Monday, May 28, 2012

Cornelius Landaas

Cornelius Landaas as a boy

I have been working my way through all the children in these big families (Mikal Alfsen and Anne Gundersdatter had eleven, Peder Landaas and Karen Olsen Kalvetræ had nine) and now we come to Cornelius Landaas who was born 13 September 1881 in Bergen, Norway the sixth child of Peder and Karen.  He journeyed to America with his next older brother, Harald, arriving in Montreal, Canada in October 1901 then taking the Canadian Pacific Railway west to Seattle where his two older sisters, Mikkeline (Maggie) and Petra had settled.  The oldest Landaas brother, Adolph, was in the goldfields of Alaska by that time.  Cornelius became a naturalized citizen of the United States on 30 September 1910. 

Cornelius or Neil as he was called appears to have been, from oral history accounts, more or less the favored son.  All his siblings and his mother thought him the cleverest, smartest of the lot and had only good things to say about him.  Supposedly he could fix or repair anything, had a keen mind, and charmed the socks off everyone.  His formidable mother, Karen, not only wanted to pick wives for her sons she also strongly suggested career choices.  She wanted Neil to become a Lutheran minister but my mother, who lived with him and his family for a short time, thought that would have been a most unsuitable choice for Uncle Neil.  Instead he became an Engraver and worked in a jewelry store.  The fact that he went slightly against the wishes of his extremely strong willed mother says something.  His older brother, Harald was also an engraver and his younger brother, Trygve was a jeweler.  So these three brothers were in similar occupations and the eldest brother, Adolph, was gold mining. 

Neil was married three times.  His first wife was Mary Thompson, born 29 December 1886 in Seattle, the daughter of Thorvald and Louisa Thompson.  Reverend Stub married Neil and Mary in the Ballard First Lutheran church on 17 March 1906.  There is a long association with this church and Rev. Stub in the Landaas family. 

Neil and Mary had one child, a daughter, Louise Marion Landaas born 5 April 1907.  Mary passed away 28 November 1918 in Seattle.  Louise would have been about eleven years old when her mother died.  One time when I spoke with Louise she mentioned that she thought her mother may have been expecting another child at the time of her death but in those days things like that were never talked about.  I thought the picture below of Neil and Mary was cute.  It was in with the batch of silly pictures that the Landaas family took of each other in the early 1900s. 

Mary & Neil Landaas, ca early 1900s

He married his second wife, Dorothy G. Gray on 12 August 1920.  Dorothy was born in Illinois in April 1893 the daughter of Robert Gray and Sophia Clark.  Robert and Sophia had emigrated from England with two of their children, Victoria V. and James D.  They lived first in Illinois and then moved west to Seattle where they settled.  Neil and Dorothy had one son, Robert Gray Landaas, born 20 October 1921* in Seattle.  About the time that Neil married Dorothy his daughter, Louise, left the household to move in with her mother’s sister.  As a result of this move Louise and Robert were not raised together and had very little contact with each other throughout their lives.  I thought that rather sad since they had no other siblings.  Dorothy passed away 1 December 1933.  Robert was just twelve or thirteen years old when his mother died.

Cornelius Landaas

Neil and Tryg look very much alike in the old photographs making it difficult to tell them apart so I was delighted when Bob Landaas identified this one as definitely his father. 

On 4 September 1937 Neil married for a third time to Dorothy’s sister, Victoria V. Gray.  Vicky was born May 1888 in England and came to America with her parents as a child.  Neil and Vicky did not have any children.  Neil passed away 24 April 1951 and Vicky died 25 May 1956. 

Neil’s daughter, Louise, married Eugene (Gene) Cardiff in 1929 and they had one daughter.  Gene died in 1997 and Louise passed away a year later in 1998.  Neil’s son, Bob, married and had two children.  Bob died in 2004.  He took a trip to Norway in 1984 and his wife sent this picture of him standing in front of the new church at Landaas, near Bergen.  She remarked that it was a beautiful piece of modern architecture—so different from Korskirken or from the country church in Nissedal where her own father’s ancestors are buried.

Bob Landaas in front of the new Landaas church, 1984

Although I met and talked with Louise and Gene Cardiff several times, met and talked with Bob Landaas and his wife, also met many of the Landaas aunts and uncles I do not remember Uncle Neil.  When I talked with one of the granddaughters of Neil’s sister, Klara Hillwang, she couldn’t really remember him either other than to mention that none of the Hillwang girls liked him much.  My own mother didn’t like him at all.  Interesting since he was held in such high esteem by his own mother and siblings.  There is a hint that Neil may have been a ladies man but we may never know all the details of those whispers since no one is left alive now who could confirm or deny the reports.  The Landaas family was a large close-knit group known for nicknaming and teasing.  It made me wonder if Uncle Neil may have been teasing and flirting with all the girls and women.  The older ones could have found it flattering, cute, and maybe funny but the young girls might have been confused and uncomfortable with it coming from an adult.

As mentioned above, my mother lived with Uncle Neil’s family for a short period of time, after I.C. Lee passed away in November 1930.  I’m not sure how long after his death Uncle Neil and his family moved into the Lee’s home but they did live there for quite some time.  Petra was able to stay in the house with mom for awhile but eventually had to take a live in housekeeping position and mom couldn’t move with her so she stayed in the house with Uncle Neil and his family.  From that time forward until mom was out of high school she was bumped around between the aunts and uncles sleeping on sofas and living out of a suitcase.   I suppose the only good thing about the arrangement was that she knew all the aunts and uncles well and was in later years able to identify many of her mother’s old pictures and pass along much of the oral history for which I am extremely grateful.


*  Bob's birth year appears in different places as 1920 or 1921.

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