Trial Balloon

Fjord Focus

Posted at 5:30 AM on November 12, 2009 by Radio Heartlander (28 Comments)
Filed under: Guest Bloggers

From the desks of the Heartlanders
Guest Blogger: Anna

Several years ago I won a trip to Norway - round trip airline tickets and a week's stay at a hotel in downtown Oslo! Needless to say, I was ecstatic. A free trip to the land of my ancestors - even if I didn't get outside of Oslo, this was bound to be a grand trip. The Viking ships, the Munch museum, stave churches, Henrik Ibsen, all in a beautiful city. What more could a girl ask for? Well, a girl could ask for friendly locals to show her around. As luck would have it (or more precisely, as the oddities of my family's immigration would have it), I have not-so-distant cousins living back in "the old country" who were as happy to meet me as I was to meet them. Here is the brief saga of me, my cousins, and my brush with the past.

The family story goes that there were a handful of brothers farming a chunk of land in the mountains outside Kongsberg, southwest of Oslo. This being the 19th century, life wasn't so swell if you were a farmer in Norway. So one brother (Abraham) got the bright idea lots of other Norwegians had and decided to emigrate to the United States. He was the "ahead team," if you will - Abraham found a chunk of land in Wisconsin that felt like home, even if it was appreciably flatter than home, and he could see farming would be good there. He wrote back and told his brothers that this was the land of milk and honey (heavy on the milk - they were dairy farmers), and everyone should move to Wisconsin. So the Lower brothers, including my great-grandfather Lars, and their parents Ole and Greta sold the farm, the livestock, everything but a few necessities they could pack in a handcart and walked over the mountains to the fjords to come to America.


Shortly after the others arrived, Abraham went back to marry his sweetheart. He was planning to return after the wedding, but life intervened and he stayed in Norway. Abraham's children in Norway, then, were my grandfather's first cousins; cousins who came to Minnesota to visit when I was a kid and who my grandfather visited in Norway, cousins who sent Christmas cards every year. Cousins who had children and grandchildren that I got to meet on my visit. One of my grandfather's cousins - Esther - was still alive, though by this time in her 90s, when I went to Norway. She spoke no English and I spoke only enough Norwegian to bring greetings from my grandmother and say thank you (hilsen fra Elsie, mange takk), but that was enough, it seemed. The younger generations of cousins - Svein and his daughter Bente - showed me around, fed me several times, and, perhaps most significantly, brought me out to the old Lower family farm, which is still an active farm. It was planted with golden fields of rye while we were there and chickens had replaced the cows of my great-grandfather's family. But this was the same chunk of land where my ancestors had farmed, where they were born, where they grew up and probably ran through the fields when they were children.


I sat and had a picnic lunch of cold waffles and gjetost on their farm. I stood and looked at the mountains the Lower brothers and their parents traversed with their handcart to get to America and felt like I was standing in history. I was connected, directly, to the past. This was the family place, my roots, but not my place because of events in the past - a past that now felt more tangible and real. I was there with family looking at what my great grandfather left behind to start a new life that would eventually lead to me being in the world. It was awesome in the truest sense of the word.

How deeply have you looked into your family's history? What surprises did you find?

Hot off the press from the Radio Heartland staff
Today we have a ticket giveaway! Enter now for a chance to win tickets to see the John Gorka concert at the Cedar Cultural Center, Saturday, Nov. 14th at 8 p.m. Check the rules for details. Hurry, contest closes Friday Nov. 13 at 1 p.m.!

Comments (28)

oh, Anna - thank you for the wonderful description of your trip and meeting your family in Norge. it's almost spooky how my Norwegian grandfather's family story matches yours in the 19th century. my grandfathers mother and one of her sisters left the family farm to come to America, leaving one sister behind. in the early 70s i traveled to the city (Mo i Rana) near the family farm only knowing the last name of my grandpa's cousins. at about 7:30 a.m. we walked into a furniture store (because it had the family name, but so did about 60 other listings in the phone book). at the back of the store sat an older gentleman who looked up over his books. the way he looked over his glasses, the way he set his teeth, his nose, eyes, everything were the spitting image of my grandpa! such friendly, generous people - took us all over to meet more family and fed us about 14 times a day. all of this without even knowing we were coming, not even knowing if we were even who we said we were. wow. thanks for bringing this to the front of my mind this morning.
good morning, All!

Posted by barb in Blackhoof | November 12, 2009 6:18 AM

Greetings! Nice story, Anna. Sounds like you had some synchronicity going for you. winning that trip and all. Lovely!

I haven't looked into my family history, but I remember that feeling when I went on a trip to Washington, DC when I was a teenager. Visiting the White House and Mount Vernon, I felt history come alive for me outside of the dry facts we learned in class.

Posted by Joanne in Big Lake | November 12, 2009 6:22 AM

Thanks for the blog entry!

I was away in Chicago recently, where I got ill. Just getting back into the swing of things. Anyway, that's why I was absent.

Have never really gotten too deep into the family history, so nothing interesting to tell here. I remember my grandfather singing in Swedish to me. He was straight off the boat from Sweden.

Have a great day, all!

Posted by elinor | November 12, 2009 6:30 AM

Thanks for taking os on a trip to Norway, Anna.
Thanks also to Kay, Don, Joanne and Tim (tomorrow) for filling in for me this week.

My brother dug into our family's history and discovered that my grandfather was a twin. He never said anything about it to us, but the story we heard long after he was gone was that the two boys left home to put some distance between themselves and their father, though they went in different directions - one to New York and the other to Indiana!

Quite suddenly, a whole new branch of the family tree was revealed.

Posted by Dale Connelly | November 12, 2009 6:47 AM

What a beautiful story!

A couple of my dad's cousins have done extensive research on that side of the family, and I have done a bit on the rest of the ancestors. It is fun, but as Germans mostly from what was East Germany, even knowing where to go to find ancestral lands has not been possible, and may never be. So many records and places just don't exist.

The amusing bit of history that has been uncovered is that our ancestors were Catholics when they came to Minnesota, but became Lutherans because that was what all their neighbors were. My aunts assure me that my great-grandmother would have been mortified, had she known.

Just goes to show that tolerance is relative, I guess.

Posted by catherine | November 12, 2009 6:52 AM

Amazing trip, Anna! Even better than Pierre.

My father's family came from England. They migrated to Kentucky for the superior whiskey. My dad's cousin likes to tell about a time in his youth that his grandfather (my great grandfather) took him to the Saturday matinee. "Just as the villain was about to clobber the hero, my granddad stood up and yelled, 'The sonovabitch is right behind you!' I slunk down in my seat as far as I could, but the audience applauded Granddad. He ended up being the hero."

Yep - I'm related to that guy!

Posted by Donna | November 12, 2009 7:08 AM

I have relatives in Holland that I might visit some day. My grandparents on my father's side migrated to Wisconsin from Holland with their families when they were young. One of my Uncles did visit relatives in Holland, so I am fairly sure that I would be able hook up with them if I tried.

The vounteer work I did in agriculture for ACDI/VOCA in Eastern Europe and in Bolivia was a little like the experience Anna describes, because as a volunteer I was visiting as guest not as a tourist. I was treated very well on these visit and I now feel that some of the people I meet in these countries are, in some ways, my relatives.

Posted by Jim | November 12, 2009 7:31 AM

You're right Barb - the Norwegians I met were very friendly, and I was amazed with how much my Norwegian cousins did for us just because we were family.

Catherine - maybe the family could use the excuse that Luther started out a good German Catholic, so the switch wasn't so unusual.

Dale - Have you found any of the relatives from the twin?

Joanne - You're exactly right about history coming alive. It really felt "real" what it meant to immigrate and leave home for the unknown standing there on the farm where it started.

Happy Thursday all!

Posted by Anna | November 12, 2009 7:37 AM

I've done a fair amount of family research, even in the days before the internet allowed access to records. A couple years ago, I did a search on my great-grandfather's name, and I came across a posting by someone in Denmark looking for information on his family after he immigrated to America.

