Saturday, July 30, 2016

Life on Board the Twentieth Century Express, Ltd.

In going through my mother's papers, there was a manila envelope that I hadn't looked in until now. My jaw hit the floor when I realized that it was a third, unpublished memoir by my Aunt Mildred! Dedicated to her "Twenty-First Century Family," it's yet another collection of family stories.

The Three Sisters
Charlotte Hovick Lohman, Mildred Hovick Monge, Signe Hovick Christeson

In the final years of her life, my parents and I would drive down to visit her in Northfield, Minnesota as often as we could. On one particular visit, I so clearly remember her saying, "I picked the most wonderful time to be alive! When I think that our Papa was born in a two-room, dirt-floored cottage... and now, just look at all the progress that I have seen!"

In 1974, in her first memoir, Remember she wrote, "These were the real Horse and Buggy Days we lived in, and for us to have seen these days develop into the Space Age of our retirement years makes us thankful to have been born during this century of progress; the most momentous 50 years of mankind."

That drive to capture the wonders - big and small - that she had seen over her long, well-lived life, resulted in two memoirs that I knew of, Remember and Niblits and Bits. But it turns out that that drive kept her writing into her nineties. Remarkable.

At the age of 93, she closes this collection with this:

After reading this, my hope is that your faith has become stronger, 
your love even deeper, so you can sing with the Psalmist--

'Lord, fill us each morning with your constant love, 
so that we may sing and be glad all our life.

June 20, 2000  11:00 A.M.


But two years later, at the age of 95, she adds a final page:

Psalm 127:3
"Children are a gift from the Lord. They are a real blessing."

Psalm 128:6
"May you live to see your grandchildren." 
A special gift to me as I also see many great-grandchildren.

Final Finis -- June 25, 2002

Mim passed away on 16 November 2003. Mim, your Twenty-First Century family thanks you!

Life on Board the Twentieth Century Express, Ltd.
(click to download)

Friday, July 22, 2016

Torp Times Two

Just when I thought I had it all figured out...

My great grandmother, Gunhild Mathea Johannesdatter, said that she hailed from Drøbak, Norway. But my research revealed that her early vital records are recorded in the neighboring parish of Vestby. Parish boundaries have changed numerous times over the centuries. So what is Vestby today isn't necessarily what was Vestby in the mid-nineteenth century.

The Torp farm that I enthusiastically wrote about earlier this week is in what is now Ås Parish. (The "å" or "a-ring" is pronounced "oh-uh.") Its close proximity to Drøbak seemed to seal the deal. The fact that it was in yet a different, third parish, well, perhaps changing parish boundaries would explain that discrepancy.

Since last posting, I have been trying to learn about "Stokkholm." Referred to in the passage about my family in the Vestby bygdebok, Stokkholm seems to be the sub-farm of the larger Torp farm, on which my family lived and held a lease. Google kept thinking that I wanted to search for Stockholm, Sweden, but I persisted with what seemed like a misspelling.

I eventually did find a Stokkholm farm. But this is where things got complicated. Yes, it's near a farm named Torp, but it is a different Torp! This one is located in yet another parish, Hvitsten.

Multiple farms with the same name are common all over Norway. That is why, in doing research, you need to know the big three: farm, parish, and county. Missing any one of those makes your research so much more difficult.

So which Torp? Ås or Hvitsten?

Arguing for Ås is its proximity to Drøbak. But arguing against it is how far Torp is from Vestby. Could parish boundaries have changed that much?

Arguing for Hvitsten is Stokkholm itself. This is the only Stokkholm that I can find. The fact that it is further from Drøbak (about 13 miles) seems less important at this point. Perhaps it was easier for Mathea to say that she was from the town of Drøbak because it was on the coast, closer to Oslo, and perhaps better known than the inland town of Vestby. Additionally, this Hvitsten Torp is very close to the Vestby parish boundary. It's easy to think that the boundaries could have shifted that little bit over time.

So scratch everything that I wrote about Torp in my last post. I now believe that the Hvitsten Torp is the correct one.

Torp and Stokkholm are about a quarter of a mile apart, now separated by railroad tracks. Looking at the spot with Google Earth, there are no buildings where Stokkholm is indicated, just a forest of pine trees. So what will my sister Jeanne and I find when we get there? Ruins hidden by the treetops? Hopefully at least evidence of a house's foundation. In any case, we leave one month from tomorrow!!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Mathea, Where Art Thou?

I have spent months tracking down Gunhild Mathea, my maternal great-grandmother. We knew very little about her life in Norway, and virtually nothing about her family. This has turned into painstaking labor of love, requiring a lot of unflagging curiosity and patience. And yes, I’ve become completely obsessed.

According to my Aunt Mim’s writings, here’s what we thought we knew about her life in Norway:

  • She was born on 17 October 1844 in Drøbak, Norway.
  • Her father was Johan Johannesen.
  • We didn’t know her mother’s name.
  • She had one sibling – a brother named August.
  • She was a seamstress to the royal court.
  • She was married in 1867 to Niels Pedersen at the Nittedal Kirke. Together they had six children before Niels died in 1876.
  • She then immigrated to America and settled in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, where she married my great-grandfather, Mikkel Braaten.
So, it’s time to put all that I’ve learned to use. My search for the historical Mathea begins.

I began by trying to find a record of her birth in the parish of Drøbak. The town of Drøbak, now with about 11,000 residents, is located in the south of Norway, on the east side of the Oslofjorden which leads into Oslo.

Given the patronymic naming system in Norway, Mathea’s full name should have been Gunhild Mathea Johansdatter (because she was the daughter of Johan). I first searched for her in the database. Nada. Then I searched the scanned record books for births in the parish of Drøbak in 1844. No Gunhild Mathea. So that seemed to be a dead end. So where next to hunt?

I turned my attention to her first marriage. Searching the marriage records for the parish of Nittedal in 1867, I finally found her. The first historical evidence!

Gunhild Mathea Johannesdatter
Nils Pedersen
Married 9 June 1867
See line 14

However, her last name is listed as Johannesdatter, not Johansdatter. Hmm, evidence that her father’s name was Johannes, not Johan.

I next found Mathea and her husband in the 1875 Norwegian Census.

 (click to see the record)

Again, her last name is Johannesdatter, which seemed to be confirmation that great-great-great grandfather’s name was Johannes Andersen, not Johan Johannesen. In addition, this record presented another tantalizing clue. Mathea’s place of birth is listed, not in Drøbak as we thought, but in the neighboring parish to the southeast, Vestby.

So I started all over again, this time searching Vestby. There was nothing to be found in the database (sadly, I'm getting used to that), but combing through the scanned record books I quickly found her birth record. So indeed, she wasn’t born in Drøbak after all.

Gunhild Mathea Johannesdatter
Born 17 October 1844
Baptized 25 October 1844
See line 71

This contains a new piece of information - the name of her mother. Kirstine Andreasdatter. Hello, great-great-great-grandmother. Lovely to meet you! 

Finding this record quickly led to locating Mathea's confirmation record.

Gunhild Mathea Johannesdatter
Confirmed 3 October 1858 (two weeks before her 14th birthday)
See line 26

So her early years are starting to become real. However, all I knew at this point was that she grew up in the parish of Vestby, but nothing more specific. The residences listed in these records were unreadable chicken scratchings that I could not decipher. So where next to turn?

How about her brother August? Perhaps I could find him. So I returned to the church record books. On Aunt Mim’s family tree, he is listed above her, so I assumed that he was older. She was born in 1844, so I started searching in 1843 and worked my way backwards. I got as far back as 1838, finding nothing, so I stopped to regroup. Perhaps he was actually younger than Mathea. So I started again, this time in 1845, working my way forward. And there in 1847 was Carl August, born to Johannes Andersen and Kirstine Andreasdatter. Gotcha! And apparently, like his older sister Mathea, he went by his middle name.

Carl August Johannesen
Born 8 January 1847
Baptized 23 March 1847
See line 23

Then, from 1847, I added 14 years (the average age of confirmation), and sure enough, I found him again.

Carl August Johannesen
Confirmed 29 September 1861 (age 14)
See line 10

Delightful discoveries. Not long after this, I found a descendant of his on who lives in Georgia and who had this very grainy picture of him:

But back the residence question. August's records feature the same dreadful handwriting at Mathea’s <shaking a fist at Thorvald!>). But, there was this word:

Not knowing any Norwegian, it’s impossible for me even venture a guess as to what that word is. But perhaps it starts with an F or a T, followed by an O R P, and then … gobbledygook. Then an idea occurred to me to compare this word with a list of all the farms in Vestby parish to see if there is anything close.

Drum roll, please… This word is Torp! Yes, TORP!! They lived on the TORP farm in Vestby!!! An odd little word, but a major breakthrough.

Now, armed with this knowledge, I could search the bygdebok, or farm book, for the Vestby parish and look under the Torp farm. If I hadn't made this discovery late in the evening, I would have thrown on shoes, grabbed my keys, and headed to the library. Sadly, I had to cool my heels until the next day.

Wilson Library at the University of Minnesota has a respectable collection of farm books (although nothing like the Norwegian American Genealogical Association in Madison, Wisconsin, which I have now visited twice). I knew that the Vestby book was in the U of M’s collection.

So why didn’t I just look in the Vestby book to begin with, you may ask? Well, the Vestby book has about 1,000 pages, and Vestby has about 125 farms. Without knowing on which farm to search, it would have been needle-in-a-haystack time. 

But even now, knowing the farm name, there’s no telling what, if any, information the book would have on my people.

Vestby Bygdebok
Gård og grend gjennom tidene

Vestby Farm Book
Farm and Hamlet Throughout the Ages

But I struck genealogical gold! The book contained only one paragraph on page 740 about my family, but there was oh-so much information crammed into those 175 words.

Vestby Bygdebok

Gård og grend gjennom tidene

I 1829 utstedte Andreas grunnseddel til Johannes Andersen, f. 1797, og h. på deres levetid på plassen Stokkholm mot 12 arbeidsdager årlig eller avh. 3 spd. 2 mark, 12 sk. Denne plassen lå og ligger i den sør-østre delen av gårdsområdet og er i dag en utskilt part, brnr. 4 med sk. 0,5,3.

Johannes døde i 1858. I l. ektesk. g.m. Gunhild Syversdatter, f. 1799, d. 25 Mar 1834, g.2.g. 15 Nov 1834 m. Malene Christensdatter, f. 1792, i 3. ektesk., g.m. Kristine Andreasdatter.

Barn i 1. ektesk:
a.    Jørgen, f. 1819
b.    Reinert, senere i Tuft
c.    Anton, f. 25 Aug 1827, senere i Kra.
d.    Hans, f. 3 Mar 1830, d. før 1858, husm. under Strand, 3 barn
e.    Jørgen, bodde i 1858 på Grøstad
f.     Helene g.m. husm. Ole Olsen, Hauger.

I 2. ektesk. Ingen barn.

I 3.:
g.    Matea, f. 1844
h.    August, f. 1846.

Johannes eide ved sin død en en-etasjes stuebygning og et uthus på plassen, hvis grunnier da var Botolf Olsen, Torp. Bygningstakst 100 spd., gjeld 50 spd.

Thanks to a distant cousin on the Hovick side whom I met on, here’s the translation:

Vestby Farm Book

Farm and Hamlet Throughout the Ages

In 1829, Andreas Botolfsen issued a lease to Johannes Andersen (1797-1858), that during the course of Johannes’ lifetime of living on the location, “Stokkholm,” he would provide 12 work days per year or the amount of 3 speciedaler, 2 marks, and 12 shillings*. This space was located in the southeastern part of the courtyard area, and is today a separated part.**

Johannes’ first marriage was to Gunhild Syversdatter (1799–25 Mar 1834).
a.    Jørgen (b. 1819)
b.    Reinert, who later lived in Tuft
c.    Anton (b. 25 Aug 1827), who later lived in Kra.
d.    Hans (b. 3 Mar 1830, d. before 1858), who was a tenant farmer on the Strand farm and had three children
e.    Jørgen, who lived on the Grøstad farm in 1858
f.     Helene, who married tenant farmer Ole Olsen of the Hauger farm

His second marriage (15 Nov 1834) to Malene Christensdatter (b. 1792), produced no children.

His third marriage was to Kristine Andreasdatter.
g.    Matea (b. 1844)
h.    August (b. 1846)

By the time of his death, Johannes owned a one-story dwelling and an outbuilding on the site. The tenant after his death was Botolf Olsen of Torp. The building was valued at 100 speciedaler, with a debt of 50 spd.

*Speciedaler was a monetary unit used in Norway from 1560-1875. Originally a large silver coin with a weight of about 30 grams. 16 shillings in a mark, 6 marks in a daler.
**This book was published in 1974

So drink all of that in. Mathea's father was married three times, and she and August were products of his third. And the two of them had six half-siblings. Coming from a family where I have four half-siblings, that is pretty cool. 

Another big insight: It was custom that if a spouse died, and if the remaining spouse remarried, the first child born of the same gender as the late spouse would receive their name. So my great-great grandmother Gunhild Mathea Johannesdater was named for Johannes' first wife, Gunhild Syversdatter.

I combed through the church books to find records of these half-siblings' baptisms. Note that there are two sons named Jørgen. However, I only found one of them, but I did find Ole, a son not listed above. So I'm guessing that the writers of the bygdebok just got the name wrong. Here they are in correct birth order:
a.    Jørgen (b. 1819)
b.   Reinert (b. 1822)
c.    Helene (b. 1823)
d.   Anton (b. 1827)
e.    Hans (b. 1830)
f.     Ole (b. 1832)

So back to Torp. I recently discovered They have remarkably detailed maps, not only of the parishes, but of the farms as well.

The following information has proved to be untrue. 
For the latest research results, read this post.

I searched for the Torp farm in Vestby parish in Akershus county, and here is the very place, even including the buildings! I'm guessing that one or a few of them are a sub-farm and referred to as Stokkholm. Like the Hovick side of our family, they lived on Grasdalen, a sub-farm of the larger Håvik farm. 

Those little brown rectangles are the buildings on the Torp farm. Can you stand it? And notice in the far top left corner. Torp is only a few hundred yards from Drøbak. So it now makes sense why she said that she grew up there rather than Vestby.

Thanks to Google Maps Street View, here's what the place looks like now:

Beautiful! My sister Jeanne and I are going to Norway for the first time next month, and yes, we shall definitely be paying a visit to Torp!

Mathea, it look many months of hard work, dead ends and wrong turns, but I found you!!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Norway Research: Tools of the Trade

To begin researching genealogy in Norway, it’s important to understand the geographical divisions in the country.

Norway is broken into 19 counties, which are roughly equivalent to our states. The 19 counties are divided into over 1,000 parishes, equivalent to our counties. And those 1,000+ parishes are broken down into tens of thousands of farms, small towns, or villages.

One major source of information is the huge collection of published genealogy and local history called the bygdebøker, or farm books. They proved to be a amazing source of information on my maternal grandfather's family (the Hovick's), taking me back in some instances, a walloping twelve generations.

But because we lacked vital pieces of information about my maternal grandmother's family (the Braaten's), bygdebøker have provided little help. So I've had to turn my eyes elsewhere.

Vital records (including, birth, baptism, vaccination, confirmation, marriage, moving in and out of the parish, death and burial, as well as more salacious records like public confessions) were kept at the parish kirke, or church. Most parishes had two sets of books, one kept by the pastor – the ministerialbøker, and one kept by the church sexton – the klokkerbøker. Of the ones that I have been spending a lot of time with over the past several months, they range in years from the late 1700’s to the early 1900’s. Each parish has many volumes, each with sometimes hundreds of pages. It’s my understanding that each and every page of all of these books have been scanned and are available online. The scanning and cataloging must have been a staggeringly monumental task.

As an example, here's the record of my grandfather, Tjerand Torbjørsen's baptism from the Skjold parish klokkerbok in the county of Rogaland (line 31 on the top right). (After immigrating, he changed his name to Charles Hovick).

The challenges in searching the scans are many, not the least of which is to decipher archaic (and sometimes downright dreadful) handwriting.

Because of centuries of Denmark’s rule over Norway, the Norwegian language is hugely influenced by Danish. Most church records are actually in Danish. And at use during this time was a Gothic script alphabet.

The handwritten variations of this script are many. Combing through the pages in a particular book, you get used to the handwriting, recognizing the idiosyncrasies of a particular pastor or sexton, who sometimes kept the records for decades.

Over the past many months, I have been spending most of my time looking at record books from the parishes of Skjold (in Rogaland County), Vang (in Hedmark County), and Nittedal and Vestby (in Akershus County). And without a shadow of a doubt, the worst, the very worst handwriting is in the Vestby books. It’s simply maddening. I don’t know who this man was, but I’ve taken to calling him Thorvald. I have been feeling nothing but uncharitable feelings towards Thorvald for months now. 

Here are some of Thorvald’s attempts at writing the name of my great-great grandmother, Kirstine Andreasdatter:

And then there’s utter gobbledygook like this:

After a couple of weeks staring at this, I think that this is the village of “Hvitsten.” Damn you, Thorvald.

Okay, back to research.

Some of the church records have been digitally transcribed and are in a searchable database. But because only a fraction is available in this format, you are much less likely to find what you are looking for. But every now and then I have gotten lucky.

I went into this not speaking a word of Norwegian. One trick I've learned is that when using Chrome, you can right-click on a page and select "Translate to English." The translation is far from perfect, but it does help. And over time, I have learned to recognize key genealogical terms.
  • født = birth
  • døbte = baptism
  • konfirmasjon = confirmation
  • egteviede = marriage
  • død = death
  • innflyttning = moving in
  • utflyttning = moving out
  • fornavn = given name
  • etternavn = surname
  • år = year or age
In addition, Norwegian has three additional vowels:
  • “Æ” or “æ,” referred to as “ash.”
  • “Ø” or “ø,” referred to as “o-slash.”
  • “Å” or “å,” referred to as “a-ring.”
So this is some of what has been occupying my brain space over the past many, many months as the Genealogical Siren has been singing her song to lure me in further and further. 

Stay tuned. Putting all of this to use, I've made a few major breakthroughs in the hunt for my maternal grandmother's family.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Mystery of the Two Martins

I’ve been continuing to research the family of my maternal great-grandfather Mikkel Braaten, slowly piecing together the details of their lives. Starting out on this quest, I had very little to go on. This snippet, summing up everything we knew, is from the family tree that my Aunt Mildred began while she was in college (ca. 1925), now fragile with age:

She wrote about one of the many things we didn't know about this family:

“Presumably one of the sons, Martin, had died, because we see two boys having the same name on the family tree.”

This practice of having two children with the same name was not uncommon in Norwegian families. If a child died, the next child born of the same gender would often get the name of the deceased sibling. So if this were the case here, presumably the older of the two Martins died. However, I have only been able to find the record of one son named Martin (born in 1872) to Mikkel and Anna.

Oddly, the 1880 Federal Census lists two sons named Matthew. There’s a "Matthew" born in 1872 and a "Matthew A." born in 1880. Early census-takers were notoriously bad at accuracy. Since all of the other names in the family are correct, these two boys must be our two Martins.

After much research, I've been able to start filling in the blanks.

Mikkel Mikkelsen Braaten (b. 1 Apr 1834, d. 28 Jan 1901)
Anna Tollefsdatter Tønset (b. 5 Jun 1831, d. 29 Nov 1882)

Their children born in Norway:
Mina Mikkelsdatter Braaten Halden (b. 4 Mar 1859, d. 14 Nov 1928)
Severine Mikkelsdatter Braaten Gorden McCutcheon Kuhn (b. 11 Mar 1862, d. 5 Jul 1940)
Tonette Mikkelsdatter Braaten Thompson (b. 20 Oct 1864, d. ?)

Their children born in Minnesota:
Martin Mikkelsen Brotten (b. 23 Jul 1872, d. 20 Feb 1943)
August Henry Brotten/Broughton (b. 11 Jan 1875, d. 21 Mar 1951)
Anna Marie Brotten Berg (b. 12 Mar 1877, d. 28 Jan 1926)

But still, only one Martin. So, back to our mystery.

Martin the Elder

The boy in the 1880 Census born in 1872 was Martin M. Brotten (he, like others in the family, Americanized his last name). I found him in a number of city directories for their town of Fergus Falls, Minnesota. 

In 1899, at the age of 27, he is living at home and is an employee at the Fergus Falls State Hospital. 

Fergus Falls State Hospital
By 1902, age 30, he is still living at the home farm, but now working as an “artistic photographer.”

A photographer! I imagine it's likely that he took these pictures:

Mikkel Braaten, Martin's father and official street sprinkler for the town of Fergus Falls
Gunhild Mathea Braaten, Martin's step-mother and my great-grandmother
I have, however, been unable so far to find any of his living descendants. I only have two photos each of Mikkel and his second wife Mathea, as she was known. We have no photos of his first wife Anna, nor any of their children. The possibility that old family photos have survived and been passed down is tantalizing! I will continue searching for them.

By 1903, age 31, Martin is married to Anna Lerfald, and they are living on their own. By 1910, age 38, Martin and Anna have started moving west. In the Federal Census that year, they’re living in Stark, North Dakota, and he is still a photographer. By 1920, age 48, they’re in Seattle. Martin has given up photography and is working in the lumber industry as a carpenter. 1930, age 58, finds them in Everett, Washington, where they remain for the rest of their lives. That year he is a mill wright at a saw mill. By 1940, age 67, Martin has retired. And he dies on 20 Feb 1943 at the age of 70.

Martin the Younger

But what about this other Martin on the family tree? I searched the birth and death records for the township of Fergus Falls in Otter Tail County, Minnesota during this entire period, and as I said, there is no second Martin born to Mikkel and Anna.

However, while searching the birth records, I stumbled upon this tantalizing item in 1880:

It's tough to read, so here's a transcription:

So, Martin Alfred born in 1880, much like the “Matthew A." in the 1880 Census. Oddly enough, only the father’s name is listed. However (and I almost passed it by without seeing this), squeezed in on the line below, as if a third parent to the next child on the list, is Martin M.’s sister Severine!

So I think that I have solved the mystery. I believe that the second Martin was born out of wedlock to Mikkel and Anna’s daughter Severine when she was 18 years old. (Curiously, the father’s last name – Loudfeld – is awfully similar to Martin M.’s wife Anna’s maiden name – Lerfald. Hmm... given the common spelling inaccuracies, is there a connection there?)

My heart breaks for Severine. I can only imagine the shame she endured as an unwed mother. Unlike some of her siblings who married and moved away, she remained in Fergus Falls all her life, She went on to be married and divorced three times, certainly enduring the judgment of her small town all of her life. She died of a stroke in 1940.

And what of Martin? He first appears in the 1880 Census, three months old and living with his mother and grandparents. Sadly, most of the 1890 Census was destroyed in a devastating fire in 1921, so we do not know the whereabouts of either Severine or Martin when he would have been 10. By the 1900 Census, Severine has married her first husband, and they have three children. Martin, who would be 20 by now, is not listed.

 So what became of him? I shall continue the search.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

When Oral Histories and Historical Records Collide

Oral family histories are an irreplaceable treasure. My aunt Mildred captured so much of it in her two memoirs, Remember and Nibblets and Bits. Those of us further out on the family tree will be forever grateful.

And at the same time, human memory is an imperfect thing. And what we thought was true doesn't always line up with the historical record. So I am learning as I try to research my maternal grandmother's father, Mikkel Braaten. 

My grandmother, Inger Pauline Braaten Hovick (1884-1975), and I have something in common. Both of our parents were first married and widowed, and we are each the product of our parents' second marriage.

For Grandma, the story goes that her father Mikkel and his first wife, Anna or Anne Tønset, had seven children back in Norway. Anne died of cancer, and a grief-stricken Mikkel took the children and immigrated to the United States, settling near Fergus Falls, in northeastern Minnesota. Mildred paints an emotionally vivid picture of that painful trip.

I've been spending the past several weeks trying to piece together a paper trail of their lives, searching both American and Norwegian records. Even now after some considerable research, I still don't have birth dates for all of Mikkel and Anne's children, but of the ones I initially knew, the last was 1875. But wait. The Minnesota State Census in that very year has Mikkel living near Fergus Falls with a woman named Minnie and five children! Now, both can't be true. It's inconceivable that Anne could give birth and die, the rest of the family immigrate and settle in Minnesota, all in time to be captured by the 1875 census-takers.

And for cryin' out loud, who on earth is this Minnie woman?! Well, perhaps "Minnie" could be "Annie." The old census-takers are notorious for simply writing down what they thought they heard, not bothering for accuracy. And when I later found record of children born to Mikkel and Anne here in Minnesota after 1875, the pieces fell into place.

Anne did not, in actual fact, die in Norway! She and Mikkel and three children came over together. Once here, they had four more children before Anne's death in 1882. I found her grave in Fergus Falls.

So this seminal family story, filled with such heartache, well... it didn't happen.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Bygdebok: The Family of the Grasdalen Farm

Before I share what is written about the family living at the Grasdalen ("grass valley") farm, let me put this into some geographical context. As I wrote about in my last post, Norway is broken into nineteen counties and over a thousand parishes. Each parish is then broken into farms. And sometimes farms are split into sub-farms. That is the case with where my grandfather was born.

My grandfather, Charles Hovick (born Tjerand Torbjørnson in 1873) lived with his family (parents, six siblings, two aunts and two uncles) in this two-room house on the Grasdalen farm, which is a sub-farm, part of the larger Håvik farm.

The Håvik farm is in the northwestern corner of the parish of Skjold.

And Skjold parish lies in the county of Rogaland in southwestern Norway.

So when it came time to find out what light could be shed on my family history by the bygdebøker (the historical farm books), I looked to the two-volume set on the Skjold parish.

