52 Ancestors: #2 Magdalena Wehner Arnold
My paternal grandmother, Magdalena Wehner, was born in Stark County, North Dakota on October 26, 1897.1 She was the third child of John and Katherina (Blasy) Wehner. John and Katherina emigrated from Hungary to the United States in July 1893.2 Their eldest child, Elizabeth, was born in Massachusetts in 1893. Their second child, John Jr., was born in North Dakota in 1895.3 Nine other children were born to the family between 1898 and approximately 1918.3,4,5
Peter Ernest Arnold and Magdalena Wehner were married at St. Pius Church in Sheffield, North Dakota on November 21, 1915.6
Peter and Magdalena started their family in a two-room sod house on a bluff overlooking the nearby Northern Pacific Railroad line. It was several years before they were able to build the modest 3-bedroom wood-frame house that remained the family home from sometime in the early 1920s until about 1960. The new house must have seemed like a mansion compared to the sod house, but it was still quite primitive. Water came from the outdoor, hand-pumped well near the kitchen area of the house. Lighting, at least initially, came from candles, gaslights, or kerosene.7 Personal needs were satisfied at the “two holer” (one adult-sized, one child-sized) outhouse that, to my 1950s preschool self, seemed extremely far away from the house.
A memory book,8 completed by Frank Arnold (Peter and Magdalena’s fourth child), shortly before his death in 2013 at age 92, provides a few glimpses of the family’s lifestyle in those early years. The following are excerpts, transcribed as written:
“Our furniture was very primitive. Our cloths were hand sown—our bedding was like a foot thick quilt filled with goose feathers that our mother plucked the down of our geese.”
“Anna, Ernest, & Peter were older & worked hard each had jobs they could do. Even I had a job—I had to open the chicken coop and the geese chased me to the house; it was very scary.”
“We had no bikes, etc., we made our own toys and entertainment.”
“I made the 1st windmill to lite up the house & mounted it on the grainery [words omitted]. It was crude, connected to a battery, and when the wind blew it [the house] lit.
Sadly, Magdalena died on November 19, 1930, from complications of childbirth.9
At age 33, Magdalena had borne 11 children, including one set of twins. Ten of those children survived to marry and have their own families. Though she didn’t live long enough to know or enjoy them, I hope she would be proud of her 44 grandchildren. I am certainly proud to know she is my grandmother.
Read more about Magdalena Wehner Arnold at Tribute to Magdalena.
1 North Dakota Department of Health, death certificate no. 4084, Lena Arnold (1930); Division of Vital Records, Bismarck. Note: There is no birth certificate for Magdalena Wehner. North Dakota mandated vital records registration in 1893, but that law was subsequently repealed. Vital records registration was re-enacted in 1899, but compliance was spotty well into the 1920s.
2 Stark County, North Dakota, Declarations of Intention, Vol. I, pg. 191, 03 Aug 1896; State Historical Society of North Dakota, North Dakota Heritage Center, Bismarck.
3 Stark County, North Dakota. 1910 U.S. Census. Township 138, Stark, North Dakota; Roll: T624_1148; Page: 18A; Enumeration District: 0164; FHL microfilm: 1375161.
4 Stark County, North Dakota. 1920 U.S. Census. Township 138, Farmers, Stark, North Dakota; Roll: T625_1339; Page: 6A; Enumeration District: 202; Image: 413.
5 Family photograph: John Wehner family, about 1911 based on the age of the youngest child in the photo.
6 Family record: marriage registration, St. Pius Church, Scheffield, North Dakota.
7 Family record: Grandpa’s Memories of Growing Up: A Keepsake Memory Book (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2011), 5. Entries completed by Frank Arnold between 2012 and 2013.
8 Ibid, 4, 6, 8, 18.
9 Undated/unsourced obituary, courtesy of Tony Arnold and Clarice Walker Arnold. Likely source: Dickinson Press, November 1930.