Thorne & Bryan Genealogy
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Last Page Activity: Nov 22, 2015         

Emma Raalien  


Birth:  30 May 1885   Kerkhoven, Minnesota, USA 1

Death:  5 Oct 1976   Quesnel, British Columbia 1

Father:   Ole Olson RAALIEN  (1844-1935)

Mother:   Rangdi JOHANNSON (aka Randi JOHANNESDATTER)  (1849-1925)


Spouse:  Draper William IRWIN

Birth:  7 Oct 1873  Timulkenny Farm, Drumcree, County Armagh, Ireland

Death:  25 Jul 1950   Quesnel, British Columbia 2

Father:  William IRWIN (~1840-)

Mother:  Sarah  CHAMBERLAIN (~1840-). Born in England.


Marriage:  27 Feb 1900  Brainerd, Minnesota



William [Bill] John (11 Apr 1901- 27 Sept 1971)  Hackensack, Minn.  Married Exilda [Toots] Crotteau 29 Jun 1925 Prince George, BC

Mabel Doris  (22 Oct 1903 -3 Sept 1986)  Hackensack Minn.  Married William Henry [Harry] Nichols 22 Nov 1922 Quesnel, BC

Verona Irene Winifred (1917-1998)

RAALIEN Emma aka Rolie, Rolien, Irwin Ervine

RAALEIN family ca 1900. Mother Rangdi with six of her twelve children. Back row:  Bertha, Peder [Peter], Emma.  Front row:  Inger, Olivia [Ollie], Rangdi,  Maria [Mary].

The following three photographs of Emma were taken in 1910. (The first two are at Lake Minnetonka, Minn.)


  • Family members tell that Emma was married at 15 (or 16) years of age. Census information would support this.
  • 1905 Minnesota Census spells the Irwin family name ERVINE
  • Draper and Emma were separated for a time. 1910 US Census listed Emma Irwin as a servant in the household of Digen.   Other information from Census:  Age 25, married 9 years, 2 children still living, place of birth Minnesota, parents place of birth Norway, speaks English, had been out of work 12 weeks in 1909, could read and write.    The children are not listed under the same household.


Dragon Lake Memories The short story "The Irwin Family of Dragon Lake" was written by Emma's daughter, Verona and recounts her parents move to and settling on land at Dragon Lake near Quesnel, BC.
Verona and Emma on Dragon Lake Farm
Emma, Draper holding Verona and Mabel. July 1918
Emma and son William [Bill]


For years there has been confusion over the spelling of Emma's maiden name. In Dragon Lake Memories written by her daughter, Verona, it is spelt Rolein.  Genealogy research has shown that it was spelled numerous ways throughout the years (Rolein, Rolien, Raalien, etc.).   

Norwegian surnames were originally patronymic, commonly the father’s first name ending with the sen or son for son; or datter or dotter for daughter.  A name might be further extended with the name of the farm or town in which they lived or were born.

When Norwegians immigrated to North America they began using the same last name for the entire family. However, as is evident within Emma’s family, the spelling or length of that last name might be fluid.

Norway, in 1923, ordered (by law) that each family should have a single, hereditary last name. Surnames derived from place names commonly originated as farm names. Most families adopted a farm name.

RAALIEN is a farm name in Vinger
, Norway; the area from which her parents emigrated. As we can see from US Federal and Minnesota State Census the spelling of the family’s surname varied from Raalien to Rolie to Rolein to Rolien.
1905 Minnesota Census for ERVINE aka Irwin family
Click on 1905 Minnesota Census to view larger size.
Click on 1910 US Census picture above to view larger size.

Emma with great-grandchildren Terry and Karen Nichols. (Terry & Karen are cousins) Emma with grandchildren Sandra & Terry Emma with daughter Verona and grandchildren
 Sandra, Terry and Wendy

Emma with husband Draper in Quesnel ca 1949.
1952. Emma with brother John and sister Bertha on Long Lake MN
 near where they lived as children 

- from the writings of her grandson, Terry Thorne

On October 5, 1976 my beloved Grannie Irwin passed away.  Born in 1885, she was in her 92nd year.  In July of the previous year Grannie had written that she was back in Quesnel after an absence of some twenty-five years; happy to be home.

Grannie had waited several years for a seniors care facility to be available and when the Legion sponsored complex was constructed in the early 70s, as the mother and grandmother of serving veterans, she was accepted as a resident.  Her submission, 'Dunrovin Park', was selected as the name for the complex; Mom was aghast at the name but was pleased when her mother had the honour of cutting the ribbon at the opening ceremony of Dunrovin Park Lodge. 

Grannie was buried in Quesnel alongside Grandpa, near Uncle Bill and other members of the Irwin family.

Although I saw little of my Grannie after I graduated from high school and left for Toronto, my memory is still alive with the times spent on her lap, as a youngster, talking, singing and planning our chicken business. 
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Emma (3 from left) with UCW Sunshine Girls, St Andrews United Church, Lillooet

Remembering Grannie Irwin (Emma Raalien Irwin 1885-1976)                                              By her granddaughter, Wendy Fraser

 The scent of talcum powder. A boisterous World War 1 song about “K-k-k-Katie” with lyrics promising, “When the moon comes over the c-c-c-cowshed, I’ll be waiting for you at the k-k-k-kitchen door.” A home movie from the 1970s showing our grandmother Emma Irwin tottering along the front porch of my brother Terry’s  home in Langley, taking dad’s arm and walking to the car where she pauses, smiles and waves a gentle goodbye.

My memories of Grannie are still vivid, almost 40 years after her death. She was a childhood source of comfort, impish humour, songs, hot milk and cinnamon toast. Her own memories of her Minnesota childhood made her seem like a Laura Ingalls Wilder character come to life and miraculously living just downstairs, in the basement suite of our home.

I once read that every writer has a storyteller somewhere in his or her childhood who provided nurture and inspiration. When I read that statement, I understood instantly that Grannie was my storyteller.

She told me two of her brothers worked as loggers in the Great North Woods right alongside Paul Bunyan and his Blue Ox Babe. I promptly went to school and regaled my classmates with those stories. They believed me and even the teacher did not try to dissuade me, instead writing in my report card that “Wendy’s stories and accounts of her travels are fascinating.”

Today, I know that Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox did not single-handedly dig the Pecos River or the Grand Canyon (Grannie never claimed they did). But there’s still a part of me willing to believe that Bunyan (or a reasonable facsimile) lived in Bemidji, Brainerd, Thief River Falls or one of the other exotic Minnesota towns in Grannie’s stories. Such was the power of her storytelling.  

There was Paul Bunyan; there was also Buffalo Bill Cody, whose Wild West Show Grannie saw either in 1896, 1898 or 1900 (Google is so helpful with dates and locations!). Buffalo Bill cut a magnificent figure and he made a lasting impression on Grannie.

There were stories, too, of frightening Indians coming to the door of the farmhouse and asking my great-grandmother Rangdi Johannson Raalien for food. It may sound far-fetched that Grannie and her siblings were afraid of those aboriginal Americans, until one considers that the last Indian battle in the United States was fought at Sugar Point, Minnesota in 1898.

Grannie received a rudimentary education. When she was a little girl, she suffered a very serious dog bite to her leg that kept her away from school for months as her mother nursed her back to health. By the time she was well enough to return to school, she was far behind her classmates. She could read, write and count, but her hand-writing was always plain and straightforward, without the flourishes common to her time.

Her stories of growing up with all her sisters and brothers are what I remember best.

One of my favourites was The Preacher and The Pumpkin. There was a young bachelor preacher (Lutheran, I’m assuming) who visited the farms in his charge on a regular basis to meet with parishioners. He traveled on horseback. On one memorable occasion, he arrived at the Raalien home and my great-grandmother invited him in for a chat over fresh-baked gingerbread.

As great-grandmother and the preacher visited, Grannie and her sisters and brothers were busy outside, boiling big vats of pumpkin over an open fire to preserve the pumpkin for the coming winter. One of her brothers had a bright idea. What, he wondered, would happen to the preacher’s chaps (conveniently left just outside the door) if they filled them with the hot pumpkin? The children began to pour pots of pumpkin into the leather chaps, which began to creak and crack and expand.

By the time the preacher finished his visit, his chaps were ruined and the children were anticipating the punishment they were convinced was coming. Great-grandmother was embarrassed and mortified, but the preacher thought the prank was hilarious and pleaded on the children’s behalf. They weren’t punished.

