Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Norwegian reporter seeks fate of lost grandfather

Pelle Nilssen's grandfather, Henry (Nilssen) Nelson, worked for Schmidt Bros. mill and lived in Weippe in the 1940s.

  The Clearwater Tribune last month received an e-mail from a retired Norwegian reporter, Pelle Nilssen, who lives in Olso, Norway’s capital. Pelle explained that his grandfather, Henry (Nilssen) Nelson, who was born in Norway in 1889, immigrated to the United States in early 1909, leaving behind a wife, Maren Sofie, and a son, Pelle's father. Pelle is out to solve the mystery of what became of this grandfather he never met, who left behind a young family to come to the United States. The story has always intrigued him, and when he retired, his daughter-in-law encouraged him to explore it.
  Pelle has tracked Henry to Clearwater County, having come across a filled-out D.S.S. Form 1 (a U.S. Army registration card) that suggests Henry worked for Schmidt Bros. Mill in early 1944, when he was 55, and that he lived in Weippe. Henry listed his wife as Ethel, not Maren Sofie, suggesting that he married again after coming to the United States. Pelle doesn't know why his grandfather decided to leave, why he never came back, what became of him. It is one of the many mysteries surrounding Henry's strange story.
  Nilssen is a very common name in Norway, and often changed in America to Nelson. With the help of the Internet, Pelle and his daughter-in-law used Henry's birth date to track him to Butte, Montana. A lot of Norwegians immigrated to Butte, and earlier this year Henry visited the area. He was interviewed by the Silver State Post, which published the interview in its Oct. 12 issue.
  The mining and smelting operations in Montana were an irresistible lure for people looking for work and a new start. In Norway, Henry worked at the Visnes Mine near Stavanger. Metal for the Statue of Liberty was mined from Visnes. Like Butte, it contained a rich vein of copper.
  It is unclear how much time Henry may have spent in Butte. In 1917, eight years after he left Norway, Henry's name appears on a list of men who signed up with the United States Army to fight in World War I. The location Henry listed on the form was Deer Lodge. Pelle hasn't been able to confirm whether it was the town of Deer Lodge, or the county of Deer Lodge, both in Montana.
  Pelle knows Henry worked on the railroads, including the Milwaukee Railroad. Pacific Railroad, the official name of the line that included Milwaukee, Chicago, and St. Paul, had the power to assign Social Security numbers to immigrant workers. Pelle suspects that this is why he can't find many government records-Pacific Railroad could have them tucked away someplace.
  In 1920 Henry Nilssen is listed in a Montana state census as a single, with a wife and child in Norway. He'd been gone for 13 years and, so far as Pelle knows, never sent letters, yet Henry apparently cared enough about his family to list them as living in Norway.
  On the D.S.S. 1 Form, Henry's wife is listed as Ethel. When he married her is unknown. Whether he had any children with her, and what became of them if he did, is unknown. “Did they have any children while living in Weippe? Did they go to school there?” Pelle remarked in an e-mail. Maren Sofie died in 1924. “We do not know when/if he was informed about this. We do not know when/where he met Ethel,” Pelle said.
  When Pelle visited Deer Lodge he found a burial record for Henry Nilssen, and in the old part of the county cemetery, went looking for the plot. All he found was an unmarked grave. With Henry Nilssen being so common a name, it is impossible to say whether it is Pelle's grandfather who is buried there.
  Plus, there is the D.S.S. 1 Form. “I reckon that these communities are so small, that it would be possible to find and ask old people if anybody remembers a Henry and/or Ethel Nelson (or children),” Pelle remarked. His excitement at the possibility of fresh information is evident even in a simple e-mail.
  If anyone reading this remembers Henry and Ethel, please contact the Clearwater Tribune at (208) 476-4571, or e-mail us at cleartrib@cebridge.net.

This D.S.S. Form 1 appears to have been filled out by Pelle Nilssen's grandfather, Henry, who fought in World War I for the United States. A street name was not included on the form, but it does list Henry's town of residence as Weippe and his employer as Schmidt Bros.

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