Norwegian History

Norway occupies the western part of the Scandinavian Peninsula and shares borders with Sweden, Finland and Russia.  Norway has a long coastline with many fjords that were carved by the last ice age.  The interior mountains still have some of Europe’s largest glaciers.  Only approximately 3% of Norway can be cultivated.  Just over 27% remains forested, though acid rain, caused by pollution from Western Europe, is causing significant damage.  Natural wildlife includes reindeer, wolves foxes and lemmings.  Many of Norway’s 30,000 Lapps still live a nomadic life in the far north, herding reindeer.  These very hardy people who consider themselves the “true” Norwegians because they lived on the land many hundreds of years before the migration started.  They preserve their own language and customs which has caused issues with the Norwegian government on occasion.  The limited amount of productive farmland has forced Norwegians to look to the sea.  The commercial fishing industry plays an important part in both the economy and the social fabric of the nation.  Also, the oil discovery in the North Atlantic firmly cements Norway to it’s liquid neighbor.

Almost 200 square miles (over 500 sq km) of Norway lies north of the Arctic Circle, but the country’s western coast remains ice-free all year.  Oslo, Bergen and Drammen have the same approximate seasons and temperatures as Anchorage, AK.  Western Norway enjoys a surprisingly temperate climate thanks to the warm waters of the Gulf Stream.  The conditions are more extreme as you move north into the mountainous inland regions, and the northern highlands suffer Arctic conditions.  Like Alaska, Norway is at its best and brightest from May to September, and its worst between November and March when average temperatures are below freezing.  Midnight-sun days, when the sun never drops below the horizon, extend from 14 May to 30 July in the far north.  Even southern Norway, has daylight from 4 am to 11 pm around the summer solstice.   

The country is divided into nineteen counties (fylker, or amts in the old language).  Each county consists of local administrative units called a 'kommune', of which there are a total of 440.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church is the Norwegian state church, and it is supported by Norwegian taxes.  The diocese (bispedomme) is roughly equivalent to the county, although there are only ten dioceses.  The diocese consists of parishes (prestegjelder), equivalent to the kommuner, and sub-parishes called (sogn) where more than one church exists in a parish.  These clerical districts are primary sources of family history records, and important divisions of census data. 

Norway is a land that was sculpted by the great glaciers of the Ice Age.  The rugged mountains are solid rock with rounded peaks that have been ground down by the relentless pressures and passage of glaciers.  Deep valleys descend from the mountain tops which are filled with sea water hundreds of miles inland from the coast.  These fjords were home for the first settlers who arrived over 10,000 years ago at the end of the Ice Age.  These people were “hunters and gatherers” and followed the glaciers as they retreated northward in their pursuit of the migrating reindeer herds  The country’s greatest impact on history was during the Viking Age.  This period thought to have begun with the plundering of England’s Lindisfarne monastery by Nordic pirates in 793 AD.  Over the next century, the Vikings made raids throughout Europe, establishing settlements along the way.  Some of these settlements evolved into trading centers where goods from all over the world was exchanged.  Viking leader Harald Fairhair unified Norway around 900 and King Olaf, adopting the religion of the lands he conquered - Christianity - a century later.  The Vikings were great sailors and became the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean.  Eric the Red, the son of a Norwegian exiled to Iceland, colonized Greenland in 982.  In 1001, Eric’s Icelandic son, Leif Eriksson, became possibly the first European to explore the coast of North America when he sailed off course on a voyage from Norway to Greenland.  However the Viking Age came to an end in 1066 when the Norwegian king Harald Hardråde was routed at the battle of Stamford Bridge in England.

In the 13th century Oslo emerged as its center of power.  It continued to flourish until the mid-14th century, when bubonic plague decimated its population.  In 1380 Norway was absorbed into a union with Denmark, which lasted over 400 years.  In 1814, Norway was ceded to Sweden, and that same year, a defiant Norway – fed up with forced unions – adopted its own constitution.  This was on the 17th of May.  But, its struggle for independence was squashed by a Swedish invasion.  In the end, Norwegians were allowed to keep their new constitution, but they were forced to accept the Swedish king.  Growing nationalism eventually led to Norway’s peaceful secession from Sweden on the 17th of May 1905.  Norwegians subsequently voted in favor of a monarchy over a republic, and selected Prince Carl of Denmark to be king – a man who only spoke French.  Upon acceptance, he took the name Håkon VII, and named his son Olav, both prominent names in Norway’s Viking past.

Norway remained neutral in both World Wars, but was occupied by the Nazis in 1940.  King Håkon set up a government in exile and placed most of Norway’s huge merchant fleet under the command of the allies.  An active resistance movement fought tenaciously against the Nazis, who responded by razing nearly every town and village in northern Norway during their retreat. Much of the city of Voss was destroyed by aerial bombings, and a German training camp was set up outside of Voss.

The traditional rule for the naming of children born in Norway is referred to as “patronymics’  A child is given a first name and a patronymic name, which consists of the fathers first name with an appended “sen” (son also used) or “datter”(dotter or dtr also used in writing).  Thus, if a man named Ole has a son and names him Hendrick, he becomes Hendrick Olesen.  If this Hendrick, later in life, has a son and names him Ole, he would be called Ole Hendricksen.  Or if he had a daughter and named her Guri, she would be Guri Hendricksdatter.  Further tradition required that the first-born son be named for his paternal grandfather.  The second-born son would be named for his maternal grandfather.  A similar procedure was followed in naming first and second born daughters after their grandmothers.  This can be both boon and bane in genealogy research.  A bane because there can be so many of the same name, finding the right person can be a matter of chance; a boon, because the system is predictable. 

Historically, the common unit of settlement in the rural districts of Norway, was the farm (Gard), including the main farm and a number of sub-farms (bruk).  The person who owns the farm is a selveier, and the land he, or she, is using, has a registered deed as proof of ownership.  Way back in history, the Norwegian farm land was owned by the church, the crown, or other landowners, but as early as 1660, a fifth of the farm land in Southern Norway was held by a selveier.  The next century the selveier share of the farm land increased, and the selveier system spread to Western Norway and Trøndelag.  In Northern Norway, this transition took place after 1850.  On the owner's demise, the farm was deeded to his eldest son.  The farms also had a number of tenant farmers (leilendinger).  The leilending didn't own the land but was granted its use through a lease contract.  The leilending was generally a couple and the lease was good for his or her lifetime.  The biggest threat was the death of either the husband or the wife, since there had to be a "couple" on the farm; consequently, remarriages were very common in the leilending system.  In most cases a leilending couple could let offspring inherit the land, but a new lease contract had to be registered.  Another category of tenant farmer was the husmann, or cotter (crofter is also used.)  The farm land they used was never registered as separate units, and their houses stood on land that belonged to a selveier, or was leased by a leilending.  Their lease was for a limited time, and in most cases, the husmann was a couple.  There were husmann med jord (cotter with farm land) who had houses and some land to use.  There were husmann uten jord (cotter without farm land) who had houses, but no land to use, although the couple might own a cow and a few sheep.  Another category of tenant was the innerst.  They were roomers; typically newlyweds, seasonal workers, or very poor, sick, or old persons. 

Another tradition was the old law of primogeniture (odelsrett), which gave the exclusive right of inheritance of an estate, to the eldest son.  In the case of farmers (peasants of old) the estates were generally small farms, with limited arable land, and the families were large.   The estates were often burdened with debt, which the eldest son also inherited, along with an obligation to care for his brothers and sisters properly, and to provide for the retirement of his parents with food, shelter and an annual allowance.   There was rarely enough cash or personal property on hand for the other children to find financial independence elsewhere, and, in the early 1800's,  the labor market was so overstocked that strong young men could hardly find work for more than five dollars and clothing a year.  This presented a daunting challenge for the eldest son, a bleak future for the other children, and is one of several root causes for emigration to America.



Norwegian Current Times

All of us know that our Great-Great-Grandfather was born and spent most of his life in Norway before moving to the USA.  One of the purposes of my coming to Norway was to get a better idea of him and his birth country.  Norway is a fascinating place, and it has been rated by the UN as the highest standard of living in the entire world.  Norway politicians boast that they are creating a classless society, and I believe they are well on their way in accomplishing that goal.  I have much of that great country, and I have never seen a ghetto, homeless, beggars, or anyone in tattered or soiled clothing.  No one goes hungry in Norway!  Everyone has a place to live in Norway!  Every soul has health care and an ample retirement!  I saw a public spectacle only once – in Lillihamer in the tourist section where two Germans were inebriated publically.  No one drinks in public, and, certainly, Norwegian behavior is very, very proper!  The fable that Norwegians are a drunken, sexually promiscuous, and generally hedonistic group was created by the US beer companies to sell their product.  Not that drink and sex are not part of the culture.  They are, but not in excess…

