THEODORE ROOSEVELT SWENSON
Born: November 14, 1898
Married: October 12, 1932 to Almina Smith
Children: Ethel Dolores Swenson - born November 26, 1933; died October 10, 2004
Margaret Almina Swenson - born January 4, 1943
Ruth Elizabeth Swenson - born January 8, 1947
Died: September 17, 1972
Education: High School Diploma from Sussex High School, Sussex, NJ - June 1918
Diploma from Coleman National Business School, Newark, NJ -
Physical Characteristics: According to his World War II War Ration Booklet, Ted was
5 ft. 8 inches tall and weighed approximately 160 lbs. He had grey/blue eyes and
brown hair which turned grey as he aged. His hairline had already receded by the
time he had his children.
“Memories of my Father” by Margaret Swenson Wien
Theodore’s birth date was November 14, 1898 though while I was growing up, Dad
believed he had been born November 14, 1899. Ted’s sister Helen once sent him a
birthday card which stated: “A year has rolled again. I remember when you were born
over in the house in Swenson Fields. It was a cold day. We had some heifers on the
other side of Flatbrook. Flatbrook was freezing over.” Ted’s brother John sent a
birthday car in 1962 on which he had written: “Had a snow storm when you were born
1899.” It wasn’t until Ted applied for social security that a search of the census
records revealed his birth date was really November 14, 1898.
His parents were John Swenson (born in Katslosa, Sweden) and Carrie Olsen Swenson
(born in Aseral 8-12-1859, Norway). Carrie (known as Kari or Karen in Norway) came
in 1881, and it is believed John came to America in 1883. John had previously worked
in Bornholm, Denmark and probably emigrated from there. In New York, John worked as
a blacksmith and wagon maker. John and Carrie married September 4, 1886 and settled
in Astoria, Long Island. They were very close to Ole and Martha Olsen, and John even
had a mortgage arrangement with Ole Olsen in 1886. Ole may have been Carrie’s older
brother, but I have not been able to prove that relationship yet.
I have not been able to find any birth certificates for Theodore and his siblings.
Ted had two older brothers and two older sisters. The three oldest children (John,
born 1887; Ole Arthur, born 1889; and Helen Jeanette, born 1894) were born in New
York. Then in 1896, the family moved to Montague Township in Sussex County, NJ.
Martha Josephine (known as Josie) was born in 1897.
When my father was born, the family legend states he was called by the name “brother”
which I believe is spelled the same in Norwegian and Swedish (Bror). The 1900 census
gives his name as Benjamin, but that was probably just what the census taker thought
he was hearing. According to the family legend, during the New Jersey 1905 census,
the census taker realized Ted was being called “brother” and said the young boy
needed to have a name. The parents probably hesitated for a bit, and the legend goes
the census taker suggested naming him after the President. And on the 1905 census,
he is listed as Theodore Roosevelt Swenson. A younger sister, Victoria was born in
1901 and appears on the 1905 census. Another brother (Oscar) was born in 1904 but
only lived six months.
Carrie was expecting another baby in April 1906. At that time she was in her mid
40s. The family had been planning to move “over the mountain” to a new farm closer
to Beemerville where the land was more conducive to farming. Carrie wanted to stay
at the old home until after the baby was born as she was closer to her midwife
there. Unfortunately, Carrie suffered complications during the pregnancy. Her
husband and one son were away working on the roof of the new house. Helen rode on
horseback to the new farm (about two and one half miles away) to tell her father that
Mother was about to give birth. John sent his son Ole Arthur to Deckertown, a six-
mile ride, to fetch the doctor. When John got back to the homestead, his wife was
dying from childbirth. Despite the best efforts of two doctors, Carrie bled to
death, and the baby died too.
