Orcutt home at 550 S 26th Avenue, Omaha, NE. Photograph by Louis Bostwick taken November 1903 on the occasion of Jane Orcutt’s Debut into Society. Handwriting from Anna Jane Beaton Hyde, granddaughter of Clinton Orcutt.

Family historians research every aspect of their ancestor’s lives, including where they lived. We search for addresses by following a paper trail: census records, directories, land deeds, tax records, and newspaper articles. Once we have an address, we google it to determine if the house still exists. If it doesn’t, we might be fortunate enough to discover old photographs. Two of my favorite ancestoral families, the Orcutts and Beatons, left behind a generous paper trail. Compelled by a treasure trove of pictures, records, and newspaper articles, I decided to explore the Clinton and Anna (Dutton) Orcutt house in Omaha, Nebraska – in detail.

My maternal great-grandmother, Edith (Orcutt) Beaton, spent her first seven years in the sleepy rural village of Durant, Iowa – population 500. Then, in the fall of 1887 the Orcutt family packed their belongings and moved 300 miles west to Omaha, Nebraska – population 125,000. By 1890 the population had grown to 140,000.


Listed below are the Orcutt family members who moved to Omaha. Scroll through the picture gallery to view their photos. Sadly, there are no photographs that survived of Louis DeForest Orcutt, the eldest son who died four years after the family moved to Omaha.

  • Clinton Delos Orcutt (1840-1905)
  • Anna Dorcas (Dutton) Orcutt (1842-1899)
  • Louis Deforest Orcutt (1871-1891
  • Marion Edith Orcutt (1879-1964)
  • Anna Ri Orcutt (1881-1942)
  • Jane Clare “Jennie” Orcutt (1884-1918)


Panoramic View of Omaha -Austen, Edward J, and Jefferson Bee Publishing Company. Panoramic view of Omaha. [Jefferson Iowa Bee Publishing Co, 1905] Map.

Between 1870 and 1900, Omaha developed from a frontier railroad center to a regional metropolis.[1] From a business standpoint, the city oozed potential. It had a new Union Pacific railroad hub, manufacturing plants, mills, stockyards, and packing houses. From a cultural perspective, Omaha offered arts and sciences, schools, higher education institutions, and churches. Noted as the “Gate City of the West,” Omaha is located nearly midway between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and about 500 miles from Denver, St. Louis, and Chicago.

The 1890 Omaha city directory described the city in glowing terms.

“Upon entering Omaha, we find ourselves treading finely paved streets and surrounded by a busy throng of active, energetic people, substantial and elegant buildings on every side, stores filled with goods from every climate, and all the appliances of modern civilization. The streets are broad, clean, well lighted and many of them excellently paved with granite, Colorado sandstone, asphaltum, or cedar or cypress blocks, making them fine driveways and roadways.

Shade trees abound on the residence streets, protecting the pedestrian from the summer sun -seventy-three miles of sewer and good drainage. City well lighted with gas and electric lights. Public squares and parks abound.”[2]

Glimpses of Omaha- "Omaha Illustrated: A History of the Pioneer Period and the Omaha of Today", 1888.
Glimpses of Omaha- “Omaha Illustrated: A History of the Pioneer Period and the Omaha of Today”, 1888.

I found another description that portrayed a less appealing side of Omaha. In 1888, Frisby Rasp, a Nebraska farm boy, moved to Omaha to attend business college. His letters to his family may reflect how Edith Orcutt and her family felt when they first moved to the big city. Frisby was overwhelmed by the crowds and anonymity. “If 2/3 of the country people could see Omaha they would open there [sic] eyes as if they had been thunderstruck. It has the most noise and rattle to it I ever saw…” He also found the city to be filthy by a country boy’s standards. “I guess there ain’t any end to Omaha, at least I can’t find any. You can walk till you are tired out any direction you choose, and the houses are as thick as ever…Everything is coal smoke and dirt and people. It is dusty just as soon as it quits raining, and the dust is the worst dust I ever saw. It is all stone and manure. Streets that ain’t paved, two feet deep of mud.”[3] Another disturbing aspect for Frisby was the vice in Omaha. “Every other store is a saloon. This is an awful wicked town. The saloons run on Sunday and most all work goes right on.” In 1888, Omaha boasted 300 saloons. According to Frisby, “…even the local newspapers claimed that if you shut down all the saloons, brothels, and tobacco shops, half of Omaha’s business would be gone…I never want to live in the city. It is the worst place in the world to live.”[4] Frisby rented a room near the Union Pacific Depot, an area not as genteel as the neighborhood the Orcutts chose.


Based on newspaper articles, I knew in 1886 Clinton Orcutt began building a spacious house in Omaha, Nebraska. Researching the deed records required that either I travel to Omaha or find a professional geneaolgist to do the research. So I decided to splurge. I referred to the website for the Association of Professional Genealogists and quickly found a very thorough and professional researcher and genealogist. A sound decision.

Lewis, S. 2021. Research Report: Beaton and Orcutt Homes. History Walks LLC. Sanborn Map Company, (1890). Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Omaha, Douglas and Sarpy County, Nebraska. Vol 2 [Map] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

When Clinton Orcutt decided to build a new home in Omaha, he chose two lots in an area known as Clarks Addition or Clarks St. Mary’s Addition, a largely undeveloped area in the city.[5] Clinton purchased lot 9 from Isaac Congdon (a lawyer) for $4,000 on September 8, 1886. Three days later, on September 11, 1886 he purchased lot 10 from Charles C. Housel (real estate agent) and his wife for $5,000. [6] Unfortunately, the genealogist could not locate information regarding the building costs on the property. The city of Omaha destroyed older building permits in the 1990’s.[7]

Initally, I thought the Orcutt home at 550 S 26th Avenue was located in the Gold Coast neighborhood of Omaha. According to Adam Fletcher, who writes a blog about North Omaha History,the new Gold Coast was the nouveau riche flexing their muscles.”[7] It contained two distinct neighborhoods within its boundaries: the Blackstone neighborhood and the Cathedral neighborhood.

“Houses had all kinds of spectacular features, including three -and four- story towers and spectacular flower gardens on the outsides. Yards were often ringed with iron fencing and served by regal driveways where coaches and drivers could gracefully haul their charges to the next location. The insides of these homes with even more elaborate furnishings, all reflecting the opulence and splendor of the Gilded Age. Woods from exotic places, fine handmade woodworking; elaborate stained glass leaded windows; beautiful silk wall tapestries; Tiffany Lamp Fixtures; and exquisite rugs filled these homes. On an average, when a fine home had six or ten rooms in two stories, these mansions had 20 and 30 rooms in three and four stories. These all had large coach houses, often two stories tall with enough room to accommodate their horses, carriages, and buggies.”[8]

Orcutt home at 550 S 26th and the Gold Coast Historic District, Google Maps.

The Gold Coast lies to the north of the Orcutt home. Clinton may have thought that Clarks Addition would develop into similar high-end real estate. After all, he’d made his fortune buying and selling real estate in Iowa and Nebraska. The area had potential at the time.

Using Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps provided details I previously overlooked regarding Clinton Orcutt’s property. When he purchased two lots, he built two houses plus a carriage house.[9] The larger home served as the Orcutt family residence. The smaller six-room cottage at 554 S 26th Avenue may have been intended as a “mother-in-law” house. Although Clinton’s mother had passed away, Anna’s widowed mother was still alive in 1886. Thanks to a suggestion from the professional genealogist, I examined Omaha city directories for the address “550 S. 26th” to determine who lived in the smaller home from 1886-1910. The occupants were not family members nor domestic servants who worked for the Orcutts. City directories revealed that Clinton rented the home to various tenants, none remaining longer than two years – single men, single women, and occasionally a married couple.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Omah, Douglas and Sarpy County, Nebraska. Image 20, 1901.,0.595,1.662,0.822,0

Many of the wealthy hired Omaha’s finest architects to custom design their homes. I don’t know if that is the case for Clinton Orcutt’s residence. However, the Orcutt home did receive notice in a book published in 1888 that featured prominent Omaha residences, “Omaha Illustrated: A History of the Pioneer Period and the Omaha of Today.”[10] Included in the book is the image depicted below. I am thrilled to have discovered the only known photograph that clearly shows the Orcutt’s home. The home is also listed amongst the notable residences in “Born Rich: A Historical Book of Omaha”, published in 1978.[11]

“Omaha Illustrated: A History of the Pioneer Period and the Omaha of Today,” (Omaha, Nebraska, D.C. Dunbar & Co. Publishers, 1888; digital images, ( : accessed 20 April 2021), p.110.

The Orcutt’s three-story house embodied the popular Victorian Queen Anne architecture; it included a steep roofline, an ornamental chimney, irregular angles, a tower, shapely windows – including a bay window – and an expansive wrap-around porch with decorative trim, railings, and posts. Unfortunately, black and white photographs don’t reveal the color of the Orcutt home, but Queen Anne architecture typically featured rich tertiary colors.

  • “Body: one or two strong colors (usually different for clapboards and shingles)
  • Trim: a color unifying the body colors. Often a different accent color was used for decorative features.
  • Sash: the darkest color on the house: dark green, deep brown, black, deep red, maroon, chocolate, deep umber.”[12]


The home’s interior reflected Victorian style, orderly with detailed ornamentation, yet unique and rambling with multiple bedrooms, second-floor balconies, double doors, and ornate stairways.

A visitor to the Orcutt home first encountered the expansive entrance hall. Traditionally, the front hall included a hall stand, chairs, and a card receiver for calling cards. The stand provided space for hats, coats, parasols, and umbrellas. Hall chairs offered a seat for messengers or unexpected guests who awaited instructions.

“[Illustrations]: Decorative Chart for a Hall; Decorative Chart for a Parlor.” The Decorator and Furnisher, vol. 17, no. 6, 1891, pp. 206–207. JSTOR, Accessed 11 Feb. 2021.

The Orcutt reception/entrance hall must have been impressive. For formal events, the ample space served as an ideal location to place an orchestra. “An orchestra was stationed in the large reception hall, screened by large palms.”[13] In the two photographs below you can see a portion of the entrance hall. The grand staircase is on the left with Anna Ri on her wedding day. On the right, Edith Orcutt Beaton is standing in the palm filled hallway on the occasion of her sister Jane’s wedding. Directly behind Edith is a portrait of her sister Anna Ri Orcutt. I wrote about the painting in another blog about Orcutt family portraits.

Newspaper articles from the Omaha Daily Bee and the Omaha World-Herald described the Orcutt home with the following adjectives: comfortable, commodious, spacious, beautiful, and handsome. I gleaned snippets of information from the newspapers about the types of rooms, their function, and decorative features. For example, the ground floor had a drawing-room, a music room with a piano, a west parlor, an expansive rear parlor with a “bow window,” a dining room, and the grand staircase. Wide doorways separated the parlors, the latter accented with fancy mantles. The “capacious” drawing-room provided sufficient space to host large numbers of guests. On several occasions, the Orcutt’s invited 300 guests to special events, such as the Christmas party they hosted in December 1900.

“In honor of Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Beaton [Edith Orcutt Beaton and her husband Alfred Beaton], Mr. Orcutt gave a reception on Tuesday evening to about 300 guests. Though she does not make her debut until next season, Miss Anna Ri assisted her father, presiding with a dignity that would reflect credit upon a much older and experienced hostess.

The house was elaborately decorated with holiday greens, palms, and smilax. In the doorways were suspended Christmas bells with clappers of holly berries and mistletoe. The stairway in the hall was festooned with evergreen and bows of red ribbon, while tall palms formed a screen behind which the orchestra played during the evening.”[14]

When the three sisters, Edith, Anna Ri, and Jane Clare, reached the appropriate age, they acted as hostesses for social events to practice their future roles as mistresses of their own homes. Fifteen- year-old Edith appeared in the Omaha Daily Bee in 1895, when she served as hostess at a luncheon for her young friends.

“A Dainty Pink Luncheon – One of the prettiest luncheons was given by Miss Edith Orcutt last Tuesday in honor of her guest, Mrs. T.G. Wear of Topeka. Cover [places] were laid for sixteen. The table decorations were beautiful. The centerpiece was prettily embroidered in wild roses and the cut glass vases at each end of the table and in the center were filled with fragrant blush roses. The menu consisted of eight delicious courses. The house throughout was decorated with palms and pink roses. The young ladies made a charming picture in their dainty, fairylike summer gowns.”[15]

Researching the Orcutt family produced a wealth of information, as they frequently appeared in the society columns. These included the weddings of the Orcutt sisters. All three events took place in the Orcutt home, beautifully decorated for the special ceremonies.

  • Marion Edith Orcutt to Alfred James Beaton – 19 October 1899
  • Anna Ri Orcutt to Louis Tallmadge Jaques – 19 March 1905
  • Jane Clare Orcutt to Arthur Robinson Keeline – 21 January 1906

Of the three sisters, I could only find evidence that Jane Clare actually made a formal debut into society. Described as “an exquisitely pretty girl,” her debut in 1903 made the Society News. Photographed by Louis Ray Bostwick, Jane’s Debut Album showcased the young woman in the Orcutt family home. What a bonanza for my research!

A professional photographer captured the Orcutt daughter’s weddings, including images of the gifts elegantly displayed in the upstairs room. Preserved for over 100 years, these albums provide a glimpse into the Orcutt home and family history.

Based on the pictures, I know the formal dining room included the following:

  • Ornate dark wood furniture
  • Paneled walls
  • Wallpaper with wide decorative borders near the ceiling
  • Stained glass windows
  • Tasseled draperies
  • A gas chandelier
  • A corner cabinet filled with china and crystal

“A formal dining room ensured enjoyable meals. A library stocked well with books and with a sprawling fireplace provided comfort and warmth. Spacious parlors located throughout a home provided occupants with formal living areas for welcoming guests. Parlors usually featured ostentatious decors such as tasseled draperies, dark wood, fireplaces with fancy mantles, and gilded wainscoting.”[16]

The most important rooms in the house were the parlors, as they served as showcases for the homeowners to entertain their guests. The Orcutt parlors, decorated in dark woods, such as mahogany and walnut, featured oversized cozy chairs, oriental rugs, window coverings made of thick heavy fabrics, valances, swags and tassels, candelabras, and multi-light chandeliers ornamented with porcelain and glass shades. “A bare room was considered to be in poor taste, so every surface was filled with objects that reflected the owner’s interests and aspirations.”[17] The Orcutt’s decorated their home with marble figures, artwork, potted plants, and flower-filled vases.

The second floor of the Orcutt home included individual bedrooms for each of the six family members. Anna and Clinton Orcutt had separate bedrooms. Additional rooms included a library, a sitting room and a “modern” bathroom and lavatory for the family members.

“In wealthier homes, the toilet was often in a room by itself, in a corner, or an anteroom with a door. The room itself was always relegated to the bedroom floor, above the parlor floor, away from the public rooms of the house. Many houses had a servant’s toilet off the kitchen, often outside in a shed, or in an attic.[18]

Photographs from the family albums show that the second-story had spacious rooms but with lower ceilings than the ground floor. Oriental rugs draped the floors, lace curtains covered the windows, and lightly patterned wallpaper decorated the walls. Furniture included a carved four-poster bed and walnut or mahogany dressers. Although the images focus on the wedding gifts, they still provide the viewer with a glimpse into the upper rooms of the Orcutt house.


Newspapers never mentioned the behind-the-scenes aspects of how the Orcutt’s managed their household, but I know that servants performed the daily tasks. Society ladies did not engage in household chores. Based on the 1900 census, the Orcutts employed two female servants, one nanny, and a coachman. Female servants probably slept on the third floor, but the coachman likely had a room in the carriage house or the basement.

Unfortunately, I could only refer to the 1900 census for information regarding the Orcutts and their servants. Census records, a valuable resource for family historians, are only available every ten years. The 1890 census records were destroyed in a fire, and by 1910, the Orcutt family no longer lived at 550 South 26th Avenue. I used the tip from the professional genealogist to search Omaha city directories for just the address to learn more about the Orcutt’s domestic help. Searching a directory for an address instead of a name did not yield results for every year. However, I did confirm that the Orcutt family employed two female domestic staff and one coachman. Not surprisingly, the staff changed about every two years.

1900 United States Federal Census for Clinton Orcutt and his household. [19]

  • Clinton Orcutt – head of household – age 59 (widower) – birthplace, Illinois – Capitalist
  • Edith Orcutt Beaton – daughter – age 24 – birthplace, Iowa – no profession listed
  • Anna Ri Orcutt – daughter – age 19 – birthplace, Iowa – no profession listed
  • Jennie C Orcutt – daughter – age 16 – birthplace, Iowa – At School
  • Alfred Beaton – son-in-law – age 26 – birthplace, Canada – Merchant, carpets
  • Baby Beaton (Phillip Orcutt Beaton) – grandson – age one month – birthplace, Nebraska
  • Anna Winter – servant – age 21 – birthplace, Pennsylvania – domestic servant
  • Maggie Oflatherty – servant – age 24 – birthplace, Illinois – domestic servant
  • Emil Anderson – servant – age 26 – birthplace Sweden – coachman
  • Dora Dart – servant – age 27 – birthplace, Missouri – Nurse (nanny)
Phillip Orcutt Beaton with his Nurse (Nanny), Dora Dart, 1901.

The 1900 census didn’t list a cook living at the residence, but I know the Orcutt family employed one. Finding the right cook could be challenging. The Orcutts advertised for “a good cook” in 1896, 1897, 1898, and 1899.[20]

“Wanted a good cook. Mrs. Orcutt, 550. S 26th St.” Omaha World-Herald, July 1898.

The kitchens of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were the domain of the staff. As the mistress of the home, Anna Orcutt dictated menus and managed the budget. She did not cook the meals nor clean the house. Accordingly, the kitchen would have been functional but not as ornate as the rest of the house.

“The late Victorian kitchen had the latest in modern appliances. A cast iron stove, able to cook and bake, often connected to a hot water heater that would feed into the sink and piped to bring hot water to the bathrooms. The sink was a large porcelain surface on sturdy legs with hot and cold running water from taps, not pumps. A large work table was usually in the middle of the room, which served as both work space and eating table for the staff.

Wealthier homes had iceboxes, lead-lined cupboards with a block of ice below keeping food cool in a compartment above. There was usually a pantry, a closet with shelves and built-in cupboards for storing foodstuffs, dishes and pots. Often there was also a built-in cupboard in the actual kitchen, or a butler’s pantry, either in the hallway leading to the dining room, or a separate room next to the kitchen where servers could do final prep work on the dish before serving.

Very wealthy families might have a locked silver room, and a larger butler’s pantries. Lighting to the kitchen was supplied by generous windows, as well as overhead gas lighting or electric lighting.[21]

Supplied with heat, gas, and running water, the Orcutt home provided optimal comforts for the time. Based on an 1890 newspaper that recounted a robbery in the home, I know that electric buttons powered the gas lights.

“When Mr. Orcutt drove up to to his house shortly before 7 o’clock, he noticed that the gas in his wife’s room was suddenly turned down but thought nothing further about it. His little daughter, Annie [Anna Ri], and a girl who was her guest finished supper early and ran up the front stairway. The gas in the hall had been extinguished, but the children attached no importance to it and did not relight the jets until they reached the second story, when they touched the electric buttons.”[22]

The burglars escaped via the rear hallway and back staircase, the staircase used by the servants. The thieves made off with two watches and chains, several pairs of bracelets, a diamond pin, and assorted jewelry. The value of the jewelry in 1890 was $600.

Who were the Orcutt’s neighbors? They were a mix of homeowners and renters. Some of the houses were large and elegant, while others were modest properties. On the north side of the Orcutts at 546 S 26th lived Jacob Soloman, a cattle dealer, his wife, two daughters, their spouses, a grandchild, and three servants. Immediately on the south side of the Orcutt home, in their rental property at 554 S 26th, resided a young couple, Charles and Catherine Moyer. The house immediately next to the rental property was occupied by Warren Switzler, a lawyer, his wife, two sons, a daughter, and one servant. Across the street at 557 S. 26th lived James Van Nostrand, a leather clerk, with his wife Virginia, and two female boarders, both listed as nursing school graduates. The neighbor’s occupations included: bookkeeper, printer, salesman, grocery store clerk, car builder, jewelry engraver, bookkeeper, real estate agent, and laundry proprietor. It was also a culturally diverse neighborhood. The majority were American-born with a mix of Canadians, Welsh, Irish, Swedish, Norwegian, and Germans.


For twenty years, the Orcutt family occupied their home at 550 South 26th Avenue in Omaha. They would be the only family to occupy the house as a single residence. After Clinton Orcutt’s death in 1905, his three daughters inherited the property in equal shares. On December 26, 1905, sole ownership was transferred to Edith Orcutt Beaton for the sum of “$1.00 and other good valuable considerations.”[23] Anna Ri married in March 1905 and moved to Chicago, Illinois. Jane continued to live at home until her marriage in February 1906. Edith and her husband, Alfred Beaton, remained in the Orcutt home until January 1907. Then they downsized and moved to “a neat double cottage of gray buff brick at 212 South Thirty-Seventh street“.[24] A more modest home, it consisted of two stories, nine rooms, including the reception hall.

Instead of immediately selling the family home, Edith and Alfred Beaton rented it furnished to a “party of bachelors” – ten single men.[25] By 1910 the Beatons converted the Orcutt home to a boarding house.The 1910 census listed twelve occupants: one female property manager, nine male boarders, and two female housemaids.[26] Finally on March 31, 1915, the Beatons sold the Orcutt home to Frank McGinty for $10,000.[27]

Lewis, S. 2021. Research Report Beaton & Orcutt Homes. History Walks LLC. Douglas County Nebraska Register of Deeds, (1915). Deed Bok 391: 556; Edith Beaton sells to Frank McGinty.

Why did Edith and Alfred sell the property for only $10,000 – a mere $1,000 more than what Clinton Orcutt paid for the land in 1886? As I mentioned previously, Clinton Orcutt likely speculated that the property values would rise. Instead, they declined. According to the professional genealogist, the area today has lower-end apartments and homes subject to vandalism and a high crime rate.[28]

After Frank McGinty bought the property he probably converted the house into at least two flats. I found an advertisement in the Omaha Daily Bee for January 1915 with the following listing. For $30/month the tenant could occupy a nine room, modern flat. The term “light housekeeping” indicated that there were limited facilities for cooking.

“13 Sep 1925, 21 – The Omaha Daily News at”,

After only 33 years, the Orcutt home was demolished in 1920 to make room for a four-story apartment building.[29] In September 1925 an advertisement in the Omaha Daily Bee featured “Omaha’s Finest Walking Distance Apartments” at La Morada Apartments – noted as 554 S 26th St.

“13 Sep 1925, 21 – The Omaha Daily News at”,

554 S 26th Avenue, Omaha, Nebraska – former location of Clinton Orcutt home. Google Maps.

Time marches on but as a family historian I try to capture glimpses of my ancestral past and preserve them for future generations.

