After 7 years researching my family’s history I finally reached a point where I thought I knew enough to actually visit some of the towns my ancestors came from. The links below are based on excerpts from my journal and some pictures taken on that trip.

08 September 2006: Mo i Rana, Norway
Arrived by train from Oslo (a 14 hour trip) at 10:30 and found our hotel (the Ole Tobias) with no difficulty. The room is more than adequate and the “bar” (doubles as the breakfast room) was still open so we were able to enjoy a few beers before crashing for the night.

Train from Oslo The Ole Tobias Hotel
On the train between Oslo and Trondheim & The bar in the Ole Tobias Hotel
09 September 2006: “You are very lucky!”
We slept late and had to rush to get ready, eat and walk to the Hertz/TV store in town for our 10:00 appointment to pick up the car. It was a cloudy day and we ran into rain throughout the 75 minute drive along the fjord and over the mountains that separate Mo i Rana from Nesna. As we approached the town we found the Herset farm (it would have been hard to miss: it is on the only road into town and has a sign with the name on it). We stopped long enough to take a few quick pictures before proceeding into town.

Other than the beauty of the sea and mountains there isn’t much to attract one to Nesna, and I quickly came to the conclusion that my relatives who left had made a pretty good decision. The church is run down, there is no hotel, not even a bar. After taking pictures of the church and walking around the cemetery we stopped for a quick lunch at the local “mall” and reviewed the information I had about the Nesna branch of the family one more time. We didn’t find anything new, and with no apparent hope of discovering anything else in Nesna we decided to call it a day and head back to Mo i Rana to plan the sightseeing we would apparently be doing there for the next few days.

Nesna Sign Nesna, Norway
On our way out of town we did our best to locate the Handaa farm (where Lorents Andreas Isachsen raised his family) using the maps I had printed back home: we thought we were close, but could not be sure. We drove on to the Herset farm and stopped to take a few more pictures and to absorb the beauty of the farm, the Sjona fjord and the distant mountains. I could have left then and been satisfied with my Nesna memories but Kathleen really thought I should go down and talk to the owners to see if they knew anything about the family. While we were standing on the side of the road having this discussion we watched a car approach and turn into the driveway, so I screwed up my courage and followed them to the house. That turned out to have been one of the better decisions I have ever made in my life.

Herset Sign
The Herset farm on the Shona fjord
The couple we met (Ellen and Ernst Mikalsen), were reserved but very nice. After I explained that my family had lived on the farm at one time they had a few quick exchanges in Norwegian, shrugged their shoulders and invited us inside for some coffee. It turns out that they had been entertaining some American relatives (Catherine Revland and her daughter Shannon: they had just left that morning) and had attended a family gathering in their honor the day before. Ellen made coffee in the kitchen while Kathleen and I showed Ernst the information I had about the family on the laptop. Ernst produced a piece of paper with a hand drawn tree of Ellen’s family: as we examined it I recognized several names and pointed them out to Ernst, who then yelled into the kitchen “Ellen: I think he is your cousin!”.

Ellens Family Tree
Ellens Family Tree
Food and coffee appeared, Ellen joined us, and the first of many cell phone calls began. Ellen’s mother Ingeborg (who lives in a house on the farm) arrived, and she watched as we confirmed the relationship (Ingeborg is my second cousin once removed, so Ellen is my third cousin) and exchanged information about our respective branches of the family. Ernst was amazed… “You came to Nesna without knowing about any of us?” (Yes). “You didn’t talk to anybody in town?” (No). “You just stopped here because of the farm name?” (Yes). Finally he just shook his head and said “You are very lucky!”. I couldn’t agree more.

