I have become the family historian for both my nuclear and my extended family. In my father’s generation, the family historian was his first cousin Odd Bjarne Andvik. Bjarne’s mother, Olufina Duesund Andvik, and my father’s father, Ragnvald Duesund Bergeson, were siblings. Bjarne (his preferred name) did genealogy before the digital age, so he (like thousands of others) made his family tree using pen and paper. He sent his charts to my dad and when my dad passed on, the charts came to me. I’m not sure how I would have started my genealogical quest without this pump primer from Bjarne.
For example, I knew that Grandpa Ragnvald had many siblings. But it wasn’t until I was an adult and exposed to Bjarne’s charts that I learned that Grandpa’s mother, Brita Erikdsdatter Andvik had been married to another man before she met my great-grandfather, Berge Rognaldsen Mjanger. She had two children, Halvar and Marta, with her first husband and they were ever present in the lives of my grandfather and his siblings. Neither my grandfather nor my father had ever spoken of them in my presence that I recall.
My mother, Patricia Femrite Bergeson, was the family historian in her generation. She mentioned this to me only briefly when she was alive, but after my father passed in 2006, I inherited all of her historic photographs, letters and genealogical research. One of the items in these materials was an essay that she wrote in 1946 for one of her Norwegian language classes at St. Olaf College titled “Why I am an American.” It’s generously supplemented with photographs, newspaper clippings and postcards. It also contains her first attempt at a family tree of her ancestors.
Some years ago, I decided that documenting the family tree with pencil and paper was not going to work well for me so I purchased my first piece of genealogy software, Family Tree Maker. After I input all of the data from Bjarne’s charts and my mother’s charts, I could print out classy documents in multiple family tree formats. This was revolutionary and I became not only a tree-maker, but a publisher as well. I printed up reams of charts for my entire extended family and spread them around. Now I could not only share the information that I had assembled (which most of them had never seen), but I could generate some enthusiasm for convincing them to help me expand the database. I was missing many birth dates, newer cousin names, spousal information, etc. and I needed their assistance in a big way.
After using Family Tree Maker for several years, I started hearing a lot of buzz about a new digital online platform called Ancestry.com and that’s when the wheels really went off the rails with my “spare time”. This baby was hooked up to about a million databases and apparently could provide information on my predecessors back to the days of stone tablets. Not only that, but I could sync the online information I assembled with Family Tree Maker and make even more charts and graphs than before. Whoa. Sign me up!
My family tree now has over 3,000 people in it and it grows by several names each week. In addition to expanding the tree, the network of folks using ancestry.com has introduced me to a number of relatives I would never have met otherwise. Every few months I get an inquiry out of the blue that starts like this: “I saw on ancestry. com the other day that a member of my family is in your family tree. Why is that? Who are you?”
The first was a cousin named David Ettner in Oslo, Norway, who is a relative on my mother’s side in the Tryggeseth and Skallerud families. His great-grandfather, Ivar Olai Tryggeseth, was a brother of my great-grandfather, Nils Johan Tryggeseth. Then there was Karen Snethun from Alberta, Canada whose husband is a shirt tail relative of mine. His grandfather’s first cousin, Henry Snethun, was married to Gladys Lindseth Snethun, a first cousin of my grandmother, Josephine (Josie) Tryggeseth Femrite.
Sticking with the Tryggeseth Connection (there were three Tryggeseth brothers who emigrated from Norway to the United States in the late 19th century: Kolbein, Nils and Ivar), I have had several exchanges with Peggy Brown from Richmond, Virginia. Her mother, Margaret Tryggeseth Brown, was a first cousin of my grandmother, Josie Femrite. Peggy’s grandfather was Kolbein Ivarssen Tryggeseth, the third Tryggeseth brother.
On my father’s side, I’ve met Laura Carroll from Silverdale, Washington, the spouse of one of my Andvik cousins, Brian, son of my dad’s first cousin Arnold Olai Andvik. She contacted me a couple of years ago to clarify a date in my record for Brian’s grandmother who died from tuberculosis in Norway in 1920.
I’ve also heard from Kathleen Parke in Maryland whose father was a first cousin of my father on his mother, Gladys Parke Bergeson’s side. She was working on locating the father of our common 4th great-grandfather William Parke who lived in North Carolina in the late 18th century. I’ve been looking for more information about that person for ten years and have yet to figure it out, so I was hoping we could work on that together. She made me aware of The Parke Society, a membership organization for all Parke descendants in the country. Of course, I had to join up.
Last, I was contacted by Kristin Latko from the Chicago area. Her mother, Barbara Bergeson Latko, and my father were first cousins on their fathers’ side. Barbara was adopted as a young girl by my great-uncle Olav Duesund Bergeson and his wife, Lillie (Oline), and Kristin wanted to know if I knew anything about how that came to be. I sent her some of my grandpa Ragnvald’s photographs with Barbara in them, but I don’t know any more than that.
The other day I received a message from a relative of my daughter Kari’s husband Tyler Holden. She wanted to make me aware of the documentation for his great-grandfather’s baptism in Germany in 1832! Amateur genealogy nerds like me will go to great lengths to uncover any connection to the past, no matter how distant the detail might be.
Maybe this post will convince someone else to join us in the search!