Thora Moves West

Thora Moves West

The family of Harry Grover Olson, Landon and Harry’s grandfather, has a history of Scandinavian forebears some of whom made their living from the sea. Could this partially account for Landon’s love of the seashore? More likely carefree summers spent with their grandfather, Harry Olsen, in Newport on the Oregon coast are the cause – although genetics might play a role?

There are quite a few Scandinavians in this branch of the family. In the Norwegian batch of immigrants, Harry Olson’s grandmother, Thora Sophia Olsdatter, was born and married in Christiansand, Vest-Agder. Her first husband, Thorkild Thomassen, seems to have already been committed to emigrating to America, as they married in 1871 and left Norway within months.

Prior to the emigration of this couple, Norway had suffered from serious food shortages, and it was clear that the land available to farm was limited. These years saw Norway lose many of their population, especially the younger generation, to the United States. For example, the 1850 Federal Population Census records about 1,800 persons in the USA of Scandinavian birth – in 1880 there were over 440,000, nearly 250 times larger.

We’re not sure if the Thomassen couple (later Thompson), came through Canada to the US, but the first indication that they had arrived is the birth of their older daughter, Mathilda, in Connecticut in November of 1872. As the family then moved from place to place, Mathilda was baptized in New York City at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in March of 1874. Their second daughter, Sophia, Grandpa Harry’s mother, was born in November 1876 in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, where the family settled to farm.

The last we know of the family as a unit is in the 1880 Federal Census where they are enumerated near Warrensville, now a suburb of Cleveland, in Cuyahoga County. The name used there is Thomasen and they were born in “Prussia”, likely due to an enumerator’s error. The various spellings and common name complicate finding any other record of the family – or at least finding Thorkild. He disappears from Thora’s life and she and the girls are next found in Astoria Oregon, living with George Pearson, a light (buoy) tender. Although no marriage record has been found yet, George and Thora report in the 1900 census that they have been married for 16 years – since 1884. What happened in the four years between the farm in Ohio and the home in Astoria is still a mystery!

In about 1875, as the Thompsons were on the East Coast, Astoria fisherman discovered that the royal chinook salmon, which frequented the fresh waters of the Columbia River, was one of the best food fishes in the world. This fish was especially adapted to canning, a critical factor in its popularity in the age of little refrigeration. Canning quickly became a major industry, and the population grew from just a few hundred souls to a “metropolitan” city of 6,000.

By the mid-1880s, people were already calling Astoria the fishing capital of the world because of the huge catches of salmon being hauled from the river. In 1874, the first fish cannery opened in town; six years later, there were fourteen canneries; and by 1883, thirty-nine canneries operated along the lower Columbia River. More than 630,000 cases of salmon were packed in 1883, the equivalent of 43 million pounds. History file 7189

It’s during this expansive time around 1884 that Thora and second husband George Pearson, the Thompson daughters, and Hans Peter Olsen, arrive in Astoria. George is listed in the Morning Oregonian in August of 1882 at a hotel. His residence is listed as Astoria. He may have arrived in the city prior to the rest of his family. Hans Peter is a fisherman and joins the substantial percentage of the population that makes their living from the Columbia. More about Hans Peter later.

George himself is still a bit of a mystery. He was born in Norway in 1850 and reported that he immigrated to the US in 1870. A person by that name appears in an immigration list from Ontario, Canada in 1871. Where he ends up after that and how he met Thora remains unknown. It appears that they came to Astoria in about 1884 together, but that is not verified. As mentioned before, no marriage record has been found in Oregon or Ohio for them which leads one to believe they may have been married in another state.

George and Thora settle in Astoria and two additional children are born to Thora: Maybelle in 1887 and Robert George in 1891. In 1900 they are enumerated in the census in Alderbrook, a part of Astoria which included a large population of Scandinavians who were involved in the sea trades: fishing, canning, and packing. They likely built, or had built, their house on Cedar Street. The neighborhood was a bit out of the main part of Astoria, in fact was a separate voting precinct, and was filled with folks who were primarily Scandinavian and involved with the sea in one way or another.

George Pearson worked as a seaman on the tender Manzanita from August 1887 to February 1889. He was then transferred to the Tongue Point Lighthouse Depot as a laborer. Eventually he became the “laborer-in-charge” of several post lights where maintaining buoy lights and cleaning, repairing and replacing equipment were his primary duties. He was on call and maintained a launch to assure that the lights were working at all times. The Depot was near their neighborhood so supported his home location and long service. He served in that capacity for nearly 30 years.

