Archive for the ‘Emigration/Immigration’ Category

Last Friday night my wife and I were thinking of a few things to do for the following day. It had been a while since we took a road trip and because not much has been happening this summer regarding Norwegian gatherings, we decided to take a little trip to Norway. So we packed up our day bags and hopped into the car for our adventure.

Living in the Chicago area we can get to Norway or Stavanger in a couple of hours, not because we have super sonic direct flights out of O’Hare, but because Norway and Stavanger are small towns Southwest of Chicago near Ottawa Illinois. Neither place is very big but Norway does have a few interesting places to visit regarding our Norwegian Heritage.

Cleng Peerson "Sloopers" Memorial

Cleng Peerson (Sloopers) Memorial

The Norway area of Illinois became the first permanent Norwegian settlement in North America. These settlers were part of the Cleng Peerson led “Sloopers” that left Stavanger Norway on July 4, 1825 and arrived in New York on October 19th 1825. The settlers stayed for several years in Orleans County (near Rochester) in New York state before moving to the Norway area (in the Fox River valley) in 1834. Several monuments have been erected on a site south of town along highway 71. The site also includes the final resting place of Cleng Peerson’s sister Kari Nelson and others from that group.

Norsk Museum in Norway Illinois

Norsk Museum in Norway Illinois

If you go to Norway, Illinois in the summer months (June thru September) on a Saturday or Sunday (normally 1 to 5 pm) a very nice museum staffed by volunteers may be open. If you get there early check out the diner and store, we had a nice lunch and bought a few Norwegian food items there. The Norsk Museum (in the church behind the diner and store) contains artifacts from many of the families that have lived in the area around Norway. The artifacts include many pictures, dishes, clothes, painted trunks, spinning wheels and other household items and tools used on the farms in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. I found myself walking around the museum pointing to things in the glass cases saying to my wife, “my grandparents had one of those” or “I remember seeing that at Tante Solvieg’s house.”

Our guides Barb and Joannie from the Cleng Peerson Sons of Norway Lodge, were decked out in their bunads and gave us a nice tour of the museum. They also baked up some lingonberry cake and a little “Norwegian” coffee. On exhibit are examples of Norwegian Rosemaling from the Illinois Norsk Rosemalers Association, as well as some prized examples of the work of Sigmund Årseth.

Norsk Museum Inside

Norsk Museum Inside

Barb and I talked a lot about how we wished that more would be done in our area regarding Norwegian language learning, culture and the preservation of our heritage. The collective knowledge about life in a Norwegian/American household must be preserved before it is lost. This museum along with Vesterheim and other private museums are a good start. We are both looking forward to another season of events at our local clubs and lodges and hope that many of you reading this article have additional items of interest to share with our Norwegian community. Our trip and visit to Norway ended with a smiling “ha det” and a wave as we got back into our car for the quick drive home.

Ken Nordan
Contributing Editor

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The current economic uncertainty (with so many, including myself, looking for work) has caused me to think about my grandparents and the reasons they came to America. My grandparents as well as the millions of other people during the period of mass emigration (in Norway and other countries) battled uncertainty in their future to venture across oceans to settle in America.

My grandmother grew up in the town of Egersund as the third daughter in a family with four children. Her father had died while all of the children were young, so they moved in with her mother’s brother and his large family in the city of Kristiansund (North). Her situation was not very good and she had little reason to believe that her prospects would become significantly better so as a 24 year old, she left Norway for America. Her reason, I found this simple phrase in her immigration paperwork at Ellis Island: Reason for leaving country of origin: For a better life.

My grandfather like so many of the boys and men in the 1800s took to the sea. His father had died, leaving at least 7 children under the age of 16. As the oldest boy, going to sea was the best way to make money and send it home for the family to live. After being at sea for 5 years he settled in the US and eventually 2 siblings joined him here. As an adult he took a job at the Chicago Sun-Times working 42 years as a pressman.

Whether you are Norwegian, Irish, Polish or of any other ethnic background, similar stories and reasons can be easily found.

So, what was happening in Norway?

In the book Norway to America by Ingrid Semmingsen (p. 99) I found the following quotes:

The half century from 1865 to 1915 was the time of mass emigration, even though Norwegian emigrants were only a small percentage of those who came to American each year. But Norway had few people to spare. When close to three-quarters of a million persons left the country in the course of fifty year, it was a massive loss for a country that had only 1,800,000 inhabitants in 1865 and 2,500,000 in 1915. In proportion to total population only Ireland had a higher percentage emigrating.

In this period [1879 – 1893 editor] a quarter million departed the country, leaving a population increase of only 150,000. In some years the number of emigrants was greater than the surplus of births, causing a population decrease. The record was set in 1882 when 29,000 persons emigrated, leaving Norway with 5,000 fewer people at the end of the year.

Clearly, our Norwegian ancestors (as well as many other countries) were having a terrible time finding work and a suitable place to live. For centuries prior to 1800, the Norwegian population growth was minimal, in 1664 the population was around 440,00 by 1815 the population was 885,431. However the population of Norway doubled to 1,701,756 by 1865 and reached nearly 3 million in 1930 [Statistics Norway website]. For anyone that has been to Norway we can easily see that, and in particular before 1900, Norway’s countryside would have trouble supporting this number of people.

In the 1800’s most of the people of Norway lived on farms and in small communities around farming areas. This is made evident by the population percentages in for example Oslo. In 1801, 7.5 percent of the total population of Norway lived in Oslo, by 1930, 17.4 percent live in Oslo and today over 20 percent of Norway’s population live in Oslo. While the percentage only went up 2.5 times the actual population went up over 7 times in the same period. This vast expansion of the city population must have placed a great strain on the economics of the people.

Equally so the increase in farm population made sharing and inheriting farm property almost impossible, while the increase in mechanization made it more difficult to find work. Case in point, my grandfather’s father (Thomas) was born on a farm in Førde Kommune (now called Naustdal Kommune). Because Thomas’ father was not a land owner, he would never inherit a farm and finding work was very difficult. He was able to learn a trade however and moved to Bergen, returning to Sunnfjord (a multi kommune region) only to find and take a bride from Jølster Kommune. His sister, having little chance to find a local husband move to Bergen also, eventually marrying a man in Bergen.

While times were difficult then, as they are difficult today. Hard work and changes in the way (and where) they lived, gave our ancestors new hope and livelihood, they also provide me with renewed excitement about the future.

In a future entry I’ll take a deeper look at the communities that my ancestors left. These are my stories, I’d love to here your stories too.

Ken Nordan, Contributing Editor

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