Since Dad was 44 when I was born and 48 when Ruth was born, he seemed more like a
grandparent than a father in some ways. He also rarely hugged his children,
preferring to give a handshake instead. He was a very business-like father, but we
knew he loved us and we knew he was providing for his family to the best of his
My father did not talk about his mother with us, but he may not have had many
memories of her because he was only seven years old at the time of her death. I do
know she taught him to say his numbers in Norwegian because Dad used to teach us (his
children) the numbers and a few phrases as his version of a bedtime story. Years
later (after my father had passed away), I took some language lessons at our local
Sons of Norway Lodge and had tears in my eyes as I remembered the flow of saying my
numbers in Norwegian with my Dad. My father retained just a trace of an accent which
was noticeable with certain words. For example, my younger sister was named Ruth.
Dad always called her “Rooty” rather than Ruthie.
Back to 1906: The family did move “over the mountain” to the new home which had a
pipeless furnace with holes in the floor and holes in the rooms for the heat (central
heating). They burned wood or coal. The house had a chimney. There was no
bathroom. The glass in the windows was handblown. Later, additions were added to
the original farm house.
The family raised most of their own vegetables and fruit. They tapped trees for
maple syrup. They butchered pigs. They milked cows and sold the milk. Ted’s older
brother Ole Arthur left behind journals dated from 1918 to 1926 which give a good
picture of life on the farm. John and Ole did not graduate from high school due to
being needed on the farm. Helen probably had to serve as the mother of the family
after her mother died -- doing the cooking, sewing and cleaning rather than going to
school. Josie left home early (about age 15) to work for another family. Ted
graduated from Sussex High School in the Class of 1918, the same class as his sister
Victoria. Ted probably took longer due to having to take time off to help on the
farm. Ted graduated from the Commercial curriculum and Victoria from the English
The old farm had been purchased in Carrie’s name. After Carrie’s death, the family
did move to the new farm but they continued to use the old farm for their cattle.
One day Theodore and Victoria were walking over the mountain to check on the
livestock when a very hard thunderstorm came up. They saw lightning set the barn on
fire. The Montague farm remained in the family until 1926 when John, Sr. sold it to
the State of New Jersey where it became part of Stokes State Forest. Each of Kari’s
children received $103.75 from the proceeds of the sale of the Montague farm, though
Josie’s share went to her two children as she had died tragically of pneumonia in
1924 at age 27. A trail near the
original homestead in what is now Stokes State Forest is called the Swenson Trail.
We used to have Swenson picnics in that area each summer when I was a child.
From Ole’s Journals, I can tell the family was active in the Beemerville Presbyterian
Church and in the Mountain View Grange (a farmer’s organization). The Swensons were
friends with many others in the area and often visited at each other’s homes
for “cake and coffee.”
Ted and his brothers used to ride their bikes a lot -- even traveling from their home
to Long Island, NY to visit “Uncle Ole and Aunt Martha Olsen.” That was quite a
After Theodore graduated from High School, he left home to attend Rider College in
Trenton, NJ. He had a room on the grounds and worked as a helper for the President
of the College, Mr. Moore. Unfortunately a few months later, a former helper wanted
to return, and Ted had to give up his place. He could not afford to live elsewhere
to continue at Rider so he decided to move to Newark, NJ where he could board with
his brother John. John had married Julia Pearl Rutan by then, but they found room
for Ted to board with them. Ted got a job and began taking classes at Coleman
Business College in Newark. He received his diploma from Coleman Business College in
Dad kept an “Account Book/Journal” in 1919 which I found after my mother’s death.
This gave me more information about his months in Newark, NJ. Occasionally Dad would
write something in shorthand if he considered it “private.” He didn’t anticipate
that in later years, his three daughters would take shorthand in High School/College
and could read what he wrote.
One job Dad had in Newark was working for Willis Carburetor Exchange as a Cashier at
$15 a week. He and brother John and wife joined the West Presbyterian Church in
Newark, transferring by letter from the Beemerville Church. Ted took the train home
on weekends such as Memorial Day Weekend, Fourth of July and Labor Day Weekend. When
he was home, he pitched right in with the farm chores.
