Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Lillian Palma Westrum Keyes Enigma Part One

The definition of the word enigma is as follows:
a person or thing that is mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand. It is the only word that I think can be used to describe Lillian Westrum. Her location at any given time is next to impossible to determine save for 4. 

  1. 1. August of 1922 her name shows up in a newspaper article from the town of New Ulm, Minnesota about a "town reunion" dated August 9, 1922. That article lists her address in 1922 as Minneapolis. I kid you not it is the only newspaper article aside from the obituary attached to her photograph that I can find. 
  2. 2.The 1910 census which lists her residing with her mother and biological father in Haywood, Freeborn County, Minnesota. 
  3. 3. The 1920 census which lists her as residing with her biological mother and her stepfather in Hayward, Freeborn, Minnesota. By the way, the census is notorious for making up names, making up birthplace, making up an individuals sex and/or race, and finally for making up towns. I believe Haywood and Hayward are the same place or so the map says in any case. 
  4. Finally, she appears on the 1930 census residing with her husband Ray Keyes in Albert Lea at 509 Park Avenue.  

I can find no high school records, no newspaper articles and let me tell you that attempting to find information on someone of Nordic descent is like trying to walk through a dark room blindfolded without tripping over something.  Lillian's mother was Emma Amelia Kronberg. Her grandfather was Even (Ewen) Olsen Kronberg. Her great-grandfather was Ole Friedland or Frankland. It gets even tougher with her grandmother Sophia Inger Abrahamsdottir Johannesen Johnson. Her maternal great-grandfather is Abraham Johannsen Moesie Johnson. Genealogy is not for the easily frustrated.  So to recap we have Emma or Amelia Kronberg who married Andrew Westrum and bore him 10 children, 5 girls, and 5 boys. Lillian was 3rd from the bottom. Two of her sisters died younger than she Lulu Pearl in 1923 and Inez Verone in 1927. I have no idea what they passed from but Inez was 15 years old and Lulu Pearl was 21. I am sitting in a pile of Norwegians trying to connect the dots and keep track of Lillian. 

I have to admit I thought to try to track French Canadian names was difficult but at least I read, write and speak French. I do not read, write or speak Norwegian and that's a problem because many Lutheran churches in both Wisconsin and Minnesota keep their records in Norwegian. Now for her father's side. Lillian's father was named Andrew Westrum. Andrew's parents were Lars Larsen O Westrum and his wife Karn Karen Mathea Westrum. Great-grandparents are unknown. These folks pretty much came to Wisconsin and Minnesota then parked. Emma Kronberg Westrum was born in Wisconsin but the majority are from Minnesota, Norway, and Sweden. Still with me? 

When you cannot track a persons movements the best way to attempt to determine their locale falls into 3 categories:

  1. 1. Census
  2. 2. Newspaper
  3. 3. School records such as yearbooks.

I've managed 2 out of those three but I learned some interesting things while doing it. Searching the newspapers proved out several theories:

  1. 1. There was a train network that went from New Ulm to Minneapolis and from Minneapolis clear to Chicago with stops in Stevens Point where a spur line ran to New Lisbon Wisconsin. 58 miles southwest of New Lisbon is Soldier's Grove.
  2. 2. Directly between New Lisbon and Wiota lies Reedsburg Wisconsin. Reedsburg is a mere 30 miles south of New Lisbon and was probably serviced by bus.

The odds that Lillian and Agnes were on a train together anytime from Agnes' stint in Soldier's Grove and her tour with Phil Baker are enormous because her mother's family never left Wiota. If there were any visits with family in Wiota they likely would have been on the same train especially since that line terminates in Chicago on one end and Minneapolis on the other. We have established that via rail maps of the period and by attempting to read Norwegian. The other really interesting thing is that Lillian's uncle Ole Evanson Kronberg lived in Chicago. So we have these two women with really enormous odds of being in the same place at the same time over a very long period that being 1922 to 1937. The fact that the train ride from New Ulm to Minneapolis was a little over an hour, found that out by finding an article completely by chance in which is described an automobile accident that left a woman whose last name was Westrum in serious condition. The accident took place outside of Minneapolis and they put her on the train to New Ulm to get medical attention. The train ride according to the newspaper was about an hour and twenty minutes. 

So we have a line that looks like this:
New Ulm to Minneapolis
Minneapolis to New Ulm
Minneapolis to Wiota Wisconsin
Minneapolis to Chicago Illinois
Minneapolis to Albert Lea
Albert Lea to Hayward

This is a finely tuned well-run series of trains and buses. There was even a bus called "The Flying Bus" that was apparently widely known for its rapid rate of speed and lack of long stops. We imagine that because Lillian was from what we perceive as a small town the odds of her ever knowing Agnes are astronomical and that's just not the case. Lillian traveled on her own at least once from Minneapolis to New Ulm because it's documented in a newspaper. With a family spread out along the same lines as the major train system, she could have met Agnes a few hundred times over. I know that we tend to judge travel based on what we know as standard today but in the 20's and 30's trains and buses were the norm and long journeys were viewed as adventures or small breaks from the day to day grind. People dressed up for travel. They conversed with strangers and at least in one instance became extremely close. It was a small world even then. I do believe with a little patience and a quick lesson in Norwegian we will unravel this mystery a small bit at a time.

1 comment:

Stephen Street said...

Well you sure did your research on this one Tamela!

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