Visitors From Afar
By Rita Maisel
May to October are prime dates for people from a distance trying to locate their roots in our area, so this week I wanted to share some of their stories. Since most of the visitors I encounter are total strangers who may have given their name to the first person they talked to or maybe signed a guest book somewhere along the line. I rarely know who they are, and mostly they are never seen again. However, the vast majority are very interesting guests, raising good questions that readers in general might have encountered themselves or know the correct answers while I could only hazard a guess. Two things stand out in the 2019 group of visitors. One in that searching methods have changed drastically, and the second is that for some reason these visitors want to see the exact house where their ancestors lived even though said ancestors may have lived here only briefly and could have moved on in the early 1900s. An ever-dwindling number of “original Langdon houses” remain intact and from the experience of pointing out some to visitors that might have had their family name on a sign in the yard, I know how often the guests will say “the house looks nothing like the pictures we have in our family albums”.
First some comments on the methods of searching experienced in just my lifetime. I started learning family history by listening to relatives and their friends tell stories. In pre-television days people would visit their neighbors often nightly, especially farm families remember doing this, and sit around and tell stories. Many older people had a box of pictures they would bring out and explain who the people were. With better handwriting than I have today, they might ask me to help them write the names on the back – an invaluable clue when trying to identify long ago family members. Babies, especially, can tend to look alike especially when they are very small. People like my grandmother had pasted obituaries into old albums along-side studio portraits of family and friends. True, some of the obits were not in English, but there are memories of taking those books to people who did know the language and asking them to tell us what it said. When the search progressed to needing birth and death dates, we looked for verification of that information in cemeteries or court houses or church records. And yes, we did tend to make a lot of notes, often on cards or in notebooks so we had something solid to consult later.
When going to a place where the lay of the land would be different, we used maps. A few of today’s searchers do know what a map is. Others may roll their eyes if you mention a map and tune you out completely if you make a comment about something being a few miles north or east of here. They have programmed their GPS to get them where they want to be and show no interest in what they might see or encounter along the way. When Sid Stivland visited here a couple of weeks ago he made a point of using some of the old ways and some of the new. He started with notes and pictures his father had collected and consulted the relatives living near him. In planning to come this way he began researching old newspapers through a Library of Congress link. Eventually he went to Norway where the family had originated to check things out there, and some of the documents had to be translated both into Norwegian and into English. I believe he first contacted Kathy Muhs when she was president of the historical society. He was interested in an Osnabrock book, and she found one at an auction sale. Kathy also gave him phone numbers including mine. Since he was already familiar with roads to North Dakota and had consulted the Loam Township map (1912 version) in the Osnabrock book, I did tell him some roads might no longer be in use, and there were no longer several families on each section of land. In other words, he was much easier to help both before he came. While here relatives and people farming the land family had lived on took over. He mentioned enjoying the trip and plans to return later to visit additional relatives both here and near Bottineau.
Years ago most visitors seeking history could come and hope to meet someone to help them at the Museum – a tactic that still works. They might think about checking land records at the courthouse; remember that newspapers do print obituaries or stop at a local funeral home. Installing a wide variety of records plus the clipping file in the North Dakota Room at the library has been a real help both to local people wanting to look things up and to visitors from distant places. This is not a duplication of the library at the Museum but possibly an enhanced version created to be accessed during the months the museum is closed.
Last week we had some visitors who still have me stumped. Two different groups arrived late in the day and had their visits cut short because they came too close to closing time. They did understand that situation, and one group told the librarian they would be back first thing the next morning and the second lady mentioned “Wednesday”. Neither group left their names and have not been seen since. The first two ladies told us they had been wandering around “on the street looking lost” when a nice lady in a car drove up and asked if she could help. They did not know her name, but she sent them to the library and as a possibility she gave them my name and phone number. If they called I was at the library that afternoon.
Their first question was to find the grave of an ancestor named Fenton, not an especially common name in Langdon. Mrs. Fention died while visiting relatives named Chase who lived in Langdon and was buried at Lebanon Cemetery. Thanks to printed cemetery lists from the 1990s at the library they found Martha Fenton who died in January 1917. She is buried in Block 1 (far north east corner) so they could visit the grave. A recent letter from the cemetery board mentions that drones are currently photographing the cemetery which we did not know at the time, so probably they could check with Findagrave.com and see the stone without actually going to the cemetery. Then they asked where this Chase family lived in Langdon. Since that name is not currently a “Langdon name” they told us that ancestry.com lists the Chase family as living in Ward 2. Early on Langdon was divided into wards with councilmen elected to serve those sections of the town. There is a vague memory of hearing older people in the 1970s speak of voting by wards. That might have been an early name for precincts or a different classification which went with city government.
When asked to help them, the only person I could remember named Chase who had lived in Langdon was Cora (Chase) Moore, wife of Martin Moore who worked for the railroad from the 1930s and possibly until his death. The Moore family was large so readers may remember younger family members. They lived in one of several houses on a grassy area north of the railroad- in fact, right where the library and its parking lot are located today. Thanks to the fact that Mrs. Moore, her mother and a long list of descendants took four and five generation pictures some of those pictures were still in the clipping file under Moore – a name which the visitors had not located on their earlier ancestry.com searches so they did not believe it was a link to their Chase family. The next request was for Mrs. Fenton’s obituary from 1917 which is too early for the clipping file. We do not know if they had been to the museum, but there are bound volumes of newspapers at that source as well as bound volumes at the Republican office. Unfortunately not only was the library past closing but so was the newspaper office by the time of their visit They did record other items with their handy cell phones.
Another lady arrived while the first group were being helped and we did not learn her story for a couple of days. All we knew was that she was from Vancouver and had driven down to spend the day at Hannah where ancestors had once lived. Her husband had remained in Winnipeg and she told some who talked to her that she had crossed the border at Pembina and reached Hannah where she got directions to Wales. If you have made the journey from Hannah to Wales, you may remember a curve in the road between the towns. Hang on to that memory. From Wales she was given directions to Dresden where the Museum was open with helpful people to aid in her search. But as the afternoon went on, she mentioned she had not had lunch. Where could she find a sandwich? They suggested Langdon, a town she had missed on her route from Pembina to Hannah. She picked up sandwiches and drinks and someone sent her to the library only a few minutes before closing. Yes, she also had a handy cell phone to take pictures because a map at the library showed her ancestors land within sight of that curve she had driven on between Hannah and Wales. But the library was closing and her husband was waiting in Winnipeg. With promises to be back, she wrote down Vera McIntosh’s name as a possible source for a copy of the Hannah book and headed back toward Winnipeg.
Karen Bimler, who filled in bits of this last story, also had a topic that would make a good story for this column – if we knew a few more details. The star in this story was a vehicle known in our area as the Bombardier. She thought Romeo Chaput had something to do with it, and I remembered hearing about it from Carl Wild. Karen thought this vehicle had been manufactured in 1948, and the one used here was the first one off the line. Some of that information had come from REA sources and possibly they had a picture in one of their publications about it.
We had lots of snow in the late 1940s and early 1950s so I do have a personal memory of some being with LHS band members waiting outside the east door to the old LHS gym about tournament time when a vehicle that looked like a submarine on skis pulled up to the door and a basketball team emerged from inside. In my mind the team was from Milton and had been brought to Langdon to play in the tournament since the roads were bad and possibly the train was not running. The clipping file does not list this vehicle under Romeo Chaput, Carl Wild or even “B” for Bombardier. However, Romeo’s story in the Langdon Centennial book says Romeo acquired this vehicle from Canada and that it was built to hold 18 passengers. He then leased it to the phone company and REA who used it to transport linemen when roads were not passable. Another version which might have been part of someone else’s memories was that this type of vehicle had been used in Alaska by military troops in World War II. At any rate the Bombardier, was later owned by the REC for a few years and then sold and re-sold to people who appreciated its uniqueness and wanted it for their collection. Do readers have early pictures or stories about this unique transportation?
One of several memorable printers who worked at the Cavalier County Republican in the 1940s and 1950s was Art Miller, a man with a great sense of humor whose intelligence may often have been overlooked simply because he was deaf and dumb. Not one to let that problem sideline him, Art read lips fluently and took a pencil and paper around with him so he could write out his requests and sometimes add his comments to an ongoing conversation. There were three children in the family who many of us remember as having inherited their father’s sense of humor: Maureen, Bob and Carol. All three graduated from Langdon High School in the 1950s. Maureen Christianson died a few years ago and Bob died a week or so ago after making his home in Great Falls, Montana, for many years. Yes, several of his classmates at LHS were notified and planned to attend his funeral. Carol Holter is now the only survivor of this interesting family.
Another link with the Cavalier County Republican will be a group gathering in Langdon July 14-17 who will enjoy old sights and old friends while adding the ashes of Rosemary (Franta) and Gary Peterson to family plots near Langdon. Familiar faces you might see could be extended members of both the Franta and Peterson families. Rosemary and Gary’s family includes their daughter, Rebecca, and her husband Don Holmquist, Craig and I think they said five children and possibly two grandchildren, Trevor, and his daughter, Erin, and her husband. Erin is the most recent of the family to visit Langdon when she was taking classes at Brookings, SD, so some will remember meeting her. Erin is now married and working with Fish and Wildlife in Maine. Others may remember Rebecca’s brothers, Craig and Trevor, from their summer visits with the Franta grandparents in Langdon and also with the Peterson grandparents on the farm west of Langdon. While the family is now spread in several directions they still consider Langdon and Seattle to be “home”.