Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Mathea: A Servant in Oslo

After spending a great deal of time last year discovering so much about my maternal mother's mother, Gunhild Mathea Johannesdatter, there were still parts of Great Grandma Mathea's life in Norway that were a mystery. Last summer, as my sister and I were preparing for our August/September 2016 trip, I wanted to find out as much as I could before we went. What happened during 1858-1867, the years between her confirmation and marriage?

The only possible source of records during those years was the 1865 Census, but I couldn't find her. It wasn't until I learned that women would sometimes drop the "datter" from their last name and replace it with "sen," that I tried searching for Gunhild Mathea Johannesen. And there she was.

She was living in Kristiania, or what we now know as Oslo, and her address was 77 Thorvald Meyers Gate ("gate" = street). Jackpot. Not only did I find her, but I found an exact place. I quickly went to Google and found out that it was just a 2 km. walk from the central train station in the center of Oslo. 

So the address still exists, but what about the building? Is that still there, or was it torn down for something more modern? So I switched to Streetview, and there it was, in all its apricot glory. My sister and I now had an actual pilgrimage site for our upcoming trip!

77 Thorvald Meyers Gate on Google Streetview
I showed this picture to Solvieg at the Norwegian American Library in Madison, and she said that it was a typical 19th century dwelling, with shops on the street level, and two floors of apartments above. She said that often, if it was a family of means, a single family would occupy one entire floor, while the other floor would be broken down into smaller apartments. That seems to be the case here. The Census lists 22 people living at this address.

The main family is that of Captain Christian Frederik Vanelius, age 52, of the Norwegian infantry, and his wife, Marie Magdalene, 51. Living with them was Marie's mother, Signe, 83, and their seven children: Harald, 22, Ragnhild, 16, Aagodt, 15, Einar, 13, Bergljot, 12, Sigrid, 9, and Axel, 4.

Next on the list is their "tjenestepige," or servant girl, my great-grandmother Mathea, then age 22. She's followed by another servant, Oline, 19. Next is a trade agent and his family of five, two more servants, and another trade agent. My guess is that Captain Vanelius and his family and their two servants lived on one floor, and the others lived either above or below them. 

Gunhild Mathea Johannsen, 22
Oline Martinsdatter, 19
Christian Hefty, 34, lodger, bachelor of laws
Thor Westad, 38, trade agent
Cecilie Westad, 36
Roar Westad, 14
Daniel Westad, 12
Emil Westad, 2
Anne Knudsdatter, 22, servant
Alexander Maalitad, 34, trade agent
Ida Thorsen, 46, no occupation
Oline Kristiansen, 27, servant

On August 25, 2016, the begining of our first full day in Norway, my sister and I set out to find the place where Great Grandma Mathea had lived and worked.

Walking from our hotel, we headed north across the Akerselva River and into Great-Grandma Mathea's neighborhood. You could tell that this was once a pretty nice part of the city.

It wasn't long before we found it, Number 77, now home to Texas Grill og Pizza!

The apartments are accessed through the side gate and around the back, where there was what was once probably an elegant courtyard.

Through the gate...

And around back to the door leading into the apartments

Jeanne standing in Mathea's doorway

Of our two weeks in Norway, and visiting so many family sites, this was one of only two where we were able to see the actual home in which our ancestors lived. All of the rest are long gone and replaced with newer buildings. So it was exciting to peer through the window. How many trips up these very stairs did Mathea take, I wonder? What was her daily routine? And what were her relationships like... with her employer, the children, the other servant, neighbors elsewhere in the building, and the shopkeepers along the street? 

And what must their home have looked like? Well, thanks to the Norske Folkemuseum, a collection of historical dwellings taken from all over the country, we had a pretty good idea. Among those dwellings is an apartment building, each apartment decorated as it might have been in each decade from the 1870's until today.

Of particular interest was the 1870's apartment, as this would have been just after Mathea's time as a servant around the years of 1865. This apartment's design, typical of an upper-class family living in Oslo at the time, was inspired by descriptions of the home in Henrik Ibsen's play A Doll's House. Suddenly Mathea's world came alive as I pictured her moving throughout this apartment.

Dining Room

Dining Room


Servant's quarters

As we concluded our visit to 77 Thorvald Meyers Gate, we ate out front at the Texas Grill and Pizza. However, nothing remotely Texan was on the menu. Instead, we had this Mediterranean pita sandwich - a delicious yet ironic end to our step back in time.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Great-Aunt Inga: Love in Her 40's

Inga Oritzland/Orsland Colby

My grandfather’s family came to America in three waves: 1886, 1888, and 1889.

His sister, Brønla Torbjørnsdatter (who later changed her name to Hilda Hovick, 1863-1950) bravely came over by herself in 1886 to see if America really lived up to all the hype that they heard in Norway. She went to live with their mother's brother Bård Nilssen Oritzland (by then going by the name of Barney Orsland, 1851-1927), who farmed outside of Linn Grove, Iowa. It turned out that America offered so much more than their poverty-stricken lives in Norway, so after two years of work, she was able to send enough money home for half of the family to join her. 

My grandpa was Tjerand Torbjørnsen (who later changed his name to Charles Hovick, 1873-1948), and at the age of 15, he was part of that second wave in 1888. With him were his older brothers Nils Torbjørnsen (who later changed his name to Nels Hovick, 1868-1942) and Andreas Torbjørnsen (later Andrew Hovick, 1871-1957), and their aunt, Inga Nielsdatter Oritzland (1848-1931).

Inga was a younger sister of their mother (and my great-grandmother) Inger Nielsdatter Oritzland (1838-1924). The two sisters decided that Inga would shepherd the second wave, and as soon as there was enough money (1889), Inger would follow with the remaining children: Esther (born Astrid, 1865-1945), Tom (born Torger, 1875-1967), and Ida (born Inga, 1878-1956).

More information on Inger and Inga's family can be found reading Inger, Inga, and the Family of Aursland Farm

Inger and the boys arrived in New York on June 23, 1888. The ship's passenger list has her listed as Inga Torbjørnsen (line 8, below). I assume that they found it easier to travel under the same surname. She was thirty years old, and listed as a spinster (dreadful word!).

They joined Hilda and Barney in Iowa. In 1903, Inger and her family, reunited since 1889, moved to Madison, Minnesota. However, Aunt Inga didn't move with them. So what had become of her? No stories about her had been passed down. So I got to work, and slowly, I've been able to piece together the rest of her life.

It turns out that the reason Inga stayed in Iowa was because she had gotten married! She had met a Norwegian-born widower four years her junior, named Thore Thorerson Colby (1853-1917). Thore had been married to Eliza Johanna Newgard (probably born Elise Johanne Johannesdatter Nygard in Norway in 1856).

Married in 1883, they had five children: 

a.  Ella Marie Colby Olson (1884-1974)
b.  Carl Johan Colby (1885-1965)
c.  May Theodora Colby (1887-1951)
d.  Johannah Martina Colby Wellmerling (1889-1977)
e.  Nora Anetta Colby Carlson (1891-1987)

His first wife Eliza died in 1892, when their children ranged from eight to less than a year old.

Here is a photo of Thore and his five children, perhaps taken in 1893.

Ella, Mae, Nora, Thore, Johannah, Carl

Two years later, on March 8, 1894, Inga, who by now, like her brother, had traded Oritzland for Orsland as her surname, married Thore Colby at Den Norsk Evangeliske Lutherske Menighed (the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church) in Sioux Rapids. (The marriage record incorrectly says that this was his first marriage.)

Ella, Carl, May
Thore, Johannah, Nora, Inga
I do hope that she married for love, and not just because Thore needed help with the children. But it seems to have been a good fit. Helping care for her sister Inger's seven children seems to have prepared her well for motherhood, for her step-children speak lovingly about her in her beautiful obituary (below).

The family built a farm in 1900, which has since been torn down.

Thore died in 1917.

At the age of 77, Inga (line 94, below) is listed in the 1925 Iowa Sate Census as the head of household, and living in Sioux Rapids on First Street with her brother Barney, age 71, and her step-daughter May, age 37. 

In the 1930 United States Census, she is 82 (line 25, below) and still living with May, now 42. 

She passed away the following year on August 28, 1931.

Inga Orsland Colby
[Note: I found this posted on However, no information on the newspaper or date of publication was included.]


Mrs. Inga Colby nee Orsland was born at Skjold, Norway on March 8, 1848. As an infant she was grafted into Christ in holy baptism and later she was instructed and confirmed. Her childhood and youth were spent in her native land.

In the fall of 1888 she emigrated to the United States. Here she was received by her brother, Mr. Barney Orsland, who then resided near Linn Grove. In the fall of 1894 she was united in marriage to Mr. Thore Colby. It became her duty to mother five children, the youngest of which was three years of age. She proved herself worth of the name Mother: the children all cherished her memory as their real mother.

In the year 1914 she moved to Soo (sic) Rapids, where a new home had been built. Here she resided until her departure from this life. Her husband departed this life on July 31, 1917.

The departed had not been in the best of health for many years. During the past five years, she has been practically an invalid. Her daughter Mae, made her home with the departed during the last years of her life. She very ably and lovingly ministered to her mother’s wants. On August 28th at 1:15 p.m., she passed away peacefully at the age of 83 years, 5 months and 20 days.

The following are left to mourn her departure: Mr. Carl Colby, Linn Grove; Mrs. Alfred Olson and Miss Mae Colby of Sioux Rapids; Mrs. H. A. Wellmerling of Rembrandt and Mrs. H. Carlson of Lansing, Iowa. The deceased came from a large family of children, most of who have gone before. One brother, Erik Orsland and one sister, Mrs. Aasa Borgenvick reside in Norway. There also remains a number of nieces and nephews who cherish her memory.

The departed loves the church of God. She was always in attendance at church services even after she needed assistance to do so. Her place at the communion table was never empty. She spoke little to anyone of her relations to God, but when she spoke she revealed a humble spirit, that felt unworthy of Christ and his Grace. She appreciated the excellent care she received during her helplessness. She said at times, “I am receiving the best of care.” Those who have called her mother, today join in thanking the Lord for the blessings bestowed upon them thru the departed and they also united in blessing her memory as one who has filled a mother’s place in their lives.

Funeral services were held Monday afternoon from the Lutheran church, Rev. K. G. Hatlen having charge of the services. Interment was made in the Lone Tree Cemetery.

Thanks, Aunt Inga, for helping to get my grandpa safely to his new life in America!

Inger, Inga, and the Family on the Aursland Farm



My great-grandmother, Inger Nielsdatter Oritzland (1838-1924) had a younger sister named Inga (1848-1931). Growing up in the same house, I'm sure there was more than occasional confusion...


Yes, Mama?

No, I was calling for Inga!


I am guessing that they were close, for years later when Inger, widowed with seven children, decided to move the family to America, Inga came with them. However, after coming to America, Inger moved to Minnesota while Inga stayed in Iowa, and no family stories about her have been passed down. So I was excited to make some discoveries. You can read about them here. But for now, back to Inger and Inga. 

Their parents were Nils Nilsson and Astrid Torgersdatter, owners of the Aursland farm in the parish of Tysvær in southwestern Norway. At some point, the family name evolved into Oritzland and Øritzland. (And for those in the family who came to America, the name further morphed into Orsland.) The family that remained in Norway later moved from the farm to the nearby town of Haugesund, south of Bergen. (Marilyn Monroe’s father came from the area, and there is a statue of her in the Haugesund harbor.)

