Swedish Death Cleaning

I just heard about this technique of “decluttering your house before you die to relieve the potential burden on your children” from my daughter. (Of course, that is my over-simplified version of the idea.) Even though the name sounds a bit morbid, I completely agree with the concept.

Despite my efforts to eliminate “stuff” from my house on a semi-regular basis, I still have too much clutter. I blame it on lack of time, but I know better. I am a great procrastinator. If I am not in the mood to do something, it doesn’t get done. If I procrastinate long enough, eventually something important becomes urgent and has to get done. That is where I find myself now. I am feeling a sense of urgency.

My mother-in-law passed away earlier this year (29 January 2018, to be exact) at the age of 95. She was a child during the Great Depression and, like many others of her era, she had a tendency to hold onto everything. While her kids were growing up, she kept two houses–one for the school year and one for vacations–fully stocked with cooking supplies, furniture, clothes, etc. In 1979, they moved into the last house they would share in this lifetime. Everything from both houses went into that one house. Seriously, everything…

After she had a stroke, she came to live with us, her son and me. However, we still kept her house and took her there to visit whenever we could. Over the ten years she was with us, we gradually began to eliminate unnecessary items–food beyond the expiration date by up to nine years, clothes of her husband who died in 1997, some of her clothes and most of her shoes (almost 100 pairs), empty bags, etc. I guess you could say, we had begun the technique of “Swedish Death Cleaning” on her behalf–she was alive, but couldn’t do it for herself. It was overwhelming to see all the stuff that she had collected over time.

Now, as we get closer to the anniversary of her passing, we are feeling an urgency to finish cleaning out her things–donating, selling, distributing to family members who want them, and trashing what can’t be reused somehow–in order to put her house on the market. If only she had started this process years ago! But, the death cleaning doesn’t stop there. Once we have finished preparing her house for sale, we have our own possessions to eliminate in preparation for a move and down-sizing of our own. This will be a major step toward doing some death cleaning of my own. I can’t wait to be free from the burden of stuff! I know my descendants will appreciate it, too. Time to let go!

For more information about Swedish Death Cleaning, you might want to read about it here: https://www.buzzfeed.com/gyanyankovich/what-is-swedish-death-cleaning

The Simleness Family’s Oakland Connection

Today, as I get ready to head down to Oakland, CA, for a conference on Saturday about The Great Migration, I am thinking about the members of the Simleness family who made Oakland their home for so many years.

The immigrant ancestors of the family, Ole and Britha, arrived in America from Norway in 1889/1900, and they settled in Hayward, Freeborn County, Minnesota. They followed their first-born child, who made the journey about six years earlier, and  were accompanied by five of their eight other children. The last three immigrated later. This couple’s youngest child, Isaac Simleness, my husband’s grandfather, was the only child to be born in the United States, just a few short months after his parents’ arrival.

About ten years later, Ole died of lung fever. All except the two youngest were out of the home. By the early 1920s, Bertha, along with four of her children and their living spouses, moved to the Piedmont area of Oakland, California, leaving behind forever the harsh, cold winters of southern Minnesota. Isaac Simleness and his wife Josephine were among them.

Isaac and Josephine raised two children in Oakland–Everett and Janet, both graduates of Piedmont High. Everett enlisted in the navy after Pearl Harbor was bombed, not yet eighteen years of age. He was stationed at Humboldt Bay in Northern California. There he met, fell in love with and married the love of his life, Peggie Jean Hibbert, on 19 June 1943 in Eureka, Humboldt County, California. After discharge, Everett and Peggie moved back to Oakland where she gave birth to their first two sons in 1948 and 1949, barely over a year apart.

Over time, members of the family either died or moved away, but the family’s connection to Oakland still exists in the history of the Piedmont area and in the memorials  to those who lived out their lives there. Bertha Simleness, Sina and her second husband Alex Milton, Mary and her husband Peter Fosse are all buried in Oakland’s Mountain View Cemetery.  The ashes of Jan and her husband Bill Pray are interred in the Columbarium near the cemetery.

It has been a while since I have been in Oakland. I hope to be able to pay my respects to my husband’s ancestors while there.



Vesterheim Museum & Decorah Genealogical Society

The Vesterheim Museum in Decorah, Iowa, is dedicated to Norwegian heritage. (I learned about it while researching places that might help me with my BCG portfolio projects.) It contains an amazing collection of Norwegian artifacts depicting life in Norway and in immigrant America. The craftsmanship of the items on display is beyond description. Walking through the four floors of exhibits, not to mention the many buildings on the grounds behind the museum, one can experience life in 19th century Norway, leaving a beloved family and homeland for America, and the immigrant’s life in their new home. Visiting a site such as this always puts me in awe of the fortitude of our ancestors. We owe them so much. Learning about their lives is one way to show our gratitude for their sacrifices.

This trunk came with Bertha Knuddt. Skaug to America in 1857. It belonged to my husband’s great-grandmother, immigrant from Norway. It is a treasured family heirloom. Many of these are on display in the Vesterheim Museum, along with hundreds, possibly thousands, of other finely-crafted items.

As I continue on this journey to certification, I am amazed by the many unexpected turns my path has taken. One of the staff at the museum, upon learning of my interest in genealogy, suggested I visit the Decorah Genealogical Society. This was not on my radar, but I was ecstatic to find a new repository of information. For anyone interested in researching ancestors from Winneshiek County, Iowa, Norwegian or otherwise, I highly recommend you visit the Decorah Genealogical Society.

The librarian/archivist on staff the day I visited was wonderful! She helped me find Norwegian emigration records and birth records I had not yet located on my own, taught me about Norwegian internet sites I had not used before, and took me on a tour of their society’s abundant resources. At least six rooms filled with books, microfilm, maps, and more. What a goldmine I stumbled into!

You just never know where and when you will find that one record, that one repository, that one person who will help break through a brick wall. The joy is in the journey!


A Special NGS Moment

NGS Family History Conference 2018 ended a few hours ago. Now to put all of this new-found knowledge to work. I attended about 15 sessions, reviewed successful BCG portfolios, reconnected with friends, ate some great food, and bought a few souvenirs.

It was interesting to learn about how many Dutch immigrants settled in this area of Western Michigan. Over the past twenty years I have been researching my father’s paternal line in earnest. I have discovered that they came from Ostfriesland, which included northwestern Germany and northeastern Netherlands, not far from the North Sea. The Davids branch, his paternal grandmother’s line, have roots in the Netherlands. I have located records for the Brinkman line in Marienhafe, Engerhafe, and Siegelsum, all part of the province of Hannover, kindgom of Prussia, during the years before their emigration.

One of the highlights of the conference for me was a special presentation shared by Yvette Hoitink, a certified genealogist from the Netherlands, at last night’s NGS banquet. She shared a heartfelt story of a Dutch tradition that occurs every May 4th and 5th–Remembrance Day (Dodenherdenking) and Liberation Day (Bevrijdingsdag), respectively. At about 8 pm, after explaining the significance of these two special days, Yvette invited everyone at the banquet to stand in silence for two minutes in honor of those who lost their lives in WWII, and in wars since, fighting for freedom from tyrrany and oppression. The following link explains those special days in the Netherlands.

May 4 and May 5: Remembrance Day And Liberation Day In The Netherlands

The more I study and learn about my family’s history, the more I want to learn and know. Maybe it is the same with you. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Every man is a quotation from all his ancestors.” As I come to know more about the lives of my ancestors, about my roots, I am beginning to understand what parts of me come from each of them.