Winnebago County, IA
USGenWeb Project

Connecting Early Winnebago County Immigrants

By Elaine Ness Bergan, Lake Mills, Iowa

According to the 150th anniversary book, John Malone, born in Lake Mills in 1865, was the fourth infant baptized at the Winnebago Lutheran Church.  One of 3,237 baptisms performed in the congregation between 1865 and 2015, he was brought to baptism by his parents, Patrick and Gunhild, in 1866.  The pastor, at that time, could very well have been The Rev. T. A. Torgerson, a traveling minister from Silver Lake who visited many Norwegian communities occasionally while holding services in homes, under a grove of trees, or in over-crowded early schoolhouses since the first church building wasn't erected until 1897.  That building burned in 1898 after being struck by lightning.  A larger place of worship, however, was completed in 1899 with an educational unit and large narthex added in later years.
John's father, Patrick, was born in Queenstown, Ireland, in 1841.  As a young man, he left home to accompany his blind uncle, James O'Connor, from Dingle, Ireland, to America.  The two men arrived in Perry, Dane County, Wisconsin, to settle in among a group of Norwegian immigrants who had arrived from Telemark, Norway.  There, Patrick met his future wife, Gunhild (Julia), a young lady from Nissedal, Telemark, Norway.  Gnnhild's parents, Jorgen Johnson (Nes) Cleven and Marie Tallaksdater, had immigrated to America in 1859, settling first in Wisconsin before moving on to Iowa.  Marie Tallaksdatter was one of the six founders of the Winnebago Lutheran Church.  She died in 1897, four days before her daughter, Gunhild (Julia), also passed away.  Jorgen and Marie probably moved to the Lake Mills area about the same time as Patrick and Gunhild (Julia).   In due course, Patrick and Gunhild became the parents of fourteen children, ten of whom survived to adulthood.  They included John, George, Walter, Luverne, Elizabeth, Johanna, Mary, Catherine, Bessie, and Janetta.  Eventually, Patrick, like many immigrants, found work for the rest of his life on the railroad.  The Malones are buried in Sunnyside Cemetery in the south part of Lake Mills.
A number of years ago, Ruth Malone Page and her daughter from Albuquerque, New Mexico, visited Lake Mills in search of their roots.  According to Ruth's records, her great-grandparents, Patrick Malone and Gunhild (Julia) Johnson Cleven, had married in 1860 in Perry, Dane County, Wisconsin.  They may have had a child or two before John Malone was baptized in Winnebago County.  Another son of Patrick and Gunhild was said to have served the Asbury Methodist Church in Lake Mills as a pastor for a few years.
Herjus Olson Gangsei, another of the six Winnebago Lutheran Church founders, married Anne Cleven, a sister of Gunhild (Julia), after his first wife died.  He, too, had moved west to Winnebago County and settled on a farm in Mt. Valley Twp. Their second marriage was the very first in the township.  Herjus brought four living children into this second marriage, and he and Anne had thirteen additional children.  Merle Harris, long-time Winnebago Church custodian and farmer, was one of his descendants from this union.
Ruth Malone Page was, also, interested in the history of her maternal great-grandparents, the Browns.  Ruth was born in Algona, Iowa, to Stephen Malone and Bessie Scribner.  Her great-grandparents were George Malone and Evelyn Brown.  Her great-great grandfather, Perry Brown, was born in Cherry Creek, New York, in 1844, and his wife, Hannah Augusta Merrill, was born in Acton, Maine, in 1846.  This couple most likely met at the defunct village of Bristol, Iowa, where they married on August 24, 1870.  Once a thriving small village with a number of stores and homes, this community ceased to exist when, in 1900, the Chicago & Northwestern Rail Road came through Lake Mills instead.  Many of the shops (including buildings) and families moved either to the new town of Joice or to Lake Mills.  Perry Brown's two daughters, Evelyn and Clara, had been born at Bristol.  After moving to Lake Mills in 1879, Perry opened a grocery business on what is now a street between the Grand Cafe and Young's Heating & Plumbling business.  He built a fine home on South Lake Street, across from the present library, which is still occupied.  In 1897, the Brown family left Lake Mills to move to Colorado so Perry could look after his silver mining interests.  I showed Ruth and her daughter the places where her ancestors had lived and worked while they were living in Lake Mills.
The rest of the story can also be told!  After I became interested in genealogy, I began attending Norwegian lag meetings of areas from which my husband Don’s and my ancestors had emigrated.  I had hoped to research our families and possibly meet some distant relatives.  I, first, met Irene O'Connor Navarre, a great-great granddaughter of James O'Connor, in North Dakota at one of those annual lag meetings.  Since both Ruth and Irene shared similar stories about their ancestors' immigration experiences, I felt that "these two women, Ruth and Irene, just had to be related!"  Thus, I, primarily, wanted to investigate their genealogies because both of their ancestors shared similar immigration stories.  After meeting, they acknowledged that relationship and have since become good friends.  Don and I have visited both their homes in New Mexico while they have also visited our farm home near Lake Mills, and we, too, have remained friends for many years.
Ruth married Robert L. Page, who served in the USAF from 1953-1957, before beginning his career as an air traffic controller.  They are the parents of three children:  Shane, Pamela, and Brian. They have family members who are maintaining their Irish heritage with music by having organized a band that performs publicly and having recorded their Irish songs.  Irene married Dr. Harry Navarre, an ophthalmologist; Irene introduced the dental hygiene program to the schools in New Mexico, a practice that many of us remember from our school days.  I found them to be an interesting blend of two cultures:  two Irish men who married two Norwegian women in Wisconsin after arriving in America and of their connections with the Winnebago Lutheran Church and surrounding area.

Posted with the kind permission of the author.