The descendents of Ida Anderson

By MARK FEDDER

Manistee County Historical Museum

It’s said that people should not dwell too much on the past, but often times whether it’s something good, bad or mysterious (or if you work in the history profession) it’s difficult not to.

Ida Anderson

In April of this year I published an article in the News Advocate about Miss Ida Anderson and her untimely death onboard the Titanic as a third-class passenger traveling from Sweden to the United States. The article was especially significant to Manistee because Ida’s sister, Susanna Peterson, lived here. A good portion of the article followed the day-to-day progression of Susanna learning what her sister’s fate had been.

When I originally set out to write the article I thought that it would be interesting to see if any of Susanna’s relatives were still around, and if they were, to discover where they were located because, in addition to having family in Manistee, Ida also had family members in Ludington that went by the last name of Johnson. So with that in mind, it was my intent to track them down and ask them some questions to see what they knew about the story.

After thinking about this for a while, and whether you want to chalk it up to pure laziness or potential mind-numbing confusion, I decided against it, as tracking down family members with the last names of Anderson, Peterson and Johnson proved to be a little too much for me at that particular moment.

So after flipping through the April 1912 issues of the Manistee Daily News and after doing some research on the internet, I was able to put together a brief timeline of Ida’s life, her trip on the Titanic, her family in Michigan, as well as what happened to the family after Ida’s tragic death.

Ida Anderson’s family included, left to right, her nieces Hazel Peterson and Goldie Peterson and her sister Susanna Peterson.

About a week after the story was published, I received a call from Gail (Smalley) Luomala who is Susanna’s great-granddaughter. She informed me that she had read the article and wanted to know if I wanted to meet with her family to further discuss the story. I happily agreed and thought it would be a great idea.

With that in mind I had the opportunity to meet with Gail of Manistee, her sister Linda (Smalley) Papes of Free Soil, her mother Elizabeth (Bennett) Smalley of Free Soil and their cousin Axel Johnson III of Ludington.

Listening to other people’s family tree can be a little confusing. Like a complex movie you’re catching halfway through, there were moments at first when I had to ask all of them, “Wait a second, let me get this straight” because when families get together they often seem to speak in their own language or code. However, the more you learn that language or code, the more connections you make, which in turn makes you feel like an honorary member of the family.

Such was the case on a Saturday morning a few weeks ago as we all sat around to share stories and collectively learn more about the life of Ida Anderson as well as her family, and her death on board the Titanic.

One of the first things brought to light in more detail was told by Axel Johnson III, who has painstakingly researched the family tree and knows exactly who fits in where. According to Axel, Ida had been to the United States before, around 1894, and she liked it here and hoped to return one day. Additionally, Ida’s sister Hilda, who was married to Axel Johnson Sr., had lived in Ludington and had seven children. Her husband’s brother, Andrew, had three children whom she was also caring for. Hilda, however, passed away in 1909.

In 1912 Ida decided to come to the United States and become an American citizen. It was her intention to visit her sister (Susanna) in Manistee and, according to Axel Johnson III, marry Axel Johnson Sr, (Hilda’s widower) and take care of the ten children in Ludington.

“Growing up I used to hear about her all of the time and what a saint she would have been to come here and take care of all of those kids,” said Axel with a laugh.

Elizabeth Smalley (great niece of Ida) also provided a few more tidbits of information she remembered her mother Hazel (Ida’s niece) tell her.

“Supposedly Ida had a ticket already for another boat that was coming over and she canceled it to come on the Titanic,” said Elizabeth. “My grandmother Susanna (Ida’s sister) also received a post card from Ida that was the color black. She was very superstitious and immediately thought something would go wrong.”

Elizabeth also provided a few more details about Ida and her cargo.

“I always heard that my mother (Hazel), who was eight at the time, was so excited because Ida was going to be bringing her a doll and she would always say that she was really looking forward to getting that doll. Ida was also supposed to have a trunk full of linen with her too.”

As is always the case with family lore, it’s interesting to see how a story this big trickled down throughout the generations, the next generation being Gail and her sister Linda.

“We were told the story and it always stuck with us. It became a part of the family,” said Gail.

“Especially around the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic or when the movie came out,” added Linda.

Referring to James Cameron’s 1997 film “Titanic,” the movie shows in vivid detail the struggles of the passengers, especially the third-class passengers, as the Titanic sunk into the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

“It was tough to watch the movie and think of her as a third-class passenger, trapped there. It just gave me chills,” said Gail.

Another topic brought to light was how in 1912 both Ida and Susanna, or hardly any of their family, for that matter, had seen each other in 18 years.

“It really brings the connection of the family love for each together and just think about how many years went by before they saw each other. To think about that today as we can all connect with each other all of the time is just incredible,” remarked Gayle.

After sitting with the family for a few hours that Saturday morning, I felt that I had finally learned a good portion of their family tree. While I may never become an honorary member of the Anderson/Peterson/Johnson family, I came to the realization that Ida’s legacy is that 100 years after her untimely death, her memory still manages to bring her descendants together to share stories, exchange pictures, and dwell on the past.

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