Later photo of a buoy tender

Thora’s oldest daughter, Mathilda, married Bernard Benson in 1890 at 16 with her mother’s permission and gives birth to Edith Victoria in June of 1891. Thora has given birth to Robert George, her first child with Pearson, the January before. Imagine both mother and daughter being pregnant at the same time, even if the overlap was just a couple of months. For various reasons, likely that being one of them, Thora and Mathilda remained close during Thora’s lifetime. Mathilda and Bernard have another daughter in 1892 who died at 3 weeks of age. They subsequently separated and divorced. Mathilda describes herself as “widowed” in the 1900 census, a common fabrication in those days, and her daughter is enumerated with her Pearson grandparents. Mathilda married Charles Oscar Johnson in 1906 and they had a daughter, Myrtle, in 1907. We are pleased to be in touch with some descendants of Myrtle.

The younger Thompson daughter Sophie soon follows with a marriage of her own to Hans Peter Olson who is 16 years older than her. She is just 15, but permission is given by her stepfather, George, who claims she’s older. Hans Peter is a Dane, and a fisherman, who immigrated in 1880. Denmark had avoided much of the land loss and famine that plagued their Scandinavian neighbors, and never lost as great a percentage of its population to emigration. Danes remained a minority in the fishing community, which was dominated by Finns in Astoria. Hans and Sophie’s son Harry is born several months later in 1893. Hans Peter, or H.P., as he is known, buys and sells property in Astoria and eventually arranges for a home for his family in the Alderbrook neighborhood next door to Thora and George.

Thora dies at Mathilda’s home in 1903 of apoplexy – paralysis due to stroke. She dies intestate, or without a will, and George petitions the court in 1906 to administer her estate. He subsequently names pieces of property that appear to belong solely to her. An ongoing question is how she purchased property, or rather with what, unless she had funds from her previous marriage? George and the four children: Mathilda, Sophie, Mabel (or Maybelle) and George inherit from her estate.

George marries a neighboring widow, Bertha Anderson, in 1905. His new wife has two nearly grown daughters to add to the household. Bertha and George have a daughter together, Bonnie, in 1908.

Mathilda’s older daughter, Edith Victoria, marries the rising star in the Astoria Police Department, Edward “Leb” Carlson in a well-attended wedding – likely one of the events of the 1909 season.

Just a year shy of retirement at age 70 George received a commendation for saving a man from drowning. He was named as “Captain” Pearson in his obituary, which appeared on the front page of the Morning Astorian. He lived for several years after his retirement on a generous pension of $652.95 per year and died in 1927 in Astoria at the age of 77. Bertha survived him until 1931.

Photo of the Pearson House in Alderbrook – 2014

In September 1908, Sophie, mother to Harry (now 15) and two additional children born in Astoria, Violet (11) and Thomas (13), moves with her husband and family to Washington State. Her husband, Hans Peter, had been a successful fisherman in Astoria for quite a few years and wished to devote his time to his “oyster interests” on Shoalwater Bay. The family makes their new home in Tokeland where they continue to prosper and become well known in Pacific County into the late 1920s. More on them next.

Ancestor Charts

Since it has been a long while since I posted, I thought a quick ancestor summary could be helpful. Here’s a fan chart of Bob (Robert Landon Kimbrough)’s ancestors, in hopes of catching a cousin or two. We continue to research in the background, but despite retirement it always seems we’ve just not quite solved “that” mystery – whatever it might be. rlk-fan

In this blog we have left out Bob’s wife’s family: an equally colorful group of characters soon to be added: a group of immigrant Scandinavians, Danes, and Germans. Despite the appearance of a lack of facts, we have spent nearly as much time on this crew as on the Kimbroughs. With one look at the surnames, however, you will understand some of our problem. Sylvanne’s grandparents were nearly all immigrants. The fortunate part of this family is that they settled in Oregon and Washington, closer to us than Kentucky or Virginia so easier to research. Sadly, the frontier nature of the area has created some record gaps. We’ll just keep looking and create some posts about them as well.


Bibles and Brick Walls

Does every genealogist have a serious brick wall? One they’ve worked on for years? In case you’ve forgotten, Thomas Winston Kimbrough was born according to a source or two, in Louisa County Virginia in 1796. Born to whom is the unanswered question! He married and subsequently moved to western Kentucky around 1819 where he lived until his death in 1868. In our search for T. W. K.’s parents we have become familiar with a wealth of Kimbrough information.  Through investigating multiple Kimbrough families and trying to reconstruct information from burned counties we have come across large number of descendants. We’re hoping by posting information to help others climb over their walls, someone may have the footholds for ours.

The family of Thomas Winston was large and members lived in several Kentucky counties and some in Tennessee. One of the items is the following Bible Record that was found on PERSI. I carefully reviewed the copies of pages we received and transcribed them, as you will see. If you’d like to have copies of the originals I worked with I’m happy to email them to you – they’re too ugly to post.


