Ole A. Brown Article

Ole A. Brown: The Skeleton In My Closet

         When one thinks of skeletons and genealogical research, the connotation often brings to mind outlaws, ruffians, deserters, disappointments and lost souls. As I ponder the skeletons in my closet or research, I have no such feelings about anyone within my known ancestors. What I do have are many ancestors whose bones of their skeletons rattle in my closet to stir me on in my search to know them better. The bare bones relatives, which I call them, are those for whom I may have most of the information needed to fill in the lines of a pedigree chart, but I have not established a personal understanding of their lives. One such person is Ole A. Brown. To put flesh to his bones and relieve the anxieties of his skeleton I have struggled to find the information that would help me to know him better. 
My interest in Ole Brown began when as a high school student, in the 1970s, I inquired of my relatives for information about my ancestors.  My relatives took me to see their grandmother’s gravesite in Lone Fir Cemetery in Portland, Oregon.[1] Helena Brown, Ole’s wife, was buried between two of her children and their families. I could not help but wonder where her husband was buried, but it would be sometime before I would find him. 
The family knew nothing of him, except that he was in a family picture taken in Portland, in front of the house he built on 23rd and Johnson Street.[2] Those in the picture are Ole, Helena his wife, Henry his son, and his daughters Julia, Johanna (also known as Otalia), Annie and Emma. Only his son Adolph is missing, and he could be taking the picture. They seem to be a very happy family and many of them are smiling in the picture. Ole is dressed in a fine dark suit, with lapel pen, top hat and a nice cane. He has a white beard and sideburns, and looks like Santa dressed up. It became my quest to know more about this man, and why he died at an early age.
The family of Ola Brown age 36, his wife Hellen age 30, and his daughter Julia age 10/12, were located in the 1870 census records.[3] They were living in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin. The enumeration was done in June of 1870, and notes Julia’s birth in August the year before in Illinois. With the Chicago fire of 1870, the original birth records were destroyed, so this provided verification of her birth date. Ola is listed as a farmer and Hellen is listed as keeping house. They were both noted as being born in Norway.
The 1880 census records were located for the family in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where they lived prior to coming to Oregon.[4] In the census record Ole is listed as being born in Norway and is forty-five years old. His occupation is listed as Carpenter, and he had worked four months that year, as of the date of 1 June 1880. His wife Hellen, is listed as also being born in Norway and is forty years old. They had five children listed on the census. Julia, age 11, was born in Illinois. Henry, age 9, was born in Wisconsin. Johanna, age 6, was born in Minnesota. Annie, age 5,was born in Minnesota. Emma C., age 3, was born in Iowa. They had three borders, all carpenters born in Norway. They were Ingebert Gunneson age 50, Christian Gunneson age 29 and Andrew Peterson age 25.
The next census that the family is located in is the 1900 census in Portland, Oregon.[5] In this census Helene is listed as a widow, so I knew Ole must have died before the census and after the family arrived in Portland. The census also notes that Helene had given birth to six children and they were all still living.  Those living with her were her daughter Anna, age 25, born in Minnesota, her son Adolph, age 18, born in Minnesota in 1881, her daughter Amy (Emma C.), age 23, born in Iowa, and her granddaughter Jane E., age 2, born in Oregon.  The census also notes that Helene had come to the United States in 1870 and had been here for thirty years.  There is a discrepancy in this as her first child was previously listed as being born in Illinois in 1869.
As I gathered information about his family, in 1994, I went to the Oregon Historical Society to see what more I could learn. It was a challenging day, as I had taken my children with me, and they were very active. In looking at the Oregon state death records that had been microfilmed, I found no record of his death. I was able to find the death record for their daughter Annie, who died in 1902.[6]
Then I turned to the city directories of Portland to see what other pieces of the puzzle I might find. In the 1887 directory there was no listing for the family.[7] The 1888 directory lists Ole A. Brown, carpenter, resident at J NW Corner of 22nd street.[8] Then in 1889 the directory lists Ole A. Brown resident 541 J Street. His son Henry O. Brown is also listed at this address.[9] In the 1890 directory Helen Brown is listed as the widow of Ole A. and the resident is 541 J Street.[10] Henry again is listed at this address. Using the reference books for address changes, I determined the address had changed over the years, at one time being 751 Johnson Street. The current address of the home is 2279 NW Johnson Street. Later, I was able to visit the home, as it was a gift shop. While there I felt a special connection to this family, and the father who built the home. It has been remodeled over the years, but is very similar to the picture that I have.  It was a home built with loving care, simple in design, with gingerbread decoration across the front.
