Mary Nelson, or perhaps it should be Maria Nilsson, departed Sweden as a young woman of 18 or 19, in 1874 or 1875, according to census records. Sweden in the 1860’s was in the middle of a national population crisis and famine was sweeping the country, killing 22 out of every 1000 Swedes. Between 1868 and 1873, 100,000 Swedes emigrated to the U.S. Mary was on the tail end of that large exodus. It is uncertain if she traveled alone or if she was accompanied by a family member. Perhaps, she met a sibling who had already emigrated or a friend. She may have received a letter from a compatriot who told of the grand new life waiting in America. Mary arrived in the U.S. in a port city on the east coast, and like many immigrants, she made her way to the new states and territories lured by the promise of open land and opportunities.
There are two single Mary Nelson’s accounted for in the 1880 census who lived in Omaha, Nebraska. Both Marys were servants and each lived with a family on Douglas Street. One of the households consisted of TA Crinckshank, a dry goods manufacturer from Scotland, and his wife and 3 very young children. The other household consisted of JD Jones, a railroad clerk, and his 25 year old niece. This piece of information is important, because trying to reconstruct how John and Mary may have met in Omaha is speculation. There is no written account so piecing their story together through clues is the only resort to reconstructing their history. The railroad clerk JD Jones may have introduced John and Mary to one another and a romance blossomed.
Only 1.3 miles away from Douglas Street, on Chicago street, lived a young man, John Mathews Nichols (1857-1929), who also went west to make his livelihood. He followed the expanding railroads. He left the coal mines of Schuylkill, PA, where his father worked as a clerk, and was probably seeking adventure as well as a job. In the 1880 census, John worked as a laborer and boarded in a house with a young married couple and another young male boarder. In the two adjacent houses were two railroad workers, an engineer and a switchman. These men most likely played a role in assisting John to obtain a job with the railroad. A railroader was a sought after job. It offered adventure, travel, prestige, and also danger.
The first vital record for Mary Nelson is her marriage document dated April 1881 in Omaha, Nebraska. Mary and John were wed at the Methodist Episcopal church by pastor Wesley K Beans . Mary’s parents are listed as Nels Nelson, another very common name, and Carrie Oelson. The witnesses to their marriage are Mrs. Beans, the clergyman’s wife, and a Mrs. Anna Nielson. It could be that Anna Nielson is a friend, or possibly a relative, maybe a sister-in-law?
The 1885 census shows Mary and John Nichols living in Norfolk, NE. John worked as a railroad master. By 1900 they were back in Omaha and lived at 1402 Jaynes street where Mary Nichols remained until her death in 1931. According to Mary’s daughter, Mabel Nichols Hyde, Mary and John Nichols had a tumultuous relationship. They may have separated for a period of time. John was reputed to have had a very harsh and difficult nature. In 1910, Mary is listed as the head of household and John was living in Kansas City, MO where he worked as a laborer and lived in a boarding house. In the 1920 census John is back at 1402 Jaynes street where he worked again for the railroad this time as a switchman. He remained with Mary until his death in 1929.
During these years the Nichols had 5 children. Carrie Bertha Nichols (1881-1915) was born 3 months after her parent’s marriage, so it was a marriage of necessity. Charles Clinton Nichols (1883-1930) followed, and then Frederick Matthews Nichols (1885-1957), Mabel Elvina Nichols (1888-1954), my maternal great-grandmother, and last John Lee Nichols (1890-1967). Their births and deaths are recorded in Mabel Nichols Hyde’s family bible, but unfortunately, Mary’s parents names, births, and deaths are not noted.
Hoping to solve the mystery of Mary Nelson Nichols birthplace by using her death certificate was unsuccessful. Her youngest son, John Lee Nichols, provided the information and her birth city was listed as “Warwick”. In Sweden there are no place names using a “W”. Perhaps John simply stated what he thought he had heard and since he didn’t speak Swedish, he was uncertain of the spelling. There are similar place names using a “V”, such as “Varvick”. However, searching databases for Varvick drew another blank. Her mother’s name is listed as Christine Oleson and her father is noted as Nelson.
Consulting the Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center, led to another dead end . Mary did not register with any Swedish churches, nor organizations in Omaha. She may have changed her name from Maria Nilsson, and if not, Mary Nelson is such a common name that tracing her was difficult. Not to be deterred, I then sought out a Swedish research genealogist, who also found no records for Mary Nelson/Maria Nilsson’s birth with parents of Nels Nelson/Nilsson and Carrie/Christine Oelson in any of the Swedish databases. Could Mary have altered her birth date to appear younger than she was? It wasn’t uncommon for a woman of a certain age to change her birth date to appear younger and more appealing in the marriage market.
Perhaps Mary’s obituary would list some names and possible sources. Indeed, her obituary listed one sister and one brother as survivors, but their names are not given nor their locations. The death certificate for Mary, January 15, 1931, lists her cause of death as bronchonpneumonia caused by influenza. According to her obituary, Mary died heartbroken two months after the tragic death of her second child, Charles Clinton Nichols.
The mystery of Mary Nelson Nichol’s birthplace may be resolved when the 1870 Swedish census becomes available. I will be waiting. Perhaps, some distant cousin will find this blog and provide a missing clue. I will be waiting. Until then, I will continue to search out other records.
CASE SOLVED IN NOVEMBER 2018
Thanks to genealogy serendipity, research, FB groups, and DNA, the mystery of Mary’s origins is solved. If you are interested in the rest of her story, click here.
© 2014 copyright Kendra Hopp Schmidt. All rights reserved.
- Name: Mary Nelson
- Parents: Nels Nelson and Carrie Oleson
- Spouse: John Mathews Nichols
- 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 Hopp Schmidt 2x great-grandmother
- Mary Nelson Nichols
- Mabel Elvina Nichols Hyde
- John Frederick Hyde
- Jean Anne Hyde Hopp Eichorn
- Kendra Hopp Schmidt