Hilda’s Son?

I sent away for Hilda Carlson’s death certificate and bless the hearts of the folks at the Vital Records Department in Lincoln, Nebraska; not only did I not have the exact date of death, turns out I didn’t even have the year right. And yet, they still found Hilda’s death certificate.

First off, we find out that she was living at 3873 Dewey Ave. Miraculously, the building hasn’t been a victim of the ever-expanding Med Center campus and is still standing. It appears to be a UNMC rental property so I guess students live there. The building contains two, three-bedroom apartments with two baths and one half bath. It was built in 1930. What does a single woman need with all that space?

I can’t get a good look at the back of the apartment in Google Maps but I can see enough that I’m pretty sure the back porch is where the photo of her sitting on a stoop with flowers was taken. The windows have since been replaced but the placement and the brickwork around them is the same.

3873 Dewey Ave. Omaha, Nebraska. Hilda’s last residence. Image taken from Google Maps.

The death certificate lists “usual occupation” as “housekeeper” and under “kind of business” someone has lined through the typewriting and penciled in “private family”. However, you can still make out the name of the family: L. B. Stinger. I tried searching for the Stingers with no luck but then I searched the Omaha City Directory for “3873 Dewey” and, voila, living there is Louis B. Steiniger, owner, with two occupants. And a phone. That, apparently, was important information back in 1953, the last city directory I was able to search by address before Hilda’s death in 1955.

So it looks like Hilda was a live-in maid.

An interesting side-note about Louis B. Steiniger: on his 1918 World War I draft registration card, his occupation is listed as manager at the Grip Bow Tie Company, 311 S. 13th St. Omaha (since torn down). In the 1930 Census he’s living in Chicago and working as a “treasurer” at a neck wear factory.

What’s interesting about all this is that there is a 1925 bow tie patent assigned to the Grip Bow Tie Company, with L.B. Steiniger et al as inventors.

L. B. Steiniger, Hilda Carlson’s last employer, was listed as inventor of US patent 1526253 A, an improvement in bow ties.

William and Merl Reese, co-inventors on the patent, were father and son owners of the Grip Bow Tie Company. William was quite a colorful character before falling to his death in an elevator shaft at the factory in 1930, which by then had moved to 205 S. 10th St. (also torn down – do they ever NOT tear anything down in Omaha?). 

Getting back to Hilda, next on her death certificate we find out that she died of lobar pneumonia and that the interval between onset and death was two weeks. The body was removed to Chicago. If she’s buried there, I haven’t yet been able to find her grave.

Finally, the piece de resistance: listed as informant on the death certificate was Roy C. Carlson of 5416 Christiana, Chicago. My grandmother, Hilda’s sister, had said that no one knew that Hilda had a son until he showed up for her funeral and that he lived in Chicago.

I believe that Roy is Hilda’s son.

From the death certificate of Hilda Ingrid Carlson.

So far I haven’t had much luck finding Roy but there are two tantalizing bits of information. In the 1930 U.S. Federal Census is a four-year-old boy named Roy Carlson boarding with Gerald and Rachel Stratton at 2812 Manderson St. in Omaha. It says Roy’s mother was born in Sweden and his father’s place of birth is first listed as “unknown” but then crossed out and replaced with “U.S.” Also living there are Rachel’s parents, Henry and Lena Wulf.

Who takes in a four-year-old boarder?

Ten years later in the 1940 Census is a fourteen-year-old boarder named Roy Carlson living in the same general neighborhood. (This is also the same general neighborhood as Wirt Street where Signe later lived, see my post on 1802 Wirt). This time he’s lodging with a 63-year-old widow named Emma Tempany at 4529 Charles St. in Omaha. My guess is that these two Roy Carlsons are the same and very likely Hilda’s son. She arrived in the U.S. in 1920 at the age of 23 so it’s entirely possible she could have given birth to a son in 1926. If you are an unwed mother in 1926 and you don’t want your family to know, I can imagine sending the child to live with others, especially if you are a live-in maid. What family is going to want their servant’s out-of-wedlock baby living with them? Also bolstering this argument is the fact that Roy’s mother is listed as being from Sweden, which she was of course, and there seems to be some confusion about his father, understandable if the father isn’t in the picture.

