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Some Norwegian Research Tools

Genealogists like to take training classes to keep their skills sharp. Here in the Denver area I have many opportunities to attend seminars offered by well-known American genealogists. But for Norwegian genealogy, I do not have a lot of options.

This week I came across not just one but two chances to learn more about Norwegian research methodology:

  1. Of course my local Sons of Norway lodge offers my first and best option. We meet nine times a year to exchange research tips and information. This month my own husband/tech advisor led a program on how to use bygdebøker—local history books that contain a wealth of genealogical information. Several hundred rural communities in Norway published these books. Some members of our Norwegian research group have purchased these for the areas where their ancestors lived in Norway so we had a chance to thumb through a couple of the books. Of course, they are written in Norwegian, so that presents a problem for those of us who do not read the language. For those with some fluency who do not want to purchase one, some college libraries in Minnesota and North Dakota have collections of these.
  2. We have become acquainted with a Norwegian genealogist, Martin Roe, who writes a blog in English. Hooray! I have subscribed to his blog at http://martinroe.com/blog, and I expect to learn a great deal about Norway and Norwegian genealogy from him.

Slowly but surely I am gaining more expertise in Norwegian research. Although I am not actively researching a Norwegian line this year, I will have the tools when I need them.

A Bygdebok Success Story

Many rural communities in Norway kept local histories called bygdebøker. These can prove quite helpful in our genealogical research. They contain a wealth of information about an area as well as chronological histories of each local farm.

My husband/tech advisor recently located a bygdebok online for a community where he suspected his great-grandmother had lived. The book provided good evidence that he had located the correct Margit Pedersdatter.

The keeper of the bygdebok had recorded information about Margit and her life on the farm in Norway. It noted that she had gone to America about the same time our Margit did.

But amazingly, the entries for Margit did not stop there. The bygdebok went on to name the husband she married in North Dakota, Syver Nelson, and their two children, Anna and Lars. Definitely our family!

Before finding this bygdebok, we had located several women in Norway as candidates for our Margit Pedersdatter. This wonderful Norwegian resource enabled us to narrow it down and make a successful leap across the pond.

Kudos for Norwegian Research

 

 

The Sons of Norway organization encourages members to learn cultural skills reminiscent of their Norwegian heritage. They offer many courses of study including rosmaling, hardanger embroidery, Norwegian cooking, and Norwegian music. Members can work through three levels of expertise in each skill.

This week our Lodge recognized my husband/tech advisor for his mastery of Norwegian genealogy. To earn his Level 1, 2, and 3 beautifully-enameled pins, he had to research his Norwegian ancestry and complete the following:

  • Seven Ancestor Charts and Family Group Sheets for people in his family tree,
  • Source citations for all his information,
  • Stories about three people on his pedigree charts.

To those of us who pursue American genealogy, this may sound simple. Trust me, it is not!

The researcher in Norwegian records must master many specialized skills:

  • An understanding of the historical social structure of Norway because different social classes created different records.
  • An ability to use the patronymic naming system because most Norwegians had no surname.
  • A vocabulary of the words used in Norwegian records and an ability to read pre-20th century handwriting.
  • A familiarity with the record-keeping practices and formats used for vital records by the state Lutheran church.
  • A conception of the geography and governmental administrative divisions pertaining to the area in which one’s ancestors lived.

My husband/tech advisor did all this and more. He mastered the use of the Norwegian Archives database and then taught others in our Lodge how to use it. He did lookups for those who struggled with it. And he went far beyond the number of Ancestor Charts and Family Group sheets required, even tracing one line of his family back to the 1400’s.

I hope his work is serving as an inspiration to others in our Lodge to document their own family lines. Receiving beautiful pins from the Sons of Norway for all the work makes it even more worthwhile. If you are Norwegian, join your local Lodge and get started today.

An Old Violin

At last week’s meeting of the Colorado Genealogical Society, members showcased family heirlooms. My husband/tech advisor participated by displaying and discussing our family violin.

This instrument is quite old, and we have a record of its history. In 1977, his father wrote it down as he remembered it.

According to him, the instrument traveled from Norway to North Dakota in the 1850’s in the possession of the Wild family. Eventually Bill Wild sold it to an August Johnson. Mr. Johnson spent many winters on the farm of Anton Hjelmstad, my husband’s grandfather. Anton purchased the violin from August Johnson in 1931.

Anton played the violin for many years, until his death in 1957. He maintained it as best he could, occasionally restringing the bow with hairs from the tail of the horse in his barn.

My husband remembers times spent as a small child listening to his grandfather play. When he began his own violin lessons, he received the violin. He played it through high school, until he needed a better one.

The old violin saw some rough times through its history. Anton Hjelmstad had played it at barn dances, and it was damaged in a brawl at one of those. He repaired it, but eventually the front began to collapse. The violin became unplayable.

