From the Archives – A History Mystery

by Susan F. Witzell

In January 2014, our director Jennifer Gaines received a phone call from Jeff Sauvé, Associate Norwegian-American Historical Association Archivist from Northfield Minnesota. He had been given four photo albums. Three had Norwegian scenes and people and the fourth had images of Woods Hole. One of the names attached the photo album was Vedeler. Jeff’s wonderful volunteer, Dale Hovland, discovered that there was an Arnoldt Vedeler living in Falmouth (Woods Hole) listed in the 1910 Census. And so Jeff contacted us.

I took on the job of helping Jeff with this. Initially he and I talked for a long time on the phone. Then the emails began flying back and forth.

I knew the name Vedeler from our extensive Gulesian-Fish Family Collection. Paul Gulesian had married into the Fish family of Woods Hole. Their house was at 565 Woods Hole Road, now owned by the Woods Hole Research Center and currently occupied by the Penikese Island School.

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Left to right: Minnie Holmes Fish, Charles Vedeler Fish and their mother Klara Vedeler Fish. Gulesian-Fish Collection.

Paul Gulesian had married Minnie Holmes Fish; her mother was Klara Vedeler Fish. Klara and her siblings, which included Arnoldt and Georg, were born in Bergen, Norway. Klara had been married to someone named “Holmes”; he was Minnie’s father. That’s all I knew of him. Her second husband was Elihu H. Fish, a contemporary of Ruth Anna Hatch and one of her chums; she called him “Ellie”. Elihu grew up in the elaborate Italianate Victorian house built on Butler’s (Juniper) Point by his father Eliel T. Fish, a prosperous whaling captain. Eliel Fish moved his family into the Point house from the family homestead on Woods Hole Road, which was rented out for about 40 years. Klara and her daughter Minnie lived there also after her marriage to Elihu in 1895. Elihu adopted Minnie, hence her formal name of Minnie Holmes Fish. Klara and Elihu had a child of their own: Charles Vedeler Fish.

I learned that Klara’s brother Arnoldt married another chum of Ruth Anna Hatch’s – Jennie Grant. They lived in the Captain Childs house (now Fuglisters’, Little Harbor Road) on the Point, just down the hill from his sister Klara. Arnoldt worked for the New Haven railroad at its Woods Hole terminal. Her brother Georg was the Norwegian Consul to Boston.

Jeff wanted to write an article for the NAHA newsletter about this mysterious album which had so many Woods Hole photos in it. I supplied as much background on the Fish family and Klara and her family as I could discover from the Gulesian-Fish Collection and the archives of the Boston Globe.

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Members of the Woods Hole Lawn Tennis Club, late 1880s. Ruth Anna Hatch is second from the left behind the net. Her friends Bessie and Ruth Shiverick are to her right. Elihu (“Ellie”) H. Fish is on the right behind the net. Behind them is the Fay garden before the famous roses were there. Gulesian-Fish Collection.

Eventually I received a wonderful gift: a DVD of scans of the Vedeler album in the Norwegian-American Historical Association archives. There were many duplicates of photos in the Gulesian-Fish Collection which contains some of our best photos of the late 1880s, mostly large-format prints taken by a professional photographer but showing a large group of young people who hung around together in Woods Hole. I re-read The Diary of Ruth Anna Hatch and was able to identify, for the first time, many of these young people, including Ruth Anna, the Shiverick sisters and Elihu Fish. They all loved to picnic, play tennis, sail and get into some good-natured mischief.

I wrote captions for each of the photos on the DVD and sent those to Jeff. But – we always wondered if there was more to the name of “Holmes” – Minnie’s father. Who was he? I poked around on the internet and discovered that Holmes was a common Americanization of the Swedish name Holm.

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Friends on the porch of the Fish house on Butler’s Point (Juniper Point), Woods Hole, early 1890s. On hammock: Ruth Shiverick (left), unknown girl (right). In front: Bessie Shiverick (left) and Ruth Anna Hatch (right). Gulesian-Fish Collection.

Knowing a good deal about Minnesota and its history I knew that there was a large immigrant population of Swedish families in Minnesota as well as Norwegian families. So I asked Jeff for help. Could one of his volunteers find out who “Holmes” was?

Jeff turned this over to Dale Hovland again and within days I had learned that “Holmes” was Pher Minton Holmes, a son of a first generation Swedish family. He and Klara (we don’t know how and where they met) were married in May 1892 in Minnesota and he died in October of that same year. Klara returned to Norway and had her daughter Minnie in Bergen. In 1893 she returned to America with her mother and brothers and then met Elihu Fish. Mystery solved!

After viewing the photo album images I’d received from Jeff I began re-cataloging the Gulesian-Fish Collection, acquired in 1986 in a garbage bag from the house at 565 Woods Hole Road as Paul Gulesian was about to go into a nursing home. Jennifer had cataloged it then but by now it needed new enclosures and boxes. The Collection is largely photos, from the 1850s to the 1950s. The 1880s images are wonderful. And re-reading The Diary of Ruth Anna Hatch made it all come to life.

Susan F. Witzell, Archivist

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