This page is a result of my four-day excursion through central Gudbrandsdal in 2011. With the help of two friends in the area, I was able to locate and photograph all of the farms named below.
Sør-Fron, part 1
A Crackerjack Guide
I am deeply indebted to two individuals for the success of my “roots” tour in Gudbrandsdalen. One is Pål Kjorstad, head of the Fron Historielag. Pål had already helped my research enormously by email, as detailed in this post. The day before I arrived in the Fron area, I tried to telephone him, but I had copied his number incorrectly. The next morning, I luckily got the correct number and spoke with him for the first time. On a moment’s notice, he interrupted his work as a sheep farmer and agricultural consultant, spending the entire day guiding us around my sites of interest. At mid-day, he invited us to his home (Kjorstad, naturally), where his lovely wife, Signe, served us coffee and waffles, and his son Rasmus played some excellent folk fiddle for us.
Pål’s knowledge of the area’s farms and history is truly amazing. He met us first at Sør-Fron church. My photos of the church are not as brilliant as others I have seen, due in part to the rainy weather.
The gravestones below are not of known relatives, but do bear the names of my two top-priority farms. Lars Poulsen himself was undoubtedly buried here in 1855, but no marker survives.
Flåtå: Birthplace of Lars Poulsen (c. 1792)
Throughout this series, when I say “birthplace,” I mean the land, not any existing buildings, pictured or otherwise. I may occasionally speculate on the age of a building, but even if it were old enough, there is no way to associate it with any individual.
You may recall that Lars Poulsen (or Paulson) was the father of Ole Larson. Almost nothing was known of him until cousin Aline started her research about 20 years ago. The Flåtå farm (also spelled Flaate, or Flaade, as on the gravestone above) was occupied until a year or two ago, but is now abandoned. To reach it, we walked about a half-mile up an unused driveway.
Only two buildings remain standing.
Based on the style of building, Pål estimated that the dwelling-house (foreground) dates from around 1900, over a century after Lars Poulsen walked this ground as a child. Note the extreme steepness of the cleared land. This is not very unusual in Norway, but unheard-of for farms in America. Here is a view across Flåtå’s overgrown fields toward two larger farms below.
The second building on the property, probably a storage shed or barn, is much older than the house, and may even date from Lars Poulsen’s time.
Finally, the ruins of a root-cellar or underground barn. The earthen roof has caved in.
As you may recall from that previous post, Flåtå was lost to Lars Poulsen’s family after his father died in 1797. While Lars, his widowed mother, and two of his eight siblings were still living there in 1801, they probably left soon after.
Sør-Fron, Part 2
Skurdal – It’s Complicated
The Skurdal area (Skurdalsgrenda) is one of the largest and most varied in Sør-Fron parish. There are at least six farms whose names contain “Skurdal,” and more than ten others that are part of the “grenda.” Of primary interest to us is the southern portion of the area. In Anne Larsdatter’s birth record (1801), the farm name was given as simply “Schurdal.” This would include the entire area above, and more. Adding to the uncertainty, Anne’s residential surname is shown in other documents as “Skurdalshaug.” Here the confusion begins.
Skurdalshaugen, number 6 on the above photo, has been an independent farm since at least 1723. But it is not the birthplace of Anne Larsdatter, and it is unlikely that she ever lived there. My fondest thanks to Pål Kjorstad for helping me sort this out. We will come back to this Skurdalshaugen later, in connection with another line of ancestors.
As it turns out, a certain David Jonsen (David was a very unusual name at that time) occupied a tenant plot a kilometer to the south, in the late 1700′s. For a time, I thought David Jonsen may have come from Skurdalshaugen, but this is not the case – his origins are unknown. Regardless, this farm is now called Davidhaugen (after its original resident), but went by other names before it separated from its “parent” farm in 1905. This was not uncommon for tenant farms, which were not officially distinguished from their ownership. Here are two of my photos of Davidhaugen (#7 in the above map).
David Jonsen had a son named Lars Davidsen, who in turn had a daughter named Anne Larsdatter, our great-great-grandmother. Moreover, after Lars Poulsen married Anne (1820), I believe that they lived on this same plot of land to raise their large family. The documents I have found are inconclusive, but suggest it in subtle ways. Finally, I got a feeling here. Not an overwhelming, knock-you-down kind of epiphany, but a definite sense of connection with this place.
Tretten: Anne Samuelsdatter & Family
In case you are confused, Anne Samuelsdatter was Ole Larson’s first wife (and the mother of Isaac, Axel, Louise, and Smith Larson). We actually visited Tretten and Fåvang before Sør-Fron, but I wanted to start my narrative with “Ole Larson’s folks.”
We stayed one night at Glomstad Gård, a lovely B & B just a mile from the farms I was interested in.
Glomstad is high on the hillside, offering commanding views of this section of the valley.
Waiting for us at the B & B was Knut Kvernflaten, a “shirttail” relative who has guided other visitors in the area, including cousin Orrin Moen, and Lois and Myrna, on earlier visits. I can’t say enough in praise of his knowledge and generosity. Knut was our guide both in Tretten, and the next day at Fåvang (next post).
Knut told me that according to local folklore, Tretten (Norwegian for “thirteen”) got its name after the Black Death ravaged Norway in the late 1300′s, when only thirteen families survived in what had been a whole parish.
Bjerke: Anne’s birthplace
Just a kilometer down the road from Glomstad, we found the South Bjerke farm. This, I believed, was the birthplace of not only Anne Samuelsdatter (1845), but of her father, Samuel Jørgensen (1815), paternal grandfather, Jørgen Gulbrandsen (1789), and grandmother, Ombjor Samuelsdatter (1789). I later learned that the North Bjerke farm is the more probable site, but since I didn’t visit there, I’m keeping these photos on display.
No one was home when we knocked at the door, but we took the liberty of photographing the grounds and some buildings.
One can almost imagine a hussmansplass at the far end of the fields, or further into the forest, living in a rude house like the one below.
Ødegaarden: Anne’s mother
Literally translated, this name means “the abandoned farm.” There are many farms so named in Norway, again, plausibly, as a result of the Black Death. At the time of Marit Pedersdatter’s birth (1820), it was called “Glømme-Ødegaarden,” as it was a husmannsplass under the farm Glømmen, on the opposite side of the river (near Bjerke). Here is a wider photo, with Ødegaarden fields in the foreground, and Bjerke far away.
I asked Knut why so many farms had subordinate plots across the river. There were surely not many bridges in the old days. For one thing, he said, there were boats, of course. But more importantly, when the river was frozen in winter, it was easily crossed on foot or other overland transport. His next comment was amusing and significant; to paraphrase, “A lot of babies were born nine months after the river was frozen.”
I neglected to photograph the buildings at the current farm compound. However, the owner, Steiner Ødegaard, was most helpful. He showed us an old photo of a woman who lived there at the same time as our ancestor, also named Marit. She was born at another location in 1810, ten years before Anne’s mother, and they were probably acquainted.
Fåvang: Gunder Moen & folks
Anna Moen’s father, Gunder Torgersen (Moen), was from the parish of Fåvang, adjacent to Tretten. Fåvang is a sub-parish of Ringebu, home of a famous stave church. Since that particular church is not connected with any known ancestors, I included my photo of it in my Facebook “tourist album” of Gudbrandsdalen. The Fåvang church is not so old or spectacular, but does have important ancestral connections.
The church was built around 1869, as was a stone fence surrounding the yard.
Note the initials “T.G.S.” on the gatepost. These are the initials of the fence’s builder, one Torger Gundersen, Gunder Moen’s father. The “S” stands for Stenumgardskleven, the tenant farm were Torger and his family were living at the time. Thanks to Orrin Moen and Knut Kvernflaten for making this discovery some years ago.
Knut found a stone chip that had fallen from the fence, and gave it to me as a souvenir.
So now I have a paperweight that was most likely touched by my great-great-grandfather almost 150 years ago! Thanks, Knut.
According to his “residential” surnames, Torger Gundersen and family lived on at least three different farms in Fåvang parish. The first was Opsahlhaugen, where both Torger (1829) and Gunder (1857) were born. Below is the “big house” of the parent farm, Opsahl.
And below is a small farm that Knut first thought may once have been Opsalhaugen.
However, upon asking some questions of local passers-by, he concluded that it was a little further south. The buildings and pastures may have completely disappeared, but it was probably located near this rock outcrop, called Verdberget.
The rock (Knut called it a “mountain,”) was used in ancient times to light signal fires, warning residents up and down the valley of an impending attack or other crisis, according to local folklore.
At the time he built the churchyard fence (about 1868) Torger lived at Stenumgardskleven, as mentioned above. Again, we were unable to locate the former husmannsplass, but this is the main farm, Stenumgard.
Finally, when Torger and his family (including Gunder) emigrated, their residential surname was Rørviksmoen. Here is the parent farm, Rørvik.
This time, Knut knew the exact location of the tenant farm. Unfortunately, the buildings had been torn down just weeks before our visit, to make room for expansion of a schoolyard. The good news is, Knut had photographed Rørviksmoen, with Orrin Moen in the foreground, years ago.
An interesting sidelight: The surname the family adopted in America, Moen, evidently came from the suffix on the name of this tenant farm. There is a farm named simply “Moen” several kilometers to the south, but no evidence that this family ever lived there.
Turning to Gunder Moen’s mother, her name in most sources is Anne Haagensdatter Bakkehaugen. That is the residential surname in the record of her marriage to Torger Gundersen (1856). However, I found what I am reasonably sure is her christening record (1834), and the residence there is Himromsveen. So I chose to include a photo of that “parent” farm, Hemrom.
Sør-Fron, Part 3: Anna Moen’s Mother
Marie Volden, mother of Anna Moen, is the only one of my father’s (Lovell Larson’s) four grandparents who was born in America (1858). Her parents had immigrated just over a year earlier, the earliest immigrants among the four families.
Marie’s father, Amund Amundsen Volden, was born (1829) on the Volden farm in Sør-Fron parish. At the time, it was called Dalsegvolden, as it was a tenant farm under Dalsegg, located several kilometers across the river. Here is an old building at Volden, being re-erected.
And here are Volden’s fields, reaching down to the river.
Just across the river is Hundorp, site of Dale Gudbrands Gård. There, we photographed a 10th-century Viking burial mound, and the modern B & B located there (see Facebook album).
Bente was extremely gracious, inviting us into her home for coffee and waffles. She struggled with English, but her grandsons Emil and Ole (who were visiting) were helpful with the language issue. Bente is a descendant of the Volden line. Her grandfather, Amund(!) Hansen Volden, traveled to America in the early 1900′s, then returned to Norway. It is unclear if he was related to our ancestor, Amund Amundsen (around 50 years older), but investigation continues.
Bente’s home at Volden was furnished with lovely antiques, some probably dating to the time of our ancestors.
On the living room walls were several paintings, some of which, they said, were of the nearby Skurdal farm, signed by Magnus Skurdal in the 1980′s and 90′s. This one, in particular, might depict the 19th-century homes of one or two tenant farmers.
Maurhaugen was the birthplace of Marie Volden’s mother, Anne Madsdatter (1829), who married Amund Amundsen in 1854. Don’t be confused by all those Anne’s. Counting the variant “Anna,” it was the given name of Lovell Larson’s mother, paternal grandmother, and three of his four great-grandmothers! This is the main house at Maurhaugen, probably dating from the early 1900′s.
Just across the road from Maurhaugen is Skurdalshaugen.
You will remember from an earlier post that I had thought Skurdalshaugen to be the birthplace of Anne Larsdatter (mother of Ole Larson), but learned otherwise during my visit. However, it was the birthplace of Mads Nielsen, father of Anne Madsdatter Maurhaugen, my 2nd great-grandmother in the Volden line.
Nord-Fron: Lars Paulsen’s Ancestors
One of several churches in Nord-Fron parish is Sødorp. It is located on the west side of the river, just a mile from the cabin where we stayed three nights.
