My Mother's Ancestry

Map and Photo Essay


One of the main reasons I quit my job in 2001 and took a six-month roadtrip around America was to research my family's history.  I learned a lot about my mother's family during the trip and have posted some of the information on this page.  After my trip I created this ancestral map that shows how my mother's ancestors migrated west across America during the 1800s.

  • RED LINES:  Routes of her father's ancestors, who moved from Germany and Norway to Minnesota and then to North Dakota.

  • BLUE LINES:  Routes of her mother's ancestors, who moved from Norway to South Dakota and then to North Dakota.

Note:  For security reasons I haven't posted my mother's maiden name on my website.  In place of her maiden name I've used the name "Reinhard."  But everything else I've posted about the Reinhards, other than their last name, is true as far as I know.

My Mother's Ancestral Map

(Click to enlarge)


Photo Essay:  My Mother's Ancestry



Above left:  My mom's great-grandparents, Henry and Carolina Reinhard, moved from Hanover, Germany to the U.S. in the 1870s and homesteaded on 160 acres of farmland near Westbrook, Minnesota.  During my 2001 trip to Minnesota, I discovered their homestead (no longer owned by the Reinhards) and this barn dated 1893 that Henry had built.  They both died in Westbrook:  Carolina in 1902 at age 64 and Henry in 1910 at age 72.  Unfortunately I don't have any photos of Henry or Carolina.

Above center:  This is Henry and Carolina's oldest son, Henry Reinhard Jr. (my great-grandfather) at the time of his marriage in 1890 to Petrina Blege (right).  Henry was born in Germany in 1866 and came to America with his parents, Henry Sr. and Carolina, when he was a little boy.  Henry and Petrina moved their family from Minnesota to Regan, North Dakota in 1907 to acquire their own land and they homesteaded on a bleak farm there for many years.  Henry died in 1955 at age 88 in Bismarck, virtually penniless after a life of hard work.  I never knew Henry but from what I understand, he was a typically stern but hard-working German patriarch.

Above right:  The wedding photo of Henry's wife (and my great-grandmother) Petrina Blege, with the hairstyle that was the fashion of the day.  When she was a teenager in the 1880s, Petrina (or "Tena," as she was known) moved from Norway to southern Minnesota with her parents, Andreas and Pernelle Blege, and they lived a few miles from the Reinhard homestead.  Petrina met Henry and they married, then they moved to North Dakota and raised a large family.  Petrina had nine children and partly because of that, in the 1920s she was diagnosed with leg thrombosis.  The doctors wanted to amputate her leg to save her life, but she refused and died at age 61 in Regan, North Dakota.  Petrina was a kind woman who, along with raising nine kids, often baked cookies for the neighbor children.



Above left:  Another branch of my mom's ancestors were the Svangs.  Like many of my mother's ancestors, they came from Norway.  During my 2001 trip around America I visited Webster, South Dakota and found the farmland of my great-great-grandparents, Ole and Birgit Svang, who had homesteaded here in the late 1800s.  They had lived here in a sod house but nothing was left of the "soddie" when I visited in 2001.

Above center:  Three years after I visited Webster, I received an e-mail from a woman who was also descended from Ole and Birgit Svang and she sent me their pictures.  I believe these drawings were made just after they came to America in 1866.  This is my great-great-grandfather, Ole Svang.   Ole and Birgit Svang emigrated to the U.S. from southern Norway and farmed 200 acres in South Dakota (photo above left) until their land was repossessed in 1906 due to crop failure and bankruptcy.  Ole, at age 85, died the following year.  Can you imagine working on a farm into your 80s?  His wife Birgit had died nine years earlier, I believe from the stress of the homesteader's life.

Above right:  And here's my great-great-grandmother, Birgit Svang.  Ole and Birgit made an interesting-looking couple, I think.  Gee, now you know where I get my good looks from!



Above left:  The gravestone of Ole and Birgit Svang in the cemetery of the Bergen Church near Pierpont, South Dakota.  On the other side it says, "At rest."

Above right:  Ole and Birgit's son, my great-grandfather Nels Swang, married my great-grandmother, Anna Abrahms, in the Bergen Church in South Dakota.  I took this picture of the church during my visit in 2001.



Above left:  Ole and Birgit Svang had six children, including my great-grandfather, Nels Swang, shown here (seated, right) in a photo taken around 1928 when he was about 60.  Nels' wife, Anna Abrahms, is seated left.  Anna and Nels married in the Bergen Church (photo above) in 1896 then moved to Fessenden, North Dakota six years later where he worked on the Soo Railroad.  Two of their five children, Betsy (left) and Albert (center), are standing behind them.  My grandmother Helga was not in this photo.  Strangely, Anna and Nels had divorced about 20 years before this photo was taken so I don't know why they sat together for this portrait.  I suspect that it was to send to relatives back in Norway to show they were still together.

Above center:  These are Nels and Anna's children.  This photo was taken around 1906.  Betsy is back row, left and her sister Helga Swang, my grandmother, is back row, right.  Betsy became a teacher and moved to Minneapolis.  Their brother Henry Swang is in the front row, left.  Henry helped build the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco in the 1930s.  His brother Alvin is in the center and Albert Swang is on the right.  Albert fought with the American army during World War I in France and was gassed on the battlefield, suffering a lifelong debilitation.  He died in Minneapolis in 1945 at age 46.

Above right:  My grandmother Helga Swang (pronounced "Swong"), about 1912 when she was around 14. 



