Thursday, 25 May 2017

Basel Day One

Our first mission the next morning was to find the tourist office, which I gather was at the train station. Since I didn't have Switzerland anywhere on my bucket list I just followed where Jane or Bill led. It really wasn't until I started looking through my photos that I realised it had actually been a far more interesting trip that had occurred to me while it was happening. Perhaps I shouldn't admit to that. I'm remembering all the pleasure I've had in the past reliving the holiday and researching all the questions that popped up at the time.

Anyhow, I had the impression this building was called something like the fenster or fenêtre building, after the many windows, but in fact it is called Südpark (South Park!) and it's meant to remind you of Tetris, the computer game. Whatever. It's near the train station, a much more stately affair.

Trams run all over the place, which is great...until you want to take a photo.

At tourist information Jane found a brochure that featured several walks in Basel city centre, each assigned a colour and a famous name. Well, I recognised a few but could only actually identify one; so much for being 'educated'. 

It took us a while to learn to spot the signs along the walk and I'm not at all sure how well we did, but we saw some astonishing things. Jane discovered how confusing it is to have two people navigating (both she and her brother are accustomed to leading). Chris and I are more followers, but while the rest of us might hang back, unsure if entry was allowed, Chris would go snoop march forth, discover wondrous sights and return to beckon us on. When everyone got stymied with indecision I would volunteer a suggestion to keep us going. So, it all worked out.

Major points to Chris for discovering this inside!

Another priority was to figure out how to say Basel. It isn't a silly question at all, given that there are about as many spellings and pronunciations of this city's name as countries that surround Switzerland (and even those that don't). Jane was accustomed to the French manner (Baal) and I think I had been using the American version that sounds like we say the herb, but since we were in a German area I switched over to their pronunciation. You can read all about that here. Another place we were to visit later on was Thun, which is easy to say: Toon. Just like the name Geordies give to Newcastle.

But enough of semantics. One of the best sights in Basel was the town hall or rathaus (rat house!). Which reminds me that I never wrote about our last meet-up with Jane & Chris, in Vienna (where we stumbled upon the Eurovision song contest!) Must figure out how to do that, though much of it will be forgotten by now, sadly.

Anyhow, I gather that while the original council house is about 500 years old, much of the original fresco work has been lost and some of the building was torn down and rebuilt in the last hundred years or so. Still, we thought it was pretty spectacular.

I have no more words to share, so I will just leave you with the photos.

Each face different! I wonder who they were?

Even the down pipe is decorated!

Almost made me think of cartoon drawings, but still very effective.

Scary lady?

I had this last, but it looked like he was peaking up the soldier's skirt...

Monday, 22 May 2017

The Flat

So, about the trip to Basel. We flew via Amsterdam. As we walked through Schiphol we both remarked it wasn't as shiny and sparkling new as we had remembered it. Guess we're all getting older. 

Bill had the trip all planned out and while we managed to get the bus from the Basel airport (which as far as I can tell is in France, not Switzerland) to the train station, we couldn't find the right tram to near the flat so we gave up and took a taxi. Given the driver's use of acceleration and braking I was thinking it was a New York experience (which I've not had) but he had an electric car, which impressed me, and it was a quick journey down a load of one-way streets.

An ordinary, nondescript block of flats.

You'll have to excuse the disarray of the flat in the photos. Most were taken on the morning we were all packing up. We'd stripped the beds to help out the girl who tended the flat and of course our focus was on getting bags packed and clothes suitable for a rainy walk to the train station. 

With all that glass, not a lot of security, but it didn't worry me.

Jane & Chris had already arrived and re-arranged the furniture. The flat was advertised as having two double bedrooms, which wasn't quite true as the second bedroom had no door on it and you had to sidle around the edges of the two twin beds. 

Still, they chose this room with the balcony out the back after putting the (Ikea) bookshelf unit in the door way with the rickety screen behind it. With their towels hung over the screen they had a fair amount of privacy, the breeze and the relative quiet of the back gardens. Good choice.

