After her first glimpse of North Dakota, my
grandmother, Gudrun Langseth, wanted to go back to Norway. It’s
easy to understand why. The scenery in this part of Norway, about forty
miles or so south of Trondheim, is stunning. The spectacular scenery
ranks with the best that the world has to offer. The view from my cousin,
Astri Rypdal’s, living room
window, or from my cousin, Svein Misund’s, apartment balcony is
breathtaking. Both look down and across the beautiful Moldefjord and
see eighty-eight snow capped mountain peaks. Astri and Karl’s son
and daughter-in-law, Kjell and Norunn Rypdal, have the same view from
the outdoor patio of their beautiful new home, built in the Norwegian
style, grass covered roof and all. The contrast with the flat, treeless
landscape in North Dakota couldn’t
be more striking, and all this without mosquitoes.
Although it didn’t escape the economic problems
of the rest of the country in the 19th century, it was better here than in the
inland farming areas. In fact there was some migration from the farming areas
to here, because this area had a thriving fishing industry, and wasn’t
solely dependent on agriculture. However, the city of Molde, received punishment
in WWII from which much of the rest of the country was spared.
On April 9, 1940, Norway found its treasured policy
of neutrality in the war violated by Germany. Up until the last minute they had
felt the main threat to their neutrality was from the Allies. The German invasion
was stopped in the Oslofjord just long enough for the government and the King
to escape with the country’s treasury, from Oslo to Hamar, and shortly
thereafter to Elverem. From there they were able to just keep ahead of the
advancing German army. The Germans would apply pressure against any community
suspected of harboring the fugitives by threatening destruction by bombing,
and when not a single community complied, they followed through on their threats.
Within a week Allied, mostly British, troops landed
in Romsdal at Ålesund and Andalsness, but within two months, resistance
would collapse. In late April, King Haakon and his government would watch from
the hillside above Molde as a German air bombardment destroyed the city and damaged
ships in the fjord. My cousin (1st cousin once removed), Steiner Jensen, aboard one of the
ships in the fjord would suffer severe burns, and would require months of recuperation
in a hospital in Scotland. One of the few surviving buildings was the Hansen
clothing factory, built of solid concrete, which then housed the Norwegian gold
supply which had been carried here from Oslo. The gold would accompany the royal
family onto a British cruiser to safer grounds, but ultimately King Haakon and
his government would have to be evacuated to England from a temporary sanctuary
in the northern city of Tromsø.
Five years of occupation would follow. One out of every
eight people in the country was a German soldier. The occupying army numbered
over 400,000. Hitler was obsessed with the idea that an Allied invasion was imminent
and would never entertain ideas of withdrawing any troops to fight elsewhere.
For the Norwegian people, food shortages would become fairly severe. Even during
good times the country’s food supply was marginal, and now they had to
feed the occupying army and export food to Germany. Teachers were pressured unsuccessfully
to teach Nazi propaganda in the schools and the German language became a required
subject. Saboteurs were dealt with severely, but for the most part, the general
population wasn’t treated as harshly as in some of the other conquered
During the course of the war my second cousin, Haakon
Myre, and a few of his friends escaped in a small boat to England, where he joined
the British Royal Air Force. He subsequently died in a training accident in England. Because he was a young man of military
age, his absence was noticed by the occupying German army. SS officers came to
his parent’s home to search. One of the officers with cleated boots kicked
his mother in the face when she raised her arm in a protesting gesture.167
My mother’s Tante Anna suffered a severe loss.
Her husband, Peder Pedersen, was arrested shortly after the invasion. A few weeks
later the family was informed by the Germans that he had died of a heart attack.
This explanation was treated with extreme skepticism by the family, but no other
explanation was ever offered. Other than these episodes I am not aware of any
physical harm suffered by my mother’s family, but it was still, I’m
sure, a difficult time for them all.