This was not the building’s original location, however. It was moved here in 1910 from across the river, just south of the town of Vinstra. A smaller chapel now stands at that location.
But long before the 1750′s, when the larger church was built on this spot , there was a church about a kilometer to the north, high on the hill. The site was unknown in modern times, until recently, when some relics were uncovered. A simple wooden cross now marks the spot.
Below the cross is the Lillegård farm. This is where Ole Larson’s grandfather (Lars Paulsen’s father) Paul Svendsen was born, as well as several generations before him.
It was only weeks before our visit that my doubts about this connection were eliminated, when Pål Kjorstad found documents proving that it was solid. I had not fully processed that situation, or I would have pursued Lillegård more closely. Reviewing the definitive farm book yet again after retuning home, I found that at the time the book was compiled (1980′s?), the farm was still owned by a descendant of the same Svend Paulsen Lillegård (1702-1756) who is verifiably my 4th great-grandfather.
The gravestone below, at the Sødorp chapel, is one of the oldest readable monuments we saw in any cemetery, and very likely marks a cousin of ours (several generation removed).
The inscription is quite touching: It gives the precise times of her birth and death, referring tenderly to her lifespan of “14 years, 10 months, 3 weeks, 5 days, and 7-1/4 hours.”
I did not inquire who owns the farm today, but there are numerous folks with the Lillegård surname in the immediate area. I should have tried to make contact, as some of them are surely our biological relatives (although at 5th cousins or further). But alas, I missed the chance.
This concludes my tour of ancestral sites in Gudbrandsdalen. I hope you have enjoyed it. Finally, the only stop on my “roots” agenda outside this one valley. I refer, of course, to Norway’s capital city, and the former site of Oslo prison.
The Prison Site
In 1841, when Anne Larsdatter was imprisoned there, and gave birth to Ole, Oslo Prison (Kristiania Tukthus) was located at #33 Storgata (“main street”), less than a mile from the present-day Oslo Central train station. The front entrance may have looked much as it does in this 1910 photo (courtesy digitalarkivet).
After returning home, I got a link to oslobilder.no, “the official website for historic images from Oslo.” By searching the term “tukthuset,” (the prison) I got 49 photos, including the ones below:
Another view of the courtyard in 1910. Note the extra-tall garret on the right, with no glass in the windows. One can almost imagine armed guards monitoring the prisoners, including Anne. In fact, one can see something inside the garret, but not clearly enough to tell if it is human forms.
The next two photos were taken in 1938, just before the prison was torn down.
Unfortunately for my efforts, the entire prison was demolished. On the site today stands a modern, 9-story office block. Exploring under a drizzling rain, here is what I found at Storgata 33.
About two blocks away, on the opposite side of Storgata (#46), stands a separate but related site called Prinds Kristian Augusts Minde. This site is partly preserved (although in poor condition), thanks to a historic monument designation in the 1990′s. This is my photo of the front gate and part of one of the buildings.
Before visiting, I thought that the prison was also a part of this compound, although it was outside the area currently under protection, having already been demolished. The Minde, as it is known, was originally a lavish Medieval estate. It was purchased by a philanthropic organization in the 1810′s, for use as a workhouse, poor hospital, and insane-asylum. In theory, destitute people could come voluntarily, but in reality, it was usually forced upon them.
Another building in the preservation area is an old factory, probably for textile manufacture.
I imagined that Anne Larsdatter may have been forced to toil in such a place, but it seems she probably had it even worse. I next visited the University of Oslo, which is celebrating a historic occasion of its own.
I learned that the prison, despite its close proximity, was always completely separate from the Minde, and the prisoners lived and worked under conditions worse than those of the workhouse inmates across the street. I leave you with one final photo of the prison’s interior, again from around 1910. I don’t know whether this was a living or working area. Either way, it must have been pretty grim.
Keep in mind that Anne and baby Ole not only survived this ordeal, but came to America a quarter-century later, and founded the family that today numbers in the thousands.