Climbing through those Illinois branches

WLisbon_roadbychurchWe are a family from Iowa. On both sides. Sure, our grandfather talked about his ancestors being from Illinois, but since he himself grew up in Iowa and his parents are laid to rest there — right in the middle of the state — well … our family … simply put … they’re Iowa people.

So it was a bit of an adventure to start climbing a little further into the family tree to explore the Illinois branches. I first researched where our great-grandfather Hendrickson was born — in Nettle Creek, Illinois, it turns out, not far from  where the picture above was taken. I also found out more about his parents, who immigrated from Norway and settled there among a community of other Norwegian immigrants.

NorwgnMem_Nor NorskMuseum2_NorMy research culminated in a recent trip to the western part of Illinois that is a couple of hours across the Iowa border, yet still not far from Chicago, where I discovered the existence of Illinois towns like “Norway” and “Stavanger” (named for the Norwegian city). I stopped on my way through Norway to view the modest monuments to the Norwegian immigrants who helped settle the area. Pictured at right, above, are a state memorial and one dedicated by King Olav V of Norway in 1975, honoring Cleng Peerson, “the father of Norwegian immigration.” I tried on two separate days to look inside the town’s church-turned-museum, but it was locked both times. A sign identifies the little white church as the Norsk Museum, and a metal sculpture of a Viking ship stands outside.

H_stones WLisbonChurchIn a Lutheran cemetery in the adjacent town of Lisbon, within sight of a large-ish Lutheran church surrounded by farmland, I found our great-great-grandfather’s gravestone. It is mostly Norwegian immigrants who are laid to rest here, and this includes a great-great aunt and uncle, Serena and Lars, among other relatives. The area was exceedingly peaceful. I drove up to the church and learned that it had been rebuilt in 1926, about 12 years after our great-great-grandfather’s death. I was delighted to find a street sign for Nettle Creek Rd., though, sadly, it had somehow become broken.

My brief time in Illinois was marked by cloudy, cold, late-October days with a wind that persisted to the point of discomfort sometimes, mainly because I had not planned ahead and so was not dressed properly for it. It was also a unique chance for a brief visit with my sweet cousin’s family. Most of my photos, however, had already been taken by the time sunny blue skies arrived.

Upon my return to Texas, I did further research and learned that there was considerable migration of Norwegian immigrants from the part of Illinois I’d just visited into Central Iowa, where our own ancestors finally settled and our grandfather grew up. It helps explain the strong Norwegian presence in that part of Iowa. I’ve learned from the Central Iowa Norwegian Project that the Norwegian community in Illinois sent a “scouting” group into Iowa in search of farmland. As I drove between Illinois and Iowa by car on the interstate, crossing the Mississippi River, I thought about what that travel must have involved for them in the 19th century.

It’s been an education for me, discovering the close communities in which my ancestors lived before more recent generations scattered more broadly across the country. I’ve also enjoyed learning about how their travels were part of broader migration patterns … and look forward to learning more about what their lives may have been like. It’s always interesting to me to visit the places they lived and try to imagine their lives in their time. Understanding more about how my ancestors came to settle in Iowa gives me a greater appreciation for their journey.

I’ve been interested to see that many Americans who migrated west did so as communities — and not just the Norwegians. I love that I’m learning so much about American and Midwestern history.

VelkommenSign_Nor (2)

This entry was posted in IOWA (ALL), IOWA (Central), NORWAY and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Climbing through those Illinois branches

  1. I enjoy living in this Norwegian/Swedish region that I moved to 20 years ago. So many fun traditions!

  2. megandaline says:

    I just stumbled across you blog recently, and was delighted to read about Norway and Stavanger in this post. I grew up in that area, the great, great granddaughter of Norwegian immigrants. If you are ever there again, ask in the Norway store about tours of the museum. I live in Oregon now, but still have many relatives in the area.

    • ljhlaura says:

      What a small world! We are both the great-great granddaughters of Norwegian immigrants from that area. I remember seeing the Norway store on my way back through, but unfortunately, by then I didn’t have enough time to investigate it. I really should have asked about the museum … Next time! I enjoyed my brief tour of your home region…

  3. I love that you are able to get out and see all the places your ancestors lived. I’m too far away from mine!

    • ljhlaura says:

      Thanks … it’s something I’ve just recently devoted myself to doing. It sometimes takes effort, but it’s been rewarding every time. It’s fortunate that the travel is not too complicated … I hope some day you’ll have the chance to make more visits to the places your ancestors lived.

  4. Norwegian families as immigrants first to Illinois and then to Iowa. What a nice, clear, interesting post. So many immigrants seem to have moved further on, to better lands, once they arrived here from Europe. Migration patterns are fascinating.I can certainly understand why they lived in close communities.

    • ljhlaura says:

      Thank you for your kind words. Like you, I am fascinated by the decisions our immigrant ancestors made about when to travel and when and where to settle, as well as by the communities they formed. Thanks so much for stopping by to read …

  5. Sheryl says:

    I’m always a bit amazed at much people moved from place to place years ago.

    • ljhlaura says:

      Certainly moving from one place to another was a different adventure in the 19th century. I often have to remind myself that some of these are people who had the courage to cross the ocean into a relative unknown.

  6. Hey, I liked that! Must be someone with a Norwegian heritage? Perhaps they ought to be told about my blog :-) ?

  7. Jana Last says:

    Wonderful post! I also have a Norwegian ancestral branch that settled in Iowa. My 2nd great-grandfather’s brother emigrated from Norway and apparently lived in Iowa for many years. What a beautiful state. Thank you for sharing your research trip and photos with us.

    • ljhlaura says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Jana! I agree that Iowa is a beautiful state. I discovered and began to appreciate the significant Norwegian presence there after I started my family history research … I look forward to learning more about your Norwegian branch on your blog …

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