Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Genealogy Serendipity Moments - Davis/Olsen Family

Today I am going to share a personal story about my great aunt and uncle, Ben Davis and Anne Olsen. She was the younger sister of my grandfather and she was the youngest of seven siblings. All of the children were born on a farm the family owned in Orenco, Oregon. Their parents were John Philip Olsen and Julia Brown, both of Norwegian born parents. As Anne's parents and siblings passed on, she and Ben would collect their important personal belongings, and crowd them into their four-bedroom house. They never had children of their own, but became very close to their nieces and nephews and their children.

Aunt Anne and I always had a very special relationship. She lovingly preserved many family treasures. Over time many things were given to me. One day when we were there for a visit I noticed a washstand in the garage. Later Uncle Ben remembered my interest and called to offer it to me as they were preparing to downsize and move to an adult living center.

When we went to pick it up, it became obvious to me that they were going to need some help if the family keepsakes were to be preserved. They had already made an agreement with an estate sale company to come in and do a sale. Time was of the essence and in the next three weeks I made twenty trips to their home, spending hours sorting through the collections. My young children took terns going with me. In the process we found buried treasure, an amazing amount of money tucked away for some future need and long ago forgotten.

Anne had dementia and became agitated when any one different was in the house. Because they trusted us so much, he was able to stay with her and help her to be calm. In the process of going through the collection in the first bedroom, I packed away items I felt were of value. One thing in particular was a set of cake plates. Days later I was working in the dining room and came upon a tea set with serving plates, saucers and a teapot. I also carefully packed it away.

That night I went home and had a dream in which I was reminded of the plates that I had packed before that appeared to match the tea set. The next day I asked Ben if I could look for the matching plates. When I found them I asked him if I might have the set. Of course, he was very happy to give them to me. As we talked about the set, he told me it was a set her father had brought back from his trip to Norway in 1914. On his return voyage they stopped over in England, where he bought the tea set.

The amazing thing was that at the last day of sorting Ben handed me a handmade wooden writing lap desk made for Julia Brown Olsen, Anne's mother when she was a young woman going to California from Minnesota, traveling alone by train. Inside the box were a journal of her trip and a larger journal of her husband John Philip's trip to Norway. When John Philip went to leave England he arrived too late for the ship he was to sail on and had to wait for another ship. The first ship was lost at sea in some early WWI fighting. I am grateful my great grandfather made it home to Orenco and brought the little tea set with him.

We were very fortunate to be given many keepsakes, letters, pictures and a trunk full of linens. Later in the sorting I found a dresser with a matching mirror that matched the washstand. I told Ben I would either have to take the dresser or bring back the washstand. He allowed me to take that and a few other pieces of furniture. I held back some items in hopes others would want them. We notified other family members to come and take some of them. Only one other relative came. We bonded with a niece on Ben's side of the family through this sorting process. Later that year the three of us took a trip to Norway and followed exactly my great grandfather's journey back to his homeland.

There is so much more to this story to be told, and some of it is in the story about Julia's parents under the Stories tab of this blog. My stories are not written perfectly, but the important thing is that I write them while my memories are good. No one else in my family really knows about these important family history treasures. Do you have some family stories that need to be written?

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful story! I really enjoyed reading it.

    By the way, you wouldn't happen to know if there was a candymaker out of Tacoma, WA, in the family named Edward C Olsen, would you? Or a couple named Paul and Katherine Olsen that lived in Multnomah, OR, in the 1930s?