And there were the nights Grannie went night fishing on the lake with her father Ole Olsen Raalien. They would hang lanterns from the boat – not exactly sporting for the fish involved - but Ole had 11 children to feed.

There were also the many times, day or night, when her mother would be summoned to act as midwife and bring new life into the world. Great-Grannie would grab her black medical bag and head off in a buggy or buckboard to a farm or cabin where a mother-to--be awaited her arrival.

The family did not have it easy. As mom (Verona Irwin Thorne Fraser) remembered the story, great-grandfather Raalien co-signed a loan for a friend. The friend couldn’t make the payments and skipped town. Then the bank and the authorities turned their focus to great-grandfather, who couldn’t make the payments, either. The family was forced to make hurried arrangements to abandon their homestead and move on to a fresh start somewhere else.

Grannie never forgot the experience of leading the family cow down the back roads and trails, under cover of darkness, after they packed up all they could carry in their wagon and left their home for the final time.


Mom was always under the impression that this was when the family name changed from Raalien to Olsen. The surname Olsen was as common in Minnesota at that time as the names Smith or Jones are today. Another family of Olsens moving into an area was not going to attract much attention from anyone.  

Grannie’s time with her parents and siblings was short-lived. She went to work at a young age – 11? 12? 13? – as a house maid for Dr. John G. Cross and his family. Dr. Cross eventually became a professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota and he and his family lived in a grand house.

Grannie was given her own bedroom, with a fine bed, complete with a pillow and pillow case, sheets, blankets and a bed spread. The bed was beautifully made. She knew she could never sleep in it and then re-make it the next morning to its beautiful state, so she slept instead on a rug on the floor.

This went on for several nights, perhaps a couple of weeks, until Mrs. Cross discovered her sleeping on the floor. Why, she asked, aren’t you sleeping in your bed? Grannie confessed that she didn’t know how to make the bed. Mrs. Cross gently showed her how the various bed linens fit together and Grannie slept in her bed from then on.

When she went to work for the Crosses, her English was still somewhat poor. The Raaliens/Olsens spoke Norwegian at home. Grannie always remembered the time she was sent on an errand and a well-dressed woman, of obvious good breeding, accidentally stepped backwards onto the foot of young, red-headed Emma. The woman exclaimed, “Oh, excuse me!” and Grannie, trying to be polite, summoned her best English and replied, “No excuse!” She enjoyed telling that story.


 The Cross family was very kind to Grannie. Our family has photos of her visiting them at their home on the shores of Lake Minnetonka in 1910. She’s 25, looks vivacious and happy and was evidently treated as a close friend of the family, and not as a former servant.

Grannie loved to sing and had a fine voice. In addition to “K-k-k-Katie,” the other song she taught me was “Red Wing” with its lyrics: “Oh the moon shines tonight on pretty Red Wing/ The breeze is sighing/The night birds crying…”

I was a sentimental little kid and the tragic fate of Red Wing and her lover (“her brave lies sleeping, while Red Wing’s weeping/her heart away”) sometimes left me in tears,  especially when I figured out that “sleeping” actually meant Dead. All in all, “K-k-k-Katie” was much less traumatic.

I remember with a smile her strength, her common sense, her love, her laughter, and her strongly held-opinions on anything and everything. As her hearing became worse as she became elderly, she used to drive me nuts with her own versions of the plot of the TV shows we were watching. Eventually, I gave up trying to explain the real plots to her. In retrospect, her versions were probably as good as the typical medical show dramas or mystery crime fare of the late 1960s/early 1970s.

In addition to being our grandmother, I believe the argument can be made that Grannie was the grandmother of today’s conspiracy theorists. When Neil Armstrong took his “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” in the summer of 1969, we all gathered around the TV and watched the blurry black and white images beamed back from the moon.

Grannie was having none of it. It was a fake, she declared. It was all being filmed in Hollywood, she maintained. It was impossible for anybody to travel from Here to There, to that little crescent up there in the sky. We were never able to persuade her that man had truly walked on the moon.

What a long and extraordinary life she had, spanning the time from Buffalo Bill to Neil Armstrong. How extraordinarily fortunate we were to know and love her.

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