My mother’s grandfather, Sivert Langseth, was
born in 1852 in the county of Vatne, which is about halfway between the cities
of Molde and Ålesund. His mother, Severine Marta Johanne Hansdatter, was
unmarried when he was born, but within a year she and the father, Peter Olaus
Sivertsen, were married. The Vatne Bygdebok gives the year of marriage as 1853,
and states that they moved to Langset in Vatne Kommune that year, and purchased
some land and also began farming some land for another owner. The bygdebok goes
on to say that both parents had been in service at Indre Berg, which is a farm
in the neighboring county of Skodje. Severine’s mother, Gjertrud Berta
Simensdatter (1796-1870), was also unmarried when she bore her three children,
but then married a widower, Hans Rasmussen. In researching the church records
of this region during this time period one becomes aware of the large number
of children born to single women. I didn’t keep an accurate account,
but it appeared to account for over half of all the births. One wonders if
this would be a result of burgeoning overpopulation and poverty, which would
have made it very difficult for young people to establish households.
On the 1865 census, Sivert was living with another
family on another Langset farm, and was listed as a farm worker. He was only
thirteen years old at the time. He would later move on to the town of Molde,
where he would meet and marry Elen Anna Lergrovik. Sivert took the name of
the farm where the family lived (Langset) for his surname (Langseth), but because
his parents had moved there from another area, I think it is unlikely that
the family was related to others in the area who ended up with the Langseth
Elen Anna Lergrovik was born in 1858 on a farm named
Lergrovik in the county of Bolsøy just east of the city of Molde. On the
1865 census her surname is listed as Pedersdatter. At that time she was living
with her paternal grandparents, Søren Pedersen and Berit Andersdatter.
She was the only child in the household. Presumably her parents, Peder Sørensen
Lergrovik and Gurine Serine Knudsen, have died. An obituary in a Washington state
newspaper when she died in 1932, listed Elen Anna's maiden name as Elen Anna
Lergrovik. By means of the 1801 census and church records from this area Peder
Sørenson's family can be traced back through the paternal side three more
generations to a Peder Olsen and his wife Gunborg Sørensen, who are the
parents of Søren Pedersen, born about 1763. Søren Pedersen, born
in 1806, was the grandfather she was living with at the time of the 1865 census.
The family appears to have lived in this same area throughout this time period.
Sivert and Elen Anna [see pedigree chart] probably married about 1880 in Molde. They lived in the coastal community of Bud,168
about fifteen miles north of Molde, during their early married life. Sivert
subsequently went to work with the Norwegian government as a lighthouse keeper,
with his first job being as an assistant at Oddernaes, near Kristiansand, on
the southern coast of Norway. My grandmother, Gudrun, would recall that as
a little girl she could see the coast of Denmark on a clear day. Sivert had
problems with severe asthma, so when a lighthouse position opened up on the
Island of Ona for 1200 kroner per year in 1902, he applied and was accepted.
He felt that on an isolated island his asthma would be better.
Ona is about a two-hour ferry ride out into the North
Sea from Molde. It actually consists of two islands, separated by about three
feet of water over which a causeway has been built. The smaller of the two islands
is Ona, and the larger one is Husøy. The lighthouse and most of the houses
are on Ona. Also the fish processing houses, the docks, a small store, and a
youth hostel are there. Husøy contains a school, some more houses, a community
center and a cemetery. The church in this district is on the neighboring island
of Sandøy. The view of the mainland from Ona is spectacular. Sheer mountains
rise out of the sea everywhere, except at the picturesque opening of the Romsdalfjord.
At its peak in the early 1900s the population was
above 380. Today it has dwindled to less than eighty. The main industry was
fishing, and through the 1960s there were always several large fishing boats
that operated out of Ona. With the decline of the fishing industry in general
in the past few decades, commercial fishing here has been discontinued. In
1913 Ona was hit by a tidal wave. There was widespread destruction and there
were several people killed.
When the Langseths moved here in 1902, several of their
children had already been born. Ingeborg was the oldest, then my grandmother
Gudrun, and Borghild. Then came the twins, Astrid and Selma, a son, Håkon,
who drowned as a young child, and another son Sverre. They were all born when
the family lived at Bud. Borghild and Hulda were born at Oddernaes, and the
two youngest, Margit and Ruth were born after the family moved to Ona.169 On
Ona the Langseths lived in a government owned home at the base of the rocky hill
where the lighthouse stands. During the German occupation this house was used
by the German garrison. The house has since been torn down.
There was a story handed down in my family that my grandmother,
Gudrun, born in 1889, became engaged to Hans Ona, a twenty-two year old Ona fisherman,
before he immigrated to America in 1905. After working until he had enough money
to pay for her passage to America he sent for her. In 1908 Gudrun traveled to
America with Hans’ brother, Ludwig. Hans and Gudrun were married in Lakota,
North Dakota in 1908. This was a very successful marriage. They were devoted
to each other throughout their lives.
There had been a plan for Ingeborg to go to America
also. Hans and Gudrun sent her a ticket. In the meantime Ingeborg had become
engaged to Paul Myre, and she no longer wanted to go. The parents were determined
that the ticket wouldn’t go to waste, and another sister, Astrid, one
of the twins, was selected to go. Just fifteen years old, and only five days
after her confirmation, Astrid left for America. Supposedly the reason one
of the sisters was required to go to America, was to assist Gudrun in managing
her growing family on the farm in North Dakota.
Ingeborg and Paul Myre had five daughters and three
sons, and it was one of these sons who was killed on a training mission in England
in WWII. Borghild married Alfonse Oftedal. They had one son, Per. She continued
to live on Ona for a time after the marriage, and then moved to near Stavanger.
Selma, the other twin, never married, but had two daughters, Astrid and Solveig.
Astrid married Karl Rypdal. They currently live in Molde. Karl was in the Norwegian
Merchant Marine, and was on board ship during the German invasion. He spent
the entire war in the merchant marines which operated all during the war, and
which provided the government in exile in England with money with which to operate.
A son, Kjell, was born in 1948, who today is a Molde policeman.
Sverre was the only surviving son. He had two sons and
two daughters. He lived his life in Bud, on the Norwegian coast, just about ten
to twelve miles north of Molde. This is also where Syvert and Ellen Anna lived
after he retired as lighthouse keeper. Although Hulda, the next daughter, shows
up in the family photograph collection I don’t have any other information
about her. Margit married Hendrik Husǿy, and lived on Ona all her life.
She died in 1993. Her children were Osta, Hendrik, Gudrun, and Ottar. Ottar,
the youngest, was born in 1948, in the same hospital and at the same time as
Kjell Rypdal. I have met him on one of my trips to Ona, and have corresponded
with him ever since. He lives at Moss, which is a university town near Oslo.
The youngest daughter, Ruth (married name Jegthaug) was born in 1906 and died in 2001. A son, Hendrik, worked most of his life as
a seaman, and spent many years on the gulf coast of America. He spent his last years living in Bud with his mother and he died in 2007. One sister, Onlaug,
is married and lives in Oslo. Ruth was similar in age to many of her nephews
Gudrun’s husband, Hans, was from a family that
had lived on Ona for at least several generations. [see pedigree chart] The family occupation was
fishing. His parents were Jens Johan Larsen Tusvik and Ellen Anna Nilsdatter.
Jens was born in 1855 and Ellen Anna was born in 1861. They had nine children.
This is a perfect family to demonstrate how erratic Norwegian naming practices
can be. Of the nine children there would be three different last names. Three
would take the name Jensen after their father’s first name. Three would
take the name Lien, after the name of the house where the family lived, and
three would take the name Ona. (These three are the ones who went to America.)
Hans, being the oldest son, could have expected to be
the main heir to any family property. What exactly this would have amounted to
is unknown. But Hans didn’t immigrate to America for the usual reasons.
He had deep seated pacifist beliefs, and he didn’t want to serve in the
armed services. He was in his early twenties when he left, and I was always told
it was because he didn’t want to carry a gun. He apparently came to terms
with this later in life when he accepted a job as security guard at a shipyard
facility. He was engaged to Gudrun Langseth when he left, and he would send for
her later. Two other sons, Nels and Ludwig, would also eventually immigrate to
America. Ludwig and Gudrun Langseth traveled together. I recall my grandmother
telling me about the train trip from New York to North Dakota. They didn’t
like the food, so they threw it out the window.
Nels was born in 1897. He immigrated to the United
States in 1913. He never married and he lived on the farm in North Dakota with
the Hans Ona family, and went to Seattle when they did. Nels reportedly suffered
from an alcohol addiction problem.
The next oldest in the family was Ole Elias Jensen (pronounced
Ol-el’ias). He was born in 1885, and he married Hanna Nikoline (last name
not known) who was born in 1889. They had seven children, of whom I have personally
met five. I don’t know the birth order. Eldebjorg, a daughter, is the
one we all know the best. She was married to a fisherman, Anders Bjornerem,
and they lived their entire married life on Ona. They made one trip to
the United States in the 1970s. Anders died about 2005. Eldebjorg died a few years later.
Ona has a community center building that can be used
by groups for meetings, and banquets. With the decline of the fishing industry,
tourism has become the main industry on the island, and this facility is often
used by groups from the mainland. There is a youth hostel type facility on the
island, but most of the tourism involves day visitors. Ona is often mentioned
and described in Norwegian and also in some foreign tourist brochures. The last
time I was there they pointed out a German tourist brochure that had seven pages
on Oslo, and four on Ona. Eldebjorg, a wonderful cook, was praised in the brochure.
And for good reason! She often contracts with tour groups to do the cooking.
On my last visit there in 1997, her family told this story. A large tour group
(I think it was about 40 people) showed up one day on the island unexpectedly.
The dates had been mixed up. There was no food prepared. When Eldebjorg was informed
about it, the family said she first looked stunned. She was quiet for a few moments,
and then she announced firmly. “Okay, we will eat. But you must all help
out”. The surprised group had no other alternative, so they set out peeling
potatoes, setting the tables, etc. and after a while a delicious, gourmet meal
was ready. When the group left the island it was with comments like, “It
was one of the best times we ever had”. Eldebjorg is also involved with
another new industry, which was spawned by tourism. A ceramics group makes
and sells a variety called Ona Keramik, in a shop just off the ferry dock.
In 1996-7 the Norwegian government television network
filmed a one hour special on Ona. I was able to see a videotape of this while
on a visit there in 1997. Anders was the star player. He was obviously a good
interview. Although this was in Norwegian, Anders interpreted for my sister,
Glenna and me. Anders took the film crew fishing, and afterward they also filmed
him at home. During the filming on the island there was incredibly a gigantic
wave that nearly swept two women off the breakers that were built after the
1913 tidal wave. This occurred while the cameras were running. There were also
scenes shot from the top of the lighthouse, and an Ona island descendant who
is a well-known Norwegian singer, sang a sentimental song from the tower as the
The Ona lighthouse is no longer used for its original
purpose. A smaller automatically run lighthouse sits nearby and now serves
as the only functional lighthouse. The original lighthouse is maintained in its
original condition as an historical monument. Its light can be, and still is,
sometimes turned on for special occasions. The light was turned on once during
my last visit. This was in early July, and at that time of year it never gets
fully dark, even in the middle of the night, so the effect is somewhat muted.
The lighthouse sits at a strategic spot, where the coast changes direction
from almost straight north and south to a more northeasterly direction. It is
a well known landmark and is the only red colored lighthouse on the entire Norwegian
Three of Eldebjorg’s siblings still live on Ona.
One brother, Jostein, is currently very ill as this is being written. A sister
Magne, is a single, retired teacher, who lives alone in one of the well-kept
houses. Another brother, Steiner, also retired, lives here with his wife. Steiner
is a well-respected war hero. He was able to remember for me that as a small
boy of about four years of age, he accompanied his father as they moved Syvert
Langseth’s possessions by boat from Ona to Bud, after Syvert retired
as lighthouse keeper. He remembers Syvert as a pleasant, well-liked person. [Steiner has since died in the year 2005.]
Another brother, Oddvar, was a career government employee.
He retired in 1997. Oddvar, and another brother and sister, live on the Norwegian
The next oldest of Hans Ona’s siblings was Peder
Salamon (pronounced Solomon) Jensen. He was called Salamon rather than Peder.
He was born in 1890 and was married to Beret Marta Nerland and they had seven
children. Their son, Sigmund, lived on Ona in the house where Hans was born.
Sigmund died in 2007. Anny Salamonsdatter Jensen, the next oldest, married Anker N. Misund and
lived on the island of Otteroy in the community of Midsun until her death in 2008. She had one son, Svein,
and a grandson, Arne Jakob. Svein, who is divorced, lives in Molde where he
works as an agent for a prefabricated home company. Anny had faithfully kept
up correspondence with the relatives who have immigrated to America. Svein is
the resident Ona genealogist. He speaks no English, so communication is through
his son, Arne Jakob.
Anny’s sister, Ester, lives on the mainland in
the town of Bratvag, which is just one ferry stop away. She was born in 1925,
and is married to Kristian Ugelvik. Interestingly, Kristian is related to the
Opstad family. The Opstad families lived on the island of Øtteroy. One
of the Opstad families immigrated to Michigan, North Dakota, and a daughter
in that family (Gyda) married Charles Kallestad. My sister, Glenna Kallestad,
is married to their son, David.
The next sibling is Arnold Lien, born in 1927. Note
again the different last name. Arnold and Lillie, his wife, live near Ålesund.
Håkon Lien, born in 1928, and his wife Lisbeth, live in Kristiansund. This
is different from Kristiansand, where the Langseths lived before coming to Ona.
Kristiansund is on the coast between Molde and Trondheim. Håkon is well
known in the family for once winning the Norwegian national lottery. I have
a photograph of the other sibling, Johan Lien, but no additional information except that he died in 2006.
The next two children of Jens and Ellen Anna were daughters.
[see pedigree chart] Anna, born in 1893, married Peder Pedersen and they had six children. Peder was
the one who was arrested by the Nazis early in WWII, and who died shortly thereafter
in ccustody. The family was never given any reason for the arrest. Anna struggled
greatly after this. She still had small children at this time. She continued
to live on Ona. One of the children, Ruth Husøy, was a pen pal correspondent
with my sister, Eunice, prior to the war. Ruth’s brother, Per Arne Husøy,
became a very successful insurance agent. He and his wife, Doris, were long
time residents of Trondheim. They visited our family in America a few times,
and had also traveled extensively in other parts of the world in the service
of their church’s missionary outreach. Their son, Tormund, has also done
extensive genealogy research on the Ona family. Two other sons, Øvind
and Sven-Erik also live in Trondheim. Per Arne died in 2008. He had been preceded in death by his wife Doris.
The other daughter, Rakel Lien, remained single and
lived her entire life on Ona. When my mother visited Ona in 1973, she encountered
a strange and somewhat embarrassing situation. Like my grandmother Gudrun Langseth,
Rakel had become engaged to a young man on Ona, who had gone to America and who
had promised to send for her. She never heard from him again, and in spite of
this she waited, and because of this she never married. After she finally realized
he wasn’t going to send for her, opportunities had passed her by. She was
seventy-six years old when my mother visited. Mother incredibly ran into an acquaintance
from North Dakota when she visited the lighthouse. When she was about to tell
about this at mealtime, the family shushed her up. This had been Rakel’s
betrothed, who in an incredible coincidence had been visiting Ona at the same
time as mother. I find this such a tragedy, a wasted life because someone lacked
the courage to tell her he had changed his mind.
The youngest in the family was Arne. [see pedigree chart] Uncle Arne once
visited my parents when they lived in Grand Forks. He was apparently a deck hand
on a merchant ship that had docked in New York. Not having any idea of the distance
involved, he decided to visit his relatives as long as he was in the country.
After a long, long train ride he arrived in Grand Forks in the middle of the
night. My father answered the door at 3:00 AM. Not being able to understand a
word Arne said he was completely befuddled, and he had to drag my mother out
of bed to straighten out the situation. They had a nice visit. He was able to
see his brother’s family in Michigan, North Dakota before he had to leave
again to catch his ship before it departed New York.
Today it is generally easy to converse with Norwegian
relatives even if you don’t speak Norwegian. Ever since WWII English has
been a required language for school children, and virtually all members of the
post war generations speak very good English. Probably this was done to ease
the problems of travel abroad. If you come from a small country like Norway,
and decide to travel, you’re practically guaranteed that you won’t
run into anyone who speaks your language, so understanding a universal language
like English is necessary. The older people, the ones who grew up before WWII,
won’t necessarily know a foreign language. Usually they have children
who can translate. Sometimes, like in the case of Eldebjorg and Anders Bjornerem,
they learned English as adults. These two studied English for several months
prior to their one and only trip to the United States.