Tuesday, March 20, 2018

52 Ancestors Week 10 prompt: Strong Woman

A Strong Woman

Barbro Helgesdatter Aasli Gaarder must have been a strong woman. At least I hope she was. But when I see the haunted look on her face in the only photo I have of her, I have to wonder.

I can only guess at how she might have responded to the difficult events in her life. There are no letters between Barbro and friends or family members, no diary. All I have to go on are the antiseptic census records, dates of births and deaths, accounts of her husband's achievements, and her obituary. 

Barbro was a month shy of seventeen years when she gave birth to her first child, and she continued to bear another child about every other year until she had produced thirteen. That alone should qualify her as a strong woman.

And then consider that in 1849 she and her husband Syver Guttormsen Gaarder left their farm and all that made up their life in the Valdres valley of Norway to make a new home in Wisconsin. In the port of Drammen, they boarded the sailing ship Benedicte with their brood, which at the time numbered ten. The youngest was four months old when they sailed. They spent the next ten weeks at sea. When they arrived in the New York harbor they still had to make their way to the Erie Canal, to Milwaukee, and from there to the parsonage in Rock County where they were expected. The pastor there offered temporary shelter for immigrating Norwegians until they could find land on which to settle.

Barbro's husband left her at the parsonage with the ten children in order to scout out land in nearby Green County. Granted, her oldest children were in their twenties, and she had a twenty-three-year-old daughter-in-law, so presumably she had helpbut still! 

Syver did indeed find land in Green County and bought 160 acres in the township of Albany. There was already a log house in place and that is where, with an addition built onto it, the family of thirteen lived. When a few more Norwegian families came along to settle in Albany, the Gaarder's log home also became the meeting place for church and school. I picture Barbro managing not just a household, but a community center! To have no privacy, to be responsible for accommodating the whole community! To me that sounds like quite a bit of responsibility. But of course I have no way of knowing how Barbro felt about all of this. Perhaps, rather than being burdened, she enjoyed the company of all those people. Perhaps they provided a lot of support. 

Once settled in Albany, Barbro continued to have babies. But just weeks after baby Ellef came along in February of 1851, her daughter Live died at the age of eighteen. How did Barbro bear it? Another baby, Sever, arrived in 1853. Things were quiet until 1855 when Guttorm, her first-born, fell from the top of a haystack, landed on the prongs of a pitchfork piercing his intestines. He died within a couple of days. About ten months later, on her own birthday, Barbro gave birth to her final child, Julia Gunhild. 

Barbro was forty-six, had given birth to thirteen children, had seen two die, and still had another forty years or so to live. To the best of my knowledge, her next big loss was the death of her husband in 1881. Syver was about ten years her senior and died when Barbro was seventy-one. She had  sixteen more years to live. Hopefully she was able to enjoy her prodigious family for a good long time before she had the stroke that immobilized her for the last three years of her life. To quote from her obituary,
Through her whole life, she was a faithful and devoted member of her church, and until sickness deprived her of her power of speech, she frankly confessed her faith in the atoning sacrifice of her Savior.

But then, you know how obituaries are: the subjects always face life bravely, never lose their faith, always die with equanimity. How much can one believe in a characterization in an obituary?

As I say, I can only hope that my great-great-grandmother Barbro was strong.

Melissa Hays →Thad Hays  →Hannah Gaarder  →Helge Gaarder  →Barbro Helgesdatter Gaarder

No comments: