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.
Picked up our car from Hertz and were soon on our way to Rakkestad (although it took us awhile to navigate out of the center of Oslo and to find the E18). Once the GPS got a good signal and figured out where we were it was smooth sailing.
Rakkestad is a fairly sizeable town, but it didn’t take us long to realize that they had no TI [Tourist Information center] and that the church was nowhere obvious. We drove around for awhile and started thinking out loud about what else we would do with the three day we had scheduled for this part of the trip when, by dumb luck, we found what looked like the city hall. It turned out to be a library run by theRakkestad Kommune with a very well stocked and staffed genealogy center in the basement. The center was not scheduled to be open, but Eva Bjornstad (the woman who runs it) happened to be there and she generously spent most of the afternoon with us anyway. She was a fantastic resource: we got several documents I did not have, lots of information, and a promise to drive around with us on Wednesday to see the family farms.
The church in Rakkestad
Wednesday, 06 September, 2006: “It’s like Christmas Eve”
We had parked on the street near the hotel (Cochs Pensjonat) in the only place we could find, and had to have the car somewhere else by 8:00 or face a ticket, so we got off to an early (6:00) start. Unfortunately, the restaurant that gives residents of our hotel a discount does not open ’till 7:30. We had discussed the possibility the night before and headed across the street to execute our plan “B” (anything we could find in the nearby 7-11) but they were not open yet either, so settled for the coffee shop right next to our hotel. The car was still there (and without a parking ticket), and with only a few minor problems found our way back to the E18: we pulled into the parking lot at the Rakkestad library at 9:30.
As we entered the genealogy center we encountered 8 apparently happy, talkative volunteers sitting around the table in the center of the room all busily engaged in doing whatever it was they were doing. Only one from that group spoke English (I would later discover out that his name was Roger Torper and that he was married to a 2nd cousin), so we worked to a pleasant background of Norwegian chatter and laughter.
The Genealogy center at the Rakkestad Kommune & Anton Syversens Obituary obtained there
Part way through the morning Eva stopped working, looked over at me and said that she thought she had grown up on the farm next to some cousins of mine. She pointed through the window at a young man working on the septic tank in front of the library and told me that he was a relative too. She said that she would make some calls and see if any of the cousins were home and willing to meet us.
Everybody at the center paused at 11:00 for a snack of coffee or tea and little waffles. We enjoyed our sandwiches [purchased on the drive out of Oslo] before wrapping up our research. Then the fun really began… Eva took us (in her car) to see several of the farms related to my family. We saw where my Great Grandfater [Anton Martin Syverson] was born [Panteholtet], and stopped at the farm [Toftedalen] he bought when he married his second wife [Maren Johanne Krestensdatter] which is where he lived until his death in 1921. It remained in the family until recently (a local butcher bought it).
The Panteholtet (Left) and Toftedalen (Right) Farms in Rakkestad
Left: Eva Bjornstad, Bjorn Johansen and Tony Hanson (L to R). Right: Tony Hanson and Reidun Ellinor Johansen (L to R)
Thursday, 07 September, 2006
Got the day off to an unexpectedly early start when the fire alarm in our hotel went off about 1 AM this morning. The alarm bell in our room would have awakened a dead person – it certainly got our attention. Fortunately it was nothing major – just too much smoke from someone cooking something in their room (our room has a small electric stove, a sink and a small refrigerator). I had a hard time falling back asleep and was dragging all day as a result.
Got up at 6:00 anyway as we were parked in another space that required us to move the car by 8:00 (it was all we could find). We visited our local sidewalk coffee shop. They were having some kind of event and started handing out free to-go cups of coffee to anybody who walked by as we sat there and had our breakfast.
Had clouds and rain on our drive to Eidsvoll, but got there right at 9:00, only to discover that the library (where we had decided to do most of our work) was closed until 2:00 on Thursdays. We talked to a couple of employees out front – they assured us that they had lots of information…. So we drove up to the church (got directions from the receptionist at the City Hall next to the library) and stopped by the parish office. They tried to look up some of the names I was interested in but couldn’t locate anything. All of the old records are in Oslo (the church has burned down four times – once in 1850 with both sets of of Parish records inside!). They did assure us that they could tell me if and where anybody was buried if I had more information (Name and date of death, which I did not have). I got their email address and will follow up wit them when I get more information on Laura Larsdatters parents.
The church in Eidsvoll
Had lunch in the car (ate sandwiches we bought in Oslo), drove around a bit, went into a restaurant downtown and had coffee in an attempt to kill time until 2:00 rolled around when the library finally opened. What a dud – the bulk of their information was microfilm from the Mormon church. Without an index to figure out what was on which roll of film it was a waste of vacation time so we packed up and headed back to Oslo.
On the drive back we both spent some time reflecting on the improbability of all that happened the past two days in Rakkestad. It seems like a miracle that two branches of a family could be separated so far for so long and then be reconnected again like this. It was (and is) hard to take in. We have so much to be grateful to Eva for… we both separately tried to donate some money to the center but she wouldn’t hear of it, just said that was what she was there for.
Managed to get back to Oslo in time to drop the car off at Hertz before they closed at 5:00 (but just barely!). Dropped our stuff back at the hotel (what a wonderful location!), bought our train tickets to Mo i Rana for tomorrow (2200 Kr… the agent told us that we could have bought some cheaper tickets that morning… if only we had known!) and headed up the mountain to the Frognerseteren Hovedrestaurant. The weather had cleared: it was a beautiful, sunny evening so the view was spectacular (as was the food and the price).
View of Oslo from the Frognerseteren Hovedrestaurant