An interesting side-note about Emma: her father-in-law was John Tempany, a veterinarian for the U.S. Army with the 7th Cavalry under Custer and for several decades with the famous all-black “Buffalo Soldiers” of the 9th Cavalry.

There is a book about John Tempany, the father-in-law of Emma Tempany, who took in 14-year-old Roy Carlson.

If this is indeed Hilda’s son, Roy would have been about 29 when his mother died. Hopefully his family will see this blog post some day and reach out to us. We’d love to hear from them!

Vernon Gordon Nystrom (1924 – 1970)

Photo courtesy of Kelly Nystrom.

I have no recollection of my Uncle Verne (pronounced VER-nee) since I wasn’t quite two years old when he died but I DO remember all his military medals hanging in my grandma’s dining room. It’s odd, then, that I can’t find any military records for him. Granted, I haven’t looked all that hard, but still.

The one thing I DID find was this photo of him from the Omaha World Herald, dated March 19, 1944, that gives us a few clues.


I don’t know when this photo was taken but four days after it was published, Pvt. Samuel P. Centretto was killed in action. Reports variously say he died on Manus Island or Los Negros Island. The two islands are next to each other in the Admiralty Islands, an archipelago in Papua New Guinea. Centretto was only 20 years old.

Unlike Verne, there ARE military records for Samuel Centretto. A headstone application for military veterans said he was part of the 5th Cavalry Regiment, a unit of the 1st Cavalry Division so I think it’s safe to say that Verne was as well. You can read more about the 5th Cavalry and the battles of Los Negros and Manus on Wikipedia. It’s quite fascinating. There are even whole books on the subject.

Verne Nystrom, standing in front of 3721 S. 28th Street. From the photo album of Rose Carlson Nystrom.

I believe that my uncle said that Verne, his brother, was the head of the plumbers’ union in Omaha. He’d also been engaged to be married and had even purchased a ring and fur coat for this unknown woman. As my cousin said, “no one knows what happened to the ring, coat or the girl.”

Verne died of a heart attack at the young age of 45. Verne provided for his parents, Rose and Swan, so when he died, my grandmother had some sort of panic attack and an ambulance was called to the house. She wasn’t sure how they’d survive without Verne. On the anniversary of his death, she would often place messages like the following in the paper:

Omaha World Herald January 19, 1974.
Omaha World Herald January 19, 1976.

The following photos are of Verne as a child so they must have been taken in or around Oakland, Nebraska. What sort of strange camera is this that takes double exposures?

Verne Nystrom, from the photo album of Rose Carlson Nystrom.
Verne Nystrom, from the photo album of Rose Carlson Nystrom.
The back says it’s Verne and Leonard Erickson.
Verne’s car, June 1970.
Another photo that must have been forever hanging in my grandmother’s house. Seems like I know it like the back of my hand. Taken the summer of 1969, before his death in January, 1970.


Hilda Karolina Illman Karlsson (1859 – 1953)

Photo courtesy of Elisabeth Bjorklund.

My great-grandmother, Hilda Karolina Illman, was born to Johanna Eriksdotter and Anders Petter Illman. Her father was a game warden and her mother worked at Medevi spa. She married Karl August Karlsson and had ten children: Gustave, Tekla, Signe, Gertrude, Albin, Ture, Hilda, Guy, Rose, and Fritz.

I’ll let her tell her own story.

The following is a translation of an article that appeared in a Swedish newspaper on her 90th birthday. The translation was done by the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Medevi Memories of a 90-Year Old

Once about 80 years ago, a girl and her brother sat fishing on a large block of ice at night. They did not notice that the block had begun to move until it was almost morning and they were close to the Vastgota shore. They had a sled along on the ice floe and on that they loaded all their fishing gear and a large kettle in which they had burned some wood for light while fishing, and so they had to pull the sled all the way past Askersund to Rustninge in Vastra (west) Ny where they lived.

