Writing Women Back Into History – Alma Drake

March 8, 2010

L-R, Evelyn Scott, Shari Orser, Marlys Orser, Alma Drake

Since March is Writing Women Back Into History month, I thought I’d tell a little story about searching for the full story of my maternal great-grandmother, who died bearing the name “Alma Drake.” She died when I was about 3, so I don’t remember her. My oldest sister, Shari, has a photo, one that appeared in the Pierce County Tribune, the newspaper in Rugby, home to my maternal grandparents, and the Westhope Standard, the newspaper in Westhope, ND, that was founded by my great-grandfather, A.J. Drake, later continued by my great-uncle, Clifford Drake. The photo shows my great-grandmother, my grandmother, my mother, and Shari. Shari was born in 1951 (sorry, honey, but hey, nobody you know will read this!) and my sister Nancy was born in 1953; I’m not sure when this photo was taken, but Shari is sitting up nicely and has long blonde hair in ringlets, my mother’s favorite style for her golden daughter. And judging by early photos of my mother, it was her mother’s favorite style for her, too. Four generations in one photo — either Nancy wasn’t born yet, but it looks like Shari is older than two — or she didn’t want to sit still for a photo. I don’t know. It’s quite the photo, though.

I’ve known for as long as I can remember that Alma Drake came from Norway, and that she homesteaded by herself, and that she kept her homestead for a while after she married A.J. (who was apparently much older than she — I’ll get to that), and that my grandmother Evelyn, her first child, was born in the soddy with only “the Norwegian hired girl” to help with the birth. Both my mother and her only sister, my aunt Pat, told me that Alma wouldn’t speak about her life prior to coming to North Dakota; according to her, that was when her life truly began.

About a year and a half ago my sister Nancy and I started looking into geneaology, trying to follow the female lines back. Nancy brought me Alma’s obituary. It said that Alma Brown Drake was born in “Vickersund” in Norway, in May of 1876; that her mother died when she was a baby and her father remarried. The family came to the US in 1884, and settled in the Superior, WI, area. When Alma was 17 or 18, she and a brother moved to Bottineau, ND, which is in the same county as Westhope. It’s still not clear to me if Alma worked as a waitress in a cafe in Bottineau, or if she and her brother owned a cafe there. I have yet to find a city directory, or anyone who can tell me about Bottineau, ND, in the 1890s. I do have, from my grandmother Evelyn Scott, Alma’s brother’s Psalm book. It’s in Norwegian, and was printed in Norway. In gold on the front of it is printed “E. Brunes.” Inside the front cover, in pencil, is “E. Brown, West Superior, Wisc.” Emil? Elling? We’re not sure. It may be that they homesteaded side by side. Alma became a US citizen in 1901, and in that same record, from Bottineau County, were two other people with the last name “Brown.”

My sister Shari said we’d never be able to trace anything in Norway, because obviously “Brown” was a “made-up” name the family took when they arrived in the US. “Brunes” on the cover of the Psalm book says otherwise. The Norwegian government has a wonderful website. I found Vikersund (famous for some type of extreme skiing, as well as a small train museum) and learned that it is in the parish of Modum. That was a critical discovery because the parish records are available on-line, going back into the 1870s and further back in some places. The on-line baptism records for Modum parish are photocopied from the original book, and the spikey Norwegian letters are very hard to read, but I found that Alma Kristina Ellingsdotter, born in the 1876, and baptized in September of that year. Her parents, Elling Ellingson and his wife Karin are in the record, as are the names of her sponsors. The Ellingson home is listed as Brunes Farm.

It was at about that time that Norwegians began to give up the tradition of using the father’s name as the last name of the children (Ellingson, Ellingsdottir, etc.), and while some chose to keep one family name, like Ellingson (or Anderson, Pederson, Olson, etc. etc. — the ND phone books are full of them!), others chose to use the name of the place they lived, like Brunes Farm.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find a death record for Karin, nor a marriage record for Elling and his next wife, or anything about the parents of either of them. We do have a picture of a young Alma and a rather unattractive older woman, and on the back is “Alma and her stepmother.” I don’t know if she was a wicked stepmother or not, but it does seem that Alma was in a hurry to get away from her family and start a life of her own.

