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.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for all the work you are doing to remind us of our roots. I think it is important to know where we come from. So, thank you very much.