Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Little Girl Lost

"The Niagra" This may have been the last ship for 3-yr.-old Elizabeth Peterson  in 1921

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 with a man who immigrated from Norway, his parent's homeland one year later?

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. Her second husband looks good as "head of household" on the 1920 census, stabilizing the little family of two stepsons and his 3-yr.-old daughter, (Mildred) Elizabeth Jane Peterson, and his wife.

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", according to one record I found. Or fun stuff like Hans "kept goats"! I had a goat once. Noah. Again, I can relate to the craziness of goat-keeping.

I thought I was done tying up all the loose ends of the Skar/Carlson/Peterson story after pouring over dozens of census record, 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. The'y 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.

 Elizabeth (aka Betty) shows up on many records after 1920. But I don't know if it's her or another "same-namer" that I find a lot. 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.

Lose a little girl somewhere in time?

Now I can't put the book down!


  1. Keep sharing Betsy! I love your posts. I read some and then come back and read more when I can. all very intriguing. ;D

  2. Zuri,

    Thanks for being my friend and checking out what I love to do. Glad I met you on Twitter!


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