Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Helge and the Floozy

Here is a piece I wrote back when I was just getting started on my family research.  A lot of information was coming in very fast.  Sorting through and trying to making sense of it all sometimes led to some shaky hypotheses. 

Recently I became quite irritated with my great-grandfather Helge, husband of Bergit. I knew that Helge had remarried after Bergit died, but I was beginning to get the idea that maybe there had been some hanky-panky going on toward the end of Bergit's life. My suspicions stemmed from a passage I found in a biographical sketch in a history of Green County residents which read, "Bergit died in Wisconsin while Helge died in Graettinger, Iowa." I guess it all comes down to the way one reads the word “while”. Did the writer use “while” in the sense of two things happening simultaneously ? Or was he using it to mean “whereas”? What I took from my initial reading of this ambiguous sentence was that Helge and Bergit were living separatelyand that the old goat was carrying on with some floozy half his age, while Bergit, poor forgotten Bergit, was languishing away in Wisconsin.  

I was incensed. What about the family you had raised together? How could you have been lured away from your home to take up with a woman practically the age of your daughter, my grandmother Hannah? What about the noble inscription you chose for Bergit's gravestone: "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith."  And this while you were off with your new “wife”? The hypocrisy!

Wel-l-l, it turns out I may have been a bit hasty in my judgment. It turns out I may have gotten a tad over-involved in my great grandparents' lives—a little off-track, you might say. It turns out I'd misread some dates and jumped to some conclusions. In fact, Helge's wife Bergit had died five or six years before he married Ida—who most probably was not a floozy.  Just a 27 year-old woman who knew she wanted a family and maybe this 61-year-old man was her only shot at that. After my first hasty suspicions, I never found a shred of evidence that Helge had been anything but a faithful husband to his Bergit. No evidence that he had been anywhere but at home by Bergit's side at the time of her death. Sorry, Helge.

I know that bona fide, dispassionate genealogists would frown on my emotional approach to family research, but I can't help it. I get very attached to these people. I am fiercely aggrieved if any of my own are slighted or injured. I worry about them when there are signs of trouble. Sometimes I attach prematurely to a so-called relative without adequate proof that he or she is actually related to me. I build a whole fantasy life for individuals I think are ancestors only to uncover somewhere along the way that they don't belong in my tree. It's a wrenching, a little death, when I have to expunge them. Knock them off my branch. I can only wish them well and hope they find and land on their own proper branches.

But back to Helge and BergitI'm so glad to have been wrong, but I'm not sorry about having cared.  And as for Ida, the "other woman", I have now accepted her into the family with open arms and am busily tracing her history.  I have already determined that she and Helge produced a daughter and a son.  I'm very concerned about her welfare however, for she seemed quite alone with her two young children after Helge died.  I wonder if there's any way to find out if my grandmother Hannah was at all involved or supportive of her step-mother and step-siblings?  Hmmm.  More emotion-laden research ahead.

1 comment:

Margie Tolsdorf said...

I loved reading this. I am new to blogging and was just surfing around. Thanks.