Since our return from our trip to Norway we have heard the same question asked: Did you look up your relatives? The short answer is “No”. Even though we might have been interested in doing so, we did not even try.
For many reasons, we do not know the names of any of our Norwegian cousins or where they might live:
- Our great-grandparents emigrated with their extended families. Any people who remained behind were their cousins, meaning that relatives alive today are quite remote to us, fourth cousins or so. The American and Norwegian families have not been in touch since our great-grandparents died in the early-to-mid twentieth century. We have no contact information for any relatives residing in Norway today.
- Our families left when Norway still used the patronymic system based on the given name of one’s father. No one had a surname that we can trace. That changed in Norway only about 1920, long after our families had left. We do not know what names the Norway families chose as surnames. They may not call themselves the same names chosen by those who emigrated—Hjelmstad and Walstad (chosen from farm names in Norway) or Bentsen (chosen from the patronymic of one immigrant’s grandfather).
- Although my husband/tech advisor could have distant relatives remaining in the same Ringsaker region where his family always lived, I do not know where to begin looking for mine. They lived in fishing villages on the numerous islands of Lofoten and Vesterålen. Today, the Norwegian government pays residents to leave these small, remote islands. Where would I look now for relatives?
- Our website displays our family tree back to the 1600′s on many Norwegian lines. No descendants living in Norway have ever contacted us.
That said, I must confess that several Norwegians we encountered on our trip asked us whether we planned to visit relatives. “They would want to meet you!” they said. When we explained we did not know of any relatives, they said that is no excuse.
One shopkeeper strongly advised us to visit the local record repository. He claimed they would identify and locate all our relatives for us within the hour. Really?
We did not try it because we had a tight schedule. Not wanting to miss out on seeing some of the sites on our itinerary, we opted to continue with our trip as planned. But if anyone else in the family visits Norway, it might be fun to try looking up the relatives. They would want to meet you!