Twister strikes Canoe & Highland in June 1906

On the night of Wednesday, June 6, 1906, a tornado ripped across Winneshiek and Houston counties, and extended its range of destruction into La Crosse and western Wisconsin. Two were killed near Caledonia. A spate of storms causing unprecedented damage occurred across the upper Midwest that week. Reprinted below is a report on local damage in Canoe and Highland townships. 

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Slideshow: Hauge Lutheran Church, Canoe Township

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1940 census images released

The National Archives has released photographic images of all census forms collected in April 1940. Census records, by law, are released 72 years after collection, and the images are now available to download. FamilySearch.org has an indexing project that will make these searchable, but our area has not been indexed yet. Continue reading

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Ole Rynning’s True Account of America, 1838

Based upon his travels in America in June of 1838, Ole Rynning’s True Account of America (Sandfærdig Beretning om Amerika) gave practical information and courage to thousands of Norwegian peasants who were curious about their chances in another country. It was the first comprehensive account of its type, having been preceded by letters sent to Norway by the relatively few earlier emigrants; these letters would be circulated around the farm communities eager for news. Rynning presented his account not as a travelogue, but explicitly as a helpful question-and-answer dialog to address the fears of the prospective emigrant. He has been accused of being overly optimistic, to his own financial advantage. Yet the fact remains that this text was enormously important in inspiring some of those in the first wave of immigrants to Illinois and Wisconsin.  Continue reading

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Must-read social history of pre-emigration life in Norway

Between Rocks and Hard Places by Ann Urness Gesme is a social history of the Norwegian farmers who made up the bulk of emigrants to America. Focusing on the Norwegian period of their lives makes this book uniquely informative and valuable, since there are already many good books about the American period. Ten out of twelve chapters concern aspects of life in Norway, such as the church, courting and marriage, education, and trading and markets. The remaining two chapters concern the circumstances that led to emigration and the founding of Norwegian communities in America. Continue reading

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Path to citizenship for the generation of immigrants

Information about naturalization, while not usually a treasure trove for a genealogist, can be helpful in confirming or discovering a few facts: the county where an ancestor lived (especially helpful during the years between censuses), their year of immigration, and their complete and accurate full name. (Federal immigration records after 1906 provide much more information, but the vast majority of Norwegian-Americans in the Norwegian Ridge area immigrated prior to this date.) Not all immigrants would seek naturalization – not having citizenship restricted only the right to vote – but as it would automatically be conferred upon a spouse and foreign-born children, it was sometimes sought to confer an advantage to the family in later years.  Continue reading

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Free genealogy lookups available

The Decorah Genealogy Association has an excellent library of local resources, but I also have a pretty good library of books on subjects related to Norwegian genealogy, such as Norwegian local histories (bygdeboks), printed collections of church records, and historical surveys of Norwegians in America. I am more than happy to help you with your own genealogy inquiry by doing lookups in my collection. I’ve put up a list of my books, so take a look and let me know how I can help!

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Diaries of early preachers reveal frontier life in the 1850s

A number of preachers from Norway (and other Scandinavian countries) were among the first settlers in the Norwegian Ridge area. They were making rounds to settlers before congregations were officially organized and a pastor was funded and “called” from Norway to serve them. Among the preachers were Hans Andreas Stub and Ulrik Vilhelm Koren from Bergen, the Danish Reverend C. L. Clausen, Nils Olsen Brandt of Valdres (and several of his sons), Gustav Dietrichson, and a few brothers of the Preus family. Not only do their personal accounts illustrate the arduous 4,000-mile journeys across the ocean and the American continent that every immigrant undertook, but they also detail life in the early settlements.  Continue reading

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Money Creek and other local place names explained

Black Hammer is so-named because Knud Olsen Bergo came upon the prairie bluff after a wildfire blackened its sides, and Money Creek was named after a gust of wind blew the contents of an unlucky early settler’s wallet into the creek. These and other little gems of history are found in  Continue reading

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Southern Minnesota Railroad Company service in Houston County

Early railroads (and their tycoons) were the beneficiaries of a great gift from the government: to run rail lines to the West, railroads were typically granted every odd-numbered section for six or so miles on each side of the tracks they promised to lay, in the areas where the government wanted to promote development.  Continue reading

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Leprosy epidemic hits Spring Grove in 1886

Sometimes small-town news spreads far and wide. This pair of stories shows that extreme medical conditions gave Spring Grove a small amount of fame in its first few decades. Continue reading

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NYTimes Observes “Our Scandinavian Population” in 1866

Imagine Decorah being at the front of the American frontier when you read this bit from the New York Times, originally published April 20, 1866:

Our Scandinavian Population.

A correspondent of the American Messenger estimates the number of Norwegians settled in the Northwest at two hundred thousand, one-third of them in Wisconsin. They are a rural people, having farms of moderate size, and living quiet and industrious lives. Continue reading

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Historic Norwegian “Amtskart” Maps

Continuing my series on maps, here is a beautiful historic map that covers all of Norway and clearly shows farm locations. Provided by Statens Kartverk, this map is actually a searchable composite map created by stitching together  multiple historic “Amtskartene” (county maps) drawn between 1826-1916. Each county had up to 4 separate maps; here, the map has been rectified so it joins together and overlays perfectly on a contemporary map.  Continue reading

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High-Resolution Plat Maps for Houston, Allamakee and Winneshiek Counties

Plat maps are an excellent resource for local history research. They show where a family lived and farmed, can demonstrate migration over time, and provide context when digging through census records. They can also be used to identify the locations cited in land grant, homestead, and probate records. High-resolution plat maps are clear and easy to read, though some of the links below are watermarked – just scroll the image to get around it.

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Highland Township’s Early History

It’s hard to believe that Highland Township, in the northeast corner of Winneshiek County, Iowa, was once at the western edge of civilization. Here are excerpts from some early histories that show the difficulties as well as the promise of those who settled here. These early regional histories and many more are available for download. Continue reading

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