Sunshine and Shadow: The Petersons

My ancestors ran the gamut from black sheep to outstanding citizen.  But life isn’t fair…  Those who honor faith and family, who play by the rules, sometimes suffer the most tragedy.  Consider my Peterson ancestors.

My great-grandparents were Nebraska pioneers Carl Peterson (1861-1917) and Emelia Fryksdal Peterson (1861-1933).  From all indications they were a close and loving family—Carl’s obituary was titled “Another Good Man Gone.”  Eight children were born to them, all surviving to adulthood—but their adult lives were a mixture of sunshine and shadow, with plenty of heartbreak to go around.

Carl Jr. lived in California for a time before returning to his roots and taking over the family farm in Nebraska.  He and his wife had a daughter and a son; their baby boy died of whooping cough at 11 months.  Carl died young, at 53.

Anna was a schoolteacher.  When her father died at age 57, she took care of her mother and sisters until they were settled with relatives or in homes of their own.  She married at age 37 and after a yearlong honeymoon, settled down to raise a family—only to die at 40, shortly after having her second son.

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Theodore (Ted) was an engineering student at the University of Nebraska when he was drafted into the army.  He did not survive World War I; like so many other soldiers, he died of influenza in 1918 in an army camp in Illinois.

Emma lived on her own in Chicago, working as a nurse, and then bought a house in Montgomery, Illinois, where she worked at Copley Memorial Hospital until she retired at age 72.  Emma was very independent—she renewed her driver’s license (for the final time) at age 91.  Emma never married, and she died at age 102.

Sara married her baseball-playing sweetheart after a seven-year courtship (interrupted by WWI).  They lost their first child shortly after birth—a hidden sorrow that Sara never talked about.  They relocated to Illinois around 1940—Sture had a near-fatal car accident during the transition.  Sara survived her husband and died in Illinois at age 91.

Signe was a schoolteacher and an excellent artist; some of her paintings survive.  She married a Nebraska farmer and had four children.  Their oldest son Jack died of a brain tumor at age 31, leaving a widow and young daughter.

Hilma, another schoolteacher, married and moved to Minnesota, where she and her husband Harold had three children.  Their only son, Harold Jr., drowned in a lake in Canada at age five.

Therese was bright and educated, but troubled.  After graduating as salutatorian of her high school class and becoming a schoolteacher, she died at age 30 in a mental hospital near Chicago.

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This photo shows the four surviving sisters in later life—Emma, Sara, Hilma, and Signe.  They had seen much sorrow, including losing four siblings.  I lived near my grandma Sara and saw her often.  She had learned to take the good and the bad in stride, and was an inspiring example to me of surviving setbacks and appreciating the joys in life.

43 Petersons - Emma, Sara; Hilma, Signe

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