Monday, March 30, 2015

Here Comes the Syversen Family, part 1

SS Germanic, White Star Line
source: John S. Johnston [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The other day I really seemed to be on a roll. In a relatively short time, I located the passenger list showing my 2Great Uncle Hans Syverson and his family arriving at the Port of New York on 17 Aug 1878 aboard the SS Germanic.(1)    Some of the research involved records accessed through the Digital Archives of Norway (DAofN). I accessed other records through

My successful plan for finding Hans Syversen's immigration records used the following steps.

1. Use the Norwegian census records for 1865, 1875, and 1885 to establish the last census year in which the family or individual was recorded as living in Norway. (DAofN). Also, check US Federal census records to see when the family is recorded in the US.

Hans and his family were recorded in both the 1865 census for Norway and the 1875 census for Norway but not in the 1885 census. Both 1865 and 1875 records showed the family living on the Belden South Farm in Lesja Parish of Oppland. According to the 1880 US census, the Hans Syversen family was living in Linden, Brown County, Minnesota. This gave me a timeframe of between 1875 and 1880 for the family's emigration period.

2. Check local parish records to see if the family or person is listed as a "Removal", the column heading used for individuals notifying the church of their intent to move out of the area or to emigrate. (DAofN)

Oppland, Lesja Parish, Register #8, Migration Records, 1878-1879, p 589
Digital Archives of Norway

After looking at the Migration Records for 1875-1877, I found this page listing Hans and his family.  The family had notified the church of their plan to leave 17 July 1878 for America.   All of the family, Hans Syverson of Belden Farm, his wife Marit Paulsdatter, and their children Toline, Sofia, Marit, Hans, Ole, and Anton were planning to emigrate to America.

3. Study US Federal Census records to see the year recorded for immigration, number of years in the US, or information on naturalization. (

According to the 1900 US Federal Census, Hans immigrated to the US in 1878 and had been in the United States 22 years. This agreed with the parish record shown above. For the son Hans, however, different information. In the 1910 census, son Hans indicated he had immigrated in 1889 while the 1920 census gave 1876 as the year he arrived in the US. In the 1915 South Dakota census, son Hans said he came in 1875 and had been in the US for 40 years.  Hans (the father) had the date of 1878 that corresponded with the parish date of 1878. His son Hans, for unknown reasons, had various dates ranging from 1876 to 1889. I chose to consider 1878 as the probable date the family emigrated since the father Hans had provided that date in 1900, a time closer to the actual event than the later years in which his son Hans gave emigration information.

4. Search for the family or individual in immigration databases and ships' passengers lists.  Use sites such as, FamilySearch.orgLibrary and Archives of Canada, The Ships List,  Castle Garden for immigration 1820-1892, Ellis Island, or Steve Morse's One-Step Search.

This part of my research took a number of tries. With our immigrant ancestors, we are viewing passengers lists sometimes written by someone writing in English based on information spoken in another language so the variation in the spelling of names can necessitate additional searches for information. Add to the passenger list information, the fact that it has been transcribed or edited by yet others who may not be familiar with names from other countries.

Another variable in my search was estimating the arrival date for the family. I found a series of excellent articles about the process of emigration from Norway and conditions found in the steamers that crossed the Atlantic to America on the Norway Heritage website.  The articles mentioned that Norwegian immigrants primarily sailed from Norway to Hull in Yorkshire, England or other several other English ports. From the English port, the emigrants would travel by rail across England to the port of Liverpool to begin their trip across the Atlantic. The trip might take as long as a month based on making the connection to cross England and board the transatlantic steamer. If Hans had indicated to the Lesja Parish church that he and the family planned to leave on 17 July 1878, I hoped to find him arriving in American sometime in August of 1878.

A third variable concerned how his name might be listed on a passenger list - Hans Syverson, Hans Syverson Belden, Hans Belle as he was listed in the 1880 US census, or perhaps some variation I had not anticipated. Through trial and error and much adjusting of the "Broad to Exact" sliders on Ancestry's search boxes, I finally found the family of H S Belle listed as arriving at the Port of New York on 17 Aug 1878, exactly one month after the family departed from Norway.

I was not certain at first this was MY Hans Syverson of Belden farm. I looked back at both the 1875 Norway Census and the parish Migration Record to compare the Norwegian family listings with the one on the New York passenger list. One huge difference was seeing the entire family listed on the passenger list as being from Sweden instead of Norway. The family members' names and information were generally more accurate. Below is my transcription of the passenger list with corrections made in (red).

#154    H S Belle    age 44   male    farmer    Sweden (Norway)
#155    Mar (Marit) Belle    age 43    female    wife    Sweden (Norway)
NOTE: daughter Marie was listed as leaving on the parish Migration Record, but she was not on the passenger list.  Checking into this is definitely on my To-Do List.
#156    John Belle    age 17    male    laborer    Sweden    (Here was a big difference - no John was ever recorded as being a member of the family. However, there was a daughter Toline Belle, age 17 in 1878, who is also listed in the 1865, 1875 and 1880 censuses.)
#157    Sofia Belle    age 14    female    spinster
#158    Maret (Marit) Belle   age 11    male (female)    child    Sweden (Norway)
#159    Hans Belle    age 9    male   child    Sweden (Norway)
#159    Ole Belle    age 5    male    child    Sweden (Norway)
#160    Anton Belle    age 3    male    child    Sweden (Norway)

Comparing this passenger list with information I already knew about the family, I was confident I had found the passenger list for my 2Great Uncle Hans Syversen and his family. According to, all passengers arriving in New York in 1878 would have been processed through Castle Garden so I also looked for the family using the Castle Garden database. On the Castle Garden website, I wasn't as successful in finding a listing for the family's arrival. Their website provides a template of information on individual passengers rather than digitized records that can be browsed. I never keyed in the right set of search terms to actually find the Syversen family records.

I had found the information in a few hours and without a lot of difficulties, thanks to the sliders on's search screen.  I thought I had established a winning sequence of research steps for tracing my Norwegian relatives on their travels to America.  I couldn't wait to try it out on other relatives who I knew had immigrated to the US in the late 1800s.

To be continued ...

(1) "New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957", SS Germanic, arrival Port of New York 17 Aug 1878; accessed; citing National Archives M237, roll 414.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Genealogy Do-Over, Week 12: Sharing Research on WikiTree

Last week's e-mail had an interesting, make that huge, BSO (bright, shiny object). Someone had written me concerning a blog post I wrote over a year ago about my husband's 2GGrandfather, Elijah Hillhouse. In the post I had written about Elijah's military service in two different conflicts. This e-mail was a BSO as I have been running into dead ends in my Norwegian research and felt I could use a break

The e-mail asked if I would share some of Elijah's information on WikiTree.  I had registered to participate in WikiTree several years ago, but I had not been involved in posting any information there.  This correspondence gave me the impetus to look more closely at WikiTree and how the site operates.

The primary reason I have been looked at WikiTree at all was its emphasis on citing sources for information and its collaborative nature in developing family trees. Before I started working in an existing WikiTree, I wanted to start building a tree of my one. This would give me a chance to learn more about how the whole system operates.

Because I have been so involved in researching my Norwegian ancestors during the Genealogy Do-Over weeks, I felt this was the time to share my work on WikiTree in addition to updating my tree on Ancestry.  I did a GEDCOM ancestor export from Family Tree Maker of my Grandfather Michael Myren (the son of two Norwegian immigrants) and his ancestors. The next day I received an e-mail from WikiTree accepting my contribution.  My contribution of Michael Myren's tree was accepted in its entirety as there were no apparent duplicate names with those in other WikiTrees. So far I haven't received any contact from others researching my ancestors, but I am hoping that sometime in the future I will.

Before I started to add some information about Elijah Hillhouse to the existing WikiTree, I spent time reading the details the website provides on editing and citing information.  Adding bits of specific information wasn't as simple as uploading my GEDCOM file. After all, the intent of WikiTree is to have only one collaborative tree for a family, not multiple ones. Admittedly, it took me about an hour to add a few facts about Elijah's family and the sources for the facts.  Entering information isn't as effortless as using the templates that I am accustomed to with Family Tree Maker, but it wasn't as difficult as writing a bunch of HTML code. Because the manager for tree (on which Elijah's family was a branch) had made me a trusted contributor, I was able to add several facts to the tree as well as to add Elijah's parents and grandparents to the tree. It was an interesting experience to share some of my research through contributing to someone else's WikiTree .

Now I'm ready to "head back to Norway".  Following up on that e-mail was like a breath of fresh air.  It provided me with an opportunity to see what WikiTree has become.  It provided me a reason to share research with others.  And, it has provided me with another place to look when I am researching an individual.  If you haven't used WikiTree before, I urge you to take a look and see if its collaborative research can help you.

P.S. If you are one of my former students, as with Wikipedia, the information on WikiTree is only as good was where the information was originally found. The format of WikiTree makes it easy to see the sources each contributor used.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Fearless Females*: A Six-Word Tribute

My Aunt Mary, pictured below, was an important influence in my life, and the person after whom I was named.  Yesterday would have been her birthday.  I want to honor and remember this Fearless Female with a six-word tribute.

Mary Louise Perkinson, ca 1935
personal collection

Mary Louise Perkinson was truly a

             Gracious          Warm          Loving          Educated          Southern Lady

It would be wonderful if everyone had at least one such mentor or teacher in his or her life.

* Lisa Alzo of The Accidental Genealogist blog has presented Fearless Females: 31 Blogging Prompts to Celebrate Women's History Month.  Her prompts can be found here.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Genealogy Do-Over : Who Lived Where, The 1838 Norwegian Matrikul or Land Register

After spending a number of weeks plowing and plodding through the digitized parish registers for Lesja, Oppland, Norway found on the Digital Archives of Norway, I finally got brave enough to peruse some other records found in the Archives.  I decided to look at the digitized records for the 1838 Land Register.  This register ended up providing me with new information about some of my ancestors and relatives.

1838 Land Register for Lesja Parish, Oppland, Norway; source: Digital Archives of Norway

As soon as I started to look at the pages, it was clear that my first order of business was to translate the various column headings so it was easier to see what information was actually available here.  Using both Google Translate and my Germanic Alphabet Chart, I was able to come up with a loose translation for the column headings.  Basically the columns are

  1. Farm Number
  2. Name of Farm
  3. Name of Farm Section or Division
  4. Occupant of Section
  5. Amount of land registered
  6. Tax or Debt Information

My previous look at parish records and the 1801, 1865, and 1875 Norway census records provided clues as to whom might be residing on a specific farm in 1838.  It was helpful to read John Follesdal's article on background information about Norwegian farms for a better understanding of how important the Land Register of 1838 was to the country as a whole and to the individual farmers.  Another aid in understanding the register was the Norway Glossary on which defined a number of terms related to property ownership and farming.

Pulling things together, I was able to find the following information from 1838 concerning some of my ancestors and relatives.

My 2GreatGrandfather Petter Andersen resided on farm 36 on the section recorded as Myren North.  At the time of the 1838 registry, the amount of his farm land had apparently not yet been recorded but the tax on it was listed as 2 ort and 13 skillings.  Below Petter's name is another Andersen, Isak Andersen, registered as living on the Myren South section.  Interestingly, although it might seem logical that two brothers would divide a section of a large farm, I have not yet come across any relative named Isak / Isaac Andersen in my research, so Isak Andersen is a question mark for me at this time.

Further down the list on farm 49, the Mosenden Farm, was information about my 3GreatGrandfather Joen Olsen.  Joen and his family lived on the Mosenden North section.  His property had already been registered as being 7 units in area and having a tax of 3 ort and 13 skillings,  So far I haven't been able to determine the value of skylddalers, orts, and skillings in today's US currency, but I was able to find the picture below.

Norwegian Skilling, source: Wikipedia Commons

I also found another 2GGrandfather, Syver Hansen, recorded as the farmer for the south portion of the Bellen / Belden / Belle farm.  According to a family history, this farm had passed to Syver from his father Hans Syversen at the time of Syver's marriage in 1830. Quite a wedding present, and one I would like to be able to document.

A 4th Great Uncle, Hans Jorgensen, was recorded as the primary tenant of the Little Bjøkne section of Bjøkne farm.  Also living on Bjøkne farm on the Upper Bjøkne section was another 4th Great Uncle, Hans Bjørnersen.  Again, descendants of these two continued to live on these farm sections through the 1875 census.

The Overlien South section of the Overlien farm was home for yet another 4th Great Uncle, Syver Syversen.  His farm was taxed at a rate of 1 skylddaler, 2 ort, and 14 skilling.

I felt like doing the Genealogist's Happy Dance as I "read" over the property register.  Without the focused research of the past two months, I would not have recognized names of ancestors, relatives, farm names and sections.  And I would not have stayed so focused without the encouragement of Thomas MacEntee's Genealogy Do-Over.

Now if I plot the various farm locations on Google Map, I can see where people lived and perhaps better understand some of the relationships between the two Norwegian branches of my family tree.  Maybe I should take a look at the Real Estate Registers available on the Archives site to learn more about those living on the farms into the early 20th century.  And someday, I need to get my hands on a copy (or photocopy) of the Bydgebok for Lesja, a book tracing the history and land ownership in the Lesja Parish which was home to virtually all of my Norwegian relatives.  I might then do more of the Cluster Research that is a part of Genealogy Do-Over Week 9.  There is always something new just around the bend.