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.
So my trip to the land of my ancestors has ended and I am home, busy catching up on correspondence and work. It may be a few more days before I start blogging about genealogy and genetics again. The exciting news is that we got three DNA samples from 2nd, 3rd, and 5th cousins while over there. One came from knocking on the door of a farm house with cousin Corinne and saying, “Our ancestors lived here, are we related?”
Tromsø From Boat
The last week of my trip was spent at a Bridge Tournament above the Arctic Circle in Tromsø. I was amazed at how difficult it was to get my sleep rhythms in synch when the sun never set. I think I did not play my best. I was also surprised by how much colder it was there than down South.
Tromso was the start point for many artic explorations and had several museums with displays celebrating this plus a lovely Sami exhibit at the University Museum.
My plane home had a 5 hour stopover in Oslo so I took the train in and visited their art museum, the National Gallery and the Dance of Life exhibit.
Oslo National Gallery
No photos were allowed of Munch’s Scream but I took many pictures of Norwegian landscapes that really appealed to me as well as some of the impressionist paintings.
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.
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