My Great-Grandmother: Helen

My Great-Grandmother: Helen

After finishing the posts about My Adoption Life, I’ve been taking a few days to re-group. Doing family history is my hobby. Until “My Adoption Life” book is published I’m going to write about my family history research. If you would be willing to read the finished manuscript, please leave a comment on my Facebook page or email me at

A few days ago I was watching the PBS series “Finding Your Roots” and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. asked his guests, “If you could speak to any of your ancestors, which one would it be?” I thought about this for a few minutes and I know exactly which one it would be for me. It would be my great-grandmother, Helen Arvilla Stanbro Olmsted.

I know a lot about Helen’s story. I come from a long line of strong-willed women going back about 200 years. My great-great-grandmother was a woman named Lucy Jane Marvel.  Lucy Jane married Deforest Stanbro.

When Deforest headed to the California gold fields, Lucy Jane was on her own to take care of her 4 children. Sometime in the 1860’s she divorced her husband and remarried. Her daughter, Helen, delivered the last of her children.

Great-Grandmother Helen

Helen married Willian Wallace Olmsted. She didn’t know for 50+ years that her husband was living a lie.  He always told anyone who would listen that he was a survivor of the notorious Andersonville prison in the Civil War. When Helen applied for a pension after William died in the 1920s, she found out that he had deserted the army after a short time. He never served.

William Wallace was what they called a “never do well” type of person. He considered himself a farmer, but was not too successful. Helen brought in money to keep them alive by her midwife duties.

In 1960, my mother’s cousin Guy Olmstead (Olmsted) wrote about Helen and William Wallace Olmsted’s trip in the 1870s to settle in Oregon. They lived in Oregon for about 10 years. They traveled by railroad to get to San Francisco and by paddlewheel steamer to Portland.

When they left Oregon, they travelled back to Iowa in 10 wagons and extra horses.  They traveled back on the Oregon Trail. Guy discussed how difficult it was to travel that trail. One day they stopped for 2 days near Overton, Nebraska. They met a man who was trying to sell some land north of Overton.

William Wallace bought the land and tried to farm the property. They turned the farm over to their son Claude. William Wallace and Helen built a home in Overton prior to William Wallace’s death in January 1908.

Helen continued her midwife work until 1925. She traveled by horse and buggy. One day the horse ran away with her.  She had the reins wrapped around her fingers and she lost two fingers on her left hand. This was one of my mother’s remembrances. After I started researching Helen, one of her brother’s children sent me a picture of her.

Helen knitting with missing fingers

The picture shows Helen knitting a pair of socks. The picture was very small and details were not noticeable. About 4 years ago, a friend of mine took the picture and enlarged it. I gasped when the first thing I saw was that she was missing those fingers. I took the picture home and showed my nephew Steve.  His comment was very funny, he said, “That’s Grandma Ollie.” My mother looked almost like Helen except Mom had all her fingers. 

My mother, Ollie Hinrichsen born in 1910 knew Helen personally and was in awe of her. Knowing some of Helen’s story has led me on my genealogical family discovery.

Mom told me many stories about Helen and about the record book Helen kept that had all the family history in it.  Mom said she was sorry that she had never had a chance to read the “book” or see what was in it.

Helen was a midwife for most of her adult life.  She delivered babies from the time she was about 18 years of age.  She delivered family babies as well as neighbors’ children.  All these records were kept in Helen’s book.

Back in 1983 my uncle Norman Hinrichsen passed away in Florida.  My mother was the only person in the family that was still in contact with him and she was notified by the police in Miami to come and take care of his body and estate. Mom gathered up my sister, her husband and me to rent a motorhome and travel from Utah to Florida to handle the mess.

When we arrived in Florida and went out to Norman’s home, we discovered that it had been broken into and trashed.  We decided to each take a room and look for anything of value that the burglars hadn’t taken. 

My room was the kitchen.  The table had papers and bills spread all over it, so I had to look through each to see what we needed to take care of.  On the table, to one side was a very old, brown register type book.  I opened it and gulped.  The first page had the family history of William Wallace Olmsted (my great-grandfather).  I had found Helen’s “book!”  I called my mother in and she verified that it was most definitely Helen’s record book. 

Helen’s book

We wondered how Norman had come by the book.  He did take care of my grandmother, Carrie Lucy Hinrichsen until her death in 1956, but this was 27 years later and the book was in great shape for its age and just laying out in the open.  It could have been thrown away as garbage at any time, but Norman must have known of its importance.  Why it was on the table and out where I could find it so quickly is still being asked by myself and the other family members.

All I can think of is that Helen wanted it found by someone who would value it.  I am always happy to share copies of the book – I usually send the annotated copy as I know people want more info that I keep researching. 

If you would like a free copy of the book, please email me at

I know several family members that have received copies and know that the material is priceless.  Enjoy it and please pass it on.  Thanks!

N. Ann Lamphere

Great-granddaughter of Helen Arvilla Stanbro Olmsted

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