Next I looked in the block books for that area that give land ownership as of 1907.[11] Using the index maps I was able to determine that the home was located in the Kings 2nd Addition, Block 11, Lot 2, S1/2, 45230-1790. It was in plot 13, under Aloys Harold. In the Portland Realty Atlas by Lewis and Dryden of 1914, the property is listed as Sec.33, T1NR1E, Block 8, Lot 12 or 13, in Johnson’s Addition.[12] It was the only block developed in 1914.
The best find of the day, was a Multnomah County Court Record book, which I glanced at as I perused the book collection. It was on a bottom shelf, and I reached for it not even thinking there would be anything in it of interest. It was the Probate Records for Guardianships, and in it was the record for Ole’s children.[13] When I took it up to the clerk to have a copy made, he said he had never seen the book before. I am so glad I was led to the book, and that I took the time to look. The record is dated 25 February 1892. The children are Henry O. age 20, Annie age 16, Emma C. age 15 and Adolph age 10. Their guardian is their mother Helene Brown. The wards are the children of Helene Brown and Ole A. Brown deceased. It lists the real estate of the family as Tract, Portland, N. line of Johnson St., N. 23rd, $555.52. The appraisers were John Johnson, Philip Olsen (Ole’s son in law and my great grandfather), and Gustav Olsen (Philip’s brother). This document was signed 10 May 1892. The last family document listed in the book is the discharge of guardian signed by Adolph J. Brown at Portland, on 25 January 1905, signing for himself and the others.[14] A search for this probate file at the Oregon State Archives would be a future step in the search to know this family.
My next visit was to the Multnomah County Assessment and Taxation Office to see if they had a recorded date of construction and who the successive owners were.[15] This was not very helpful, as the earliest records on file were from a transaction in 1958. There may be other records available, and in the future I may pursue this lead further.
The information gathered to this point, helped me to determine that Ole had probably died in Portland in 1889, and so my next step would be to revisit the cemetery. My young daughter agreed to accompany me in my quest. We went to the cemetery office and they were very gracious in allowing us to look at their records. Ole was not listed in the family records with regards to their burials. Finally I asked if we could search all burials for Browns. We were able to locate his record and felt sure of our find, as his son Henry had also purchased this lot. Ola Brown is listed with a date of burial of 8 May 1889. His daughter Annie is buried next to him, and shares a plot with Carl Anderson, who appears to have been a neighbor of theirs. Carl died 8 February 1892 at age 23 and Annie died 2 March 1902, at age 27. Ole shares his plot with Melissa H. Brown who died 17 September 1915. Melissa is an unknown person, possibly a granddaughter of Ole’s.[16]
Well, the other interesting piece of information on the documents was the noted placement of a monument marker at the burial site. It appears before the graves of Annie and Carl. The office felt that the monument could still be there, but due to vandalism many had been lost over the years. So, we went out to the cemetery with the section, block and lot numbers in pursuit of the monument. The first time we came up with nothing and returned to the office. Again they showed us on the map where it would be and we tried again and could find nothing. Finally on the third visit to the office I asked for all surrounding families, in hopes I could narrow down the area. We again walked the area and could find nothing with the Brown name on it. Just as we were about to give up, we saw an old stone standing in the area we were searching. It could not be read, as it was covered in lichens. We returned to the car, and found a bottle of water and a soft hairbrush. As we gently cleaned the stone the first words to appear was the name of O. A. Brown; then further down were the dates, Born 15 September 1833 and Died 6 May 1889. We had found our long lost second great grandfather. It was a thrill beyond words.
