Tale of Two Adas

Week 37: #52 Ancestors – Closest to Your Birthday

By Eilene Lyon

In my last post in this series, I told you that my grandparents, Reatha Gusso and Everett Halse, were married on December 31, 1932.1 I squelched into existence on what would have been their 29th wedding anniversary, except that Everett had been gone five months. Reatha was mourning and (possibly?) rejoicing on that day. That’s not much of a story, is it?

Since none of my ancestors or close relatives share a birthday with me (that I’m aware of), I dialed back a day to the story of two Adas, a mother and daughter, and their fateful day of December 30, 1909. Strangely, the Adas are cousins of Reatha Gusso, and though this story takes place before Reatha was born, the younger Ada was adopted by Everett Halse’s grandparents. That’s life in a small town for you. But there are stranger coincidences in my family tree.

Ada M. Bodtker

Ada M. Bodtker was the youngest child of Minnie Gusso, older sister of my 2nd-great-grandfather, Charlie Gusso. Minnie was born in the Mecklenburg region of today’s Germany, and immigrated in 1856.2 The Gusso family (originally Gaszow) settled in Milwaukee. In 1880 Minnie had her first child, Mable Rose Jackson, in Wisconsin to an unknown father.3

The Bodtker family about 1900. Back: Edward, Mable Rose, Minnie Gusso. Front: Wilford, Frederick, Ada. (Courtesy J. Brooks)

Within a year or two, Minnie moved to where her mother and step-father were living in Codington County, South Dakota, and married Emil I. Bodtker, a Norwegian immigrant.4 Minnie and Emil had three sons and a daughter together. Emil also adopted Mable, who took his last name. Ada was born on February 22, 1894.5

001 (3)
Emil Bodtker

Ada lost her father on September 10, 1895, too young to have ever known him.6 Then she lost her mother, Minnie, on April 9, 1901.7 She was just seven years old. Her half-sister, Mable, was 21 and had just been married and gotten pregnant right about that same time.8 But presumably she took care of little Ada and the boys.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that the attractive orphan found a boyfriend and married at an early age. On March 16, 1909, Ada M. Bodtker wed 19-year-old Fred R. Coffey in Codington County.9 Not quite nine months later, Ada gave birth to a little girl: December 2, 1909.10 The birth record gives her first name as Thera, but it was soon changed.

The young mother, Ada Bodtker Coffey, left this life on December 30, 1909, still not having reached her 16th birthday.11

Grief-stricken Fred Coffey, only 20 himself, was left with a newborn to care for.  He was not up to the task. Fred was also an orphan, so he enlisted the help of his Florence neighbors.

Ada Marie Coffey

On the same block in Florence lived a retired couple, Dick and Lucy Halse, my 2nd great-grandparents. Oddly, a few years earlier, Dick’s brother Robert had died, leaving two young children. Robert’s wife had left him for another man (taking her infant, likely fathered by the other man), and the two children were essentially orphaned. Dick and Lucy didn’t take in their niece and nephew, but they decided to take in the Coffey baby, not related to them at all.

15DATScans2 123
Dick and Lucy Halse. (Courtesy W. Halse).

Thera’s was name was changed to Ada Marie, after her dead mother, and eventually Dick and Lucy Halse adopted her. Fred Coffey continued to live in Florence, though he remarried and had another daughter and two sons. Presumably Ada had a relationship with her biological father and half-siblings.

As a young woman Ada moved to Minneapolis – the “big city” for people in eastern South Dakota – and took a job as secretary and clerk in the financial industry.12 About 1935 she married Allan Berg and in February 1936 they welcomed their son, Richard Allan Berg.13 Like her mother though, she died too young, leaving behind a motherless infant. Ada Marie Halse-Berg passed on September 26, 1936, just 26 years old.14

15DATScans2 143
Lucy and Dick Halse with Ada Coffey at their home in Florence, South Dakota. (Courtesy W. Halse)


Feature image: Bodtker family about 1900 (Courtesy of J. Brooks)


  1. Halse, Everett and Reatha Gusso. Ancestry.com. South Dakota, Marriages, 1905-2016 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005. 
  2. Carl Gagzow. Staatsarchiv Hamburg. Hamburg Passenger Lists, 1850-1934 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2008. 
  3. Bodtker, Minnie. Ancestry.com. 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004. Census Place: Fuller, Codington, South Dakota; Page: 4; Enumeration District: 0102; FHL microfilm: 1241548. 
  4. Dakota News, September 15, 1883. 
  5. Bodtker, Ada. Ancestry.com. South Dakota, Birth Index, 1856-1917 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2003. 
  6. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/101265856 
  7. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/86735760 
  8. Brooks, Mable. South Dakota, State Census, 1935. Salt Lake City, Utah: FamilySearch, 2013. 
  9. Coffey, Fred R. and Ada Bodtker. Ancestry.com. South Dakota, Marriages, 1905-2016 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005. 
  10. Coffee, Thera. Ancestry.com. South Dakota, Birth Index, 1856-1917 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2003. 
  11. Coffee, Ada M. Ancestry.com. South Dakota, Death Index, 1879-1955 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2004. 
  12. Halse, Ada Marie. Ancestry.com. 1930 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2002. Census Place: Minneapolis, Hennepin, Minnesota; Page: 19A; Enumeration District: 0254; FHL microfilm: 2340835. 
  13. Berg, Richard Allan. Minnesota Department of Health. Minnesota, Birth Index, 1935-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004. 
  14. Halse-Berg, Ada Marie. ncestry.com. U.S., Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Swedish American Church Records, 1800-1946 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2017. 

11 thoughts on “Tale of Two Adas

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    1. Dick Halse’s sister, Elizabeth, living in Iowa, took in the niece, also named Elizabeth. Clarence, the nephew, was apparently living in squalor with some family and a church man asked Olga Johnson, who already had nine kids to care for, to take him in. She did. He came out all right, but never married.

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