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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.

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.

 

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 #26—Martha Hansdatter (1841-1900)

Martha Karoline Dorthea Hansdatter was born on 20 March 1841 on the Dungan farm in Øksnes, a municipality on the large island of Langøya in the county of Nordland, Norway. She was baptized in the Øksnes church in 1841 and confirmed there in 1858.

Her family included her father, the husmænd Hans Enok/Enoch Pedersen (1813-1898) and her mother, Maren Anna Serina Andersdatter (ca. 1812-1886). Martha had at least one sibling, her brother, Enok Andreas K. Hansen, born about 1850.

In 1861, twenty-year-old Martha gave birth to her first son, Johan Andreas Martinsen, son of Martin Grunbek Kaspersen. No record of a marriage to Martin has been found, but the baby’s patronymic Martinsen tells us that the father must have acknowledged the child.

Martha married Sivert Knudsen several years later on 11 September 1865 in Øksnes parish. The couple and young Johan settled on the Roten farm in Øksnes for a few years before moving on to nearby Valfjord. Only three of the eight children born over the next twelve years survived to adulthood:

  1. Kaspera Helmine Siversdatter (1866-?)
  2. Hans Edvard Sivertsen (1870-?)
  3. Sofie Marie Sivertsdatter (1878-1966)—my great-grandmother.

We know very little about Martha’s life outside of her role as a wife and mother. In 1885 she served as godparent for her granddaughter (Johan’s daughter) Olina Johansen.

Martha passed away on 21 October 1900 at the age of fifty-nine. She barely outlived her father Hans Pedersen who had died a couple of years before. Martha died from a lung problem, perhaps asthma or tuberculosis. Because the ground had already frozen at the time of her death, she was not buried until the next spring on 20 May 1901.

We cannot visit her grave today. In Norway, burial sites are rented for just 20 or 30 years. The rental contract can be renewed up to three times if the community has no immediate need for the grave. Once the family stops paying the rent or the contract expires, the headstone is removed, and the gravesite is reused. Today, we know Martha only through the Øksnes parish records. Her American grandchildren, all born after her death, knew next to nothing about her.


 

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks #25—Sivert Knudsen (1843-1907)

In Norway’s Nordland County, on the Vesterålen archipelago, the Øksnes municipality covers part of the large island of Langøya as well as many smaller islands north of there. Bø and Sortland municipalities share Langøya with Øksnes.

The Øksnes Church, built in 1703, stands on one of the small islands, Skogsøya. The actual parish grounds have been maintained since the 1400’s, and parts of the present church building date to the 1600’s.

Sivert Knudsen was born in this parish at Roten farm, probably on 23 July 1843, to Knud Sjursen and Brita Kristoffersdatter. The date is questionable because his baptism record does not provide a birth date, and subsequent records give conflicting information. Sivert’s confirmation record, arguably the most reliable record, (because the information likely would have been provided by his parents) gives the 23 July 1843 date. Sivert’s youngest daughter Sofie’s baptism registration offers an earlier birth year of 1842. His death record gives a third birth date of 3 June 1843. The July date is probably correct given that he was then baptized a month later on 27 August of that year. Norwegian babies were usually baptized shortly after birth.

When Sivert was a small boy, his family moved on to Hadsel parish. Sivert was confirmed there at age 17 on 9 June 1861. Of course, like most Norwegians, he had already received his smallpox vaccination several years earlier in 1856.

Until 1865, Sivert worked to help his father who was a tenant on the Bjørndal farm in Hadsel. That autumn on 11 September he returned to Øksnes and married 24-year-old Martha Karoline Dorthea Hansdatter. They wed in the same Øksnes church where his parents had been married. When Sivert married Martha, he acquired a step-son, Johan.

After Sivert and Martha married, they and her son settled on the Roten farm in Øksnes where Sivert had been born. Sivert made a living as a farmer and fisherman.