We quickly went to the car in search of something with which to do a rubbing of the marker. The map of the cemetery[17] was 11x17 and was blank on the back, and we found a child’s large orange crayon. It made a beautiful rubbing that I will always treasure. Today the stone is still standing and we are so grateful to know where he is buried. We now have dates for his birth and death, which are great clues to be used in the pursuit of more information about Ole. Why he was buried half way across the cemetery from his family is hard to understand. These plots were not all full. The best guesses are, the family either forgot where the burial site was, the records could not be located, or the other family members wanted to be together and there was not enough room for all of them.  The log book for the cemetery, which I later came across, listed D&H Funeral Home as who was responsible for his burial in the center of N ½ Lot 65 – B25, H. O. Brown Lot. I contacted the funeral director for that facility, but he could not locate any records for the burial.
After this wonderful experience, one might wonder how much more there was to be found about Ole, the skeleton that would not rest. In 1995 my relatives Anne and Ben Davis,[18] who had first taken me to the cemetery, were downsizing and moving to senior housing. They called me to offer a piece of furniture that I had commented on once when I noticed it stored in the garage. I did not even remember the item, but I never turn down a family offering, so we were off to visit them. The item was a small dresser type washstand used by the Brown family. As we visited, they shared with us the challenge of going through their collection of family treasures. We offered to come back and assist them in going through four bedrooms full of items they had collected from family members who had passed on previously. Now, with six children and a very full life, I really did not know what I was getting into. This process took over twenty trips, almost an hour one-way, and usually working for about four hours.
We carefully went through everything. My great aunt Anne had dementia and could not really help. Her husband Ben had to stay with her, or she would become agitated. Over the years we had become close. They never had any children of their own. It was a delicate process. He literally allowed me to have just about anything I wanted. The old Norwegian wood clock that had hung on their wall for years, and was probably made by Ole, now hangs in our home. Any family letters or pictures were gathered up in bags and I carted home plenty of stuff. Not wanting to appear too greedy, I packed a lot of things away, thinking other family members would want some of it. In one room I found a matching dresser to the washstand, and he let me take it. I said he either had to do that, or I would return the washstand so they would not be separated. In another room we found the mirror to the washstand.
My husband and children were very good sports about the whole process. One of them would come along to help on each trip. As we found money that Anne had been tucking away over the years, it was always given to Uncle Ben. This was truly like a treasure hunt and you never knew what the next treasure would be. One day as we packed up her china, I came across a small teapot, dishes and cups. That night I had a dream in which I remembered packing up similar dishes in another room of the house. The next day I asked if I could have the set, and according to the dream I found the previously boxed up dishes. Her father had given this tea set to Anne in 1914, when he returned from his trip to Norway. Other pieces of furniture and household items I actually paid for, again not wanting to seem greedy. In the end, most of the items that were left were sold in an estate sale by people who had no idea what would be important family heirlooms.
By now you are wondering if I am the sidetracked wandering genealogist, but the highlight of this treasure hunt came at the very end. The last day we had been through everything in the house. They had given me two pocket watches that Anne’s mother Julia had been given by her family and church members when she left Minneapolis in 1886. I could not have imagined anything more to be found. We had been in the garage earlier, and on the shelf was a white wicker basket that Ben did not want me to get into. He wanted to go through it first. Just as we were leaving that day he presented to me a wooden writing box that had been made for Julia by her father Ole, as she prepared to go to California. It is of the finest craftsmanship, with inlaid wood pieces that created a picture with her name, two little birds, the year 1886, the U.S. flag and the Norwegian Flag. This box reflected all the love of a very caring father who was seeing his oldest child take a journey that would take her thousands of miles away. Anne had kept this keepsake in the white wicker basket, which had belonged to her mother.
Inside of the box were letters and pictures from her family and other family keepsakes. The most touching letters of all are those from her father. They must have been very close and this separation almost too much to bear. Within the year he would move the rest of his family to Oregon, where Julia later joined them. Most of the letters are in Norwegian, and I was fortunate to meet a new friend who was willing to translate them for me. There was also a small journal of Julia’s journey out west and a larger journal of her husband John Philip Olsen’s journey to Norway in 1914. These have both been transcribed and shared with other family members.
