A remarkable lady
My grandmother, Brita Monsdatter Feigum, was born 1887 in Luster, Sogn og Fjordane, Norway (photo #1).
Brita (“Bree-ta”) demonstrated great courage at different times in her life - and was someone who always helped others to follow and to get adjusted to life here in America. She was a kind and capable person, who worked hard to help care for her family growing up in Norway and in her later life as a wife and mother in Pope County, Minnesota
She always valued the upbringing she had in Norway and had much respect and admiration for her family heritage. Those values learned stayed with her all her life and she attempted to pass them on to her three daughters and her grandchildren.
She was the first in her family to emigrate and she sent money back home. Later, her brother Lars followed, then her younger sister Marie came over – then her brother Martin – and eventually the whole family.
- Father: Mons Larsson Feigum | b. 30 May 1860 | emigrated 1913
- Mother: Britha Larsdatter Feigum | b. 24 November 1859 | emigrated 1913
- Brother: Lars Monsen Feigum | b. 24 February 1885 | emigrated 1906
- Brita Monsdatter Feigum | b. 1887 | emigrated 1905
- Brother: Martin Monsen Feigum | b. 1890 | emigrated 1910
- