Jan’s explorations into his family’s history have been fascinating for me, especially when he discovered family in the States and I thought about that reality from the perspective of *my* ancestors that emigrated to America from Scotland and Germany. So I asked him to share a little of his family’s story with you, set against the backdrop of Norwegian history.
Take it away, Jan!
by Jan Eek
In the span of less than a hundred years, from around 1825, almost 900,000 Norwegians emigrated to USA. To put it in perspective, the population in Norway in 1860 was 1,595,000. That means that around 10 to 12 million Americans are of Norwegian ancestry.
These are just numbers, so what do we know about the people, the human side of this emigration?
I can only relate to my own family, and as it turned out, I was in for several surprises.
The first one came as we moved from Bergen to a smaller place, Os, an hour’s drive from Bergen. So, what did I find out? Well, I have always known the name of my grandmother and connected it to Bergen, and the first thing I found was that my grandmother’s father was born on a farm very close to where we now live and that he belonged to a prominent family in this area. So, I was back at the cradle of my family!
Further inquiry led me to the most interesting person, my great-great grandfather, Wilhelm. He was a wild one in his youth. He became a father for the first time at the age of 16 and his first son is my direct ancestor. He then roamed Norway, Sweden and Denmark and fathered several children. His family, including a priest and a fairly rich farmer/shopkeeper, of course was embarrassed and tired of this unruly young man, so he was married to a sturdy woman, Thora, and promptly sent to America.
That was the second surprise for me. I had no idea! I have family in the US …
Here is a picture of Wilhelm and Thora in America.
Wilhelm and Thora had eight children and the first years in the US they lived in a cave in Minnesota. Then they managed to get some land and slowly they developed it into a proper farm and later on established an hotel in the nearest town.
So, I have family here where I live and a large number of cousins in America. I have been in contact with my local family and also connected with one of my American cousins. She came to visit me and I showed her the area and the old farm house which is the origin for both of us AND it is still owned by my family, which was another surprise.
For a while I was hung up in tracing my family, but I stopped when I got to the 16th century. I turned the focus, thinking of the next generations, so I am now writing everything I know and can find out about people in my family. I want my grandchildren and their children to be able to connect with the history of our family.