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A Nordic Vacation Draws Closer

This weekend our traveling companions will visit us to put the final touches on our plans for a trip to Scandinavia and the Baltic. My husband/tech advisor’s brother and his wife will join us later this year to see the lands of our roots. We have scheduled time in several spots of significance to us:

  1. After landing in Oslo, Norway, we will take the train north to Hamar. The guys’ Norwegian family, before their immigration to America in the 1880’s, lived on various farms around Lake Mjøsa in the Ringsaker district of Hedmark. We have been there before, so we will rent a car and drive the other couple around to see all the sites we discovered in 2013.
  2. Back in Oslo, we will catch another train. As we cross the country toward Bergen, we will travel through the Voss municipality of Hordaland. My great-grandmother’s grandparents lived in this region before they moved north to the cod fishing grounds of Nordland in the 1840’s. One local history claims the couple left Voss because their families disapproved of their marriage between members of different social classes.
  3. From Bergen, we will take a ferry tour along Norway’s longest and deepest fjord, the Sognefjord. My great-father’s grandparents lived along the fjord. This couple, too, left their birthplaces for the fishing grounds of Nordland. A possible reason for their move is the lack of opportunity in Voss for an illegitimate son.
  4. We will fly to Copenhagen, Denmark from Bergen. There, my husband/tech advisor’s ancestor Jorgen/Georg Rasch once served as court musician to the King of Denmark-Norway. A well-regarded lutenist, his likeness is painted on the ceiling of a building in Copenhagen. We plan to see it.
  5. A cruise ship from Copenhagen will take us around the Baltic Sea with a stop in Helsinki, Finland. I hope to meet some of my Lampinen relatives there.

With our visitors this weekend, we will finalize plans for our shore excursions from the cruise ship. In addition to Helsinki, we have stops in Estonia, Russia, Sweden, and Germany. This voyage means a lot to me. My Finnish family sailed on the Baltic when they left Finland for America in 1905, and now I get to sail on the same sea.

I hope my sister-in-law enjoys the trip, too. She has no Scandinavian or Baltic ancestors, but she looks forward to seeing Norway and taking the cruise. A visit to this part of the world has been on her bucket list. I am sure we will find many fun things to do that are not related to genealogy.

We are looking forward to seeing these family members and finishing up our trip plans this weekend. Anticipation is building up for all of us.

Bergen Roots

Before I travel to Norway later this year, I had hoped to discover the roots for one of my ancestral couples, Anders Bentsen (1823-1857) and Anne Larsdatter (ca. 1820-?), I had not even begun the search when my husband/tech advisor already was off and running to find answers.

He has had tremendous success in locating Anders’ family over the last six weeks.

As I suspected, Anders, like so many others, had migrated to Nordland from an area closer to Bergen, Norway’s second-largest city. Anne did, too, although her family is proving more difficult to trace. But for Anders’ paternal family, someone has already tracked it back to the early 1600’s and posted it on Family Search.

My husband/tech advisor was able to link Anders into this paternal family through his father, Bent Iversen, a name we knew from family papers. He located Anders’ baptism record in what was then the county of Nordre Bergenhus. Anders was named as the son of Bent Iversen and an unwed mother, Kari Pedersdatter. He probably was born on the Kjørnes farm in the Sogn municipality. Kari lived on the Kjørnes farm, and all of Anders’ baptism sponsors lived there, too. Bent Iversen lived some distance away on the Mestermandplatsen farm. He never married Kari, choosing someone else instead.

The Sogn area north of Bergen is now the fylke (county) of Sogn og Fjordane (Sogn and the fjords). The farms where Kari and Bent resided lie along the famous Sognefjord, the longest and deepest of western Norway’s fjords. I will be traveling on a ferry along this fjord during my trip. The excursion is completely serendipitous because we had no idea that I had family origins along the fjord when we booked passage on the boat.

Finding Anders’ baptism record solved another little mystery as well. It provides his birth date as December 24, yet previously-found sources claimed an October 16 birth date. The December date is more likely correct. A closer inspection of Anders’ death record revealed the source of the erroneous October 16 information. If one reads straight across the parish record line entry for Anders’s death, one comes to an October 16 birth date.

It turns out, these far-right columns on the form are for stillbirths. Anders certainly was not stillborn. The record is simply misleading. Instead of recording Anders’ September 11 death and an infant’s October 16 stillbirth on separate lines, the pastor put both records on one line. Without translating the column headings, it was so easy to assume the birth date was for Anders instead of the baby.

We have learned a lot about my third great-grandfather, Anders Bentsen so far this year. He died in Vesterålen, Norway after living there just a few years. He had migrated in the 1840’s from the Sognefjord north of Bergen where people have lived for over a thousand years. Perhaps my roots there go back that far. I would be exciting to come from Viking stock.

Now we have two women in Anders’ family who we are eager to learn more about—his wife, Anne Larsdatter, and his mother, Kari Pedersdatter. My husband/tech advisor is on the case. Stay tuned.

They Weren’t Wealthy

I continue working to learn about the lives of my third great-grandparents, Johan Larsen and Sara Andrina Möllersdatter, who lived in Nordland, Norway. Johan was a farmer who also fished during the cod season.

Did Johan own a farm? Probably not, because the family seems to have moved around some. Many people at the time migrated from farm to farm to follow work opportunities. Folks like Johan and Sara worked hard to make ends meet and provide for their family.

During their years together, they lived on farms in at least two municipalities in Nordland:

  1. Berfjorden, Herøy. Sara was born here in 1816.
  2. Slapøen, Herøy. Johan was born here in 1824. Daughters Johanna and Bergitta were also born here in 1845 and 1848, respectively.
  3. Titternes, Dønnes. Daughter Karen (my great-great grandmother) was born here in 1851.
  4. Skeim/Skei, Dønnes. Son Ludvig was born here in 1855. Daughters Anne and Mortine were born here in 1859 and 1863. Johan was working as a cottager on this farm when he died in a fishing accident in 1876. Sara still lived on this farm at the time of her death in 1880.

This family may not have had much wealth. Homes at the time consisted of small buildings with grass roofs. During the short growing season, residents in the area raised a few crops and perhaps some sheep.

The father, like many of his neighbors, would go north to earn some additional income during the fishing season. Eventually, his daughter Karen relocated there and married a man, Lorents Nikolai “Nick” Bentsen, who pursued the same means a making a living. When Karen and Nick’s son, Ole, set off for America in search of a better life, they followed him in 1905. The family ultimately ended up farming in Montana.

Johan and Sara did not live to see this happen. They spent their days scratching out a living in Norway the same way their parents had. They did not know that their daughter and son-in-law had achieved the American dream of owning land.

New Ancestor Discovered

These days it takes a lot of work before I can identify and add the name of another direct ancestor to my family tree. So many of my lines remain blocked with those pesky brick wall ancestors. Any time I can go back another generation offers an excuse for a small celebration.

I am happy to report that this week I found a new ancestor for the first time in ages. I did so by turning my attention to my mom’s Nordic roots. I had last examined these lines in 2013 and 2014, the years I visited Norway and Finland.

Because we plan some travel to those countries again later this year, I decided to take a fresh look at my Norwegian ancestral lines in hopes of extending them. One set of my third great-grandparents, Johan Larsen (1824-1876) and Sara Andrina Möllersdatter (1816-1880), lived in the Helgeland district of Nordland, Norway. It lies on the west coast, just south of the Arctic Circle. My records showed the names of their parents except for Sara’s mother.

When I left off the research on Sara back in 2013, I had collected only her marriage and baptism records. Neither document named her mother.

This week I looked for Sara’s Lutheran confirmation record. I located it in the Alstahaug parish church book found in the online repository, Norway’s Digitalarkivet (https://www.digitalarkivet.no/). There, in 1834, was an entry for 18-year-old Sara. There also was her mother’s name, Marit Nilsdatter.

Marit then is my newly-found fourth great-grandmother. She and Möller Zacariasen were Sara’s parents. I have no dates yet for their lives, but they likely were born in the 1700’s.

Tempting as it would be, I must finish the work on Sara’s life before I do more research on Marit and Möller. Genealogists always work backwards in time, and it would be premature to jump back another generation before collecting everything I can find on Sara. That means locating her on the Norwegian census records and completing my information on her children.

Although my focus must be on Sara and Johan, I am allowing myself to smile a bit at the discovery of Marit Nilsdatter’s name. Not often do I make a discovery like this.

Hunting for Johan’s Family

In preparation for our upcoming trip to Norway, I had planned to investigate the roots of my Bentsen line. Plans change. I am fortunate enough to have a husband/tech advisor who likes to do Norwegian research, and before I could even begin, he was off and running. I decided to leave him to it and turned to a different Norwegian ancestor family.

My second great-grandmother, wife of Lorenz Nicolai Bentsen, was Karen Marie Johansdatter (1851-1916). This week I refreshed my memory of her family, and I hope to fill in a little more information.

Karen was born to Johan Larsen (1824-1876) and Sara Andrine Möllersdatter (1814-1880) on Titternes farm in the Helgeland District of Nordland, Norway. I have a photo of myself standing beneath the Titternes sign. This beautiful area lies on a western coastal island just south of the Arctic Circle.

My ancestor had five siblings, but for most of them I do not know the names of their spouses or their death dates. Did any of them come to America?

Of the parents, I know a little. Johan died away from home, up north in the Lofoten fishing area. Several other men died there the same day. Was there an accident?

Sara died just a few years later, in the same municipality and parish where she had always lived. I do not think she had remarried.

I am planning to work my way through Norway’s digital archives to find whatever I can about this family. Perhaps I can locate a bygdebok, or Norwegian local history book, for the Titternes or Skei farms where the family resided.

We will not visit this area again on our upcoming trip. Our journey will take us on the train from Oslo to Bergen, far south of where my ancestors lived in the latter part of the nineteenth century. But did they always live there?

Some may have migrated northward from these southern valleys to take advantage of fishing opportunities in the cod fishing grounds. Only if we work backwards on all these family lines will we know which ancestors might have done that and where they may have originated. I am beginning with Johan and Sara and their children, Johana, Bergitta, Karen, Ludvig, Anne, and Mortine.

Genealogy and Databases Galore

Not that long ago, most genealogy work involved a boots-on-the-ground approach. Either the researcher visited repositories and cemeteries in person, or he located someone to do the searching on his behalf. When information began to become available electronically, we often speculated on how long it would take for resources to be digitized. We did not think that day, they day we could sit home in our pajamas doing our research, would come during our lifetimes.

Yet more and more often, we can do so much in just that way. We can use free databases like those at Family Search, the Library of Congress, the Government Land Office, or the Norwegian digital archives all from home at no charge. We can also subscribe to many others. These tools provide information for our ancestors ranging from vital records and newspaper accounts to land transactions.

If a genealogist does not have the means to subscribe to everything he needs to do a complete research project, help exists. Local libraries often subscribe to databases such as Ancestry.com for their patrons. Family History centers offer a lot of electronic genealogy resources, too.

This week our local Highlands Ranch Genealogical Society met once again at our Family History Center for a workshop. Last month we had gathered there to learn about their newspaper databases. This time, we looked at the Fold 3 database for military records. We will go there again next month to look at some international options.

The center encouraged all of us to come back and use their computers to do our research in all databases they have available. No need to spend the money for subscriptions to these sources unless you want to.

Of course, having the option to do unlimited research from home late at night remains the ideal. Paying for subscriptions offers us the option to do just that for so much of the information we need. I personally pay for a couple of databases that I use regularly. For the rest, I am glad to have the option to visit the Family History Center.

Even at that, not everything can be found online yet. Just last summer, I felt the urge to take one of those old-fashioned genealogy road trips. There, in a hot courthouse attic in McCook, I found Nebraska school records for my grandmother’s brother. These have not been digitized, and there are no plans to do so. Many other interesting records around the country are tucked away in a similar fashion.

Perhaps we were right when I was a young genealogist. Not everything will be digitized in my lifetime.

A Bentsen Project

This year I plan to do some research on my Nordic ancestors. First up will be my third great-grandparents, Anders Bentsen (d. 1857) and Anne Larsdatter. I know very little about them.

They married in Bø parish, Nordland, Norway in 1851. I do not know whether she had always lived there or came from elsewhere. The area had few permanent residents at that time. Anders arrived in the parish in 1844, from where I do not know.

Bø lies on an island north of the Arctic Circle, part of Nordland’s northernmost island archipelago, called Vesterålen. In the 1800’s, seasonal cod fishing attracted fishermen to the islands from the more southerly coastal areas of Norway. Traders from Bergen made regular trips north, too, especially during fishing season.

Perhaps Anders Bentsen pursued one of these occupations. If so, he may have been born on a farm in the Bergen region.

For many areas of Norway, farm histories, or bygdebøker, contain a lot of information about the residents of the farm. They provide a great resource for research on Norwegian farm families. Unfortunately, I have not found any for the northern islands that can tell me anything about Anders and Anna. Yet if they were born further south, perhaps they were born on a farm with a bygdebok. I could learn something about their families from this source if I can find out where they were born.

This will require some digging in the Norwegian archives. Both my husband/tech advisor and I did search for this information several years ago, with little success. We ran out of time to do more.

We have more experience with Norwegian records now, and I am making time to do some looking. I hope we can achieve a better result this time. The family story for Anders and Anna ended tragically, with a stillborn son and a husband who died young. I would like to learn more about this couple and their origins.

A New Dilemma, or Where Can We Meet?

Here in the Denver area we have so many organizations devoted to genealogy. They provide rich pickings when a person looks for genealogical support or education. For many years now, these clubs have run smoothly and predictably.

Recently, however, every local group I attend has had difficulty keeping its long-time meeting space. Leaders of all these groups find themselves struggling with reserving a monthly spot for the club. No one has a good answer to the issue:

  1. Colorado Genealogical Society (CGS). This group meets the third Saturday morning at the central library building of the Denver Public Library system. We get a nice meeting room, access to the conference center for our annual seminar, and members can stay after the meeting to do some research in the superb genealogy collection. The building lies on a bus route for those with access to public transportation. For everyone else, however, this location presents a real headache. Parking anywhere near the building has become scarcer and almost prohibitively expensive. During downtown events, the city often closes the nearby streets. Some CGS members feel intimidated by the large numbers of homeless people who gather in and around the building. Now the library is planning a renovation, and it may shutter for a time to complete this work. If the library does not have meeting space for CGS during the renovation, the club will need to find short-term space. Or should we leave altogether for a space that offers better access and parking? I stopped attending the club meetings when they moved from a church to the downtown library a few years ago. I still try to register for seminars, and I am a regular at the CGS Lunch Bunch, but I miss the meetings.
  2. Highlands Ranch Genealogical Society (HRGS). Since its beginning, my local club has met at the James LaRue library. The building is now closed for four months while it undergoes a complete renovation. HRGS has scrambled to find space elsewhere. This month and next, our local branch of the Family History Center is welcoming us. After that, and until LaRue reopens, we will meet at other Douglas County library branches. After that, we will return most months to the LaRue library. Unfortunately for us, the room reservation system will change when the building reopens. We can no longer reserve a meeting room for the first Tuesday evening of each month. Instead, we must compete with other community groups for this slot every time. Without a predictable meeting space, our attendance my drop, and casual visitors may not be able to find us. Should we try to find a guaranteed space elsewhere? Where?
  3. Sons of Norway genealogy group. This study group gathers before our regular lodge meeting on the first Saturday. For several years we have met at the local Lutheran church, and we pay for this privilege. We have a contract with them. Norwegians like the Lutheran church because of its historical tie as the official church of Norway. Several of our members belong to this congregation. But the congregation no longer welcomes us. They bump us from the calendar by scheduling other events during our time in the meeting room, sometimes without even telling us. Losing paid-for space at the last minute makes us exasperated and angry especially after we have put a lot of effort into planning programs and publicizing our activities. We believe we are good renters—we are quiet and leave the place clean. The site meets all our needs with a bright meeting room, a spacious kitchen, and a piano. We have invested money in building a shed for our supplies, and all our publicity materials are printed with this time and location. We cannot leave easily. Yet we can no longer seem able to work effectively with the church office. They willingly take our money, but they do not seem to want us around. We do not know how to resolve this situation, but we cannot continue this way.

With no regular meeting place available, what will happen to these societies? They do not ask for monetary support, but they do need community support in the form of consistent meeting space and convenient parking. Otherwise, membership will dwindle, and the clubs will just disappear. What else, then, will step in and offer the same value to our society–social opportunities, intellectual stimulation, cultural preservation? Those in charge of all these venues seem to think someone else should take responsibility for offering appropriate meeting space for community groups, but we all suffer when everyone tries to pass the buck.