Gard og ætt

Farm and Family

The chapter on the Håvik farm begins on page 17 of volume I. And here, on pages 31 and 32, in Norwegian, is the information on my family living on the Grasdalen sub-farm. 

GRASDALEN (og kalla Dalen)
Skyldsett i 1955 som bruk 8.

53.     Andor (Anders) Tjerandson (Kjreranson) fra u. Førde i Sveio (147a), f. 1802 u. Berge i Sveio, d. 1846, g. 1827 m. Brønla Torbjørnsdtr f. 1800 pa Årek (10n), d. 1861.

a. Tjerand f. 1827, d. 1827 (½ time).
b.  Tjerand f. 1829, d. 1854, ug.
c.  Torbjørn f. 1833, Grasdalen u. Håvik (54).
d.  Siri f. 1836, d. 1922, ug. (skredderske/fattiglem).
e.  Rasmus f. 1843, Grønnemyr u. Bjerga (29) og Hatlastad (38).

Andor kom flyttande hit som «TienesteKarl» eit par månader før han og Brønla gifta seg i 1827. Brønla var søster til Ariel Torbjørnson, ein av gardbrukarane her.

Det blei halde skifte etter eldste sonen Tjerand i 1855. Auksjonen over det han åtte, hadde innbrakt-nesten 55½ spesiedalar. Denne summen blei ikkje redusert med meir eon vel 8 dalar under skifteforretningen. Ungkaren Tjerand Grasdalen åtte seks verer, ein sau og eit svart saulam då ban dødde. Han var elles godt utstyrt som fiskar med m.a. eit par gamle sjøstøvlar, skinntrøye og skinnbukse og sju vårsildegam. Han åtte vidare halvpar­ten i ein fiskebåt med segl og «øvrigt Tilbehør». Båten hadde ein verdi på 14 dalar, sildegama kom opp i 12½ dalar.

54.     Torbjørn Andorson f. 1833 i Grasdalen u. Håvik (53c), d. 1881, g. 1862 m.
Inger (Ingrid) Nilsdtr f. 1838 på Aursland (21d).

a.  Brønla f. 1863, flytta i 1887 til Iowa, USA.
b.  Astrid f. 1865, flytta i 1887 til Haugesund.
c.  Nils Andreas f. 1868, flytta i 1888 til USA.
d.  Andreas f. 1871, flytta i 1888 til USA.
e.  Tjerand f. 1873, flytta i 1888 til USA.
f.   Torger f. 1875, flytta i 1887 til Hauge­sund.
g.  Inga Serina f. 1878, flytta i 1887 til Hau-gesund.

Torbjørn er allereie i 1855 nemnd som husmann i Grasdalen. Først sju år seinare, etter at mora var død, gifta han seg. I 1865 heldt han og kona Inger tre krøte_r og 19 sauer på Grasdalen-plasset. Dei hadde satt 1¾ tønne havre og 2½ tønner poteter. Ti år seinare var buskapen auka til tre-fire kyr eller ungfe, 16-20 sauer og fire geiter. To av kyrne; 12 av sauene og alle geitene heldt Torbjørn i foster for andre. På åkerteigane sine hadde plassfolket i 1875 sått halvanna tønne havre og same potetmengda som ti år før. Av dette rekna dei med å hausta åtte korntønner og ti potettønner.

Torbjørn og Inger heldt to tenarar i 1865. Tenesteguten var 15 år og heitte Bård Nilsson. Åsa Nilsdtr var «Barnepige». Begge to var sysken av Inger. Dei to andre som budde på plasset, Rasmus og Siri, var sysken av Torbjørn. Rasmus var skulelrerar og Siri skreddar.

Torbjørn var delvis «Fattigunderstøttet» i l 875, sjølv om han berre var vel 40 år. Kan henda var det sjukdom som v􀀡 skuld i at han måtte ha hjelp utanfrå. Berre seks år seinare døydde han før 50 årsleitet var nått. Enkja Inger flytta i 1887, saman med nokre av boma, til Haugesund. Andre av dei drog til Amerika. Dottera Brønla budde elles alt i 188 5 i Haugesund. Ho arbeidde «for løn hos Skipsreder Halvor H. Wiig».

Thanks to Solveig at the Norwegian American Genealogical Association & Naeseth Library who translated this for me. A few words on how to interpret this information: 
  • Each number indicates a nuclear family. So number 53 below is the record of Andor and Brønla (my great-great grandparents) and their five children; number 54 is of Torbjørn and Inger (my great grandparents) and their seven children. 
  • There is no indication that number 52Anders and Alis are in any way related to my family. I believe that they were simply the prior occupants of the house. 
  • Children are assigned letters in order of birth (oldest = a, second-oldest = b, etc.).
  • There are parenthetical references throughout to numbers and letters. Because one person can be both a child in one nuclear family and a parent in another, this is the system for making those connections. For instance, in family number 53, Andor is the father. As indicated, he will also be found in the Sveio parish on the Førde farm as the oldest child of family number 147 "(147a)." His wife Brønla will be found in the same parish on the Årek farm, the 14th child (!) of family number 10 "(10n)."
  • A hussman translates to a cotter, a tenant farmer with a lease to the land.
So many stories of joy and sadness are only hinted at in the few short paragraphs of this historical record. And yet I have such profound gratitude that even these hints have survived!

Skjold: Gard og Ætt, I

Skjold: Farm and Family, Volume I

GRASDALEN (also called Dalen) under Håvik

53.  Andor (Anders) Tjerandson (Kjæranson) from the Førde farm in Sveio (147a), was born in 1802 at the Berge farm in Sveio, and died in 1846. In 1827 he married Brønla Torbjørnsdatter, who was born in 1800 at the Årek farm (10n) and died in 1861.

a. Tjerand born and died 1827 (lived for ½ hour).
b. Tjerand born 1829, died 1854 unmarried.
c. Torbjørn born 1833, Grasdalen under Håvik (54).
d. Siri born 1836, died 1922, unmarried (tailor/pauper).
e. Rasmus born 1843, Gønnemyr under Bjerga (29), and Hatlastad (38).

Andor moved here as a hired-hand a couple of months before he and Brønla married in 1827.  Brønla was the sister of Ariel Torbjørnson, a farm operator from here.

In 1855, probate was held for their son Tjerand. The auction of his belonging brought in almost 55½ spesiedaler*. This sum was only reduced by 8 dalar** according to the probate records. Tjerand Grasdalen owned six rams, a sheep and a black lamb when he died. He also had good fishing equipment, which included a pair of old rain-boots, leather jacket and pants, and seven spring-herring nets. He also owned half of a fishing boat with sail and accessories. The boat was valued at 14 dalar, and the herring nets at 12½ dalar.

54.  Torbjørn Andorson was born 1833 in Grasdalen under Håvik (53c) and died in 1881. In 1862 he married Inger (Ingrid) Nilsdatter, born 1838 at the Aursland farm (21d).

a. Brønla born 1863, moved in 1887 to Iowa, USA.
b. Astrid born 1865, moved in 1887 to Haugesund.
c. Nils Andreas born 1868, moved in 1888 to USA.
d. Andreas born 1871, moved in 1888 to USA.
e. Tjerand born 1873, moved in 1888 to USA.
f. Torger born 1875, moved in 1887 to Haugesund.
g. Inga Serina born 1878, moved in 1887 to Haugesund.***

In 1855, Torbjørn was already referred to as a cotter at Grasdalen. Seven years after the death of his mother, he married. In 1865, he and his wife Inger had three cows and 19 sheep at the Grasdalen place.  They planted ¾ barrel**** oats and 2½ barrels potatoes.  Ten years later the stock had increased to 3-4 cows, 16-20 sheep and 4 goats.  Two of the cows and twelve of the sheep and all of the goats Torbjørn took care of for others. In 1875, they had planted 1½ barrels of oats and the same amount of potatoes as ten years earlier.  Of this, they calculated they would harvest eight barrels of grain and ten barrels of potatoes. 

Tobjørn and Inger had two hired-hands in 1865. A fifteen-year-old boy named Bård Nilsson and Åse Nilsdatter the “baby-sitter.”  Both were Inger’s siblings. The two others who lived on the place, Rasmus and Siri, were Torbjørn’s siblings. Rasmus was a school teacher and Siri a tailor.

In 1875 Torbjørn was supported by welfare even though he was only 40 years old. It could be that illness was the reason he needed outside help.  Six years later he died, right before his 50th year. In 1887 his widow Inger moved to live with some of her children in Haugesund. Some of the others went to America.***** Their daughter Brønla was living in Haugesund in 1885. She was employed by the ship builder Halvor H. Wiig.

an archaic monetary value
**  another monetary value
*** details on how their names were altered and Americanized are here
**** 1 barrel = about 4 bushels
***** the widowed Inger and all her children immigrated between 1886-1889.