Brecka Side · Brick Walls · Meet An Ancestor

Why do I have this old photo album?

When my grandparents passed, I was given a garbage bag, two shopping bags, and 3 shoe boxes full of pictures and other mementos they gathered throughout their long lives.

Towards the bottom of one of the shopping bags I found this gem (pictured above and to the left). I have no idea who put duct tape on this precious time capsule. I plan to get it restored. More puzzling than the duct tape: I have no idea where this book fits in our family tree (or if it even does). Below is a sampling of the 50 or so pictures I found within this photo album.

Who are these people? Am I related to them? In solving this puzzle, the first question you must ask is “Whose album was this?”

This photo album definitely came from my grandmother’s side (Zuch/Waters), not my grandfather’s (Brecka/Stepanek). I know this because I have photos in this album dated 1879 that were taken in Stoughton, WI. My grandfather’s family (even extended family) wasn’t even in the United States until much later.

Going back and forth between Zuch (my grandma’s dad) and Waters (my grandma’s mom), I’m leaning towards Waters, but I could be wrong. The Zuch family came to the US in 1872 from Germany. The few people I’ve identified in this album are Norwegian and arrived in the US much earlier.

While digitizing these photos, I found very few dates and even fewer names. Above is one example, though, that gives us some hints. This is the back of the baby photo (shown in the sampling above) taken in Ada, Minn. It reads “Agnes Gunnilda Lien, 13 maaneder” (I think). After performing some Google magic (so correct me if I’m wrong), I believe this means “13 months” in… Danish? I have no ancestors with the last name Lien. I have no ancestors from Denmark that I know of.

I was able to find the above Agnes Gunnilda Lien from Ada, MN in Ancestry. Most of her family came to the US in about 1845 from Norway. Prior to living in Ada, MN the family lived in Stoughton, WI. Without digging too much (so accuracy is questionable here), I’ve found the family took the last name “Lien” when they arrived in the US. Family names prior to that in Norway were Larson, Hendrickson, and Otteson (and variations of each). Lien was the name of their family farm in Norway. The addition of these other last names doesn’t help much.

Ida Olson (later Ida Waters, Ida Chamberlain) on the left with two of her children, Joe Waters Sr. in the back and Louise Waters (later Louise Zuch) on the right. Photo was taken in Milwaukee probably between 1910-1915.

My 2nd-great grandmother, Ida Olson (later Ida Waters, later Ida Chamberlain, pictured above and also mentioned here), is the Scandinavian ancestor on that side of the family. In Sweden, her family lived relatively close to the boarder with Denmark. She came to the US from Sweden with her parents and 4 siblings in 1867. Her parents were Nels Olson/Olofsson (1826-1912) and Johanna Peterson/Petersdotter (1827-1892). Both are pictured below.

Nels Olson (1826-1912)
Johanna Petersdotter (1827-1892)

Ida was only 2 years old when the family left Sweden. The 5 children of Nels and Johanna listed in Swedish Emigrant data records include:

  • Emma Augusta (Gustafva) Olson/Nilsdotter (1853-1930)
  • Carl August (Charles) Olson/Nilsson (1855-1944)
  • John Alfred Olson/Nilsson (1859-1925)
  • Ida Matilda (Nathalia) Olson/Nilsdotter (1865-1961)
  • Peter Olof (Otto) Olson/Nilsson (1865-?)

I found it strange that both Ida and Peter (Otto) were born in 1865; however, after reviewing Swedish birth records it’s clear they were twins. Again, I had to do some Google magic, but next to their names in the document is the word “tvillingar” which means twins in Swedish.

I haven’t been able to find any information at all on Otto after the family left Sweden. I initially thought maybe some of the mystery photos above came from him. After talking with a distant cousin I met over Ancestry, I learned it’s possible Otto drowned in a river quite early in life. He remembers a story his grandfather told about traveling to visit an uncle. When his grandfather arrived, the incident had just happened and the uncle had passed. The name of the uncle is unknown, and the location of where he was traveling to is unknown, but the time period matches up and Otto is the only one from that generation I can’t find census data for later in life. For now I will assume these photos are not of or from him.

Ida’s family settled in Clam Lake, Michigan. Ida left Clam Lake for Milwaukee in approximately 1885 when she was about 20 years old. I assume she left Michigan with somebody, but I haven’t figured out who. Her siblings all stayed relatively close to home. None of the photos in the mystery album were taken in Michigan. Most of the photos are from Stoughton, WI or Janesville, WI. There are a few specifically from Madison or Chicago and a just a couple from other random places across the midwest (Iowa, Minnesota). It’s very odd, but none of the photo locations match up with anyone in my tree.

My next step in trying to solve this puzzle is to find if Ida’s family came over from Sweden with any other family members. Or maybe they met up with family members when they arrived? Did Ida’s mother or father have siblings in the US? If so, did any of them leave Michigan with Ida? Did anyone live in Stoughton or marry someone with the last name Lien?

Another idea I’ve considered, although not particularly promising, is trying to match handwriting on the back of the mystery photos with other photos I have that are not mysteries. I might then know who from my tree knew these people.

I’m hoping to find other clues, but I suppose it’s completely possible I’m not related to anyone in this photo album… Maybe these were friends? If you have any clues or know more, leave a comment or email me!


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