After a few years, we had amassed quite a collection of facts, but we realized it was time to chase down some real source documents. We hired a consultant named Joan Wieser to help us, and she was a real gem. There were many email messages back and forth, and eventually we felt we were ready to make the trip to North Dakota and Minnesota.
We flew into Winnipeg and rented a car, which we drove down across the border. It was quite an interesting beginning to the trip when we were stopped at the border and our vehicle and all of our belongings were searched. It took about an hour, and we couldn't help but feel a bit like criminals, as we sat in a little room and waited. Eventually we were told we could go, and we proceeded to Langdon, ND.
Sunday June 3, 2007
Checked in at the Langdon Motor Inn (the only place in town?). We phoned Rita Maisel and Wilbur & Joanne McGauvran – they all came to meet us right away. We went to visit the cemetery first, and then drove to the old Waite farmland. We met George and Vernice Balsdon, who live there now, and their place was a bit of a museum, with many pictures and game trophies mounted on the walls. We drove back to town for dinner at the Crossroads – one of two decent places to eat in town! Next to the McGauvrans' place for dessert (strawberry rhubarb pie) and to see a very old bible with many McGauvrans listed inside. We hoped for some solid ties to the Waite family, but no luck.
Monday June 4, 2007
We got up and walked over to the Calvary Cemetery and took photos of the stones.
- Betsy McGauvran
- Charles WaitWilliam Wait
- Wait family stone – but nothing specifically for Joseph. Where could he be buried?
Went to the courthouse and had some help going through the indexes, where we found:
- A second marriage for John E. Arnold!
- The marriage documents for Jack/Mabel, which we already had
- Nothing regarding Joseph Wait’s death
- Found Charles and William Wait
- Found Mary Bell listed as born in Cypress ND in 1907, not 1904.
- No record of Lester or Gladys in birth records.
- County Recorder’s office had already sent the land records to Joan Wieser.
We were directed to the school across the road to access the Catholic Church archives. Jackie Krum (Crumb?) helped us there, and we looked for Joseph in the cemetery records, but nothing was listed there. Just Charles and William. Still not sure if Joseph is buried there! Jackie also took us to look at the records in the vault downstairs, but there was nothing regarding the Waits in there at all. It seems a few years are missing altogether, and we left feeling disappointed.
Next to the library:
- Dad found a new obituary for Joseph. Says his funeral was at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church. That’s 2 obits now, and both have the same date, so we think it’s fairly accurate, and that might be all we ever find on his death.
- Rita Maisel hunted us down there and talked to Dad more about the various aspects of the Waite/McGauvran relationship. She can’t prove they’re related, but “just KNOWS they are!” No real proof yet, but nice to know she thinks like we do!
- Called Adrian Olson, who is the pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Hannah. He didn’t know where the old records were, but suggested we talk to Vera McIntosh, a long-time resident and parishioner. I called her, and talked to her husband Don. He said they’re in a safety deposit box in Langdon, and they’ll have a look next time they’re in town. He also said there is a Centennial Book that might have some notes about the Waite family. I think that’s the book I saw in the library today, and if so, there’s nothing there.
- We told Vera and Don McIntosh we’d send the copy of Gladys’ birth record so they can see what we’re after. Their contact information is: PO Box 76, Hannah ND 58239. 283-5469 is their phone number.
- Vera also said we should check the Hannah Moon newspaper, which is available on Microfilm at Bismark’s historical society. She thinks we can borrow it by interlibrary loan – they’ll mail it to us.
- Phoned Richard Rose (256-5895), who is president of the Cemetery committee, but there was no answer. We would like to ask to have the Wait area at the cemetery probed to see if there are 2 or 3 graves there – they may be able to determine if Joseph is buried there.
- Need to look for the Oct 6th, 1887 issue of the Courier Democrat newspaper (Langdon ND) to see if there is any obituary for Betsy McGauvran. That could give us another way to tie the McGauvran and Wait families together.