Ours was a large attractive room furnished with a chest of drawers and clothes rack (from Ikea) and a large bed with nightstands. 

The big window had shutters for privacy (no curtains anywhere in the flat) and doors into the hall and the living room. 

The other bedroom, we decided, was so small because the bathroom had been built in part of that space and we figured given the age of the building that originally there were probably shared WCs on the half landings between each floor, now storage space. The front windows of the flat looked out across the busy road (noisy at night, but not as noisy as horn-honking Italians, the Swiss are much more civilised) at more flats. The one directly across from us was pretty much the ugliest I saw on the whole trip. 

I did learn that it is not unusual for people to have a (Ikea) cabinet on their balcony, generally for storing their shoes. That suggests to me that, unlike in Britain, their rain is also very civilised, restricting itself to vertical movement.

The kitchen conveniently had a window out onto the balcony which facilitated food transport on the evenings we ate outside. 

It was furnished with the basics (from Ikea), including a dishwasher and one of those stupid Nespresso machines. I despise them (being a producer of needless waste for landfill), but when the (free from the cruise) packets of caffeinated coffee ran out I ended up using the machine as the coffee was supplied, or perhaps left by previous tenants along with various condiments and oils. I made a full strength coffee in a large mug, but pushed the button for the little ones (I used the little cups to tuck away my British money in my underwear drawer and on my nightstand to put my rings and earrings in each night). Then I poured out half the coffee, diluted it about 5-1 with hot water from the kettle, adding sweeteners and skimmed milk. If they served it at a coffee place it would be called a Skinny Wimp or perhaps Coffee a la Hot Chocolate. Did I mention these idiotic machines make the most horrific noise?

Jane & Chris had just completed a two week river cruise on the Rhine that ended in Basel, hence the obvious choice for where to meet up. It being one of those hugely expensive, luxurious all-inclusive trips and they being (in some ways) of a tightwad leaning much like myself, they discovered that just like in the old days with soap, shampoos, etc in hotel rooms, the company generously restocked the mini-bar in their room with no complaints whatsoever. So we had several litres of white and red wine in half-bottles, a good supply of Gordon's gin and Baileys liqueur and a small selection of whiskey and rum. With all that to carry, it's no surprise that Chris's back acted up during the holiday. Shame I didn't get a photo of the stash. We did our share of getting through it, Bill poured red wine on a heated up beef and pasta and I invented a dessert that involved chopped up fruit drowned in Baileys; and we had aperitifs and wine with dinner. After all, we had to spare Chris's back on their return to Australia.

The living room had some weird and less than wonderful (for bad backs and short people) furniture in bright colours, plus the latest (I guess) in TV screens. Chris had never seen a curved one. They had moved the round table and four chairs from the kitchen to one end of the living room and that seemed a very sensible arrangement.

Jane figured the flat was furnished by a young man who didn't cook much and had different priorities to ours and I had to agree (his name is Phillipe). They were most excited to show us the pièce de résistance: the lavatory. I just looked it up and sure enough in North America the lavatory refers to the bathroom sink; Brits use this word to mean the toilet. I'm talking about the sink. And I've finally given in and added a label I've long considered: Loos I've Loved - watch this space!

It was a rather amazing contraption as the base had a light and a motion detector, providing a dim night light for nocturnal visitors, such as myself and Chris. It's just that with the vase shape and the marble material it looked more to me like a sacrificial basin to some gods of fire.  We all agreed that Phillipe really outdid him self in this selection and clearly he was proud of it as well as it features large in his online adverts. It would be a deal-maker for you, wouldn't it?

For all its quirks, it was a pretty good flat: everything worked, great shower, and excellent location near shops (including Aldis and Coop) and walking distance to the train station. Bill chose very well, I'd say.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Back from Basel

Just a note to say we're back from a 10-day trip to Basel, where we met up with Bill's sister and brother-in-law, Jane and Chris. Our trip home last night was wet and wild (delayed planes, frantic connections, lost luggage). Unfortunately, our computer charging cables were in the checked luggage and I'm running out of power on my lap top, so this has to be short.