Above left:  My great-grandmother, the indomitable Anna Swang, with her daughter Betsy around 1920.  Anna's husband, Nels Swang, had left her and moved to California around 1908 leaving Anna to raise their five children alone.  Anna worked as a laundress in the small town of Fessenden, North Dakota to support her children and eventually saved enough money to buy a house, almost unheard of for a single woman in that era.  She died in 1933 at age 65 after a life of hard work.  Her touching obituary said, "Anna practically gave her life for her children."

Above center:  My grandmother, Helga Swang, third from the front in the 1921 graduating class at Minot Teacher's College (today Minot State University).  She was Anna's second child.  Before attending teacher's college, Helga had taught in a one-room schoolhouse, teaching being one of the few professions open to women in those days.  After graduating with a teaching degree, Helga got a job at the Canfield elementary school, near Regan, North Dakota.

Above right:   This is Helga around 1922 at the new Canfield School near Regan.  She was one of three teachers in the two-story school.  She met a local farmer, Ed Reinhard, and they married in 1923, and a year later they had their first child, my mother, Anne. 



Above left:  This is the Canfield School near Regan, North Dakota in 1922.  My grandmother Helga taught here until 1923, when she got married.  This is Helga's fellow teacher, Martha Pfaff, leading calisthenics.  The Canfield School, built in 1916, burned down in 1928.  It was located on the southern edge of Section 16 of the Canfield Township, halfway across the section.

Above right:  The first photograph taken of my mother, Anne, in early 1925.



Above left:  The farmhouse of Anne's grandfather, Henry Reinhard (see wedding photo above), a few miles east of Regan, North Dakota.  He lived here with his wife, Petrina.  As you can see, Henry proudly displayed an American flag, perhaps because he was of German ancestry.  After World War I there was a good deal of animosity towards Germans in America.

Above right:  I located Henry's farm during my visit to North Dakota in 2001 and visited it.  This is where his farmhouse once stood.  There were no structures left, just the soil, the wheat and the wind.



Above left:  Helga with my mom around 1926.  My mother, Anne, was named after her grandmother, Anna Swang, shown above.

Above right:  Helga (center) with my mom on the wheat fields near Regan, North Dakota in 1927.  Note the horse-drawn threshing team on the right.  I've always loved this photo of Helga and the contented look in her eyes.



Above left:  Two of Anne's uncles, Alvin and Henry Swang, sons of Anna Swang.  Alvin (left) fell on hard times but lived to an old age, dying in San Francisco in 1979 at age 77.  Henry joined the U.S. Army in 1925 and was stationed near San Francisco.  He stayed in California after his discharge and helped build the iconic Bixby Bridge near Big Sur (see News:  June 14, 2001), then he helped build the Golden Gate bridge in the 1930s.  He died in Tacoma, Washington in 1952.

Above center:  My mother with her younger sister, Betty, in 1928 at her grandfather Henry's farmhouse near Regan.

Above right:  My mom and her grandfather, Henry Reinhard, around 1928.  This was shortly after Henry's wife Petrina died.  Henry lost his farm a few years later during the Great Depression and died in 1955 at age 88 in Bismarck, virtually penniless.



Above left:  Anne's father, Edward, with Anne and her sister, Betty, on the horse.  This was at the farm of Edward's father, Henry.

Above center:  Anne (right) with her sisters Betty (right) and Corinne ("Corky") around 1932.  This was after their father's farm had failed and they moved to Bismarck, in the early years of the Great Depression.

Above right:  In 1936 at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park near Bismarck, North Dakota.  Anne (left) is standing behind her sisters Corky and Betty (sitting).  Friends of theirs from Bismarck are on the right.



Above left:  My mom (with violin) in Bismarck around 1938, at age 14.  This is about a year after her father died.

Above center:  Anne's senior portrait at Bismarck High School in the spring of 1943.

Above right:  Skating with my dad near Dickinson, North Dakota in early 1944.  Anne and Don had met a few months earlier while he was attending Naval officer training school in Dickinson during World War II.



Above left:  Anne and Don's wedding portrait in West Palm Beach, Florida in 1944.

Above center:  My parents in Fort Pierce, Florida in the spring of 1945 with Anne's mother, Helga.  My dad was training with the Navy's special operations group called Scouts and Raiders.  This was shortly after Anne had her first child, her daughter Dorothy.

Above right:  My mom sent this photo to my dad while he was in China during World War II.  She had returned to Bismarck and was living with her mother, Helga, while waiting for my dad to return from the war.  Note her signature in the bottom left corner.



Above left:  During a visit to Bismarck in 1949, this is Anne (center), her daughter, Dorothy, and her son, Don Jr. (left).  Anne's mother, Helga, is on the left holding Don and her younger sister, Corky, who had just graduated from Bismarck High School, is on the right.  Anne, Don and their kids were living in southern Washington at this time where Don was teaching elementary school.

Above right:  I believe this is the last photo taken of Anne with her two sisters.  Anne is on the right in the dark blouse.  This was in Portland, Oregon in 1982.  Her sister Betty is on the far left and Corky is in the red.  Their Aunt Violet is in the light blue and their cousin Marionne is on the far right.



Above left:  I spent several weeks doing family research at the North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck in September 2001 (shortly after the 9/11 attacks).  Note my laptop on the desk.  I stopped in Bismarck that fall and planned to spend only a day here, to confirm the stories that my mother had told me before she passed away.  But nothing checked out so I ended up spending six weeks in North Dakota slowly piecing together her family's story.

Above right:  I revisited Bismarck in 2016.  This is Bismarck High School, which had opened in the mid 1930s just a few years before my mom enrolled as a freshman.



More pages about my mother's ancestry:


Also see: