|“The Niagra” This may have been the last ship for 3-yr.-old Elizabeth Peterson in 1921
(The original post is below with the update below!)
I thought I was on to a great story when I reread an 1889 census from King County, Washington that placed two seven-year-old kids next door to each other- playmates that would marry 13 years later.
Hans, Agnes’s husband would die from appendicitis while on board a boat on his way to the hospital after being married only 5 years. Would he be happy to know that his two children and wife would make a new family one year later with a man who immigrated from Norway, his parent’s homeland ?
I thought… the story would get better as I traced the families of those two children, one from Sweden to Illinois, the other from Norway to the sugar plantations of Hawaii. Hawaii- a 1920 destination for Agnes and her first child with Jacob Peterson… little Elizabeth.
I thought… that adding the sorrows of leaving familiar friends and surroundings would be things you and I could relate to very well.
“Pack up your things, kids! Say your goodbyes. We’re heading off for a better life!”
And they’d board a ship, sometimes without their parents who would follow them years later, and step on foreign soil, all alone.
I thought… that it would be so fun to show the love of the land and the water that has been passed down through the generations. To be able to say,”Wow! The ocean calls to me just like Hans Peter Skar who had a boat and went to Alaska!”
I thought… I was done tying up all the loose ends of the Skar/Carlson/Peterson story after pouring over dozens of census records, ship’s passenger lists among other documents that I’d gathered into three tidy files.
I so wanted to leave the story complete, knowing that the families were like any of ours, moving forward, bending and regrouping as the storms of their lives would require them to dig a little deeper and find the strength that adversity offers to the living.
I wanted to leave them with a whispered “farewell”, and “good luck in your journey.”
But Elizabeth disappeared after coming home from a trip to Hawaii with her mom, Agnes.
They’d boarded and disembarked from three ships, the “Tahti”, “Ventura”, and the “Niagra”.
She isn’t mentioned on any more census records with the rest of the family. There’s just a silent gap where her name should be on the 1930 census, where she’d be about 11.
Didn’t she go to school? Can’t find her. My great uncles said that their fathers, Ken and Ray, her brothers, never spoke of her. Did they even know she’d been born? And if her birth was registered why not her death if that had been her fate?
I can’t shake the feeling of this little girl’s story. I get the chills when I think about her. Only she knows what happened to her.
What started out to be a pretty normal family story morphed into a mini love story laced with tragedy and peppered with the romance of travel to and from foreign lands. Throw in a new man nurturing a widow and her two boys while adding two more little girls and you’ve got the makings of something relatively interesting.
Ancestry.com records come and go. That can be very frustrating if you have found a record for someone and it all of a sudden disappears! But it can be quite a surprise to find a record that wasn’t there before. Tonight, for some reason, I was looking at Elizabeth’s story as it unfolded in the records I’d found for her last year. I did another search for he and guess what? The death record that I searched for was nowhere to be found. I scoured Ancestry.com, Family Search, and family records. Nothing.
Tonight I found out a little bit more. She died on December 1st, 1923. She was only 5 years old. I still don’t know how she died, but I feel so much better knowing her life’s short story. I wonder how her siblings, Ray and Ken (my grandfather) who were from Agnes’ first marriage felt. And two years after Elizabeth died her sister Patricia was born. I exchanged letters with Patricia for years before she passed away. Did she know that she had a younger sister?
Five is so young. My son James is almost five. He’s so much fun.
The holiday season is beginning. I can’t imagine losing a child at any season. I’ll enter this one with Elizabeth and her parents on my mind. I believe I’ll be counting my blessings a little more seriously, too.