View Teri Hjelmstad's profile on LinkedIn



52 Stories #2—Teaching Myself Hardanger Embroidery

I have some Norwegian ancestry. Because of this, I have sought to learn a bit about Norwegian culture. One aspect of Norwegian life that I have found appealing is their love and pursuit of artistic crafts. Many years ago, I became interested in Norwegian Hardanger embroidery, a type of needlework unique to them. I resolved to teach myself to do it.

Hardanger is a specialized technique of cut and drawn stitchwork, historically done with white thread on white evenweave cloth. It has its roots in ancient Persia, and perhaps the Vikings took embroidered pieces home with them. Back in Norway, the local women adapted the stitches to the materials at hand—linen fabric and thread. The stitchery used today originated in the Hardanger area of Norway, hence its name. By the 1800’s, all young Norwegian girls learned to used Hardanger embroidery to decorate the linens in their hope chests as well as the cuffs of shirts they made for their eventual husbands.

My Norwegian great-grandmother, Sofie Sivertsdatter Bentsen, learned Hardanger when she grew up in Norway. I do not know whether she taught embroidery to her own daughters, one born in Norway and two born in the U. S., or whether any of them pursued Hardanger as a hobby. I do know that family members still have some of the pieces Sofie worked although I was not fortunate enough to receive any myself. I guess that comes from being descended from a son instead of a daughter.

My own mother, who was half Norwegian, knew how to embroider, but she never embroidered anything with Hardanger. I doubt she knew how. She and her Finnish mother both loved to embroider with the more familiar colorful stitches like cross stitch, and we had many pieces around the house that they had worked. They made dresser scarves, table clothes, pillow cases, framed pictures, etc.

When I was about 9 or 10 years old, my mother taught me the basic decorative embroidery stitches that she knew. Over the next twenty years or so, I happily stitched up many pieces that I used around my own house. Then one day I heard about Hardanger embroidery and its Norwegian roots. I was curious to learn more about it and to try it.

About that time, a woman from the Embroiderer’s Guild offered an afternoon session on Hardanger at the local community college. I took her class and received an introduction to the required materials and stitches. I loved it!

I purchased a couple of stitching guides, some Hardanger cloth, and some perle cotton at the local sewing store and embarked on a mission to teach myself how to embroider this way. I learned increasingly complicated stitches and made bookmarks, wall hangings, and doilies. At one point, I even spent about two years making a window valance that now hangs in my office.

When I joined the Sons of Norway a couple of years ago, I found that members can earn pins for learning Norwegian cultural skills. To earn the first level pin for Hardanger, one must research the history of the craft and then complete three pieces using the basis stitches. I did this and earned my Level I pin last year.

Teaching myself Hardanger embroidery has brought much joy and satisfaction into my life and has really given me a sense of accomplishment. I feel connected to my roots when I work on a piece. When I am finished, I have something to keep that I know I made myself. Mastering Hardanger embroidery has really enriched my life.


52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks nos. 53 & 54—Hans Pedersen and Maren Andersdatter

Hans Enok Pedersen, my third great-grandfather, lived to be 84 years old. At the time of his death, he had a headful of thick hair with very little gray in it. Descendants, including my own mother, inherited this characteristic.

Hans was born to Peder Andersen and Martha Johnsdatter on July 18, 1813 on the island of Øksnes, Vesterålen, Nordland in the Kingdom of Danmark-Norge. He was baptized at Øksnes parish the following autumn on the 28th of September.

When he was twenty-three years old Hans married Maren Anna Serina Andersdatter who was born at Malnes in the Bø Municipality of Vesterålen, Nordland. We do not know her birth date, but she was baptized on March 14, 1813 in Bø parish. The wedding of Hans and Maren took place at the Øksnes church, and Hans worked on the Fjeldgrimstad farm in Øksnes at the time.

Hans and Maren had at least two children:

  1. Martha Karoline Dorthea (my 2nd great grandmother), born March 20, 1841,
  2. Enok Andreas, born about 1850.

Eventually, the young family settled on the Dungan farm in Øksnes where Hans worked as a tenant farmer. In 1868, Maren served as godmother for her ill-fated granddaughter, Anna Marie Birgitte Sivertsdatter. Anna Marie was Martha’s third child, and she lived to be only a year old.

Maren passed away at about the age of 74, on July 5, 1886. She was buried in the Øksnes parish a couple of weeks later, on July 19, 1886.

Hans died several years later, on January 16, 1898. He was buried the following summer on July 11, 1898. His daughter Martha outlived him by only a couple of years.

How About a DNA Test?

This month I find myself learning more about DNA and genealogy and trying to decide whether to take a DNA test.

Twice this month I have had the opportunity to hear a good speaker on this topic, Deena Coutant of DigiDeena Consulting ( She presented sessions on the basics of DNA testing to both our local Highlands Ranch Genealogical Association and our Norwegian genealogy study group at the Sons of Norway. When she speaks, she even brings along DNA test kits in case her listeners want to test their DNA on the spot.

I also recently acquired the new book in the National Genealogical Society’s Special Topics Series, Genetic Genealogy in Practice by Blaine T. Bettinger and Debbie Parker Wayne. Going through this workbook should give me a better education on how I could apply DNA test results in my own genealogical research.

Over the years I have been reluctant, for privacy reason, to take a DNA test for genealogy. But as Deena points out, DNA results have now become an essential piece of evidence for conducting the exhaustive research demanded to prove a case. So I am thinking about it.

I can identify three situations where a DNA test could provide some benefit in my research:

  1. I have an unknown great-grandfather. My grandmother Grace Riddle Reed was born to Laura Riddle in 1896 at Palisade, Nebraska. Twelve and a half percent of my DNA comes from Grace’s father, and I would like to know who he was.
  2. My family says that one of my great-great grandmothers was Katherine Stillenbaugh/Stanabaugh, mother of Anna Petronellia Sherman, born near Indianapolis in 1865. I have never found any record of this woman, and 6.25% of my DNA comes from her. I would like to identify her and her family.
  3. My direct maternal line comes from eastern Finland. I believe these people were Karelians who lived around Lake Ladoga. An mtDNA test would satisfy my curiosity about my maternal deep ancestry.

Should I take the test? The one I would want (autosomal + mtDNA) costs quite a bit. If I do it, I would then need to devote the time necessary to communicate with those who match my DNA. This translates into overcoming my reluctance to give up my privacy as well as committing a good deal of money and time.

I need to make a decision on whether I want to use this means to move ahead in the quest to identify my mysterious ancestors.

52 Stories #1–Achievements

Welcome to a new series for 2017. This year I plan a series of posts in response to a challenge by the folks at Family Search for the genealogy community. They want to encourage us to document our own lives in addition to of those of our ancestors. They named the project 52 Stories.

They asked us to write down what we want remembered about our own lives and then preserve it for posterity. Completing this project will make genealogical research easier for our descendants. The January topic is Goals & Achievements.

Writing about myself on this subject seems a lot like bragging—something we Scandinavians are loathe to do—but I will do my best to complete the task with some modesty. First up, lifetime achievements:

  1. Early on, it became apparent that I had a good head for what my family called book-learning. I took Honors classes in school, earned a couple of scholarships, was graduated with Honor from the University of Wyoming, and was admitted to the highly selective University of Texas School of Law.
  2. Post-graduation, I landed a job as a petroleum landman with Gulf Oil Company. Very few women worked in this profession at that time, and I was one of the first.
  3. Years later, after I had left the oil business, I put that law degree to work in the civic arena and the genealogy profession. I have served several terms in elective offices including political party Precinct Leader, Delegate to the civic associations in two communities, and Vice-President of the Colorado Genealogical Society. I am not a politician or a born leader, so I have not aspired to higher elective office.
  4. At home, I am proud of a number of successes. My husband/tech advisor and I raised two fine boys—one a creative architect and the other a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point who now serves as a Major in the Army Reserve. Over the years, I guided our sons and helped them along the way by serving as a Scout leader, a Sunday School teacher, and a volunteer parent for swimming, hockey, and lacrosse teams. I saw to it that both boys had years of music lessons. Now I work hard to provide as many enrichment activities as I can for my six grandchildren.
  5. Surprisingly, late in life I have found some success as a musician. The piano lessons I took and the choral training I had as a child are both getting renewed life. A year ago, I was elected as Musician for my local Sons of Norway lodge. In addition to resuming the piano, I also took up singing again. I had the opportunity to join one of the premier church choirs in the Denver area, and later this year we will go on tour in Europe to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

