"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)

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

K is for Karen

Yes that's right. My name. I am named for my mother's Norwegian grandmother, Karen Walstad. I came to know her through writing Farm Girl. From Chapter One: The Walstads--

My grandfather Hans Walstad lived alone in a dugout near Farmer's Creek, back when cottonwood, elm and ash trees crowded the banks. Lots of fruit grew near that creek-- grapes, plums, chokecherries, berries. Indians would come by his dugout and want tobacco and sugar, and he'd trade with them for buffalo meat and furs. Somehow they communicated, by signs I suppose, because he spoke only Norwegian. He was one of the first settlers to stake a claim in this part of Nebraska.

Hans would have stayed forever as a single man in his dugout because the girl he had loved back in Norway had married another man. Her name was Sofie Maren Stav, and she chose to marry Andre Pederson rather than him. So Hans decided to come to America and homestead in western Nebraska and live by himself in this dugout. He was happy here and had everything he needed. Soon his parents, one brother and three sisters came to the area and settled nearby, so he wasn't at all lonely.

His parents, Jakob and Karen Walstad, left Norway when Karen was 72 and Jakob 67, to be with their children in America. The older couple wanted a log house like they had in Norway rather than a sod house, so they cut logs from the trees along Farmer's Creek and built a house across the draw from Hans.

Before Farm Girl, Karen Walstad was just a name on a genealogy sheet, a name I heard occasionally in passing from my mother. It wasn't until I got her story written, at least in part, that she became real to me.


  1. This is so interesting, Karen. I love reading family histories, it feels like a peek into the past.

  2. Very interesting, from another "Karen." I was named after my mother's mother, whose name was Cornelia. However, my maiden name was Cohen and my mother didn't want kids calling me Corny Cohen. Wasn't she kind?

  3. Julie, and I have a sister named Julie, who was named after Julia Marker, my mom's mother.

    Karen, (So it seems really weird to address comments to Julie and Karen since of course I heard these two names constantly growing up.) So glad your name isn't Corny Cohen.

  4. That's fascinating. I so wish I could find records for my relatives but they've all been destroyed during the pogroms in Russia. We've tried searching and just got an apology from an official somewhere there.

  5. Very interesting. My grandmother used to tell me stories of her family history.

  6. Hi Karen .. love the start of your American life - pre the today Karen. Isn't it interesting .. and then meeting corny karen - who wasn't to be a Cornelia, but a Karen. Fascinating links .. fun to read - times were tough then ...

    I'm sorry for Rosalind .. that must be heart breaking to find an unexplained 'hole' ..

    With thoughts Hilary

  7. I love this. So interesting. Ooh those chokecherries sound a bit dangerous. haha

  8. How I love family history. This first part makes yours sound fascinating. BTW, my younger sister is a Karen also!


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