Records that include your ancestor’s birth year are not necessarily accurate. Most records before the modern computerized era have self-reported ages, from censuses to marriage records, so often show incorrect information.
I remember being asked by a census taker about my neighbors. I really did not know the answers and said so, but in many cases I think people do answer for their neighbors. Also no census taker has ever asked me for an id. This made me realize how inaccurate census records could be for birth years as well as for the spelling of names, which I already knew about.
Dada’s gravestone shows a year of 1853
A fine demonstration of these inaccuracies are the many records for my great grandfather Henry H Lee (born H. Halvorsen Skjold in Norway) known to his family as Dada. I found that he kept getting younger in each document and census. A letter from his daughter written in the early 1900s states he was born in 1849 but most documents in America have 1852. His gravestone, shown above, has a birth year of 1853! Please remember that the birth year reported on your ancestor’s death certificate and gravestone came from the surviving family members, so can easily be incorrect.
So is the birth record reliable? Back then births happened at home so they were reported by the family or midwife. Several of Dada’s children had a mother of Mary Walters listed by the midwife in Brooklyn when her name was actually Maren Wold (proven many times over with DNA!). So birth records can have errors too, especially when your ancestors may have had thick accents while speaking English.
People in the 1800s baptized their children as soon as possible. Thus the baptism date, entered by a churchman, is one date that is surely accurate.
The Norwegians have put many of their country’s church books online. To solve the question of Dada’s birth year, I looked through all the pages of births for Dada’s original home town, Etne, Hordaland from 1849 until nine months after his father died in 1852.
My worry is nothing on this trip will match the incredible day we had yesterday in Etne, Hordaland, Norway. The ancestral farms around the lake were so very green with snow-capped mountains behind them and sheep everywhere. The weather was perfect. We had a traditional lamb and cabbage stew lunch with the Skjold third cousins on their deck overlooking the valley and lake. Followed by fruit-filled waffles.
Jarle at the Lake
Our cousin Jarle was a wonderful guide. He showed me the house, still there, where my great grandfather H. H. Lee was born on farm Skjold. He mentioned that they had shown cousin John the wrong farm, the newer Skjold farm built by Jarle’s grandfather.
The house my great-grandad H H Lee was born in
Jarle also told us that the children called the white plastic wrapped hay bales “tractor eggs” because they came wrapped that way out of the backs of the tractors. Also we learned that most of Norway’s electricity is hydo-electric and that there are green chemicals available for fracking but regulations in the USA are such that companies do not have to use them. He works in the chemicals for oil companies business by the way.
Hans Martin Gunderson
The randomness of DNA inheritance always amazes me. My Norwegian-American father seems to have inherited more DNA from his Skjold grandad, “Dada,” than his Wold grandma, “Mormor.” Dad shares more than the expected amount of DNA with 3rd and 4th and double 4th cousins on his Skjold line. Of course this could also be explained by the slight endogamy in the area they come from, Etne, Hordaland. By comparison, Dad shares no DNA with a Wold 3rd cousin once removed and only a small amount with her mother. He shares more with a few other Wold cousins but it tends to be less than the expected amount with the more distant cousins on that line.
Recently I found two new Skjold cousins via DNA testing, Maria and Irene.
On Ancestry.com, a 3rd cousin match appeared for my brother which turned out to be a real 3rd cousin, a Gundersen relative who is descended from Dada’s sister Margareta. Her son who immigrated to Brooklyn, Hans Martin Gundersen, is pictured on the left.
On 23andme.com, I found a new 3rd-4th cousin on Dad’s list, who was found to be from another branch of our Holland relatives. The Hollands descend from Dada’s Aunt Mette (see my post with her portrait). My father’s newly found 3rd cousin twice removed shares 1.10% of her DNA with him: 4 segments totaling 84cM. This is on the high side, more like a second cousin once removed (click here for the article at ISOGG about the expected amounts of shared DNA).
So read on for the details of how I figured out the actual relationships with my new cousins.
There are forums, mailing lists, and facebook groups for almost any group with shared ancestry and the people who populate them can be amazingly helpful. So here is how I solved a mystery with assistance from various Norwegian helpers.
I have recently been working on the ancestors of my g-grandfather H. H. Lee (originally Hans or Halvor Skjold) from Etne, Hordaland, Norway since I have so many new relatives from his families found with DNA testing. When last in Salt Lake City, I photographed numerous pages of farm entries from the Etnesogas at the family history library and took several of his lines much further back. See the chart below (from wikitree) for those annoying blank spots I wanted to fill in.
I found the ancestors of Ingeborg Haktorsdtr, one blank spot below, in the Holmedal books. But my 3rd great grandfather Øystein Gabrielsen Bjørgjo evaded me. He appeared as if by magic on the Bjørgjo farm with no clue as to his origins. I tried the online Norwegian archives with no success, perhaps because they are a bit difficult for us English speakers. So I decided to ask for help.
My great-grandfather’s pedigree at Wikitree
Back in the late 1800s our Norwegian ancestors and relatives came here in droves; about 80,000 Norwegians came before the Civil War and even more afterwards. Partially it was economic conditions in Norway but mainly it was due to the population pressures from improved medicine. The practice of dividing the farm among your boys does not work so well when you have ten children most of whom are now surviving to adulthood. So emigration to America was the solution for many.
Most of my relatives, like many Norwegian immigrants, settled out in the northern midwestern states: Illinois (Kendall County), Iowa (Story City), South Dakota and Wisconsin. However, my own ancestors stayed in New York. The ship’s carpenter Monsens and my g-grandfather Henry (Halvor Hans) Skjold settled in the Norwegian section of Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, NY. Hans was known as Henry H. Lee in this country. He was the embodiment of the successful immigrant story (see this newspaper article ) making it big with his harbor businesses.
Two of his sisters, both named Anna, kept to more traditional endeavors and headed to Kendall County, Illinois with their husbands and children and farmed. We are in touch with the Stevenson descendants who have a yearly reunion in July in Illinois. We always wondered about the descendants of his aunt Mette Tvetden Haaland, his dead mother’s half sister. She went to Wisconsin with her eight children and her husband Sjur who tragically died soon after arrival along with the baby. My Stevenson genealogist cousin and I had long since given up on finding her descendants. But along came DNA testing and suddenly I had some good matches in Dad’s 23andme account with the surname Holland, could it be? Why yes!