Area woman discovering roots, community history
Wednesday, February 22, 2017 9:18 AM
Georgia Rosendahl of Spring Grove in some familiar surroundings – in the
archives of the Houston County Historic Society museum building in
Caledonia, at a microfilm viewing station.
Georgia Rosendahl has helped countless people discover their roots. Born and raised on a small farm near Spring Grove, she took an interest in genealogy and history at an early age.
“As a child, when we had company, I’d listen to people talk,” Rosendahl said last week, sitting at a table in the archives of the Houston County Historical Society in Caledonia.
“You got to hear stories, and it sparks an interest. It’s just the way people used to visit. Maybe one to three times a week, somebody would come, unannounced. They just came. Or we would visit someone else. That’s the way it was done.
“On Sunday, you’d always prepare a pie or something just in case you got company. You never knew,” she laughed. And talk during those “we’ve got company” times would inevitably turn to who lived where, whom they had married, and who their children were.
“It was a great education,” Rosendahl recalled. “Even though we didn’t realize, we were being educated. Also, the interesting part of these conversations was that my parents and their company would always speak Norwegian to each other, but when they talked to us children, they would always talk English.
“For that reason, I can understand Norwegian fairly well but speaking does not work for me – not enough practice.”
Those childhood talks were the start of a lifelong journey. In a written remembrance, Rosendahl stated that her father was “a great story-teller... (delivering) stories of the people who had lived or were living in the community.
“He could also imitate the way they spoke, and actually bring those people alive in my mind. He knew who was related to whom, and it was fun for me to ask him questions. He could give me the answers.”
When her father died, Rosendahl asked for his newspaper clippings.
“Most of those newspaper clippings were what Percival Narveson had written about the history of Spring Grove and were printed in the Winona Daily News,” she explained.
“Percival Narveson was Spring Grove’s historian. There have been other town historians, but the best known was O.S. Johnson who wrote different books, one of which was (translated to English) ‘Early Settlers History from Spring Grove and Around Minnesota.’
“This book together with Percival’s writings have been my best resources to refer to in doing history and genealogy.”
Rosendahl soon began to amass a huge collection of historical and genealogical material. “By 2010, I had over 30,000 names on my family tree maker program,” she noted. “I’m almost up to 60,000 now.”
Rosendahl has volunteered at the museum and at Giants of the Earth Heritage Center in Spring Grove for many years, assisting people who are searching for their family history.
“They usually want to find where their parents or ancestors lived, or they want to find their baptism (records), or they want to just find any information about their family,” she noted.
“Here (at the Historical Society) we’ve got microfilms and old newspapers on microfilm (births, deaths, marriages, probate records, census records), even some church records, which you can get on the internet real well now... and we’ve got old plat books, newer plat books. The museum archives hold a number of family histories.”
The museum even boasts an excellent five-volume set of sailing records, tracing large numbers of immigrants from Norway, Rosendahl pointed out.
Her own records include several bygdeboks, also from Norway. Many bygdebok records include information going back to around 1600.
The contents often trace the general history of a geographical area, the history of local farms, and a genealogy (‘slektshistorie’) portion covering families in a given locale.
“I’ve got cabinets full of stuff,” Rosendahl chuckled. “The big problem is what to do with it all! You should see my house, it’s a mess.”
Even in the digital age, old-fashioned research can pay off. The advent of huge amounts of data on the internet is a kind of double-edged sword.
There are a lot of records, and a lot of valuable information available, but there’s also a lot of misinformation being propagated.
“It’s amazing what’s out there, but you’ve got to be sure it’s the right stuff, too,” Rosendahl explained.
Searching out and cross-referencing actual, verifiable documents is still the best way to go. Even so, would-be researchers should expect to find plenty of transcription errors while combing through items that have been copied from source to source.
Meeting those in search of their history is fun, Rosendahl exclaimed, adding, “When I started out it was a lot easier. Now people are asking much harder questions. They want deeper answers. So you are looking for information, and at the same time you’re learning history. There are so many stories!”
Answering those tough questions is its own reward – unearthing the facts.
“I keep working at it all the time,” Rosendahl grinned. “Maybe more than I should.”
The Houston County Historical Society is located by the fairgrounds in Caledonia. It’s open year-round Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. In the summer, it is also open Saturday and Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. June through August.
The Christian Bunge, Jr. store in Eitzen and The Church of the Holy Comforter Episcopal in Brownsville are open by appointment only.
Visits to all the museums at other times may be made by contacting one of the directors or leaving a message at the society’s office, 507-725-3884.