© 2021 copyright – Kendra Hopp Schmidt. All rights reserved


Genealogy Sketch

Name: [Marion Edith ORCUTT BEATON UTTENDORFER -1879-1964
Parents: Clinton Delos ORCUTT 1840-1905 and
Anna Dorcas DUTTON ORCUTT 1841-1891
Spouse: *Alfred James BEATON 1872-1916 and George Newell UTTENDORFER 1887-1972
Children: Anna Jane BEATON HYDE -1907-1998 and Orcutt Phillip BEATON 1900-1971
Relationship to Kendra: Great-Grandmother

  2. Anna Jane BEATON HYDE
  4. Kendra


  1. Lawrence H. Larsen and Barbara J. Cottrell; The Gate City A History of Omaha (Lincoln, Nebraska, University of Nebraska Press, 1977) p 61.
  2. Lawrence H. Larsen and Barbara J. Cottrell; The Gate City A History of Omaha (Lincoln, Nebraska, University of Nebraska Press, 1977) p 61.
  3. David L. Bristow, “A Farm Boy Comes to Omaha, 1888,” History Nebraska ( : Blog; accessed 20 March 2021.
  4. Ditto
  5. Douglas County Nebraska Register of Deeds, (1886). Deed Book 79: 69-70; Isaac Congdon et al. sell to Clinton Orcutt. Lewis, S. 2021. Research Report: Beaton and Orcutt Homes. History Walks LLC
  6. Douglas County Nebraska Register of Deeds, (1886). Deed Book 74: 406-0; Charles C Housel and Wife sell to Clinton Orcutt. Lewis, S. 2021. Research Report: Beaton and Orcutt Homes. History Walks LLC
  7. Lewis, S. 2021. Research Report: Beaton and Orcutt Homes. History Walks LLC
  8. Adam Fletcher, “A History of the Gold Coast Historic District of Omaha,” North Omaha History ( : accessed 12 April 2021).
  9. Sanborn Map Company, (1887).Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Omaha, Douglas and Sarpy County, Nebraska. [Map] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,
  10. “Omaha Illustrated: A History of the Pioneer Period and the Omaha of Today,” (Omaha, Nebraska, D.C. Dunbar & Co. Publishers, 1888; digital images, ( : accessed 20 April 2021), p.110.
  11. Margaret patricia Killian; Born Rich: A Historical Book of Omaha (Omaha, Nebraska, Assistance League of Omaha, 1978) p.46.
  12. John Fiske, “Painting your historic house, a guide to colors and color schemes,” Historic Ipswich on the Massachusetts North Shore, ( : accessed 5 May 2021.)
  13. “Mrs. Orcutt’s Dancing Party,” Omaha Daily Bee (Omaha) 20 December 1896, p.4. col.1 : digital images, Chronicling America online Newspaper Archive ( : accessed 9 May 2021).
  14. “Mr. Orcutt’s Reception,” Omaha Daily Bee (Omaha), 23 December 1900, p.6 : digital images, Chronicling America Online Newspaper Archive ( : accessed 12 February 2021).
  15. “A Dainty Pink Luncheon,” Omaha Daily Bee (Omaha), 18 August 1895, p.4; digital images, Chronicling America Online Newspaper Archive ( : accessed 11 January 2021.
  16. “A Complete guide to Victorian Houses,” Home Advisor, (https// : accessed 5 April 2021.
  17. “Victorian Decorative Arts,” digital images, Wikipedia ( : accessed 5 April 2021.
  18. Suzanne Spellen, “From Pakistan to Brooklyn: A Quick History of the Bathroom,” digital images, Brownstoner, (
  19. 1900 U.S. Census, Douglas County, Omaha, population schedule, Omaha, Enumeration District (ED) 0045, sheet 7, dwelling 102, family 119, Clinton Orcutt : digital image, ( : accessed 4 June 2021 citing National Archives microfilm publication T623, roll 1854.
  20. “Help Wanted – Female,” Omaha World-Herald, (Omaha), July 12, 1898, p.7; digital images, ( : accessed 16 May 2021).
  21. Suzanne Spellen, “Walkabout: Someone’s in the Kitchen Part I,” digital images, Brownstoner, ( : accessed 15 May 2021.
  22. “A Neat bit of Work – How Two Burglars Robbed mr. Orcutt’s Residence,” Omaha World-Herald, (Omaha), 13 February 1890, p.3 ; digital images,, ( : accessed 16 February 2020).
  23. Douglas County Nebraska Register of Deeds
  24. “Dempsters New Cottage,” Omaha Daily Bee, (Omaha), 6 January 1907, p.13; digital images, ( : accessed 4 June 2021.
  25. Omaha Daily Bee (Omaha), 30 December 1906, p.7; digital images,, ( : accessed 20 May 2021.
  26. 1910 U.S. Census, Douglas County, Omaha, population schedule, Omaha, Enumeration District (ED) 0083, sheet 6, dwelling 108, family 110, Jeannie Nealley : digital image, ( : accessed 4 June 2021 citing National Archives microfilm publication T624, roll 844.
  27. Lewis, S. 2021. Research Report: Beaton & Orcutt Homes, History Walks LLC. Douglas County Nebraska Register of Deeds, (1915). Deed Book 391: 556; Edith Beaton sells to Frank McGinty.
  28. Lewis, S. 2021. Research Report: Beaton & Orcutt Homes, History Walks LLC.
  29. Lewis, S. 2021. Research Report: Beaton & Orcutt Homes, History Walks LLC. Douglas County Nebraska Assessor/Register of Deeds, Douglas County, Nebraska Property Record -R0813850000. douglas County Assessor/Register of Deeds GIS Mapping (Internet Site), at (Accessed 15 July 2021).

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Growing up during the Gilded Age, the Orcutt sisters, Edith, Anna Ri, and Jane, filled their calendars with ladies-of-leisure activities. Fortunately for my research, the Orcutts figured prominently in the Omaha newspaper society columns, as did their peers. The society … Continue reading

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GILDED AGE GIRLS- Three Orcutt Sisters in Omaha

The Orcutt family packed up and left Durant, Iowa, on August 13, 1887, bound for Omaha, Nebraska, where opportunities beckoned. Shortly after they moved into their elegant new home, Edith Orcutt, my maternal great-grandmother, celebrated her eighth birthday. She had two younger sisters, Anna Ri, age six, and Jane Clare “Jennie,” age three, and one older brother Louis, age sixteen. Now school age, the girls would benefit from the educational choices offered in a larger city. Their father, Clinton Orcutt, a self-made man, and entrepreneur understood the advantages of social contacts and private education. The girls’ mother, Anna Dutton Orcutt, descended from a long line of Yale-educated Congregationalist ministers, including her father, Reverand Thomas Dutton. The Orcutts had the financial means to provide the best of everything for their daughters, including an elite school.


Park Place, Sacred Heart Academy, 1894, Omaha, Nebraska, used with permission by Duchesne Sacred Heart Academy Archives.

Like many of their peers, Clinton and Anna Orcutt chose a private school for their daughters. A good school would train their daughters with a classical education and “distinguished manners.” Many wealthy families sent their daughters to school in the East. But there were two primary choices for those who preferred a local school. One option was Brownell Hall, founded by the Episcopal Church in 1867. Another choice was Duchesne Sacred Heart Academy (known as Park Place), a Catholic girls school founded in 1881. The Orcutts chose the latter and started a family tradition that lasted three generations.

As members of the Congregational Church, the Orcutts may have had a few qualms about sending their girls to a Catholic school, but Duchesne, known for its high academics and social graces, impressed them. Moreover, the rigid training would prepare the girls for every phase of life.

Advertisement for Academy of the Sacred Heart, Park Place Omaha, 1893,

“The Sacred Heart Academy for day pupils…is an institution devoted to the moral and intellectual education of young girls…Difference of religion is no obstacle to the teaching of pupils, provided they conform to the general regulations of the school.”[1]

Constructed on the highest hill in Omaha, the Academy of the Sacred Heart at Park Place, provided a beautiful view of the city. The substantial brick building was 144 feet long, 81 feet wide, and five stories high.[2] The view below depicts the school and contented cows in a nearby pasture.

Sacred Heart Academy, Park Place, used with permission by Duchesne Archives, Omaha, Nebraska.

The Omaha Daily Herald for November 1882 described the opening ceremony for the Sacred Heart Academy, which included descriptions of the interior.

“The ground story is occupied by the dining room, kitchen, laundry, storerooms, feed and boiler rooms, and bathrooms and water closets. The stairways run from basement to attic, and an elevator for trunks and baggage connects all stories. The dining room is furnished tastefully and has a bay window facing east, making an inviting room which will accomodate a hundred people.

The first story is entered by a flight of broad stone steps, opening into a large vestibule, paved with tiles, and leading into a spcaious hallway. A parlor stands at the south side, and two other parlors and a private parlor are located at the north side of the hall. The parlors are furnished with Brussels carpet, marble mantels, steam radiator, and walnut furniture, all inviting apartments.

North of the parlors is the society, fitted with a rich vestment case. Beyond this and occupying the northeast corner is the Chapel. Three stained glass windows stand back of the altar, and the altar itself is beautifully carved and gilded. Statues of the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph surmount the side altars. Black walnut pews and a fine large organ complete the furniture.

The second story is occupied by the classrooms, recitation rooms and music rooms, and studio, the larger classrooms standing over the Chapel.

The third story is divided into private rooms for the students, dormitories, and apartments for the community of the sisters.”[3]

Duchesne, Sacred Heart Chapel circa 1896, photo in possession of author.

Some of the students boarded at the Sacred Heart Academy, while others, such as the Orcutt sisters, were day pupils. Edith, Anna Ri, and Jane had a short distance – two miles- to travel from their home at 550 S. 26th Street to Duchesne, located at 36th and Burt Street.

The Omaha City Directory for 1885 noted that “The scholastic year commences on the first Wednesday in September. Classes commenced at 10 a.m., and pupils were dismissed at 3:30 p.m. References are required from all persons unknown to the institution.”[4]

Since the Orcutt girls were unknown to the Sacred Heart Academy, who provided the references for them? A business associate of Clinton Orcutt, a friend, or perhaps a neighbor?

Edith Orcutt 1888, age nine, Omaha, Nebraska, photograph in author’s possession.

Registration books for day students recorded that Edith commenced her education on September 10, 1889, at age ten. A year later, in 1890, nine-year-old Anna Ri joined her sister. Then, on September 6, 1892, the youngest child, Jane Clare, age seven, accompanied her sisters to Duchesne. [5] I contacted the archivist at Duchesne, who generously shared registration documents and several photographs featured in this blog.

Dressed neatly in black high-necked ankle-length dresses, with their hair combed straight back, Duchesne students appear in a photograph with the Mother Superior Margaret Dunne in the center.

Duchesne Sacred Heart Academy, Omaha, Nebraska, reproduced with permission by Duchesne Archives.

Information from Sacred Heart archives described the regimen practiced in the Sacred Heart Schools when the Orcutt girls attended. “One such custom was the use of a wooden signal whose dry clack, to which decorous ranks obediently moved about the school in a strictly enforced silence.”[6] In addition, the girls learned to curtsey to the Superior and the Mistress General and rise as the nuns entered the room. When I mentioned these routines to my mother, who attended Duchesne in the 1940s-1950s, she distinctly recalled the sound of the clacker, quietly processing the hallways, and the required curtsies to the nuns.

A daily schedule would include morning prayers, spiritual reading, Mass, and classes broken by fifteen minutes of recreation. During mealtimes, the girls remained silent while a student read a suitable book aloud, such as Dickens, Thackeray, or James Fenimore Cooper.[7]

A special event remembered by every student who attended a Sacred Heart school was the “Grand Congé,” an event looked forward to weeks in advance and reminisced for weeks after it passed. [8] Congé is a French word for ‘leave taking’ or farewell. At Sacred Heart schools, the Congé is a holiday at school; students leave their studies and channel their energy to celebration and fun.[9] My mother recalls this event fondly, as I’m sure my great-grandmother and her sisters did.

In 1890, when Edith was eleven years old, Duchesne included 100 students, a faculty of eighteen “very efficient teachers,” plus thirteen staff employed in the care of domestic matters.[10] It is also the year that all students were required to take Latin, formerly an optional course. Duchesne’s comprehensive education, which lasted eight years, included the following subjects:

“Reading, penmanship, grammar, rhetoric, orthography, etymology, geography, United States history, ancient and modern history, universal literature, zoology, physics, botany, chemistry, geology, astronomy, mineralogy, logic, intellectual and moral philosophy, needlework, languages, drawing, painting, music, both vocal and instrumental, harp, piano, violin, guitar, and organ.”[11]

Sacred Heart Academy did not neglect “physical culture” and calisthenics; they too were part of the curriculum.

I found an advertisement that included the fees to attend Duchesne in 1885. The Omaha City Directory for 1885 listed the tuition and associated costs. Day pupils would have paid less than students who boarded. The tuition costs remained the same in 1889 advertisements.[12] Using an online inflation calculator, the $215/semester fee, per child, in 1890 would cost approximately $6,566.00 today.

“Terms payable in advance: Including board, washing, Tuition, and Instrumental Music, also French of five months, $150.00. Painting, $30, Drawing, $20, German $15, Vocal Music, $20.[13]

Religious education was a part of the Sacred Heart Education, but converting to Catholocism was optional. Only Jane converted and made her First Communion and Confirmation of the three sisters. Photos of Jane’s First Communion depict Jane and five classmates. In the center photograph, Jane is in the back row on the right.

Jane received a star-shaped medal, neatly preserved in the original jewelry box, that was awarded on Prize Day, an end-of-the-year celebration honoring achievements. Engraved on the top is “Sacred Heart Academy, June 23, ’96.” Jane’s nickname, “Jennie C. Orcutt, ” is inscribed across the middle.”

Curious about the manufacturer, I discovered that the W.J. Feeley Company, Jewelers, and Silversmiths, located in Chicago, made ecclesiastical wares and medals in gold, silver, and brass.[14]


All of the Orcutt sisters expressed an interest in music and art. Their mother, Anna, played the piano and occasionally gave lessons, including perhaps to her daughters. Edith probably chose to take painting classes, evidenced by her interest in art, which I wrote about in a previous blog. In addition, a newspaper article from 1893 indicates that she took vocal classes. During the commencement exercises for 1893, Edith sang and “distinguished herself as Miriam” in the original operetta “A Woodland Dream.”[15]

Anna Ri expressed an interest in music and vocal classes. She performed at the Sacred Heart commencement exercises in 1894, where she sang a solo cantata, “In the Glenn.” The paper described her voice as “well developed, which promises much in mature years.”[16] She also played the mandolin and performed during her final year of school at the 1898 commencement.

At the June 1896 commencement, eleven-year-old Jane presented the salutatory, “whose pleasing manner and expressive delivery charmed her audience.” Her older sister, Anna Ri, performed in a drama, “A Page from Roman History.” She displayed “much taste and a correct conception of the character.”[17]

The girls also took private singing lessons from a Canadian-born music teacher, Miss Margaret Boulter, as noted in a newspaper article from 1899.[18]


Many wealthy young women spent their final year of education, the “finishing” year, at a private school in the East, Midwest, or overseas. It prepared them to play their role in society. The three Orcutt sisters chose three different Academies for their final year. Edith decided to attend Maryville in St. Louis, Missouri. Anna Ri, who was more adventurous than her older sister, decided to venture farther away and went to Loretto Academy in Denver, Colorado. Perhaps family vacations in the Colorado mountains enticed her to continue her studies there. Finally, when Jane’s turn came, she traveled the farthest distance, over 1260 miles, to Kenwood Sacred Heart Academy in Albany, New York.

Surprisingly, only Jane completed her education and graduated from a Sacred Heart Academy. Edith and Anna Ri spent their final year away from home but chose not to undergo the more rigorous examinations necessary for graduation. In speaking with a Sacred Heart archivist, I learned this was not uncommon.


Postcard Academy of Sacred Heart, Maryville, postcard in author’s possession.

In September 1895, fifteen-year-old Edith traveled 415 miles by train to Maryville, Sacred Heart Academy, accompanied by her father, Clinton Orcutt. As a boarding student, she brought with her: black uniform dresses, six regular changes of linen, six table linens, six toilet towels, two pairs of blankets, three pairs of sheets, a pillow, three pillowcases, one white counterpane, a rug, or piece of carpeting, a goblet, two silver spoons, knife, fork, work-box, and dressing-case.[19] All of this could fit quite nicely in the travel trunk her father purchased from the Omaha Trunk company, which I wrote about previously.

Several newspaper articles provided details about Edith’s departure and her visits home over the holidays.

Where Will They Study – Already trunks are being packed, and our boys and girls who have helped to enliven and brighten the hot summer days, are beginning to think of leaving for their schools and colleges, which are about to reopen. After their summer’s rest and recreation, they will be more fit to encounter the struggles of the coming year. Quite a number have gone already, and others are taking their departures daily.”[20]

The Provincial Archivist for the Society of the Sacred Heart United States- Canada Province shared the registration book that listed Edith Orcutt as a student at Maryville from September 1895-June 1896. In addition, she included a copy of the Maryville school journal for that year with details of student life, plus a few photographs of the school.

The first journal entry for September 1895 noted the commencement of the school year and the student’s arrival. [21]

Maryville Sacred Heart Academy journal for 1895, Used with permission of the Society of the Sacred Heart, United-States-Canada
  • Sept 3rd Sixty-four pupils enter the first evening.
  • Sept 4th Fifteen pupils enter, including nine-day scholars.
  • Sept 8th Feast of the Nativity – Eighty-five pupils in the house.

Edith Orcutt’s name appears as #35 in the registration book. Some registers provide much more information, but unfortunately, for 1895, only the name and place are listed.

Maryville Sacred Heart Academy registration book 1895- Used with permission of the Society of the Sacred Heart, United-States-Canada

Most journal entries provide detailed accounts of various Feast days in the liturgical year and the girls’ participation in processions and religious events. Other entries noted the vacation and examination days. After one month of school, the students had their first break at the beginning of October for Fair Week. Edith, who developed a habit of early departures and late arrivals, left school early to attend a social function in Omaha. The society columns for the Omaha World-Herald on Friday, September 20, described Edith’s attendance at the first Ak-Sar-Ben Ball to be held in Omaha. (Ak-Sar-Ben is Nebraska spelled backward.)

Descriptions of the Gorgeous Costumes worn at the Ball. Miss Edith Orcutt, delicate pink moire silk, cream lace, and pearls.”[22] After nearly two weeks at home, the paper reported, “Mr. C.D. Orcutt and Miss Edith left yesterday [October 5] for St. Louis, where Miss Edith attends the Convent of Sacred Heart at Maryville.”[23]

Christmas vacation commenced at Maryville on December 21, 1895. Once again, Edith returned home early. The Omaha World-Herald listed her return to Omaha on December 20. She hastened home to attend a large and formal dancing party held in honor of her sister Anna Ri.

The Maryville Journal entry for January 2, 1896, stated: “Return from the Christmas vacation – a few are tardy.”[25] Yes, Edith was one of those tardy students; she remained home until January 14. “Miss Edith Orcutt left for St. Louis last evening (January 14), where she will continue her studies at the school of the Sacred Heart.”[26]

Maryville Sacred Heart Academy journal for 1896, Used with permission of the Sacred Heart, United States-Canada

Was Edith prepared for the French examinations held on January 22nd, 24th, and 25th, followed by the arithmetic and English examinations on the 27th? Perhaps not. A notation in the school journal stated, “With the exception of one class, all showed a marked improvement giving evidence of solid, serious work.”[27]

February brought the delight of a Sacred Heart tradition, the Congé, “a day for students to take leave of the rigors of their studies and their seriousness of purpose to bring forth and experience joy.”[28] Edith and her classmates celebrated the day by sharing the occasion with twenty little orphans from St. Mary’s Asylum. The chief feature of the day was a pretty play, “Elisha’s Burglar,” enacted in the afternoon.[29]

April 3, 1896, the Maryville students returned home briefly for their Easter vacation. Easter in 1896 fell on April 5; the students had to report back to school by April 7. Again, it seems that Edith may have stayed home longer than permitted. The Omaha Daily Bee noted in the “Friendly Gossip” column on Sunday, April 12, that “Miss Edith Orcutt has been spending the Easter holidays at home.”[30]

June brought the final examinations for the year from the 15th-17th with satisfactory results. A final program for the graduates held on June 18 included music by Mozart, an operetta, an essay, a polonaise, and the bestowal of graduating honors on six young women. Unfortunately, Edith was not on the list of names.

Maryville Sacred Heart Academy journal for 1896, Used with permission of the Sacred Heart, United States-Canada

Meanwhile back at the Academy of the Sacred Heart, the annual commencement exercises took place on June 20. Had Edith graduated then she might have experienced something similar.

“On entering the hall, a spectacle of bewildering beautymet the eye; a carpet of dainty shades of blue and gray, mingled with gold, covered the floor, while a profusion of palms and ferns and draperies of cream lace formed a pretty background to tthe groups of children in pure white dresses and ribbgons. The stage presented a garden scene opening out from a marble terrace, whose ascent was an embankment of trailing vines and potted plants. Marble urns of palms and and other tropical foliage ornamented the terrace here and there, while arched above, an entanglement of ferns, smilax, and white blossoms gave an exquisite finish. Admiring the artistic taste displayed in the decoration, especially in the scenery painting, where brooks, grasses, and trees seemed real, one felt a deep regret that many lovers of art were excluded from such a treat, as according to the established custom, the list of invitations is limited to the clergy.

The entertainment opened with the overture from Reinlike, which was given with a skill and brilliance that elecited well-deserved applause.

The second number of the program was a bright little operetta, which was exceptionally well-rendered; the voices were good, and the singing and acting showed a correctness that is only attained by long and thorough training. Miss Jennie Orcutt was charming as the little princess.”[31]

After Edith returned home in June 1896, she occupied herself with social engagements, travel, painting, and plans for her engagement and marriage to Alfred James Beaton.


Reproduced with the permission of the Loretto Heritage Center

At age sixteen, Anna Ri embarked on her “finishing” year at Loretto Heights in Denver, Colorado. Her father likely accompanied her on the train trip to Denver in September 1897. Unfortunately, researching Anna Ri and her education at Loretto Heights Academy did not yield as much information as I found for her sister Edith. However, three small news clippings mentioned Anna Ri’s trips to Denver.

The first, September 1897, noted that during the summer, “…the Misses Orcutt [resided in] Colorado Springs, COl.”[32] The second article, Sunday, January 9, 1898, stated that “Miss [Edith] Orcutt has returned from Denver, where she left her sister at school at Loretto Heights.”[33] And the third announced Anna Ri’s return from Loretto in June 1898. “Miss Anna Ri Orcutt is expected home next Friday from Loretto Heights academy at Denver.”[34]

Loretto Heights, Denver, Colorado. Reproduced with the permission of the Loretto Heritage Center

I contacted the Director of the Loretto Heritage Center for information and photographs. She gave me permission to include images of the school, making it easier to envision what Anna Ri saw when she attended the school.

Loretto Heights, Denver, Colorado. Reproduced with the permission of the Loretto Heritage Center

Located in southwest Denver, Loretto Heights Academy, a Catholic boarding school for girls operated by the Sisters of Loretto, opened in 1891. The Romanesque style main building is an imposing three-story red sandstone structure with a steeply pitched gabled roof. The central tower rises to a height of more than 160 feet.[35] The round arch at the base of the tower is of “intricately carved sandstone with the Loretto moto ‘FIDES, MORES, CULTURA’ [Faith, Moral Integrity, and Cultivation of Culture] inscribed in very large letters. The building included a gymnasium, two dining rooms, a kitchen in the basement, classrooms and a laboratory on the 1st floor, classrooms and administration on the 2nd floor, student dormitories on the 3rd floor, and individual nun and older students’ sleeping rooms and art rooms on the 4th floor.”[34]

Reproduced with the permission of the Loretto Heritage Center

In my search for articles about Loretto, I found one in the Denver Evening Post that listed Anna Ri as a student, but not a graduate. Six young ladies graduated from the Loretto Academy on June 22, 1898, and received their diplomas amid floral decorations, music, and patriotic exercises. In addition, the graduating class presented an original drama entitled the “Columbian Council,” which included interesting dialogues on current topics, all expressed in allegorical form. Musical performances by other students included classical piano pieces, vocals, guitars, and mandoline. Anna Ri, who played the mandolin, performed Il Trovatore by Verdi and received a “crown for literary merit” for her performance, as did many of the other performers.[37]

Denver Evening Post, June 22, 1898

After she completed her “finishing” year, Anna Ri returned home where she became involved in a swirl of social engagements along with her sisters for the next six months. When their mother, Anna Orcutt, died at age 56 from unknown causes on January 12, 1899, the girls entered a period of mourning. Edith age 19, Anna Ri age 17, and 14-year old Jane refrained from all social gatherings for at least six months. Edith took over running the household and mentoring her youngest sister. Jane continued her education at Duchesne, Sacred Heart Academy until she turned seventeen and then departed for her final year of study on the East coast.


Kenwood, Sacred Heart Academy, Albany, New York, 1903, the image in author’s possession.

On Friday, September 12,1902, Clinton Orcutt accompanied his youngest daughter, Jane, to Kenwood Sacred Heart Academy in Albany, New York. Their route probably took them to Chicago and then directly to New York aboard the Chicago and New York Express, all in the luxury of a Pullman car.

“Mr. Clinton D. Orcutt, accompanied by his daughter Miss Jennie, left on Friday for Albany, N.Y., where she will enter Sacred Heart Convent School, Kenwood.”[38]

Kenwood has a longer history than either Duchesne or Loretto. The Sisters of the Sacred Heart went to Albany in 1852. In 1859, the Female Academy of the Sacred Heart purchased 53 acres and the large Rathbone estate house and buildings. In 1867, they tore down the mansion and used the building materials to construct a Gothic-style chapel and school buildings.[3]

I contacted the Communications Coordinator for the Society of the Sacred Heart, United-States-Canada, and obtained permission to include photographs of Kenwood Academy. Likewise, the Editor for the Friends of Albany History website, Julie O’Connor, permitted me to use images from their website that depict the chapel, classrooms, and dormitories. I imagine that the dormitories at Maryville and Loretto might have been similar to those at Kenwood.

As with Anna Ri, I found just a few newspaper articles that provided information about Jane’s final year of study. The first one from the “Society” column in the Omaha Daily Bee provided information that Jane returned to Albany on Monday, January 5, 1903, after spending the Christmas holidays with her family.[40] A second notice on May 31, 1903, announced, “Miss [Anna Ri] Orcutt will leave this week for New York to attend the graduating exercises of Sacred Heart convent, Kenwood, Miss Jane Orcutt being a member of this class.”[41]

By June 28, Jane had returned home. “Miss Jane Orcutt has returned from the east, where she recently graduated.”[42] After her return, the new graduate filled her social calendar with activities: teas, picnics, theater dinners, dances, balls, picnics, sailing parties, horse shows, travel, and her formal debut into society in November 1903.


October 1903 was a special month for Edith and her sisters, aside from their regular social activities. At the end of the month, the alumnae of the Sacred Heart Academy in Omaha held their first annual meeting and elected officers. All former pupils who graduated or finished the first class received invitations. Fifty alumane accepted, including Edith and Jane. Anna Ri does not appear in any of the photographs, perhaps she had a more pressing social engagement.

Duchesne Alumnae 1903, reproduced with permission by Duchesne Archives.
Duchesne Alumnae 1903, reproduced with permission by Duchesne Archives.

The exercises began at 10:00 a.m. with a devotional service, followed by luncheon at noon and a business meeting. The school pupils provided entertainment in the afternoon. [43]

Duchesne Alumnae 1903, reproduced with permission by Duchesne Archives.
Jane Orcutt, Duchesne Alumnae 1903, reproduced with permission by Duchesne Archives.

I don’t know if the Orcutt sisters continued to attend the annual reunions. However, Jane did maintain her connection to the Sacred Heart Academy. In 1915 and 1916, she served as Vice-President of the Alumane Board.[44]


Inspired by her faith and experiences at Duchesne and Kenwood, Jane bequeathed $5000 (worth $92,000 today) to her niece, Anna Jane Beaton, my grandmother, and the only daughter of Edith Orcutt Beaton. Receipt of the inheritance was conditional upon Anna Jane attending a Sacred Heart Academy for seven years. Failure to comply would result in transferring the funds to the academy.[45]

Tragically, Jane, who wrote her will on June 11, 1915, died from an internal hemorrhage due to a tubal pregnancy on March 24, 1918. She left an estate valued at more than $150,000, valued today at $2,760,000.

Anna Jane, who began her studies at Duchesne in 1914 at age seven, completed her education at a Sacred Heart Academy, including four years of college. Like her Aunt Jane, Anna Jane attended a Sacred Heart Academy in New York for one year. She spent her sophomore year at Manhattanville and returned to Duchesne, graduating in 1925.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the blog, my maternal family’s education at Duchesne lasted three generations; my great-grandmother Edith and her sisters, my grandmother Anna Jane, and my mother Jean. It has been rewarding to research and explore the Sacred Heart traditions.

© 2022 copyright – Kendra Hopp Schmidt. All rights reserved


Genealogy Sketch

Name: [Marion Edith ORCUTT BEATON UTTENDORFER -1879-1964
Parents: Clinton Delos ORCUTT 1840-1905 and
Anna Dorcas DUTTON ORCUTT 1841-1891
Spouse: *Alfred James BEATON 1872-1916 and George Newell UTTENDORFER 1887-1972
Children: Anna Jane BEATON HYDE -1907-1998 and Orcutt Phillip BEATON 1900-1971
Relationship to Kendra: Great-Grandmother

  2. Anna Jane BEATON HYDE
  4. Kendra


  1. Omaha World-Herald, Omaha, Nebraska,  August 6, 1890, online archives ( : accessed 15 December 2021)
  2. Tom Quest. (2017, August). Duchesne College & Academy: A Brief Look at the History of our Building.
  3. “Sacred Heart the Third Large Insitution Founded in the Northwestern Part of the City” Omaha Daily Herald Thursday, Nov 30, 1882 Omaha NE vol XVIII Issue 52, p 8,  online archives ( : accessed 1 December 2021).
  4. “Omaha, Nebraska, Directories, 1885, database, ( : accessed 2 June 2021), entry for Academy of the Sacred Heart), citing “Omaha, Nebraska, J.M. Wolfe, 1885), p. 6.
  5. Archives for the Sacred Heart, Duchesne, Omaha, Nebraska.
  6. “Development of the Studies,” Chapter Three, Kenwood Archives, Society of the Sacred Heart, United States-Canada Province,. p31.
  7. Ibid
  8. Ibid, p34.
  9. “Our Heritage and Traditions.”, 15 Apr. 2021,
  10. “Dusting off the Desks Omaha’s School and Colleges Preparing to Reopen for Many Sutdents.” Omaha World Herald Tuesday, August 19,1890 Omaha, NE Vol XXV Issue 310 Page 8, online archives (https:// genealogy : accessed 10 December 2021.)
  11. “Educational – Sectarian Schools Catholic” Omaha Daily Bee, Omaha, Nebraska,  Thursday Jan 1, 1885 p. 5, online archives ( : accessed 28 November 2021.
  12. “Academy of the Sacred Heart,” Omaha Daily Bee, Omaha, Nebraska, Tuesday, 3 Sept 1889, p.4, online archives, ( : accessed 10 November 2021.)
  13. “Omaha, Nebraska, Directories, 1885, database, ( : accessed 2 June 2021), entry for Academy of the Sacred Heart), citing “Omaha, Nebraska, J.M. Wolfe, 1885), page 6.
  14. The Stylus, Volume IX, Number 7,(Boston College,  April 1, 1896), accessed December 16, 2021,
  15. “Satolli was Present the Prelate attends the Exercises at the Sacred Heart” Omaha World Herald, Omaha, Nebraska, Wed Jun 21 1893 page 8m online archives ( : accessed 8 September 2021.)
  16. “Sacred Heart Academy” Omaha Daily Bee, Omaha, Nebraska,  Thursday June 21, 1894, p. 8, online archives, ( : accessed 10 October 2021.)
  17. “Sacred Heart Commencement” Omaha Daily Bee, Omaha, Nebraska, 24 June 1896, p. 5, online archives, ( : accessed 5 July 2021).
  18. [1] “Musical” Omaha World Herald, Omaha, Nebraska, Sunday Dec 18, 1899 Vol XXXV issue 71 p. 21, online archives, ( : accessed 5 December 2021.)
  19. Omaha, Nebraska,Directories, 1885, database, pg 5, ( : accessed 3 Sept 2021), entry for Academy of the Sacred Heart), citing Omaha, Nebraska,  J.M. Wolfe, Herald Printing, Binding and Electrotyping House.
  20. “Where They Will Study” Omaha Daily Bee, Omaha, Nebraska, Sunday, September 15, 1895, p 5, online archives, ( : accessed 1 December 2021.
  21. Archives for Sacred Heart,  Maryville School Journal 1895-1896, Society of the Sacred Heart United States-Canada Province, St. Louis MO.
  22. “The Ladies Gowns” Omaha World Herald, Omaha, Nebraska, Friday Sept 20, 1895 Vol XXX Issue 353, p. 3, online archives: ( : accessed 8 November 2021.
  23. Omaha Daily Bee, Omaha, Nebraska, 6 October 1895, p.4, online archives, ( : accessed 10 October 2021.)
  24. “From College. Omaha boys and Girls Return Home for the Holidays” Omaha World Herald, Omaha, Nebraska, Friday Dec 20, 1895 Vol XXXI Issue 81 pg 8, online archives, ( : accessed 7 November 2021.)
  25. Archives for Sacred Heart,  Maryville School Journal 1895-1896, Society of the Sacred Heart United States-Canada Province, St. Louis MO.
  26. Omaha Daily Bee, Omaha, Nebraska, January 15, 1896,  p. 8 image 8, online archives, ( : accessed 8 September 2021.)
  27. Archives for Sacred Heart,  Maryville School Journal 1895-1896, Society of the Sacred Heart United States-Canada Province, St. Louis MO.
  28. Susan Tyree Dempft, Ph.D. (2018, February 8). A Sacred Heart Tradition Observed…Congé. : accessed 1 December 2021.
  29. Archives for Sacred Heart,  Maryville School Journal 1895-1896, Society of the Sacred Heart United States-Canada Province, St. Louis MO.
  30. “Friendly Gossip,”  Omaha Daily Bee, Omaha, Nebraska, Sunday April 12, 1896 p. 5, online archives, ( : accessed 16 October, 2021.)
  31. “Sacred Heart Commencement,” The Omaha Evening Bee, Omaha, Nebraska, 20 Jun 1895 Pg 1, online archives, ( : accessed 10 October, 2021.)
  32. “Summer Addresses,” The Excelsior, Omaha, Nebraska,  11 Sep 1897 Saturday, p. 6, online archives, ( : accessed 11 December, 2021.)
  33. “Gossip,” Omaha World-Herald, Omaha, Nebraska, Sunday Jan 9, 1898 Vol XXXIII Issue 101, p. 12, online archives, ( : accessed 27 November 2021.)
  34. “Society,” Omaha World-Herald, Omaha, Nebraska,  Sunday June 19, 1898 Vol XXXIII Issue 262 p. 12, online archives, ( : accessed 10 December 2021.)
  35. Loretto Heigths Academy, Denver County. : accessed 2 December 2021.
  36. Loretto Heights Academy and College 1891-1988 Inventory of Historic Resources and Survey Report,  March 2019,  Prepared by Square Moon Consultancs LLC, PDF download.
  37. “Six Young Ladies Graduate From Loretto Academy” The Denver Evening Post, Denver, Colorado, June 22, 1898 p. 10, online archives, ( : accessed 7 December 2021.)
  38. “Social Chit-Chat” Omaha Daily Bee, Omaha, Nebraska, Sunday Sep 14,1902, p. 7, online archives, ( : accessed 4 December 2021.)
  39. Julie O’Connor, Kenwood and the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Albany (2018 April), accessed 5 November 2021.
  40. “Society” Omaha Daily Bee, Omaha, Nebraska, Sunday Jan 4, 1903, p. 7, online archives, ( : accessed 20 November, 2021.)
  41. Omaha Daily Bee, Omaha, Nebraska, 31 May 1903, Sunday, page 6 , online archives, ( : accessed 5 December 2021.
  42. “Society” Omaha Daily Bee Sunday June 28, 1903 Omaha Nebraska, p. 7, online archives: ( : accessed 20 November 2021.)
  43. “Sacred Heart Alumnae” Omaha Daily News, Omaha, Nebraska, 19 Oct 1903 p. 1, online archives ( : accessed 20 November, 2021.)
  44. “Elect Officers of Sacred Heart Alumni” The Omaha Daily News, Omaha, Nebraska, Jun 21, 1915, p 12, online archives, ( : accessed 12 December 2021.)
  45. “Mrs. Keeline’s Will Filed; Estate More Than $150,000,” Omaha Daily Bee Mar 30 1918, p. 11, online archives, ( : accessed 3 December 2021.)

Posted in Biographies, My Family Ancestry | Tagged , , | 1 Comment


Edith Orcutt Beaton circa 1918, Omaha, Nebraska, photo in possession of author.

My mother and grandmother captivated me with tales about my great-grandmother, Edith (Orcutt) Beaton. Her friends called her Edith, but her family used the nickname “Dee Dee.” My grandmother, Anna Jane (Beaton) Hyde, described Edith as “the sweetest mother in the world.” Jean, my mother, remembers her grandmother as calm and easygoing. She has fond memories of visiting Dee Dee at least once a week after school, usually with a friend or two in tow.

After the girls arrived at Edith’s house at 502 N. 40th Street, they scampered up to the second and third floors of the large house to play dress-up. The second floor had a bedroom closet filled with elaborate ball gowns of taffeta, chiffon, and silk. Old trunks contained feather boas, long gloves, imposing hats, and dainty shoes, clothing worn by Edith and her two younger sisters, Anna Ri and Jane when they attended social events. After they selected their attire, the girls climbed the stairs to the third-floor ballroom, where they pranced about in their finery.

A warm, affectionate, and permissive grandmother, Dee Dee allowed Jean, the only grandchild, the run of the house. Just about anything was permissible. When eight-year old Jean and a friend concocted a plan to raise puppies in the basement, Dee Dee provided them with turquoise-blue paint to decorate the rooms. After about a month of painting, the girls abandonded the project, which Dee Dee knew would happen.

Fascinated by Edith’s privileged life, I spent hours perusing every newspaper article and record I could find about the Orcutt and Beaton families. Another age, another world so different from mine. Fortunately, numerous photographs, newspaper articles, and my grandmother’s and mother’s memories provided me with ample information to write this story about my maternal great-grandmother – a tale of love, loss, and resignation.

ORCUTT and BEATON Photograph Albums

Born on August 26, 1879, Marion Edith Orcutt was the third child of Clinton Delos Orcutt and Anna Dorcas (Dutton) Orcutt. A middle child, Edith, had two older brothers, and two younger sisters. She outlived them all.

  1. Louis Deforest Orcutt (1871-1891) – 20 years old
  2. George Dutton Orcutt (1873-1886) – 13 years old
  3. Marion Edith (Orcutt) Beaton Utendorfer (1879-1964) – 84 years old
  4. Anna Ri (Orcutt) Jaques (1881-1942) – 61 years old
  5. Jane Clare “Jennie” (Orcutt) Keeline (1884-1918) – 33 years old


The Orcutt family lived in Durant, Iowa, twenty miles west of Davenport in the southeast corner of Cedar County. A small but wealthy village, Durant was located in the heart of the corn belt with an economy that revolved around agriculture and livestock. Described as a “handsome village,” the 1884 Iowa State Gazetteer listed the population as 500. Included in the small community: three churches – Congregational, Christian, and Episcopal, public schools (200 school children), two general stores, two harness makers, a physcician, a justice of the peace, a constable, six saloons, a wagonmaker, a telegraph agent, two shoemakers, two blacksmiths, a hotel, a railway and express agent, a coal salesman, and one real estate agent and broker – Clinton Delos Orcutt. [1]

A successful businessman, Clinton Orcutt began his career peddling fruit trees on shares. He borrowed five dollars, a horse, and “…set off bare-back and went into the business with a keen will.” After he worked a few months and covered several counties, he saved enough money to purchase a country store in Durant with a partner. Through hard work, brains, good health, and good habits, his business prospered. Ten years later, he sold his business and turned his hundreds of dollars into thousands. According to the Davenport “Quad-City Times” newspaper in 1879.

“Since then, he has pursued the same saving and thrifty course-watching the signs of the times, buying and selling produce, goods, farms, or what not, and to-day you would certainly not be able to find a single man in Cedar county who could buy him out dollar for dollar and have a cent left…He has a maxim that he glued into his hat at the start -‘Keep out of debt’.”[2]

Map of Durant, Iowa 1885 -Clinton Orcutt Home Jefferson Street # 14 – Courtesy of David Rumsey Map Collection

According to the 1880 census, the Orcutt’s lived on Block 14 Jefferson Street in Durant. [3] One of the Orcutt family albums contains a large photograph of an unidentified house that I believe to be the Orcutt home in Durant. The modest wooden clapboard two-story house has gingerbread trim with functional shutters outside the windows and door. Inside, lace curtains and window shades are visible. I examined the photograph closely, hoping to see a figure peeking out from one of the windows. No luck. A broken picket fence surrounds the house and yard; its barren trees indicate someone took a photograph late fall or winter. A whimsical element is a child’s Victorian tricycle on the front porch. Perhaps it belonged to one of the Orcutt children.


Two doors down the street from the Orcutt family lived Edith’s maternal grandparents, Thomas and Sarah Maria (Whiting) Dutton. Originally from Guilford, Connecticut, they settled in Durant in 1867 with their three children -Anna (Edith’s mother), Samuel and Thomas Junior. Thomas Sr., a Congregationalist minister, was advised by his doctor to move west for health reasons and take up farming to strengthen his constitution. Like their father, Thomas and Sarah’s two sons became farmers. Thomas Jr. moved 250 miles away to Arcadia, Iowa, with his wife and six children. Samuel chose to stay in the area and owned a small farm north of Durant. He and his wife had six children, all close in age to their Orcutt cousins.

Although later in life, Edith reminisced about Iowa, she lost contact with her Dutton relatives. It came as a complete surprise to my grandmother, Anna Jane, when in 1972, she received an inheritance from an unknown Dutton cousin, Samuel’s last surviving son.

Based on numerous newspaper articles, I know Edith’s father, Clinton Orcutt, enjoyed travel. He had the money to indulge in long vacations with his family. In 1876 the Orcutt family spent part of the summer in Minnesota. They returned to Minnesota in 1880 and visited Minneapolis. While there, they stopped in at a prominent photographer’s studio, William Jacoby, on Nicollet Avenue. Edith’s only surviving baby/child photograph depicts a nine-month old baby girl with big blue eyes, her fair hair parted down the middle and combed to the sides.

EDITH ORCUTT 1880, MINNEAPOLIS, MN, photograph in posessession of author.


Union Pacific Railway overland route and connections, 1892. Image courtesy of Library of Congress

In 1885 the Orcutt family traveled to Los Angeles, California. The ‘Muscatine Journal” and Davenport “Quad-city Times” reported the family intended to spend the winter there and return in April/May 1886.

November 24, 1885 – “Mr. and Mrs. Clinton Orcutt, of Durant, left Monday for Los Angeles Cal. Mr. Orcutt will return in February , and his wife remains in California until May.”[4]

January 29, 1886 – “Mr. Orcutt left Los Angeles for home on Friday, 22d inst. For a thousand miles, he was the only passenger in the Pulman coach. The conductor told him that was frequently the case coming east…. Mr. Orcutt goes back to California in March, to return with his family in the following monthMr. Clinton Orcutt, who went to California in November last, with his wife, for the improvement of her health by change of climate, arrived today on the train from the southwest en route for his home in Durant. The wife remains in the golden State until April next. Los Angeles and vicinity has been their place of sojourn since their arrival in California, though Mr. Orcutt traveled considerably. [5]

The California trip, made for health reasons, concerned Edith’s mother, Anna, and possibly her older brother, George Dutton Orcutt. I suspect that Anna and George suffered from consumption, now known as tuberculosis. A popular nineteenth-century notion that southern California’s sunny climate and fresh air could cure tuberculosis and other lung ailments triggered a rush of health seekers to the region. Los Angeles, considered an earthly paradise, appealed to those with delicate health. Newspaper advsertisements promised cures for those with lung ailments.

“The Los Angeles Times,” September 29, 1886,

The Orcutt’s departed for California on November 22, 1885. Clinton, Anna, and their four children, Louis (14), George (12), Edith (6), AnnaRi (4), and Jane (1), traveled in the comfort and luxury of a Pullman Sleeper or Hotel car. Pullman cars offered great comfort and safety, but what set them apart was the decor. “Victorian taste ran toward the baroque, and Pullman offered the utmost in ornamentation: carved walnut paneling, polishe brass fittings, beveled French mirrors, Brussels carpets, brocade, tassels, and fringe.”[6]

As advertised by Pullman, “These cars are so constructed as to combine the convenience and elegance of a private parlor by day and the comforts of a well-furnished bed chamber by night -clean bedding, thick hair mattresses, thorough ventilation.” [7] During the daytime, the younger Orcutt children could play on the floor, or watch through the window for new curiosities. Clinton and Anna could sit and converse as if they were at home in their parlor. In the evening, a porter prepared the beds.

“About eight o’clock, the porter, in a clean gray uniform, comes in to make up the beds. The two easy chairs are turned into a double berth. The sofa undergoes a similar transformation…The freshest and whitest of linens and brightly colored blankets complete the outfit; and you undress and go to bed as you would at home.” [8]

Divided into two compartments, the Hotel and Sleeping cars provided a separate kitchen area where a porter prepared the meals, the most important event of the day. Although meals cost extra, the guests had numerous choices for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. “…first-class meals, including all manner of game and seasonable delicacies, were served on moveable tables placed in sections.”[9]


The 2,500-mile journey from Durant to Los Angeles required seven days, taking the family through Omaha, Nebraska; Denver, Colorado; Ogden, Utah; San Francisco, California, and Los Angeles. Shortly before his marriage to Anna Dutton in 1870, Clinton visited California for business purposes. He knew the wonders that awaited his family as they crossed the vast plains, the mountains’ rugged beauty, the changing scenery, and abundant wildlife. For his family, the trip would have been a grand adventure.

Train travel in the 19th century could be expensive, particularly long distances. A first-class ticket from Omaha to Los Angeles in 1881 cost $120 per person, $75 for second-class.[10] If a passenger chose to travel in a Pullman car, there was an additional fare. The approximate cost for a one-way ticket would have been about $170 per adult in 1885 or about $4,600 in 2021. The Orcutts did save on fares for the younger children. Children under five could travel for free and from age 5-12 half-fare.

A novelty for the Orcutts, they celebrated their first Christmas in the sunshine and warmth of California. While touring the area, they encountered several people from eastern Iowa who had moved to the Los Angeles area. According to Clinton, “the people ‘from the states’ watch the hotel registers , and when they see an arrival from their old locality they straightaway introduce themselves-and the way they make inquiries would be amusing, if it were not almost overpowering.”[11]

Perhaps one of their acquaintances recommended the James D. Westerwelt Photography Studio on 18 South Main Street in Los Angeles where Clinton, Anna, and George sat for a photograph. Anna wore an elegant satin dress with a form-fitting bodice, a high neck, and a lace collar. Clinton wore a sharply starched white shirt, jacket and vest. You can see a watch fob threaded through his vest button, on the end of it hung his gold watch. Although he was only 44 years old, his hair and beard are turning gray. Both Clinton and Anna look directly at the camera. Twelve-year-old George, hair neatly parted and combed, gazed to the left with a solemn expression. Were there photographs taken of the other family members? If so, where did they go?

Pictured below are Anna Dorcas (DUTTON) ORCUTT, Clinton Delos ORCUTT (Clinton’s gold watch), George Dutton ORCUTT – photographs taken December 1885/January 1886, Los Angeles, California.

Anna and the children intended to remain in Los Angeles until April/May 1886. Clinton, who had business to address, returned to Durant at the end of January. At the beginning of March, Anna summoned Clinton to quickly return to Los Angeles. George was gravely ill.

March 12,1886 – “Clint Orcutt of Durant has been suddenly called to Los Angeles, Cal, by the sickness of his son George.”[12]

March 26, 1886 – “The son of Clint Orcutt, Esq., of Durant, aged about 13 years, whose illness called the father to Los Angeles, Cal. a fortnight ago, has since died.[13]

The “Muscatine Journal” did not provide further information about the cause of George’s death. The Orcutt family returned as soon as possible to Durant in a state of grief. They buried George in the Durant Cemetery, a cemetery that Clinton’s father, Daniel Heath Orcutt, helped purchase and layout shortly before his death in 1864.

One year later, April 1887, a notice in the local Durant paper stated that Clinton Orcutt was building a “comfortable and commodious residence” in Omaha, Nebraska, and intended to move there in the fall. [14] By the second week of August, 1887, the Orcutt family departed Durant for their new home in Omaha. [15]

Omaha offered a new beginning and economic, educational, and social benefits for the entire family. The next chapter in Edith’s story introduces Omaha during the 1890’s and explores Clinton Orcutt’s Victorian residence.


  1. There is a contradictory element regarding George’s date of death. His tombstone notes the date as February 27, 1886. However, two newspaper articles stated that Clinton Orcutt traveled to Los Angeles in March 1886 and that George passed away two weeks after his father arrived in California. I believe that the gravestone should bear the date March 27, 1886, instead of February 27. What is on a gravestone is not always accurate.

2. Six months after George’s death, his 14-year old cousin, Charles Arthur Dutton, passed away. Sadly, George and Charles each had a brother who died a few years later, 1890 (William Boardman Dutton) and 1891 (Louis DeForest Orcutt). I have not been able to find a cause of death for any of the boys. They all rest together in Durant cemetery.

© 2021 copyright – Kendra Hopp Schmidt. All rights reserved


Genealogy Sketch

Name: [Marion Edith ORCUTT BEATON UTTENDORFER -1879-1964
Parents: Clinton Delos ORCUTT 1840-1905 and
Anna Dorcas DUTTON ORCUTT 1841-1891
Spouse: *Alfred James BEATON 1872-1916 and George Newll UTTENDORFER 1887-1972
Children: Anna Jane BEATON HYDE -1907-1998 and Orcutt Phillip BEATON 1900-1971
Relationship to Kendra: Great-Grandmother

  2. Anna Jane BEATON HYDE
  4. Kendra


  1. “Iowa Gazeteer and Business Directory, 1884-1885, database, ( : accessed 20 February 2021) entry for Durant. page number 441.
  2. Quad-City Times, Davenport, Iowa 4 January 1879, online archives (https.// accessed 29 December 2020), p. 1.
  3. 1880 U.S. Census, Cedar County, Iowa, populations schedule, Durant, Enumeration District (ED) 357, Roll 331, Page 200A, dwelling 10, Clinton Orcutt; digital image, ( :accessed 15 December 2020/
  4. Muscatine Journal, Muscatine, Iowa, 24 November 1885, online archives ( accessed 10 January 2021), p. 2.
  5. Quad-City Times, Davenport, Iowa,29 January 1886, online archives ( accessed 29 December 2020), p.1.
  6. Jack Kelly, “The Golden Age of the Pullman Car,” The History Reader Dispatches in History From the St. Martin’s Publishing Group. : accessed 10 March 2021.
  7. Union & Central Pacific Railroad Line” Timetable, Schedule of Fares, Connections, Information for Travelers (with 11 Engraved Illustrations), and the Rand, McNally & Co. “New Map of the American Overland Route” February, 1881,” Central Pacific Railroad Photographic Museum. : accessed 9 March 2021.
  8. Charles Nordhoff, California How to Go There, and What to See By the Way, “Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. V. 44, 1871-1872. Database:, Original from Cornell University, Digitized by Cornell University,. : (Accessed 12 February 2021). p. 885.
  9. Joseph Husband. The Story of the Pullman Car. (McClurg & Co, Chicago, 1917), Digital Images. Archive. org (Accessed 7 March 2021).
  10. Union & Central Pacific Railroad Line” Timetable, Schedule of Fares, Connections, Information for Travelers (with 11 Engraved Illustrations), and the Rand, McNally & Co. “New Map of the American Overland Route” February, 1881,” Central Pacific Railroad Photographic Museum. : accessed 9 March 2021.
  11. Quad-City Times, Davenport, Iowa,29 January 1886, online archives ( accessed 29 December 2020), p.1.
Posted in Biographies, My Family Ancestry, Photographs | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments


Maria Nilsdotter conquered the most challenging part of her emigration journey when she completed her trans-Atlantic voyage in 1875. This final chapter of Maria’s story chronicles her 1000 mile trek from Castle Garden, New York, to Clinton, Iowa.

While researching immigrant train travel, I came across a riveting memoir written by Robert Louis Stevenson, Across the Plains. It recounts Stevenson’s 1879 journey from New York to San Francisco. As I read his travel memoir, I concluded that Maria likely encountered similar experiences during her cross-country expedition.

Night Scene at an American railway junction: Published by Currier and Ives c 1876, courtesy of Library of Congress.

Maria’s rail travel commenced mid-June, soon after she completed in-processing at Castle Garden. Along with other westbound travelers, she took a ferry across the Hudson River to a nearby railroad station where she waited to board an immigrant train.

ERIE RAILWAY Schedule, The New York Times, 8 May 1875, online archives ( accessed 21 Jan 2021.

There was a babel of bewildered men, women, and children. The wretched little booking office, and the baggage-room, which as not much larger, were crowded thick with emigrants…It was plain that the whole system, if system there was, had utterly broken down under the strain of so many passengers…porters infuriated by hurry and overwork, clove their way with shouts. I may say that we stood like sheep and that the porters charged among us like so many maddened sheepdogs…emigrants had to be sorted and boxed for the journey. A white-haired official, with a stick under one arm, and a list in the other hand, stood apart in front of us and called name after name in the tone of a command. At each name, you would see a family gather up its brats and bundles and run for the hindmost of the three cars that stood awaiting us, and I soon concluded this was to be set apart for the women and children. The second or central, car it turned out, was devoted to men travelling alone.”1

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. (1880). New Iron R.R. Bridge, Portage, N.Y. — (first passenger train.) Retrieved from

The lack of a centralized railway system complicated train travel during the nineteenth century. Nonstop trains from the East Coast to the West Coast did not exist. Like all passengers, Maria had to look out for herself, choose the right route, buy the right ticket, get into the right car, without waiting for someone to direct her. Westward bound passengers from New York traveled via three railway lines – the Erie, the New York Central, or the Pennsylvania Central.

Rand Mcnally And Company & Pittsburgh, F. W. (1874) Map of the Pittsburg sic, Fort Wayne & Chicago, Cleveland, and Pittsburg sic, Grand Rapids and Indiana, and Pennsylvania railroads
. Chicago. [Map] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

Chicago, a central hub, served as a gateway city for transportation lines headed west. Although travel companies filled entire trains with immigrants who traveled from New York to Chicago, passengers had to exercise caution along the journey.

Each railroad company sold tickets for travel only on its own route. When one company’s tracks ended, passengers had to gather up their baggage, walk to the next company’s office, and buy a ticket for the next leg of their trip. Since many small companies owned only thirty or forty miles of track, a long trip could require eight or ten transfers.(2)

Based on the 1871 Handbook for Immigrants to the United States, I calculated that Maria’s railway fare cost approximately $20.00 (3)

Immigrant trains consisted of old and uncomfortable carriages where passengers “were crammed in like so many head of cattle.”(4) Stevenson’s account provided a detailed description of a typical immigrant railroad car.

(1886) The Modern Ship of the Plains Interior of R. R. Car
. , 1886. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

I suppose the reader has some notion of an American railroad-car, that long narrow wooden box, like a flat-roofed Noah’s ark, with a stove and a convenience, one at either end, a passage down the middle, and transverse benches upon either hand. those destined for emigrants on the Union Pacific are only remarkable for constitution, and for the usual inefficacy of the lamps, which often went out and shed but a dying glimmer even while they burned. The benches are too short for anything but a young child. Where there is scarce elbow-room for two to sit, there will not be space enough for one to lie. Hence, the company, or rather, as it appears a plan from certain bills about the Transfer Station, the company’s servants have conceived a plan for the better accommodation of travellers. They prevail on every two to chum together. To each of the chums they sell a board and three square cushions stuffed with straw and covered with thin cotton. the benches can be made to face each other in pairs, for the backs are reversible. On the approach of night, the boards are laid from bench to bench, making a couch wide enough for two, and long enough for a man of the middle height; and the chums lie down side by side upon the cushions with the head to the conductor’s van and the feet to the engine. When the train is full, of course, this plan is impossible, for there must not be more than one to every bench, neither can it be carried out unless the chums agree…Price for one board, the three straw cushions two and half dollars.”(5)

Immigrant Sleeping Car – Horace Porter, “Railway Passenger Travel: 1825-1880,” (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Scotia, N.Y, 1962.) Database: ( :accessed 21 Jan 2021.)

Immigrant trains operated for profit, not for comfort or speed. (6) They chugged along slowly at fifteen miles per hour on average in populated areas, and they made frequent stops. The trains halted at small towns to let off or take on commuting passengers, mail, or packages. When time allowed, the passengers could purchase rolls, sandwiches, or a cup of coffee, if they could elbow their way to the counter.(7)

Currier & Ives & Worth, T. (ca. 1884) A limited express: five seconds for refreshments! / Thos. Worth
. , ca. 1884. New York: published by Currier & Ives. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

Delays were commonplace. Immigrant trains had to pull onto sidetracks and wait as fast-moving luxury trains sped past. Longer delays occurred when a train wreck threw the entire railroad line into chaos. (8)

The Chatsworth, Ill Wreck of Aug 10, 1877. “Train Wrecks; a pictorial history of accidents on the main line by Robert Reed. Database ( accessed 20 Nov 2020.

Aside from a lack of comfort and convenience, rail travel had many inherent dangers. The railroad Gazette for 1875 noted 1,201 accidents. (9)

“Train wrecks were all too common in the nineteenth century –boilers blew up, decaying bridges collapsed under the weight of trains, brittle tracks cracked, wooden passenger cars were set on fire by kerosene lamps or wood heating stoves, brakes overheated and failed. Because of the primitive signal systems, two trains were often mistakenly switched onto the same track and sent speeding into each other. In 1987 alone, there were 104 head-on-collisions in the United States.” (10)

The train trip from New York to Chicago took four to five days with no less than three stops every day for meals. (11) Passengers were permitted about twenty minutes per mealtime; breakfast in the morning, a dinner between eleven and two, and supper from five to eight or nine in the evening. They had to consume their food while keeping an eye on the train to board before it departed without them. Stevenson wrote, “Emigrants are not treated with the same civility as other passengers. In all other trains, a warning cry of ‘All Aboard’ recalls the passengers to take their seats; but with the emigrants the train stole from the station without a note of warning, and you had better keep an eye upon it even while you ate.” (12)

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. (1877). A character scene in the emigrant waiting room of the Union Pacific Railroad depot at Omaha. Retrieved from

A great personage on the railway is the newsboy.” He sold books, newspapers, fruit, lollipops, and cigars. The newsboy provided, for a fee, soap, towels, tin washing basins, tin coffee pitchers, coffee, tea, sugar, and tinned food, mostly hash or beans and bacon. (13) To save money, Maria may have partnered with other female passengers and shared the cost of the soap, towels, and tin basin. Early morning grooming aboard a moving train required a measure of skill and balance. If she wanted to wash, Maria had to fill a tin basin at the water filter opposite the stove in the railroad car. Then, armed with the towel, brick of soap, and the basin, she had to make her way to the platform of the train car. There she knelt, supported herself by bracing a shoulder against the woodwork, or hooked her elbow around the railing. A quick splash of cold water to the face and neck had to suffice.

Once the train was well away from urban areas, it picked up speed and could reach up to sixty miles per hour. As the train rattled along the winding route, Maria witnessed the changing landscape. Like many immigrants, she must have marveled at the sheer size and immensity of America.

Mauch Chunk, On the Lehigh Valley Railroad, PA, USA. Mary L. Martin, LTD; Havre de Grace, MD, USA. U.S., Historical Postcards, 1893-1960 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA:

Stevenson described his travels across the midwest as follows:

“All through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa, or for as much as I saw of them from the train and in my waking moments, it was rich and various, and breathed an elegance peculiar to itself. The tall corn pleased the eye; the trees were graceful in themselves, and framed the plain into long aerial vistas; and the clean, bright, gardened townships spoke of country fare and pleasant evenings on the stoop. (14)

CLINTON, IOWA (click on Clinton and view a google map of Maria’s journey.)

By the time Maria reached Chicago, “a great and gloomy city,”(15) she had traveled about 900 miles. When she arrived, she had to collect her baggage, board an omnibus, and make her way to a different railroad station. (16) There she boarded a train bound for Clinton, Iowa, located 138 miles west of Chicago.

Corlies, S. F., photographer. (1863) Depot of the Ill. Central RR Chicago, Illinois
. , 1863. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

Located in the eastern bend of the Mississippi River, Clinton was home to 9000 residents, according to the 1876 Iowa Gazetteer. (17) Most of them hailed from New England or New York, but the town had a growing immigrant population. It included Maria’s elder sister, Christina, and her husband, Olaf Nilsson. Christina, who immigrated to Clinton in 1872, could assist Maria in acclimating to her new life. It is more than likely she helped Maria find employment as a domestic servant.

The city’s principal industries included lumber mills, which employed more than 1000 persons, a chair factory, two paper mills, machine shops, boiler works, a carriage factory, and foundries. Churches abounded, Swedish and German Lutheran, Congregational, Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, and colored Methodist. There were also five banks, four schools, and two daily newspapers. (18)

A CHANGED IMMIGRANT childhood acquaintance, much changed.” the simple young Swedish peasant women’s rapid growth in sophistication in America. Courtesy of

Years ago, when I examined a framed photograph of Maria, I discovered a surprise. Hidden behind the photograph was a thin, tintype image of Maria. It measured 2 5/8″ x 3 1/4″. Typical for the 1870’s the tintype shows Maria’s full appearance.

Maria Nilsdotter, tintype image taken circa 1875, in Clinton, Iowa. Original tintype is black and white, colorized version is courtesy of MyHeritage. Original in possession of author.

Maria wore a fringed cuirass – a form-fitting bodice that extended past her hips. The dress’s ruffles, bows, and fringe, the narrow sleeves with trimmed cuffs, and the scarf around her neck reflect a style popular from 1875-1877. (19) Perched jauntily atop her head is a hat embellished with feathers.

Advertisement from Gazetteer and directory of Clinton County, Iowa, 1876, courtesy of Internet Archive,

Did Maria select Clarke’s Photograph Gallery, the cheapest and best in town? The photographer succesfully blended the background and foreground, something that not every photographer did well. The chair served two purposes. It functioned as a prop for Maria to steady herself, and it provided a visual effect. Maria balanced one arm on the back of the chair and casually positioned one hand over the other to draw attention to the metal filigree bracelet. The dress, jewelry, and especially the hat, told a story. It conveyed to her family and friends in Sweden, that she had succeeded in transforming herself from a farm girl into a lady.

Popular during the 19th century, tintypes were inexpensive, costing just a few cents. They could also withstand the rigors of mailing. Maria probably ordered at least two tintypes. One she kept for herself, and the other she mailed to her family in Sweden.

“The photographs that Swedish immigrant women sent home with their letters provided additional evidence that powerfully communicated the benefits of emigration. Often, after only a few months in the United States, immigrant women went to studios and had their portraits taken to send home to friends and relatives. To viewers back home, these young women must have appeared utterly transformed. They had seen sisters, friends, and neighbors leave the village simply dressed, hatless, and in homespun. The images sent home showed the same women in store-bought dresses and wearing fancy hats. It was not just the clothing that appealed to young women but also the personal freedom and economic means that the clothing and studio portraits represented. Hats, in particular, were a symbol of social class. In Sweden, only upper-class women were permitted to wear hats. Swedish American women intentionally wore hats for their portraits in order to convey a message of social advancement. Acquisition of fashionable wardrobe may also have been seen necessary to attract male suitors.”(20)

Maria did not find a suitor in Clinton, as did her two sisters, Christina, and Anna, the latter who immigrated in 1880. They each married a Swedish immigrant. Drawn to a larger city and greater opportunities, Maria moved 330 miles to Omaha, Nebraska. As I discussed in a previous blog, she met and married an American, John Mathews Nichols. Maria gained her American citizenship upon her marriage.


After their immigration, did Maria and her sisters experience the hundår (dog years)? “Defined in Swedish-English dictionaries as years of struggle.”(21) Did they yearn to visit their family in Sweden? Maria, and her sisters, Christina and Anna, maintained contact with their family in Sweden. The 1909 probate record for their father, Nils Persson, listed each of the daughters’ names and locations.

Probate record for Nils Persson, 1909, Arkivdigital: Jösse-häradsrätt-FII-79-1909-1909-Image-5080-page-116 pg 1

“Enkan Kristina Nilsdotter boende i iova, Norra Amerika, enkan Anna Nilsdotter boende i iova, Norra Amerika dottern Maria Nilsdotter, gift med Nichols Omaha, Norra Amerika samt barnbarnen.” (22)

Translation: The widow Kristina Nilsdotter, living in Iowa, North America, the widow Anna Nilsdotter living in Iowa, North America, daughter Maria Nilsdotter, married to Nichols, Omaha, North America; and the grandchildren.

Maria Nilsdotter/Mary Nelson Nichols never returned to Sweden. She passed away in 1931 at age 76, shortly after the unexpected death of her son Charles. Two years later, in the summer of 1933, the youngest of the three sisters, 75-year-old Anna Nilsdotter Nyberg, traveled to Sweden. Her son, Carl Nyberg, age 39, accompanied her. Where they went and whom they visited is unknown.

Värmland calls to me. One day, I will return and visit Maria’s ancestral village of Skällarbyn. Until then, if any distant cousins read this blog, please contact me.

Värmland poster was given to me by my mother and sister.

© 2021 copyright – Kendra Hopp Schmidt. All rights reserved


Genealogy Sketch

Parents: NILS PERSSON 1824-1909 and
Spouse: JOHN MATHEW NICHOLS 1857-1929
Children:Carrie Bertha Nichols 1881-1915, Charles Clinton Nichols 1883-1930, Frederick Mathew Nichols 1885-1957, Mabel Elvina Nichols Hyde 1888-1954, John Lee Nichols 1890-1967
Relationship to Kendra: [Great-Great-Grandmother]

  1. [Maria Nilsdotter/Mary Nelson 1854-1931]
  2. [Mabel Elvina Nichols Hyde 1888-1954]
  3. [John Frederick Hyde Jr 1911-1980]
  4. [Jean Hyde Hopp Eichorn]
  5. Kendra



  • (1) Robert Louis Stevenson. The Works of Robert Louis Stevenson. (W. Heinemann in association with Chatto and Windus, 1922.), Digital Images. ( : accessed 15 Nov 2020) 333.
  • (2) Jim Murphy, Across America on an Emigrant Train, (New York, NY: Clarion Books, 1993). 20.
  • (3) Handbook for Immigrants to the United States (New York, Hurd, and Houghton, 1871), Digital Images, ( accessed 23 November 2020.)
  • (4)Jim Murphy, Across America on an Emigrant Train, (New York, NY: Clarion Books, 1993). 20.
  • (5) Robert Louis Stevenson, Across the Plains with other Memories and Essays, (New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1897); 28-29
  • (6) Joy K Lintelman, I go to America Swedish American Women and the Life of Mina Anderson (St. Paul Minnesota, Minnesota Historical Press, 2009),62
  • (7)Robert Louis Stevenson, Across the Plains with other Memories and Essays, (New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1897); 28-29
  • (8)Jim Murphy, Across America on an Emigrant Train, (New York, NY: Clarion Books, 1993). 32
  • (9)Robert C. Reed. Train Wrecks; a pictorial history of accidents on the main line. (Seattle, Superior Pub. Co.). Digital Images. ( accessed: 15 Nov 2020).
  • (10)Jim Murhpy, Across America on an Emigrant Train, (New York, NY: Clarion Books, 1993) 29.
  • (11)Ljungmark, Lars. Translated by Kermit B. Westerberg, Swedish Exodus. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1979, 82.
  • (12)Robert Louis Stevenson. The Works of Robert Louis Stevenson. (W. Heinemann in association with Chatto and Windus, 1922.), Digital Images. ( : accessed 15 Nov 2020) 360.
  • (13)Ibid, 358.
  • (14)Ibid, 344.
  • (15)Ibid, 346.
  • (16)Ibid, 346.
  • (17)F.E. Owen. Gazetteer and directory of Clinton county, Iowa, containing a history of the county, and the cities of Clinton and Lyons. (Lyons, Iowa, 1876), Database ( : accessed 21 Jan 2021.
  • (18)Ibid.
  • (19)Maureen A. Taylor, Family Photo Detective, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Family Tre Books, 2013), 109.
  • (20)Joy K Lintelman, I go to America Swedish American Women and the Life of Mina Anderson (St. Paul Minnesota, Minnesota Historical Press, 2009,62.
  • (21)Ibid, 94.
  • (22)Jösse-häradsrätt-FII-79-1909-1909-Image-5080-page-116 pg 1.

Posted in My Family Ancestry | Tagged , | 9 Comments


Liverpool, England, postcard author’s personal collection.


This blog is the fourth in a series about the life of Maria Nilsdotter (Mary Nelson) and her immigration to America in 1875. In the previous blog, Maria traveled from Skällarbyn, Sweden, to Liverpool, England, where she waited to board a transatlantic steamship bound for America.

My initial search for “Maria Nilsdotter” on a passenger list proved unsuccessful. After I expanded the search to include variations of the spelling of her name, I found a likely candidate.

Listed on the manifest for the S.S. Erin for June 1875, is “Marie Nelson”, age 21, occupation servant. [1] Am I 100% certain that this is “my” Maria Nilsdotter? No, but it is likely based on her departure from her village on May 24th, 1875, and research outlined in previous blog posts. If not, then Maria’s travel experiences would have been very similar to those I detail in this article.

Ship’s Manifest – S.S. Erin –

Passenger list for S.S. Erin, June 14, 1875. Marie Nelson, age 21, female, servant, Sweden, Steerage – Ancestry. com


Anxiety and anticipation filled the pit of Maria’s stomach as she waited on the landing dock to board the S.S. Erin. Alongside her, crowds of immigrants clutched their numerous bundles and stared at one another. They gazed in wonder at the massive steel vessel, longer than a city block, rows of portholes, a deckhouse, three masts, and a monster funnel. “They caught a glimpse of the white lifeboats hanging in davits, red- mouthed ventilators, and the brightest of brasswork.”[2] Soon the stewards directed them up the gangway and onboard the S.S. Erin. The journey commenced.

The S.S. Erin departed Liverpool Wednesday, June 2, 1875, early in the afternoon at high tide to clear the sandbars. The passengers had a final view of England before they headed out into the bay and then into the Irish Channel. The next morning, June 3rd, they stopped in Queenstown (Cobh), Ireland, to pick up Irish passengers. After the final warning bell sounded, the ship edged away from the pier and set course along the Irish coast. Hopefully, they had smooth waters as they headed out into the Atlantic.

S.S. Erin, National Line – image courtesy of

The British passenger liner with a clipper stem, one funnel, and three masts, was built by Palmer Brothers & Company, in Jarrow-on-Tyne, for the National Line in 1864. Rebuilt twice, in 1872 and 1876, she would eventually accommodate 72 first-class passengers and 1,200 third-class (steerage) passengers. [3] Charles H. Andrews served as Master and Captain of the 3,956-ton ship.[4]

An advertisement for the National Line passenger steamships promoted the ships’ comfortable accommodations.[5]

FIRST CLASS: Unsurpassed accommodations for passengers. The Saloons and Staterooms are very spacious and cheerful, finely lighted and ventilated, and elegantly furnished. The Table will compare favorably with that of the best Hotels in England.

Ladies Boudoir – also Piano, Library, Smoking, and Bath Rooms, etc. A Surgeon, Stewards, and Stewardesses on every steamer. Medicine and attendance free.

STEERAGE: The Steerage is large, light and airy, and warmed by steam in winter. Married couples with their children are berthed by themselves, Single persons are placed in separate rooms.

Meals are served three times a day by the Ship’s stewards and consist of unlimited quantity of good and wholesome provisions put on board under inspection of the Company’s Purveyor. Plenty of fresh drinking water. The care of Surgeon and Stewards free.”

Museum of the City of New York. Database. MCNY Blog: New York Stories. accessed June 2020.

“Steerage,” located near the ship’s steering equipment, consisted of one or more below-deck compartments both fore and aft. Contrary to the favorable description above, a typical steerage compartment was dark, hot, airless, and crowded.

“A typical steerage consisted of a compartment indistinguishable from any upper cargo hold, without portholes or any other effective ventilating mechanism, unpartitioned and six to eight feet high, crammed with two or more tiers of narrow metal bunks containing minimal mattresses. Men and women were separated, sometimes on separate decks, sometimes by nothing but a few blankets tossed over a line in the middle of the compartment. Toilet facilities were always inadequate; cleanup was almost non-existent; and the combined smells from the ship’s galleys and human exrement nauseating. The food was both monotonous and poorly prepared – if prepared at all – and freshwater was usually only available up on the deck. The chief kind of food provided, described by many immigrants, was barrel after barrel of herring, the cheapest food available…[6]

David M. Brownstone, Irene M Franck, and Douglass Brownstone. Island of Hope (New York, Fall River Press, 2000), p.121

Fortunately for Maria and her shipmates, the S.S. Erin had a reduced number of passengers on the voyage. The Saloon (First) Class numbered just fourteen. Their nationalities included: Candadians -2, English-2, Dutch -2, French -2, and Americans -4. Their occupations: ladies, gentlemen, clerk, draper, and a broker.[7]

Robert Louis Stevenson illustrated the distinction between passenger classes in a witty account, The Amateur Emigrant, Travel Memoir. Although Stevenson traveled second-class from Scotland to America in 1879, he frequently went below decks to steerage and interacted with the third-class passengers.

“In the steerage there are males and females; in the second cabin ladies and gentlemen. For some time after I came aboard I thought I was only a male; but in the course of the voyage of discovery between decks, I came on a brass plate, and learned that I was still a gentleman…

For all these advantages I paid but two guineas. Six guineas is the steerage fare; eight that by the second cabin; and when you remember that the steerage passenger must supply bedding and dishes, and in five cases out of ten, either bring some dainties with him, or privately pays the steward for extra rations, the difference in price becomes almost nominal. Air comparatively fit to breathe, food comparatively varied, and the satisfaction of being still privately a gentleman, may thus be had almost for the asking. Two of my fellow passengers in the second cabin had already made the passage by the cheaper fare, and declared it was an experiment not to be repeated.”[8]

Robert Louis Stevenson. The Amatuer Emigrant, Travel Memoir. Originally published 1895 (Middletown, DE 2020).

Steerage passengers on the S.S. Erin numbered 431, representing thirteen nationalities. They ranged in age from an infant to 59-years old, and nearly two-thirds were male.[9]

Irish – 177, German -94, English -73, Swedish -55, French – 14, Prussian -5, Austrian -3, Hungarian -3, Scottish -2, Greek-2, Dutch-1, Polish -1, and American -1

They came from various backgrounds, perhaps they hoped to ply their trades in America or seek new job opportunities. Many immigrants longed to purchase cheap land. Maria, probably hoped to find employment as a servant after she learned basic English.

Occupations of the steerage passengers: architect, boilermaker, butcher, blacksmith, brewer, confectioner, farm laborer, file cutter, gardener, grocer, lawyer, machine maker, miner, peddler, servant, shipbuilder, shoemaker, tailor, and waiter.

Amongst the 55 Swedes on board, there were several young women close in age to 21-year old Maria, with whom she could share her dreams and excitement and concerns. Travel brochures noted that passengers should be very cautious regarding their choice of acquaintances on board, especially on the part of women. Sailors had a reputation for taking advantage of female passengers.

The stormy North Atlantic took a toll on the well-being of most of the passengers. “They were land creatures, temporarily uprooted from the earth and passing through a wholly alien environment.”[10] Seasickness affected most of them. Even though they were miserable, they knew it would pass. A more significant concern was the possibility of contracting cholera or typhus. These were the killers.

A fear that loomed largest in the imagination of the passengers was a shipwreck. Captive in a moving vessel, they were at the mercy of the weather and the elements.

Foundering Ship– Harper’s Weekly, 1857. Courtesy of

Emigrant Swedish-English guidebooks addressed the fears that many passengers felt about the voyage. Published in 1881, the Utvandrarens Tolk, (The Emigrant’s Interpreter) provided phrases emigrants could practice during their trip.[11]

Swedish-English dictionaryLanguage Contact Across the North Atlantic, P Sture Ureland,
  • “All passengers must go down in the hold and the hatches be shut, there is an appearance of a storm.
  • I cannot go down; I feel very sick; I cannot stand on my legs.
  • Ah, what I suffer, I think I am dying.
  • Pshaw, it will pass.
  • This is a violent storm.
  • Look, the porpoises jump round the prow of the vessel.
  • Here we are lost. It is so sultry. Can we not get out?
  • Not before the sotrm has ceased. But in the meantime we are suffocated.
  • Pooh, there is no danger.
  • Now the storm is over. Now we shall let you out.”[12]

[The S.S. Erin disappeared in a shipwreck 14 years after Maria’s voyage. In December 1889, the S.S. Erin departed from New York to London with her 52 crew members, 525 cattle, and about 20 cattlemen. After passing Sable Island, off the coast of Novia Scotia, she went missing with the loss of all on board. The Board of Trade inquiry determined the ship foundered in a violent gale.][13]

Despite their concerns, most emigrants focused on what lay ahead. They could endure the trip with the knowledge it would lead to a new wide-open life in America. First-hand accounts by Swedish immigrants provided the best source to understand what Maria may have experienced during her journey. One book in particular, cited numerous and diverse stories, From the Promised Land, Swedes in America 1840-1914.

In 1890, Gustav Eriksson, a shoemaker from Dalarna, Sweden, traveled to America. He compiled a letter in diary form. We join him and his friend Gustaf L. in Liverpool as they board their ship the Majestic.[14]

“WEDNESDAY. When we came to the dock we had to stand in a shed from which the cargo was being winched up into the ship; they were busy loading when we came. After we had waited a while we were able to go onboard. We were shown to the foredeck, the womenfolk to the stern, we had our quarters two flights down. There all the Swedes were packed in, farther forward on the same level came the Finns. One flight down the English and Germans had their quarters…

When we went and walked around the deck to find our way around as best we could, a man came and said go forward. They herded us from forward aft, there we went from the one side to the other like a flock of sheep. We were really packed in there, I think we could well have been around 6,700…

THURSDAY. Last night we left Liverpool harbor and are now steaming at full speed for Ireland, where people will also be picked up. It is storming, but not so bad. There aren’t such big waves as on the North Sea, we have a headwind. You could feel this morning when I woke up that the ship was rolling and the waves striking hard against the sides.

On the North Sea we were only Scandanavians, here it is really cosmic, several nations are represented. The Englishmen are generally skinny and puny, and look as if they would fall to pieces if a real Swede gave them a box on the ear.

We lay here in Kingston until around one, then the anchor was raised and the journey over the Atlantic began. A stiff headwind was blowing so that when we came out a bit there were high seas. The ship rolled and shook, it began to feel uncomfortable. I got tired of this eternal rolling…Storms and waves don’t interest me any longer. I hate them. If only we were there. But it will go on for a long while, six whole days, so one just has to go and feel uncomfortable.” [For Maria, the trip lasted eleven long days.]

H. Arnold Barton, Editor. From the Promised Land, Swedes in America, 1840-1914 (University of Minnesota 1975), p 212-214.

It is relevant to note that Gustaf Eriksson traveled fifteen years after Maria’s journey when conditions for steerage passengers had slightly improved after the Passenger Act of 1882.[15]

Immigrants on an Atlantic Liner, c 1906. Image courtesy of Library of Congress

The British Pall Mall Gazette published an article written four years after Maria’s voyage. The journalist described conditions in steerage on a reverse journey from New York to Liverpool in 1879. He traveled aboard the Cunard Line, which advertised that they accommodated their third-class travelers better than any other transatlantic line.[16]

“Now I was in the steerage. Words are incapable of conveying anything like correct notion of the kind of den in which I stood among sixty fellow passengers. A glance around filled me with dismay and disgust…In the center of the floor was an open wooden grating, the entry, as I afterward discovered to the steward’s storeroom. This “ventilated” direct into the steerage. That salt and cured fish were among the items carried below was immediately apparent to at least one of our senses.

Opening the door of the compartment which I shared with eleven bed-fellow, I passed into the narrow and foul-smelling passage in front of the shelves. My companions were in their respective trays. They were quiet but not asleep. How they managed to compress themselves and their belongings into the space allotted to them I could not understand. Each shelf -six feet long by about eighteen inches width – was not alone bed and bed-chamber but wardrobe, cupboard, and luggage depository of its occupant. Each slept with his clothes on; indeed undressing was out of the question – there was not room enough for the operation…

In vain I tried to sleep. My elbows and knees went to sleep, but I remained awake. The wind was rising and the ship was rolling. Within an hour it was blowing harder; and then it abundantly appeared that my companions were not good sailors. Dreadful were the next two hours; but at length all was silent and I dozed off…”

Mealtimes offered a distraction from the monotony of the journey.

On board an emigrant ship – the breakfast bell immigrants on ship deck. c. 1884. Image courtesy of Library of Congress.

“Breakfast was quickly served. The tin pans filled with half-burned bread were plumped down upon the tables. The rank compound supposed to be butter again made its appearance. There stood the steward with what appeared to be a large fish-kettle in one hand a greasy kitchen ladle in the other, bawling out, “Who’s for stew?” We were all for stew…

Breakfast finished, the washing of pots and pans and platters commenced. A tub of lukewarm water was placed for the sailors’ convenience on the main deck. Here the steerage passengers were permitted to wash their eating utensils; and after every meal a string of these travellers ascended the gangway and rinsed and scoured the tin pans and pannikins until the shone again. Our pots and pannikens clean and bright, all sought refuge on deck. Four hours and a half of fresh sea-air blew off the nauseous atmosphere that clung to one like a mist in the steerage…

My experience aboard was not that of an isolated individual: all third-class travellers were treated precisely alike. And it should be remembered, too, that we made the voyage under the most favourable conditions: there were few steerage passengers, and the time of year was good…”

H. Phelps Whitmarsh, “The Steerage of To-Day A personal Experience.” The Century Magazine, Vol LV, No 4, Feb 1898, p528-543. Database: Original from the University of California, Digitized by Google.

[An informative visual presentation of travel in steerage circa 1880 is available on youtube. Steerage and Third Class on Ocean Liners.]

Maria and her companions may have shared condolences over the food and dreadful conditions aboard ship.They likely discussed how long the voyage might last. Perhaps they shared bits of information about their occupations, what they hoped to find in the new world, and what they left behind in the old. Maybe they practiced English and used a guide book that provided translations and pronunciation.

Immigrant Handbook Vägledning Svenska utvandrare till Amerika. National Library of Sweden

Despite the horrible accommodations and unappetizing food, the sociability of Maria’s companions could have positively influenced her experiences. On the other hand, they may have negatively impacted her, as recounted by H. Phelps Whitmarsh who traveled in steerage from Liverpool to New York in 1898.[17]

“I suppose there are conditions more favorable to the rapid growth of acquaintance and friendship than those on shipboard. On the other hand, however, there is no place like it for wearing a friendship threadbare – for finding people out. Sea friendships, sea promises, and sea plans, I have noticed are uncertain things at best and never to be depended upon.”

H. Phelps Whitmarsh, “The Steerage of To-Day A personal Experience.” The Century Magazine, Vol LV, No 4, Feb 1898, p528-543. Database: Original from the University of California, Digitized by Google.


Immigrants at the rail of a steamship, the early 1900s. Image courtesy of Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

A buzz of excitement ran through steerage as the ship drew closer to America. The sailors would have informed the passengers that they weren’t far from shore. “The burning question of the steerage is, ‘Shall we get ashore to-night?”[18] In most cases, the steerage passengers had to wait an additional night on board the ship.

After eleven long days crossing the Atlantic, the S.S. Erin reached the shores of America. It docked at the Hudson or East River piers on Sunday, June 13, 1875. Using a tip from another genealogist, I searched New York newspapers for the ship’s arrival notice. Located in the Marine Intelligence section, was a list of all the steamships and schooners that docked each day. The newspaper notice included information if a ship had encountered storms, strong winds, or delays. Fortunately for the crew and passengers of the S. S.Erin, the voyage proceeded without mishaps.[19]

“Marine Intelligence.” The New York Times, 14 June 1875, online archives,

“MARINE INTELLIGENCE – New York…Sunday, June 13th

Arrived: Steam-ship Erin, (Br.) Andrews, Liverpool June 2nd and Queenstown 3d, with mdse and passengers to F.W. J. Hurst.

Although the ship docked on June 13th, the Captain did not sign the manifest until June 14th, which likely indicates that Maria and the other immigrants did not go ashore the first day. They had to wait until the following morning.

Port of New York, S.S. Erin, 14 June 1875.

The emigrants caught their first glimpse of America at the eastern edge of Manhattan Island. They clustered on the deck, anxious to get ashore and enjoy the liberty they had traveled so far to obtain. Their first impressions formed as they approached an imposing architectural structure called Castle Garden, which once served as a military fort, built on an artificial island. Castle Garden signified that they had arrived in America.[20]

Irma and Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, The New York Public Library. (1880). Castle Garden Emigrant Station photographed from above Retrieved from

The New York Times reported in February 1874:

“Castle Garden is so well known in Europe that few emigrants can be induced to sail for any other destination. Their friends in this country write to those who are intending to emigrate to come to Castle Garden where they will be safe, and if out of money, they can remain until it is sent to them.”[21]

Dr. George J. Svejda, “Castle Garden as an Immigrant Deport 1850-1890” (U.S. Department of the Interior National Park Service, 1968). Database:

From August 3, 1855, to April 18, 1890, Castle Garden served as the official immigration center for the United States. More than eight million immigrants – almost all from Europe – passed through Castle Garden.[22]


Upon arrival, an immigration officer boarded the vessel. He ascertained the number of passengers, noted any deaths during the voyage, and if any passengers suffered from illnesses. Next, the Landing Agent and Inspector of Customs boarded the vessel.

The first and second class passengers remained in their cabins while agents checked their paperwork and did not undergo a physical examination. Soon after, they disembarked at the pier and continued on their journey.

Steerage passengers underwent a more thorough inspection. After the agents checked the luggage, it was transferred to the barges or tugs and transported to Castle Garden pier. Likewise, steerage passengers were transported by ferry or barge to Castle Garden.

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. (1884-06). Landing immigrants at Castle Garden. Retrieved from

Maria arrived during the peak immigration season (May-June). The center was a beehive of activity with as many as 3000 immigrants gathered in the processing center.[23] The weather that day was mild, 72° on June 13, and 66° on June 14, which would have made the long wait somewhat tolerable.[24] As she left the barge, Maria would have seen Castle Garden as it loomed in front of her surrounded by a large wooden wall. Over the large door to the entrance hung a sign, Castle Garden. Once she passed through the door, she would have seen the outbuildings, hospitals, and offices in the compound. [25]

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. (1861 – 1880). State Emigrant Landing Depot, Castle Garden, N.Y. Retrieved from

“The Castle Garden area covered about 125, 000 square feet. The main structure was built of brown-stone blocks, closely cemented and forming a wall six feet thick. The gun embrasures retained the original shape, and the old nail-studded gates which guarded its portals in olden times were at this time still preserved.”[26]

Dr. George J. Svejda, “Castle Garden as An Immigrant Depot, 1850-1890”. (U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1968). Database:

Inside Castle Garden, Maria, like all immigrants, had to undergo a medical and legal inspection. The interrogation included answering several questions that determined an immigrant’s “fitness” to remain in America. “The primary job of officials was to prevent individuals who were likely to become a public charge due to physical or mental disabilities from entering the United States and to admit those likely to be productive members of the industrial labor force.”[27] One of the questions that determined “fitness” was how much money an immigrant brought with them or would receive from a sponsor. The U.S. government did not desire immigrants who immediately became public charges. Swedish male immigrants, on average, brought more cash than females. “Average in-hand cash amounts for the women were 62 kronor and 25 dollars, while averages for the men were 266 kronor and 318 dollars.”[28]

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. (1868-08-15). The Labor Exchange — interior views of the office at Castle Garden, New York. Retrieved from

With the large volume of immigrants, medical checks were cursory, but any sign of contagion could lead to quarantining of the steerage passengers or the entire ship. Minor health issues were dealt with immediately at an onsite aid station. More severe conditions required the passengers to be sent to immigrant hospitals on Wards Island in the East River for free treatment.[29] If the passengers’ papers were in order, and they were in good health, the inspection process would last approximately three to five hours.

The Handbook for Immigrants to the United States described the procedures at Castle Garden.

“On landing, the passengers are examined by a medical officer to discover if any are sick. After examination, the immigrants are directed into the Rotunda, a circular space with separate compartments for English speaking and other nationalities.

Each immigrant receives a brass ticket with a letter and number on landing, a duplicate is placed on his piece of luggage after passing the health inspection. After the luggage is weighed and paid for, it is sent free of charge to the depot or railroad or dock by which they leave.

Immigrants then proceed to the registering department where the names, nationality, former place of residence, and the intended destination of the immigrants are taken down.

[Inside the main building, the immigrants could use bathing facilities, one for men and on the opposite side for women. Soap, water, and clean towels on rollers were provided free of charge.]

Passengers then directed to the agents for the Railroad companies where they can procure tickets to all parts of the United States and Canada without the risk of fraud or extortion to which they are subjected to outside the Depot.

Exchange brokers admitted into the Depot change foreign money for a small advance on the market rate.

When the proceeding operations are completed, the immigrants are assembled in the tile Rotunda and an officer of the Commission calls the names of those whose friends attend them in the waiting room at the entrance of the Depot, and to whom they are directed.

Names are also called out for those for whom letters or funds are waiting. Immigrants who desire to communicate with friends at a distance are referred to the Letter Writing Department.

If an immigrant desires to remain in the city for any period of time they are referred to boarding-house keepers to guard the immigrant against the abuses.

The cost of a meal in the building half-a-dollar. Ther is no place to sleep unless on the floor or a chair.”[31]

Dr. George J. Svejda, “Castle Garden as An Immigrant Depot, 1850-1890”. (U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1968). Database:

Most immigrants spent only a few hours inside Castle Garden. Some were met by family members who anxiously awaited their arrival. Others, like Maria, had to determine if they would spend the night in New York or continue on their journey by rail or ferry. If an immigrant chose to stay overnight, there were licensed boarding houses approved by Castle Garden Depot.[31]

For those immigrants who continued on their journey, steamboats would whisk them up the Hudson River to the railroad, steamship, or canal boats. Many immigrants had prepaid orders, which entitled them to a railroad ticket to their place of destination. Once they left the walls of Castle Garden, immigrants had to be cautious of thieves and swindlers who tried to fleece them. Due to language barriers, poverty, and fear, many immigrants were easy prey.[32]

Castle Garden Emigrant-Catchers June 14, 1882. Historical Society of Pennsylvania -Digital Library.

Maria survived the long voyage and arrived in America, but her trip wasn’t over yet. Another week of travel had to be endured. Her journey by immigrant train carried her more than 1000 miles across the United States to Clinton, Iowa.

(To be continued – Final chapter)

You, whoever you are!...
All you continentals of Asia, Africa, Europe, Australia, 
Indifferent of place!
All you on the numberless islands of the archipelagos of the sea!
All you of centuries hence when you listen to me!
All you each and everywhere whom I specify not, but include just the same!
Health to you! Good will to you all, from me and America sent!
Each of us is inevitable,
Each of us is limitless - each of us with his or her right upon
the earth,
Each of us allow'd the eternal purports of the earth,
Each of us here as divinely as any is here.
Walt Whitman[33]

© 2020 copyright -Kendra Hopp Schmidt. All rights reserved.


Genealogy Sketch

Parents: NILS PERSSON 1824-1909 and
Spouse: JOHN MATHEW NICHOLS 1857-1929
Children:Carrie Bertha Nichols 1881-1915, Charles Clinton Nichols 1883-1930, Frederick Mathew Nichols 1885-1957, Mabel Elvina Nichols Hyde 1888-1954, John Lee Nichols 1890-1967
Relationship to Kendra: [Great-Great-Grandmother]

  1. [Maria Nilsdotter/Mary Nelson 1854-1931]
  2. [Mabel Elvina Nichols Hyde 1888-1954]
  3. [John Frederick Hyde Jr 1911-1980]
  4. [Jean Hyde Hopp Eichorn]
  5. Kendra



  1. New York, Passenger, and Crew Lists (Including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957; database, ( accessed 11 Aug 2020), entry for Maria Nelson, age 21, Sweden, aboard S.S. Erin, Liverpool to New York, arriving 14 June 1875, p.6; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Line: 1; List number 496.
  2. H. Phelps Whitmarsh, “The Steerage of To-day A personal Experience.” The Century Magazine, Vol LV, Number 4, Feb 1898, p528-543. Database:, Original from the University of California, Digitized by Google, : (Accessed August 25, 2020).
  3. Database. (Accessed 14 July 2020).
  4. Ibid
  5. Museum of the City of New York. Database. MCNY Blog: New York Stories. : (Accessed June 2020).
  6. David M. Brownstone, Irene M Franck, and Douglass Brownstone. Island of Hope (New York, Fall River Press, 2000), p 126.
  7. New York, Passenger, and Crew Lists (Including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957; database, ( accessed 11 Aug 2020), entry for Maria Nelson, age 21, Sweden, aboard S.S. Erin, Liverpool to New York, arriving 14 June 1875, p.6; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Line: 1; List number 496.
  8. Robert Louis Stevenson. The Amateur Emigrant, Travel Memoir 1895.
  9. New York, Passenger, and Crew Lists (Including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957; database, ( accessed 11 Aug 2020), entry for Maria Nelson, age 21, Sweden, aboard S.S. Erin, Liverpool to New York, arriving 14 June 1875, p.6; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Line: 1; List number 496.
  10. David M. Brownstone, Irene M Franck, and Douglass Brownstone. Island of Hope (New York, Fall River Press, 2000), p 121.
  11. P. Sture Ureland, Ian Clarkson, ed., Lanugage Across the North Atlantic (Max Niemeyer verlag GmbH & Co. KG, Tübingen, 1996) 165; Digital Images, Google Books ( accessed 14 August 2020.).
  12. Ibid
  13. Database. :2020
  14. H. Arnold Barton, Editor. From the Promised Land, Swedes in America 1840-1914 (University of Minnesota, 1975), p212-214.
  15. “Historic Documents-United States-Passenger Act of 1882.” Database: :(Accessed 24 August 2020).
  16. “In the Steerage of a Cunard Steamer,” Pall Mall Gazette, 14 August 1879. Database: British (Accessed 10 August 2020.
  17. H. Phelps Whitmarsh, “The Steerage of To-day A personal Experience.” The Century Magazine, Vol LV, Number 4, Feb 1898, p528-543. Database:, Original from the University of California, Digitized by Google, : (Accessed August 25, 2020).
  18. Ibid
  19. “Marine Intelligence.” the New York Times, 14 June 1875, online archives ( accessed 15 May 2020), p 8, col 6.
  20. David M. Brownstone, Irene M Franck, and Douglass Brownstone. Island of Hope (New York, Fall River Press, 2000), p 121.
  21. Dr. George J. Svejda, “Castle Garden as an Immigrant Depot, 1850-1890.” (U.s. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1968). Database: (Accessed 24 August 2020).
  22. Brendan P. O’Malley, “Welcome to New York, Remembering Castle Garden, a Nineteenth-Century Immigrant Welfare State,” Laphams Quarterly. Database: : (Accessed 23 August 2020).
  23. Dr. George J. Svejda, “Castle Garden as an Immigrant Depot, 1850-1890.” (U.s. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1968). Database: (Accessed 24 August 2020).
  24. “The Weather in this City,” The New York Times, 14 June 1875, online archives ( 15 May 2020.
  25. Dr. George J. Svejda, “Castle Garden as an Immigrant Depot, 1850-1890.” (U.s. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1968). Database: (Accessed 24 August 2020).
  26. Ibid
  27. Joy K. Lintelman. “I go to America, Swedish Women and the Life of Mina Anderson.” (Minnesota Historical Society, 2009), p. 86.
  28. Ibid
  29. Brendan P. O’Malley, “Welcome to New York, Remembering Castle Garden, a Nineteenth-Century Immigrant Welfare State,” Lapham’s Quarterly. Database: : (Accessed 23 August 2020).
  30. Handbook for Immigrants to the United States (New York, Hurd, and Houghton, 1871), Digital Images. ( accessed 24 August 2020.)
  31. Dr. George J. Svejda, “Castle Garden as an Immigrant Depot, 1850-1890.” (U.s. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1968). Database: (Accessed 24 August 2020).
  32. Jenny Ashcroft. “Before Ellis Island: Entering America Through Castle Garden 1850-1890. June 12, 2020. Database:Fishwrap The Official Blog of (Accessed: 24 August 2020).
  33. Walt Whitman. “You Whoever You Are!” Database: Library of Congress ( Accessed 12 June 2020.


Posted in Biographies, My Family Ancestry | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments


Maria Nilsdotter/Mary Nelson circa 1875, photo in possession of author.


How much cash do I need to take with me when I emigrate? What possessions should I take and what should I leave behind? How will I cope with the language? These are questions emigrants have always had to consider.

When Maria Nilsdotter, my 2x great-grandmother, emigrated in 1875 from Skällarbyn, Sweden, she probably had the same concerns. In my previous blog, I discussed the reasons why Maria chose to emigrate. Here I explore how she might have traveled to America.

The anticipation began the day Maria decided to follow her sister Christina to Clinton, Iowa. She knew she could rely on Christina’s experienced advice, as well as emigrant handbooks to guide her. It must have been a comfort to know her sister could help her get settled, find a job, and teach her English. Maria focused on what she needed to do to emigrate.

The first step required that she visit her pastor’s office and request a moving certificate (Flyttningsbetyg). The document included name, birth date, parish, county, vaccination date (smallpox), baptism, confirmation, marriage, profession, destination, general social behavior, and the pastor’s signature.

The Moving Out records (Utflyttades) for Skällarbyn noted for the month of May 1875 that Maria departed her village and parish. Her destination – North America.

Maria Nilsdotter- Moving Out Records -Arkivdigital v11981.b426.s416

Upon arrival at a Swedish or Norwegian port, Maria had to submit the (Flyttningsbetyg) to the Police Department for inspection. Without this document, she could not leave the country.


Maria had several problems to solve before her departure to America. How to pay for her ticket and purchase it? What route to travel and what time of year? What supplies to take?


Initially, I thought Maria received financial assistance from her elder sister Christina, who emigrated in 1872. Quite often, a sibling who had already immigrated would send money to family members to help pay for their trip.

Christina Nilsdotter emigration – ArkivDigital: Köla A1:31 (1871-1875) Image 426 Page 416

After I reviewed the 1896 probate records for Maria’s and Christina’s mother, Karin Olsdotter, I realized where the girls obtained at least half the money required for their expenses. Each girl received an advance of their inheritance in the form of a dowry payment for their travel to America. Although it wasn’t typical for Swedish parents to provide a dowry for their daughters, Karin and Nils provided some assistance. Maria received 100 Kronor (approximately $30 in 1875), which was half of her total inheritance of 200 Kronor. Today the 100 Kronor would be worth about 5606 Kronor ($631.00). Christina received more than twice as much as Maria, possibly because she had a son to care for on her own. Her dowry advance was 250 Kronor, half of the total 500 her parents provided for her.

Probate for Karin Olsdotter noting dowries for Maria and Christina – Arkivdigital: Jösse häradsträtt FII:68 (1896-1897) Image: 201 Page 393.

For most emigrants, the cost of passage from Sweden to America was a considerable financial burden. The money Maria received from her parents would not suffice for all of her expenses. She probably saved her earnings from work as a servant (piga) on a neighboring farm over the course of a couple of years. A farmhand could earn an annual income of about 100 Kronor ($27) in 1869, and 138 Kronor in 1880. Her inheritance combined with savings would cover the cost of an emigrant-class steamship ticket.

During the Swedish mass emigration era (1870-1900), fees fluctuated due to competition For example, in 1869, a one-way steerage ticket from Göteborg to New York, or Chicago, cost about $41. During the 1880’s a steerage ticket cost around about $28. The1870 Handbook for Immigrants to the United States noted the costs from Christiania (Oslo) to New York as $45. Maria probably needed at least $60 to cover her costs from Skällarbyn, Sweden to Clinton, Iowa.


Because of the favorable exchange rates and higher wages in America, it was easier for a relative in America to buy a ticket for their family member in Sweden. Christina may have purchased a ticket for Maria, who later reimbursed her sister.

If Maria bought her ticket in Sweden, then it was best to use an emigrant agent. Shipping lines advertised throughout Sweden and had agents in ports of departure. These agents had sub-agents and representatives throughout the country, including remote rural villages. Often, schoolmasters served as representatives who supplemented their meager income by selling tickets for shipping lines. They distributed leaflets with travel information and posted up placards.

Emigrant agents served as a type of travel agent, advising prospective emigrants about costs and travel routes. The emigrant agents provided a Utvandrare-kontrakt” (emigrant contract), the ticket for the journey. Often, it was a “multi-ticket” that included all the trips along the route – (ship to rail in England and ship to rail in the USA) – and lodging at all the stops.

When Maria and her siblings emigrated, a direct ship route from Sweden to America didn’t exist. Instead, emigrants took a small steamer, known as a ‘feeder ship’ to a British port, such as Hull or Grimsby, on the east coast of England. Then they traveled via train to a larger emigration port, such as Liverpool, where they boarded a transatlantic steamship bound for America or Canada.

Although almost 80% of Swedish emigrants departed from Göteborg, Sweden to Hull, England, I believe that Maria and her siblings left from Christiania, the nearest port city. The distance from Skällarbyn to Christiania was 56 miles versus 165 miles to Göteborg. Emigrants from Värmland who lived close to the Norwegian border often departed from Christiania.

Another reason I concluded Maria and her siblings did not go through Göteborg is they do not appear on the Göteborg emigrant passenger lists. Nor did they appear on the Göteborg police lists, which noted all the passengers who departed from that city. Each emigrant had to provide to the Police Department their “Utvandrare-Kontrakt“(emigrant contract), their ticket for the journey. The Police chamber verified that the ticket was genuine, not fraudulent, and recorded the emigrant on a chronological list.

I also checked the Christiania/Oslo police emigrant lists and found a Marie Nilson who departed in May 1875. It is an assumption, but I believe this might be “my” Maria Nilsdotter, who had already simplified her name before traveling to the United States. Christina may have advised that an American name would make travel easier.

Maria may have traveled via an alternate route from Sweden to England, but I am going on the premise that she chose the most convenient one. Below is a chart outling how Maria might have traveled from Skällarbyn to Clinton, Iowa.


Maria probably relied on Christina’s advice regarding recommended travel items. She may have also read information from travel brochures for emigrants – Vägledning för Svenska utvandrare till Amerika, (Guidance for Swedish Emigrants to America.)

For the two day journey across the North Sea from Christiania to Hull, passengers had to supply their food. Typical items Maria may have brought with her: flatbread (Knäckebröd), butter, hardtack, cheese, herring, and sour milk. The voyage across the Atlantic included meals, although the passengers seldom found them appetizing.

A typical weekly menu for steamship passengers in 1859 contanined the following items:

Sunday: a half pound of beef, porridge, or pudding, dried fruit

Monday: pork, pea soup or boiled cabbage

Tuesday: beef, gruel or peas

Wednesday: beef, rice and molasses

Thursday: beef, porridge or pudding, dried fruit

Friday: beef, pork, pea soup or dried fruit

Saturday: herring or fish, peas or brown beans

Lars Ljungmark, Swedish Exodus, (Southern Illinois University Press, 1979),77.

According to the Swedish and American guide books for the transatlantic trip, third-class passengers needed: mattress, bedding, tinware, plate, mug, knife, fork, spoon, and water pail. If a passenger could not buy the items before they arrived in the port city then a ship’s official could advise where to purchase them inexpensively.

Necessary items during the trip for third class passengers: are the following food containers: plate, drinking cup, water pitcher, knife, fork, spoon. Mattress to lie on, and a blanket. The food containers may be made of tin…The agent can instruct passengers where things can be bought at the cheapest price. Otherwise traders seek to entice passengers to buy too much unnecessarily for a high price.”

Perhaps Maria received advice from Christina similar to what Maria Helene Jonsdotter wrote to her her sister in 1869.

“I advise you not take a lot of linen cloth. Instead bring plenty of tinware. Pack down some food so that you have something to eat, in case you cannot stomach what they give you at sea. Hardtack is good; also some cheese and dried meat. Take along a food basket. When you arrive in America there will be many who approach you and offer you help. But you must watch your step, for there are plenty of scoundrels around you read to cheat the emigrants.”

Lars Ljungmark, Swedish Exodus, (Southern Illinois University Press, 1979),76.

Additional advice about provisions came from handbooks such as the Handbook for Immigrants to the United States.

“An emigrant ought to have one or more stout boxes, well roped, and plainly marked. He should fill it or them with substantial clothing, including boots and shoes, part for winter, part for summer wear, all costing much more in the United States as in America.”

Handbook for Emigrants to the United States, (Hurd and Houghton, New York, 1871), Internet Archive.


The easiest decision for Maria was what time of year to travel. She chose to travel in the spring. According to the Handbook for Emigrants to the United States:

“Spring is by all means the best season, summer the next, autum the next, and winter the worst. In the summer the ocean is even quieter than in the spring, but by going early, one has a better chance of immediate employment on landing. In the winter, rough weather generally prevails on the ocean, but the ships are usually much less crowded than during the rest of the year.”

Emigration Dates for Maria and her siblings:

  1. April 1872 – Christina Nilsdotter -age 32 & son Carl Bryntesson- age 5 (later changed his name to Charles Nelson)
  2. May 1875 – Maria Nilsdotter/Mary Nelson-age 21
  3. April 1880 – Anna Nilsdotter – age 22- traveled as Anna Nyberg with her fiance Carl Nyberg
  4. April 1888 – Per Axel Nilsson – age 26


Before her departure, I imagine Maria’s farewell was much like that of Mina Anderson who emigrated in 1890. Like Maria, she left Sweden in the spring during the month of May.

I left Sweden in the month of May and everthing was in full bloom. It was so beautiful…Nothing could be more beautiful that a Nordic spring. It was not fun to leave all that I loved: father, mother, siblings, friends, and land of my forefathers. I walked around the forest to all the places I had visited as a child. I walked to my childhood home and saw the playhouse my father had helped me to build. An apple tree and a couple of gooseberry bushes that I had planted that had grown and bore fruit – all I had to see and bid farewll to. I became so sad that if I had stayed longer, I think I would never have been able to leave. The day arrived when I tearfully said farewell to all that had been the joy of my childhood and youth.”

Joy K. Lintelman, I Go to America, Swedish American Women and the Life of Mina Anderson (Minnesota, Minnesota Hisorical Press, 2009), 67.

Train station 1887- Image courtesy of Järnvägsmuseet, public domain.

Tickets, documents, and baggage in hand, Maria commenced her journey in late May 1875. Likely accompanied by both of her parents, Maria probably traveled by carriage 13 miles to the nearest railroad station in Arvika, constructed in 1871.

Google maps – first leg of Maria’s journey – Skällarbyn-Arvika-Charlottenberg-Christiania/Oslo

The trip to Christiania took ten hours on the slow train, seven on the fast one. There were two trains a day with a stop in Ottebo, Amot, and Charlottenberg. Located 24 miles from Arvika, Charlottenberg served as the frontier point between the Sweden and Norway railway system. After an all-day train ride, Maria arrived in Christiania, where she spent at least one night before then next leg of her trip – her first experience aboard a steamship.

Postcard of Christiania – circa 1919, image courtesy of

The Wilson shipping line had a weekly service from Christiania to Hull with departure scheduled every Friday. Based on the Oslo police records for emigrants, and the ship records, Maria probably departed Christiania on Friday, May 28, 1875 on the S.S. Hero. Originally, I thought she left Christiania on May 21, 1875 on the S.S. Angelo.

Advertisement: Wilson’s Steamships for Emigrants. The well-known and comfortable steamships HERO and ALBION – CHRISTIANIA TO HULL – Every Friday afternoon.

Thanks to a thoughtful Swedish genealogist who recognized an error I made regarding Maria’s departure date from Skällarbyn, I revised her travel schedule. When I viewed the “Moving Out” records (Utflyttades), I saw the date as “May 14”, instead it was “May 24”. Rather than a newer ship, the S.S. Angelo, launched in 1874, Maria would have boarded a smaller and older vessel, the S.S. Hero. Built in 1866 at Hull England, the 1034 ton ship had two decks, 2 bulkheads and three partial bulkheads.

S.S. HERO, Wilson Line Steamship built in 1866 at Hull England, by C.W. Earle. Norway

Generally, the passengers began to arrive for boarding between 2:00-3:00 p.m., and the vessel sailed at 5:00 p.m. It usually docked in Hull Sunday evening or Monday morning, which would have given Maria time to connect with her transatlantic steamer, scheduled to depart on Wednesday, June 2, 1875.

Emigrants experienced mixed emotions on the day they departed from Christiania to Hull, excitement, confusion, anticipation, as well as sadness. As she boarded the small steamship, referred to as a ‘feeder ship’, Maria may have known from her sister’s letters that crossing the North Sea would be grueling. Wilson’s “old tubs” had a reputation for rolling in the heavy gales. For many emigrants, the 40 hours aboard the ‘feeder ship’ were much more punishing than the Liverpool to New York trip, which took five times longer.

S.S. Angelo (Wilson Line steamship) leaving Christiania with emigrants for America. Image courtesy of Library of Congress.

An article in the Swedish American Genealogist described a newspaper reporter’s eye-witness account carried in The Göteborgs Handels -och Sjöfartstidning on August 26, 1865. Although this describes a voyage from Göteborg to Hull, the trip from Christiania to Hull would have been very similar.

“Every week we witness larger and smaller groups of peasants from almost every province in Sweden, who have arrived here, ostensibly to travel with the large British steamships to the New World. The entire deck is covered with chests and bed clothes. The motivating drive for making this journey is the fact that relatives in America have written letters telling of how good life is over there…Down in the harbor, where the Hull steamer Argo is docked, there is life and activity. The deck has to be cleared before departure, and now everybody is working desperately to stow the baggage. The emigrants are to be quartered on the middle deck..Boys and girls, mothers with babies, still nursing, young and old, every class of humanity is represented here. The family fathers are attempting to cheer up their families, telling them to keep up their courage. The women seem passive. The Word of God is on their lips and with tearful eyes and anxiety in their hearts they attempt to sing a religous hymn in their solemn meditation..Now the signal is given and the departure is at hand. Now the situation changes. Friends and relatives leave the ship. The passengers gather along the railing for the last look at the city. Now the engines start up and there is unrest on board, weeping, moaning, crying and shrieking is heard. Many of the passengers change their moods as they soberly reminisce about their homes and life in their native land. ‘Farewell dear Sweden’ is the cry one hears from many lip.”

“Emigrant Traffic on the North Sea,” Swedish American Genealogist, Vol 34/Number 1 Article 11.(

Unfavorable conditions aboard the ‘feeder ships’ from Christiania to Hull resulted in a series of five reports by the Assistant Secretary of the Marine Department Board of Trade in 1881. Charles P. Wilson, Principal Officer, described the scene aboard the S.S. Angelo. Conditions aboard the S. S. Hero were probably more extreme because it was almost ten years older than the Angelo, and had transported thousands of emigrants.

On board the above-named vessel, the emigrants were berthed in two different compartments, one forward, the other aft…The sleeping accomodations consists of two shelves on each side of the vessel running the entire length of the compartment; these shelves have no sub-divisions of any kind denoting the berthing space of each emigrant…At midnight I went round the decks with the captain; they were well it, and everything was quite quiet…The emigrants appeared to huddle together very much, and there was no attempt at undressing; in fact, no effort was made to remove such articles as boots, and I noticed several sleeping in their hats, caps and other head coverings…I also noticed that several of them laid at a slight angle, and not exactly on the shelf, but his was doubtless due to the width of the shelf being insufficient for them to stretch their legs out to their full length…From the foregoing it will be gathered that there was no attempt at the subdivision of the sexes, or even of the individual berths, nor any curtain to screen the sleeping arrangements from the central portion of the deck.

The privy arrangements of this vessel I consider to be the weakest point about her. They were small, cramped, dark spaces, without water, those for men and women being close together, the entrance in no way protected from the weather, and altogether more evil-smelling unsatisfactory places it is difficult to imagine…When the ship is carring her full number of emigrants I doubt if there are privies enough supplied, but on this point if there were four for the first hundered and one for every fifty in addition, it would be sufficient to meet the requirements of any number.”

The Voyage, Conditions for emigrants on the voyage from Christiania to Hull“,

To further illustrate the unpleasant North Sea transit Maria probably experienced, here is Mina Anderson’s account.

“I traveled alone without any companions that I knew…We had a severe storm in the North Sea. When we had come out into the Skagerrak [the strait in the North Sea between Norway and Denmark], the waves started to break over the small ship, and some of us who had stayed on deck were told to go down belowdecks so that tarps could be spread over the hatch. It turned out to be a stormy night. We were all seasick and cried “Ullrik” [euphemism for vomiting] all night. Some idiot had opened one of the portholes so that the water was streaming in. Somebody had sense enough to close it, but we ended up with a couple inches of water on the floor. All the single women were sharing one large room.

We could not eat anything – they gave us coarse bread with butter, but we were not given any coffee. It was storming too hard so they could not prepare it. When after much rolling and seasickness, we finally arrived in Hull and the ship stopped we got well in a hurry.”

Joy K. Lintelman, I go to America, Swedish American Women and the Life of Mina Anderson (Minnesota, Minnesota Historical Press, 2009), 68.


After about three days of travel, the S.S. Angelo arrived at Kingston upon Hull on the Humber River. According to the Swedish Emigrant Handbook, an experienced company official would meet the emigrants in Hull as they disembarked. If the agent fulfilled all of his duties, he would also take care of the transportation of the luggage. The Swedish speaking official would then guide the emigrants to Paragon Railway station, built in 1871. There the emigrants could rest in the waiting room, wash, use the toilet, and take shelter from the weather. Most emigrants arrived and departed from Hull within 24 hours.

Victoria Pier, Hull, postcard from an emigrant in 1905 who crossed North Sea on Wilson Line steamship. Courtesy of

The Emigrant Waiting Room of the North Eastern Railway Comapny at Hull Paragon Railway Company at Hull Paragon Railway Station. The waiting room was built for the Scandanavian transmigrants in 1871. [Photograph copyright of the Nichols Evans Collection]

The trains usually left Hull on a Monday morning around 11:00 a.m. At times there were so many emigrants that there would be 17 carriages pulled by one steam engine. During the five hour trip, third-class passengers had no access to water nor restrooms.

The train arrived in Liverpool between 2:00-3:00 p.m. The huge factory town did not make a favorable impression. Dense smoke rose in columns from tall chimneys. Large grey houses and dirty alleys filled with ragged half naked streetboys might have surprised the emigrants, including Maria.

Mina Anderson described her train travel from Hull to Liverpool.

“We traveled by train from Hull to Liverpool. I still remember how England was both beautiful and ugly. The countryside was beautiful with its green fields, with hawthorn hedges instead of fences. We also traveled through the mining district with its soot and its many tunnels. We stayed in Liverpool for three days and waited for the transatlantic steamer.”

Joy K. Lintelman, I go to America, Swedish American Women and the Life of Mina Anderson (Minnesota, Minnesota Historical Press, 2009), 69.

Liverpool, England, postcard author’s personal collection.

Upon their arrival in Liverpool, representatives from the steamship companies often met the emigrants. They accompanied them to lodging houses, usually owned by the shipping company. Frequently there were delays and passengers had to spend several days waiting for their ship. They weren’t allowed to board until the day before departure.

After approximately six days of travel, Maria waited in Liverpool about to undertake the longest part of her journey – the transatlantic voyage.

(To be continued)

© 2020 copyright -Kendra Hopp Schmidt. All rights reserved.


Genealogy Sketch

Parents: NILS PERSSON 1824-1909 and
Spouse: JOHN MATHEW NICHOLS 1857-1929
Children:Carrie Bertha Nichols 1881-1915, Charles Clinton Nichols 1883-1930, Frederick Mathew Nichols 1885-1957, Mabel Elvina Nichols Hyde 1888-1954, John Lee Nichols 1890-1967
Relationship to Kendra: [Great-Great-Grandmother]

  1. [Maria Nilsdotter/Mary Nelson 1854-1931]
  2. [Mabel Elvina Nichols Hyde 1888-1954]
  3. [John Frederick Hyde Jr 1911-1980]
  4. [Jean Hyde Hopp Eichorn]
  5. Kendra



  • Arkivverrket Digitalarkivet –
  • Bonnier, Adolf. The Traveler’s Guide in Sweden and the Most Interesting Places in Norway. Stockholm. 1871.
  • – (
  • From the Promised Land:Swedes in America, 1840-1914. H. Arnold Barton, editor. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press for Swedish Pioneer Historical Society, 2000.
  • GG Archives –
  • “Handbook for Immigrants to the United States,” Hurd and Houghton, New York, 1871.
  • Högman, Hans. Hans Högman’s Genealogy and History Site,
  • Järnvägsmuseet –
  • Ljungmark, Lars. Translated by Kermit B. Westerberg, Swedsih Exodus. Carbondale and Edwardsville:Southern Illinois University Press, 1979.
  • Library Of Congress –
  • Lintelman, Joy K. I go to America:Swedish Women and the Life of Mina Anderson. St Paul, Minnesota: Minnesota Historical Press, 2009.
  • Martenius, Ingela. “The Swedish Emigration to America.”
  • National Library of Sweden
  • – Emigrant Routes to the Promised Land – pdf
  • Ole Larson’s Folks Blog –
  • Olsson, Nils William. “Emigrant Traffic on the North Sea,” Swedish American Genealogist, Vol 34/Number 1 Article 11.
  • “The Emigration Inquiry – Appendix II – The Emigration Service in Sweden”, (


Posted in Biographies, My Family Ancestry | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments


Värmland, Sweden, image courtesy of

On a spring day in May 1875, Maria Nilsdotter, age twenty-one, embarked on the biggest adventure of her life. She began a journey that would take her over 4000 miles from the small farming village of Skällarbyn, Sweden, to the rural town of Clinton, Iowa. The month-long trip included travel by train and steamship, transportation that would have been an exciting yet intimidating experience for a village farm girl.

In a previous blog, I told the story of the discovery of Maria Nilsdotter’s origins in Sweden. I know Maria as Mary Nelson Nichols, my 2x-great grandmother. I uncovered her past by following the paper trail in Swedish Archival records. Maria did not leave a diary nor letters, which I would have appreciated. However, many other Swedish emigrants wrote accounts of their travels to America that enabled me to reconstruct a likely account of Maria’s emigration story.

Piecing together the travel route is only one part of the story. Another aspect is to understand what prompted Maria to leave everything that was familiar. She knew she might never see her birthplace nor her family again. She turned her back on the life she knew. Was it the strict Swedish class system, the intolerant religious domination, or a lack of job and marriage opportunities that compelled Maria to emigrate?

Motivated by a desire for change and the promise of a brighter future in America, Maria’s decision altered her life and made mine possible.


The picturesque province of Värmland, Sweden is a land of bright blue lakes and rivers surrounded by dense, dark, deep forests. Set in the middle western portion of the province on the edge of Lake Ränken, Skällarbyn today consists of about ten homes, most painted in the traditional Falun Red.

Skällarbyn, Värmland. Image courtesy of Lars Olsson.

Although I lived in Europe for 20 years and visited Sweden and Norway, Maria’s origins were a mystery to me at the time. If only I had known when I visited Oslo that Maria’s village was just 56 miles away. Skällarbyn is a short distance from the Norwegian-Swedish border – 18 miles.

Skällarbyn village sign – image courtesy of Lars Olsson.

While searching the internet for images of Skällarbyn, I came across a youtube video taken by a paraglider sailing over Lake Ränken. I have no idea what the paraglider is saying in Swedish. If any of my readers can tranlate, please let me know.


For more than four generations, Maria’s ancestors lived in Skällarbyn and the surrounding area. I can trace Maria’s maternal line in Skällarbyn back to the birth of her great-great-grandfather, Anders Jonsson (1714-1799), a tenant farmer. At some point, the family became landowners, a position that offered more security and social status. The farm prospered and eventually passed down to Maria’s mother, Karin Olsdotter, and her maternal uncle, Anders Olsson.

Click  here  MAP to view the area where Maria, her family and ancestors lived for generations.

  • Karin Olsdotter (1822-1896) &  Nils Persson (1824-1909) – Maria’s parents
  • Olof Andersson (1796-1881) &  Karin Andersdotter (1793-1867) Maternal grandparents
  • Anders Andersson (1752-1835) & Karin Bengtsdotter (1762-1833) Maternal great-grandparents
  • Anders Jonsson (1714-1799) & Kerstji Örjansdotter (1720-1773) Maternal 2x great-grandparents

The earliest records for the Skällarbyn farm date to 1631. Formerly spelled Skålaby, the name means “barking dog.” The legend is that a village dog barked incessantly.

Origins of Skällarbyn name- “barking dog.” Courtesy of Institut för språk och folkminnen.

Barking dog of Skällarbyn . Photo courtesy of Nordiska museet.

An individual farm, such as Skällarbyn, consisted of several families rather than a single family. I examined the Swedish Household Examination Records (Husförhörslängd) for the period 1856-1916. The Skällarbyn households included immediate and extended family members as well as “live-in-laborers,” journeymen, tenant farmers, and boarders.

