A new book by a family historian reveals the ‘chaotic’ history of the Minnesota clan

Armed with dozens of century-old letters, documents, and postcards, Daryl Lawrence opened up some barriers when he set out to write his family’s history five years ago.

His grandmother, Evie Schwartz, not only married men named Johnson and Olson, but also cut or omitted the names of ex-husbands and other suitors.

For wit: Evie saved her divorce papers from 1925, but she cut out Hank Johnson’s name and her name.

Lawrence, 36, writes in his new self-published book: “The one thing Evie didn’t expect…whenever she censored selectively on her were computerized databases.”On the Go All the Time: The Unusual Lives of Two Midwestern Women. “

Evie’s divorce file number, fortunately, eluded her scissors. A Hennepin County Bureau of Vital Statistics employee, with just a few keystrokes on the computer, was able to quickly locate and copy Lawrence’s divorce file. avoided barrier.

Lawrence, who lives in East Bethel and serves as the facility manager for the Peel Museum, came up with a narrative that is sharper than most family historians who spent part of the COVID-19 pandemic researching the genealogy.

Lawrence’s double biography all falls into the yolks of Evie and her mother, Annie Wendel. Spanning the late 1800s to the 1980s, it chronicles a teen pregnancy out of wedlock, two generations of domestic violence and hateful divorces.

“The chaos surprised me,” Lawrence said. “I could have written a pink picture and said my grandmother, Annie, was a good mom. But she wasn’t, and I had to stick with the truth or I’d write fiction.”

Unlike many family histories that tie events together, Lawrence weaves in a second layer of research to put Evie and Annie in the context of their times. He was surprised that Annie and Evie separated in 1915 and 1925 respectively, until he learned from several history books that the divorce rate in the United States had ballooned in the 1890s and had fallen from one in nine marriages in 1916 to one in six by 1928.

“I thought divorce in the 2000s was weird, but that came from looking through the lens of the Eisenhower era when it became a taboo,” Lawrence said. “Their divorce was very common; their lives were extraordinarily ordinary.”

Annie Wendell’s parents immigrated from Germany in 1873 to Moore County in southern Minnesota. Lawrence writes that her pregnancy at the age of fifteen in 1894 “was the first indication of the streak of independence that would become so evident in the decades to come.”

He peppers five interludes in his family’s history to allow readers to “know what you have to go through” in navigating the twists and turns of genealogical research. One day, that meant sifting through 10 boxes of dusty Divorce Records in Gazzaz County through four hours at the Minnesota History Center.

This is where he finds out that his great-grandfather, Jake Schwartz, once threw incendiary tea in Annie’s face. When she screamed, it hit her head with a heavy bucket and knocked her unconscious.

Evie, the eldest of Jake and Annie’s four children, was conceived out of wedlock – which led to their marriage in 1894 when he was 26 and she was 15.

Lawrence’s genealogical challenges grew when the married names of Annie moved from Schwartz (divorced) to Hopvey (widow). She died in 1956, and spent her last two decades as the happy wife of farmer Ben Liefgaard.

Perhaps the family’s most tender love story came when Evie struck up a tight affair with an Omaha man named Jim Halbrook as her first marriage fizzled out and became deserted. She planned to marry Hallbrook, but he died during the 1918 flu pandemic with Evie at his side.

The painful similarities to today’s pandemic have made this chapter the most difficult to write, Lawrence said.

He writes, “I’ve lived Evie’s experiences of dealing with my very complex feelings about the pandemic,” adding, “In a way, it was as healing as it was horrifying.”

Lawrence’s book isn’t all terrible. We follow Evie from farms in southern Minnesota to jobs as a laundry and then linen sales counter in downtown Minneapolis Dayton. With Annie withdrawing from raising her youngest child, Lloyd Ivy—who was 13 when her little brother was born—acted as a surrogate mother for him all his life.

In 1965, Lloyd and Evie traveled to Europe, from Paris to Pisa. She died in 1982 at the age of 87, after raising two daughters with her second husband, Adolf Olson, near Anoka. Their youngest daughter, Joyce, was Lawrence’s grandmother.

Lawrence wrote that Annie and Evie “were not rich or famous.” “They held no political office. They did nothing but live their lives…However, by examining their lives we can see history through their eyes and develop an understanding of what life has been like over a century of history.”

Kurt Brown’s tales of Minnesota history pop up every Sunday. Readers can send him ideas and suggestions at mnhistory@startribune.com. His most recent book takes a look at Minnesota in 1918, when influenza, war, and fires converged: strib.mn/MN1918.

Leave a Comment