Life in the Peter Britson Family


A transcribed and annotated interview with Ella Sophia Britson - Hinderaker, one of Peter and Sara Olena Brison's daughter. This interview was undertaken in 1975.


Sara Olena Nelson (later Peter Britson's wife) came from Norway with her three (3) sons, after her husband died. Her husband, Mr. Nelson died at a young age of diabetes. Her sons were John (the oldest), Olaf and Nils (the youngest). Olaf died at the young age of 20, of diabetes, as his father did. John, later moved to Minneapolis and became a bricklayer. After coming to the United States, Sara Olena worked, for awhile, in Chicago. When she was in Chicago working, her brother took care of her sons.

[Sjur Britson was Peter's father. He had settled in Story County, Iowa in 1866.] In 1893, after Martha (Sjur Britson's wife) died, Sjur came to Hamilton County to live with Peter Britson's family. Sjur attempted to live alone after he lost Martha, but since he was blind, it was decided that he should come to live with his son, Peter. Ella remembered Sjur sitting in a rocker next to a window most of the time. He didn't like the noise that the children made and would complain, unless it was determined that Ida Mae was making the commotion. (Ida Mae was born in May, 1893.) Sjur was sweet on Ida Mae. Ella recalled that Sjur would spend hours rocking Ida Mae on his lap while singing Norwegian songs to her and telling her stories (of course, in Norwegian). Sjur understood English but could not read English. When Sjur Britson died in December, 1898, Peter hitched the horses to a sleigh and took Sjur Britson's body to Story City, Iowa for burial next to his wife Martha.

The children and Sara Olena also sang Norwegian songs to Sjur. Ella said that her mother had a very good singing voice.

Ella said that her father, Peter Britson, was a nice Christian man. He could read and write, both Norwegian and English. He went to Norwegian school when he was young. He went to English school through the eighth grade. Peter was an Elder at the Bethany Norwegian-American Lutheran Church. He taught the oldest class at church. It was a big class and it was taught in English. Peter was fun loving, also. He liked to play card games.

Although Peter could speak English, some people in the community thought that religion wasn't good if it was taught in English.

Norwegian was the primary language spoken in Peter and Sara's home. Ella learned to speak English when she was 5 years old. That was the year that she started English school. She went to English school through eighth grade, as did all her siblings, except Ida Mae. Ida Mae graduated from Radcliffe High School.

Mealtimes were ruled by, what Ella thought, was an old Norwegian tradition. When coming to the dinner table, diners would find the plates upside down on the table. After the dinner prayer was concluded, the plates would be righted.

Peter Britson was very well read. He subscribed to many newspapers and magazines. Ella recalled some of these.

The Scandinavian - a huge newspaper, written in Norwegian, possibly published out of Chicago

Visergutten - in Norwegian - published out of Story City, Iowa

Homestead - now the Wallace Farmer - This was written in English

Chicago Daily - published out of Chicago, in English. Peter reviewed the market reports

Lutheran Herald - in Norwegian

The farm that Ella recalled, was located in Hamilton County. (It was formally under the ownership of Sara Olena at the Recorder's Office) It was 120 acres. Ella remembered a large apple orchard. There were many Raspberry bushes, both red and black. There were also current and gooseberry bushes. Peter was primarily a grain farmer, therefore, did not have many animals. Ella said that there were cows and guinea hens. The hens were her responsibility. She enjoyed caring for the hens and gathering their eggs. Peter had four (4) horses. Maude and Kernal were a good team. Topsy and Jane were not. Peter never drove a car. He was skeptical of cars. When he moved to town, his sons would drive him wherever he needed to go.

Sara Olena never worked in the fields or did any other farm work. She did have a garden and canned vegetables. Ella, however, did not think that her mother enjoyed gardening. Her mother, however, did like muskmelons. (Apparently, Sara Olena grew and ate a lot of muskmelons.) Ella referred to her mother's sewing skills as common. (Apparently, Sara Olena could mend and make work clothes but wasn't that good with party dresses.)

Ella said that the seamstress in the family was Esebell. As a young woman, Esebell worked as a seamstress.

Ella said that Ida Mae was also 'good at sewing'. (Later in the interview) Ella mentioned that she also worked as a seamstress when she was between 16 and 17 years of age. (I think that Ella was also 'good at sewing'.)

The family's social life revolved primarily around the church. They did not often have company at the farm and they seldom 'went to visit' anyone. The church had the Fall Picnic, which they always attended. Every year, there was a family picnic on the 4th of July. They sometimes went to dances. Peter always went to the county fair to view the animals.

The family shopping trips were, for the most part, to Radcliffe, Iowa, once a week. They could get most anything that they needed in Radcliffe. In fact, Ella said that they could probably purchase more in Radcliffe when she was a girl then they can now. (Now being 1975) Sometimes they would make shopping trips to Webster City, Iowa. They seldom purchased anything from a mail order catalog - Sears and Roebuck or National Bella Hess. Webster City was so close that they preferred just going there.

According to Ella, Orvie Britson never got in trouble. (When not helping his father with the farm), he spent his time either playing ball or trapping. There was a creek which ran through the farm and he would trap muskrat and mink. Ella said that Orvie made pretty good money trapping.


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