The good news is that I've got 4 pages of notes from my ridiculous number of photos, so have loads of ideas to share.

Until KLM/Air France sorts us out, auf widersehen / au revoir (we didn't visit the Italian part).

Sunday, 14 May 2017

My Colours

Going through my photos from some months past. I'm afraid this post will include yet another granny square throw. This time in the dusty colours I feel suit me best. It was hard to give this one away.

In fact, part of my affinity for the beach near my house is that the North Sea is rarely the bright turquoise of the Med. It's main colour is a dark, almost ominous grey and only sometimes is it a greyed-blue (my favourite colour of all). On a sunny day though it can be a pale silvery blue. It tends to be whatever colour the sky offers it. 

The beige sand often has flecks of black coal in it, burning it less a tan than a taupe shade, another of my favourites.  The algae that grows on the rocks can be anything from bright green to hot pink, other colours I love, though I rarely wear them. 

One day I cycled up the coast to my knitting group and luxuriated in the ease with which I could pull up and snap a photo when the scenery demanded it.

Sometime around then my craft group decided to do a project of indigo tie-dying. 

Indigo, the colour of jeans, is another of my colours, but I've been over tie-dying since the 70s so I didn't participate.

I did admire some of their results, however.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

What I Know about Marit

Anyone who has followed the history of my Dad's adoption story knows that someone gave me a photo of a ledger from the state orphanage in Minnesota a few years ago. It gave his birth name (or it could have been a name given by the orphanage, but it turns out it probably wasn't) and my grandparents names as the adoptive family.

I did a DNA test, spent hours (months!) online searching and found his birth mother, Marit, or Mary as she was known. Once I knew who she was, there was a wealth of information on the internet on genealogical sites, including several family photos. A distant cousin, Stephen, found Mary's obituary for me. A 2nd cousin, Don, has shared some beautiful photos and some of his memories of Mary and her family. 

Mary is in the top left corner. This was taken before 1921.

Mary's parents and grandfather immigrated from a village in Norway called Selbu in the 1860s and their migration story is well documented in a book of immigrants' stories, published in 1921 and another in 1931. As it happens, the person who compiled all these stories was Mary's Uncle John, a Lutheran minister. According to the story, Mary's father and some of his cousins worked in logging camps - a dangerous occupation - until they had enough money to buy land. I gather that land ownership in Norway was increasingly scarce and families were starving trying to make a living farming on the increasingly small plots of land apportioned to them. 

Mary was one of seven children, the eldest of five who lived to adulthood, she had two sisters and two brothers. Oddly (to me anyhow), only one of the five ever married, a younger sister, Jennie. It was a descendent of Jennie who led me to my Mary, though I had to re-create her family tree to figure it out. She had entered the names of her mother- and father-in-law as her own parents and this was very confusing. 

Confirmation picture (Lac qui Parle Lutheran church); Carl is on far right of front row.

Mary was born - on this day - in 1879 in Lac qui Parle County. This means 'lake that talks' and I thought it a lovely place name. It is located on the western border of Minnesota, next to South Dakota. Her father had managed to purchase 160 acres in 1873, near the town of Cerro Gordo. She is on the farm with other family members in the 1880, 1885 and 1895 US and Minnesota Census records. Her medical records, obtained from the Minnesota Historical Society, indicate that when she was 9, in about 1888, she suffered from 'brain fever'. It seems likely that this was either viral or bacterial meningitis. She was lucky to have survived, but it apparently left her somewhat brain damaged. She attended school until she was 18 years old, but only attained a 7th grade education.

Jennie's confirmation picture. She is standing on the far right. Jennie's face is round with a square forehead, just like mine and my dad's - even Bill noticed this.

