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A High and a Low

Genealogists continually collect information for their family trees. Some of it makes us happy, some does not. I received a bit of both this week.

 

Whoo Hoo! More Ancestors!

A distant cousin of Norwegian descent contacted me this week to ask about sharing family stories. Of course, I am always delighted to do this. She gave me the link to her family website in return.

I found our shared family tree on her site (http://www.kinstories.com/johnson-kin.html). We both descend from Martha Karoline Dorthea Hansdatter (1841-1900) who lived her life in Norway. My new cousin’s family descends from Martha’s grandson, Helmer Johnson. My line comes through Martha’s youngest daughter, Sofie Sivertsdatter. Both Helmer and his aunt Sofie immigrated to America in the early 1900’s. Sofie sponsored Helmer, who arrived later than she did.

Over the years the two branches of this family lost touch with one another.

Now I have learned that my new cousin has posted online several generations of Martha’s family, back to the early 1700’s. She has done a tremendous amount of research, and I am glad she has made it available for the rest of us. She has done good genealogical work, sourcing all her information.

 

A Terrible Accident

We received word earlier this week of a tragic death in our family. Justin Robbins (abt. 1980-2019) died all too soon of an accidental gunshot wound. He leaves behind his two young daughters, my husband/tech advisor’s great-nieces.

I always feel a pang when I must enter a death into my genealogy database. A senseless event like this feels even worse. RIP, Justin.

The Trip—Part 1

Norway and the Baltic offer spectacular views, visits to historic cities, and access to ancient cultural sites. We just returned from this region after a three-week trip with relatives.

Our group spent the first part of the vacation in Norway. My husband/tech advisor and I both have Norwegian roots. We like to see where our ancestors lived.

His family came from the Ringsaker District of Hedmark, near Norway’s largest lake, Lake Mjøsa. We took the train north from Oslo to get there, and then we rented a car to drive through the area. Because his family had not owned land, they had always migrated from farm to farm around the lake, stopping wherever they could find work. Our surname, Hjelmstad (helmet place), comes from the name of a farm where the family had lived only one year. His great-grandfather was born there.

After we arrived back in Oslo for a short stay, we took the train to Norway’s west coast. We traveled along the lovely rural interior from lowland farming country up through chilly mountains cut by sparkling waterways. Some of our ancestors had settled along this route to Bergen, and the train ride provided an opportunity for us to see the modern-day sites of their farming and logging communities.

Much of my deep Norwegian ancestry comes from the Sognefjord north of Bergen. We boarded a ferry from the city and glided deep into this fjord. I got a wonderful sense of the places my people had known so well. Their settlements date back to Viking times. I could imagine the sight of Viking boats sailing along the fjord.

It must have been heart-wrenching for our families to say good-bye to friends and neighbors and leave this beautiful country for the unknown of America. Yet Norway during the late 19th and early 20th centuries was one of the poorest of countries. Only Ireland during the potato famine sent a larger percentage of its population to America than Norway did.

Our families’ oral histories tell us our great-grandparents had no economic opportunity in Norway and felt they had no choice but to leave. The Hjelmstads relate the story of their ancestor, Thore Walstad, who was an older man when he made the journey with his wife, grown children, and grandchildren. He cried when he had to leave Norway.

My Bentsen family spoke of the incentive of free land for making the journey to America. Both our families took advantage of the homestead laws to secure farmland in North Dakota and Montana. These thrifty, hard-working people built prosperous farms that the families still own today.

We think they made the right decision to leave, but it must have been hard, so hard to do it. Thore Walstad probably was not the only one who sobbed at the thought of leaving the beautiful homeland we just visited. He would be amazed at the prosperous country Norway is today.

 

 

Unwed Mothers

We continue our research on our Nordic ancestors. We are trying to accomplish as much as we can before our upcoming trip to Norway and the Baltic. My husband/tech advisor, an accomplished Norwegian genealogist, has worked his way far back on several of my Norwegian lines.

He has identified an interesting phenomenon in Norway. German researchers mention the same curiosity. These societies had numerous unwed mothers.

I do not know why this occurred so often in Norway. In Germany, the laws of the time encouraged illegitimacy in a couple of ways:

  1. The German states issued marriage licenses only to those men who owned property. They thought they could eliminate poor families with this policy. They found out that people would pair up, married or not. Many illegitimate births occurred during this time.
  2. German inheritance laws made it important to have a family. One did not want to marry a barren wife. Better to verify that she could produce at least one healthy child before marrying her.

Perhaps Norwegian couples had similar reasons for the birth of so many out-of-wedlock children. We have not yet investigated the applicable Norwegian laws.

If social policies did not encourage this behavior, I can think of only one other reason for it, an immoral society. This seems implausible. Why would Norwegians be less moral than their neighbors?

We need to find the true explanation for all those uægte children.

Nordic Trip Preparations

As Easter approaches, I think it offers a good time to switch gears a bit. I have focused so far this year on extending my Norwegian lines as I prepare for a trip to Norway and the Baltic. My husband/tech advisor has been a tremendous help in this.

He and I traveled in Norway once before, in 2013. We thought at the time that my family originated in Nordland, just as his is from Hedmark. We identified my ancestral farms in Nordland and visited many of them. Unfortunately, we had not worked back in time nearly far enough.

Turns out, a few of my family members were not born in Nordland at all. Some migrated there in the first half of the 1800’s, probably to take advantage of the opportunity to make a better living in the fishing industry.

I had four great-great grandparents in Nordland. After these past four months of research, we know more about their roots than we did during our last trip:

  1. Lorents Nicolai Möller Andersen (1854-1919). Nick, as he was known, was born at Bø in Nordland to parents who had resettled there. Anders Bentsen (1823-1857) and Anne Larsdatter (1819-?) both came from the area northeast of Bergen, along the famous Sognefjord. Their families lived in this region for as far back as church records go.
  2. Karen Marie Johansdatter (1851-1916). Karen, Nick’s wife, was born at Dønnes, also in Nordland. Her family, unlike Nick’s, appears to have lived there a long time. Both her father Johan Larsen (1824-1876) and her mother Sara Andrina Möllersdatter (1816-1880) were baptized in Nordland’s Alstahaug parish.
  3. Sivert Knudsen (1843-1907). Sivert was born in the remote Øksnes municipality of northern Nordland. His parents, Knud Sjursen (1816-1885) and Brita Kristoffersdatter (1816-1887) eloped there in 1842. They were originally from the Voss municipality of Hordaland, east of the city of Bergen.
  4. Martha Karoline Dorothea Hansdatter (1841-1900). Sivert’s wife Martha also was born at Øksnes, as were her father, Hans Enok Pedersen (1813-1898) and grandfather, Peder Andersen (c1768-1828). Her mother, Maren Anna Serina Andersdatter (c1812-1886) came from nearby Bø. This family had long lived in Nordland, at least for several generations.

I can see then that two of my ancestors, Karen and Martha, had Nordland roots, but their husbands did not. Suddenly, I have two more areas to visit the next time I go to Norway.

Luckily, the itinerary for my upcoming trip by chance includes both these places. My train route from Oslo to Bergen will go through Voss where Sivert’s family lived. Once I reach Bergen, I will take a ferry tour of the Sognefjord, the home of Nick’s family.

With these discoveries and plans in place, I will take the opportunity now to work on my Finnish lines a bit. I plan to meet a third cousin or two while I am in Helsinki. They have been hard at work on our shared Lampinen family tree, and I want to do my part. Until we leave, I will assemble what information I can to share with them.

Living on the Land the Vikings Trod

My amazing husband/tech advisor remains diligent in searching for my Norwegian ancestors before we embark on our trip to Norway this year. He continues to seek information on my third great-grandparents, Anders Bentsen (1823-1857) and Anne Larsdatter. They lived in Nordland, the cod fishing area of Norway that lies north of the Arctic Circle. They married there, but independently they had each moved there from someplace else.

Earlier this year, my researcher tracked Anders’ birthplace to the Sognefjord north of Bergen. He suspected Anne may have come from there, too.

Recently, he learned that she did, but from much closer to the mouth of the fjord than Anders’ family lived. Her family resided in the Gulen municipality of Nordre Bergenhus which lies around the Gulafjord, a southern offshoot of the Sognefjord.

In the online Norwegian national archives, he located the church records for young Anne Larsdatter who lived on the Floli farm near the village of Eivindvik.

Eivindvik? Wow!

The western Vikings used to meet there for their Gulating, an annual assembly to discuss political matters and taxation. They also used these gatherings to resolve civil and criminal complaints.

Two ancient stone crosses found near the village of Eivindvik are believed to be about 1000 years old, erected there after the Vikings who met at the Gulating gathering embraced Christianity. The worshippers probably gathered around these crosses until they could build a church.

We now know that Anne Larsdatter came from this historic place. She was born at Floli in 1819 and was baptized in the old Gulen church in Eivindvik, one of the oldest church sites in Norway. Floli, just east of Eivindvik, is now a national historic area.

Anne was confirmed there, too, in 1835. The pastor noted that her religious knowledge was mediocre, but her behavior was immaculate.

Why would Anders and Anne leave their families and this well-settled area to move far north? They needed to make a living. The Norwegian population grew rapidly in the 19th century, and existing farms could not accommodate everyone. Many people moved to northern Norway where the fishing industry prospered.

Anders and Anne followed the crowd. They met, married, and started a family. Sadly, Anders contracted a fever when he was just 34 years old, and Anne was widowed with two small children in 1857.

The hunt for her fate after Anders’ death continues.

 

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.

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.

I Get In Touch With My Nordic Roots

I have had an amazing week. My mother’s family stepped in to give me a much-needed break from the frustrations of trying to locate a birth family in my dad’s line. Mom was half Norwegian and half Finn, and recently I have had contact with people from both heritages.

A Huge Family of Finlanders

Several days ago, I received an amazing e-mail message from a man in Finland who specializes in finding missing relatives. He learned that his client’s great-grandmother, Hendrika Lampinen Andelin, and my great-grandmother, Ada Lampinen Mattila (1879-1948), were sisters. He put me in touch with his client, and he told me that I have a lot of relatives in Finland.

I had always suspected as much, but I had no easy way to find them. My family did not keep any contact information after my great-grandmother died in 1948. My own grandmother stated that she knew nothing about her mother’s family because they all stayed in Finland.

A few years ago, I did some genealogical research on the Lampinen family. I learned that Ada had 10 other siblings besides Hendrika. The new correspondence from Finland now tells me the Hendrika alone had 15 children. I cannot imagine how many Lampinen descendants there are.

When I did my Lampinen research, I focused on working backwards from Ada. This gave me her lineage but did not tell me anything about siblings and their descendants. Doing this aspect of research presents many challenges because of modern-day privacy laws.

Now I have an open door for learning about my extended family in Finland. My new cousin has many family photos dating from my great-grandmother’s day. She also has photos my family sent to her great-grandmother up until the 1940’s. She has sent me several from her collection, and I can really see my grandmother’s resemblance to her Lampinen family.

I hope my cousin can reassemble the modern-day Lampinen descendants. The family stretches not only from Finland to America. A couple of Ada and Hendrika’s other sisters married Russian soldiers after WWI and emigrated to Russia. My cousin hopes to locate their descendants, too.

Norwegians On Tour

This week my husband/tech advisor and I had the opportunity to have dinner with a group of travelers from Norway. These 40 or so Norwegians came across the sea to tour the American Southwest. Upon their arrival, they stopped in Denver for a couple of days. The Trollheim Lodge of Sons of Norway hosted a supper for them and invited locals of Norwegian descent to participate. We greeted the tour bus with waving Norwegian flags.

Once inside the Lodge building, we all enjoyed a Western meal of pulled pork sandwiches, potato salad, cole slaw, and baked beans. Of course, the Trollheim folks added some Norwegian touches like pickles (beets and cucumbers), desserts, and coffee, lots and lots of coffee.

Few of the Americans speak much Norwegian, but many Norwegians speak fluent English. This allowed for international conversations all along the banquet tables. We learned about the tourists’ travel plans and something about their homeland.

I also had an opportunity to ask a few questions in anticipation of our own planned visit to Norway next spring. The Norwegian group did not come from any of the areas on our itinerary, but some of them had visited places like Bergen and Lake Mjösa. They pointed us to must-see sites.

I enjoyed my pivot from research on my American brick-wall ancestors. Although my mom’s family has resided in the U.S. for over 100 years now, I still feel comfortable with Nordic culture. A week spent interacting with the Finns and the Norwegians was time well-spent.