Haugesund in the west, Aursland farm in the center, and the Håvik farm just to the north

As farm owners, they were in a class well above that of the lowly tenant farmer. When Inger married my tenant farmer great-grandfather, Torbjørn Andorsen in 1862, she took quite a step down the social ladder. She moved from what would have been a relatively nice home to a small, two-room, dirt-floored cottage called Grasdalen, part of the larger Håvik farm, where Torbjørn lived and worked. She must have married for love!

Grasdalen on the Håvik farm

During our visit in August 2016, my sister Jeanne and I were taken to visit the Aursland farm. The original buildings are gone, but new ones have been built upon the foundations of the old.

The stream beside the house, their source of fresh water

Stone shingles from the original farm house


Here is the entry, first in Norwegian, then my translation in English, for Nils’ and Astrid’s family, found in the parish’s bygdebok (farm book). 

A few editorial notes: 

- Inger is listed both here and on her baptismal record as Ingrid.
- The location listed next to the birth year could is sometimes the birthplace, but is often simply where they lived at the time that the history was captured.
Judging by what is included and not included, I am guessing that this information was collected and written down sometime before Inger's emigration in 1889.

Tysvær: Gard og ætt, Vol. 5, p. 459
Farm: Aursland

21. Nils Nilsson f. 1797 på Aursland (10g), d. 1865, g. 1. 1826 m. Ingrid Knutsdatter f. 1803 på Nes (16b), d. 1833, g. 2. 1837 m. Astrid Torgersdatter f. 1811 på Romsaland (32g).

Born av 1. ekteskap:
a.  Marta f. 1828, d. 1828 (8 dagar).
b.  Nils f. 1830, USA, gm. Gurina Nilsdatter Eilerås.
c.  dødfødd gutebarn f. 1833, d. 1833.

Born av 2. ekteskap:
d.  Ingrid f. 1838, Grasdalen u. Håvik (54).
e.  Torger f. 1840, Haugesund, g.1.m. Sina Helene Nilsdtr, 2.m. Gustava Garvik.
f.  Erik f. 1842, Haugesund, gm. Lene Johanna Torsteinsdatter Mykje.
g.  Sigve f. 1845, Haugesund, gm. Alis Torbjørnsdatter Eikeskog.
h.  Inga f. 1848, Haugesund.
i.  Bård f. 1851, flytta i 1867 til Haugesund.
j.  Åsa f. 1854, Haugesund.

Skøyte 1825, skifte 1834.

Astrid Torgersdatter flytta som enkje i 1865 til Haugesund. Der budde ho framleis ti år seinare, som folgekone og med «underhold af Søn». Ti år deretter igjen, i 1885, budde ho hjå sonen Sigve i Møllerveien i Haugesund.


21.  Nils Nilsson was born in 1797 at the Aursland farm (10g), and died in 1865. He was first married in 1826 to Ingrid Knutsdatter, who was born in 1803 at the Nes farm (16b), and died in 1833. Nils married a second time in 1837 to Astrid Torgersdatter, born in 1811 at the Romsaland farm (32g).

Children from the first marriage:
a.  Marta, born and died in 1828, after having lived only eight days
b.  Nils, born in 1830, moved to USA, married Gurina Nilsdatter Eilerås
c.  Stillborn boy, born and died in 1833

Children from the second marriage:
d.  Ingrid, born in 1838, later lived at Grasdalen, part of the Håvik farm (54)
e.  Torger, born in 1840, Haugesund, married first to Sina Helene Nisdatter, married a second time to Gustava Garvik
f.  Erik, born in 1842, Haugesund, married Lene Johanna Torsteinsdatter Mykje
g.  Sigve, born in 1845, Haugesund, married Alis Torbjørnsdatter Eikeskog
h.  Inga, born in 1848, Haugesund
i.  Bård, born in 1851, moved in 1867 to Haugesund
j.  Åsa, born in 1854, Haugesund

A property deed was filed in 1825, and probate occurred after Nils’ death in 1834.

