Research Request: Harold Anderson’s Family

As a member of my local genealogy society, one of my favorite things to do is respond to requests for assistance in researching a family member in our area. Harold Anderson is not my family member, but was a fun project and demonstrates the wealth of information available on line.

Gary from Minnesota contacted WMGS and requested help finding his grandfather’s brother, Harold Anderson. Three brothers had come from Norway, two settled in Minnesota, but Harold ended up in Missoula, then disappeared. Gary had found an entry in a death index that matched Harold’s approximate age, and had a family photo labeled Harold and family (no names, date, or place). Gary had three elderly aunts who wondered if Harold’s two sons (their cousins) were still living, or if their children were. There was also family lore that Harold’s wife was part Native American.

Using the death date provided, I did find Harold Anderson on Find-A-Grave, at the Missoula Cemetery. The birth and death dates were legible in the photo. The birth date matched a WW1 draft card for Harold Anderson living at the Hamil Block in Great Falls, rancher in Chouteau County. His contact person was Theodor Anderson of Boyd, MN. I checked with Gary, and he confirmed that Theodor was one of the three brothers who came from Norway.

Since Harold was listed as a rancher, I checked the BLM General Land Office for homestead records. There was one match, on the Chouteau/Liberty county line. I let Gary know how to order the full homestead packet, if he chooses to do that.

I found Harold Anderson in Ancestry’s collection of city directories, first in Sand Coulee, then Great Falls, then in Missoula. He was a bartender, working and living at the Hammill Hotel in Great Falls, and then as proprietor of the Scandia, in Missoula at 118 West Front. When Gary shared this information with one of the aunts, she then remembered that Uncle Harold was, in fact, a bartender – extra confirmation that we were tracking the right person. He also ran a billiards establishment. His 1927 city directory entry refers to his occupation as “soft drinks” – after all, it was Prohibition.

Cascade County has a great collection of records at Not all are indexed. However, at the beginning of many sets of records are images of the indexes for that book. I did locate Harold’s naturalization and citizenship records. We discovered that Harold came from Norway to Quebec, then west on the railroad, before crossing into the USA in Michigan. Since he arrived in 1903, I didn’t need to look for him in the 1900 census, nor did I have to look through Ellis Island records. As much as I searched, however, I could not find his marriage record, nor records for the births of his sons.
I found Harold in the 1910 census, but not the 1920.

At Missoula Public Library, I located Harold’s death notice and obit. He was survived by sons Harold and Theodore – no ages listed, no wife listed. His brother Theodore came from Minnesota for the funeral. The newspaper vital statistics index also listed a divorce for a Harold and Julia Anderson. That news items named the sons – Harold and Theodore, so we could confirm that Julia was the wife of Harold Sr. The divorce was quick, apparently uncontested, and Harold got custody of the boys.

At the Missoula County Records Center, I was able to learn that there were two divorce cases (Julia vs Harold, and Harold vs Julia) as well as guardianship, and probate. The actual records were at the courthouse. I discovered that early in 1927, Julia filed for divorce, saying that Harold drank excessively and was verbally and physically violent. It appears that the case was dropped as there were no entries after Harold was served with the summons. Later in the year Harold sued Julia for divorce, saying that she stayed out late, and wouldn’t get up to cook their meals. The actual record did confirm the news item that the divorce was granted in less than a month, and Harold got custody. The divorce papers also said they were married by “oral agreement” which accounts for the lack of a marriage record.
The guardianship papers indicate that after Harold died, Julia was granted guardianship of the boys and their estate. She was also appointed administrator of her ex-husband’s estate. While there was no will, Harold did have a fair amount of property relating to his business, plus the grazing land (homestead) in Chouteau County.

Since Harold died in 1928, I expected to find the boys back with their mother, in 1930, or perhaps living with one of the uncles back in Minnesota. Instead, they were living with a couple in Butte, listed as step-sons. The woman wasn’t Julia, and the man was never married to Julia. Best guess is that they were friends of Julia who were caring for the boys at the time of the census. Since the boys were in Butte, I looked for Julia Anderson there, and found a Julia Anderson who married John Holm in 1929 in Butte. The marriage record identified her parents as Dan Hart and Delamar Richard.
I found Julia Holm in the 1940 census in Klamath Falls, OR, with son Harold Anderson. Julia died in 1970. I found her entry on Find-A-Grave, which mentioned her other living children from other marriages, including son Harold of San Francisco. Theodore was not in the 1940 census, nor listed in the FAG entry.

A private tree on Ancestry appeared to include this family. I contacted the owner, who said that Theodore died in 1939 in a car/train crash in northern California. A newspaper (from Ancestry) carried a story of four teens killed, and the date matched a Find-A-Grave entry for a Theodore Anderson in Oregon. The tree owner said Harold Jr did not have a family, and had also passed several years back. The answer wasn’t specific enough for me to identify the dozens of Harold Andersons in the Social Security Death Index.

Because of the family lore that Harold Sr. had married a Native American woman, I looked at Julia’s parents. Their marriage record says that Daniel was ½ Indian, and his bride was ¼ Indian. Using old newspapers from Chronicling America, I discovered that Daniel Hart had some run-ins with the law, but later was a church bishop in the Shaker Indian Movement on the reservation at Klamath Falls. Using Google, I found an on-line photo of Dan Hart with other church officials.

Using the theory of “cluster genealogy” – looking for family members beyond just the direct line – paid off in this case. I identified Julia’s other daughters, and found one on Find-A-Grave. She died in 1982, and this entry listed her brother Harold Anderson of San Francisco. I identified the youngest of Julia’s daughters but couldn’t find a death record for her. I used modern social media and found a person with the same not-very-common name who formerly lived in the Oregon town where Julia died, now living in Virginia. Her age was consistent with the age of the daughter in the 1940 census. Using an on-line directory, I found her address, and shared that with Gary. He contacted her, she confirmed she was the last surviving sibling, and in fact, Harold Jr had lived with her until he died 10 years ago. She seemed glad to connect with her half-brother Harold’s cousins and has shared photos and stories with them. She provided Harold’s birth date, and I was able to find Harold Jr in the SSDI, and also find an obituary for him at NewsBank.

Using a time line was important to keeping this information organized, and I was able to electronically share the timeline and all the records with Gary. The aunts were excited to learn what had happened to Uncle Harold who disappeared in Montana. The information will be shared with the cousins still in Norway.