#52Ancestors: Great Grandma’s niece Margit – a strong woman.

Another great story from Kendall Gibson, Wellington, NZ

My great-grandmother Hanna Christophersdatter had a little sister, Mathilde Caspara. Caspara was 15 when Hanna emigrated to New Zealand with her husband Nicolai Larsen. Caspara stayed in Norway and married Adolf Gjotterud in 1883. He was a farm labourer.

In 1906 Hanna set up a ‘Birthday Book’ which she used to record the names of her family back in Norway so her children in New Zealand would know who their relatives were. I don’t think Hanna ever met her niece (Caspara’s daughter), but Margit is recorded in the birthday book.

 

Birthday Book 1906

Hover mouse over picture to enlarge.

This is Margit’s story:

Margit Kathrine Gjotterud 1883 – 1961

1885 Census: In this census Caspara’s occupation was recorded as ‘vadskerkone’ or cleaning woman. Two children Margit and Christopher, were with her (but Adolf was not listed as living there). Later information tells us he worked as a seaman so he may have been at sea. A year later in July 1886 Caspara died of ‘scharletina’ (scarlet fever). She was 27. It could be that Adolf was away and didn’t find out that his wife had died until he returned to his home port? But however it happened Margit aged 3 and Chris 2 were fostered out (or adopted), probably by different families?

A cousin of our family and a descendant of Margit’s, recalls it was known in the family that Margit had been adopted and had had a very unhappy early life. It’s not known whether Margit had any contact with her brother Christopher or her father Adolf Gjotterud while she was growing up. (In 1890 Adolf married Elise Marie Andreasdatter and had 3 further children. He died in 1902 aged 42.)

1900 Census: Margit was 17 and working as a housemaid in Sarpsborg for a family called Falch. Johannes Falch was a ‘bager’ (baker). Around this time (early 1900’s) Margit, as many young women before and since, fell in love with a handsome soldier. Their relationship would not have been welcomed by either of their families as Carl August Svensson was a Swedish soldier stationed in Norway. Political tensions were high between Sweden and Norway at this time. They may have been unable to get permission to marry (from Carl’s parents or the church). Margit was 18 and not married when their first child Rudolf Helge was born

At this time the church in Sweden controlled family life. Not only keeping records of births, marriages and burials but also keeping household record books. Every family was visited regularly with the priest testing their literacy levels and religious knowledge and also recording how many times they had attended church.

Family history recounts that Margit was very badly treated by Carl’s family. The Svennson’s treatment of Margit may have been because she and Carl were unmarried and had a child ? Or because she was from Norway or because the  church demanded it?

A distant cousin in the USA and a descendent of Margit’s sent me their family story-

 ‘Initially, Carl and Margit were living in Norway at the town of Sarpsborg.  They must have been very poor because my grandmother (Gudrun) remembered as a very small child going down to the river to wash their clothes.  Then they moved in with Karl’s family in Sweden.  He left her there and went over to America to try to find work.  When he left, his family kicked Margit and the children out of the house and made them live in the wood shed.  (She was NORWEGIAN and they were ashamed and angered that their son had married a Norwegian.)  Margit was pregnant and they refused to have anything to do with her.  When the time for the baby came due, they would not get a doctor and the baby died.  You can see why she wanted to get away.  Karl came back, then went back one more time to get enough money.  He sent the money to Margit and in 1907 she loaded up on the ship with 3 children.  When she arrived at Ellis Island she found out that she had to have $10 or she would be regarded as indigent and sent back to Sweden.  Fortunately, Mrs. Nelson, who was in line ahead of her slipped her $10 so she was accepted.  I don’t know how she and Karl actually got back together.  He might have been waiting at the Island for her or he might have been in Chicago.  I have no accounts about that.’

1907

In August 1907 Margit and the 3 children boarded the ‘Oscar II’ sailing from Christiania to New York. The passenger list offers a few clues – Margit stated that Sarpsborg was her home town and that all three children were born in Norway (not Sweden)? Margit also had to provide the name and address of her nearest relative in Norway. It’s very difficult to read what the ship’s clerk (probably an English speaker) has recorded. But it’s clear that Margit has given the name of a ‘Brother Mr C Jodelelued?’ followed by an address in Christiania. It’s likely then that Margit had kept in touch with her brother Christopher Gjotterud. I do hope so.

Oscar II on New York harbour. Public domain via Wikimedia commons

A happy ending.

On settling in America Carl and Margit anglicised their name from ‘Svensson’ to ‘Swanson.’ They had three more children. The Swanson family prospered in America and there are now many descendants of this family.

I think Margit truly qualifies as a ‘strong woman’ in our family history.

 

If you have a story you would like to share, I am happy to publish it here on my blog.

 

 

 

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