"Have you thought about writing your family history, but found yourself stuck from the start? Writing a family narrative can be a daunting task, but Karen Jones Gowen found a way to bring her mother's story to life." (Homespun Magazine)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Women of the Nebraska Plains

One grandmother and two great-grandmothers had parts of their stories told in Farm Girl. I often felt my grandmother's presence during that time of writing the book. I knew this work was important to her and that she was helping it along.

Throughout her adult life, my grandmother felt the need to record what she had seen as a daughter of Nebraska homesteaders. She wrote about how to build a sod house. She wrote about her mother's experience in the Chicago fire. She painted oils of covered wagons crossing the Great Plains, sod houses, and one large painting I have in my home of men panning for gold.

During the typesetting of Farm Girl, the file was erased at one point. The typesetter was devastated, not sure how it happened. I felt peaceful and tried to calm him down. "There had to be a reason for this. It's okay. The book will come out better than ever." And it did. During that time, I sensed not just my grandmother's assistance, but the other two as well-- her mother and grandmother wanting to clear the way so their stories could be told.

Photograph below is of Sophie Stav Walstad, of Norway, who emigrated to Chicago with her first husband. When he died, she came to Nebraska with their small son and settled near the Walstads, neighbors from Norway. She married Hans Walstad. Their daughter was my grandmother. It was a hard life in those early days of living in a dugout. She missed the forests and streams back home in Norway. Here all was dry, windy, and harsh, with no trees growing midst the tough prairie sod. Sophie would often take her sewing down by the creek and cry so that she could not see to sew.


  1. Wonderful post, Karen and what a lonely image of her sitting by the creek.
    It makes me realise what wonderful stock we all come from and we should appreciate the lives we have nowadays. Loved the photo and the idea of all the wonderful ladies 'helping' you write your story. They would all be very proud of you.

  2. Oh how lovely.

    Thank you for sharing memories of your grandmother, Sophie - I can see her longing for Norway, her heart breaking.

    And it's so good to feel that her and her daughter are there supporting you. Of course they are! You've ensured their lives are remembered and never forgotten!

    Take care

  3. I can identify with Sophie's sadness. Though not her hardships. I go through something similiar in February/March here in Wisconsin. Springtime in Ireland, still in the grips of winter in Wisconsin. I understand the crying in loneliness of homesickness.

    It is a wonderful story Karen of perseverance and strength of character. I have no doubt they whispered in your ear as you wrote the words.

  4. Step by step you're spectacularly recreating a bygone world. This is an excellent post. I love it. (Our ancestors are truly just a breath away.)

  5. What a fascinating project and how spine-tinglingly wonderful that you experienced your grandmother's presence during the process. I must say that covered wagons and panning for gold is as far away from my life geographically as it is chronologically. Truly another world.

  6. I am continually reminded by these posts that our ancestors were people with lives and worries like our own. The surroundings were different, but human nature is the same. We all miss places and people, worry about our familys and homes, stress about survival. Everyone has a story that is relateable, if told well. Thank you Karen.


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