Our work in Langdon was done for now, and we drove to Fargo to check into the Microtel Inn for the night.
Tuesday, June 5
Went to find the university (NDSU) library and were told the genealogical collection has been moved to another building. We found our way there and poked around a lot, but didn’t find much there this morning.
Drove to meet Joan Wieser at the 144 exit, near Christine. From there we went about a mile east and then about 5 miles south to the farm where the gravestones are. We turned left and there were a few people standing in the bean field. Went in and met Jeff Bolme, who is the farmer living there now. We met Joan and her assistant, Jill. The local TV crew was there and they interviewed all of us about it. The story was quite interesting, as there were 2 gravestones in the middle of the bean field. One for John Smith Jr.'s first wife, Melvina, and the other for their young daughter, Lily. The theory is that they may have died from a plague of some kind, so they were buried away from the house so nobody else would catch it. Jeff grew up on the land, and his father always wondered who the Smiths were. He insisted that the family respect the graves, and Jeff was instructed to be careful whenever he drove machinery near the area. Sadly, his father passed away 2 weeks before we called to say we were the missing family he had always wondered about.
After we talked to Jeff about the stones, he gave us directions to the Schmitt cemetery, which is close to his place – about ½ mile east, and then north on the road for about a mile. There are about 20 graves there on the right side of the road near some trees. Lily Smith is buried there, as well as Martha Oleah Smith. Interestingly, Lucie Herrick, who was about Lily’s age and a neighbor, was also in that cemetery. We have a theory that the Herricks were either very good friends from Philadelphia, or may be even related in some way. There was one unmarked grave between Lily and Martha which could be John Smith's, but there is no identifying marker, and the area often floods, so it could have migrated from elsewhere. Although Joan Wieser inquired, we could not get any information from the church that currently maintains the cemetery.
After that, Jeff Bolme took us to another field that is about 2 miles south and a mile west of his place (near the sign saying Ft. Abercrombie is 2 miles south) – there is a tree standing by itself in the field, with a bunch of branches etc piled at the base. In amongst the junk is a piece of a headstone and the footstone. No words are inscribed on it, and the main piece of the stone is missing. We wondered if it might be where John Smith is buried. Jeff also thinks there might be another grave on his property, where the two stones are, and we agreed it’s possible, as there are extra head/footstones.
Next we drove back into Fargo and went for dinner. We invited Jean Pohl to join us, but she preferred to have us meet her later for dessert and coffee at the Radisson, so we did that. Jean is Dad’s second cousin, as she was the daughter of Sallie Lincoln Smith and Jacob Johnson. We had a great visit, and she told us she had heard John Smith was a chemist who made gunpowder in the war. She gave Dad a picture of her mother and Mamie with a few other people. I promised to send her the pictures from today and a printout of the family tree. I’d like to visit with her more some day.
Wednesday, June 8, 2007
Up early again, and off to the NDSU library. I found John Smith in Wahpeton in the 1885 census – could be a different John Smith, but he’s from Switzerland, so I think it’s worth checking. We didn’t really find much else, and we said goodbye to Joan and Jill. Joan had word from her husband that the information from Bismark has arrived in the mail, so she was keen to see what was there. She offered some good advice for how we could proceed with our research.
Dad and I checked out of the hotel and went to the RRVGS library next. We poked around and didn’t find much, but I noticed Fay Littlefield’s email address on the wall and copied it down. I saw that she has written a book on the history of Fort Abercrombie, and think it’s worth staying in touch with her, as she might know something. I’d like to email her and let her know that we saw the stones and that we are still looking for John’s death information.