She married A.J. Drake around 1898 or 1899, and my grandmother was born in 1900. A.J. had learned the printing trade in Minnesota, where he worked with his father. Either his mother or his grandmother (sorry, can’t find the notes in my heaps of paper…) was named Amy Collins, and some of our Drake cousins have traced her ancestry back to a colonist from England who arrived in North America (Massachusetts, I believe) in the 1600s. A. J. was older than Alma; he died of an apparent heart attack while visiting one of their children in Roundup, MT, in 1932. Alma never remarried. She lived with my grandparents, Evelyn and Bud Scott, for several years, including part of my mother’s childhood, and then moved into a nursing home in Westhope, where she died in her 90s.

So, now I know where she came from, and I would love to visit Vikersund some day and look at their records, see if Brunes Farm still exists, and if I have distant cousins there (I have Orser-side cousins in a different part of Norway, but that’s another story). I want to know more about her mother, and how she died — possibly complications from childbirth? Or was it some other illness? I don’t know. I also want to know about the restaurant in Bottineau, and who Alma’s brother was — did he marry? When did he die? Did my mother know him (she passed away in 1993, so I may never know). I might be able to research some of that after I finish the Spooky South Dakota manuscript.

But at least I know where Alma “Brown” came from, and who her parents were. I’m rewriting the family tree, one leaf at a time. (Giving credit where it’s due, much of this was done by my sister Nancy, although I was the first to find the baptism record!)


23 Responses to “Writing Women Back Into History – Alma Drake”

  1. This is an interesting pursuit, Lori. I hope some day you can go to Norway–it would be a joy to see where your ancesters lived and rummage through the country records.

  2. Interesting story about your family. I have dabbled in genealogy and know the thrill of unearthing a new story, a new fact. I hope you do get to Norway some day. My “want to” place is Truro in Cornwall England where my dad’s family came from.
    Oh, yes, love the new look of your blog page. The photo of the badlands is perfect.

  3. Lori Orser said

    Thank you for the comments. And thanks, Eunie, for the comment on the new header photo! Now if I could just figure out how to put a photo off to the side..

  4. Mikhail Brunes said

    Let me know if you find out if the Brunes farm exsists. That is where my family is from.

  5. leescott58 said

    Is your family’s Brunes Farm near Vikersund in Modum Parish? If so, then we’re probably related! I haven’t found it yet, but I’m trying. If I do find anything, I’ll let you know.

  6. Mikhail Brunes said

    No idea if it is near Vikersund but we are Brunes’ and i can’t imagine there a lot of Brunes farms in Norway. Interestingly enough though is i believe my great great grand father settled in Hovland MN on the north shore of lake superior and built a hotel there and i think the sold it to Ellingson’s.

  7. leescott58 said

    This is fascinating; my great-grandmother always said she worked “at Superior” and we assumed it was Superior, WI; but it certainly could have been on LAKE Superior, since we can’t find them in Superior or West Superior censuses for the times they should have been there. And Ellingson was Alma’s father’s name in the parish records… It seemed, from what we found in the records, that not everyone at Brunes’ farm left at the same time, either; I had the impression that the farm was home to an extended family, with adult sons and their wives living there, although I could be wrong. Now I have a new place to search, and a new name to search too! Thank you!

  8. leescott58 said

    Oh, and do you know your great-great-grandfather’s name? That might help my search at Ancestry.com. I may just have to buy a month or two of International search, so I can check the Norwegian records!

  9. leescott58 said

    Thanks — that will make looking a little easier, although “Ole” was a pretty common name back then. (Genealogy is kind of like treasure hunting, isn’t it?!)

    • Mikhail Brunes said

      I don’t have a lot of time for it with college and what not but all i could ever find out was back to Ole Brunes since he was first generation over here. Also there is a museum in Grand Marais(pronounced mer-ray)that i seem to remember has some pictures of Ellingsons. There is also a book that i know has some of my great great grand father in it. Pioneers of the Wilderness by Willis Raff.

