Connected Bloodlines

Norwegian Cousins Reunite

Norwegian Cousins Reunite: Family Conversations During Dinner with Sonia Woster

On February 4, 1996, Mom, Dad, Mitchell and I were invited to dinner at Sonia Woster's apartment in Escondido, California, about 30 miles north of our home in San Diego. Mitchell and I had "discovered" Sonia as part of my research on the genealogical history of my maternal grandfather, Harold Dreyer Nelson.

The search for Sonia was part of a broader research project that I had been conducting regarding Grandpa Nelson. His immediate family (my grandmother, mother, and her other three siblings) knew almost nothing about Harold Nelson's roots. Grandpa Nelson never talked about his past nor about his family in general; his work colleagues never even knew that he was married with children until one of his children brought him his lunch one day when he had forgotten it at home. Grandma Nelson did know the name of his mother and the names of his two half-brothers and two half-sisters, but she knew nothing about where they lived, other than the fact that they were Norwegian.

Grandpa Nelson had two first cousins in the United States, both of whom were known to his family. Eilif Smevik lived in Canton, South Dakota, a small farming community south of Sioux Falls, were we lived. He, his wife, Gertie, and their daughter, Sonia, relocated to southern California when Sonia was ten years old. The second first cousin was Helga Johnson. Helga, her husband, Martin, and their daughters Kelfred and Evelyn, lived on a farm outside of Dell Rapids, South Dakota. Helga and her family eventually moved to Seattle, Washington, to join two of Helga's brothers who were fishermen in the Pacific Northwest.

After arriving in San Diego in 1993, I began in earnest to attempt to find out about my grandfather. Unfortunately, all of the individuals with whom I spoke knew about Eilif and Helga being cousins of my grandfather's. However, no one knew how these three individuals were actually related: whose mother and/or father were siblings. My mother finally suggested that I try to locate Sonia by contacting my mother's oldest sibling, Mildred, since Mom thought that Mildred had maintained some type of contact with Sonia. When I talked with Mildred, she told me that she had always sent Christmas cards to Sonia but that her cards were returned about ten years ago, because the address that she had was no longer valid. Mildred did, however, have Sonia's married last name: Woster.

To make a long story short, I called every "Woster" whose telephone number was listed in various California telephone directories. The last individual I contacted turned out to be an ex-brother-law of Sonia's; Sonia had divorced her husband but had retained his last name. This brother-in-law got Sonia's telephone number from one of her children. After a series of telephone calls, Sonia and I talked and discovered that we lived less than 30 miles from each other.

Sonia became a wonderful and inspirational fried to Mitchell and me. Our friendship strengthened during the coming years. We were deeply saddened when Sonia died in 2001, after a battle with cancer.

Sonia turned out to have all of the information that I needed to continue my research on Grandpa Nelson. Sonia visited Norway in 1978. During her visit, she traveled to the far north and met many of our common ancestors. From the information that she provided, I was able to locate the birth records for my grandfather and information on my northern Norwegian relatives. Sonia's grandmother and my grandfather's mother were half-sisters. Evelyn's grandmother and my grandfather's mother were siblings.

In 1995, my parents rented a condominium right next to ours and spent the winter with us. During that time, we met with Sonia for dinner. My mom hadn't seen Sonia in over fifty years. These recordings capture the conversations that occurred during that dinner.

Four recordings are presented below. Unfortunately, I have not yet transcribed these recordings. The first recording begins with Mom talking about my attempts to locate Sonia.

Gerald R. Lowell
January 7, 2012

Participants in the conversations recorded at Sonia's apartment: