Twins Keeping Folks on the Right Track

Charles and Emilie (Palisch) Swan were married in March of 1891.  Just before the end of 1891, Emilie gave birth to a pair of twin boys.  They were another set of twins that were born on different days.  Wilhelm Heinrich Swan was born on December 28, and Abel Bernhardt Swan was born on December 29.

Charles Swan, their father, was a farmer in Wittenberg, Missouri.  When the twins were teenagers, in 1904, the Frisco railroad began operating in town.  I am guessing that the trains going through town must have been very exciting for a pair of young teenagers such as Wilhelm and Abel.  Here is a photo taken of the Swan family during those days in Wittenberg.

Charles Swan family


Abel is the boy in the middle of the back row.  Wilhelm is standing behind his father on Abel’s left.  As it turns out, Wilhelm ended up as a lifelong employee of railroads.

In 1910, both Abel and Wilhelm were still listed in the census as 18 year old farmers.   In 1917, Wilhelm was married and living in Shakopee, Minnesota.  He had married Lossie Schulberg who was from Minnesota.  For the rest of his life, Wilhelm lived along a railroad called the Milwaukee Road.  It was also called the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific Railroad.  You can see this company listed on Wilhelm’s World War I draft registration as Wilhelm’s employer.


I happen to be currently spending some time with part of my family that lives just down the road from Shakopee.

By 1920, Wilhelm was married with a three month old child and living in Strasburg, North Dakota. He was also working for a railroad which had recently arrived in that town. While living there, Wilhelm might have run into a teenager by the name of Lawrence Welk, who was learning to play the accordion.

The Swans were living in Roscoe, South Dakota in both the 1930 and 1940 censuses, with Wilhelm still working for the same railroad which went through that town.  Although Wilhelm is documented as dying in Otter Tail, Minnesota, he and his wife are buried in Ortonville, Minnesota, another town along the tracks of the Milwaukee Road.


While Wilhelm was an agent and telegrapher for the railroad company, his brother took another career path.  In 1924, Abel Swan was ordained as a Lutheran minister.  According to his obituary, over the years, he served congregations in Minnesota, Texas, and California.  Before he was married, Abel must have moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota and became a salesman.  He married Edna Hof who was from Nora Springs, Iowa, near Mason City.  I would be interested to find out why Abel had moved to Minnesota (maybe to be near his twin brother) and how he came to meet a girl from Iowa that he would marry.  And I would like to know what moved him to become a minister.

In 1930 and 1940, the census shows the Swans living in Minneapolis, where Abel was a Lutheran pastor.  In 1944, Rev. Abel can be found in a city directory for Corpus Christi, Texas and working for Lutheran Service Center.


The 1942 World War II draft registration for Abel shows that his Lutheran employer was headquartered in Minnesota.


In 1954, Abel and his family moved to Hayward, California, in the San Francisco area.  Abel died in 1975 from complications from an illness he contracted on a Caribbean cruise.  His wife had died two years earlier.  Both Edna and Abel are buried in a cemetery in Nora Springs, Iowa, Ednas’s hometown.

Both of the Swan twins spent their lives keeping people on track.  Wilhelm literally made sure trains were on the right track.  And Abel had the mission of proclaiming the Word of God, which helps people find the right track and stay on it.  I wonder if these twin brothers ever came back together to visit  their hometown in Perry County.  Would the Swans have returned to their nest?

2 thoughts on “Twins Keeping Folks on the Right Track

  1. Abel Swan was my first pastor. My family attended St. Timothy’s Lutheran Church in Hayward, Ca. Pastor Swan baptised me. I remember him visiting our family at home and asking me as very young child what he could read to me from the Bible. I told him the “red writing,” and so he did — something out of the Gospels. My granfather used to refer to him as Swanee. He made quite an impression. Loud and passionate, he was. The last time I saw him was in 1971 at a Lyons in Fremont, Ca, having lunch with friends and still holding court.


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