Generally, the Norwegian people are very proper, self-reliant, stoic, conservative, staid, law abiding, stubborn to a fault, self regulating with a strong attitude of inflexibility.  Maybe “inflexibility” should be replaced with a word that indicates a difficulty in changing and adjusting to new things.  These characteristics have caused them issues in the past as they have lagged behind as the rest of the world as mankind has progressed with the advances we have come to know and love.  The first example is that most of the farmers did not use farm machinery for a very long time.  They thought that horses worked for years, so why change.  (BTW, horses used to live “with” the rural families in the family compounds up until mechanization took over farming.  They had their stalls next to the main house.  All of the other animals were away from the family compound.)  Another example is mining.  When silver was discovered the mining operation was done by hand, and animals.  It took the Germans to show the Norwegians the modern mining techniques.  This process made the Norwegians the “slave labor” in their own country with the Germans as the overlords.  This, along with the deep scares of WWII, has caused a deep resentment toward Germany and the German people with most Norwegians.  A close second are the Swedish.

The Norwegians who work in the tourist areas are very nice and warm as they have learned that a smile to travelers often translates into money in their pockets.  Most speak English very well.  I had an interesting experience in the Norwegian Folk Museum in Oslo.  A Norwegian woman tried to ask a German woman a question.  The German did not know Norwegian and the Norwegian did not know German.  But, both knew English.  It was very interesting to eavesdrop on their conversation as they solved the problem in English. About a week later I had dinner with a Norwegian couple.  He works for a very large Norwegian shipping company which has 86 offices all around the world.  All of the business is done in English – all correspondence, meetings, contracts, conversations, emails, etc are in the English language.  It is the most common business language in the world today. 

Anyway, away from the tourist areas the people are not all that warm and friendly as I mentioned above, and they are weary of strangers.  For instance, I was a little surprised to find out that it is considered rude to wave or say “Hi” to a stranger, even a neighbor who has not been introduced.  It is OK to thank another who has done a favor for you such as letting you into traffic, etc, but no general “hi” as you greet a stranger.  The only people who would say “hi” or talk to me on hiking trails and non-tourist locations were fellow travelers.  It seemed very strange to me that the friendly folks were fellow travelers. 

Another cultural issue I had was when I was buying a ticket to board the ferry in Western Norway.  As the ticket agent was processing my charge card, I said, “How are you doing today?”  I noticed that the elderly woman blushed and looked down.  I thought that was a little unusual for such a casual comment.  On the ferry the man standing behind me in line to buy his ticket came up to me and asked if I knew what I said to the woman.  I said that I was just passing the time as she was getting my ticket.  He said that in Norway, this was a pick-up line.  I think my jaw dropped into the water!  He said that it would have been OK if I said, “How is your day” or “Is your day going OK”, but when I used the word “you” I was actually telling the woman that I was romantically interested in her.  It is amazing what one little word can change…

Another huge modern Norwegian issue is immigration.  Norway is inundated with legal and illegal immigrants from war-torn countries – Afghanistan, Iraq, Georgia, Bosnia, etc.  In addition, lots of people from Turkey, Poland, Greece, Morocco etc have come to Norway for a better life.  It is no different in USA, Great Britain, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, New Zealand, Holland, Austria, Spain, Portugal, etc.  All have toughened their immigration laws as a way to try to deal with this troubling and resource draining problem.  The Norwegian government has the same issues that all western countries have – people come for a holiday and never go home.  In some cases, the foreign governments have granted exit visas to their criminal elements as a way to rid the home country of problems.  China has granted exit visas to a lot of the criminally insane.  Norway has a huge problem with Chinese Mafia – the vast majority who has immigrated into Norway in the past 5-10 years as the Chinese government has selectively emptied some of their most secure prisons filled with dangerous career criminals.  I guess the Chinese learned a lesson from Fidel Castro. 