Kathleen and Ernst Ellen and Ingeborg
Kathleen Murray compares notes with Ernst Mikalsen:     Ellen Mikalsen and her mother Ingeborg Andrea Lauritzen
We headed out in the rain in the car with Ellen and Ernst: they showed us where the Handaa farm was and then drove us to the home of Herbjoerg (Ingeborg’s sister and Ellen’s Aunt) and Ole Steiro. They were in the middle of their afternoon tea with Ole’s sister, so we had more coffee and let the conversation (mostly Norwegian with Ellen interpreting) flow around us. Ole is a remarkable man: he taught himself English, and with an occasional reference to his dictionary he told us about the homes he has build (including the one we were sitting in), his career as an electrician and the electrical supply store he had owned. We had already had several helpings of cake at Ellen’s and had to politely refuse the offer of sandwiches, cheese cake and other sweets, but we did accept more coffee and tasted the second favorite treat (after lutefisk) in all of Norway: some kind of unleavened bread with sweetened butter in between. It was delicious!

Herbjoerg & Ole
Ole Steiro and his wife Herbjoerg Steiro (Lauritzen)
I had shown Ernst a letter I had from Sigurd Mehus (another cousin who has, through his letters to an Aunt, provided a great deal of information about the family), so Ernst drove us over to the Mehus farm before we returned to the Herset farm. We finally left about 7:30 with an invitation to return the following day for dinner and a chance to meet more relatives. As Kathleen and I drove back to Mo i Rana, our moods alternated between stunned silence and bursts of laughter over our good fortune. Back at the hotel we headed to the basement to enjoy the evening snack (just what we needed after all that we ate in Nesna!) and a few beers. We discovered that the hotel had wireless internet access and sent the first emails of the trip before retiring.

10 September 2006 – Sunday
For the first time on this trip we did not have to get up early and did not wake up to the insistent beeping of our travel alarm clock. It was cloudy and rainy outside, a perfect day for a leisurely breakfast and catching up on email. The breakfast smorgasbord is every bit as delicious as we remembered from our last visit to Norway: a good selection of bread, cheese, hard boiled eggs, tomatoes, cucumbers, red peppers, cereal, coffee, juice and a several kinds of fish. After breakfast we returned to our room, caught up on email and enjoyed more coffee before setting out for Nesna.

The rain and the clouds had cleared off by the time we left the hotel and it was a beautiful day for a drive. Since we had plenty of time we took a few side roads and got to see some of the breathtakingly beautiful scenery that this part of Norway has to offer. This is truly a magnificent part of the world, and I was quickly revising my first impressions about Nesna area.

Between Mo i Rana and Nesna Helgeland
Scenes driving between Mo i Rana and Nesna
We arrived at Herset shortly before 4. Ellen overwhelmed me with several gifts: a Norwegian flag, a CD (with a book) to help me learn Norwegian (she teaches Norwegian as a second language), and a copy of a document created by a cousin of Thomas Lorentzen detailing the genealogy of the Lorentzen branch of the family. Ellen served a roasted lamb (raised on the farm), new potatoes and lots of vegetables (she said later that she was afraid that we might be vegetarians) with a lovely red wine and fresh fruit for desert. It was delicious!

Ellen’s niece (Ingeborg Herset) stopped by with her husband (Bjoernar) and youngest daughter (Margit) after we had finished eating. She and Ellen had been talking earlier in the day and they devised a way for us to spend Monday night on the Herset farm. Ernst and Ellen teach at a school that is half way to Mo i Rana, so they have offered to drive into town and pick us up at 4:00. Ingeborg will pick us up Tuesday morning and drive us to the boat. I gratefully accepted, thrilled at having the chance to sleep on the farm where my Grandfather, his seven brothers and sisters and his father were born. The friendliness and generosity of everybody we have encountered on this trip is overwhelming.

Having settled that, Ellen whisked us off to the home of Magne Stereo. He is also cousin and a very serious genealogist who has a large and well documented record of the family. Ellen busied herself in the kitchen and maintained a steady stream of calls and text messages on her cell phone while we exchanged data on the more recent descendants , ate waffles and drank coffee. I also took several digital pictures of photographs of Lorents Isaksen and his family that Magne had in his possession.

