29 April 2018

It all started with a virtual flower

This image is borrowed from www.militarymuseum.org
and is just a sample of the kind of flag Ole's unit carried.
It all started with a 'virtual flower' placed on a Find-a-Grave memorial page for a man named OLE HANSON. There was very little information about the man: just a death date of Nov 30, 1896 and the fact that he was buried in the Lewis and Clark County Poor Farm Cemetery in Helena, Montana. That’s it – just that tiny bit of information.

However, there was also a flower left by a woman named Charleen Spalding on July 25, 2017. She left the ‘flower’ with this simple statement: Ole was born 10/9/1837 and died 11/20/1896.” Basically seven words.

This is the image taken from the 'virtual
flower' left by Ms. Spalding.
This got me to thinking, ‘I wonder what else she might know about Ole?” I clicked on the link with her name and read her brief bio, which stated “…I live in Helena, Montana and research cemeteries in Lewis and Clark, Broadwater, and Jefferson counties. I may have more information than what is posted on Find A Grave and will be glad to share that information…” So, what did I have to lose? 

I sent her a ‘cold email’ that outlined what I knew about Ole and asked if she might be able to share any additional insight.

Two days later she sent a response telling me she was under the weather, but would respond when her health improved. I immediately acknowledged her reply, thanked her, and said I looked forward to hearing back from her when she could. That's the end of most stories that begin this way, but not this one. Two days later I got a second email, and this time she confirmed and agreed with me that this is ‘my Ole’. She shared the records she had, and the additional information that he was buried in section 4, row 10 of the cemetery. She also noted that there are “NO tombstones or markers in the Poor Farm burying grounds.” She then explained that she had attempted to get the ‘owner’ of the online Find A Grave memorial to transfer the ‘maintenance’ of the memorial, but had had no luck so far. I told her I would make the appeal, and perhaps because I’m a relative, the owner would make the transfer. The appeal has been made, but no response to date.

In my email back to Charleen I also included a P.S. stating that I was ”working on an article for the Ringerike-Drammen District Lag newsletter (the BREV) about Ole and his older brother Gustav; both of whom fought in the Civil War and survived. They immigrated with the rest of their family from Lier, Norway in the summer of 1853.” End of discussion, I thought.

Nope! Today, less than a week after all of this began, I received another email from my new friend Charleen. The email contained MORE details for un-puzzling Ole’s story. The email came with two attachments of newspaper articles SHE had found in the Library of Congress newspaper collection: one from the Helena Weekly Herald dated June 1874, and the other from the Anaconda Standard dated September 22, 1896 (3 months before Ole’s death). PLUS, she sent a nine-page typed annotated chronological history of the Lewis and Clark County Poor Farm/County Hospital that she had written, which was last updated in October 2015.

I'm just GOBSMACKED!  

I can hardly believe that all this took place in less than a week, AND it has launched a whole new chapter in my ‘family history’ storytelling. I have a ways to go, but this is most certainly a huge step in my research on Ole Christian Hansen, a six year veteran of the 2nd California Cavalry, Company K & M (September 27, 1861 – July 12, 1866), who mustered out at Camp Douglas, Utah Territory and lived the remainder of his life in and around Helena, Montana. 

Ole was 58 when he died and was buried, hundreds of miles from any family, in a poor farm cemetery with no headstone for his grave.


This just shows that anything is possible – you just need tenacity, perseverance, thinking outside of the box, and a little bit of luck and you too could find a new friend – by leaving a virtual flower. 

If you are curious and want to see the memorial page for Ole, go to www.findagrave.com and search for Memorial ID #39251462. You can also find him in (my) Norwegians in the Civil War virtual cemetery: 

I'll share more on this project in another blog post.