The Foremothers Family Albums


Ina Hall was my maternal grandfather’s first wife. We only learned about her after my grandmother’s death in 1989. The story that was passed down was just her name, and that there were two children who had died. There was speculation that they died in a fire or the Spanish flu. To me, it was just an unbelievably tragic thing that happened to him, and I wanted to know more. Thanks to a number of online resources, including newspapers, public records and genealogy websites, I was finally able to learn much more of the story. The story INA is based on those facts.


Mary Siedschlag was my husband’s great-grandmother. She came to the United States in 1862 with her family and settled in Chicago, before her father was employed in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She married John Christian Severin, Jr, and moved to Nebraska with him, and had 15 or 16 children. There are conflicting accounts of that. Twelve survived childhood. She died in 1910 from complications of diabetes, but her husband, who was five years older than she was, lived another ten years.


Nellie and Ben are the parents of my father, Burl Melvin Johnson, and I have some memories of them up until age ten when Nellie died of cancer. But I was quite surprised to find out a lot more details about their lives in Brewster, Kansas, and that they had even lived in Edgemont, South Dakota for a few years. I assumed they had always lived in Ashland, Nebraska, where they are both buried.

            The overriding theme in this story is due to my father’s perspective. Once his mother died, he no longer kept in contact with his father. Since family was otherwise very important to him, and he didn’t explain much about his parents, I had to assume that there were valid reasons behind his decision. We do know that Ben was in treatment for alcoholism, and that he had a mean streak, from what my father said.


Katie is my husband’s great-grandmother on his mother’s side. One of the things I found interesting as I started researching where her parents lived was that she was the sole heir to the farm that her father had bought a few years after they moved to Nebraska. When she married Hicke Baumfalk, he moved onto her family’s farm, and eventually Hicke and her father bought some adjacent land together. Another curious thing about Katie was that there are two portraits taken of her, one with Hicke, which had to be sometime before 1913, and a second one with William, whom she married in 1917, and she looks so identical in the two photos that you would think they were photoshopped, but this was long before that was possible. You will see those below.

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