For recreation, Ted wrote his bicycle and visited many areas. One weekend he took
the train to Trenton where his younger sister Victoria was attending the Teacher’s
College. She did not remain there long as she was very homesick and felt she
couldn’t be a teacher. Ted always seemed to have a camera handy (throughout his
life) and took a lot of pictures. He seemed quite sociable, attending movies and
Y.M.C.A. activities. He also borrowed books from the Newark Library.
My father eventually moved back to Sussex County and in August 1921, he began a job
as a bookkeeper with Hopkins Feed Store in Branchville, NJ. He rented a room in a
private house. In April 1923, Ted became quite sick with tonsillitis and with what
was called inflammatory rheumatism. His knees became swollen twice their normal
size, and he had pain and swelling in both hips and his back. I believe this
happened after he had taken a long bike ride during which the weather turned bad. He
eventually had to enter Sussex Hospital but did recover, though he did lose some
In late June of 1924, Ted’s sister Josie became ill. She thought she was getting a
cold but the next day she had bad pain under her shoulders and was unable to get up.
The doctor came to the house and said her lungs were congested and she had a high
fever. He ordered mustard plasters. The fever continued, and the Doctor came twice
a day. She was told her lung had been congested near to pneumonia. Josie raised a
lot of phlegm and said her stomach had been very sick. The other lung got affected
pneumonia). Ted’s brother Ole wrote a most touching account of Josie’s illness in
his journal. She breathed her last on July 7, 1924. She was just 27 years old and
had been married six years. Her son Frank was just three years old and son Harold
was three months old when she died. Josie’s sister Helen came to help Josie’s
husband Charles take care of the two children. Years later (in 1932) Charles married
Helen, and they had a daughter who they named Laura.
It was while working in Branchville that my father met my mother (Almina Courtright
Smith). Her birth date was September 21, 1908. Almina left home at age 15 to work
as a telephone operator and waitress in Branchville while finishing her schooling.
My father used to stop in for his coffee and pie frequently, and must have developed
a friendship with Mom. They were attending the same Grange at the time, and Dad
began walking her to Grange (often carrying her books as she was the Grange Lecturer
at the time). They married October 12, 1932 at the home of the bride. My father had
begun working for Consolidated Feed, Coal and Lumber in 1924, and Consolidated was
located in Sussex, NJ. Dad and Mom first rented a house in Sussex, and later bought
another house on 59 Unionville Avenue in Sussex (with the help of a mortgage from
Dad’s boss). I grew up in that house which was the only home my parents ever owned.
Our house had a stucco exterior which kept the house cooler in summer. I remember we
had one fan in the hallway upstairs which would rotate so each of the three bedrooms
got a little breeze as it circled around. In the winter, we always seemed to be
cold. The coal furnace required a lot of care from my father. We would dress in
multiple layers, and I can remember standing on the register in the living room to
try to feel some warmth. We did have an old piano which came with the house as the
previous owners did not know how to move it. The house had a nice front porch, and
my mother, sisters and I spent time there as we cut up green beans or shelled peas
from the garden, read books, and the girls played with paper dolls, etc. My father
rarely seemed to have time to join us on the porch.
During the Depression, Dad was able to keep his job though he had to take a cut in
pay. My mother told me that men would come to the house to ask for something to
eat. My parents would give them coffee and bread on our porch. Times were tough
Dad’s father (John Sr.) was ailing at the time of Mom and Dad’s wedding. I don’t
know whether he was able to attend the wedding. Mom and Dad took a honeymoon trip to
Washington, D.C., but they returned home a day or two early as they received word
that John Sr. was not doing well. John Sr. died about a year later (October 8,
As bookkeeper for Consolidated Feed, Coal and Lumber, Dad kept the records in ledgers
by hand -- no computers at that time. Computers were just becoming available before
his death, but he did not want to start using one. After his death, my younger
sister Ruth took over his job, and she did computerize the records. While I was in
high school, I went to Consolidated from 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and then from 3:30 p.m.
to 5 p.m. to work for my father and earn some much needed money. The office was
close enough to my high school for me to walk back and forth. I remember Dad sitting
on his high stool with his visor on. He would always wear a dress shirt and slacks
along with a cardigan sweater and a tie. He was very proper and professional even
though this was a Feed, Coal and Lumber concern (which also sold hardware items).
Many of the customers and co-workers called him Teddy.
When I worked with Dad, he would drive up to town (a short drive) after work to get
the meat for supper. We only had an ice box during my early years, but finally got a
second-hand refrigerator with a tiny freezer. Even then he often bought the day’s
meat on his way home. He would also buy me a candy bar, which was not a good thing
because I did develop cavities easily as a child.
Dad did have to fill out a Draft Registration for World War I, but the war ended
before he was called to serve. During World War II, he again had to register but did
not serve. His eyesight without glasses was not good, and this also may have been a
My parents never had a television while I was growing up. When I went away to
college, I earned enough money my part-time job to buy them a small black-and-white
television for a Christmas gift. Dad had previously been able to watch television on
a set “down at the office,” and I bet that is part of the reason he used to go back
down to the office after supper. He would say it was to keep up with all his work,
but he may have enjoyed the relative quiet of the office at that time and the chance
to watch a TV show. He was ten years old than my mother and had been a bachelor for
quite a while before getting married.
One time I can remember my father taking me down to the office with him to watch the
atomic bomb tests taking place in Nevada in 1952. I remember there were a group of
us gathered around the television, and everyone seemed to be apprehensive about this
new weapon. The tests left quite an impression on me. In fact, when I graduated
from high school in 1960, I gave a valedictorian address on the Atomic Age and how it
was going to affect us.
Over the years, we had a series of cars -- all used and often in fair-to-poor
condition by the time Dad could afford them. My mother had learned to drive before
she was married, but once she married Dad, she rarely drove. It was the custom for
the man to do the driving in those days. My sisters and I could walk to school and
to town but Mom rarely made the walk as she was overweight and had arthritis. Dad
would often take the family for a car ride on the weekends which gave Mom an outing
too. Many times we drove to Newton, NJ (the county seat of Sussex County) to do some
shopping and then stopped in to Dad’s sister Helen and her family on their farm
outside of Newton. Helen and her family had a television years before we did, and
we saw an occasional television show at their house.
We spent many Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners with Helen and her family. My Uncle
Ole Arthur would come to Helen’s house too. Aunt Helen was a wonderful cook. How I
wish I had asked her more about her family and her memories of her mother! I did ask
my cousin Laura whether she remembers her mother telling family stories, and Laura
did not. My mother would make Swedish meatballs occasionally, and my older sister
(who married another Scandinavian, Charles Nelson) would make Swedish rye bread, but
we did not eat Scandinavian foods on a regular basis. My father did like an
occasional can of sardines. (Over the years, I have found several Norwegian recipes
which I prepare regularly to help me honor my heritage.)
Dad did have some food habits throughout the years I knew him. He liked to have
oatmeal (made from scratch) on Sunday mornings. Mom would have to make it early as
she always went to Church and made sure we girls went too. We belonged to the Sussex
Presbyterian Church and could walk to it. Dad joined us occasionally but often
stayed home on his one morning off from work. Dad would come home for lunch on
weekdays and have soup and sandwich every day. In his later years, he
switched to drinking Postum coffee (a caffeine-free coffee substitute which became
popular during World War II when coffee was heavily rationed) at home and would put
wheat germ on things. I believe he continued getting his coffee and pie in mid-
afternoon on work days as he would walk into town with the bank deposit at the same
time. Dad tried to keep his weight in line and often did calisthenics to help keep
him trim. He also had to do the lawn work and gardening though his three daughters
did their share to help with those chores too.
We did not have a telephone until I was about ten years old. By then, my older
sister was ill so we got our own telephone in case we needed to call for medical
assistance. Our neighbors had been very generous in letting us use their phone in an
emergency, but my parents decided we needed to get one of our own. Ethel was nine
years older than I was. She had had measles twice, then developed pneumonia which
became double pneumonia and finally went into a lung condition with abscesses.
