Sunday, November 20, 2016

Missouri Valley, I-O-way ...

     The Jim & Lily Bertelson family story has to begin in Missouri Valley, Iowa.  Both Jim and Lily were born in "Mo. Valley" in the late 1800's (Jim in 1893, Lily in 1896) but none of their parents were born there.

     Why were the newly immigrated Tollefson family from Norway and Bertelson family from Denmark in Missouri Valley when their children were born?  They hadn't been in Mo Valley very long, only 4-5 years.  Missouri Valley hadn't been a town for very long, only about 30 years.

Missouri Valley, Iowa 1884

     The Norwegians Tollef Tollefson and Anna Octavia Hansen were married in October 1887 in Chicago, so had to have immigrated by then. The Danes Ane Johanna Jensen came in April 1889, and Jim's father Jens/James Bertelson in September or October 1889.

     The answer of why they chose Mo. Valley includes two major factors: railroads and chain migration.

     People did not immigrate in a vacuum or randomly. There were push factors and pull factors as to why someone would leave their county and family to hazard an ocean crossing, find a new home and be surrounded by a new language and culture.

   Push factors for Scandinavians resulted from the rapid increase of population in Scandinavian countries before the industrial revolution brought more jobs and industry to the cities.  Those in the rural areas took a severe financial hit. Pull factors were the promise of economic improvement; the prospect of jobs and cheap farm land of their own.

     Norway is very mountainous with scant farmland, and as Norway's population increased by 50% in the 1800's fewer than half the population owned land.  Tellef's father was a "cotter" - a day laborer with no land  Many Norwegian immigrants first went to Wisconsin and Illinois, and gradually spread to Iowa and other places in the MidWest.  Tollef and Anna Octavia fit that pattern, going first to Chicago where they were married, then arriving in Missouri Valley shortly after that.

     Denmark is flatter, which much more farmland, but inheritance laws dictated that only one child could inherit the farm. Ane Johanna was the daughter of a postman who drowned one night one his way home through the peat bogs.  It is believed the strong wind blew him off his path, and his postal bag on his back held him under the water. She followed her younger brother "Chris" who had immigrated to Mo. Valley to work for the railroad. Three other of her siblings, plus a niece and nephew also eventually immigrated to Missouri Valley, though not all stayed there.

     Chain migration involved acquaintances following the first immigrants from a village or family, who may have been recruited in the home country to come to the US and work in mines, logging camps or on the railroad.  But after the first few left; "many Danes living in the United States began writing letters home describing their new land and new home.  The letters often were printed in local Danish newspapers, causing a stir of excitement."(1)

     Newspapers also reported of the U.S. government giving away land to farmers who could stay on the land for 5 years (the Homestead Act of 1863).  300,000 Danes eventually immigrated to the United States.  In the year 1900 - about a decade after the Tollefsons immigrated, one-tenth of Denmark's total population immigrated to the United States.  Clearly, it was the thing to do!

     According to Carole Liljedahl: "My grandmother Ane Johanne Johnsen came to the United States sometime in 1889 with or after her brother Hans Christian "Chris" Jensen (Johnsen in the U.S.) came over here.  After she arrived in Missouri Valley, Iowa she found she was pregnant.  The story goes that her brother gave her the money to send for the father of the unborn child, James (Jens) Christian Bertelsen, to come to the United States.  James Bertelsen and Ane Jensen (Johnsen in the U.S.) were married in Missouri Valley, Iowa on November 7, 1889.  Their son, Charles, was born November 27, 1889.

     Both men worked for the rail road "shops" in Missouri Valley, and both were severely injured on the job.  The "shops" were where "Steam boilers were manufactured and refurbished, coaches were painted, and locomotives were given regular maintenance.  Freight cars were refitted and new wheels were installed.  Replacement parts were machined in the the shops and fitted in the yard."(3)  The activity of the shops peaked at 500 employees in 1900.

