Norway – Family Connections — The North Star Reports – by Amy North. Sponsored by The College of St. Scholastica and The Middle Ground Journal
Almost 200,000 immigrants came to the United States from Norway between 1900 and 1910. One of these 200,000 was my great-grandfather, Ole Dahl. He grew up and worked on a farm in Bodø, Norway, before coming to the United States in 1907 at the age of twenty-two. His plan was to get a job where he could make enough money to buy a boat and return to Norway as a fisherman. Little did he know, he would end up staying in Minnesota the rest of his life.
His journey started by traveling to Liverpool, United Kingdom, to get on the steamboat Cedric, which was headed to Ellis Island. At the time, this steamboat was the largest ship in the world and provided relatively good accommodations compared to other ships. The trip lasted about a week and a half before he arrived in New York on May 14, 1907. From there, he went to Minnesota, where many other Norwegians had gone over the years due to the amount of farmland in the state. He somehow found his way to a large farm in Granite Falls. He would keep this farm in the family for generations, as it remains to this day.
Despite the fact that Ole was enjoying his life in the U.S., his family back in Norway was still very important to him. He sent them money throughout rough economic times and decided to visit them in 1947. When he returned to Norway, his family was surprised by how much he loved life in the United States. He told them he couldn’t wait to return to “God’s Country.” He wanted his family members to return with him, but in the time that had passed the economy had improved and they didn’t need financial help anymore; they chose to stay in Norway. It was hard for Ole to leave without his family, but he now had a family back in Minnesota. In fact, he had a daughter and two sons who were starting to have children of their own and who would eventually take over the farm. Nevertheless, both the Norwegian and American sides of the family have remained in contact with one another to keep our history and culture alive.
Fast forward to the present day. I visited the farm in late July 2013 for the 95th birthday of Ole’s son and my great-uncle, Harold. I went with my mother, father, and brother, and we brought a vase of flowers from our Norwegian relatives. With the flowers in hand, we went up to Harold, who was sitting on a John Deere stool in the garage surrounded by decorations of green and yellow tractors– further evidence of just how much farming and the family estate mean to him. When we greeted him he immediately asked about the flowers. We told him that they were from the relatives in Norway whom my brother and I would be visiting next week with our uncle.
As we told Harold about the flowers and the trip we would be taking, several other friends and family members began to ask questions about the flowers and told us to say “hi” to the Norwegian relatives for them. Others would come up and tell my brother and me stories about when they went on their first trip to Norway, because everyone in our family had gone at least once. The story that stuck out the most was the one from my dad’s cousin, Cheryl, who told us about when she first arrived in Norway. When she stepped off the plane, she was greeted by Ellen, Åsmund, Arnie Berger, and Betzy (members of the oldest living generation of our relatives in Norway). Immediately Cheryl was whisked off to a town an hour away, brought to a small house in the country, and walked into a birthday party of a relative she had never met. Everyone talked to her as if they had known each other for years and were just catching up.
When my uncle, brother, and I went to Norway the next week and met our relatives, including Ellen, Åsmund, Arnie Berger, and Betzy, we immediately hit it off. In fact, I could even see them taking us halfway across the country to attend the birthday party of someone we had never met, just like they had done with Cheryl! We learned just how much Harold’s farm means to them; they all knew Harold and our whole extended family, and talked very fondly of the times they spent both in Minnesota and in Norway.
Spending two weeks in Norway was an eye-opening experience. Not only did I get the chance to travel to a different country and be immersed in a different culture, but I had the opportunity to meet members of my family I had never met before. Over the next two weeks, as we explored Oslo and other cities and met more and more family members, I suddenly realized why my family members return so often. Though our relatives in Norway are descendants of my great-great-grandparents, they treat us as if we’ve known each other our whole lives. I did not realize until Harold’s 95th birthday how much pride my family takes in their Norwegian heritage, and when I went to Norway, I finally understood why. It was not just that we came from a beautiful country, it was because of how hospitable and kind the people there are.
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Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA
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