As I mentioned in my last post, Norway is an important place for me. Although I am not 100 percent Norwegian (or even close to it), it is the part of my heritage I identify with most — likely because my last name is Norwegian and I grew up in Minnesota, where some 850,000 people are reported to have Norwegian heritage and you can buy lutefisk at the grocery store. While we didn’t have many Norwegian traditions, remnants of the old country did surface occasionally: My grandfather, Owen, and his cousin, Norin, would routinely recite the Lord’s Prayer in Norwegian before meals, and everyone on my dad’s side of the family loses their minds if you forget the lefse at Christmas (myself included).
About 15 years ago, my parents and grandparents visited Norway for the first time. While they were there, they met some distant cousins who still lived on the land that my great great great great great great grandfather bought in 1733. I remembered that they kept in touch for a while after the trip, and asked my parents for contact information. All they had was a mailing address. So, a month and half before our trip, I sent a letter. Having no idea if they still lived in the same place, I tried not to hold out too much hope. Then I got an email.
My distant cousin Ivar (his great great great grandfather and my great great great great grandmother were siblings) wrote me back saying he would gladly show us around the area where our family comes from. We made plans to meet at a gas station in Elverum, a small town about 85 miles north of Oslo.
When the day came, Andy and I rented a car from Oslo and headed north. Finding our meeting place was easy, and we stood around looking like weirdos for about 5 minutes until we made eye contact with a man who also seemed to be looking for someone. (I had no idea what Ivar looked like before this. We later found out that he and his sister found us on Facebook before our visit, so I’m glad one of us was prepared.) We introduced ourselves, and then Ivar took us on a guided tour of the area where our family comes from.
Our first stop was the Glomdalsmuseet just down the street. This mostly outdoor museum displays traditional homes and other farm buildings from nearby areas. The museum is significant to me and my family because the home that my great great great great great great grandfather built in 1735 now exists there. Ivar told me that it was moved from the farm (that his sister Elin now lives on) to the museum in 1919.
We made our way to the house, and Ivar treated us to coffee, tea and some homemade pastries to keep us warm while we talked about our family history. I was amazed at how much he knew, and he was amazed at how little I knew. Luckily, he was happy to fill me in, answer my questions and explain a bit about Norwegian culture and history in the process.
Next, we drove south toward Flisa, where Ivar lives. We saw the area of Valer, where some of my family members have lived, and then we headed to Elin’s home for lunch. Elin made a delicious meal, and we had a chance to spend some time getting to know her, her husband, Bjorn, and their two kids, Martin and Erik (both of whom introduced themselves to us in perfect English). We talked about other family members who live in the U.S., politics, traveling, traditions and other things. Ivar gave me some documents relevant to our family history, and Elin gave me some pointers for the next time I try my hand at lefse. (Last time didn’t go so well.)
After lunch, Ivar, Elin and Erik took us to the three Korsmo farms, where my great great great grandparents Nils and Oliana lived before moving to the U.S. in 1868. In Norway, it was tradition to take the name of the place you live, and some people still do it. It can make tracing family history a bit difficult, though.
Next, we moved on to the church where numerous family members are buried. This was supposed to be the last stop on our tour, but Erik wanted to show us his school. Once we got there, Ivar remembered that the land his school sits on is also where my great great great great great great grandfather (the one who built the house) was born. Thanks to Erik, we had come full circle.
To spend a day with my Norwegian relatives learning about my ancestry in the area where my ancestors came from was an incredible experience that I do not take for granted. I am extremely lucky to have made this connection with Ivar and Elin and her family, and I am so, so grateful to all of them for their warm reception and generous hospitality. It was an unforgettable day. I look forward to learning more about my Norwegian heritage and staying in touch with Ivar and Elin (who are welcome to correct me if I made any mistakes in this post).
Next up, Oslo, Bergen and all of the beauty in between!