Sunday, October 23, 2016

Betsy Hagen- A 20 Year Mystery Solved!

Every genealogist has a "brick wall" or mystery to be solved. And The Dead Relative Collector is certainly no exception. In fact, I come from a family riddled with mysteries & brick walls.

One of my longer standing questions involved a Great-Great-Great-Great Grandmother, Beret "Betsy" Hagen, who as a young wife & mother left her home in Northern Norway and came to the United States, settling in Minnesota.

In 1873, four months after the birth of their 12 child, Betsy's husband died; leaving her to tend to their large family and the farm. As her older daughters were already married, before long some children moved in with their older siblings and eventually, Betsy remarried Peter A. Williamson and they continued farming while raising their blended family.

Unfortunately, the family lived in a very rural part of Kandiyohi County, Minnesota. While vital records begin in the 1870s, there were not many newspapers that picked up news from that rural area... they were just too far away from the larger towns that had newspapers.

An extensive family history, written in the late 1950's by a cousin had sketchy information on Betsy & her husband, as by that time all of their children and some of the grandchildren had died.

Betsy had 3 possible death dates listed, ranging from 1891 to 1898. I was able to rule out the earlier dates, as Betsy & Peter show up in the 1895 State Census.

The rural Lutheran Church Cemetery that the family is buried at, is full of unmarked graves. And other than 1 infant granddaughter who died in the 1880s, NONE of the Hagen family has markers. I've been to the cemetery on two different occasions and walked it diligently, to no avail.

Lutheran records, at least in Minnesota, have been digitized and I was able to find death/burial records for all the Hagen family members in Kandiyohi County, EXCEPT Betsy... and I searched year by year from 1895 (when she was last known alive) to 1900 (when Peter Williamson appears widowed). No death or burial showed up for the small Lutheran Church that Betsy was a member of for 30 years. I was pretty much certain, at this point, she must have died elsewhere! 

Peter & Betsy had children living in North Dakota (where Peter himself would die in 1908) and in Cass County in Northern Minnesota. Unfortunately, death records that early are very sketchy (non-existent) for those areas at the time of Betsy's death.

Newspapers for the area are limited... and news coverage for their rural area is even more limited. And after scanning reel after reel of microfilm hoping to spot anything, I pretty much gave up all hope. Chronicling America does have Willmar newspapers, which I have searched previously, hoping to find something.

Finally, this last week, I hopped on Chronicling America again... I searched very vague names and very vague dates.... And FINALLY I hit the jack pot! A small death notice, loaded with details, in a Willmar newspaper, that gave her date of death & location... AND confirmed that she was buried at the cemetery.

She had a daughter (my ancestor) and a son who lived as neighbors to each other in 1898 in Cass County, but she was probably living with her daughter whose family was mostly grown by that time.

After over 20 years of trying to confirm the details of her life, I've finally gotten some answers about Betsy Hagen!

Next up, to tackle the Norwegian records and see if I can determine, for sure, who her parents & siblings were. One mystery solved... countless more to go!


  1. Nice story, fascinating all the stones we have to overturn to find one tidbit of information that is a game changer. My relatives were from cass county as well . Where did you find the newspapers?

  2. Thanks. I found this particular article via Chronicling America. I do know that the Crow Wing Co Hist Soc in Brainerd does have early newspapers from Pequot Lakes, which covered a lot of news from Eastern Cass County. And Cass Co Hist Soc in Walker has Pillager newspapers. Not sure where your family lived, but those might be options. Good Luck

  3. Congratulations on your find. I'm sure it feels great after 20 years! Your success is an important reminder to the rest of us to revisit resources like Chronicling America in case new records are added or to try alternative search words.

    1. Thank you! I know, sometime it just takes revisiting an old resource that either has new information or just something you previously overlooked.