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

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