Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Mystery of the Two Martins

I’ve been continuing to research the family of my maternal great-grandfather Mikkel Braaten, slowly piecing together the details of their lives. Starting out on this quest, I had very little to go on. This snippet, summing up everything we knew, is from the family tree that my Aunt Mildred began while she was in college (ca. 1925), now fragile with age:


She wrote about one of the many things we didn't know about this family:

“Presumably one of the sons, Martin, had died, because we see two boys having the same name on the family tree.”

This practice of having two children with the same name was not uncommon in Norwegian families. If a child died, the next child born of the same gender would often get the name of the deceased sibling. So if this were the case here, presumably the older of the two Martins died. However, I have only been able to find the record of one son named Martin (born in 1872) to Mikkel and Anna.

Oddly, the 1880 Federal Census lists two sons named Matthew. There’s a "Matthew" born in 1872 and a "Matthew A." born in 1880. Early census-takers were notoriously bad at accuracy. Since all of the other names in the family are correct, these two boys must be our two Martins.

After much research, I've been able to start filling in the blanks.

Mikkel Mikkelsen Braaten (b. 1 Apr 1834, d. 28 Jan 1901)
Anna Tollefsdatter Tønset (b. 5 Jun 1831, d. 29 Nov 1882)

Their children born in Norway:
Mina Mikkelsdatter Braaten Halden (b. 4 Mar 1859, d. 14 Nov 1928)
Severine Mikkelsdatter Braaten Gorden McCutcheon Kuhn (b. 11 Mar 1862, d. 5 Jul 1940)
Tonette Mikkelsdatter Braaten Thompson (b. 20 Oct 1864, d. ?)

Their children born in Minnesota:
Martin Mikkelsen Brotten (b. 23 Jul 1872, d. 20 Feb 1943)
August Henry Brotten/Broughton (b. 11 Jan 1875, d. 21 Mar 1951)
Anna Marie Brotten Berg (b. 12 Mar 1877, d. 28 Jan 1926)

But still, only one Martin. So, back to our mystery.

Martin the Elder

The boy in the 1880 Census born in 1872 was Martin M. Brotten (he, like others in the family, Americanized his last name). I found him in a number of city directories for their town of Fergus Falls, Minnesota. 


In 1899, at the age of 27, he is living at home and is an employee at the Fergus Falls State Hospital. 

Fergus Falls State Hospital
By 1902, age 30, he is still living at the home farm, but now working as an “artistic photographer.”


A photographer! I imagine it's likely that he took these pictures:

Mikkel Braaten, Martin's father and official street sprinkler for the town of Fergus Falls
Gunhild Mathea Braaten, Martin's step-mother and my great-grandmother
I have, however, been unable so far to find any of his living descendants. I only have two photos each of Mikkel and his second wife Mathea, as she was known. We have no photos of his first wife Anna, nor any of their children. The possibility that old family photos have survived and been passed down is tantalizing! I will continue searching for them.

By 1903, age 31, Martin is married to Anna Lerfald, and they are living on their own. By 1910, age 38, Martin and Anna have started moving west. In the Federal Census that year, they’re living in Stark, North Dakota, and he is still a photographer. By 1920, age 48, they’re in Seattle. Martin has given up photography and is working in the lumber industry as a carpenter. 1930, age 58, finds them in Everett, Washington, where they remain for the rest of their lives. That year he is a mill wright at a saw mill. By 1940, age 67, Martin has retired. And he dies on 20 Feb 1943 at the age of 70.

Martin the Younger

But what about this other Martin on the family tree? I searched the birth and death records for the township of Fergus Falls in Otter Tail County, Minnesota during this entire period, and as I said, there is no second Martin born to Mikkel and Anna.



However, while searching the birth records, I stumbled upon this tantalizing item in 1880:


It's tough to read, so here's a transcription:


So, Martin Alfred born in 1880, much like the “Matthew A." in the 1880 Census. Oddly enough, only the father’s name is listed. However (and I almost passed it by without seeing this), squeezed in on the line below, as if a third parent to the next child on the list, is Martin M.’s sister Severine!

So I think that I have solved the mystery. I believe that the second Martin was born out of wedlock to Mikkel and Anna’s daughter Severine when she was 18 years old. (Curiously, the father’s last name – Loudfeld – is awfully similar to Martin M.’s wife Anna’s maiden name – Lerfald. Hmm... given the common spelling inaccuracies, is there a connection there?)

My heart breaks for Severine. I can only imagine the shame she endured as an unwed mother. Unlike some of her siblings who married and moved away, she remained in Fergus Falls all her life, She went on to be married and divorced three times, certainly enduring the judgment of her small town all of her life. She died of a stroke in 1940.


And what of Martin? He first appears in the 1880 Census, three months old and living with his mother and grandparents. Sadly, most of the 1890 Census was destroyed in a devastating fire in 1921, so we do not know the whereabouts of either Severine or Martin when he would have been 10. By the 1900 Census, Severine has married her first husband, and they have three children. Martin, who would be 20 by now, is not listed.

 So what became of him? I shall continue the search.

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