Like those who have crossed the borders into the USA, these folks are usually the uneducated with limited, if any, job and/or life skills.  As in the US, most have integrated into the Norwegian way of life well, but there is a significant percentage that has not.  Norway is now trying to deal with gangs, organized crime, etc like no other time in their history.  But, there are more subtle problems, also.  For instance, most of the men from Afghanistan, Iraq, Georgia, Bosnia, Turkey, Poland, Greece, Morocco, etc will not talk to women even if the woman is a member of the police, physician, bank employees, teacher or governmental employee.  Women are fully integrated into Norwegian society, so you can imagine the problem this causes.  A ruckus usually starts when a woman gives a man an “order” (directions on how to fill out paperwork, how to make a bank deposit, how to fill out a job application, issuing a traffic citation, etc).  Young men will not take direction or even talk to female teachers or will push women (no matter how old) out of the way to get in front of them in a queue.  They are punished by their fathers if they show respect to women.  It seems so strange to us, but it is part of their old life back in their home countries.  It is easy to understand the resentment and anger generated in the brother, son, father or husband of those  who  are treated in this way.  And, some very sad circumstances when the girls who adapt to the western way, wear western style clothes, go in public without scarves, or admit to kissing or holding hands with a boy.  There is great violence against these women in these sad cases.  It is even worse for a wife to actually talks to her husband as an “almost” equal.  This act would generate a public beating in their old countries.  They are not publicly beaten in Norway, but certainly abused.  This percentage of immigrants want a new life, but they want it in the bounds of their old lives.  This cannot happen. 

Wow, enough of that.  Now, back to Great-Great-grandfather Kristensen…  I did some research here and he may have taken the Norwegian “Skau” or “Skog” as his American name.  Also, “Skoger” and “Skauger” are pronounced similarly and translates into “trees” or “forest” – “Skauger” (or the older version, “Schouger”) in older times and “Skoger” in more modern times.  The last two are areas around Drammen where he was born, raised up, married and had children.  People took their location as their second name as was the custom on those times.  There are lots of people named “Skau” and “Skog” in Drammen today.  These names are pronounced the same as “Scow”. 

I visited the communities around Drammen.  Church attendance was required, and there were only two churches in the Drammen area.  I visited the graveyards of both looking for gravestones or any indication of the names.  The gravestones were very old and in general disrepair.  It was exciting, however, to think that my distant relatives actually attended church in one of these churches, probably the one in Skoger, which is a farming area near Drammen.  I did not see any stones with Kristenson in that church burial ground.  I was very hopeful with the one in Skoker as the church has been there  since the 1300s.  Certainly, they would have attended there.  The older gravestones were very weather beaten, and the oldest I could find was dated 1824.  I took some pictures of Ulesrud Farm which still exists today.  The countryside is quite beautiful.  The tilled gound is green with trees, blue skies and rolling hills abounding.  It was an amazing feeling to connect with the past on that small hill by the church.

  Our Norwegian Family

Halvord Kristensen (father of a son that would be known as Christian Scow in the USA) was born and lived in Skoker, Norway.  I saw the Skoker census records for 1865.  In that census he was identified as a farm owner (farm owners were considered “rich” in those days), with 2 horses, 7 cattle, 5 sheep, 2 pigs, 1 Rye, 1.5 Barley, 5 Oat, 3/32 Peas, and Potatoes.  (Again, to have this many animals and farm products was considered quite wealthy.)  The picture above is that farm house where he lived.  This picture was taken around the time he moved his family to America.  You can check out the census details on a Norwegian site: 

While in Norway, I came into contact with a book, “Skoger-Boken” which tells the history of farms in Skogan.  Unnelsrod is where our ancestors lived, and it is part of this history.  The farm was in our family for 5 generations and was finally sold by Christian Scow’s (Halvor Kristensen) father (Kristen Halvosen) as he moved the family to America.  The following was taken from that book beginning on page 331 with Liss Martinsen, a permanent resident of Drammen, as the translator.  The information below tells the history in chronological order.  My keyboard does not have the entire Norwegian alphabet, so there may be some slight variations in spelling of names and/or places.  The italics and parenthetical expressions are mine.  I have highlighted our direct descendents in RED:

Halvor Persson
had the farm from 1707 until 1730.  He bought this farm for 170 riksdaular. He was from Numendal.  He was married to Gundbjorg  Julsdatter and died in 1730.  The farm now followed father to son for 5 generations.  He had 4 children – 1=Syver Halvorsen , 2=Torsten born 1696, 3=Per born in 1701, 4=Bodil married to Jon Mikkelsson from Borgen in Sande.

