One Stayed Home

Week 32: #52 Ancestors – Sister

By Eilene Lyon

My great-great-grandfather Richard D. Halse had two sisters, one older and one younger. Richard, his widowed mother, and all his siblings moved from Iowa to Dakota Territory around 1880, except for the younger sister. Her name was Elizabeth Sorby Halse and she married a couple years before all of her family moved away.

Her aunts, uncles, and cousins also left. In fact, it was quite the mass exodus from Winneshiek County, Iowa, to Codington County, Dakota Territory. There wasn’t much chance of her husband wanting to leave Iowa, so she bade farewell to everyone closest to her.

Elizabeth’s parents emigrated from Northern Ireland with her oldest siblings in 1850. After a brief time in Rhode Island and New York, the Halse family relocated to Highland Township in Winneshiek County. Elizabeth was born there on February 25, 1858.1

Will Casterton - maryo159 A 8-10-19
Young William O. Casterton (Courtesy of maryo159 on Ancestry.com – modified)

William O. Casterton, the oldest of ten children, had to be the most eligible bachelor in all Winneshiek County. And he lived in the same township as Elizabeth. According to Will, farming kept him so busy that he barely knew people in the surrounding townships.2 Despite that, there was no denying Lizzie’s beauty and charm, so he didn’t really need to look any further.

Elizabeth Halse and Will O Casterton Wedding - maryo159 on Ancestry
Wedding portrait of Elizabeth S. Halse and William O. Casterton (Courtesy of maryo159 on Ancestry.com)

They wed on October 8, 1878.3 If the wedding was anything like that of Will’s sister Nettie’s in 1885, it was quite the grand affair. For Nettie Casterton and Granville Fawcett, the Decorah Republican had an extensive write-up, including a gift list! Shame on you if your gift seemed chintzy, I guess. Heading the list was $1,000 from the bride’s parents.4

“An hour was spent in congratulations and examining the presents, when supper was announced. ‘Such a supper’ – the writer is incompetent to describe. Suffice to say that a superior one has not been spread to invited guests in Winneshiek County for a long time, if ever,” gushed the reporter. The dancing went on all night.5

Will’s parents, Ogden Casterton and Mary Kew, emigrated from England and settled for a few years in Illinois. They then moved on to Highland Township, where Ogden had purchased land ahead of time.6 Unlike many people on my tree, Ogden knew how to leverage his labor into large land-holdings and became a very wealthy man.

After Ogden retired from farming, turning the enterprise over to Will, he settled in the county seat of Decorah to continue work in the banking field. Despite rearing ten children, Ogden and Mary amassed a small fortune for their day.7

Stitch15DATScans2 111-15DATScans2 112
On at least one occasion, Dick and Lucy Halse came from South Dakota to visit Lizzie and Will Casterton. (Courtesy of W. Halse)

In addition to Lizzie Halse marrying into the large Casterton family, three of my 3rd-great-uncles did as well, including Lizzie’s brother, Samuel V. Halse, who married Emma Jane Casterton in 1880.8 (Granville Fawcett is another of those uncles of mine.)

Lizzie didn’t just marry a prosperous man, but a hard-working and good-natured one. Will was known to love a good joke and during his long life (87 of his 90 years spent in Highland Township), he won many friends.9

The couple had four children together, two girls and two boys. Sadly, both boys died quite young. They raised their two daughters, Hilda and Myrtle, on the family farm. Hilda, born in 1879, married Willard Josiah Casterton (known as “Jay”) in 1903 in Winneshiek County, then moved to Canada where they had a son and daughter.10

(Hint: if you want to take your husband’s name, but also want to keep your own, marry someone with the same last name! I’m not entirely certain of their relationship, but possibly first cousins. Jay’s parents were Josiah Casterton and Jane Kew.)

Casterton portrait - nabeck1 on Ancestry 8-9-19
Will and Lizzie Casterton with their daughters, Hilda (top) and Myrtle (bottom). (Courtesy of nabeck1 on Ancestry.com – modified)

Will and Lizzie took on the task of raising Lizzie’s niece, also named Lizzie Halse, in 1906, after the young girl’s father died during an epileptic seizure. Their younger daughter, Myrtle, married in 1909 to Albert Newhouse.11 Myrtle and Albert had three children together.

When I went to Winneshiek County in 2012, I spoke on the phone with a Casterton – not a descendent of Ogden and Mary, but of Josiah and Jane. He recalled Lizzie Halse Casterton and her daughters, as well as Jay Casterton. One thing he told me was that Lizzie had a degenerative disease and was confined to a wheelchair for many years.12

I haven’t been able to confirm his story, as I don’t have a death certificate or obituary for her. The only clue I have that this may be true is the photo below showing Lizzie posed awkwardly on the porch while everyone else is standing. However she looks about the same in the feature image, standing just fine. Certainly Lizzie passed away too young, suggesting some sort of illness.

15DATScans2 130
Myrtle Casterton, Lizzie Halse, Will and Lizzie Casterton at home in Highland Township about 1907. (Courtesy of W. Halse)

Elizabeth Sorby Halse Casterton died on May 18, 1922 at the age of 64 and is buried in Hesper Cemetery.13 Hopefully some of her family came “home” from South Dakota for the funeral.

HalseElizabeth2
Headstone in the Casterton family group at Hesper Cemetery (E. Lyon 2012)

Feature image: Lizzie Halse feeding her chickens (Courtesy of nabeck1 on Ancestry.com – cropped)

Elizabeth Sorby Halse on Ancestry.com


  1. Elizabeth Sorby Halse. Baptism record: Big Canoe Lutheran Church. Ancestry.com. U.S., Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Church Records, 1781-1969 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. 
  2. “Resident of Highland Township for 82 Years” Decorah Public Opinion, December 22, 1938. 
  3. Lizzie Halse and William O. Casterton. Ancestry.com. Iowa, Select Marriages Index, 1758-1996 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. 
  4. “Wedding Bells. They peel right merrily in Highland.” Undated, unsigned transcription of article from the Decorah Republican, December 1885. 
  5. Ibid. 
  6. “Ogden Casterton Passes. Well known and highly respected citizen passed to his reward Thursday evening.” Decorah Public Opinion, December 9, 1914. 
  7. “Ogden Casterton’s Will” Decorah Public Opinion, December 17, 1914. 
  8. Samuel Halse and Emma J. Casterton. Ancestry.com. Iowa, Select Marriages Index, 1758-1996 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. 
  9. “Pioneer Highland Township farmer has stroke, dies” Undated, unattributed newspaper clipping. 
  10. Hilda Estella Casterton. Ancestry.com. Iowa, Marriage Records, 1880-1940 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. And: Hilda Casterton. Year: 1916; Census Place: Saskatchewan, Last Mountain, 21; Roll: T-21938; Page: 22; Family No: 234 – via Ancestry.com. 
  11. Myrtle Casterton. Ancestry.com. U.S., Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Church Records, 1781-1969 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. 
  12. Personal telephone conversation with Jim Casterton, October 1, 2012. 
  13. “Iowa, County Death Records, 1880-1992,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVMN-H88T : 17 March 2018), Elizabeth Casterton, 18 May 1922; citing Death, Highland Township, Winneshiek, Iowa, United States, page 372, offices of county clerk from various counties; FHL microfilm 1,477,419. And: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/21302327/cas 

24 thoughts on “One Stayed Home

Add yours

  1. It’s a pleasure to read about a family that was prosperous and didn’t have those struggles as so many of our ancestors did, but a degenerative disease that confines one to a wheelchair sounds awful!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, I understand. You think the photo of her standing tall belies the fact that she was in a wheelchair. BUT she could have had an auto-immune type illness that would get better and then worse again.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Funny how so many of the Halse’s married into the same family. I wonder if that was more common in those days in the rural communities. Sounds like the Casterton’s were good people.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. An interesting story again shining a light onto people’s lives a couple of centuries ago. Although I don’t know of these people their lives always tell us a lot about those times culturally in many different ways.

    Like

  4. A thousand bucks as a wedding gift . . .whoa!

    The one thing I am thankful for, is having walked to school growing up. Me and my first grade pals walked a good mile. It just doesn’t happen like that any more.

    Liked by 2 people

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