Beata Josefine

Here is a bit of the tragic story of Beata Josefine. This was from an article published in Everton’s Family History Magazine, March 2002, with Kimberly Powell, on the challenges of researching women ancestors. The part below was included, and is my writing. I later discovered that she was Beata, not Berta or Bertha -— my confirmation bias got in the way because my aunt had used the name Berta.

The transcribed cemetery record was simple, with very basic information: “Anderson Beata Josephine, 16 Sept 1864 – 28 Dec 1882 w/o Oscar d/o Sven Larson.” A woman who had married and died by the tender age of 18 – it left me aching to learn more.

Fortunately I found what I needed to know in a story about my great-grandfather’s life, published by my aunt Linnea Rovainen in a high school literary collection in 1933. She based her short story on her memories, recalled from early childhood, of stories told by her grandfather Sven to her mother. Bertha Josephine or Berta Josefine (not Beata), an older half-sister of Linnea’s mother (my grandmother), was born the year after her family immigrated to Wisconsin from Norway. About 1874, Bertha nearly died in an epidemic that took the lives of four brothers and her only sister. After this great loss, Bertha’s mother, Maria, took to disappearing for weeks at a time, leaving the burden of running the household on Bertha as the only living girl — the boys were working outside on the farm from an early age.

My aunt’s story includes this poignant paragraph:

Bertha grew up to be a healthy, good-looking girl. Being the only living daughter, she bore the burden of the household. All she saw was misery. When one of the neighbor boys asked her to become his bride, she knew that was her escape. Maria did not favor the marriage because she would lose the girl’s help, but Sven realized what Bertha had suffered, so when the time came for his daughter to go, he sneaked her clothing out of the second floor window. Bertha was very happy in her humble home, but she did not have long to enjoy it because she died three months after her marriage.

The story was of my great-grandfather — but here, buried in the middle of his account, I was able to separate out the tragic tale of this young 19th century American girl, whose only documented existence outside my aunt’s story may be in a cemetery record, a marriage license and a couple of census entries.

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You might be able to see on the well-worn cemetery marker (a photo I took), that the words include Beata Josefine’s name, her husband’s name, and her father’s name. In the records for that cemetery, it’s the only married woman I can find whose gravestone includes her father’s name.

I have never been able to find out her cause of death.