Astrid Torgersdatter moved as a widow in 1865 to Haugesund.  She was still living there ten years later as a pensioner and was “taken care of by her son.” Another ten years later, in 1885, she was with her son Sigve in Møllerveien in Haugesund.

Here's more about the family. It is assumed that each child was born at the Aursland farm. They were all baptized at the nearby Skjold Kirke. The church building from their time is gone now, replaced by one newer. However, they have thankfully kept the foundation of the original. It was very moving to walk up those stairs, knowing that generations of my family had regularly walked them, marking major life events - baptisms, marriages, and deaths.

Nils Nilsson (1797-1837)

Born to Nils Olson (1758-1834) and Inga Eriksdatter (1764-1806) on the Grinde farm in Tysvær parish, Rogaland County, Norway. 
[Reference: Tysvær: Gard og ætt, Volume 5, p. 456]

Astrid Torgersdatter Romsaland (1811-1894)

One of nine children born to Torger Kistoffersen Romsaland (1768-1845) and Åsa Sigvesdatter (1774-1853) on the Romsaland farm in Tysvær parish, Rogaland County, Norway. 
[Reference: Tysvær: Gard og ætt, page 83] 

The Romsalands seem to have been a prominent farm-owning family. We visited the Romsaland farm in August 2016.

d. Inger Nilsdatter Oritzland (1838-1924)

Born on 19 August 1838 and baptized at the Skjold Kirke on 2 September 1838 (line 22 on the parish record, below). 

She was confirmed on 31 October 1852 (line 27, below). 

e. Torger Nilssen Øritzland

Born on 26 August 1840 and baptized on 30 August 1840 (line 24, below). 

He married Sina Helene Nilsdatter on 13 October 1883, and together they had six children. Sina died in 1895, and Torger later married Gustava Olsen, with whom he had four more children.

He died on 23 January 1926, and is buried in Haugesund.

f. Erik Nilssen Oritzland (b. 1842)

Born on 24 August 1842 and baptized on 16 October (line 20, below).

Erik married Lena Johanna Torsteinsdatter (1846-1922) on 26 November 1875 in Haugesund. They had three children.

g. Sigve Nilssen Oritzland (1845-1898)

Was born on 5 July 1845 and baptized on 27 July (line 22, below).

He married Alice Torbjørnsdatter Eikeskog (1851-1907), and they had eight children. One of them, Ditlef Moller Oritzland (1893-1952) came to America and for a time, lived with my grandparents, Charles and Pauline Hovick, at their farm in Madison, Minnesota. Moller, as he was called, ended up marrying a granddaughter of Inger's, making them not only man and wife, but first cousins once removed.

Sigve died in 1898 in Haugesund.

h. Inga Nilsdatter Oritzland (1848-1931)

Born on 8 March 1848 and baptized on 25 April (line 15, below).

For much more on her life, read Great-Aunt Inga - Love in Her 40's.

i. Bård Nilssen Oritzland (1851-1927)

Born on 12 February 1851 and baptized on 23 February (line 2, below).

Bård was the first of the entire family to immigrate to the United States, which he did in 1872 at the age of 21. On 12 March 1885, he married Martha Emily Buland (1859-1919). They settled in Buena Vista County in NW Iowa. When Inger's family, along with Inga, came over between 1886-1889, they first came to live with Bård, who by that time changed his name to Barney Orsland. I need to do some focused research on his life and see what else I can turn up. He died on 27 March 1927.

j. Åsa Nilsdatter Oritzland (1854-1935)

Born on 11 November 1854 and baptized on 16 November (line 12, below).

The only photo that we have of any of Inger and Inga's siblings is this one of Åsa, taken in Haugesund. 

She married Sivert Brogenvik at some point, and passed away in 1935.