Start Sharing Your Family Story - Ignite the Conversation

So much of what I like to write about involves buckets of imagination, and loads of research. With any luck when I start a story, I have a photograph.

A writer doesn't need to actually have lived an event or during a particular time themselves to be able to write about it with glorious details. All writing can't be auto-biographical. Some storytelling comes from stories passed down from our ancestors to us. We toss in some imagination and create a story worthy of a  read by just about anyone.

Many writers would be out of work, and history would never get written if it weren't for people wanting to write about the past.

My Great Grandfather

My great grandfather, Robert Moore, was born in the spring on May 19, 1850, in Bruce, Ontario, Canada. This largely forested area near Toronto, was just being developed into farmland when Robert was born.  His father, Walter was 28 and his mother, Mary was 24, and they certainly would have gone to Bruce County to take up farming with their young and growing family after migrating from Ireland.

By 1885 Robert had found his way into the United States of America. He married Lydia Walsh in Casselton, North Dakota, on February 25, 1885, when he was 34 years old and Lydia was 33. 

Lydia's parents were also Irish immigrants. I'm not able to find out why she ended up in North Dakota. Had she and Robert travelled there together? Unmarried? Or did they meet there? Perhaps both looking to become homesteaders?

Because that is exactly what happened for Robert and Lydia in 1887.

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In 1862 President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act. Between 1879 and 1886, more than 100,000 people settled in northern Dakota Territory.

To claim 160 acres of free land, a man or woman had to be head of a household and 21 years old.

The homesteader paid an $18US filing fee (just under $500.00 US today) and was allowed to live  on the homestead for five years if they improved it.

Fargo in the Dakota Territory  would have been a harsh, unforgiving place in the winter time.  Anytime for that matter would have been hard work, all the time. Sunlight hours are short in winter and the nights, bitterly cold. Add into the mix, drought, blizzards and grasshoppers... this was a very unforgiving place.

Their home  possibly would have been a hand built sod house. The open Dakota territory was not known for it's forests as Ontario had been. So lumber was at a premium, therefore mud and course prairie sod was all they had to make a shelter. Imagine how dark and damp these structures would have been?

This was the life they went to. They, like so many other pioneers chose this kind of difficult life, they had a vision quite similar to that of their Irish migrant parents.

Robert and Lydia had three children in 6 years. Bertha in January 1886, Frank in September 1888 and Lydia May in February 1891.

Imagine starting a family, while homesteading on 160 acres without family living close by. It was their life and must have seemed pointless  at times.

Two of their three children were born in winter. In the cold, damp and isolated Dakota Territory.

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The inside of their sod hut would have been very basic, cramped and for a pregnant woman, in the middle of winter, near unbearable.

Poor Lydia died 11 days after her their third child, Lydia May, was born on February 5 1891. One can only imagine what may have happened. It was Lydia's third child, she may have been on her own for the birth, no one to help her. 

No doctor or mid-wife. Perhaps there had been a terrible February storm that prevented help from getting out to the homestead.

Those poor little children, Bertha and Frank. Too small to help their father with tiny Lydia May, but old enough to know that their mother would have suffered.

Clearly, something went terribly wrong and my great grandfather was now alone with two children under 6 and a new born in a sod hut in the middle of winter.

It was February, and they wouldn't have been able to bury poor Lydia as the ground would have been frozen solid. It was the custom to leave the dead "on ice" until Spring when the ground would have thawed out sufficiently to allow the grave diggers to do their work.

How terrifying for the older children to have lost their mother. This family story, though, does have some happy times.

Elizabeth Walsh (my great grandmother), Lydia's younger sister, got the desperate message to go and help poor Robert with his children. Being an unmarried woman of 34, a spinster, there was nothing to keep her in Canada. She didn't hesitate, and made the arduous journey, mostly like by the newly opened train, to barren North Dakota.

And two years later, Robert and Elizabeth married on March 22, 1893. They had two children together. Jennie was born May 5, 1894 in North Dakota, and my grandfather Clarence Moore was born August 21, 1896 in Canada.

The Dakota Territory chapter for this family story ended  at some point around 1895.  I believe Robert was most likely in quite poor health and it was decided to return to Canada with his wife and still growing family.

Robert died on June 7, 1902, in York, Ontario, Canada, at the age of 52, and was buried in Toronto.

Elizabeth now the sole parent with 5 children to raise.

Lydia May, who was only 11 days old when her mother died, lived only to her 20th year, dying of meningitis in 1911.

By all accounts the five children considered Elizabeth their mother. Bertha, Frank and Lydia May would not have remembered their biological mother.

I have always been fascinated by this family story. The strength of these people, the isolation the women must have endured and the incredible sacrifices they made for each other.