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
’s capital. Pelle explained that his grandfather, Henry (Nilssen) Nelson, who was born in Olso, Norway in 1889, immigrated to the Norway 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. United States
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
. 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. United States
Nilssen is a very common name in
, and often changed in Norway to Nelson. With the help of the Internet, Pelle and his daughter-in-law used Henry's birth date to track him to America . A lot of Norwegians immigrated to Butte, Montana , 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. Butte
The mining and smelting operations in
were an irresistible lure for people looking for work and a new start. In Montana , Henry worked at the Visnes Mine near Norway . Metal for the Statue of Liberty was mined from Visnes. Like Stavanger , it contained a rich vein of copper. Butte
It is unclear how much time Henry may have spent in
. In 1917, eight years after he left Butte , 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 Norway , both in county of Deer Lodge . Montana
Pelle knows Henry worked on the railroads, including the Milwaukee Railroad. Pacific Railroad, the official name of the line that included
, Milwaukee , and Chicago , 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. St. Paul
In 1920 Henry Nilssen is listed in a
state census as a single, with a wife and child in Montana . 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 . 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) , or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. 476-4571
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
. 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. United States
Posted by ClearTrib at 5:11 PM