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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.

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