So what has been my greatest achievement? I cannot really say. Of course, I am proud of my sons, but so much of that credit belongs not to me, but to their dad and to them. I am proud of the beautiful civic park I helped develop for the City of Centennial. Mostly, I am proud of whatever I can do to help make my family and my community better.


Genealogy Goals for 2017

Happy New Year to everyone! Are we all ready to begin another exciting chapter of Reed/Bentsen family research? I know I am. I hope to accomplish a number of things in 2017:

  1. My German third great-grandmother, Katherine Stillenbaugh/Stanabaugh (d. abt. 1865), remains a mystery to me, and I would love to break through this brick wall. I have developed a research plan to see if I can find any clues about her. This week I began by reading through the published histories of Johnson County, Indiana where I suspect she lived. Unfortunately, I found nothing that shed any light on her. My next step will be to identify families in Johnson and surrounding counties with surnames similar to hers and reconstruct those family groups to see if I can identify a possible candidate for her family. Anyone missing a daughter Katherine/Catherine/Catharina who might belong to me?!
  2. Technically, I finished up my series 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks in 2016. One year did not allow me enough weeks to complete the stories of all my third great-grandparents. Notably, I did not get to my Finnish line (ha, ha). I intend to do a few more posts on this topic so that I have something written about that entire generation.
  3. I plan to take up the challenge presented by Family Search and do a series on 52 Stories. The project involves writing a post every week about my own life. Family Search provides a year’s worth of prompts to inspire good material for this. First up, Goals & Achievements. When I am finished, I will have a nice memoir that I can pass along to my descendants.
  4. Later this year I will take a fabulous trip to Germany and the Czech Republic. My Lutheran church choir will go on tour to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, and we will visit all the historic Luther sites. My maternal family has been Lutheran since the Reformation, so it means a lot to me to have the opportunity to explore my spiritual roots. My husband/tech advisor and I will tack a few days on to the trip to visit his ancestral villages in Germany and the Netherlands. If I could find out where my mystery ancestor originated in the German lands, perhaps I could visit her villages, too.
  5. I still have an unviewed box of material and several notebooks inherited from my Dad’s cousin awaiting curating. I would like to complete this project this year. Many of her materials concern her maternal line, which is not related to me. I would like to identify and donate these items to the Denver Public Library for the benefit of other genealogists.

These goals should keep me busy through the year. Wish me luck!

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks #51 & 52—Knud Sjursen and Brita Kristoffersdatter

Knud and Brita, my third great-grandparents, were rebels.

Both were born in the Hordaland District of Norway, but they fled their homes so they could marry. She was born into a higher-status family than he, and that was a barrier to their marriage. No matter. Together they went north to Nordland, and they did as they pleased.

Knud Sjursen was born on February 23, 1816 at Fenne Farm in the Voss Municipality of Hordaland. He was baptized two days later in the Vangen parish. His parents were Sjur Mathissen and Ingebor Knudsdatter. It seems he was named for his maternal grandfather.

Brita, the daughter of Christopher Monsen and Martha Olsdatter, was born just a few weeks before Knud, on January 9, 1816, at Oppeim, also in the Voss Municipality. She was baptized a month later, on February 2, 1816, at Voss.

Both Knud and Brita followed the same rites of passage as most other Norwegian youths of their time. They received their smallpox vaccinations and were confirmed in the Lutheran church.