Chicago & Northwestern Yards, Missouri Valley, Iowa 1872 

       In 1892 Jens/James Christian Bertelson, was working in for the railroad when he somehow strained intensively enough to rupture a pulmonary vessel or trigger an aneurysm. Family stories speculate that he was involved in pushing or pulling a boxcar, or using a sledge hammer between boxcars.  He was very sick at home before dying from the injury about a month later.

     In 1904 Tollef Tollefson was working for Updike Elevator Company in Missouri Valley with railroad cars and was moving a boxcar full of grain with a big thick rope similar to a cable.  His leg was caught in a loop of the rope and strangulated.  His home was near by, and a doctor amputated his leg just above the knee at the house shortly after the accident.

     Railroad work attracted them to Missouri Valley, Iowa, and railroad work killed and injured the two original immigrant men, but the Jim and Lily Bertelson family stayed in Mo. Valley and multiplied and thrived!

(1) From "Danish Immigration - An Overview" on website of museum of danish america.
(2) Bertelson Family History Book by Clytee Kleager Gold & Christian Dale Bertelson.
(3) Missouri Valley, Iowa; A Journey Through The Past; A Special Publication of the Missouri Valley Times-News" published Winter 2000 pages 2-5.
(4) Map from Harrison Counth Iowa Genealgoy IAGenWebProject at

Monday, October 10, 2016

Tollef Tollefson and King Oscar II

     Lilly Dagny Tollefson Bertelson ("Grandma Bertelson" to myself and my 23 first cousins) was the daughter of Ellef Tellefsen and Anna Octavia Hansen who were immigrants from Norway.  Ellef and Anna both immigrated in 1887, and were married in Chicago in October of 1887, the groom using the name Ellef Tellefsen.

Displaying 1898-04-19 Tollef Tollefson Naturalization Record Harrison County Iowa.jpg
     Ten years later in 1898, the groom filed his "First Papers" or Declaration of Intention to become a citizen.  To do so he had to renounce his allegiance to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty.
     Two things are really interesting in the above document.
          1) He is now Tollef Tollefson - a choice he made.  Who knows if he thought that name more "American", or if he wanted to break with the past, or if he just liked "Tollef Tollefson" over Ellef Tellefsen.
          2) He had to "renounce and abjure forever, all allegiance and fidelity" ... to "Oscar II King of Norway".
Oscar II King of Norway

     As my cousin Christian Bertelson said of this image: "Do you think King Oscar II was sad to see him go?  :)   They say this portrait was painted just after Tollef left.  He looks rather indignant at the news.  It was the beginning of the end for Oscar as parliament dissolved his government in 1905 and he was deposed but got to keep the cape."

     In 1900, three years after filing his "First Papers" Tollef Tollefson was granted citizenship after declaring an oath before the Clerk of District Court, Harrison County, Iowa and renounced his allegiance forever to King of Norway.

     Thanks to my second cousin Bill Arrick (grandson of Lily's sister Agnes Tollefson Wisecup) for the images of the Naturalization records.
     Thanks to my first cousin Christian Bertelson for the image and comments of Oscar II King of Norway.

     Want to know more?  Go find a copy of Bertelson Family History Book by Clytee Thordis Kleager Gold and Christian Dale Bertelson.  And do something to encourage me, like e-mail me that you want to know more and tell me to keep at it!  Thanks, Clytee

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

James Christian Bertelson

     James Christian Bertelson was father to nine, grand-father to 24 and great-grandfather to many!  Jim never knew his biological father, as his father died (at age 22) a couple of months before James was born in 1893.  
     When James was five, his mother married Soren Brown.  According to the stories told by Jim's daughter Thordis ("Sis"), Jim was always fond of his step-father Soren.  Jim  worked with Soren in Soren's grocery store for about 10 years until Soren's death in 1920.
      When Jim was planning on marrying Lily Tollefson, Soren gave him a lot to build a house on that was close to Soren and Johanna's house in the Willow Park section of Missouri Valley.