Magne & Kathleen Lorents Isakson b. 1848
Magne Johan Steiro and Kathleen Muray:     Lorents Isakson
Then it was off to the home of Lauritz Lauritzen for fruit and pear juice (a welcome change from all the coffee we had been drinking) and more discussion about the family. He was the one who drew the now famous family tree that we have been reviewing with every cousin we have visited to establish our relative positions in the family tree. I don’t think this entire fantasy that we are experiencing here in Nesna would have happened if not for that piece of paper. What an incredible turn of events!

Lauritz and Ester
Lauritz Lorentz Lauritzen and his wife Ester
We stopped off at Ingeborg’s for one more visit. She and her husband have renovated their 100 year old house on the coast and have created a beautiful home just up the road from the Herset farm. Ingeborg also presented me with a gift – a banner of Norwegian flags for our Christmas tree (we had discussed Christmas traditions earlier and I mentioned that I was interested in buying a Norwegian flag). She also carefully tutored me on the Norwegian tradition of dancing and singing around the Christmas tree and extracted a solemn promise from me that I would carry on the tradition back home in Texas. I did not realize it at the time but Ingeborg was demonstrating her wonderful sense of humor… When I met her mother a few days later and repeated the conversation to her she just laughed and said “she never did that!”.

We left about 9:30 and drove back to Mo i Rana through rain and dense fog: at times visibility was reduced to 50 feet or less, and it was a relief to pull into the hotel. We enjoyed several beers in the basement bar before calling it a day.

11 September 2006 – Monday
We enjoyed another leisurely morning in the hotel, lingering over breakfast, sending email and packing up before checking out and setting out for Hemnas where my Great-great Grandfather Anders Anderssen was born. I had not been looking forward to the hassle of having a car on this trip (we usually travel by train and other means of public transport) but it has turned out to be very little trouble, and the GPS we brought with us has made navigation a breeze, although it wanted to take us to Hemnas by a very circuitous route that we ignored. Maybe the GPS is a lot smarter than we realized because the road we chose was under construction, and it was a very slow and bumpy trip.

Hemnes is a small town, fairly typical of what we have been seeing in this part of the country. We found the church and spent some time walking around, taking pictures, and listening to the excited voices and footsteps of children from the local school as they ran uphill past the church and again as they returned downhill on the other side, apparently participating in some kind of scavenger hunt.

Hemnes, Norway
The church in Hemnes
We ate our lunch in the car in the parking lot before heading up the hill to look at the cemetery. Not knowing for sure that I had any relatives buried there (and knowing that we were unlikely to find any tombstones even if there were) we did not spent a lot of time walking around. I had hoped to get over to Bardal where my Great Grandmother Inger Helene Andersdatter was born but it required us to take a ferry and we did not have enough time to get there and return in time to meet Ernst and Ellen, so we returned to Mo i Rana and did a bit of souvenir shopping.

We thought we had figured out the parking meter system, but both of us miss-read the sign in front of the car… we thought we only had to pay until 3:00, but we should have paid until 4:00 and ended up getting a costly parking ticket. I dropped Kathleen off at the hotel, returned the car to Hertz, and went to the police station to pay the fine. The door had an electronic lock, but I got there just as someone was walking out. He held the door open for me, so I walked into a entry blocked by another locked door and not another person in sight. I tried to go back out to the street but that door had locked behind me and I found myself with nowhere to go. After knocking on the inside door for a few minutes and trying not to panic too much I was finally rescued by a nice but puzzled police officer who released me and provided instructions to the city hall where such matters apparently are handled. I paid our fine and, having paid our debt to Norwegian society, joined Kathleen back in the hotel lobby to wait for Ernst and Ellen to arrive.