Back in the 1970s I had been put in touch with a distant cousin, Marit, with whom I share Norwegian second great grandparents. She lives in Canada, is also interested in family history, and we have kept in contact over the years. When I sent her a copy of John Philip’s journal, she put together a plan for us to travel to Norway, and become acquainted with our relatives there. She, my father’s cousin Mariruth and I spent ten days, in May of 1996, following in his footsteps. We stayed in Marit’s childhood home and enjoyed the full cultural life of our ancestors.[19] As we walked where they had walked, visited the places they had visited, our love for them grew. We visited the old homesteads,[20] family farm,[21] cemeteries[22] and local churches.[23] Even though I did not know where Ole Brown had lived, I still was able to see the land that he loved.
So now, ten years later I still feel the skeletal bones rattling in my closet to push me forward in pursuit of more knowledge about this man. Recently I was told of early death records for Portland and Multnomah County,[24] but sadly there was no record for him, even though there were others from that time period. Then I went online on my computer to investigate the holdings of the Oregon State Archives.[25] They have a wonderful index of their records. I found I could not put in more than a last name, but after thorough research I found several family records of interest, including the guardianship file. I emailed the facility to inquire about the file, not thinking they would tell me anything more than the cost of them pulling it versus doing it myself. They emailed me back later that day to say that the file consisted of twenty-three pages. I called my friend Joan, with whom I discussed making a visit to the archives, and we arranged to go the next day.
As we drove to the facility I felt the bones rattling ever more forcefully. I tried to tell myself that the possibility of finding anything on Ole in the file was remote. We entered the beautiful building and went to work, requesting files to be brought out. The first file I looked at was the guardianship packet.[26] It was fascinating to look through pages created by this event that occurred over one hundred years ago. The paperwork did not provide any more information about Ole, but did raise some points of interest. Helena his wife was in need of funds with which to care for her young children. The children’s dower rights were put under her guardianship, giving her the right to sell the home Ole had so lovingly built five years earlier. To my surprise, when the home was put up for sale at public auction on the steps of the Multnomah County Courthouse, his daughter Julia was the highest bidder, paying $555.52 for the home. The land description indicates it was situated on a fifty by twenty five foot lot, and was the only item of value of the estate of Ole Brown. I was satisfied that the rattling bones could quiet now, as I had pursued this lead. While at the archives I also located records for his son’s military service, his children’s marriage records, family death records and the birth records of his grandchildren. This is a wonderful repository for public records, that the state of Oregon can by very proud of. I felt I had visited the halls of history for our state.
Now I wonder if there is just no record for his death, or did he die someplace else nearby. The old newspapers of Portland have been reviewed on microfilm and nothing was found.[27] A second review of them, with the known dates, needs to be done. Further research in passenger ship records also needs to be pursued. The records of his wife and children so far, provide no additional clues. Future research will focus on the early Norwegian community in Portland, Minneapolis and other areas they lived in. Family tradition is that he changed his name from Brunelund when he arrived here. The resources for finding answers to the clues seem never ending and the search forever leading forward.
I am grateful to have the treasures that have come my way from this ancestor, who was always a mystery to my relatives. He really is no longer a skeleton, but a full-bodied person who just needs some finishing touches to become the real person that his family knew him to be. So, if you have skeletons in your closet, just be patient. You never know when their bones will rattle and stir in you the need to pursue more of their history and to establish a personal understanding of who they really were.

[1] Lone Fir Cemetery is located at 2115 S.E. Morrison St., Portland, Oregon. The cemetery plots for Ole A. Brown, his daughter Anne and his nephew Carl Anderson are in Lot 65, Block 25. The plots for his wife Helene Brown, son Henry Brown and his wife Anna May are in Lot 178, Block 35. The plots for his daughter Otalia Brown Holm and her family are in Lot 215, Block 36.
[2] The home is currently a divided occupancy and is listed as 2275-2279 N.W. Johnson St., Portland, Oregon. The picture of the family in front of the home was taken about 1878 and is in possession of the author.
[3] 1870 US Census, Wisconsin, Polk County, St. Croix Falls, US Bureau of the Census National Archives Administration, Washington, DC, Roll M593_1732, p 45, image 90, Ancestry.com.
[4] 1880 US Census, Minnesota, Henna pin County, Minneapolis, US Bureau of the Census, National Archives Administration, Washington, D.C, Roll T9_622, FHL Film 1254622, P. 454, ED253, image 0730, Ancestry.com..