Syver Halvorsen lived on the farm from 1730 to 1754 and was born in 1694 died in 1754 and married Helga Gunnarsdatter born in 1708 who died in 1771.  Children were : 1= Halvor, 2=Gunner born 1736, 3=Per born 1738 married in 1767 Anne Ivarsdatter who children were Gertrud Gurine born in Grimnsrud in Sande in 1767 and Helge born in 1771, 4=Matis who came to North Haneval

Halvor Syversson had the farm from 1766 to 1805.  He got the deed from his mother, sisters and brothers.  He was married for the first time in 1768 to Kari Andersdatter from Holt in Hoff.  She was born in 1748 and died in 1777.  He was married the second  time 1778 to Mari Tollevsdatter Skgol from Sande.  She was born in 1786 and died 1803.  He had six children – three with the first wife and three with the second wife:  1=Helle Larine born 1769, 2=Ronnaug born 1773, 3=Kristen born 1777, 4=Hans born 1781 who was a mailman on a horse, was married in 1806 to Marte Marie Matiasdatter who was born in Bakke in 1774.  They had one son Halvor born in 1809.  5=Dorte Syrene born in 1784 married 1805 to Kristen Amundsen in Klever in Sande who married the sister 6=Tale born in 1788 when Dorte died in 1810.

Halvor’s father was Kristen Halvorsen.  He lived on the farm from 1805 to 1839 was born 1777.  He bought the farm from his father and his sisters and brothers for 488 daulers.  The father was allowed to stay there until he died.  Kristen married in 1807 Else Sorensdatter who was born 1778 and died in 1852.  Her sister was married to Jacob Holt who died in 1841.  The children were Karin Maria born 1810 married in 1829 to Hans Abrahamsen a tailor from Overud who was then 26 years.  They moved to Jonsrud in Sande.  The second child Halvor inherited the farm.  Kristensen Halvor was the father of Halvor Kristensen.

Halvord Kristensen lived on a farm in Unnelsrod in house number 3 (A picture of this house is above.  That picture was taken around the time they moved to America.).  He lived there between 1839 and 1870.  He was born in 1812, married Berte Karine Torgersdatter from Gifstad in Lier.  She was born in 1820.  Her brother Jorgen Torgersen, called himself Gifstad, came when he was 18 years old to be among his sisters and brothers in Unnelsrod.  We find him as Jorgen Torgersen Vestby.  And another brother Christen Torgersen came to Unneslrod and has used the land for a while.  He was married to Anne Margrethe Eriksdatter from Ingelsrud in Asker.  And, besides there were two sisters who also came down from Lier – Anne Jorgine who got married to Anders Holm in Vole.  They left with his brother and his brothers wife to America.  The second sister was Sille who got married to Bugorden in Sandeherred. 

Halvord Kristensen is usually mentioned as Halvord Onse was well known in the farm area and was highly respected.  The family was part of the Christian movement that swept over the country after 1850.  That is what is meant with the family came down to be with the brothers and sisters.  Halvord and the priest had a dispute about religious questions.  It was resolved.  Halvor and Berte and children left for America Ingeborg  with his children 1=Jorine born 1846, 2=
Kristian born 1848 (who became Christian Scow in America), 3=Thomas Edv. born 1850, 4=Karin Marie born 1853, Jorgen born 1859, 5=Hanna Birgitte born 1862.  Halvor’s parents left for America when they got quite old to join their children.

“The farm and all contents were sold in 1870 for 3,600 spd to Chirstian Theodorius Lie from Lie pa Toten.”  Christian Theodorius Lie sold the farm to Borge who still own it today.  I met the fifth generation of Borge who was very knowledgeable of the history of the farm.

One of the questions that remain is why a wealthy land owner, a person of respect and distinction in the community and among his peers sell property that has been in his family for 4 generations and move his entire family to the USA.  Two things gravitate to the top of the heap.  The first is the religious revival that swept Norway in the mid-nineteenth century.  Actually, there was two – one lead by Hans Neilson Hauge.  He started a charismatic movement in Norway and specifically targeted the governmental sponsored religion – Lutheranism.  His perspective was one which emphasized the spiritual feelings that he believed was restored by Martin Luther.  His words gave the common man and woman a voice in the state church.  He was relentlessly persecuted by the government and spent many years in a small, dark and dank cell which is now on display in the Oslo Folk Museum.

Another factor seems to be the use of mail that seems to have influenced the immigration to the USA.  Norway introduced the concept of postage stamps in 1850.  It became very reasonable to send a letter to relatives and friends in the New World.  In 1886 one small district of 37,000 people received over 10,000 letters.  It is true that part of the family was already in the USA when the rest of the family joined them.

In any event, I am glad that they made the long trek from the Drammen area to the USA.  But, even though our family is American, it is interesting exciting to find one of the roots what have contributed to the oak tree of our family.