December 2009: At some point in everyone’s life I think it is important to learn about your ancestors and to discover your roots. By doing so you can learn about the places and the lives of the people who helped you become the person you are genetically and culturally today. This way you can pass this knowledge along to the next generation before it is gone forever. For many people of the world, especially in Europe and Asia, it is common for people to be able to trace their ancestry back a thousand years or more. This is not the case for most Americans, who can barely trace theirs back a few generations. One of my greatest travel bucket list items was to not only trace my ancestry but to travel to the places where my ancestors came from. I wanted to learn about them and of the challenges they faced in their lives and to hopefully find some inspiration in them. This journey brought me to Meraker, Norway to learn about my Norwegian ancestry.

Location of Meraker, Norway

During probably one of the worst times to visit Norway, my brother, Jesse and I visited during the week of New Year’s Eve in the dead of winter. It was cold, the days short, snow deep and to top it off almost everything was closed because of the holidays. We had some information on our ancestors that our uncle and aunt, Deborah and Tom provided us from when they visited Meraker a few years before us, but we didn’t have anything concrete, no addresses, or phone numbers. All we had to go by was the name of the town, Meraker, where they lived and a name of a guest house in town that was owned by the town historian, who would hopefully be able to help us. We made no prior arrangements whatsoever and our goal was to just show up in Meraker, a small mountain town near the Swedish border with a population of only a few thousand and hope for the best.

We flew to Trondheim via Oslo, where we caught a public bus to Meraker. The bus was mostly empty and when we arrived to Meraker, it was dark, blustery and cold and there wasn’t a soul in sight. The guesthouse we planned to stay at was shuttered up and no one was onsite. There were no other hotels that I was aware of in town. The bus driver was worried about leaving us to freeze to death on the side of the road, so he waited for us and when it was clear that we needed help, he called the owner of the guesthouse, Bjorn, who lived nearby and agreed to come and meet us.

Bjorn, the town historian, was exactly the person we were hoping to find, and when we informed him, we were looking to learn about our Norwegian ancestry, he was thrilled to help us but under the condition we sign our names in his genealogy book for the town of Meraker, which of course we did. Even though the guesthouse was closed for the season, Bjorn very kindly decided to open it just for us.  After checking in and making arrangements to visit Meraker the next day with Bjorn, my brother and I ate a mysterious dish that may have had some moose eyeballs for dinner at the only restaurant in town, at least the only that was open.

View of the mountain town of Meraker

For the next few days Bjorn was outstanding to us. He took time from his day and without asking for or accepting any compensation, he enthusiastically escorted my brother and I around the area of Meraker teaching us about our heritage. There was little about the area’s history that he did not know.

On the morning of New Year’s Eve, Bjorn picked us up in his car and took us to visit the Hamran Farm, where my great grandparents once lived.  The little red building is called a burr. It was the first building built on the property and where the family of Beret Olsdatter (before she married Anton, Sveum) built this building, and the farm name is Hamran. She and Anton lived there after they married, and Anton worked at the nearby mining town of Gilsaa. Beret is the mom of my grandfather, Arnold. Great Grandma Beret was from Meraker and Anton came up from the Sveum farm in the town called Dokka in the parish of Nordsini.

The farm is small and was not big enough to sustain the amount of people there. Their life was difficult and the wages they made meager. This is likely why Anton and Beret decided to migrate to America. It is easy to understand why migrating to the USA in hopes of finding a better life with new opportunities seemed appealing to them.  The old farmstead was up in the hills in the backside of town, and the land appeared rugged and difficult to farm. When we arrived, Bjorn led us on foot to the burr, which looks like it is currently being used for storage. The deep snow made it hard to walk around the property. Soon after our arrival. the new owner, a Swedish man introduced himself to us. He didn’t speak English but was friendly and happy to let us walk around the property. It is hard to describe the feeling of standing next to the structure where my great grandparents once lived in Norway and to do this with my brother by my side is really one of my travel highlights.

View of the small burr/Hamran Farm that was once the home of the family of my great grandma, Berret’s family lived before marrying my Great Grandfather, Anton. 

Our next stop was to the train depot, where our great grandparents once left Meraker to travel to Bergen, where they began their voyage to America.

Meraker Train Depot Building

Small chapel where my great grand parents, Beret and Anton were married 

Afterwards, we visited the small Lutheran chapel in town where my great grandparents were married. The chapel was closed. Evidently it is only open occasionally when the traveling minister is in town for weddings, baptisms or funerals.

