This week is the 156th anniversary of the birth of my paternal great grandfather, Martin Hendrickson. He was born in Nettle Creek, Illinois in 1863, to Hendrick Hendrickson and Berthe Malene Haldorsdatter, who had arrived in America in the 1850s from the southwest coast of Norway. I have visited Nettle Creek, which is a peaceful spot in the road amidst several small, rural communities southwest of Chicago.
Martin’s death certificate says he was born on July 4. While I vaguely remember a separate record indicating July 3, I can’t put my hands on that record right now, so for now I’m going with the Fourth of July because … why wouldn’t I?
Martin’s mother died young, shortly after the birth of one of Martin’s sisters, and the children were raised by their father Hendrick, who was said to have been a “stern Lutheran,” and by a stepmother Julia (Guro) who was also from Norway. With a father named Hendrick Hendrickson, Martin was destined to be a Hendrickson with either the American or the Norwegian naming tradition. Last year I did an extensive research project on Martin’s birth mother to pin down a single identity for a woman who, because she was a Norwegian American at a certain time in history, had several names in both the American and the Norwegian patronymic traditions.
Martin grew up around aunts, uncles, and cousins because his father Hendrick was one of several siblings who settled in the same region after migrating from Norway. While some had been cobblers in the old country, most became farmers in their new home.
Martin eventually moved west to central Iowa, along with others from his community, including siblings and cousins of his generation. Martin married my great-grandmother, Petra, at right, in Hamilton County, Iowa, in 1889. Petra was born near Lillehammer, Norway, and had arrived in Iowa with her family at about age 12. Martin and Petra lived the rest of their lives in central Iowa. They had six children, the fourth of whom was my grandfather, Carl. Martin and Petra lost a daughter, Alice, in 1907 at age 2, and she is buried near them under the shade of a tree in the Graceland Cemetery in Webster City, Iowa.
It was only after I started researching old newspaper archives that I realized my great grandfather had gone by the name “Mart.” One of my favorite articles about him offers a glimpse of their community in 1912:
Tuesday afternoon while Harm Tapper was untying his team, the horses became frightened, jerked away from him, and ran north on Main Street. They collided with Mart Hendrickson’s buggy in front of the blacksmith shop, where they were stopped. No damage resulted except the breaking of one of the buggy wheels. Little Cleo Kayser, who was standing directly in their path, would surely have been run over had it not been for Mart Hendrickson, who caught her and carried her to the sidewalk.
According to other accounts, when Martin was first learning to drive a car after years of driving a buggy, he would pull up to where he wanted to stop, pull back on the steering wheel and say, “Whooooa ….” I guess every generation lives in an age of technological transition. Another quote attributed to Martin, said to emerge each March was, “That south wind is cold whichever direction it blows from.”
A nephew of Martin’s, who grew up on an adjacent farm, at age 83 wrote of the community’s Fourth of July celebrations: “The 4th of July was one day they looked forward to as a day of rest when they could see neighbors and friends. A picnic dinner, a social day with lemonade and homemade ice cream. Croquet and horseshoes furnished the entertainment.” That same nephew remembered their Iowa community as a place “where the wind blows free and where everyone I have ever met has treated me fine.”
By all available accounts, Martin was a gentle, hard-working man who farmed for his entire life.
Unlike the other men in his Hendrickson line, Martin died at a fairly young age, in his late 60s. His widow Petra survived him by 16 years. My Dad, who was only 7 months old when Martin died in 1931, never got to know his grandfather well but was closer to Petra, who as a widow lived off and on with their family. Martin’s death certificate identified him as a Methodist, consistent with family memories, and more specifically, with Dad’s memory of Petra.
While most of Martin’s sons and daughters remained in the Midwest, the farm was eventually sold. One of Martin’s sons came full circle and is interred back in that original Illinois community in a Lutheran cemetery not far from Hendrick. Martin’s son Carl, my grandfather, raised my dad just a few miles west in Sioux City, Iowa, before retiring in California, where his grave and my grandmother’s are located in a cemetery in Escondido. Later generations scattered more broadly across the country.
A few years ago, at the Family History Center in Salt Lake City, I came across a map that showed where Martin’s farm was located in Hamilton County, Iowa. Unfortunately, not enough context is available for me to place it precisely just yet, but it was in or near the town of Kamrar, and I have research on land records on my agenda to try to solve that mystery.
My great grandfather is one of those ancestors about whom I can say that the more I have learned about him, the more I wish I’d had the chance to know him. I sense we’d have gotten on well. Rest in perfect peace, Great Grandpa.
This is the fourth in a series, Birthday Profiles, which includes descriptions of ancestors on the anniversary dates of their births. It is one good way to slow down on gathering data and focus on individuals in their totality.