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Our Genealogy Christmas Gifts

For the past several years, my husband/tech advisor and I have prepared genealogy-related Christmas gifts for our extended families. This gives us the incentive to digest our findings for the year and distribute the information. Here is what we will send out this year:

  • For the Hjelmstad and Walz descendants, a map detailing the European points of family origin in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and Norway. The map also shows emigrants’ ports of departure in Europe and ports of arrival in the United States.
  • For the Bentsen descendants, family group sheets and biographical sketches for the members of the Norwegian immigrant generation and a copy of the only photo I possess of one of the couples, Karen and Nick Bentsen.
  • For my husband’s Norwegian family, this year’s rosemåling Christmas ornament from the Sons of Norway. http://www.sofn.com/‎

Last night we put the finishing touches on our maps and documents. Everything will be ready to mail out soon!

On To Norway

Fjords. Mountains. Land of the midnight sun. We are busy planning a trip. We hope to see all this and more when we travel to Norway next summer. Both my husband and I have Norwegian roots, and we are going to see where our ancestors lived. We will get quite a tour of the country, because our families lived far apart from one another.

Hedmark

My husband’s family emigrated in the early 1880’s from the Ringsaker District of Hedmark, Norway. They lived between Lillehammer and the Swedish border, near Lake Mjøsa. We plan to stay in Hamar, the largest town on the lake.

According to family legend, water from this lake is essential for the proper baptism of infants. We actually have some of this water, collected several years ago by my husband’s mother. Our two grandsons were baptized using this water.

While in Ringsaker, we will visit the family farm and the Ringsaker Church where generations of Hjelmstads have been baptized, confirmed, married, and buried. We will also stop in to see the remains of Hamer’s thousand-year-old cathedral which is now protected by a glass dome. If we get time, we may visit one of the tall runestones in the area.

Nordland

My family lived by the Norwegian Sea, in the Vesterålen and Helgeland Districts of Nordland, Norway. We plan to drive through the various parishes where they resided before immigrating in 1905—Øksnes, Eidsfjord, Bø, Hadsel, and Nesna. To travel between the islands of Vesterålen, we will take speedboats and ferries. Perhaps we will see racks of drying codfish, a sight that would have been familiar to my fisherman ancestors.

Even though we will be traveling in the summertime, we should take cool weather clothing for this leg of our journey. Nordland lies mostly north of the Arctic Circle.

One Final Stop

We plan to fly to and from Norway on Icelandair with a stopover in Reykjavic. We just have to visit Iceland’s Blue Lagoon geothermal spa, the most visited attraction in Iceland. So we will plan to extend our trip by one more day to do just that. Artic weather followed by a dip in geothermal pool sounds great to me.

A Field Trip

I am planning a field trip–literally. Our Norwegian forebears raised wheat when they homesteaded on Montana and North Dakota in the early 20th century, and the sites remain as farmed fields. The nearest towns are Plentywood, Redstone, and Homestead, Montana and Palermo, North Dakota. We are heading there soon to visit the homesteads and cemeteries, and to see the land our families knew so well.

Not many people still live in these areas. I found Palermo, with just 74 people, on a list of North Dakota ghost towns. At one time, these places thrived, but the Dust Bowl years began a long period of slow decline. Neither of us has any family left on the MonDak border, although mine still owns farmland near Redstone.

Preparation for this trip began ages ago. First I looked for the homestead files for these ancestors, and they proved difficult to find. Norwegian immigrants came to America with no surnames, and they often tried on several, with various spellings, before settling on one as the new country required. Ultimately, I collected all their land records, and I identified the cemeteries I should visit.

So we will drive and drive through farm country until we come close to the Canadian border. Then we will walk through farmland and fields of eternal rest, remembering the hardy Norwegian homesteaders who lived and died there. If we have extra time, we may drive a little further to visit Mohall, ND, too. An entrepreneur in my husband’s family, M. O. Hall, founded the town and named it after himself. As far as I know, he never farmed anything, and he did not stay in North Dakota. Like so many others, he moved on. Like us, who will leave the fields after a brief visit and return to our busy suburban lives.