Now it sits in a shadow box along with some remembrances of its Norwegian heritage–a piece of Norwegian hardanger embroidery and a stalk of wheat like that grown by Anton Hjelmstad. It serves our family as a wonderful reminder of our roots.

Join Your Bygdelag

Anyone who has some Norwegian heritage and an interest in learning about Norwegian ancestry or native culture does not have to look far. Norwegians in America have long banded together to share their Norwegian ways.

Most descendants probably know of the fraternal organization, the Sons of Norway (www.sonsofnorway.com). Women, too, can join this club and enjoy getting together for Norwegian food and activities.

Maybe fewer know about the numerous Bygdelagenes groups that focus on areas of origin in Norway. My family certainly never mentioned these organizations, so I do not think any of my Norwegian-American ancestors belonged to one. Most of the Bygdelagenes seem centered in Minnesota and Wisconsin whereas my family settled in faraway Montana.

I never knew the term Bygdelag until last weekend when I attended a Norwegian genealogy meeting. There I learned that over 30 of these groups exist, and each focuses on heritage from a particular county, or fylke, in Norway. Since my family emigrated from Nordland, I could join the Nordlandslag (http://www.nordlandslaget.com). Descendants of those from the far north in Norway, (the counties of Nordland, Troms, and Finnmark) belong to this group.

Maybe I will look into joining. Other members of my Norwegian genealogy group have found Bygdelag memberships fun and helpful. For just $15 a year I would receive a newsletter and the opportunity to attend an annual get-together called a stevne.

I cannot make this year’s June stevne in Minnesota, nor can we get to my husband/tech advisor’s Hedmarken Lag stevne in Wisconsin in August, but perhaps we could plan for one in the future. We do have relatives and ancestors in both states, and I am always looking for that next genealogy road trip.

Look for your Bygdelag and find some like-minded Norwegians today!

A Surprising Connection

During the past year, my husband/tech advisor and I have become active members of our local Sons of Norway chapter. Among other Norwegian cultural pursuits, the lodge offers access to a Norwegian genealogy study group. They meet once a month to exchange information on researching Norwegian families.

At my first genealogy meeting, I recognized another woman whom I had seen at other genealogy events around town. I had not realized she is a fellow Norwegian. I amazed to learn that her family had settled in the same rural Montana county as my Bentsen family. We both have roots in Sheridan County.

Anyone doing research in that county knows that the bible of information is a series of books called Sheridan’s Daybreak. My own relatives contributed articles, but no copies of either the writings or the book series came down to me. Today the books sell for hundreds of dollars, so I am not in a hurry to purchase them. Denver Public Library does not own a set, and no place will send them out on inter-library loan. As far as I know, they have not been digitized.

But guess who has a complete set of the books? The nice woman at the Sons of Norway lodge! She has offered to let me search it for my family articles. I am thrilled to find out all about those collateral relatives, the Bedwells, Flemings, Overbys, and Scollards.

All homesteaded in the harsh climate of northeastern Montana at the turn of the last century. On this land close to the Canadian border, they grew wheat. My family still owns the original homestead in addition to other acreage they picked up along the way. I am so eager to find out about their lives by reading Sheridan’s Daybreak.

Thank you, Donna!

 

A Successful Approach to Foreign Research

This weekend I will attend a meeting of Norwegian genealogy researchers. As I prepare for the meeting, I began thinking about what a great opportunity it is.

Here in the melting pot of America, many genealogists descend from more than one ethnic heritage. Once you “jump the pond” you must learn to do research in foreign countries. Unless your family was British, these records are not in English. What do you do?

Aside from hiring someone else to do your research, you must learn to do it yourself. My husband/tech advisor and I have encountered this challenge with our Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, German, Norwegian, and Scottish lines. We have followed several strategies for learning to do our foreign research:

  • We join local groups that focus on a specific ethnicity. Our Sons of Norway lodge includes a genealogy club (the one we will attend this weekend) for pursuing our mutual interest. WISE (Wales, Ireland, Scotland, England) and a Germanic research group both meet monthly at the Denver Public Library. A local Finnish club offers one-on-one help with document translation.
  • We attend genealogy conferences targeting an ethnic audience. Our local Palatines to America chapter holds twice-yearly seminars that educate us on Germanic research. The National Genealogical Society annual conference in the states often includes a research track for some ethnic group.
  • We consult the research wiki on the Family Search website (https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/Main_Page).
  • We take advantage of opportunities for collaboration with genealogists in our countries of interest. For example, we have found Norwegian research help and other researchers via the DIS-Norge website (www.disnorge.no).

People will tell me that I also should be on Facebook to find like-minded researchers. This resource probably helps a great many people, but to me it looks like quite an eater of time. Not appealing to me.