My brother and I in front of the chapel where our great grand parents were married

Day Trip to Sweden

Being that Sweden was so close to Meraker, it was just too tempting to visit. Bjorn was kind enough to drive us to Storlien, just across the border into Sweden along a winding scenic mountain road. Storlien, a mountain resort town, is home to a historical train depot and in the region where we would later find out during the Nazi occupation of Norway, some of our relatives had helped smuggle jews by cross country skiis through the mountains and out of Norway. Cross country skiing is a big part of Nordic culture, Norwegians have such a long winter that they have learned to embrace it.  During our time in Norway, we often saw Norwegians cross country skiing for fun or just to run errands and groceries or kids would be pulled by the skiir in a toboggan like push sled that is unique to Norway. My great grandmother, Inna Hegsted once cross country skiid from the Steinkjer area to Sweden and kept a painted plate of Sweden in her possession when she was in America.

Road to Storlien

Swedish Mountains on the road to Storlien

Storlien Train Station

Bjorn, my brother and I at the Storlien Train Station

Meeting Our Distant Norwegian Relatives

After visiting Sweden, Bjorn took us back to Meraker to visit or relatives descended from the Sveum side of our family, the Reppes. They were not aware that we were coming and on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, when we showed up at their doorstep with Bjorn. Considering we were just two strangers that showed up on their doorstep on New Year’s Eve, they were pleased to receive us and invited us in for dinner, and drinks and we stayed the night at their house. Like Bjorn, they would go way out of their way for the next few days to wlecome us, share their history and accomodate us during our time in Norway. They were awesome!

On the night of New Years Eve, we lit off fireworks in their backyard, drank homemade beer, and Norwegian hard liqueur, Aquavit. After reigning in the new year with our new relatives, we went out to a local party in Meraker with college aged kids. I don’t even remember if we ended up getting any sleep that night.

My Brother and I with the Reppes

Billy Reppe showing my brother the family tree

Billy showed my brother exactly where we fell into the family tree. he had a book with photos and our families lineage all organized going back dozens of generations.

I was happy to see so many trolls in the Reppe’s house. The Reppe’s house was decorated with all of the same Christmas decorations that my Norwegian grandma and mom have always used. There were Norwegian Christmas trolls all over the house. Trolls are a big part of Norwegian tradition. Billy explained that there is one naughty Christmas troll-Nisse that  requires milk and cookies to be left out for it to eat otherwise it will cause mischief in your house or steal your kids.

Christmas Troll

Christmas Troll

Lefse sweet bread

More Christms Trolls

Troll

Norwegian Santa

Billy’s mom was the most closely associated relative to us out of the Reppes. My aunt and uncle also met her during a previous visit of their to Norway. 

My Brother and I with Grandma Reppe

Jesse and I drinking aquivit 

Lighting off fireworks at midninght

At a Meroker party

Steinkjer & Trondheim

After visiting Meraker, Cato Reppe, our newfound relative, the youngest Reppe, took us to Trondheim, a beautiful city on a fjord, where we spent the night at his house. He and his wife graciously allowed my brother and I to sleep in their bed while they slept on the couch. In trondheim, they took us out into the city for dinner and drinks where we met up with their friends and they shared more stories of Norwegian history from the area. The next day Cato drove us to Steinkjer to learn about more family history.

 

We visited Maere kirk church, a church with some traditional Viking shaped Stave charcteristics and Viking gargoyles. This church is where our great, great grandpa David Hegsted belonged. David lived in Steinkjer with his wife, Inga. David and Inga were the parents of my grandma, Stella. Maere kirk church is possibly where Nicolina, the mother of Inga is buried. We spent the night in Steinkjer in Tingvold Park Hotel, which had a Viking burial ground in the back.

Traditionl Stave Norwegian Church/Maere kirk church Steinkjer

Old Tombstones

Winter Fjords 

Viking Burial Ground with Stonehenge like Stones/Tingvold Park Hotel 

We tried to drive out to some old Viking rock carvings of reindeer but the road was not plowed and the snow was too deep. Despite this we tried to make it and almost ended up stuck in the middle of nowehere. 

Final Stop in Norway, Bergen

I left my brother in Trondheim where he stayed for a few days before continuing his travels into eastern Europe. From Trondheim I flew to Bergen for one night where I stayed near the Hanseatic museum and the old traditinal fishing village along the coast. Bergen was where the parents of both my grandma and grandpa departed to America by boat via the Great Lakes to Duluth, Minnesota.  I tried to imagine how they felt when they left Bergen  in the early 1900s. Were they scared? Excited? Did they realize the impact that their decision to come to America would have on so many of the lives of their future offspring?  Just like my great grandparents, I too departed to America from Bergen, but unlike them , my voyage was much faster and by airplane.

 Bergen where my relatives left to come to America by boat.

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