That said, in 1910 when she was 31, she is shown as the 'head of household' in the US Census, running a boarding house with her two brothers in Minneapolis. One can't help but wonder who supplied information to the Census taker. Did she see herself as the head, being older? Or was this a joke by one of her brothers? Or was she in fact the person who was running the boarding house? 

In 1911, Mary's sister Jennie got married to a Norwegian cousin. They moved west just over the border into Grant County, South Dakota. In fact, there is a great deal of intermarriage in this Norwegian branch of my family - Marit's parents were also first cousins. Intermarriage was common because small communities in Norway are often isolated by the fjords that separate them and then because immigrants often cling to the old ways when they can. Generations of intermarriage is called 'endogamy' and it makes distant cousins appear to be much closer than they actually are, the total shared DNA being larger than it would be if marriage occurred between members of different communities, 'exogamy'.

Mary's paternal grandfather. Cousin Don - who kindly shared this photo with me - remarked on how strong and worn his hands look. Definitely the hands of someone who has laboured long and hard.

In addition to ties to Revillo, in Grant County SD, at some point each of Marit's two brothers - and possibly other members of this family - obtained farmland in the North West of North Dakota, in Williams County. Mary's obituary says that she also homesteaded in North Dakota for a while. I wonder if this was perhaps the story that was put about by her family to explain her long absence from home...

On 18 Apr 1915, Mary gave birth to a baby boy, named Albert. Albert is named after his father, Albert Peterson. Uncle Albert's birth certificate says his father was born in 1876 in Sweden and was a carpenter. Mary's address appears on the birth certificate but it is different to the boarding house of 1910. She was 36 years old.

On 17 Apr 1918 - almost exactly 3 years to the date! - Mary gave birth to my father when she was 39 years old. No father's name appears on that birth certificate, not even my Dad's given name - which was, according to the orphanage, James. Mary has yet a different address. I don't have any DNA evidence that Albert Peterson was my Dad's father. In fact, I don't have any trail of any paternal grandfather line to follow, at least not yet.

Mary's Uncle John - the Lutheran minister responsible for compiling the fabulous books about the families who emigrated from Selbu. Thanks again to cousin Don for sharing this.

I can't help but wonder - well, loads of things - but to start with, how is it that both Mary's boys were born in mid-April? Counting backwards I wonder what happened (who visited) in July? Bearing children in her mid-to-late 30s doesn't fit the stereotype in my head, which is more about teenage pregnancy. Was Mary in a long term relationship, or did she fall prey to more than one man who took advantage of her vulnerability?

On the 22nd of Mar 1919, aged 11 months, my father was placed in the Owatonna Public School (the orphanage). His 4-year-old brother Albert joined him there on the 31st of March 1919. On the 22nd of February 1919, Mary was committed to the School for the Feeble Minded and Colony for Epileptics, in Faribault MN because - according to the record - she had borne two illegitimate children.  She wasn't quite 40 years old. Her hospital record is older than 75 years, so I was able to purchase it. The record lists all her family members, so I was certain I had the right person. It says she has a mental age of about 10, that she is 'excitable' but her habits are 'cleanly'. Her physical condition is poor. The state is supporting Mary because her father, Peter, is listed as 'indigent'. There is another name on those papers, a William W Hodson, who turns out to be connected to the child welfare agency of the day, ominously named the "Board of Control". Her unmarried sister Carrie and brother Carl are living with the parents in Marietta, MN, but brother Emil is farming in Williston, ND at the time of Marit's commitment. 

My favourite photo - also from Don - of Mary, Carrie & Jennie. 

The 1920 shows Mary as an inmate in the mental institution. Her father Peter is living on a farm in Augusta, rather than Cerro Gordo, still in Lac Qui Parle County, along with his wife, his single daughter and two sons.

