It was hot. Really hot. But it was 9:30 in the morning, so I figured it couldn’t be that hot. We had ended up in Valley City, North Dakota, in an unexpected rerouting of our motor home trip. Other than the heat, this was a sweet little town with a small motor home park run by the city, a Carnegie Library and an Historical Society. A genealogist’s dream!
I had come totally unprepared as I hadn’t planned to visit here on this trip. I began to rack my brain about what information I had and what information I still needed. I carry my database on my laptop but am not always the best at updating it as information becomes available. And what about the information I knew I had at home? And that new box from my cousins? Well, I knew I didn’t have burial information for the Sanders who died there, so that was a starting point. I also hoped I could find some additional information about the photography studio and maybe some old photographs that had been taken by my great granduncle. Asle and Charlotte Sanders had settled here in 1884 after emigrating from Norway and spending a short time in Iowa. Our great grandfather had joined them there when he arrived in Dakota Territory, before continuing west to Washington Territory. I wanted to know more about Asle and their family.
The evening we arrived I visited the library. One of the few remaining Carnegie Libraries, I might add. It was about ½ mile from the RV Park and only about 90 degrees at 6 pm. The clerk there was very nice and helped me with all kinds of chores, like getting books down from up high and copying. It was air-conditioned there, so I spent as much time as possible. I was able to find a book that contained information about the cemeteries in the area: Cemeteries of Valley City, Barnes County, North Dakota Compiled by George L. Barron. Our Sanders folk were listed – at least Asle and Lotta – with information about the cemetery location and even the grave location. Nice!
The next morning we packed up and drove the couple miles to the road to Hillside Cemetery. As we drove up the road a sign appeared: Road Closed. What?! I walked around the sign and this was all I could see:
So I kept walking. And walking. It was hot and I didn’t intend to walk far, but doesn’t that look like a cemetery at the crest of this hill? See how those trees look different than the others?
Well, it wasn’t. There was a sign, however, which encouraged me. Sometime in the next half hour of walking I nearly turned around but I reminded myself of how long I had wanted to come here and I was sooo close. The gate was about a mile from where I had started so I was pretty hot and thirsty when I finally arrived. It was cooler there, among the trees, but a sign warned not to drink the water. Thanks to the book pages I had brought along I found Asle’s grave in about 15 minutes.
The inscription read: Asle M. Sanders b.in Solem Holi Hallingdahl I Norge Mar 4. 1859 – Feb 17, 1891. I’ll need to get a translation of the remainder of the inscription: “Fred mit dil Slov val signet vare dit Minde”. Also inscribed: Din (wife I imagine) Lolla Sanders. Her name is spelled differently nearly every time I come across it.
I looked for a grave for Lottie, but found no stone, as was noted in the book. I later verified this fact with the sexton. At the time of her death from a terrible accident, I doubt that the children had the resources to place a stone for her. Or perhaps they thought her name on Asle’s stone was enough. She is buried in the same plot with him. After learning more about her, I feel she should also be memorialized, perhaps putting more information on Find a Grave will help others learn what a courageous woman she was. The cemetery is quite lovely, and had the road not been closed, an easy drive from the town.
During his short life and even shorter time in Valley City, Asle made quite a name for himself. His photography studio is noted in the history of Barnes County. He applied for citizenship there in 1884 and was naturalized in October of 1890. He was a member of several organizations, including the Odd Fellows, who even made a resolution and mourned his passing in the newspaper. I had hoped to find more examples of his work by visiting the local antique stores.
After searching the photographs at the first place I stopped, I thanked the woman and was about to leave when she asked me who I was looking for. When I told her she smiled and said “always pays to ask” and took a photo down off her wall. It was a picture, taken by Asle about 1889 at a festival in Valley City. She had it on her wall as it was a photo of her building.
I stopped at the Barnes County Historical Society with two goals in mind: learning if they had more information about Asle and his business and to meet and thank the Director, with whom I’d emailed a year or two ago regarding the Sanders family. There didn’t appear to be much more information readily available but Wes, the Director, enjoyed showing me the exact spot where the photography studio used to be. It was a 25 foot square of the current Historical Society! He also helped me determine that the former home of Asle and Lotta was now a parking lot.
For an unexpected trip to a long anticipated site, it all turned out pretty well. Now I’d like to connect with some cousins from that part of our family.