Amos T. Nervig
Posted By: Robert Nervig (email)
Date: 1/16/2021 at 13:37:24
It has been said, “Genes aren’t destiny “. Is this truly the case? A new scientific discipline is emerging to investigate intergenerational epigenetic inheritance . . . epigenetics, i.e. the study of non-genetic influences on gene expression. It is unnerving to imagine that the past could be living through us without our consent or knowledge. Richard Critchfield spoke of this in Those Days: An American Album when he posed the question: “If man is a mystery to be solved, clues lie with earlier generations, who were those strangers who helped to make us what we are?”
One of “those strangers” for me is my paternal grandfather, Amos T. Nervig or A.T.as he was known. It is interesting to note that many Nervig males, Norwegian immigrants or first-generation Norwegian-Americans were given the name of Amos, after the 8th century B.C. Hebrew bible prophet. The meaning of Amos is said to be “borne by God.” Also, noteworthy, those with the given name Amund in Norway became Amos in America. In addition, since there were so many named Amos or Ole or Omen, they were differentiated based on their physical size with the prefix “Big” or “Little”. The surname of these immigrants became Nervig after arriving in America, as the practice was to take the name of the farm you came from, i.e. Nervik Farm in Norway. It should be mentioned the ownership of this farm by Nervig ancestors dates back to 1160.
A.T. died in 1929, 17 years before I was born. Other than his obituary, there is very little written information, save, census records and his wedding announcement, about this first-generation Norwegian-American farmer who was born on the Nervig homestead in Lincoln (formerly Norway) Township, Polk County, Iowa, in 1871. What amazed me was the dearth of family stories about him. Neither his widow, nor his children spoke of him. When I asked my aunts, his daughters-in-law, what he was like, their only response was “community members spoke very highly of him.” That was it. So my task was to weave together the available information about him and his life, so I might better understand who I am.
His story begins on the Nervig farm southeast of Slater, Iowa, on October 7, 1871. He was born to Thomas and Maria (Hadley) Nervig. His father emigrated from Norway to America in 1858, first settling in the Moscow, Wisconsin area, where he met and married his wife, Maria. They resided here for about ten years then moved to Iowa. A.T. had two brothers, Hadley and John plus three sisters, Helen, Anna and Judith. He was baptized and confirmed in the Sheldahl Lutheran Church, just south of Slater. The 1880 census lists him as an eight year-old in school. Thomas, his father, died in 1889. A.T. was eighteen. In 1894 his mother died. The 1900 census lists him as a 29 year-old living on the Nervig homestead with the head of the household, William “Willie” Weeks, his brother-in-law. Willie was married to A.T.’s sister, Helen. A.T. had purchased land near the Nervig homestead. It was this year, he moved to Lake Township, Humboldt County, Iowa, just south of Hardy, Iowa. This area was a homogenous Norwegian settlement due to the chain migration.
When A.T. purchased this farm, the average value per acre of Iowa land was $28.13. In 1920, land prices boomed to an all-time high in 1920 of $227.00 an acre, then declined to $124.18 in 1930. The boom of 1919-20 was followed by two serious depressions.
In 1902 he married Sadie Serena Nelson, also a first-generation Norwegian American, who was a local school teacher. She was his first cousin. It was a common practice for cousins to marry during this time in the Norwegian community. Sadie’s mother, Elizabeth “Lizzie” (Nervig) Nelson was a sister of A.T.’s father. A.T. was 31; Sadie was 22 when they married. The local newspaper, The Humboldt Republican, commented that “he was one of the successful farmers in the vicinity.”
The 1910 census recorded him as 39 years of age, a farmer in Lake Township with a wife and three children, who was able to read and write. The Norwegian immigrants valued education and established schools in their communities before public schools came to be. A.T. would farm in Lake Township for 29 years and was a long-time member of the Trinity Lutheran Church, a focal point in the community and a conservative force. In 1927, he purchased a larger farm, 120 acres, with a newer house, in Dayton Township, northeast of Eagle Grove, Iowa, and moved his family there.
A.T. was farming in Iowa’s Golden Age of Agriculture (1897-1918). During this period, farmers attained high levels of production and received good prices for their products. In 1914, the war in Europe began. This event created a worldwide market for Iowa farm products. One reason for A.T’s farming success, like others in the area, was the combination of hogs and corn. Hogs were an outlet for a large portion of the corn crop, as they converted it into products that brought in 25 to 40 percent of the total Iowa farm income. Based upon farm photos, A.T. raised Poland China hogs, which represented one-third of Iowa hogs in the late 1890s. Hogs were aptly call “mortgage lifters.”
What I can piece together is that his personality, values and world view paralleled those of his fellow first-generation Norwegian Americans which included: independence, self-sufficiency, introversion, simplicity, equality, stoicism and a rejection of materialism, reinforced by the Lutheran ethic. My grandmother, A.T’s wife, who I got to know very well, held the same views. Early on as a grandchild I knew the Nervigs were not to play cards or drink alcohol. Education, as I have mentioned, was valued. A.T. sent his daughter, Edythe, to Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1921. The Nervigs along with other Norwegian immigrants and their children had strong loyalty to the Republican Party and its ideas.
A.T, died on his farm on February 11, 1929. The Eagle Grove Eagle reported his health had not been the best for a month, but not severe enough to prevent him from doing the farm work. But then on the evening of February 2, he suffered a stroke. He was unconscious until he died. Cause of death was reported to be apoplexy and cerebral hemorrhage.
Funeral services were held at home and Trinity Lutheran Church near Hardy on February 12. The only story I can remember my dad telling me about his father was that on the day of the funeral the roads and Highway 3 were blocked with drifting snow. So, they had to transfer the casket to a stone boat, a wooden skid that was used to haul rocks from fields, pulled by a team of horses that made their way cross country to reach the church about 15 miles from home.
The year A.T. died was the beginning of the Great Depression, leaving his widow in a precarious financial situation, since there was a mortgage on the farm and the bank stock he held would, in the end, have no value. She and her youngest son, who was twelve when his father died, continued faming until 1943.
The last sentence of his obituary summarized his life: “Mr. Nervig was a quiet man devoted to his family and his God”. Even though I did not personally know my grandfather, as I look back I can see his influence on his descendants. Some would say what we observe is a life-long echo from the past that connects us with our ancestors.
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