My father was adopted by my grandparents less than a year later, in January 1920, in time for him to appear on the 1920 US census, just as he would have been had he been born to them. They may or may not have been told about Albert. It seems likely that they would have been. However, Albert was old enough to know he was adopted and I know they kept my Dad's adoption a secret from him. This wouldn't have worked with Albert, so Albert was left behind.

Mary's father, Peter, died in 1921, aged 75. Albert was adopted by an unknown family in 1922. His records won't be available until 2022. He will have been about 7 years old by then. I'm sure that he always knew he had been adopted. I wonder if he remembered his birth mother or his little brother. 

Mary's Statistical Record tells me she was 5'7" tall (1.7m) and weighed 130 pounds (59 kg), so she was relatively tall and slender. The records also indicate that Mary's IQ was tested a number of times. In 1921, she is said to have had an IQ of 73 and a mental age of nearly 11; in 1923 the numbers were 60 and 9 years; in 1927 her IQ had dropped to 56. It's clear that she lacked any intellectual stimulation in the 'School'. Only one 'vacation' is recorded for Mary, a month from 28 Jul - 28 Aug 1927, visiting her family. Presumably this was a trial period to see if she could leave the institution and rejoin her family. If this record is complete, she had no other vacations during her 8 years of incarceration.

In 1927, at the age of 48, and presumably because she could no longer bear children, Mary was released from the mental institution into the care of her youngest brother, Carl (even though her mother was still living - it was a patriarchal society, after all). If her IQ had dropped, at least her physical condition had improved during her stay, from 'fair' to 'good', so it is possible that she was unable to adequately care for herself and two small children on her own.

The 1930 Census shows Mary living with her mother, sister and two brothers in Augusta, MN. 

The 1940 Census shows Mary living alone in Minneapolis in a rented room, that she has an 8th grade education and she works as a maid. In 1940, Mary's mother, sister and two brothers still live together in Augusta. This suggests to me that she was a pretty independent woman. I wonder if she resented having lost her children and if she felt her immediate family had a role in this. Perhaps her uncle, the Lutheran Reverend had had a hand in the decision. Or it is possible that the laws of Minnesota were such that a woman couldn't be allowed to bear children out of wedlock and keep them.

My 2nd cousin, Don, first said of Mary 'she wasn't the sharpest tack in the box', which didn't much surprise me. He seemed to remember her as difficult to get along with, opinionated, perhaps a bit arbitrary. Then again, she was 65 years old when he was born and 20 years older when she came to live in his mother's house.  Later he told me she had made the local newspaper as she had enrolled in a mechanics course as an old lady. She had it in mind to help her brothers on the farm. She seems to have been capable with her hands, as Don says he has a wooden chest that she made and did a fair job of it.

One of the ways that he thought her stubborn was that she would never use the bus system in Minneapolis but would instead walk everywhere quite quickly. I can't help but wonder if this didn't add to her longevity!

According to Mary's obituary she retired from work at the age of 86 and moved in with her niece, Mabel.  Don says she went blind in her 80s, he remembers her getting out of her chair and feeling her way along the walls. I gather this presented challenges to her niece for keeping her safe. Mary was also hard of hearing and spoke in a loud voice. I'm full of admiration for Mabel for taking care of her difficult aunt. 

Mary's mother (also Mary) died in 1941, aged 86. Mary's married sister, Jennie, died in 1957, aged 70; her other sister in 1958, aged 76. The two unmarried brothers, Emil and Carl, died in 1963 (aged 79) and 1966 (aged 76). 

Mary lived to almost 97 years of age, dying in 1976. She outlived her parents and younger siblings by 10-20 years, outlived the couple who adopted her youngest son. My dad died in 1988, not knowing he was adopted and not remembering his birth mother.

Neither Hennepin County nor Steele County (the location of the former orphanage) has my Dad's adoption records. They would appear to have been lost.  I'm still pursuing other possibilities and hope eventually to identify his father - not least because I do wonder what, in a far more perfect world than that of the early 20th century, my Dad's and my surname should actually have been.