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!!


  1. Words escape me! Such wonderful news, and work by you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
    - Mary Lynn

  2. Congrats David! Your search is rewarding and fun to read about. Safe travels next month!