She is not my biological ancestor, but was mother to several of Grandpa Isaac Larson’s half-siblings. As such, she is direct ancestor of hundreds of my relatives, second (half-)cousins and further.
Click here for Helene’s place in the family tree
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Her first name has been recorded with at least four variants: Helene, Helena, Hellina, and Lena (! – as in Ole & Lena). To wit, her marriage record to Ole Larson, courtesy of cousin Sheila Geier.
All that came down in family lore about the immigration of Helene Olsdatter was, that she came “on the same boat with the Slettens,” and also that she came with a daughter named Kari, possibly Hansdatter. In 2015, I found a “Carrie Hanson” that I am sure this lore refers to, but was not able to connect her with Helene.
A likely candidate for “our” Helene Olsdatter is found in Oslo police emigration documents, along with someone who is possibly one of the first two Slettens to come to Wisconsin. Here are excerpts from the police records.
|Date of departure
|Jun 2, 1881
|Jun 3, 1881
|May 19, 1881
|May 20, 1881
In Gunder sletten’s citizenship document, he states that he departed Norway on June 3, 1881, on the ship Angelo, so this must be him, 99% certain. Helena’s age is correct, as is her “occupation” (single woman). She may well have moved from Gausdal parish to Oslo (“Kristiania”) for a time before emigrating, and so stated that as her “domicile.” I’d give this an 75% confidence rating for being “our” Helena. Note also that their stated destinations are both in Wisconsin.
Next let’s speculate on the timeframe. From Oslo to Hull, England (the route of the Angelo) is just over 600 miles. On a steamship of the time, in those sheltered waters, that would take about two days. Immigrant ships from England to America generally departed from Liverpool, about 150 miles by rail across the island from Hull. Oslo-Hull-Liverpool-America was a very common route for Nordic immigrants of this period. Steamships from Liverpool reached the US eastern seaboard in 10-12 days.
Here is a picture of the steamship Angelo, from NorwayHeritage.com
Gunder Olsen Sletten must have arrived in Hull about June 5. Given another day for rail travel plus a half-day to make connections at each end, he would have been ready to leave Liverpool around June 7-8. Helena Olsdatter was about two weeks ahead of him, but note that they rode the same ship, albeit different sailings.
Consider now the SS Lord Clive, of the American Line.
She arrived in Philadelphia on June 19 or 20; the manifest was signed on June 21. Gunder stated (more than 20 years later) that he arrived on June 16, but that would have been virtually impossible given the timeframe postulated above. Besides, no immigrant ship arrived in Philly on June 16, 17, or 18. Given a crossing time of 10-12 days, the Lord Clive must have left Liverpool about June 9-11.
Here is page 43 of the Lord Clive’s passenger list:
The first glaring problem is that everyone on the page is listed as from “Sweden.” To reconcile this, we must assume that the ship’s purser or clerk was so busy or careless as to conflate the nationals of two countries with similar surnames, languages, and appearance. Not implausible. Also, although Norway enjoyed considerable autonomy during this period, it was officially a co-monarchy with Sweden.
At the beginning of the page is an “M Olsdatter.” That had me exercised for a while, guessing that maybe the “M” should have been an “H.” Her age is about right, and as we shall see, I think two Slettens are on the list as well. However, this Ms. Olsdatter is traveling with a 4-year-old son named Ole, which doesn’t match at all, and I later learned her first name was Marit.
Continuing with the passenger list: the next name after the child Ole is “E. Olsen,” approximately the age of Engebret Olsen Sletten; three names later is “G. Olsen,”precisely the age of Gunder Olsen Sletten. These are cause for a certain amount of confidence for the Slettens, even though some of my cousins in that line are skeptical.
Helene was mother to the youngest seven of Ole Larson’s 13 children, as listed above. In addition, she was said to have a daughter earlier, named Kari Hanson. Larsons and Slettens 1985, in most cases very complete on dates and names, gives only the sketchiest outline of this, on page 62:
As I studied this earlier, I tried starting from the beginning. I searched for any possible record of this child in Norway with Helene, and in Wisconsin after her immigration. All blanks. Later, I decided to work from the other end, and soon found the family of Frank and Julia Polzin, with their first four children, in the 1940 US Census, in Dover Township, Olmsted County, Minnesota. Looks just about like the list above, without the youngest child.
|Frank F Polzin
|Julia M Polzin
|Luther W Polzin
|Etta Mae R Polzin
|Jessie Ann M Polzin
|Orvilla C Polzin
“Orvilla” is simply a mistranscription of Arvilla.
Now, here is a Julia Steadman (alt. Stedman, the maiden name of Julia Polzin), four years old, in the Minnesota state census of 1905:
Further documents show that Julia’s parents were George and Carrie Stedman, and that Carrie (alt. Kari) died before this census, at age 25, and that Carrie’s (Kari’s) maiden name was Hanson. So, there can be no doubt this is the family listed in Larsons and Slettens 1985. However, the trail petered out, and I found no documentary evidence that Kari Hanson was Helene’s daughter.
Helene’s father was not Ole Lien
Helene’s death certificate, and Larsons and Slettens 1985, give her father’s name as Ole Lien, a farm name that does not appear in the records of her birth and childhood in Norway. I took that in stride, as just one of the many liberties that immigrants took with their names. But cousin Sheila found two entries in findagrave.com that offer an alternative explanation. Follow this link to view the complete findagrave memorials.
The graves are at Coon Valley, only ten miles from Coon Prairie, but not big on my radar, as there is no known family connection there, closer than about third cousin.
Keep in mind that Helene probably spoke poor English, and Norwegian-speakers in Wisconsin were dying out by the time she died in 1927. My current theory is that the person filling out her death certificate may have somehow conflated the two families. Note that the “Ole” here is only one year older than Helene. Johannes is in the correct age range, but that would make Ole Helene’s brother, and Helene would be a Johannesdatter, not an Olsdatter.
Now, referring back to the marriage record above, Helene’s father in that document is Ole “Bretlong.” That is quite close to the name I found in Norway, Ole Johansen “Brettingen.” It is my conclusion (subject to correction) that the Liens buried at Coon Valley are 1) not related to Helene Olsdatter, but 2) were the source of an error on her death certificate.
On her headstone, her name is spelled “Hellina,” rounding out the four known variants.