[5] 1900 US Census, Oregon, Multnomah County, Portland, 49th Precinct, US Bureau of the Census, National Archives Administration, Washington, D.C, Portland Ward 10, Roll T623_1351, p4A,  ED 82, Ancestry.com.
[6] Oregon State Death Records, Oregon Historical Society, Portland, Multnomah County, Oregon, microfilm collection.
[7] 1887 Portland City Directory, R.L. Polk & Co., Oregon Historical Society,  Ref. 979.111025 P8529.
[8] 1888 Portland City Directory, R.L. Polk & Co., Oregon Historical Society,  Ref. 979.111025 P8529.
[9] 1889 Portland City Directory, R.L. Polk & Co., Oregon Historical Society, Ref. 979.111025 P8529.
[10] 1890 Portland City Directory, R.L. Polk & Co., Oregon Historical Society, Ref. 979.111025 P8529.
[11] Portland, Oregon City Block Books, 1907, Portland City Block Book Co., Oregon Historical Society, R912.7911/P852, Vols. 1-2.
[12] Lewis and Dryden, Portland Realty Atlas, 1914, Portland Blueprint Co., Oregon Historical Society, 912.79111/ P8522p/1914/oversize.
[13] State of Oregon Probate Records, Guardianship Records Index, Oregon Historical Society, now located at the Genealogical Forum of Oregon, 1505 S.E. Gideon St., Portland, Oregon, R979.5 M961 Court.
[14] State of Oregon Probate Records, Guardianship Records Index.
[15] Multnomah County Assessment and Taxation Office, 610 S.W. Alder St, 2nd floor, Portland, Oregon.
[16] Lone Fir Cemetery Records were located at 2115 S.E. Morrison St., Portland, Oregon.
They can now be accessed through the Portland, Oregon Metro website at  http://www.metro-region.org and for more information contact Susie Bousha at boushas@metro.dst.or.us.
[17] Lone Fir Cemetery Records.
[18] Anne is the youngest child of John Philip Olsen and Julia Brown, who is the oldest daughter of Ole and Helena Brown. She and her husband are both now deceased.
[19] The home is still owned by the family and her brother Rolv lives there. It is located in Son, Norway, a beautiful sailing port on the fjord.
[20] The family homestead is in Fredrick staid, Norway, and is still in the possession of distant family members. We had a lovely visit at the home and saw the rock that John Philip Olsen carved his name on in 1914.
[21] The family farm is in called Torp Farm and is located near Fredrickstad, Norway. The family no longer owns it. We were able to walk the grounds, took many pictures and saw the old grinding stone wheel that had been used by the family years before. On the property are the home, a grand barn and other out buildings.
[22] The cemeteries where family members were buried were in Glemmen and Fredrickstad, Norway. We found some markers, but Norwegian regulations are that if the yearly fee is not paid for upkeep the headstones are removed. Others when damaged are just cast off. We saw many piles of headstones that made us feel very sad. The markers I had hoped to find were no longer there. Relatives in Norway are researching for more information on family members.
[23] The two churches are adjacent to the cemeteries. The church in Glemmen is the oldest one for the area. The author is in possession of a post card sent from Norway that states that the oldest known family home was across from this cemetery. It is a very old building and has a wonderful history. The history of this area can be found in the Glemmen Bygde Bok, which was later sent to the author by one of the families visited in Fredrickstad. This book provides genealogies, maps, pictures and a wonderful history of the area in Norwegian.
[24]Portland and Multnomah County Death Records, located at the Genealogical Forum of Oregon, 1505 S.E. Gideon St., Portland, Oregon, microfilm collection.
[25] Oregon State Archives, 800 Sumner St. N.E., Salem, Oregon, online index, http://arcweb.sos.state.or.us/.
[26] Multnomah County Oregon Guardianship Probate Records, Case 2251, Oregon State Archives, 800 Sumner St. N.E., Salem, Oregon.
[27] The Oregonian Newspaper Collection, Multnomah County Central Library, Portland, Oregon, microfilm room.

Originally published in The Bulletin, by the Genealogical Forum of Oregon, March 2006.
All rights reserved by Susan LeBlanc