Transcription of copies of Kimbrough Bible 1820

This Bible was undoubtedly from the family of Meridith Garth and Mildred Ann Maria Terry Kimbrough. Meridith was the oldest son of Thomas and is well documented in a variety of ways. No one mentions his grandparents, however.

Thanks Bob, or how we got so interested in Kimbrough genealogy

My late father-in-law, Bob Kimbrough, known as “Lan” to his relatives, took a trip back to his hometown of Guthrie, Kentucky during the early years of our marriage. I have always been interested in history and when I found that this family had an old house there – a plantation house, really – and some older relatives who still lived near there, I was hooked. Why not investigate the Kimbrough genealogy? It seemed sooo much more romantic than my local folks. It didn’t hurt that each time I searched the various genealogy websites I would find hits on the name – many of which turned out to be related.

So began the quest that’s lasted over 15 years: who were the Kimbroughs? Are the McMurrys related to William Wallace? Are the Bollings descended from Pocahontas? Were the Kimbroughs the only plantation owners in Kentucky that didn’t own slaves? As you can imagine, many of the family legends, like the last one, have turned out to be just that – legends. Can’t say it hasn’t been fun.

As I began another round of sorting information today I came upon some pictures that reminded me of Bob’s pivotal part in our search. He passed away on December 13th, 2009, so as we approach this anniversary I thought it apt to write a bit about him, his history and his contribution to the Kimbrough legacy.

Bob was born on 26 March 1919 in Guthrie, Todd County, Kentucky to Keith Keesee  and Mary McMurry Kimbrough. He was the 3rd son of 5 children and spent his growing up years in Guthrie. His mother died when he was not yet 11. He decided, after high school to attend Georgia Tech in faraway Atlanta, encouraged by his aunt and uncle who lived there. He obtained his engineering degree from there and never looked back. He was Army Air Corps ROTC and entered WW II in 1941.

Here are his orders:

Special Orders to Galveston

Monday, 23 June 1941


436 Post Office Building

Louisville, Kentucky.

June 23, 1941. Special Orders No. 112.

By direction of the President and under authority contained in Public Resolution No. 96, 16th Congress, approved August 27, 1940, second Lieutenant Robert Landon Kimbrough, 0-410941, CA-Res.,(541st CA) Guthrie, Todd, County, Kentucky, is ordered to extended active duty effective June 30, 1941, on which date he will proceed without delay from the place shown after his name to Fort Knox, Kentucky reporting upon arrival to the Commanding General, for temporary duty for the purpose of undergoing final type physical examination. Upon completion of the physical examination, if found physically qualified, he will proceed immediately to Galveston, Texas, reporting upon arrival to the Commanding Officer, for assignment and duty with Harbor Defenses of Galveston.

He will rank from May 20,1941. Unless sooner relieved, he will return to his home from the station where he is then time to arrive thereat on June 29, 1942, on which date he will stand relieved from active duty. The travel directed is necessary in the military service. FD~1325 P 15-06, 15-02, 15-07, 15-13, 15-01, A 1505-01-2. (Reference War Department letter AG 320.2 (12-27-40) M-A-M, January 3, 1941, Subject:

“Allotment of Reserve officers for Regular Army Inactive Units to be activated June 1, 1941”). (Reqn. #112-1941)

 Bob in 1940s

He shared with us one of the other important related turning points of his life – he was NOT sent to Guadalcanal later in the conflict as his engineering skills were needed elsewhere. Otherwise a lot of our Kimbroughs would not exist. The military continued to be a big part of Bob’s life even after discharge in about 1947  from the Air Force as he maintained membership in the Reserves until the mid 1980’s.

Bob spent his post active military career with the Boeing Company and retired from there. After his retirement he did some traveling and on one of his trips he came upon the old Kimbrough Family Cemetery which was originally on the Kimbrough Plantation in Hadensville, Kentucky,  just outside of Guthrie. His original Kentucky forebears were buried there and he wanted to see that it was preserved for future generations. With support from a cousin, Ben Kimbrough and his nephew John, son of his late brother Charles, Bob crafted a plan to restore what tombstones and sites could be found. We got involved in the last stage of the restoration: taking pictures and documenting the burials – as best we could. Our results are seen on the website .

The quest for information to know more about the folks who were buried in the cemetery really drove a lot of the research for a while. We have yet to find out where Thomas Winston Kimbrough and his brothers were raised…but we have hope! I’m sorry that Bob won’t be around to celebrate with us when the brick wall is finally breached, but I’ll imagine him laughing.