 

 

Writing and More Writing

I seem to be busy with writing projects this month. I have some related to genealogy, some not. Working on these has taken up a lot of my time lately:

  1. The Colorado Genealogical Society has hosted a writing contest in recent years. I have been working on a submission for the Black Sheep portion of the contest. My subject, Seymour Riddle (1858-1934), served prison time for larceny and then became a sheepherder in Wyoming and Montana. In his final days, he lived as a recluse under a bridge.
  2. Every week, I try to write a genealogy-related blog post.
  3. I serve as my neighborhood’s representative to local government. I write a monthly newsletter to keep my neighbors informed on actions that affect them.
  4. This year I was elected Secretary of my local Sons of Norway lodge. Every month I need to write up the minutes of our lodge and Board meetings.
  5. Annually, I choose an ancestor and write about his or her life. I distribute these to several relatives at Christmas time. I have been doing this for over ten years, and I have completed character sketches for my great-grandparents and my great-great grandparents. This year, I will step back another generation. I hope to uncover some new information to write about third great-grandparents in either Norway or Finland—Anders Bentsen (1823-1857), Anne Larsdatter (ca. 1820-?), Johan Larsen (1824-1876), Sara Andrine Möllersdatter (1814-1880), Knud Sjursen (1816-1885), Brita Kristoffersdatter (1816-1887), Hans Enok Pedersen (1813-1898), Maren Anna Serina Andersdatter (c1812-1886), Abel Andersson Mattila (c1798-1852), Greta Caspersdottir (c1798-?), Simon Mattson Myllynen (1810-1857), Sofia Henriksdottir Ampuja (c1812-?), Henric Mårtensson Lambin (1806-1837), Walb Johansdottir Ruottin (1808-?), Henric Henricson Miettinen (c1804-1836), and Anna Andersdottir Toivain (1802-?).

Soon I will finish up the writing contest submission. After that, the Christmas project requires a lot of research before I can begin choosing a subject and drafting the story. During the months in between, I can manage the shorter, regular writing tasks.

Newspaper Hunt

Historic newspapers can hold a wealth of information for genealogists seeking to fill in their ancestors’ back stories. Local papers often carried detailed coverage of the happenings in their communities. They sought to name as many residents as they could. This encouraged people to subscribe.

This week I attended a Highlands Ranch Genealogical Society (HRGS) workshop on using two newspaper databases, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/) and Newspaper Archive (https://newspaperarchive.com/), to locate historic newspapers. I had previously used the former, but I had never looked at the latter. By attending this workshop, I wanted to learn more about these databases and to beef up my skill in using newspapers as a genealogical resource.

Over the years, I have often searched for old newspapers. I discover them in several ways:

  1. Repositories. Many historic newspapers have been aggregated and are managed professionally. For example, the Nebraska Historical Society holds newspapers from around the state. Once I traveled to Lincoln to look at those for the southwestern Nebraska counties where my family homesteaded. The newspapers I found there did not contain the juicy details of rural life that I expected. I found no mention of my family, or of many other people. The papers housed at the historical society seemed focused on boilerplate national news lifted from the news wires.
  2. Newspaper morgues. These files hold back issues of local newspapers. Last summer my husband/tech advisor and I visited my Nebraska counties and asked about local storage of old newspapers. We found some in a dusty courthouse basement, others in a local historical museum. The basement newspapers were unbelievably fragile, and I fear they will not survive much longer. The historical museum was taking steps to preserve and index the papers from their county. Neither set of papers had any articles about my family although their names occasionally appeared on the regular report of land transactions.
  3. Online sources. The Library of Congress (https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/) has digitized many of America’s historic newspapers, but I have not found any of interest on this free site. My family lived in rural areas whose papers have not been collected by the Library of Congress. The online Newspapers.com and Newspaper Archive require subscriptions.

What did I learn at the workshop?

Newspapers.com, to which I subscribe, is probably the best resource for me. It covers many rural midwestern papers. Indeed, I have learned more about my family that I ever thought possible by reading the paper from Mattoon, Illinois on this site. Newspapers.com, an Ancestry affiliate, continues to add newspapers to their collection.

Newspaper Archive does not have much of interest for me. At the workshop, I had the opportunity to browse their holdings. Although they have some international newspapers as well as American ones, they have nothing from anyplace my family ever lived.

The evening we spent at this workshop gave us some dedicated time to learn about and use these subscription databases. While our regular meeting place at the local library is being remodeled, the new Family History Center in Highlands Ranch hosted this meeting and provided the use of their subscriptions to these databases. We had not previously visited this family history location, and I appreciated their hospitality in welcoming HRGS this week.