View of Skällarbyn and surrounding communities. Google maps

Piga” was the term used for a female employee. Her tasks included indoor and outdoor chores. A “Drang,” a male farmhand, performed more burdensome duties on the farm, such as tilling the fields.

Image of farmer plowing. Courtesy of Norman A. Sandin.

Six of the Skällarbyn households were farm landowners (hemmansegare), including Maria’s father, Nils Persson, and her uncle, Anders Olsson. In addition to landowners, tenant farmers, and laborers, the Skällarbyn community included one miller and one soldier, plus their respective families. The village population fluctuated over the years from a low of 98 (1866-1870) to a high of 139 (1871-1875).

The average Swedish rural dwelling ranged from a tiny one-room cottage to a tenant cottage (a kitchen and a combination living room/bedroom)to a two-story landowners home. The probate records for Nils Persson, Maria’s father, stated that the family owned a large house, garden, and approximately eighty acres. The large two-story home was probably a pine or spruce log building. If they were fortunate, they had two chimneys to warm the house during the long cold dark winter.

The household inventories for Maria’s parents and grandparents provided a glimpse into their home. Two sofas offered a place to sit and relax. The larger one had cushions covered in a higher quality fabric, the smaller a more casual gingham. Spread around the room were drop-leaf tables with brass candlesticks and candle snuffers. A dresser with locks contained half a dozen (Dräll)  tablecloths (a traditional Swedish two-block weave),  and assorted napkins.

Lined skin rugs warmed the floors. Three dozen wooden chairs spread throughout the house offered enough seating for family and guests. Some had gingham cushions, some were painted, and others were plain. A hymnal, Bible, and textbooks filled a small bookshelf. Curtains covered the windows – thirteen pairs.

The women in the family probably spent a lot of time in the kitchen preparing meals. Was the (Ligg Soffa) laying sofa, a place to rest as well as an extra bed for guests? Kitchen supplies could be found in a large wooden food cabinet.

Swedish Ligg soffa – image courtesy of Norman A. Sandin.

Image of kitchen in Kvekgården farm near Enköping town. Photo courtesy of Hans Högman, 1992.

The table was covered with a yellow checkered cloth and set with blue striped dishes. The corner cabinet contained an assortment of kitchenwares: pressed glass bowl, finer and plainer dishes, pastry forms, soup tureen, stoneware platters, salt shakers, even schnapps glasses. The kitchen wall clock reminded the family to take time for the afternoon (fika) (coffee/tea break). The family prepared coffee in the old roaster and served it from the coffee kettle they poured into a dozen blue coffee mugs. The creamer jug, sugar bowl, and silver spoons were laid out on the tea tray. Perhaps Maria’s mother baked traditional Kanelbulle (cinnamon rolls) for (fika.)

The upstairs rooms had clothes-cabinets, two yellow-painted tables, a mirror, pull out beds, and boot beds. Some of the bedframes were painted brown others blue. All of the beds were piled high with feather mattresses and pillows and covered with quilts.

Despite the large home, conditions were probably still crowded with multiple family members who shared bedrooms. The household records indicate that Maria lived with her parents, eight siblings, a nephew, and her maternal grandparents. Nearby, a second household included Karin’s younger brother, Anders, his wife Anna, and their nine children. Six of the cousins shared the same names as Maria and her siblings. It must have been confusing when the families mingled for work or pleasure.

Skällarbyn reflected a typical rural Swedish community of the late 1800’s – steeped in tradition and peppered with superstition, myths, and lore. Rigid class society and social conservatism limited and dictated choices for everyone.



When Maria Nilsdotter was born on August 31, 1854, her 29-year old father, Nils Persson, and her 32-year old mother, Karin Olsdotter, already had five children. Over the next 12 years, Karin gave birth to three more children.

Maria Nilsdotter – baptism. Arkivdigital -Köla (S) C:11 (1844-1856) Image 27 / Page 46 (AID: v6149.b27.s46, NAD: SE/VA/13309)

Until 1864 the law dictated that a child be baptized within eight days after their birth. Aside from the law, superstition compelled parents to baptize their children as quickly as possible. Reverend Begnsson baptized Maria 4 days after her birth at the local parish church, Kölakyrka.

Köla Church, Värmland, Sweden. Wikimedia Commons

A child that was not christened was a danger both to itself and to others; it was e.g. believed that trolls were on the lookout for pretty little human babies – they were thought capable of changing their own ugly, stupid and wayward brat for the cute little child…For the protection of the child, different things were put in the cradle: it could be a small pouch of spices (e.g.caraway), a steel knife or a silver coin.”

[The only memento remaining in our family from Maria is a Swedish coin, dated 1846. Could this (copper) coin have been placed in her cradle and later given to her as a good luck talisman when she emigrated to America? I’d like to think so.]

Swedish coin -2 Skilling 1846. Crossed arrows . Coin in possession of author.

Swedish 2 Skilling coin – Oscar Sveriges Norr. G.O.V. Konung -Oscar King of Sweden, Norway, the Goths and the Wends.

Dressed in as beautiful a baptismal dress as possible, Maria’s godmother carried her during the ceremony. Maria’s mother, Karin, remained at home until she could be “churched” (kyrktagen). The churching ceremony usually took place on the fourth Sunday after the birth of the child.

For a description of Swedish customs, I turned to articles by the ethnologist Ingela Martenius, “Rites of Passage in Sweden.

A mother not yet churched was according to popular belief thought ‘unclean’ and on par with a heathen, and both she and the farm with all who lived there, both human and animal, were in danger. Churching originated within the Jewish faith, and there was regarded as a purification.”

“The churching ritual was very simple: before the regular church service began, the woman about to be churched kneeled before the altar and the vicar read a short prayer expressing thankfulness. The woman rose, and the vicar shook her hand, at the same time saying, ‘The Lord guide you in His truth and fear, now and unto eternity. Amen’The woman then returned to her pew.”

A married woman knelt on a plush and decorated stool. An unmarried woman first had to confess to the vicar. Then she could be “churched” while kneeling on the bare floor or an uncovered stool. The vicar did not shake her hand after the ceremony. Maria’s eldest sister, Christina, who had an illegitimate child, probably experienced the harsher method of “churching.”


According to Ingela Martenius, another superstition surrounding the care of babies required that they be swaddled; it guarded them against evil spirits. A more practical reason was it protected them from cold floors and kept them away from open fires.

Children until the age of 5-7 wore a smock-frock (kolt),” a sort of dress that went down to the middle of the calf, differently cut for boys and girls and often made from yellow (simplest color to dye) wool or linsey-woolsey and worn over a linen shift/shirt. On top of the smock-frock an apron was worn, a bib apron for boys and a waist apron for girls. Both boys and girls wore a cap at all times.”

Childrens clothing -image public domain, courtesy of Nordiska museet.

After the age of 5-7 years, children dressed in simpler versions of adult clothing. After they were confirmed and considered adults, they had the right to wear adult clothing, long pants for boys, and floor-length dresses for girls.


Confirmation marked the coming of age in old agrarian societies, a rite of passage into adulthood. Maria passed her confirmation exam in 1869 at age 15. Confirmation instruction took place at the local parish and required weeks or months of preparation. After  her confirmation, Maria probably continued to live at home for a few years. At some point she worked as a (piga) in the nearby community of Växvik, less than one mile away from Skällarbyn.

Confirmation – Maria Nilsdotter – 1869Husförhörslängd – Arkivdigital Köla (S)A1:30 (1866-1870) v11980.b398.s380.

What did confirmation lessons comprise?

Well, there was the reading of various texts in the Bible, but above all learning by heart Luther’s Small Catechism – mostly the Ten Commandments, the Confession and the Lord’s Prayer – including the difficult explanations. The confirmation lessons ended with the much-feared examination in church, before the entire congregation…Once you were confirmed you were examined together with all the (confirmed) people living at your farm once a year by the vicar, on exactly the same subjects as at confirmation.”

Economic factors were a driving force behind Swedish mass emigration, dissatisfaction with the intolerant and dominant state-run Lutheran church was a contributing factor.

The parish clergy who served the state completed the Household Examination Rolls (husförhörslängder). These records included detailed information about each person listed.

  • Name of place, such as farm, village, or address in the city
  • Names of all members of the household
  • Birthdate and birthplace for each individual
  • Occupation for the head of household
  • Marriage date
  • Vaccination information (after 1800 – smallpox)
  • Religious examination results – pastor checked parishioners ability to read,
  • Write and understand their catechism. Notations made if the parishioner
  • Received communion
  • Death date
  • Moving in and out of the area
  • Notes in the special remarks column

Maria’s family received acceptable marks  in the Household Records and passed their parish exams. However, noted twice in the special remarks column, Karin and Nils received a reprimand for “disagreements,” (Varnade för oenighet), once in 1865 and again in 1877.

Household Record for Maria’s family 1876-1880. Arkivdigital – Köla (S) A1:32 (v11982.b403.s392).


According to a London Times article written in 1879, a British reporter noted, with surprise, that 90% of the population could read and write. The reporter was impressed with the value Swedes placed on education which began long before the 1842 Swedish law that mandated a public 4-year primary school education for all children.  They learned to read sometime between the age of 7-10. In some parishes, there was an actual schoolmaster; in others, the sacristan taught the students, and sometimes the children learned to read at home.

Classroom from around 1850 in Linköping City. Photo courtesy of Hans Högman, 2004.


Like my 2x great-grandmother, Maria Nilsdotter, I grew up on a farm. I know how much hard work is involved. Every day.Day after day.Year after year.

Farm life in a remote rural Scandinavian community taught self-reliance. The farmers had to depend on what they could produce locally. The short and fast-growing season made this more challenging. It was impossible to grow more than one crop a year. Although the summer months boasted long nights and the midnight sun, winter was long, harsh, and cold.

Everyone in the family had to pitch in and do their share of the work. The tasks assigned to each member depended on their age and gender. The division of chores probably began at an early age. Small children could gather firewood for fuel, fetch water, pick wild berries, and perform household chores and gardening.

Nils and Karin had six daughters and three sons. The household records show that Nils only required additional help on the farm during the period 1856-1860 when his children were too young to be of much assistance. He hired three local women. Perhaps they were hired during the summer months to assist with the animals.

Although they worked hard, Maria and her siblings probably participated in fun outdoor activities. In the summer they could swim in the lake or fish, build forts in the woods, and make toys out of pinecones and sticks. In the winter they could sled or maybe even ski.

Young women and children had the responsibility of herding livestock to the summer pastures. Most farmers didn’t have enough cleared land to support cattle over the long winter months. They relied on summer pastures located nearby or some distance away. Several families from the same village shared the summer pasture (fäbod). It consisted of several simple buildings, such as cottages, cattle houses, and cookhouses.

The women usually milked the cows; twice a day, once in the morning and again in the evening. After the milking, the chore of separating the milk had to be done while the milk was warm and fresh. The farmer’s family rarely consumed the milk fresh. Instead, they preserved it in the form of cheese and butter or fermented milk (filmjölk). The butter and cheese were usually sold to pay for land taxes and church tithes.

The boys/men in the family performed the barn chores, feeding the animals, and cleaning the stalls. They tilled the soil and planted crops.

Based on the probate records, I know Maria’s family planted the following crops: hay, rye, wheat, and oats, potatoes, vetch (a type of pea), and flax.

Nils had a meager probate record, probably because he shared his house and property with his son and daughter-in-law after his wife’s death in 1896. The extensive inventory for Maria’s grandparents provided a broader picture of life on the farm.

The grandparent’s livestock list included: 31 sheep,19 lambs, three horses,14 cows, two calves, and a 3-year old bull. Many of the cows had names: Rödgas, Fruka, Böja, Docka, Hjertros, Sommargas, Frögas, Bjorna, Lillja, Grefwinna, and Molik. I imagine they became fond of the cows as we did on my father’s farm.

A few of the items listed for farm equipment included:

Large equipment:

  • – Work carts, travel cart, carriage, and sleighs for transportation.
  • – Plows, threshing machine, harrows, timber sledges and a sleigh to spread manure

Smaller tools:

  • Scythes, planes, handsaw, hammer, anvil, workbench, axes, drills, timber hooks, sledgehammer, sharpening stones, shovels, sheep shears, buckets, milk pails, troughs, water, and schnapps barrels, and lynx traps.

The probate for Maria’s paternal grandmother also included a boat, nets, fishing line, and hook. The family took advantage of the bountiful fishing in nearby Lake Ränken. It was a privilege that belonged to landowners with land surrounding a lake; others had to seek their permission.

Lake Ränken provided a variety of fish: pike,perch,eel,burbot,bream,bleak,smelt,carp,and vendace.The fresh fish offered a change from what was otherwise a monotonous diet of porridge, potatoes, cabbage, turnips, dried peas, and salted or fermented herring.

Another dietary staple was bread: the inventory noted bread troughs, bread baskets, and winnowing trays for sifting grain. If the farm had a windmill to grind the grain, then bread could be made every 2-4 weeks. The household examination records for Skällarbyn listed a miller. Perhaps the farm had a windmill.

If not, then the village relied on a watermill, and bread would have been baked only a few times a year in the form of (knäckebrod). The rye bread is made quite thin, baked, and then dried. It can last for months.

[I discovered how delicious (knäckebrod) is when we lived overseas.I’m fortunate to live near a European delicatessen and can still enjoy the pleasure.]

Knäckebröd – Swedish Rye Crisp Bread

Besides kitchen tasks, Maria and her sisters would have been taught to knit, spin, and weave. The probate inventory for Maria’s mother, Karin, in 1896, listed one spinning wheel, one ball of yarn, one needle, one ring, and one frame. In contrast, Maria’s paternal grandmother, Kerstin Jonsdotter, owned  numerous handwork tools: five spinning wheels, skein-winder, winder chair, yarn winder, one weaving loom, weaving reeds, accessories, heckling combs (for flax), and one heckling machine(used to prepare flax to spin the fibers.) Never-ending tasks kept the woman busy every waking hour. Handwork could be done after dinner and especially during the winter months.


During the 19th century, Sweden had a large population growth. However, there wasn’t sufficient farmland for the growing numbers of landless farm laborers and the poor. Mass emigration to America began when crop failures and famine struck the country between 1866-1868. Maria was 12-years old at the time, it may have left a lasting impression.  Enticed by free land and prosperity, three-hundred thousand Swedes left for America in five years.

Although Sweden is a large country, only about 10% could be considered good arable land. For farmers who owned property, there wasn’t enough land to divide amongst the children once they reached adulthood. Traditionally young adults left home to work on nearby farms as laborers. It provided job opportunities and an opportunity to meet eligible partners. Another alternative was to seek work in nearby towns or cities.

As a young woman in Sweden in 1875, Maria had few options for her future. With so many siblings, including brothers, it was unlikely that she would inherit the family farm. If she was fortunate, she might marry a local landowning farmer; if she was unlucky, then a tenant farmer, or laborer. The pool of eligible men shrunk as large numbers chose to emigrate. Her chances of maintaining her social and economic position through marriage or employment were limited. If she didn’t find a husband, she would work the remainder of her life as a servant (piga). Working as a laborer meant long hours, hard work, small wages, and lower social status.

A more enticing option was emigration, an infectious disease known as “America Fever” swept through Sweden. Spread through newspaper articles, emigration guidebooks, and letters from early emigrants, Swedish families and single adults flocked to the United States with high expectations. They anticipated a better life in “the promised land.”

The emigrants wrote letters home with great pride extolling their new life in America. The book From the Promised Land provided numerous examples.

The country is beautiful if any land on earth deserves to be called so. And if you compare conditions here with Sweden’s, there is no similarity at all….one can get such land as a gift or for an insignificant sum compared with its natural value. You soon have an idea why America is truly undeniably better than old Sweden.Lower taxes than in Sweden, no expensive royal house, no inactive armies. Hundreds of thousands of persons have found here the happiness they vainly sought in Europe’s lands…” [C.F. Larson 1880 writing about Nebraska]

Most emigrants painted the American Midwest as an earthly paradise. Once they had committed themselves to the new life, they were anxious to justify themselves.


Why did Maria to choose Clinton, Iowa? The answer – chain migration. Early Swedish pioneer colonies settled in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Texas, and Wisconsin. Their glowing letters home focused on employment, views of American society, increased personal freedoms, religious freedom, and social status. Members of a community or family then followed their lead and went to those areas in America. Maria followed her trailblazing eldest sister, Christina, who emigrated in 1872. (Two younger siblings followed several years after Maria. Anna emigrated in 1880, Per Axel in 1888.)

Christina, a 27-year old mother with an illegitimate child, had even fewer options in Sweden than Maria. She must have heard about the opportunities in America by word of mouth or through a letter. The arrival of a letter from America in rural Sweden aroused the curiosity of the entire community. It would be read aloud for all to hear. Several neighbors had already emigrated, including the 49-year old widower Olof Nilsson from nearby Växvik. Olof departed in July 1870 and settled in Clinton, Iowa, with his children.  One of the daughters, similar in age to Christina, may have sent a letter encouraging her friend to emigrate. A couple of years after Christina settled in Clinton, she married Olof Nilsson.

Letters from Christina in Iowa made their way back to the family in Skällarbyn. How many did it take to entice Maria? Perhaps she received one similar to those I found in “I go to America: Swedish Women and the Life of Mina Anderson.”

In 1855, the Swedish immigrant Maria Janson wrote to her family:

“My employers are excellent and kind people”. Several months later, she reflected on her immigration: “I have not worked outside a single day; it is not common for women to work outside here in this country…Here [there]are absolute equal rights for all and no difference of respect for other persons. After having absorbed the free atmosphere of life in America, I believe I would not be happy in Sweden.”

“Another young woman stated: We girls travel to America because our working time is so horribly long and our wages so small in relation to what everything costs, and we get no respect – a servant is worth nothing [in Sweden].”

It was the era of the Swedish maid in America. Middle-class town families required maids, and young Swedish women were in demand. Generally, they were treated like members of the family by their employers. Not only did they not have to do outdoor work, but they had certain hours of the day and days of the week free. They had their own room and were paid weekly. If they were unsatisfied, they could quit whenever they wanted and quickly find jobs elsewhere. In Sweden, they were bound to a year’s contract. An average Swedish maid in America, even with basic knowledge, could expect better wages, hours of work, and benefits than in Sweden. A maid could also dress as fancy as her mistress, and American men treated her like a “lady.”

Opportunity and personal freedom awaited Maria in America. Convinced of a better life, she planned her trip to America.

Adjö Mor och Far – Goodbye Mother and Father

Hejdå Sverige – Goodbye Sweden

(To be continued – Maria’s travel by steamship and train to reach Clinton, Iowa.)

© 2020 copyright -Kendra Hopp Schmidt. All rights reserved.

Genealogy Sketch

Name: [Mary Nelson/Maria Nilsdotter 1854-1931]
Parents: [Nils Persson 1824-1909] and
[Karin Olsdotter 1822-1896]
Spouse: [John Mathew Nichols 1857-1929]
Children: [Carrie Bertha Nichols 1881-1915, Charles Clinton Nichols 1883-1930, Frederick Mathew Nichols 1885-1957, Mabel Elvina Nichols 1888-1954, John Lee Nichols 1890-1967]
Relationship to Kendra: [Great- Great- Grandmother]

  1. [Mary Nelson/Maria Nilsdotter 1854-1931]
  2. [Mabel Elvina Nichols Hyde 1888-1954]
  3. [John Frederick Hyde Jr. 1911-1980]
  4. [Jean Hyde Hopp Eichorn]
  5. Kendra


  • ArkivDigital.
  • Brownstone, David M, Irene M Franck, and Douglass Brownstone, Island of Hope, Island of Tears. New York: Fall River Press, 1979.
  • Clemensson, Per and Kjell Andersson. Your Swedish Roots, A Step by Step Handbook. Provo, Utah: Ancestry,, Inc. 2004.
  • From the Promised Land: Swedes in America, 1840-1914. H. Arnold Barton, editor. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press for Swedish Pioneer Historical Society, 2000.
  • Högman, Hans. Hans Högman’s Genealogy and History Site,
  • Institutet för sprak och Folkminnen: Ortsnamnsregistret.
  • Johanssson, Carl Erik. Cradled in Sweden. Logan, Utah: Everton Publishers, 1972.
  • Ljungmark, Lars. Translated by Kermit B. Westerberg, Swedish Exodus. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1979.
  • Lintelman, Joy K. I go to America: Swedish American Women and the Life of Mina Anderson. St. Paul Minnesota: Minnesota Historical Press, 2009.
  • Martenius, Ingela. “The Swedish Emigration to America.”
  • National Library of Sweden.
  • Quad City Times. Davenport, Iowa. 1879.
  • Nordiska Museet.
  • Norman A. Sandin. Sandin and tillner Families.
  • Värmland, Värmlands Officiella Besöokssida.
  • Weatherford, Doris. Foreign and Female- Immigrant Women in America, 1840-1930. 
  • Wikipedia
Posted in Biographies, My Family Ancestry | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Celebrating the 4th of July, 1914 -Omaha, Nebraska

Anna Jane Beaton, July 4, 1914, Omaha, Nebraska.

What did the 4th of July mean to your ancestors, and how did they celebrate it?

My grandmother, Anna Jane Beaton,  was as American as apple pie. Her father, Alfred Beaton, was an immigrant of Scottish heritage from Prince Edward Isles. Her mother, Edith Orcutt, descended from early Puritan settlers, including Governor William Bradford. Alfred and Edith captured their memories on one memorable 4th of July in 1914.

Two pages of delightful images display Anna Jane Beaton, age 7, her older brother, Orcutt Phillip Beaton, age 14, and three neighborhood friends celebrating the 4th of July on a warm summer afternoon. The children gathered together in the Beaton’s front yard at North 40th street. Orcutt posed with his friend George Graham, draped by two American flags. In the next image, Anna Jane’s hand is warmly clasped by her best friend Pete Frenzer. Anna Jane wears a big smile and an even bigger hair bow. The third photograph Anna Jane and Pete still hold hands and are joined by Kathy Lake, who wears an equally immense bow in her hair. I like Kathy’s saucy look, one hand on her hip and the other on the shoulder of her friend Pete.  The fourth image, Anna Jane, seated in a rocking chair, holds a large doll with a face that would give me nightmares. Kathy kneeling beside Anna Jane, holds the American flag over her shoulder. In the background, three more flags lean against the porch stairs.


Anna Jane Beaton, Orcutt Phillip Beaton, Peter Frenzer July 4, 1914, Omaha Nebraska.

Was it Alfred who took the photographs? His son Orcutt, a gentle smile on his face, proudly posed with his baseball mitt ready to pitch a ball. Alfred Beaton owned a furniture and toy store, so perhaps Anna Jane’s doll and the baseball glove were new gifts?

Orcutt Phillip Beaton, July 4, 1914, Omaha, Nebraska.

I imagine the Beaton’s had a picnic, played games, and later attended some of the numerous activities mentioned in the Omaha Daily Bee for July 4, 1914. Various immigrant groups are mentioned in the article celebrating their participation and contributions to their community.

