My Montana Roots

This is me at the kitchen table in 1967, working on my first family history project.

My mother began telling me stories about Montana, her grandparents and their offspring when I was a young girl. The stories were often romantic and adventuresome, and sometimes sad. She particularly loves to share anecdotes about her grandfather – the one who arrived in Montana Territory in 1864, thus making him an official “Montana pioneer”. And she is quite sentimental about her grandmother and grandaunt – the ones who came from Ireland with high hopes, only to die several years later as young mothers. As a result of my mother’s stories, these people are as alive for me as if I had known them.

My father, on the other hand, rarely talked about his family – with the exception of a few stories about his Swedish grandparents, and the story about his German grandmother who outlived three husbands, having seen one of them hit by a train.  That’s a story you never forget.

Recently, I’ve done more research on my father’s family and learned that all four of his grandparents, as well as three of his great grandparents, came to Montana prior to 1900. And somehow the realization that both sides of my family are deeply rooted in Montana has been a revelation for me.

I was born in Montana but we moved to New Mexico when I was only two years old. Nearly every summer we made the trip back home, mostly due to my mother’s insistence. (We used to tease her that once pointed in the direction of Montana – or “God’s Country” as she refers to it – there was no stopping her!) I continue to make that trip each summer and my desire to spend even more time there continues to grow.

After my father died, when I felt the yearning even more keenly, I told myself it probably had something to do with feeling closer to him while I was there. But I now believe it must also have something to do with my deep and complex Montana roots.

And so because much of my time is taken up thinking about and researching these people and their lives, this blog is my attempt to learn more about and pass on the stories of my extraordinary ancestors, where they came from, and how they all ended up in Montana.

I find myself particularly curious to know the stories of how each of them physically arrived – whether by steamboat on the Missouri River, by stagecoach from Denver, possibly by covered wagon from Minnesota, or by train from the east coast after crossing the ocean from Sweden and Ireland. Today it takes 2 full days by car to get to Montana from where I live.  You can appreciate what the journeys must have been like when my ancestors made their trips over a century ago.

Perhaps my reasons for wanting to be in Montana are far different from those of my ancestors – but somehow we have all ended up on the same road.