They showed up a few minutes after 4 and took us to a Bimbo’s restaurant for dinner (where they insisted on paying… apparently there really is no limit to their generosity), picked up some groceries, then headed back over the mountain for what turned out to be a very pleasant evening in their home. Ernst had expressed an interest in doing some research on his family, so Kathleen downloaded Brothers Keeper (a shareware genealogy software package that Magne Stereo uses) and loaded it onto his PC. I gave him a GED formatted copy of my database, so now he has access to everything I have about the family.

Ernst has two dogs (Sarah and Scott) who came in from the rain (it had had been raining steadily all day but it really started pouring after we arrived at the house). They help him manage the sheep that Ernst raises on the farm, and he has them trained to respond to his voice and whistle commands: they stayed on rugs in between the kitchen and living room the whole time we were there until Ernst tormented them by calling the name of the cat who, sadly, had died several years before: it still whipped them into a frenzy.

We had a enjoyable discussion about a wide variety of topics while enjoying beer, wine and a small feast consisting of cheese, fruit, nuts and crackers produced by Ellen. Ernst explained that they had been asked to move onto the farm at the request of Ellen’s parents, and described how he had built the house himself 20 years ago. He is a teacher with no building experience, but spent a year thinking about it before he started construction. The result is a beautiful and comfortable home that looks like it was built by a master craftsman. We finally ran out of energy, topics and wine around midnight and retired for the evening.

Living Room Herset Building
Scenes from the Herset farm: The living room of Ernst and Ellen & and the renovated farm building where Ingeborg lives.
12 September 2006 – Tuesday
After a fitful night’s sleep in the guest room we walked into the kitchen the next morning and were greeted by another feast: eggs, bacon, bread, cheese, yogurt and much, much more. Not for the first time I found myself overwhelmed by the depth of the hospitality we have encountered and wondering how I would ever be able to convey my gratitude.

Ellen and Ernst left for work around 8:30, and Ingeborg arrived shortly thereafter to shepherd us on our way. She took us to the Nesna Kommune building where I was able to purchase both volumes of the Nesna Bygdebooks (now I really have to learn Norwegian!), then took us to the new Nesna University College where she works as a counselor: it is very modern and impressive. We bumped into Magne (he is an Assistant Professor there) and Ester Lauritzen (she teaches at a grade school and had brought her students there for a swimming lesson).

Ingeborg then took us to a kind of community center/resale shop staffed mostly by immigrants living in Nesna while going through the process of becoming citizens to help them learn the language and other practical skills. We had coffee (of course!) and waffles served to us at a table decorated with a candle (seemingly a requirement for any meal in Norway). All too soon it was time to say goodbye to Ingeborg and Nesna and begin our journey South.

Our ship (the MS Finnmarken) arrived in the pouring rain right on time at 11:00 and departed 15 minutes later with us on board. Our room on the 6th deck is more than adequate, with a couch, a desk and our own bathroom. We quickly dropped off our luggage and headed back outside in time to watch Nesna recede into the mist and the rain.

MS Finnmarken Farewell Nesna
Departing Nesna on the MS Finnmarken
An hour or so later we stopped at Sandnessjoen (the next port of call) where we met Ingeborgs motherMargarette Herset. She greeted us with a small Norwegian flag (another gift for me!) as she came on board during our 45 minute stay in port. We sat in the cafeteria on the boat and talked over coffee. She is a former telephone company operator, now retired due to downsizing and working for a business with offices that overlook the harbor. Like everybody else in the family we have met so far she is intelligent, speak excellent English, and the brief time we had together passed all too quickly.

Margarette Herset
Margarette Herset with Tony Hanson on the MS Finnmarken in Sandnessjoen
What a difference a few days can make… When I planned this trip I was focused on the past and imagined myself standing at the stern of the ship as it sailed South from Nesna, contemplating long dead relatives while retracing the route that they took on their long journey to Trondheim, through England and, eventually, to North Dakota. Instead, I found myself overwhelmed by the present and the warm, swirling memories of people and a vibrant community that is home to relatives whose existence I was unaware of (until now!) and whom I will never forget.

Nesna, Norway: September 8 – 12, 2006