The girl in the story is Mrs. Hilda Karlsson, Motala, wife of the late (shovel sharpener) Karl August Karlsson, who today will be 90 years old. But she has neither forgotten the experience on the ice floe nor other things that happened during her childhood.

As she was born at Rustninge near Medevi, it was quite natural that she would have a lot to do with Medevi spa, especially as her mother worked there in the baths for 30 years. Hilda’s work consisted of getting water for the showers and mud for the mud baths. She had this job until she turned fifteen and started to do farm work.

There was a lot of genteel people at Medevi years ago — almost only nobility, says Mrs. Karlsson. A baron named Adelsward came there every summer. He had made arrangements so that he stayed in the same house every year. A countess named Morner from Stockholm also had her own house at Medevi. She liked it so well there that she wanted to be buried in Medevi, even though she lived in Stockholm. I still remember how they brought her (by carriage) from Motala and buried her in the “Medevi grave” that Odencrantz at Medevi estate had provided in Vastra Ny.

Well, Odencrantz, he surely kept a strange house. It was a large house, three stories high with a tower, and in that tower there was a guard on duty all night long. Every hour on the hour he called out the time. Night after night you could hear, “God save us from fire and thieves, twelve o’clock and all is well.” During the day he could rest. When Odencrantz died, the house was bewitched, there were so many ghosts that nobody could live there. Finally they had no choice but to tear it down.

A lot of important men from Medevi estate came over to us at Rustninge. Father was a game warden and the gentlemen wanted him to go out hunting with them. They came over riding on such beautiful horses. Once in a while they shot a rabbit. Most of what Dad shot he sold to the estate. He was paid 1.50 crowns (40 cents) for a rabbit and for a (wood cock) grouse he would get 4 crowns (80 cents). He shot many ducks, too, but for them he did not get many cents.

Many of the spa guests had their own horses and carriages and they were beautiful. I remember that. But then there was also the four-in-hand. The horses had to be the best, and the farmers had to supply them. The farmers who drove the team were all dressed up and had to wear a top hat.

I remember so well many of the guests who came back year after year. There was a Colonel Bergenstrale whom I used to talk to very often.

I can assure you though that the “upper crust” was not difficult to get along with. You felt so comfortable with them, just like I am talking to you now. There was no haughtiness. Oh no, the Medevi guests were so genteel that they did not have to prove how important they were.

Hilda, center, on her 90th birthday. We believe the woman on the left is Tekla, her oldest daughter.

Founded in 1678, Medevi is the oldest spa in Scandinavia. For an interesting overview of Swedish spas in general and Medevi in particular, see Mansén, E. (1998). An Image of Paradise: Swedish Spas in the Eighteenth Century. Eighteenth-Century Studies, 31(4), 511-516. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/30053892.

Indeed, just as Hilda describes above with her Colonel Bergenstrale, the author says that,

“…it was claimed that social differences were obliterated at the spa, and consequently the strict rules of observing rank and paying homage to the rich and powerful were abolished…At the spa you could talk to almost anyone about almost anything. Social restrictions that were observed outside the spa were not supposed to apply to the same extent, and by chance or cunning, ordinary people, even women, could get a private interview with someone far above their social position.”

The buildings at Medevi spa have been turned into a hotel, hostel, and restaurants. You can view this and other photos of Medevi as well as Motala at http://www.lakevettern.se/.
Hilda Karolina Illman Karlsson

A cousin in Sweden, Johan Gille, says that in the birth records of Gus, Hilda’s oldest child, is an explanation that Hilda had received permission to emigrate to North America. The permission was dated 15 Aug 1882 but she didn’t make the trip.

Hilda’s son, Albin, said that, “Mother Karlsson could be very nice but also damn mean.” Her daughter, Rose, said she couldn’t say she was mean to her, but she was very strict.

Rose wrote to her mother in Sweden until her death at the age of 94. Rose would write about getting a television set, etc. and send her pictures of the house and yard. Hilda died thinking Rose came to America and became a wealthy woman. Ha!

Hilda Karolina Illman Karlsson