  10. leescott58 said

    I understand — with work, and what not! My sister found an entry for August Brunes in Hovland MN in 1900, born in Norway in 1880, parents Ole and Anna. Does that fit with what you know? Or are we on the wrong Brunes tree? Of course, Ole and Anna probably had many children, so August might not be in your line or mine.

  11. leescott58 said

    OK! Well, it looks like Ole came to the US in 1883, a year before my great-grandmother’s family did. Which, if they all lived on Brunes farm, would make sense. One family goes ahead, tells the rest to come on over, the land is good! The next step is to go back to Norway and check records there. Not in person, but on-line. I’ll let you know what I find. I know there WAS a Brunes Farm outside Vikersund in Modum Parish because that’s indicated as the home of Alma Kristiana and her parents in her baptismal record; if her father Elling was Ole’s brother, I may be able to find August’s baptism/christening record in the same book, since I have the year of his birth. Actually 2 years; one census said 1880, the other 1881. (Census data is notoriously iffy — they didn’t hire professionals, and things got messed up. I was looking for a German named Heio and couldn’t find him until I searched for his wife and children; they’d called him “Hans” on the 1915 ND census!)

  12. Ole Brunes said

    This is really interesting. My name is Ole Brunes. I’m the owner of Brunes Farm, Vikersund, Norway. Yes, the farm still exist.

    • Mikhail Brunes said

      Crazy if I ever get the chance to come visit Norway I will have to look you up. My great-grandfather was Ole Abrahamson Brunes

  13. leescott58 said

    Ole, it’s wonderful to hear from someone from Brunes Farm! I was wrong about Alma’s father’s name; he was Nils Ellingson. So his father was the Elling (and I haven’t gone back that far). And it’s much easier since your government started digitizing the records, making them much easier to read. We still have some uncertainty as to when Nils left Brunes farm (probably 1884, the date they gavee for Alma in the Westhope obituary, but other sources say that Alma and her older brother Emil stayed with relatives until they were in their teens. So, I’m not sre. But I’m glad to know that Brunes Farm is still there, and I hope to see it some day!

  14. Ole Brunes said

    Do you know Jack Bakken from Granby, Colorado? He and his wife Hope has been here a couple of times. I recognize something here from his family tree.

    • leescott58 said

      No, afraid I don’t know Jack Bakken. I’ve only recently begun to look for Alma’s ancestry, and found Brunes Farm and her parents names, and so on — haven’t found him on a tree yet! I’ll have to look some more, it seems!

  15. Dagneyb23@gmail.com said

    Please email ASAP. I have some info for you. I am Alma’s brothers great granddaughter.

  16. clarence bakken said

    When the Norweigens came to the united States Prior to 1900 they didn’t have surnames so they took the names from where they came from ie. My maternal grandfather came from an area near Voss called Opland, my paternal grandfather was known as Johann who lived on the side of the hill (Thats Bakken in norweigen). My maternal grandmother was Carrie Brunes who came from that area in Norway (she was the oldest child of the Ole Brunes you refer to). She and her younger brother, August were born in Norway and imigrated to MN when she was six and August was four. They settled on the shore of Lake Superior and named the place Hovland. The youngest child, Charles was born in the US. Peoquot Lakes MN was the future home of all three of the Brunes children where they died.
    Clarence opland bakken
    denver, co

  17. Kari Dee said

    Hi Miss Lori,

    Found you by accident on the web. Hee hee. Amazing this technology. Anyhow my mom, your Aunt Pat has a photo taken in Ashland Wisconsin of Alma and two other girls in a pose that is kind of amazing for the time. I was amazed when I saw the photo as John and I were living in Ashland at the time. Coming home next week. Maybe, if time allows we can catch up!

    • leescott58 said

      I’d like to see that picture — I’ll have to check with Pat! I hope I haven’t missed you here! (Shari dragged me to the Twin Cities and I’m still catching up on rest; travel just completely exhausts me!)

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