Turns out, she was his great-granddaughter, descended from a relationship before he left Denmark. She has been very happy to find her American family, and we have also connected on Facebook.

Interesting parallel, on Tuesday my job was eliminated along with 23 other people where I had worked for 10 years. I posted the news on Facebook, and my Danish cousin responded that times are hard in Denmark too, and that she'd been out of work since January due to cutbacks.

I've got plenty to keep me busy, I'm looking forward to doing something else.

Posted by MIke in Albert Lea | November 12, 2009 7:45 AM

Thanks for the song from Knut Dale! Great tune.

Posted by Anna | November 12, 2009 7:45 AM

A few years ago after googling my dog's pedigree, it occurred to me that I should be looking into my own pedigree/history. I started with the Norwegian side because Ihad a newspaper article about my great-grandparents 50th wedding anniversary that contained several specific details. I joined the Norway discussion e-group to ask for help. Within an hour I got a response with their parents'names, places, farms, census, emigration, wedding, confirmation details. I was astounded and overwhelmed with gratitude. I have since been to Norway twice, found relatives who have visited me. I have visited living Swedish relatives, researched the Germans and have found more relatives than I ever thought I could have.

I love the mystery and puzzle of family history searches.

Catherine, I would not assume there are no records left in the former East Germany. My great-grandfather came from a part of the Austrio=Hungarian Empire that was a German settlement that is now a part of the Czech Republic where the Germans were expelled from in 1948. With help from a professional, we found his family going back to the 17th century and living descendants of his father's sister have written from Germany. If you are interested, you might get in touch with the German genealogy group in MN, or join one of the e-discussion groups...there are several for Germany.

There are many more stories, but...I will restrain myself. Happy thursday all!

Posted by cynthia in mahtowa | November 12, 2009 7:51 AM

Thanks so much, Anna, for an inspiring story. Makes me want to go there! My grandma came over from Oslo when 12 -- her father had lost his job as a fisherman, and they couldn't afford to keep all the children there; she had an Aunt already here, and settled in Roland Iowa (outside of Ames), a true Norwegian colony with just 2 churches, Bergen Lutheran and Salem Lutheran. The Aunt was my dad's "Grandma Duea" and was married to a much older man who was a civil war veteran. I'll stop now, like Cynthia...

Posted by Barbara in Robbinsdale | November 12, 2009 8:11 AM

I have always been more interested in other people's family history stories than my own, which is well mapped and rather dull. Well, not that one in-law of mine who thinks every parcel of his family history should be fascinating to everyone he meets. As a small boy on the North Shore I spent much time with an old Swedish man, whose story of his trip to America at 15 to find work has become a part of my own history. Once wrote it as a story.

Posted by Clyde in Mankato | November 12, 2009 8:14 AM

Anna, as a result of my overseas volunteer work, I also got a better understanding of the dificulties faced by imigrants. One of the most difficult things for immigants seems to be leaving family and friends behind.

I have met some imigrant families where the parents are only here because they want their children to have a better life than they would have if they stayed in a difficult situation in their native country.
These parents would rather be back in their home county if they could go back there.

Posted by Jim | November 12, 2009 8:23 AM

Great postings! It is coincidental that GK wrote about Ellis Island this morning in "The Writer's Almanac." I went to the Ellis Island website to see if one could now electronically look up relatives and you can (of course). I found my grandparents. Fun. Here's the website:

Posted by Doug | November 12, 2009 8:25 AM

My grandmother told me that in 1914, when she was 14 and had just moved to New York City from Hamburg,Germany, she was helping her uncle in his greengrocers shop in Manhattan, when Enrico Caruso came in the shop and was so struck with her blond hair that he made some comment on it and patted her on the head. I don't know why Caruso would be buying his own vegetables, but my grandmother insisted it was true.

Posted by Renee | November 12, 2009 8:27 AM

I should also mention that I don't think Caruso was very tall, and since my grandmother was a strapping six feet tall, he must have had to jump to pat her on ther head.

Posted by Renee | November 12, 2009 8:36 AM

i went to ireland 25 yers ago with my wife and although i had irish ansestory in my family i didn't have interest in looking into it. well ireland is the wrong place to go if you don't care. everyone we met everywhere we went wanted to know what the irish ties were and the names of murphy grimes hines as well as herbison on my mothers side and my own last name which came over from wales to ireland was a kick. they were all excited to tell me what county i came from what town in the county etc. it was a great trip because of the friendly locals. the scenery and beer were greart too but the interest in family made it very memorable.

Posted by tim | November 12, 2009 8:37 AM

Anna, thanks. Evoked many memories of the Norwegian immigrants I knew in their old, old age on the North Shore in the 1980's and even 90's. Must be all that fish they ate. Reminds me of "Lucinda Matlock" by E. L. Masters: "Generate sons and daughters . . . it takes life to love life."

Posted by Clyde in Mankato | November 12, 2009 8:47 AM

Wow - fun stories and remembrances all! North Shore Swedes to Enrico Caruso to more Norwegians and more trips abroad!

Mike - sorry to hear about the layoff. I went through that last year about this time. It was an interesting journey (even without the foreign travel).

Thanks all for the fun reading!

Posted by Anna | November 12, 2009 9:02 AM

Jim, this volunteer work sounds fascinating, and mind expanding. How long ago did you do this?

And thanks for info, Doug, and everyone else for the great stories!

Posted by Barbara in Robbinsdale | November 12, 2009 9:06 AM

The answer to Barb's question is that the overseas volunteer work was spead over a couple of decades with the last trip, to Bolivia, occuring two years ago. I was lucky to get picked to take these trips where I volunteered my time and all my expenses were paid. From my experience, I wouid say any one who can get a deal like this should take it.

Posted by Jim | November 12, 2009 9:22 AM

Dale, you're full of surprises -- I hear you live for the past half hour. What's up? Glad you're back.

Posted by Joanne in Big Lake | November 12, 2009 9:39 AM

Anna -- how was it that you won that trip?? (See what you've done; can you hear the wheels turning?)

Posted by Barbara in Robbinsdale | November 12, 2009 9:42 AM

Jim - what organization were you affiliated with that your expenses were paid to volunteer overseas? I just did some searching to volunteer in Ecuador, but of course, there's a fair amount of money involved. Just curious ...

Posted by Joanne in Big Lake | November 12, 2009 10:03 AM

Barbara - I won the trip through an airline promotion touting non-stops to Oslo done in conjunction with another radio station (that I didn't listen to, but they had entry forms at Bruegger's Bagels...). Didn't figure I'd win, given how full the box was at my local bagel store, but I was one of, I think, 5 winners. And I didn't have to do a thing with that *ahem* commercial radio station besides go and sign some forms for them. Never even met the DJ I was supposedly traveling with. (I had to ask my brother, who does listen some to that station, who they guy was.)

Posted by Anna | November 12, 2009 10:22 AM

Anna - thanks for the great story and the beautiful pictures. I've only gotten to spend one day in Norway (cruise ship port) but we went out to a farm in the country, had a few Norse appetizers... it was lovely.

My own family comes from Britain and Germany. When my great-great grandparents came through Ellis Island, they decided to change their common German name (Rumpf) to something a little "elegant", or so they thought. They took off the "f" and added a "von" as a special flourish. Voila -- Von Rump! My mother says she couldn't wait to marry somebody with a plain old name (Carter)!

Posted by sherrilee | November 12, 2009 10:22 AM

Like Catherine, I have a short tree to trace on my father's side of the family, coming from Germany. The Ellis Island site has a record of my father's entry into America with his parents, brother and sister. He was seven years old when he arrived. The document lists the town the family came from as Volmwinkel. It seems to have been wiped off the map, a casualty of war.

My grandparents met in the orphange where they both grew up, and knew nothing of their parentage. Whatever records may have existed are gone. It's even uncertain whether their surname had any significance, or was simply assigned to them at the orphanage.

Some stories are mysteries!

Posted by Linda in St. Paul (West Side) | November 12, 2009 7:00 PM

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