Instead, I will trot over to the Sons of Norway research group on Saturday and interact face-to-face with other researchers. We will trade research tips, tell a Norwegian joke or two, and enjoy some Norwegian-style fellowship. This is my type of social network, and I know it will help me along with my own research.

Fattigmand Time

Christmas baking season has arrived again. I plan to make some different types of cookies, but then everyone does that. For something different, my husband and I always try to make one traditional Scandinavian food.

The food we make most years, from Norway, is fattigmand bakkelse. More of a fried bread than a cookie, these resemble the Mexican sopapilla we find in Colorado.

Norwegians love to have fattigmand for Christmas. My Norwegian grandfather, Bjarne Bentsen (1906-1986) insisted that his Finnish wife Martha Mattila (1906-1977) learn to make these treats when they first married. My husband remembers his Norwegian grandmother Anna Nelson Hjelmstad (1890-1976) making them, too, but his own mom, a German, never tried it.

My mother and father used to work together to make fattigmand every year. We kids needed to do our part to help, too. It takes a lot of rolling and cutting the stiff dough. Then someone deep fries each piece. Some folks dust them with powdered sugar, but we never did.

To be honest, I never liked fattigmand all that much as I grew up. I usually gave my share to my brother. But my husband liked fattigmand, so early in our marriage I made the effort at Christmas to make some. Now I find that I like to eat them as much as he does.

One of these days before Christmas we will invite our grandchildren over to learn how to make fattigmand, too. Here is our recipe, brought from Norway by my great-grandmother Sofie Bentsen (1878-1966):

Fattigmand Bakkelse

8 whole eggs + 4 egg yolks

12 level Tbsp. sugar

12 level Tbsp. sweet cream

4 Tbsp. brandy

½ tsp. baking powder

½ cup melted butter

1 rounded tsp. ground cardamom

1 level tsp. cinnamon

Mix in order given. Add enough flour (about 6 cups) to make a soft dough. Put in a cold place for 2-3 hours. Roll out very thin. Cut in diamond shapes, make a slit in center of each, and pull one end through slit. Fry in deep lard until golden brown. Use medium heat.

 

 

Lingonberries

Last night I made some scones for today’s breakfast. I served them with a lesser-known topping, lingonberry jam. I enjoy eating lingonberries now and then because they are really good, and they remind me of my Norwegian heritage.

According to Wikipedia, lingonberry jam is a staple of Scandinavian cuisine. The berries grow abundantly in the inland forests there. People often gather them and prepare a fresh jam using just the berries, sugar, and a small amount of water. They put it on everything from pancakes to meatballs.

I used to have a hard time finding the jam here in the Denver area. Sometimes I made the long drive to the Sons of Norway lodge in Lakewood to buy it from their gift shop. When I did, we savored every bite of this rare treat.

In recent years, lingonberry jam has appeared more often on the shelves of my local supermarket. The IKEA stores sell it, too. Consequently, people are becoming more familiar with this Scandinavian delicacy.

We have begun keeping a jar of lingonberry jam on our pantry shelf. You never know when one of us will get a craving for it, just like I did this morning.

 

Learning the Culture

Over the years I have spent a great deal of time digging into my roots in what my family referred to as the “old country”—Finland and Norway. As I researched the lives of these ancestors, I became curious about how they lived and what they did for entertainment. Maybe they engaged in artistic pursuits. My curiosity led me to learn a little about Finnish and Norwegian folk art forms.

Eventually I felt the urge to try these art forms myself. At some point I acquired a Finnish kantele, a plucked string instrument that resembles a zither. I still have not found the time to learn to play it.

I had more success when I discovered Norwegian Hardanger embroidery, a counted and drawn type of whitework worked on even weave fabric. I already had learned some basic embroidery skills from my mother, and I found it enjoyable.

As an adult, I took a class on Hardanger embroidery, and I finished my first piece. Then I did another one, and yet another until I found myself stitching an entire window valance. It took me two years to complete, and it hangs in my office today.

When my husband/tech advisor and I joined our local Sons of Norway lodge (http://www.fjelldalen.com/) earlier this year, we learned that they place a great emphasis on learning Norwegian cultural skills. One is genealogy and another is Hardanger embroidery. Right up my alley!

A new friend of mine in the Lodge has created many beautiful Hardanger pieces. She wins first or second place every time she enters her stitchery in a Sons of Norway (http://www.sofn.com/home/index.jsp) competition. I am thrilled she has offered to coach me in earning my Hardanger profiency pins from the organization. As I work through the skills hierarchy, perhaps I too can create something good enough to enter in competition.

I hope I am continuing a family tradition. My Norwegian great-grandmother Sofie Bentsen purportedly was adept at Hardanger. Although I never met her, I can picture her now as she stitched away in a little fishing village on a Norwegian fjord. I hope she is proud that I am trying to preserve this beautiful art form.