The couple lived at Øksnes for three years and began adding to their family. According to family records, they had twelve children in all, including:

  • Johan Martinsen (Martha’s son and Sivert’s stepson, 1861- ca. 1889) eventually became a fisherman and married Jakobina Bergite Antonsdatter in 1884. His stepfather Sivert served as his best man. Johan and Jakobina had a daughter, Olina, and two sons, Helmer and Johan. The boys emigrated to America and married sisters, Alfreda and Marie Susag, in North Dakota. Helmer remained in that state where he farmed and raised a large family. Young Johan, who became known as Johnnie Johnsen, moved on to Bremerton, Washington. He, too, had a large family. Tragically, he died in 1947 while fishing in the Gulf of Alaska when he was washed overboard during a storm.
  • Kaspera Helmine Sivertsdatter (1866- ), born at Øksnes. She was known as “Mina” by the family, and she married Petter Jentoft Nilsen, a shoemaker, in 1885 at Eidsfjord. They had 8 children and never left Norway.
  • Anna Marie Birgitte Sivertsdatter (1868-1869) born at Øksnes, buried at Hadsel.
  • Hans Edvard Sivertsen (1870-?), born at Valfjord. He was a fisherman and married Ingeborg Karoline Reinholdtsen in 1894. They had one son, Sydolf Sigvard Hansen in 1894. Hans and Ingeborg never left Norway.
  • Karl Nordal Sivertsen (16-25 July 1872) born at Valfjord.
  • Unnamed Sivertsdatter, stillborn 11 May 1874.
  • Unnamed Sivertsen, stillborn 27 April 1876.
  • Sofie Marie Sivertsdatter (1878-1966) born at Valfjord. Sofie married Ole Jørgen Bentsen in 1904 and emigrated to America the next year.
  • Unnamed Sivertsdatter, stillborn 21 September 1882.

 

No record of the remaining reported children has been found.

 


Valfjord Wildflowers

 

Eventually the family left Øksnes and relocated to the settlement at Valfjord. By 1900, Sivert was a leaseholder in a fishing operation there. Over the years, he served as a baptism sponsor for several of the grandchildren:

  • Johan’s daughter Olina Andrea Johansen baptized at home on Oshaug on 21 June 1885,
  • Mina’s daughter Karoline Berntine Pettersdatter baptized 15 July 1888 at Eidsfjord parish, and
  • Hans’ son Sydolf Sigvard Hansen baptized at home on 25 November 1894.

 

Martha passed away in 1900 leaving Sivert a widower. He died at Øksnes a few years later on 10 Dec 1907 at age 64. The ground was frozen so he was buried the next spring on 2 May 1908 at Eidsfjord i Hadsel parish, where his wife had been buried. No cause of death was recorded in the parish records.

 


 

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks #24—Karen Marie Johansdatter (1851-1916)

Karen Marie Johansdatter, daughter of Johan Larsen (1824-1876) and Sara Andrine Möllersdatter (1814-1880) was born on 7 April 1851 at Titternes farm in the Næsna municipality of the Helgeland traditional region of Nordland, Norway. This farm lies on beautiful Dønna island in the part of Nordland county south of the Arctic Circle. There she was baptized at home on 15 June 1851. The Dønna i Næsna parish recorded this event.

She was confirmed at age 16 in the same parish on 23 June 1867. As was the case for most other Norwegians of the time, her confirmation record indicated that she had received the prerequisite smallpox vaccination.

I visited her birthplace on Dønna in 2013:

 


 

Karen’s family lived on several Dønna farms, ultimately residing on the Skeidsøen farm. They probably lived in modest wooden houses with a grass roofs.

Karen was a middle child in the family. Her siblings included:

  • Johana Maria, born 25 September 1845;
  • Bergitte Susanna, born 8 September 1848;
  • Ludvig Edvard, born 17 May 1855;
  • Anne Margrete Kristine, born 12 March 1859; and
  • Mortine Lovise, born 19 June 1863.

 

On 11 August 1873, in Nordland’s Bø parish far away from her home on Dønna, Karen married Lorents Nikolai Möller Bentsen. He was 19 and Karen was twenty-two. How had she ended up in a place that even today is a day’s drive from where she grew up?

Assuming that couples usually married in the wife’s parish, we can surmise that Karen had relocated north to Bø at some point. A couple of explanations come to mind. Perhaps they met when he visited her island on one of his fishing expeditions and she then followed him back to Bø. Or maybe she traveled initially to the Bø area to join relatives or to work and became acquainted with him there. However it happened, the couple settled in Bø after their marriage.

The young bride often saw her family. Her sister Anne’s children, Fresenius and Helga, lived with Nick and Karen in 1900. So did her sister Johana’s granddaughter, Riborg. Perhaps she also met with her father a time or two when he visited the northern area to fish.

Nick and Karen raised their family of two daughters and a son in Bø. Once the children had grown, the two surviving children (Lena and Ole) both decided to emigrate to America, so Nick and Karen followed them in 1905.

They found work in Minnesota to save money for a homestead, and then they moved on to Montana where land was available. They settled in a Norwegian community near Medicine Lake in northeastern Montana.

There they farmed and raised sheep as everyone in Norway had done. In the spring they put their sheep on an island in Medicine Lake so they did not need herding. Karen had brought from Norway her spinning wheel, which would have been a valuable item. She could spin the wool and weave it into cloth to make clothing.

Nick became a naturalized citizen on 10 November 1913 at Plentywood, Sheridan County, Montana. At that time, women could not hold citizenship in their own right. They became citizens of their husband’s country. Karen, then, became a U.S. citizen, too, by virtue of Nick’s citizenship.

After seven years of homesteading, Karen died on 14 November 1916 at age 65. Although the State of Montana had kept death records since 1907, compliance was spotty in the early years, and they do not have a death record for her.

Nick finally acquired title to his own land the spring after Karen died. He received the patent for his homestead from the U. S. government on 25 June 1917. It must have been a bittersweet day without Karen.

With his wife no longer at his side, Nick took steps to sell out. He sold the land and auctioned off their belongings. What became of Karen’s spinning wheel? The family eventually lost track of it, and her granddaughter Signe Bentsen Fleming speculated that it was sold in the auction sale.

When Nick died two and a half years later, he was buried beside Karen at Big Lake [Homestead] Cemetery, not too far from where they homesteaded.


52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, no. 23—Lorenz Nikolai Bentsen, 1854 – 1919

In the late nineteenth century, the Bentsen clan lived in Bø Municipality on the southern coast of the Vesterålen District of Nordland, Norway. There, on the Fjaervold farm on the island of Langøya, Lorenz Nikolai Möller Andersen was born on 5 July 1854 to Anders Bentsen and Anne Larsdatter. To shorten up this long name, he usually went by “Nick”.

When he was three months old, Nick was baptized into the Lutheran Church of Norway at the Bø parish church built in 1824. The pastor baptized several babies that day, the 16th Sunday after Trinity.

Bø kirke



Nick’s legal name has created some confusion. Our American family records do not match the official Norwegian records recording his name. Nick’s descendants remembered him as “Nikolai Lorenz” rather than “Lorenz Nikolai Möller”. Perhaps they assumed his first name was Nikolai because he went by the nickname “Nick”. They may never have known he had a second middle name because he seems to have dropped it after he came to America.

The descendants also knew him by the “Bentsen” surname he adopted when he immigrated to the United States. In Norway he had used the patronymic name, “Andersen”, derived from his father’s first name, rather than a surname. Norway did not require surnames until the 1920’s, long after Nick had left.

When Nick was born, his family consisted of his parents and an older sister, Kristine Andrea Andersdatter, born in 1851. An unnamed younger brother was stillborn in February 1857.

According to the Norwegian records, Nick’s father was Anders Bentsen (1823-1857). This lineage differs from what Nick’s granddaughter, Signe Bentsen Fleming, has reported in her book Bentsen-Sivertsen History 1800-1988. She states that Nick’s father was a man named Peter Kolbentsen.

Which is correct? Every Norwegian record lists Nick’s patronymic name as “Andersen”, not “Petersen”, indicating that his father’s name was in fact Anders, not Peter. Nick’s baptism, confirmation, and marriage records all report his father’s name as Anders Bentsen. Furthermore, both Nick and his son Ole took the surname Bentsen, not Kolbentsen, when they immigrated to the United States. Indeed, Ole and his sisters had used the Bentsen surname name occasionally even in Norway. It seems likely that Nick’s father was in fact Anders Bentsen. More research remains to be done on the identity of Peter Kolbentsen and his relationship to the family.

Nick’s father passed away in 1857 when the boy was just three years old. By 1865 Nick and his sister Kristine were living on different farms as foster children. “Necolai Andersen”, age 12, lived that year on the Svinøen farm owned by Nils Holgersen. Nick was listed in the household of Anders Grægusen (who had been one of his baptism sponsors) and his wife Andrea Krane.

A couple of years later on 30 May 1869 Nick was confirmed in the same Bø parish where he had been baptized. He was 14 years old. The record indicates he had received his smallpox vaccination four years earlier, in 1861.

On 11 August 1873, again in Bø parish, Nick married Karen Marie Johansdatter, daughter of Johan Larsen (1824-1876) and Sara Andrine Möllersdatter (1814-1880). Nick was 19 and Karen was twenty-two.

The couple lived on the remote island fishing village of Skjæringstad in Vesterålen, Nordland. Over the next several years they moved around to Svinøya and ultimately to Hadsel. Nick engaged in the treacherous fishing industry in addition to his farming work


Skæringstad

 

During this time, they had at least four children:

  • Peter Andreas Norum Lorentzen, born 13 September 1874 at Barstrand Farm. He was baptized 11 October 1874 but does not appear on the 1875 census, so he probably died in infancy.
  • Lina Andrea Bentsen, born 29 January 1876 at Skæringstad. Lina worked as a seamstress until she was 28, and then she married Johan Jorgen Kristian Johansen in Hadsel in 1904. They moved on to Troms and had one daughter named Betty Karoline on 23 October that year. Nick and Karen both served as baptism sponsors for Betty. Lina’s family emigrated to the United States in 1909 and settled in Seattle. Johan disappears from the record after that, and Lina then married Emil Torbergsen in 1915. She died in Seattle at the age of 55 in 1932. Her daughter Betty married twice, first to James E. Harrigan about 1925 and then to Howard Cummings in 1949. Betty and Howard lived on Langley Island near Seattle, and there she came to a terrible end in 1954. While driving home from work one day, Howard heard on the radio that his 49-year-old wife had been found brutally murdered in the woods behind their home. A teenaged boy was tried for the crime but was acquitted. Later, a local handyman confessed to the murder.
  • Riborg Oline Bentsen, born 18 April 1878 at Skæringstad. Riborg died in Hadsel parish on 13 July 1894 at the age of sixteen. The parish record does not give a cause of death.
  • Ole Jörgen Bentsen, born 6 September 1880 at Svinøya. In 1904 Ole married Sofie Marie Sivertsdatter at Hadsel. Nick served as a baptism sponsor for their first child, Riborg Marie Hansene, on 23 October 1904 in the same parish. Interestingly, Riborg was baptized the same day her cousin Betty was born. Riborg’s baptism record gives her father’s residence as “Amerika”. By then, Ole had already emigrated to make a new home for his family. Sofie and the infant Riborg joined him the following spring.

By 1905, then, what was left in Norway for Nick and Karen? They were 51 and 54 years old, no longer young, living the hard, hard life of most Norwegians. They had buried two children in Bø. Their daughter had moved to Troms and perhaps already was making the plans for her eventual emigration in 1909. Their only surviving son and their nephew Fresenius had already gone to America.

In addition to these local concerns, big changes were in the wind in Norway that year. After nearly a century of Swedish rule, Norway achieved its independence that May. Uncertainty lay ahead. With no close familial ties in Bø, and facing life under a new and untested monarch, Nick and Karen made the decision to leave. They were expatriated from the Lutheran Church of Norway on 2 September 1905.

They emigrated at the end of the month on 30 September 1905. Traveling under the “Andersen” surname on the steamship Salmo from Trondheim, they changed ships in Liverpool, England and sailed on to Montreal on the Parisian. From there they took the Canadian Pacific Railway to the U. S. port of Sault Sainte Marie. On 21 October 1905 they headed for Lake Park, Minnesota to join their son Ole and his family.

Nick worked alongside Ole on the railroad in Minnesota. Over the next couple of years, they must have carefully saved their money while they searched for an opportunity to acquire the free land they craved.

During this time, in Becker County, Minnesota, Nick pursued American citizenship. The Declaration of Intention papers he filed on 28 December 1907 described him as five feet, nine inches tall, 180 pounds, with light complexion, grey hair, and dark brown eyes.

In 1908 Nick and Karen again followed their son’s family, this time to a Scandinavian community in Montana. The town of Homestead was a Great Northern Railroad stop on the Big Muddy River south of Medicine Lake. The elder Bentsens moved in with Ole and his family in a 2-room sod house. Nick located a likely homestead, and that summer Ole helped his dad build a house on this land, the NE/4 of Section 8, T30N, R56E, Montana Meridian.

The next spring Nick began farming his intended homestead, a quarter section (160 acres) located a mile away from Ole’s place. He broke 20 acres for flax that year. On 29 June 1910, when he was 55 years old, Nick officially filed for his homestead at the Government Land Office in Glasgow, Montana. Each year after that, Nick broke 10-23 more acres until 1916 when he was farming 100 acres of flax, oats, and wheat.

He and Karen also raised sheep as everyone in Norway had done. In the spring they put their sheep on an island in Medicine Lake so they did not need herding.


A Sheep on Langøya


Island in Medicine Lake, Montana

 

As an experienced fisherman who was familiar with the seafood business, Nick began importing frozen fish from Seattle, Washington. Once a week he would leave early in the morning by team and wagon to pick up the shipment at the railroad station in Culbertson, Montana. He sold fish to settlers as he traveled northward on the way home.

Nick became a naturalized citizen on 10 November 1913 at Plentywood, Sheridan County, Montana. Nick finally acquired title to his own land in 1917. He received the patent for his homestead from the U. S. government on June 25 of that year.

Unfortunately, his wife Karen had passed away the previous autumn. With her no longer at his side, Nick took steps to sell out. He sold the land and auctioned off their belongings.

When the sale was over, Nick left the land he had worked so hard to acquire. He lived the remainder of his life with his son Ole, who had relocated to a larger homestead south of Redstone, Montana. Less than two years later, Nick died on April 25, 1919 at 64 years of age. The State has no record of his death.

After a lifetime of hard work, Nick had finally possessed a farm of his own only to give it all up. He and Karen had no time together to enjoy it. They are now buried side-by-side at Big Lake [Homestead] Cemetery, not too far from where they homesteaded.

A Gathering of Norwegians in Colorado

This week I have had a chance to get in touch with my Norwegian roots. I served as a delegate from my Fjelldalen Lodge #162 to the District Six Sons of Norway biennial convention in Loveland, Colorado. In a nod to our state’s mining heritage, we used the theme, Mining Our Heritage.

What a great opportunity to meet with fellow Americans of Norwegian descent and to engage in the fraternal aspect of our organization! Folks came from Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, and all over Colorado. We enjoyed these activities even as we conducted the business of the convention:

  1. A heritage night where many delegates donned their traditional native costumes, or bunads, and modeled them for the group,
  2. A folk art competition where members submitted their Norwegian craft work, including hardanger embroidery, wood carving, and rosmaling for competitive evaluation, and
  3. Daily snacks of cookies made from traditional Norwegian recipes.

I do not have a bunad, so I wore my Norwegian sweater (the hotel was really cold although it was nearly 100 degrees outside) for the heritage night. I contributed some cookies for the snack table. Perhaps I should have entered some of my hardanger embroidery for the competition, but I did not take the time to prepare anything. Those who did earned ribbons for their efforts.

When I returned home, I had a letter from the Sons of Norway waiting for me. It informed me that I have earned the Level I Cultural Skills pin for proficiency in Hardanger embroidery. Earlier this spring, I had submitted to the national organization photos of three Hardanger embroidery pieces I stitched over the winter—a sugar and cream doily, a hexagon-shaped doily, and a bookmark. The pins tells me that I have mastered the basic Hardanger stitches. Maybe I should take the time to prepare and embroidered piece for competition at the next biennial convention.