RLK on front porch of his childhood home in Guthrie, Kentucky in 2001

Courthouses and Historical Societies

After our trip to Washington DC we spent a busy two days visiting the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society as well as their courthouse and a return to Louisa county and the courthouse there. Both courthouses had the records very available, which was nice, but I missed that wonderful woman from Logan County Genealogical Society who helped soooo much at that courthouse! Landon performed yeoman service in copying lots of very difficult to copy record pages as well as photographing lots of other items and documents. It was more difficult in Louisa as photographs weren’t allowed for some reason. No copies of indexes, either, which made it difficult to pull all of the items we wanted in the limited time we had. His family <that’s who we’re researching, after all> would be proud of his effort! Now we’re feeling like we have lots of information but no concrete ideas or trails to follow. We’ve decided to focus on the William Kimbroughs and see where that gets us.  Taking time to sort and timeline some of the new information and review what we already have will be helpful, I trust.

During our time in Charlottesville at the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society we found a great deal on the Garth family, that is prominent there. The librarian, Margaret O’Bryant, was incredibly helpful and really knows the area! We keep running into various documents by Rosalie Edith Davis who wrote The Garth Family, a very comprehensive book. We will order one when we get home.

We moved off the Kimbrough theme a bit as we looked for more information about Richard Gaines and Thomas Garth in Albemarle County. Richard Gaines married Ann Garth, daughter of Thomas and they were the parents of Susan Gaines, wife of “our” Thomas Winston Kimbrough. Susan’s sister married Meredith Kimbrough, Thomas’ brother. Richard Gaines was a carpenter and did a lot of work for Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Garth served as Jefferson’s business manager and may have fulfilled some other offices for him while Jefferson was away from Monticello. We made a point to visit Monticello for that reason and have found several references to Garth and Gaines in the Jefferson papers and other historical documents. Helps history come alive!

Continuing to travel and gather information makes it difficult to post, but as we travel back to the west I hope to update both my information and this blog. We will stop in Salt Lake City, with an eye to clarifying some findings and perhaps gaining even more information, as we ran out of time at the Albemarle Courthouse.

Virginia is for genealogists!

28 May 2012

While sitting in the library in Hanover Courthouse, VA, week before last paging through books, a man came in to talk to the librarians and I overheard him say:  “You ladies have been so helpful to me but I STILL can’t find my 6th great-grandfather William Kimbrough in the cemetery!” <WHAT?!!> Needless to say, I struck up a conversation with this fellow and we exchanged information. Not sure if there is a connection, but what a coincidence…anybody read the book Psychic Roots? Hanover County has a large number of Kimbroughs, as does its neighbor, Louisa. Both were the same county in early history so keeping track of dates and locations is important.

We spent time with Elaine Taylor, Museum Director of the Sargent Museum and Jim Artz, Mayor of Louisa, in the Louisa County Historical Society – a great place with very helpful people and lots of resources – and found some interesting will information.

Thanks to Elaine we found evidence that William Kimbrough (ca 1765 – ca 1851) of Louisa freed all of his slaves upon his death and decreed in his will that they were transported to non-slave states. An unusual act in these times, I imagine. I believe that this is the same William who is shown in the 1850 Louisa County census as living with Celia Cosby, a mulatto woman and her child. He is 85 at the time of the census. There are numerous Kimbroughs and Winstons in Louisa County and we plan a trip to the courthouse and the public library as soon as we can manage. This likely means a return to VA after we visit Washington, DC.

Other than ruling out a number of folks and getting a bit more information, the trip to the Library of Virginia was inconclusive. I did find out about some databases they have online that I can access with my LVA library card.

So far, I’m feeling frustrated. Wish me luck!

Furthering the search

For a number of years we have been working on our brick wall in the Kimbrough line. Who is the father of Thomas Winston Kimbrough – born 1796 in Virginia, died 1868 in Kentucky. This has been a longstanding family mystery and better genealogists than I have tried to solve the puzzle. I have hope ONLY because I have access to so many more resources now, thanks to the internet and the fact that we can and will travel to Virginia this spring.

In preparation for  this trip I have begun to search every repository I can find: Library of Virginia, FHL, ancestry, etc. etc. to try to make some inroads and develop a hypothesis or two about who, when and where. I have the when and a couple ideas about where. It’s frustrating to run into records gaps – there are many – from colonial times, but there are also a lot of folks who have documented various records. It’s tempting to believe many of the “trees” that I have reviewed, but I have found so much misinformation that I’m skeptical. When I solve this I want my evidence to be as solid as possible. I’m learning a lot as I work this problem and am grateful to so many for their time and help.

As a “give back” I plan to post all of the research on – whether it applies to this particular family or not. I’ve already amassed scores of references to many Kimbroughs, Kembros, Kimbros, and a few other surnames that may be of help to others. The copies of the Kimbro-Kimbrough Quarterlies that we have will be posted there. Stay tuned if you’re interested. I’ll post on our trip, beginning in May, and share what I’m learning.