We made our way to Grand Forks next, and after getting a room, we went to the Chester Fritz library at NDU, as we had been told by Rita Maisel that they have the best collection of information. Certainly they did have good information, and very helpful staff. I think we could easily ask for assistance in the future. They have a special copier there that doesn’t damage the big plat books, and we used that. They also had a full subscription to Ancestry, which we used to find a few new things, including Isabella Mason’s family in the 1851 census! I also tried to track her brother Robert, and may or may not have found him later. We found Jacob Johnson’s land at Pine Lake MN, and copied that page for tomorrow/Friday.
Thursday, June 7
Back to the library early in the morning, and found a few things, but nothing really all that great. I took some extra time to look for Doug’s family (Rice, Iverson) in the system and found Simon and Barbara Rice in 3-4 census’ and then found Simon’s land application info.
I told Dad I wanted to take an hour to just shop and relax, so he had a nap in the car. Then we went to Best Buy, and I found a voice recorder. It was my intention to use it for various interviews, or even just to have on while we drove in the car, but I never did really use it, as it felt a bit too intrusive or awkward. I do wish I had more details of many of the stories, however, and regret that I didn't make better use of it.
On the drive from Grand Forks to Bemidji, it poured rain most of the way. We arrived in Fosston which is in Polk County and realized that’s where Simon and Barbara Rice lived at one time. There is a historical society there, and we wanted to get back to it the next day, but that didn't happen. We were near to Jacob Johnson’s land and the Smith land. Polk, Clearwater, and Beltrami counties are much closer together than we realized, and some day I will likely return to poke around some more.
We drove around Bemidji and found the historical society in an old train station. Then we found a room for the night and went to a recommended family-run Italian restaurant – it was nice, as dad and I were both getting sick of the chain restaurants!
Friday, June 08, 2007
Today we had our work cut out for us: The courthouse and the local university library opened at 8, the historical society was open 10-4, and the other historical society for Clearwater county was open at 10 as well. We planned to drive to see the farms, too. Clear day today, so conditions will be good for viewing.
First we went to the courthouse, but they sent us to the new County Administration building. We found some birth registrations and some information about Otto’s land foreclosure. There was a legal document as well as a newspaper clipping, so we took copies. I photographed some of the items, and we decided that was all we’d find there. Next we went to the old train station and visited the historical society, which was disappointing – not only was the lady not helpful and not that friendly, there wasn’t much of anything to find there.
After lunch we drove back to Shevlin, where the old Clearwater County information was, and that was a little better. We found some little news tidbits in the Gonvick newspaper that was on microfilm there. One item said Otto and another fellow had gone to scout out the Saskatchewan situation, and the newspaper said they planned to move there. A few months later another edition of the paper said Otto had left that week. Not sure about Alice and the kids, as Dan had just been born that week. Tamara supervised the facility – she was helpful, and we took her card in case we needed to be in touch again later. We also found out which cemetery to visit for the Johnsons’ graves.
Next we went to search for the Immanuel Cemetery near Aure, and it was near where the old town used to be. Interestingly, there is not one thing left to indicate it was ever a town. We took pictures of the graves and then went to find Otto’s land. It was not an ideal place to settle, and appeared to be very difficult land to work. We agreed that Otto was not great at choosing land! Here it was all treed and rocky, and must have been very difficult for them to make a life here.
From there we went to Gonvick, and found the Johnson graves at the Lutheran Church before going to find where their land was near Pine Lake. Much nicer land around there!
We drove as far as Thief River Falls and found a Super 8 for the night. We got quite skilled at finding reasonably priced accommodation that had breakfast and wireless internet included!
When we got back to Winnipeg the next day, we had a little time before our flight, so we called Johnnie Shewchuk, and he came to meet us for lunch and a good visit. He was so pleased to share news about some work and special acknowledgments he had received at the university recently. We were sorry not to have enough time to go and see for ourselves, but it was good to at least have a visit over lunch.
All in all, it was a wonderful trip, but as always, we were left with a few loose ends to tackle in the future. We were so very pleased with the work Joan Wieser had done – even though we did not get the results we were after, it was certainly not for lack of trying, and we agreed her skills were amazing.