By 1842, when they were 26 years old, they had both left their families and made their way to the distant island of Øksnes in the Vesterålen District of Nordland. Knud found work on the Sorsand farm, and Brita was on the Vottestad farm. They got married in Øksnes parish on July 11, 1842. Together they went on to have six children:

  1. Sivert Knudsen (1843-1907), my second great-grandfather,
  2. Kristoffer Knudsen (b. about 1844),
  3. Ingeborg Knudsdatter (b. about 1846),
  4. Elias Knudsen (b. about 1849),
  5. Karoline Knudsdatter (b. about 1853),
  6. Karl Knudsen (b. about 1860).

By 1865, the family had moved on to the Bjorndal farm in the Hadsel Municipality of Vesterålen. Knud worked as a tenant farmer. He and Brita stayed there for the rest of their lives and watched their family grow. On July 15, 1866, they served as godparents for their son Sivert’s first child, Kaspara Helmine Sivertsdatter at Øksnes.

After a lifetime together, Knud was the first to pass away. He died on February 24, 1885, the day after his 69th birthday. He was buried two months later, on April 12, 1885 in the Eidsfjord parish of Nordland.

Brita outlived him by just two years. She died on January 2, 1887, a week before what would have been her 71st birthday. She was buried the following spring, on May 30, also at Eidsfjord parish.

Knud and Brita had successfully defied their families to be together. Their marriage lasted 42 years.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks #49 & 50—Johan Larsen and Sara Möllersdatter

My third great-grandfather Johan Larsen was born March 22, 1824 on the island of Alstahaug in Nordland, Norway, just south of the Arctic Circle. His parents Lars Hemingsen and Jonelle Jonsdatter had him baptized in the Herøy i Alstahaug parish some time later.

When he was twenty-one years old, Johan married Sara Andrine Möllersdatter in the same parish on the nearby island of Slapøen on July 19, 1845. Sara was the daughter of Möller Zacariasen. Much older than Johan, Sara had been born about 1814 on the Berfjorden farm in the Alstahaug Municipality.

The couple set up housekeeping at Slapøen and began their family:

  1. Johana Maria, born at Slapøen on September 25, 1845,
  2. Bergitta Susanna, born at Slapøen on September 8, 1848,
  3. Karen Marie, born at Titternes farm in Dønnes on April 7, 1851 (my great-great grandmother),
  4. Ludvig Edvart, born at Næsna in Dønnes on May 17, 1855,
  5. Anne Margrete Kristine, born at Skeidsøen farm in Dønnes on March 12 1859,
  6. Mortine Lovise, born at Skeidsøen farm in Dønnes on June 19, 1863.

As he raised his family, Johan became a small landholder at Skeidsøen, and he worked sometimes as a fisherman. Perhaps during the fishing season that ran from January to May each year, he traveled with the other men from his area to the rich Lofoten fishing grounds north of Dønnes to earn some extra cash.

On March 6, 1876, shortly before his 52nd birthday, Johan died in a fishing accident. His death is recorded not in his home parish in Dønnes, but further north in Lofoten. He must have gone there to fish that season. Many of the deaths recorded on the same page of the Vågan parish register in Lofoten note a death at sea, so perhaps that is how Johan died, too. It seems the boats lost many men that fishing season.

Johan was buried later that month on March 25, 1876 in the Vågan parish of Lofoten.

Sara remained at Dønnes to live out the remainder of her life. She passed away on August 1, 1880 when she was about 66 years old. She was buried in the Herøy I Herøy parish.


Finishing Up for 2016

I am closing out another research year. For the last twelve months I have researched the life of my blacksmith great-great grandfather, Thomas Sherman. I have learned about his life and written up my findings for distribution to my family. For wider dissemination of the information I have gathered, I have put all the names, dates, and places into the family tree on Family Search (

During the year I learned that Thomas, like many in the nineteenth century, moved around a bit, as evidenced by these life events:


  • Born 23 November 1841 in Ohio,
  • Grew to manhood in Kentucky, and learned the blacksmith trade from his father, Daniel Sherman,
  • Married his first wife, fathered his first child, and registered for the Civil War draft in Johnson County, Indiana,
  • Married twice more and fathered five more children in eastern Illinois,
  • Died 3 February 1912 at Charleston, Illinois.

