At some point in our lives, it is clear we start getting some existential questions. Where do we come from? With that question in mind, I started to look for my relatives. I rapidly discovered my family was not adventurous. Going back 7 generations all family members on my dad side lived in a few villages located 10 miles apart from each other at the most.
So when I heard my mom’s boyfriend wanting to go to Norway to meet some of her distant relatives, I got really excited. I started the search. I felt like Sherlock Holmes. I got so excited every time I found a clue. [I think that’s how he felt]. A year later, we were packed and on our way to the trip of a lifetime.
We knew there was a cousin living in Oslo. We had made contact and were planning to meet with him when we arrived. Meeting a long lost relative was extremely emotional, but we rapidly got down to business. He shared with us everything we had been trying to find from our side of the pond. The following day, we were up early to start the drive to Ulvik, Norway. [Ulvik is located on the Western side of the country close to Voss in the direction of Bergen.] A short 228 miles drive from Oslo. It took us close to 6 hours to reach our destination, but what a drive. We drove through 27 tunnels, [one being the longest of Europe], drove through the northern tip of Hardangervidda National Park and followed one of the longest fjords in Norway “Hardangerfjorden”.
When we got to our destination, it was hard to imagine the life in the valley in the late 1800’s. A 17-year-old pregnant girl with her 19-year-old brother made the journey from Ulvik, Norway all the way to northern Iowa. The 2 adolescents left their parents and 7 other brothers and sisters for what would become a life change for generations to come. They left Norway through Bergen, taking a boat to England, crossed England and embarked on a one-way voyage from Liverpool to New York. During the journey, the baby was born and arrived in the US at the age of 6 months. What happens during the trip will remain a mystery. The brother and sister got married, the baby grew, and the US family spent part of their life in Iowa until moving North to Minnesota. The sister kept corresponding with the Norwegian family. When she died, the baby continued to keep contact with the relatives in Norway. After she passed, the connection was lost, until someone, two generations later had an existential question. Without the baby letters found in a shoebox, and Facebook, we would have never re-connected with the long lost cousin, and the family would have been broken forever an ocean apart.
So how and where do you start finding your relatives? As I already mentioned earlier, I started searching for relatives a year prior to our trip. I met with every living sole, parents, grandparents, uncles etc. and asked as many questions as possible about the family. With that, I went on Ancestry.com, bought a 6 months package that gave me access to tones of information. I was able to cross-reference some evidence I had found with other data and facts. I enjoyed the site. It gave me flexibility to join for a month, 6 months or longer. I’ve been on it on-and-off as time permits. When we got to Norway, we went to cemeteries, churches and browsed through tones of old records. It is a tedious process, and if you are in a hurry, this may not be for you. Planning a trip around a purpose was so rewarding. We met some incredible people along the way and re-connected a family separated over 100 years ago.