Martha Syndé (born Martha Nilsdatter Hilme) is my 5th great grandmother (on my McMurry/Bailey side). She was born in September, 1784, in Aurdal, Valdres district, Oppland county, Norway. She was one of at least two children born to Nils Jørgensen Ringsåker (1753–1830) and his wife Ingebord Olsdatter Ulnes (1751–?), the other known child being her older brother Jørgen (“Jørn”) Nilson, born in August, 1778.
Martha eventually lived to be 85 years old, she had 40 grandchildren, she sailed to the United States when she was 65, and she was the matriarch of large Norwegian-American family whose descendants did, and still do, appreciate this remarkable woman, born almost 230 years ago.
Given her stature in her family, and the fact that she lived well into the age of photography, dying on September 13, 1869, I would expect that there were several photos taken of her. Despite that, I know of no surviving photographs of Martha Syndé. To those cousins who may be reading this, please let me know if you know of, or have, a photograph of Martha.
Martha was baptized on September 12, 1784, in the medieval church of Ulnes, according to the parish register (pictured at the right; her entry is the second entry on the right-hand page).
In 1801, when Martha was 17 years old, she was enumerated on a Norwegian census along with her father, mother, and at least two siblings. She was listed as “Marte Nielsdtr,” age 15, and she and her family were living on the Hilmen farm in the Slidre parish of Aurdal. Her father’s occupation was listed as “huusmand med jord” (a tenant with land).
Martha was confirmed in Aurdal in 1802, when she was 18 years old.
On Tuesday, January 2, 1810, when she was 25 years old, Martha married Jørgen Brynjulson Prestegaardens Syndé in Nord-Aurdal (the parish register is pictured at right; their entry is the fourth entry on the left-hand page). Three months later, on Sunday, April 1, 1810, Martha gave birth to the couple’s first child, a son named Juel Jørgensen, in Nord-Aurdal. Juel died a little over three months later, in July, 1810. Two and a half years later, on November 19, 1812, when Martha was 28 years old, the couple welcomed their next child, Anna Jørgensdatter, my 4th great grandmother.
Martha and Jørgen had seven children in all, six of whom survived to adulthood and married:
- Juel Jørgensen (1810–1810)
- Anna Jørgensdatter (1812–1880)
- Ingeborg Jørgensdatter (1815–1890)
- Kari Jørgensdatter (1818–1887)
- Nils Jørgensen (1822–1898)
- Guri “Julia” Jørgensdatter (1823–1889)
- Juel Jørgensen (1826–?)
Her husband Jørgen passed away at the age of 54 on Thursday, August 16, 1838, in Aurdal. She remained a widow for the last 30 years of her life.
In early 1850, Martha was 65 years old, and her family had grown to include six sons- or daughters-in-law, a grandson-in-law, 24 grandchildren and another grandchild on the way:
- Anna Jørgensdatter (1812–1880) m1. Arne Nielsen Field (1799–1840)
- Anna Arnesdatter Field (b. 17 Mar 1835) m. Knudt Tostensen Thompson (1832-1910)
- Martha Arnesdatter Field (b. 14 May 1837)
m2. Erik Nielsen Nordfield [Field] (1815–?)
- Arne Erickson Field (b. 29 Jan 1842)
- Anne Eriksdatter Field (b. 15 Jul 1842)
- Nicholas Eriksen Field (b. 11 Aug 1846)
- Christian Eriksen Field (b. 13 Jan 1848)
- Ingeborg Jørgensdatter (1815–1890) m. Erick Tørreson Field (1804-?)
- Marit Ericksdatter Engen (b. 16 Feb 1839)
- Martha Ericksdatter Engen (b. 1 Jun 1840)
- Anne Karine Ericksdatter Engen (b. 19 Jan 1844)
- Tory [Thor?] Erickson Engen (b. 1845)
- Inger Ericksdatter Engen (b. 27 Aug 1845)
- Jørgen Erickson Engen (b. 9 May 1847)
- Inge Ericksdatter Engen (b. 12 Jan 1849)
- Kari Jørgensdatter (1818–1887) m. Ole Helgeson Boley (1810–1876)
- Helge [Oleson] Boley (b. 11 Jun 1839)
- Juul [Oleson] Boley (b. 3 Jan 1842)
- Siri [Olesdatter] Boley (b. 7 Apr 1844)
- Marte [Olesdatter] Boley (b. 21 Jun 1847)
- Ole [Oleson] Boley (b. 9 Aug 1849)
- Nils Jørgensen (1822–1898) m. Kjersti Knudsdatter Lien (1819–ca. 1905)
- Jørgen Nilsen (b. 31 Jan 1847)
- Knut Nilsen (b. 4 May 1849)
- Guri “Julia” Jørgensdatter (1823–1889) m. Nils Arensen Ranum (1821–1888)
- Arne Nelson Ranum (b. 17 Feb 1845)
- Rangnild Nielsdatter Ranum (b. 10 Oct 1846)
- Ingri Nielsdatter Ranum (b. 1 Nov 1850)
- Juel Jørgensen (1826–?) m. Maria Svensdatter Lien (1816–?)
- Jørgen Juelson Syndé (b. 26 May 1846)
- Svend Juelson Syndé (b. 30 May 1848)
In April, 1850, Martha and much of her extended family departed Sør-Aurdal to immigrate to the United States, heading specifically for Blue Mounds Township, Dane County, Wisconsin. Not everyone listed above went on the journey; Nils Jørgensen and his family permanently stayed in Norway, as did Juel Jørgensen and his family. Her pregnant daughter, Guri Jørgensdatter, Guri’s husband Nils, and their two children also stayed in Norway, but they eventually did migrate to Wisconsin between 1862 and 1868.
In the Spring of 1850, Martha, three of her four daughters’ families, and others from the Aurdal area (including Sever Severson) made the voyage to the United States. We have a clearer picture of this voyage thanks to the diary of Knudt Tostensen Thompson, a son-in-law of Martha’s daughter Anna Jørgensdatter. Knudt had just recently married Anna’s daughter from her first marriage, Anna Arenesdatter Field, on April 1, 1850, in Nord-Aurdal. Knudt was 18 years old at the time of the journey.
I plan to describe their travels in more detail in a future post, so I’ll just mention the highlights here. The group initially left Sør-Aurdal for Drammen, Norway. Once in Drammen, they boarded the Freya (or Freja), a brig (a two-masted, square-rigged sailing vessel) that was owned by her captain, Jens Walløe of Tønsberg, Norway. The Freya sailed with 129 passengers, according to her transcribed passenger list.
The Freya departed Drammen on April 22, 1850, destined for New York City. The journey was unusually long, taking nine weeks and four days. From New York City, they travelled by river to Troy, NY, and then to Buffalo, NY, via the Erie Canal. From Buffalo they took a steamship through the Great Lakes to Milwaukee, WI. Once in Milwaukee, they travelled overland to Blue Mounds, WI, a distance of over 100 miles, walking much of that distance.
Another account of their travels is given in a photocopy of a short (just over 1 page) story by Mary Celia Leary Marks, the great-great-granddaughter of Martha. Her note is shown below:
From the best that my cousins and I have been able to determine, this is the cabin that they all stayed in that first winter (one of the negatives was reversed; these are of the same view of the same cabin at two different times):
This log cabin was located, according to Mary Celia Leary Marks’ note, on what later became the Arne Field farm (Arne Erickson Field was the eldest son of Anna Jørgensdatter Syndé and Erik Nielsen Nordfield, and Anna was the eldest surviving child of Martha). On the plat of 1861, Arne Field’s father, Erik Nielsen Nordfield, owned this land (a 120-acre parcel, highlighted in blue below, with the owner’s name being written as “E. Nelson”):
On the 1873 plat (below), we can see that 22 acres were added to the old parcel, and it has been divided into two parcels: a 40-acre parcel owned by “A. Nelson” (uncertain who this is), and a 102-acre parcel that’s owned by “A. Erickson” (Arne Erickson Field). As an aside, Arne married Annie E. Gesme, and two of the adjoining parcels are owned by people with similar last names (“K. Gjesme” and “O.J. Gjesme”). Arne Field’s farm is highlighted in blue below:
On the 1890 plat (below), the size of the farm remained the same, but the previous division into two parcels is gone; all 142 acres are owned by Arne Field (“A. E. Fjeld”). It’s possible that he also owned an 80-acre parcel immediately to the southeast of his farm, if “E. A. Ejeld” is a typo of “A. E. Fjeld.” The known Arne Field farm is highlighted in blue below:
On the 1899 plat (below), the size of the main farm remained the same, and it’s confirmed that he also owned the 80-acre parcel immediately to the southeast of his farm. The combined Arne Field farm is highlighted in blue below:
On the 1911 plat (below), the size of the Arne E. Field farm remained unchanged. The Arne E. Field farm is highlighted in blue below:
As the above plats demonstrate, the core of the Arne E. Field farm (originally his father’s farm) remained in his possession through at least 1911, when at least one of the photos of the cabin shown above were was taken.
Turning to Google Earth satellite imagery, I located the old Arne E. Field farm, highlighted in blue below:
There’s no obvious sign of the old cabin at the scale shown above, so I explored the farm at higher resolution and found two good candidates for the cabin’s location.
The first candidate for the cabin site is a rectangular patch bounded by trees and oriented parallel to the axes of the other buildings on the farm:
It sits along an older fence line, and the vegetation inside this rectangle is darker than the surrounding areas. The rectangular area is larger than I’d expect for the ruins of the cabin: about 45 feet by 60 feet.
The other candidate for the cabin is a still-standing structure just to the west of the more modern buildings. It appears to be a plank-roofed structure, and is partially covered by a tree in the photo below:
The structure measures about 15 feet along the end that can be fully measured, and at least 20 feet long in the other direction. The building is slightly off-axis from the other buildings on the farm, indicating perhaps that it was built earlier than the other buildings.
If we compare a close-up of the roof of this structure with the two photos of the cabin presented earlier, it’s clear that the dimensions and roofing of the candidate structure are similar to the cabin:
Looking for other land, aerial or satellite images with which to confirm these observations, I found the following aerial images from Bing, which were taken apparently in the late fall, when tree cover was reduced:
From these four photos, it appears that the candidate structure has a flat roof, not the pitched roof seen in the cabin photos. It also appears that the candidate structure is faced with metal, as witnessed by the gray color and the rust-red patches on the roof. The remains of the cabin might still be underneath the metal facing, but making that determination would require an in-person visit.
If candidate 2 is not the site of the old cabin, then candidate site 1 would perhaps be the next most likely site for the cabin. I had hoped to find some part of the structure still visible, but it appears that whether the cabin was located at candidate site 1 or was somewhere else on the property, it’s no longer standing. Not surprising, I suppose, for a rough-hewn wooden building that’s at least 163 years old.
Regardless of where on this farm the cabin was located, the photos above show the land where Martha and thirteen other members of her family spent their first Wisconsin winter after making the long voyage from their old home in Aurdal, Norway.
More about Martha Syndé and the Martha Syndé Society to come in a future post.