Omaha, Daily Bee, July 4, 1914, page 1. Courtesy of

“All-day celebration and formal opening at Fontenelle Park, under auspices of Park Commissioner J.B. Hummel, Central and Monmouth Park Social Centers, Clairmont, Kenwood, Fairfax and Fontenelle Park Improvement clubs; prize games and contests morning and afternoon; flag raising and speech making at noon; fireworks in evening; band concert all day.
Reception at Fontenelle park by members of Olivet Baptist church to Rev. Willaim A. Mulford, new pastor.
Joint celebration all day Riverview park by Riverview, Deere Park and Southeast Improvement clubs.
Picnic and fireworks display at Kountze park by residents of the neighborhood.
Swedish-American patriotic festival all day at Spring Park, Florence, under auspices of Norden Singing society; program of contests, music and speaking at 4:30 p.m; fireworks in evening; dancing afternoon and evening.
Special golf matches, tennis and baseball games, dinners and dancing at all the clubs.
Cabaret entertainment at the Field Club.
Special fireworks display at Seymour Lake Club.
Women’s tennis tournament start at Country club.
Cricket match at Miller park at 11 a.m.
Finals in tennis singles and doubles at Happy Hollow; band concert at 11 a.m. followed by oration by Judge W.W. Slabaugh; reading of Declaration of Independence; program by male quartet and singing of patriotic songs.
All-day program at Carter Lake club; trap shoot at 10 a.m.; land and water sports in afternoon; special dinner, dance and fireworks in evening.
All-day program at Young Men’s Christian association summer park; tennis, base ball and big camp swim in morning; music by camp quartet and speaking by Rev. G.A. Hulbert and Judge Bryce Crawford in afternoon; picnic supper at 6 o’clock; big Venetian water carnival and fireworks in evening.
Special program of races, contests and sports at Dietz park, with dinner, dancing and fireworks in the evening.
Free balloon ascension, moving pictures and concert by Finn’s band, dancing and other attractions at Lake Manawa.
Mullen’s animal show, free band concert, motion pictures, dancing and other attractions at Krug park.
Fireworks, music and feature films at Rome summer Garden.
Boating, fishing, music and dancing at Nathan’s lake summer resort, five miles north of Florence on upper road.
City tennis turnament starts at the field club.
Double-header base ball game at Rourke park between Leland’s Chicago Giants and Bradford’s Brewers; first game called at 2 p.m.
Irish celebration of the passage of the home rule bill, under auspices of Emmett Monument association at Thirtieth and Fort streets; program of Gaelic sports, music, speech-making, dancing and refreshments.
Display of fireworks by Hanscom Park Improvement club on hill near Thirty-fourth and Wright streets in evening.
Old fashioned celebration of the day by comrades of George Crook post, Grand Army of the Republic, and Women’s Relief corps, at Florence park all day, commencing at 10:30 a.m.
Parade, band concerts, ball game, dance, fireworks, salutes and races along Vinton street from Sixteenth to Twenty-fourth streets, from 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., by Vinton Booster club.
Plattdeutscher Verein celebratioin by the German home.
Water polo, other sports and contests, dinner, dance and fireworks at Council Bluffs Rowing association on Lake Manawa.”

What images and memories do you have from your ancestors of this special day we commemorate each year on July 4th?

© 2019 copyright Kendra Hopp Schmidt. All rights reserved.

Genealogy Sketch

Anna Jane BEATON
Name: Anna Jane BEATON 1907-1998
Parents: Alfred James BEATON and
Edith Marion ORCUTT
Spouse: John Frederick HYDE Jr.
Children: Jean Ann Marie HYDE
Relationship to Kendra: Grandmother

  1. Anna Jane Beaton Hyde
  2. Jean Ann Marie Hyde Hopp Eichorn
  3. Kendra Hopp Schmidt


Posted in Biographies, My Family Ancestry | Tagged , | 11 Comments


Scotland.Colombia.Austria.Sweden and Norway: Arbuckle Bros. 1890. digital image. David Rumsey Map Collection.

A long forgotten sixty-year-old envelope lay safely tucked away in a large metal steamer trunk in my mother’s garage. As a child, I always thought the chest held treasures, now I know it does. The letter lay among stacks of old family correspondence and childhood memorabilia. I whooped with joy when I read the contents. It held the key to solving the mystery of my 2x great-grandmothers Swedish origins, the topic of my first family history blog.

Letter from John Nichols to Jean Hopp, dated June 1958.

Mary Nelson Nichols’ past was shrouded by the veils of time. Spurred on by my mother’s fascination with her Swedish ancestry I tried to solve the mystery four years ago. My mother attempted to solve it almost sixty years ago.  A  lack of information and misinformation hindered my search. None of Mary’s American records indicated specifically where she came from in Sweden, a vital element when doing Swedish research. To trace Mary Nelson’s past, I needed to know the parish where she was born.

Mary Nelson/Maria Nilsdotter – photograph taken between 1875-1880. In possession of author.

A summary of the information I had about Mary Nelson Nichols before the discovery of the letter:

  • Name: Mary Nelson Nichols
  • Birth: August 31, 1856, Sweden
  • Immigrated: 1875
  • Married: April 13, 1881, Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church, Omaha, NE; Witness: Anna Nielson
  • Parents listed on wedding certificate as Nels Nelson and Carrie Oelson

Conflicting information: Marriage certificate stated Mary’s birthplace as Clinton, Iowa; all other records noted her birthplace as Sweden

  • Children:
  • Carrie Bertha Nichols
  • Charles Clinton Nichols
  • Frederick Mathew Nichols
  • Mabel Elvina Nichols (my great-grandmother)
  • John Lee (Johnnie) Nichols

Death: January 15, 1931, birthplace on death certificate noted as Warwick Sweden, information provided by Johnnie Nichols.


I was one step closer to finding Mary’s parish when I discovered the letter. After the birth of my brother in 1957, my mother, Jean HYDE Hopp, wrote to her great-uncle Johnnie to ask about their shared family history. She hoped that Johnnie, the last surviving child of Mary Nelson Nichols, could answer questions about both the Nelson and Nichols families. Jean’s half-Swedish grandmother, Mabel Nichols Hyde, died before Jean became interested in recording family stories.

In June 1958, Johnnie wrote a response. He supplied what little information he knew. Some of it was correct, some of it was wrong, and some of it was a mixture. Johnnie provided enough details for me to research and find  Mary’s two sisters, Anna and Christine.

Letter from Johnnie Nichols to Jean Hopp, June 1958.

“Mother had 2 sisters and Bro.[sic] named Anna, Christine, and Alex, all born in Ingeborg Sweden, dates unknown. Anna was married in Clinton Iowa in 1881 and raised 5 children, Carolyn, Albin, Roy, Carl, and Natalie. Anna died in Ft Worth Texas 1946 and was buried in Clinton Iowa. Albin died in 1912, buried Clinton, Iowa, and Roy died 1924, buried in Clinton. Natalie Webb lives in Fort Worth Texas, and Carl lives in Los Angeles. Anna’s married name was Nyberg. That’s all I can give you on the children. I don’t know if Christine or Alex ever married.”[i]


The family story that Mary was born in southern Sweden and came from the town of Ingeborg must have originated with Johnnie. Nobody checked an atlas and google maps didn’t exist. “Ingeborg, Sweden” is not a place. Johnnie confused a place with a person’s name. Research later revealed that Ingeborg was one of Mary’s older sisters. On his mother’s 1931 death certificate, Johnnie provided a second incorrect place name, “Warwick, Sweden.”[ii] He spelled what he had heard pronounced by his mother, but it wasn’t close enough for me to discern the real place-name.

Death cert Mary Nichols

Douglas County, death certificate no. B486 (1931), Mary Nichols; State of Nebraska Bureau of Health, Omaha.

Fortunately, Johnnie remembered the correct married name for his Aunt Anna. If I could find a document for Anna that stated her birth place, I could find the parish for Mary and her siblings.

I quickly found Anna Nyberg and her family in census records.  Anna immigrated in April 1880 to Clinton, Iowa. Two months later in June, she married Swedish immigrant Karl Nyberg. Karl, who changed his name to Charles, worked as a carpenter until his early death in 1906. Anna and Charles had five children, just as Johnnie stated in his letter. He was wrong about some of the birth and death dates, a minor detail.

NILSDOTTER_Anna_1900_census 2

1900 U.S. census, Clinton County, Iowa, population schedule, Clinton Iowa, (ED) 12, sheet 13, dwelling 505, family 298, Charles Nyberg; digital image, ( : accessed 2 November, 2018), citing National Archives microfilm publication 1240426.

I hoped that Anna’s death certificate would note her birthplace in Sweden.  Anna’s youngest daughter, Natalie, who provided the information for the death certificate, included a crucial location. I eagerly scanned the Texas document and found on line # 11, BIRTHPLACE “Varmaland Sweeden.”[iii] The information narrowed the search, but it still wasn’t precise enough. Texas, Death Certificates, 1903-1982 [databae on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Texas Department of Health Bureau of Vital Statistics, death certificate 25177 (1950), Anna Nyberg.

Sweden is divided into three larger regions, Götland (southern Sweden), Svealand (central Sweden), and Norrland (northern Sweden). Värmland is a province/county in western Svealand.

File:Sverigekarta-Landskap Text.svg. (2017, February 18). Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. Retrieved 17:06, November 24, 2018.

According to Family Search website in 1890, Värmland consisted of 92 parishes.[iv]

Map of Värmland’s parishes, courtesy of Varmland Roots.

A parish, (socken) kept the records for all the members, (birth, marriages, and deaths). Every source I consulted stated that knowing my ancestor’s parish was vital to Swedish family research. I scoured every collateral record I could find for Anna’s children. Once again, one of Anna’s family members came to the rescue.  Her youngest son, Carl Walter, had a delayed birth certificate with a precise location: “Skallarbyn, Varmland, Sweden.”[v] Iowa, Delayed Birth Records, 1856-1940 [database online]. Clinton County, Iowa, Delayed birth Records, 1856-1940, certificate no. 507-16 (1933), Carl Walter Nyberg; State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines, Iowa

This was the information I needed to search for Mary, Anna, Christine, and Alex in Swedish parish records. Swedish archives are exceptional. However, they are written in Swedish, and the handwriting can be difficult to read.


The next step was to contact various Swedish Genealogy Facebook groups to ask for their help.  I am very grateful to the “Swedish Genealogy,” “Maryland-Virginia Swedish Genealogy,” “Swedish American Genealogy,” and “My Ancestors are from Värmland” groups.  Just one day after posting my query, group members located Mary, eight siblings, and her parents in Skällarbyn, Köla, Värmland, Sweden. Skällarbyn a farming village in the parish of Köla, is located in the province/county of Värmland, Sweden.

Skäallarbyn, Värmland, Sweden, image courtesy of google maps.

Various members provided translations as well as current photographs of the area. Through the assistance of a researcher familiar with Swedish archives, I obtained the birth, marriage, death, and probate records for Mary and FIVE more generations. Solving Mary’s Mystery required a combination of sleuthing, research, Swedish genealogy Facebook groups plus DNA.

Maria Nilsdotter family tree


Johnnie gave me the married name for Anna Nelson –Nyberg- which made it easy to find her in American census records. Tracking down sister Christine proved to be more difficult. I didn’t know if she had married, and if so, what was her name? I searched Iowa census records for every Swedish “Christine” I could find; there were too many. I expanded my search to include DNA matches. Using shared DNA matches on, I found a family tree with Christine Nilsdotter. According to the Swedish household records, twenty-eight-year-old Christine emigrated in April 1872 to North America.[vi]

Köla Household Records, Köla (S) AI:31 (1871-1875) Image 426 / Page 416 (AID: v11981.b426.s416, NAD: SE/VA/13309), ); digital images, Arkiv Digital ( : accessed 10 November 2018).

The single mother was accompanied by her 7-year old son, Karl Bryntesson. After their arrival on the east coast, the two headed west to Clinton, Iowa.

Clinton, Iowa, c 1860, image courtesy of FB page “Old Clinton Pictures”.

Two years after her arrival in Clinton, Christine gave birth to a second son, Elmer Oscar Nelson, born on January 2, 1874. It is through a descendant of Elmer Oscar Nelson that I made the DNA connection to Christine. On July 10, 1876, Christine married a 56-year-old Swedish widower Olaf Nilsson. On February 26, 1878, Christine gave birth to a daughter, Christine Rosalie Nelson.  Good fortune seemed to evade Christine because one year after her daughter’s birth, Olaf disappeared or died. The thirty-five-year-old widow raised her three children alone.

1885 Iowa Census, Clinton, County, Clinton, IA, Ward 4, p. 481, dwelling 13, family 13, Christina Nelson.

Christine’s eldest son Charles (Karl) lived with her throughout her lifetime and supported her. He worked as a pharmacist, at a lumberyard, and later a sash factory. After Christine’s death in 1912, Charles took in two Swedish boarders. He never married. In 1924 he moved to Moline, Illinois where he died two years later at age 60.


Swedish research requires a basic understanding of the patronymic naming system, which was common in Sweden up to the end of the nineteenth century. If the father’s name was Nils Persson, then his son’s name might be Per Nilsson (Per the son of Nils). Similarly, a daughter named Maria would be Maria Nilsdotter (Maria the daughter of Nils). A woman retained her own patronymic name when she married. I knew that Mary Nelson probably Americanized her name, as many immigrants did, for practical reasons. After locating Mary and her sisters in Swedish archives, I learned that Mary’s given name was Maria Nilsdotter. Although Mary’s two sisters, Anna and Christine kept the spelling of their Swedish first names in the United States, they changed their surname from Nilsdotter to Nelson/Nielson.

Initially, I relied on two documents for Mary’s parent’s names. One was her marriage certificate and the other her death certificate. In both cases, the parent’s names were altered from their original Swedish. The marriage certificate listed Mary’s parents as “Nels Nelson and Carrie Oelson.”[vii]

Douglas County, Nebraska, marriage certificate (1881), Nelson-Nichols.

I assume Mary provided the information. In the case of her death certificate, Mary’s son Johnnie provided the names. They are noted as “Nelson” and “Christine.” For years I was chasing the wrong names. I should have been searching for Maria Nilsdotter with parents named Nils Persson and Karin Olsdotter. Name changes certainly do complicate research.

Birth record for Maria Nilsdotter, born 31 August 1854, Parents Nils Persson and Karin Olsdtoter; Köla (S) C:11 (1844-1856) Image 27 / Page 46 (AID: v6149.b27.s46, NAD: SE/VA/13309)

There is one more confusing name change. It involves Mary’s brother, Alex, whom  Johnnie referenced in his letter. According to Swedish archives,  Mary didn’t have a brother named Alex. She had two elder brothers, Anders and Nils, and one younger brother, Per, who immigrated to North America in April 1888.[viii] Because Johnnie supplied the name Alex and knowing that immigrants often change their names, I plugged in name variations in my search and found a likely candidate. I discovered an Axel Peter Nelson, born on the same day as Mary’s brother Per, January 23, 1862, from Sweden.

U.S. naturalization Record Indexes, 1791-1992, database, ( : accessed 22 November 2018), entry for Axel Peter Nelson.

Axel and Per both immigrated to North America in April 1888. Axel Peter Nelson, a farmer, settled in Osco, Illinois. At age 45 he married Teda Skoog, a Swedish immigrant. Since Axel Peter and Teda had no children, I can’t incorporate a DNA search.  I could obtain Axel’s 1922 naturalization record, perhaps it can resolve if Per Nilsson and Axel Peter Nelson are the same person.[ix]

One more element that complicated my research was Mary’s  birthdate. A family bible[x], census records, and a death certificate noted Mary’s birthdate as August 31, 1856.

Jean Hyde Hopp Eichorn Family Bible Records, 1925-1931, The Red Letter Holy bible Illustrated; privately held by Jean Eichorn.

According to Swedish parish church records, Mary was born August 31, 1854.[xi] She shaved two years off of her age to appear younger. She wanted her husband, John Nichols, to believe she was only six months older than him.

FICTION                               VS.                       FACT

NAME: Mary Nelson                         Maria Nilsdotter

BIRTH: August 31, 1856                  August 31, 1854

PARENTS: Nels Nelson                    Nils Persson

Carrie Oelson/Christine                    Karin Olsdotter

BROTHER: Alex Nelson                    Per Nilsson/Axel Peter Nelson

BIRTHPLACE: Warwick, Sweden    Skällarbyn, Sweden

(Växvik is the correct spelling for a small village near Skällarbyn where Mary may have worked prior to her emigration.)

Ingeborg, Sweden                                  Ingeborg- Mary’s sister

The search for Mary’s origins began six decades ago. Time, patience, persistence, and technology solved the mystery. DNA doesn’t lie; the match for Anna’s descendant confirms my research. In addition, the Swedish probate records for Mary’s parents, Nils Persson and Karin Olsdotter, identify the three sisters, Mary, Anna, and Christine, noting where they lived and Mary’s married name – Nichols.

Thanks to my mother and her uncle Johnnie for jump starting the research that helped me solve the mystery of Mary’s origins in Sweden.


Köla-AI-30-1866-1870-Image-398-page-380;digital images, Arkiv Digital ( : accessed 10 November 2018).


  • Occupation – farmer landowner (Hemmansägare)
  • Birth – October 3, 1824, Hallebol, Köla Parish, Värmland, Sweden
  • Death – October 24, 1909, Skällarbyn, Köla Parish, Värmland, Sweden
  • Cause of death- throat cancer – Age 85
  • Married – April 17 1844


  • Birth – January 6, 1822, Skällarbyn, Köla Parish, Värmland, Sweden
  • Death – January 6, 1896, Skällarbyn, Köla Parish, Värmland, Sweden
  • Cause of death – Old age – Age 74

Children of Nils Persson and Karin Olsdotter


  • Birth – June 1, 1844, Baptised June 3, 1844 – Skällarbyn, Köla Parish, Värmland, Sweden
  • Emigrated to Clinton Iowa, April 1872 – Age 28
  • Married – July 10, 1876, in Clinton, Iowa, USA to widower Olaf Nilsson b. 1820 in Sweden, d.1879 Clinton, Iowa.
  • Children: 
  • Charles (Karl) Bryntesson 1865-1926
  • Elmer Oscar Nelson 1874-1945
  • Christine Rosalie Nelson 1878-1951
  • Death – April 23, 1912, Clinton, Iowa, USA – Age 67
  • Cause of death- Cardiac Hypertrophy, with endocarditis, cause embolism of both femoral veins


  • Birth – January 2, 1846, Baptised January 3, 1846 – Skällarbyn, Köla Parish, Värmland, Sweden
  • Married – September 9, 1889, Kerstin Andersdotter
  • Child – Johan Emil Andersson 1889-1964
  • Death – September 1902 Köla Parish, Värmland, Sweden
  • Cause of death – Cancer of the larynx – Age 56


  • Birth – September 30, 1847, Baptised October 1, 1847 – Skällarbyn, Köla Parish, Värmland, Sweden
  • Married – November 1, 1873, Anders Andersson
  • Children –
  • Hulda Amalia Andersdotter 1873
  • Anna Christina Andersdotter 1878
  • Jenny Teresia Andersdotter 1885
  • Ingeborg Viktoria Andersdotter 1888
  • Death – March 21, 1924, Hallebol, Köla Parish, Värmland, Sweden
  • Cause of death – Arteriosclerosis – Age 76


  • Birth – October 16, 1849, Baptised October 17, 1849 – Skällarbyn, Köla Parish, Värmland, Sweden
  • Occupation – carpenter (snedker)
  • Married Marie
  • Children –
  • Anna Westlund 1885-
  • Oskar Westlund 1891-
  • Emigrated to Oslo, Norway, October 10, 1885
  • Death – July 24, 1941 – Oslo, Norway


  • Birth – March 4, 1852, Baptised March 6, 1852 – Skällarbyn, Köla Parish, Värmland, Sweden
  • Married – Nils Tonberg Andersson (He immigrated to North America in 1886 after his wife’s death)
  • Children-
  • Albert Nilsson 1875-1939
  • Olivia Christina Nilson 1877-  (Emigrated to the United States in August 1887)
  • Karin Emilia Nilson 1882-
  • Anna Lavinia Tonberg Nilson February 22, 1884-1968, Köla Parish, Värmland, Sweden
  • Death – February 22, 1884, Köla, Värmland, Sweden
  • Cause of death – unknown – Age 31

MARIA NILSDOTTER/MARY NELSON – my 2x great-grandmother

  • Birth – August 31, 1854, Baptised September 4, 1854 – Skällarbyn, Köla Parish, Värmland, Sweden
  • Emigrated to Clinton, Iowa May 1875 – Age 21
  • Married April 13, 1881 John Mathew Nichols, Omaha, NE
  • Children-
  • Carrie Bertha Nichols 1881-1915
  • Charles Clinton Nichols 1883-1930
  • Fredrick Mathew Nichols 1885-1957
  • Mabel Elvina Nichols 1888-1954 – my great-grandmother
  • John Lee Nichols 1890-1967
  • Death – January 15, 1931, Omaha, Nebraska, USA – Age 76
  • Cause of death –Bronchopneumonia


  • Birth – November 23, 1857, Baptised November 27, 1857 – Skällarbyn, Köla Parish, Värmland, Sweden
  • Emigrated to Clinton, Iowa, April 1880 – Age 22
  • Married – June 19, 1880, in Clinton, Iowa to Carl (Charles) Nyberg b. 1857 Krokebol, Älga, Värmland, Sweden d. 1906 Clinton, Iowa, USA. Her marriage document spelled her name as Anna Nielson.
  • Children –
  • Karin Carolyn Cecilia Nyberg 1881-1964
  • Albin Nyberg 1886-1903
  • Leroy T E Nyberg 1890-1924
  • Natalie Olga Nyberg 1893-1982
  • Carl Walter Nyberg 1894-1979
  • Death – May 13, 1950, Fort Worth, Texas – Age 90
  • Cause of death – Myocardial Failure and senility


  • Birth – January 23, 1862, Skällarbyn, Köla Parish, Värmland, Sweden
  • Emigrated to North America April 1888
  • Death- unknown


  • Birth – January 10, 1866, Skällarbyn, Köla Parish, Värmland, Sweden
  • Death – November 29, 1883, Skällarbyn, Köla Parish, Värmland, Sweden
  • Cause of death – Heart Failure – Age 17


Värmland, Sweden, image courtesy of

Finding Mary and her birth family in Skällarbyn, Köla Parish, Värmland, Sweden led to a flurry of book orders, research, and emails. I wanted to immerse myself in my immigrant ancestor’s story. Mary and her three siblings joined 1.25 million Swedish immigrants who were part of the great migration from Europe(1880-1920.) They left all that was familiar to them, knowing that they might never see their families again. Their journey to America would change their lives forever.


© 2018 copyright Kendra Hopp Schmidt. All rights reserved.

Genealogy Sketch

Name: [Mary Nelson/Maria Nilsdotter 1854-1931]
Parents: [Nils Persson 1824-1909] and
[Karin Olsdotter 1822-1896]
Spouse: [John Mathew Nichols 1857-1929]
Children: [Carrie Bertha Nichols 1881-1915, Charles Clinton Nichols 1883-1930, Frederick Mathew Nichols 1885-1957, Mabel Elvina Nichols 1888-1954, John Lee Nichols 1890-1967]
Relationship to Kendra: [Great- Great- Grandmother]

  1. [Mary Nelson/Maria Nilsdotter 1854-1931]
  2. [Mabel Elvina Nichols Hyde 1888-1954]
  3. [John Frederick Hyde Jr. 1911-1980]
  4. [Jean Hyde Hopp Eichorn]
  5. Kendra
[i] John Nichols, to Jean Hyde Hopp, letter, June 1958, Personal Correspondance; Nichols Family, privately held.
[ii] Douglas County, death certificate no. B486 (1931), Mary Nichols; State of Nebraska Bureau of Health, Omaha.
[iii] Texas, Death Certificates, 1903-1982 [databae on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Texas Department of Health Bureau of Vital Statistics, death certificate 25177 (1950), Anna Nyberg.
[iv] Family Search Wikipedia (, “Värmland County, Sweden Genealogy,” 03:56, 21 November 2018.
[v] Iowa, Delayed Birth Records, 1856-1940 [database online]. Clinton County, Iowa, Delayed birth Records, 1856-1940, certificate no. 507-16 (1933), Carl Walter Nyberg; State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines, Iowa
[vi] Köla Moving Records; Köla (S) B:5 (1861-1894) Image 64 (AID: v6138.b64, NAD: SE/VA/13309); digital images, Arkiv Digital ( : accessed 22 November 2018).
[vii] Douglas County, Nebraska, marriage certificate (1881), Nelson-Nichols.
[viii] Köla Moving Records; Köla (S) B:5 (1861-1894) Image 154 (AID: v6138.b154, NAD: SE/VA/13309), digital images, Arkiv Digital ( : accessed 20 November 2018).
[ix] U.S. naturalization Record Indexes, 1791-1992, database, ( : accessed 22 Novembre 2018), entry for Axel Peter Nelson.
[x] Jean Hyde Hopp Eichorn Family Bible Records, 1925-131, The Red Letter Holy Bible Illustrated(Philadelphia), “Births and Deaths”; privately held by Jean Hyde Hopp Eichorn, Tucson, AZ, 2018.
[xi] Köla Birth and Baptismal Records; Köla (S) C:11 (1844-1856) Image 27 / Page 46 (AID: v6149.b27.s46, NAD: SE/VA/13309); digital images, Arkiv Digital ( : accessed 22 November 2018).
[xii] Köla Household Records, Köla (S) AI:31 (1871-1875) Image 426 / Page 416 (AID: v11981.b426.s416, NAD: SE/VA/13309), ); digital images, Arkiv Digital ( : accessed 10 November 2018).
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