Eventually Ethel was operated on at Newark Presbyterian Hospital and had half of a
lung removed. Some years later she had to have further surgery to remove the rest of
that lung, but she was able to live a reasonably normal life. She married and had
three children. She was able to work until she began developing eye problems at age
64. Then she suffered strokes and passed away in 2004.
Because of Ethel’s problems and some health problems my mother suffered, medical
bills became quite high, but my father (who had very limited insurance) kept paying a
little bit at a time. That’s the way he paid the dentist too, and the eye doctor as
several of us needed glasses. I don’t know how he did it. He kept paying the
interest on the mortgage too. At income tax time, he did income taxes for several
other people. One person would pay him each year by giving him a big bakery cake
with delicious icing. What a treat that was for the whole family!
Education was important to our parents, and all three of their daughters graduated
from High School with good grades. I was the first to go to college (Montclair State
Teachers College) and live away from home in a dorm. Luckily in those days it was
possible to work your way through college, and I did. My parents had to provide very
little money over the four years of my college education. I graduated in June 1964,
and my younger sister began attending Montclair that same year. She also worked her
way through college. Our parents were able to attend both of our College
My older sister was married June 15, 1955 to Charles Nelson. They had three children
(Rick, Karen and Bill). I married Richard Wien on June 21, 1964 -- right after I
graduated from college. We had two children (Diana and Gary). My younger sister
Ruth married William Perry on June 22, 2968 -- right after she graduated from
college. Ruth and Bill had two children (Kevin and Lynnette). Our parents were able
to attend all three weddings, and our father walked each of us down the aisle. Our
weddings were modest in keeping with the family finances. Dad got to see all his
grandchildren except for the youngest, Lynnette.
Dad’s brother Ole Arthur had remained a bachelor all his life. He had stayed on the
farm to help his father and inherited the farm when his father died on October 8,
1933. When Ole died without a will in 1967, the farm went to Ole’s brothers and
sisters. Josie’s share went to her two children as she had pre-deceased Ole in
1924. Victoria died of breast cancer in 1961 so her share passed to her three
children. John passed away in 1963 so his share passed to his four sons. Only Helen
and Theodore were still alive at the time of Ole’s death.
Dad was still working for Consolidated Feed Coal and Lumber when he collapsed in town
one day in 1972. He was hospitalized and died about a month later of kidney
failure. We believe his blood pressure had not been regulated well previous to that
time. Dad did not like to go to the doctor, and I’m not sure whether he had been
getting good medical care. He had not wanted to retire even though he was 73 years
old as he feared he would not know what to do with his time.
Dad was buried in the Beemerville Cemetery family plot where his parents and brothers
Ole and Oscar were also buried. Later my mother would be buried by his side. Dad’s
sister Josie was buried in that Cemetery in the Beemer plot which later would include
Dad’s sister Helen too.
After his death, my sisters and I assisted our mother as much as we could which
enabled her to continue living at 59 Unionville Avenue. In 1988, my husband and I
first began to research our family trees. My mother was a big help in telling me
everything she knew about her own family history and Theodore’s family history too.
Unfortunately, my Aunt Helen had passed away in 1977 so I couldn’t ask her about the
Swenson family history. (I did ask her daughter, but my cousin did not have much to
add to what I already knew.)
In 1989, I asked my older sister Ethel for some of her favorite memories of Dad. She
remembered the songs Dad played on his harmonica, and going huckleberry picking. She
remembered stories Dad told of how Uncle Art stabbed a rattlesnake with his
pitchfork; how they walked to school through hip-deep snow; and how they made blood
pudding when they killed a cow.
It wasn’t until Mom died in 1991 that my sisters and I went through all the closets
and drawers in the house as we cleaned things out in preparation for selling the
house. It was then that I found numerous pictures from both sides of the family --
many without any identification. We also found the Journals which Dad’s brother Ole
had kept years ago.
Now that I am retired, I am trying to compile all the information I receive
concerning my Swenson family tree though the task often seems overwhelming! It has
been such an adventure and a pleasure to learn more about my ancestors, and I feel
honored to be given the opportunity to learn as much as I can about our family