My mother arriving in America in 1935
My mother was born in Munich to a Jewish father and a Catholic mother so I know perfectly well why they moved to Boston in 1935. He was “retired” in the early 1930s, from his professorship at the University of Freiburg Faculty of Medicine for being jewish. However he still had an extensive private medical practice and would have stayed in Germany had my Oma not insisted that they leave. Thankfully my Opa was a prominent scientist and had many offers from different universities around the world. Happily for my existence, my Oma chose Boston over Ankara.
But why did my Norwegian ancestors come to this country? I recently started reading a book, Between Rocks and Hard Places (love that title!) by Ann Urness Gesme that answers some of those questions and describes life in Norway in the 1800s in much detail. So I wanted to share this find with all of you other Norwegian Americans and Norwegians. Many of you may have already read the wonderful article Peace, Potatoes and Pox which summarizes the reasons for the population explosion in Norway such that there were too many people on too little land, the main impetus behind emigration. He wrote that article after reading Norway to America A History of the Migration by Ingrid Semmingsen, a detailed and carefully researched book. [n.b. these book titles include my affiliate links]
My paternal grandfather was born in Kristiansand, Norway’s southernmost city, and came here when he was six years old with his family. He later married the daughter of Norwegian immigrants, one from near Drammen and the other from Etne, Hordaland. This gives me the pleasure of three different places in Norway to research for my family history.
I am fortunate to have the letters that grandfather wrote to my Dad during WWII which include a description of leaving Kristiansand in 1884: “… my grandfather brought us out in a row boat to the steamer lying out in the harbor all ready to leave for America” and “What America was I did not know, but I had imbibed enough of family talk to realize it was a land of plenty and an interesting place to go to.” Followed by a description of the crossing: “Well the Atlantic was rough and wild at times during July 1884 and our boat rolled and pitched in the heavy seas. I was tremendously impressed by the huge waves, which seemed like mountains to me.”
The hardest task for many genealogists is tracking their immigrant ancestor back to his original home area in the old country in order to find records. In this article I will walk you through the process of getting across the ocean to Norway using all my favorite resources.
The newest online Norwegian archives have had a modernizing face lift but the functionality is the same as described in my 2015 post. It is the single most important site for finding your immigrant ancestor. However there are many others you would use first, to try to figure out where in Norway to look. All of Norway is not impossible with an exact birth date, but a rough location makes it easier.
One of the problems with searching for your Norwegian ancestors is the surname issue. Back in Norway, people were known by their father’s name and their farm name until the early 1900s. Plus the farm name would change when they moved. For some city dwellers a fixed surname came earlier, around the 1880s. There are a number of articles about Norwegian naming listed in my Norwegian genealogy article on the menu above (or click here).
Most Norwegians picked either the farm name, a variation of the farm name, or their patronymic for their surname once in America. So although there are many Lars Olsens and Ole Hansons, there are also Tweets (from Tveit) and Challeys (from Tjelle) and Hollands (from Haaland) to name a few anglicized farm names among my cousins. One of my great-grandfathers created Wold from Torgevollen and another great-grandad created the surname Lee. How he got that from farm Skjold is a complete mystery, although family lore is that it was done so that the name would fit around a tugboat chimney.
Finding the immigration record can be key, so it is best to start at Ancestry.com or FamilySearch or MyHeritage and locate your ancestor in the 1900, 1910, or 1920 census in order to get their year of immigration.
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