A big mystery still not answered from my research this year is the identity of his first wife. Next year I plan to continue with the Sherman research in an effort to discover who she may have been. I do have a name and place to go on—Katherine Stillenbaugh/Stanabaugh of Indianapolis, Indiana. Family lore says she immigrated from Germany.

I would just love to place this woman, my great-great grandmother, into her birth family. I plan a trip to Germany in 2017, and it would be wonderful to know more about her by then.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks #47 and 48—Anders Bentsen and Anne Larsdatter

Anders Bentsen was the last Bentsen ancestor of mine who did not immigrate to America. He was also the man from whom my mother’s family took their surname when they did move to the United States from Norway. Because most Norwegians of his time did not have surnames, the family had to choose one when they immigrated. In Norway, they were known simply by their father’s name (a patronymic) plus the name of farm where they lived.

Anders was the son of Bent Iversen. Thus, his patronymic name was Bentsen, or Bent’s son. When Anders’ son Lorenz Nikolai and his grandson Ole Jørgen crossed the pond, they both decided to call themselves Bentsen, as their patriarch had, instead of using their own patronymic names, Andersen and Lorenzen.

Anders was born October 16, 1823, perhaps at the Norwegian coastal city of Bergen. By 1844 he had relocated north to the cod fishing area of Nordland, Norway, north of the Arctic Circle. He lived in Bø parish on one of the islands in the Vesterålen District and worked as a cottager. He fished, too, and sometimes worked on a whaling ship. One time they harpooned a huge whale off the north coast of Norway. It started pulling them toward Russia so they cut the line and let it go.

Anders’ daughter Christina Andrea was born at Bø on August 28, 1851. Anders finally married her mother, Anne Larsdatter, a couple of months later on October 24, 1851. They later had a son, Lorenz Nikolai, born on July 5, 1854 on Fjærvold farm.

In 1857, life for Anders and Anne took a terrible turn. On April 17 of that year, Anders reported the February 25 birth of an unnamed stillborn son. The following fall, Anders came down with a terrible fever.

He never recovered. Anders passed away from the fever on September 11, 1857 at the age of thirty-three. He was later buried in Bø parish on October 18. He left behind a widow, a six-year-old daughter, and a three-year-old son. That son grew up and emigrated to America.

Although Anders died young, Bentsen descendants live across the United States today.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks no. 46—Rhoda Hall (1784-1850)

My ancestor Rhoda Hall was born to a father, Gershom Hall, who was a Revolutionary War soldier and a mother, Lucy Snow, who died young. Rhoda was born on March 12, 1784, in Massachusetts.

Rhoda had a couple of older siblings and several who were younger. She was probably pressed into duty to help care for them after her mother died in 1795 when Rhoda was eleven years old.

On June 2, 1805, Rhoda married a local saltmaker, Benjamin E. Dunbar, in Chatham, Massachusetts. She was 21 years old and he was twenty-eight. Rhoda and Benjamin had twelve children, including my ancestor Olive Hall Dunbar. They lived at Chatham until shortly after 1830.

By then the saltmaking business on Cape Cod was no longer profitable. The family left Cape Cod and moved away to Stow, Ohio. Why they chose this location remains unknown.

Benjamin died shortly after their arrival, leaving 47-year-old Rhoda a widow with most of her children still at home. Benjamin had provided for her, and the family had some land in Stow. They lived at the north end of town. Rhoda sent her children to school and served as the executor of Benjamin’s estate.

She remained in Stow for most of the remainder of her life. In 1850, when the U.S. census was taken, she was enumerated in her daughter Olive’s household in Mendon, Michigan. Perhaps she was visiting there.

According to Rhoda’s cemetery marker, she passed away that same year at the age of sixty-six. She was buried next to her husband in the Stow, Ohio cemetery.