52 Ancestors: #5 Frank Nelson

Well, I knocked a few bricks off of one of my brick walls this week! The small breakthrough came when I tracked down the obituary of my 3x great grandfather, Frank Nelson. Before this, I had known that Frank had immigrated from Sweden as a young man, and then spent the majority of his adult life in Defiance, Ohio. I had been able to find a lot of information about his life in Defiance, but hadn’t been able to find anything before then. I still don’t have the answers I’m looking for, but with the new information from his obituary, I have some new ideas of where to look. I’ll talk a little bit about Frank’s life in Defiance, and then discuss the information and new questions I got from his obituary. The star sources in this week’s blog are Frank’s obituary (of course) and a number of pictures and city directories that I found on ohiomemory.org.

Frank Nelson married Anna Peterson, also a Swedish immigrant, in 1883 in Defiance, Ohio. Prior to finding their obituaries, I had no records of them before this, including no mention of either one in or near Defiance in 1880. Frank and Anna’s first daughter died in infancy, and after this, they went on to have 4 daughters and 2 sons. In 1900, they appear in the census in Defiance at 103 Auglaize St with all six of their surviving children. The census also contains the following information:

  • his birth date is June 1855

    Frank Nelson 1900 census

    Frank Nelson 1900 census

  • his occupation is a wheel polisher (at the Turnbull Wagon Company, according to a number of city directories)
  • he immigrated in 1871
  • he can read, write, and speak English
  • he owns his home and has a mortgage

Frank’s wife Anna died in 1904, and then Frank died in 1907. All four of their daughters would eventually die of tuberculosis over the next ten years after Frank’s death. Thankfully, before she died, their oldest daughter Florence was able to marry and have three children, one of whom was my great grandmother. The other three daughters all died unmarried, between the ages of 16 and 20.  But that’s all a story for another day.

Until this week, that’s about all the information I had on Frank, and I wasn’t sure where to go about looking for more. I was missing the following information:

  • his parents’ names
  • an exact birth date
  • a place of birth more specific that Sweden
  • a firm date of immigration
  • where he lived between immigration around 1871 and his marriage in Defiance in 1883 (he does not appear in the 1877-78 or 1881-82 Defiance City Directories, but he does appear in the 1887-88 one)
  • the name of any of his relatives besides his wife and children
  • verification of the date of death as 3 Nov 1907 (listed in this record on Family Search, but no image of the original available online; his headstone only has the year, 1907)

Then, earlier this week, I found a reference to Frank’s obituary on the Ohio Obituary Index on rbhayes.org. I quickly requested it, and then received both a death notice and an obituary on Friday.

Frank Nelson death notice

Frank Nelson death notice: Defiance Crescent News 11 Nov 1907

Frank Nelson obituary

Frank Nelson obituary: Defiance Crescent News 18 Nov 1907

These two sources provided me with a lot of information for Frank:

  • a (likely) more accurate death date: 11 Nov 1907
  • cause of death: tuberculosis (making him the first of five people in his family to die of the disease in a span of 10 years)
  • an exact birthday: June 3rd, 1856
  • a birthplace: Stockholm, Sweden
  • information about where he lived before coming to Defiance: Germany from age 14-17, a few months in Grand Rapids in approximately 1873, and an unspecified amount of time in Logansport, Indiana
  • his church, or at least the church where his funeral was held (it doesn’t say that he was a long-time faithful member of the church like many other people’s obituaries do): the English Lutheran Church

By checking the 1907-1908 Defiance City Directory (p.9), I discovered that his church’s full name was Zion’s First English Lutheran, since this is the English Lutheran church whose pastor is Rev. R.E.M. Engers, the pastor listed in his obituary.  There are pictures on ohiomemory.org of this church around the same time period – both the inside and outside. The people on the steps of the church in the outside picture were probably friends or acquaintances of Frank and his family. 

Since Frank doesn’t appear in the 1880 census in Defiance, I decided to see if he’s listed in Logansport instead, since his obituary said that’s where he lived before coming to Defiance. I did indeed find a Frank Nelson in Logansport. This Frank was of the correct age, was born in Sweden, and was single, living with his cousin Gustave Nelson in Logansport in 1880.  This Frank Nelson worked in a spoke factory.

Logansport 1880 census record for Frank Nelson

Logansport 1880 census record for Frank Nelson

Could this be my Frank Nelson? Everything sure seems to fit. I’m currently working on researching Gustave (who also went by August) Nelson, to see if this potential cousin could shed any light on whether this is my Frank Nelson, and if so, who their parents and/or grandparents were. Unfortunately, there aren’t many detailed records for Indiana available online, so I haven’t made much progress yet. It also appears that Gustave died later in 1880. If this is my Frank Nelson, perhaps he felt like he needed to move on after his cousin’s death, and that’s why he made the move to Defiance.

So, my search for my Swedish roots continues! If any one sees this and has any more information about Frank or Gustave Nelson, or what happened later in life to Frank’s sons Charles and William McKinley Nelson, please get in touch with me.