Gathering in Aunt Rikka

I grew up knowing that I was 1/4 German and 1/4 Norwegian.  I was told my great grandfather had immigrated from Norway. I held a vision of young Hans Hanson coming over by himself on a boat from Norway when he was just two years old. Brave baby Hans, wind in his Viking face, heading to the New World to start a new life in America.

Researching my family history is constantly offering surprises. I eventually learned that young Hans actually travelled with his mother Carrie, his father Hans and his sister Rikka. They likely started out in 1882 or 1884 from Nordre Land, Opland, Norway and made their way up the Erie Canel and over the Great Lakes to arrive in Madison, Wisconsin. 

It was an emotional moment for me when I first found my great aunt Rikka in the 1910 census records.  I found her mother Carrie Hanson listed as a widow living with her widowed daughter Rikka Schuette and her grandson Henry. I wondered if there were other Hanson siblings, but I discovered through the census that Carrie Hanson reported that she had two children and two of them were alive. Hans, Carrie, Hans and Rikka made the journey together. I held the reunited family close to me and rejoiced they were together again. 

I starting searching for Schuette’s in Wisconsin and learned there are a number of variant spellings–Shute, Chute, Shewite. But I found Rikka again in 1900 living in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband Henry William Schuette, their children Marguerite and Henry William, her widowed mother Carrie, her younger brother Hans ( my great grandfather) and a roomer, Edward James.  The men worked as day labor and had worked all year with no weeks off.

But Rikka’s young life met with tragedy.  On May 19,1904 her husband died of heart failure and the next day her daughter Marguerite died during an operation. Rikka was only 25 and now a widow herself, responsible for a five year old child and her widowed mother. In 1905, Rikka worked as a laundress and in 1910 she was ironer in a laundry and her mother Carrie worked at home as a dressmaker. They lived on East Main St in Madison in a rented house with another family and a boarder. The women had to work to get by on their own. 

Rikka likely did not remarry until after her mother Carrie died, sometime after 1910. When she did remarry, it was a man we met earlier in the 1900 census–a Norwegian immigrant named Edward James. Edward was an naturalized American citizen and had served in the Spanish American war.  In 1918, Edward registered for the draft and listed his next of kin contact as his wife Mrs. Rikka James. They lived on 826 Woodrow in Madison, Wisconsin.  This was a different part of town than Williamson Street or East Main Street. 

They did not stay long in Wisconsin. By 1920, Edward and Rikka were living in Venice, California.  Her son Henry was now Henry James and would be for the rest of his life. Edward worked as a plasterer and Rikka was able to stay at home and never had to work again. 

By 1926, the family had moved to Alhambra, in a residential area outside of Los Angeles. Their home at 1228 Buena Vista is in a single family residential neighborhood with good sized city yards. It was worth $7500 in 1930, but only $3500 in 1940–perhaps a reflection of the Depression years on home values.  Rikka and Edward lived together in their home in Alhambra until Edward was admitted to a Home for disabled soldiers in 1932. Edward died in 1938.

Rikka was a widow again. But now she had a home. She did not have to work to support herself. She lived on her own in Alhambra for 15 years with her son and grandson in a nearby neighborhood.  Rikka is buried next to Edward in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. 

I wonder if she was in contact with her brother Hans.  When he brought his family to California, did they go to Rikka?  Her nephew Carl Hanson settled in Huntington Beach, not too far away from Alhambra. Or had she built a new life in California that didn’t have room for her brother Hans and his family when they arrived poor and destitute in the late 1930’s?  She is living in a home worth $3500.  Hans is living in cars, tents and migrant labor camps with his large family. 

Rikka and Hans had traveled together as children from Norway to America. But they had taken different paths as adults to California.