Tag Archive | Norwegian

Finding Matilda

Matilda Andersen Munson, Jeanie’s great grandmother

When my cousins do DNA tests at my request, I reward them with a family tree that goes back several hundred years. Of course one line (mine) is already done! This has been great fun for me as I have learned much about early America by researching my relatives’ ancestors (I have no colonial ancestry of my own).

However Norway, my father’s ancestral land, is my area of expertise. Many Norwegian records are online in their free archives and many localities have local history books or farm books, available at a few genealogy libraries like the one in Salt Lake City. Called “bygdebøker,” these books include the genealogy information for the people on each farm. Click here for the family search wiki entry about “Norwegian Farm Books.” UPDATE: Come hear me talk about this at my talk on Norwegian research for SCGS Jamboree.

There is also a fabulous Norwegian genealogy group on FaceBook with many helpers who speak Norwegian. Plus there is an online OCR program for Norwegian that works well for turning those farm book entries into text so google can translate them; click here for my blog post on using it.

Christan Severis Munson, Jeanie’s great grandfather

My second cousin once removed, Jeanie, is descended from one of my grandad’s older brothers, Christian Munson, a midwestern minister, and his wife Matilda Anderson, She is a maternal line ancestor (think mtDNA) who was the mystery to solve. Matilda’s story is sad in that she had some sort of breakdown after her last baby died of encephalitis (yes I looked at the death record) and she was institutionalized for the rest of her life. They were living in Brooklyn at the time so there are many records both online and at the municipal archives which I visit twice a year (along with my NYC based grandchildren).

With a name like Matilda Anderson, I expected it to be difficult to find her ancestors, but luckily I found a marriage record on Ancestry for her and Christian Munson in the Lutheran church records. Church marriage records are wonderful because they have the names of the two fathers, if you can read the script.
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Figuring Out An Ancestor’s Actual Birth Year

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.

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Why did my Ancestors Come to America?

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.”

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Summer reading: DNA and historical novels

You don’t have to be Norwegian-American to enjoy Candace Simar‘s novels about the lives and hardships of Norwegian settlers in Minnesota in the mid 1800s. Her characters became very real to me as I read about how they dealt with love, the Indian Uprising, the Civil War, losing children, losing crops, and just getting on with their daily lives. How self-sufficient those settlers had to be! The advent of the sewing machine was major, since they made all their own clothes. She even tells parts of these stories from the Native American point of view.

After I finished the fourth one I was sad that there were no more. In order the books are: Abercrombie Trail: A Novel of the 1862 Uprising, Pomme De Terre, Birdie, and Blooming Prairie.

A History of Scandinavian DNA

If Scandinavian DNA is what interests you, you might like My European Family: The First 54,000 Years by Karin Bojs as much as I did. Karin, a journalist, learns about her ancient ancestors, after DNA testing, by going around Europe interviewing DNA researchers and archaeologists.

With the popularity of autosomal DNA tests, many people are not aware of how interesting it is to know about their deep ancestry via Y and mtDNA haplogroups. The Eupedia website has detailed information about the origins and history of each European haplogroup.

Only Family Tree DNA tests fully for these, although 23andMe will give you your top level haplogroups. If you tested at Ancestry DNA, you can upload to Promethease.com – the health information site – to determine your basic haplogroup, see http://www.geneticgenealogist.net/2016/01/how-to-get-ydna-haplogroup-from.html for how.

Personally I like to keep a chart of my family haplogroups.

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Articles to read this weekend

No I am not planning a Friday Finds as a regular feature, just an occasional one. Many articles caught my attention this week so I thought I would share some of the posts I plan to read or reread this coming weekend.

How to organize your DNA data is a perpetual and perplexing question, touched with at the end of this excellent article from Legacy Tree Genealogists, “Going Beyond Ethnicity Estimates in DNA Testing

Another article that might help you organize your results demonstrates a visual way to show the shared DNA among family members. Read this recent guest post by Lauren McGuire on Blaine Bettinger’s blog “The McGuire Method – Simplified Visual DNA Comparisons” to learn more.

The Journal of Genetic Genealogy (JOGG) has resumed publishing under the editorship of Leah Larkin and there are a number of articles that interest me in the most recent issue.

On my reading list are CeCe Moore’s The History of Genetic Genealogy and Unknown Parentage Research, Blaine Bettinger on citizen science and a review of GenomeMate, a tool many researchers use to organize their data. Personally I use spreadsheets because I started out that way. One for each family members’ segments, a list of contacts,  plus a list of known relatives with kit numbers and email addresses. Click on DNA spreadsheets in my tag cloud to learn more.

And for my Norwegian research, I have already read and plan to reread this terrific article by Martin Roe, Let’s wring the census records. Most of these census records are online at the Norwegian archives (see my post on those archives)