James Christian Bertelson with friends in front of his childhood home early 1900's

Jim Bertelson (2nd from left) in front of his home on Shawmut Avenue in the Willow Park addition in Missouri Valley, Iowa.  The other people are unknown, but one of them had a wooden leg!  The boy fourth from the right and the boy on the far right seem to have baseball gloves on their left hands. Notice there is not a lawn or sidewalk, but some boards to keep one out of the mud and dust.

1891 Ane Johanne Jensen/Johnson Bertelson & husband James/Jens Bertelson

James & Johanna Bertelson with first born son Charles Carl, about a year before Jens/James died and son James Christian was born.

"S. Brown Groceries & Notions" store on Erie Street in Missouri Valley, Iowa

Erie was the main business street in Missouri Valley. From left to right: Carrie Hansen ("shop girl"), Jim Bertelson, unknown, unknown salesman, Soren Brown. Notice the wooden barrels that held dill pickles and other bulk goods out front.  There is a wagon for deliveries parked between the barrels.  Jim is obviously taller than Soren!


     If you want to know more of the story, find a copy of Bertelson Family History Book written by Christian Bertelson and myself in 2002.  There is a digital copy available at:

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Welcome to a Bertelson Blog!

Hello Bertelsons,

     I am Clytee Kleager Gold, daughter of Thordis "Sis" Bertelson Kleager, grand daughter of Jim & Lily Bertelson.  My cousin Christian Bertelson, The Bertelson Photo Archivist will pick out a picture each month and I will write a history to go with it.

     I hope this blog becomes a source of photos and information to share with our children and grandchildren.  Feel free to comment at the bottom so we can share our memories with each other. And please, forward this or let me know of an e-mail address to add of other family members not on the list.

     In honor of Mother's Day, we have a picture of the birth family of the matriarch Lily Dagny Tollefson Bertelson.

Tollef Tollefson & Anna Ocatvia Hansen Family 1912

The Tollef Tollefson & Anna Octavia Hansen family in 1912
The oldest son Einer had left home to work on the railroad, and his mother wanted a family picture, so Einer came back for the picture.
Agnes on far left, Lily behind her, Einer the tallest, Almor behind his mother, Rolf on the right, Fern in front

      By 1912 when this picture was taken, the Tollefson family had already had it's share of adversity.  Almor lost his left eye in an accident that perhaps involved an arrow.  You can see in the picture he had a false eye, but his left eyelid is droopy.  The leg sticking in front of the father, Tollef, is an artificial leg.  In 1904 he was working for the railroad (or the Updike Elevator Company).  There was a box car full of grain that was being pulled by a big thick cable-like rope that somehow got looped around his leg and strangulated it.  Shortly after the accident his leg was amputated at home by a doctor.  

     There were two children missing from the picture.  Between Almor and Lily there had been a girl named Thordis Alvilda who passed away as a two year old.  Lily named her first daughter, Thordis ("Sis") after her deceased sister.  Between Rolf and Agnes there was a baby boy who died shortly after birth named Victor. Four years after this picture, in 1916, a year after Lily was married, 15 year old Rolf contracted diphtheria or scarlet fever. He seemed to be recovering when he suddenly developed pneumonia and died. Of the eight children born to the family, only five survived to adulthood.

     Tollef and Anna were Norwegian immigrants who married in Chicago. Anna was from a wealthy family, as her father exported lumber and fish (obviously Norway had plenty of both). Anna and her sister went to private school. But Thomas Hansen lost his fortune rapidly when his brother-in-law business partner, ran off with the butcher's wife to the United States, stole money and left Thomas with the debts.  Anna had to quit school and go to work as a domestic.  Her mother died, and her father hired a housekeeper, whom he married a couple of years later. Anna and her sisters found the new marriage "discraceful", and left the country.  Anna came to America, married Tollef Tollefson, settled in Missouri Valley, Iowa where Tollef worked for the railroad, and bore eight children.

If you want to know more of the story, find a copy of Bertelson Family History Book written by Christian Bertelson and myself in 2002.  There is a digital copy available at