mother visited a friend in Dickinson, North Dakota and decided to attend a U.S.O. dance at Dickinson State College that night, where 200 naval officer training cadets were going to school.  She met my Dad there and they married the following year.

 

Ed's father, Henry Reinhard, who had been born in Germany in 1866, died in 1955 in a small cabin on the Missouri River north of Bismarck.  After a life of hard work, Henry, like so many struggling farmers, died virtually penniless.

   

    29_Mom__Helgas_Father_b-w.jpg (49917 bytes)    

Above left:  The bleak town of Regan, North Dakota.  This area is where my great-grandfather, Henry Reinhard, homesteaded in 1907 and where my grandfather, Ed, also farmed.

Above center:  My Mom and her grandfather, Henry Reinhard, about 1928.  This picture was in Helga's photo album.  As I studied this photo in Portland during the past few years, I wondered where this farm was and whether the farmhouse was still standing. 

Above right:  I call this photo "A man out standing in his field."  Seriously, though, after doing some research in the Heritage Center, I found Henry's farm last week.  As I learned, his farm was repossessed during the Dust Bowl era and the Great Depression (as was the farm of his son, Ed).  Unfortunately, Henry's farmhouse (above center) was demolished in the 1950s and all that's left of it is a pile of rubble.

 

   

Above left:  Soil that my great-grandfather Henry tilled in the 1930s.

Above right:  Graves of my grandfather, Edward (left), his father Henry (middle), and Henry's wife Petrina (right).

 

North Dakota Hospitality

I've met a lot of terrific people during my seven weeks here in Bismarck, which isn't surprising since most folks in North Dakota are pretty nice.  Most people became even friendlier when I mentioned that I was doing family research.  I wanted to describe a few of these folks here.  

 

For the past several months, I've been corresponding through e-mail with a lively and wonderful woman in Bismarck named Bernie Swang whom, as I recently discovered, I may or may not be related to.  I finally met Bernie (short for Bernice) when I got to Bismarck in September and I spent a couple of afternoons with her, showing her old photos and documents of my ancestors.  She was even kind enough to invite me to her house one evening for a chili dinner so that I could meet her children and grandchildren.  We haven't figured out yet if we're related, but I have enjoyed getting to know her.

 

The staff at the North Dakota Heritage Center has been terrific in helping me learn about my mother and her family.  Not only did they graciously provide me with the microfilm and books that I requested, but they became genuinely interested in my findings as the weeks passed by.  It was a real pleasure to work with them for the several weeks that I was there.

 

The folks at the Recorder's office in the County Courthouse in Fessenden dropped everything and helped me find my great-grandmother Anna Swang's house.  Anna died in 1933 but, by digging through a lot of huge old Deed books, the staff showed me where her house was... and still is.

 

Soon after arriving in Bismarck, I spent nearly every day for three weeks at the wonderful Bismarck Public Library, updating my website and returning e-mails.  The library is one of the finest of its size that I've ever visited and the staff was very helpful.

 

I met dozens of other really helpful people during my visit to North Dakota -- too many to mention.  I just wanted to send along a big "Thanks" to everyone who helped me out.

 

   

Above left:  Bernie Swang (left), her family, and the chili dinner she fixed for us.  I'm still trying to figure out if I'm related to them.  Thanks for the great dinner, Bernie! 

Above right:  Ted Stroh, an 84-year old retired farmer, spent four hours with me one day showing me around the Regan-Wing area.  Ted's wife, Dorothea, passed away a few ago and he proudly showed me her pictures and keepsakes.  As we discovered, Dorothea was the cousin of my Mom's best friend.

 

Summary

After learning about my Mom's childhood, I understand now why she never talked much about her childhood.   Her family faced extremely difficult conditions during the Great Depression that most of us today, including myself, can hardly imagine.  Interestingly, my mother never mentioned that she had grown up on a farm.  Perhaps she was ashamed to admit that her father was a farmer and had lost his farm during the Great Depression. 

 

Admittedly, the family research that I did in North Dakota was bittersweet.  On one hand, I learned a tremendous amount about my mother's childhood.  On the other hand, not all of the stories that I learned were happy ones.  Iíve always heard that living through the Great Depression was difficult, especially on a farm.  However, and without going into all the details, seeing where they lived and learning how the Great Depression affected my mother and her parents was a pretty sobering experience for me, and Iíve gained a new appreciation for what they endured. 

 

The research that Iíve done into my motherís history has been, by far, the most emotional experience of my trip so far.  Neither I nor anyone else in my family realized how many obstacles my mother and her family dealt with, the most significant of which I haven't discussed here.  By researching my mother's family history and visiting the places where she lived as a child, I understand my mother much better now and appreciate what she must have faced while growing up.  And, for better or worse, that's the reason I came to North Dakota.

 

I believe that each of us rests on the shoulders of those who came before us, and I think that each generation owes a debt of gratitude to their ancestors.  Too often, courageous people live their lives and slip through the pages of history without their stories being recorded or remembered.  I don't want to let that happen to the people that I've described above, including my great-grandmother Anna Swang, her daughter Helga (Swang) Reinhard and others whom I've gotten to know through my research here.  Preserving their legacy is the only way that I can express my appreciation for the hardships that they endured.   

 

From research that I've done on this trip so far, I've started recording my family's history and will pass this on to future generations.  I'm determined to preserve the stories of Anna, Helga, and others, and to not let their stories be forgotten.

 

For more photos and a summary of my mother's family history, see My Mom's Ancestors:  Map and Photo Essay.  I've included more on my great-grandmother Anna Swang and her daughter Helga (Swang) Reinhard on separate pages.

 

 

Next News

December 3, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bellingham, Washington)

 

 

Previous News

October 18, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 18, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 6, 2001  (Fort Lincoln State Park, North Dakota)

September 30, 2001 -- Part 2  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

September 30, 2001 -- Part 1  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

September 15, 2001  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

August 30, 2001  (Webster, South Dakota)

August 18, 2001  (Watertown South Dakota)

August 17, 2001  (Walnut Grove, Minnesota)

August 14, 2001  (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

August 10, 2001 (Battle Creek, Michigan)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 2)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 1)

August 6, 2001  (Manlius, New York)

July 23, 2001  (Middleton, Massachusetts)

July 22, 2001  (Boston, Massachusetts)

July 20, 2001  (Pomfret, Connecticut)

July 18, 2001  (Denton, Maryland)

July 16, 2001  (Cumberland, Virginia)

July 14, 2001  (Roanoke, Virginia)

July 9, 2001  (Sevierville, Tennessee)

July 8, 2001  (Fontana Lake, North Carolina)

July 5, 2001  (Manchester, Tennessee)

June 30, 2001  (Hohenwald, Tennessee)

June 29, 2001  (Corinth, Mississippi)

June 27, 2001  (Natchez, Mississippi)

June 24, 2001  (Austin, Texas)

June 20, 2001  (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)

June 18, 2001  (Clay Canyon, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 2  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 15, 2001 -- Part 1  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 14, 2001  (San Diego, California)

June 11, 2001  (San Jose, California)

June 2, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

May 19, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 30, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 19, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

April 5, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

 

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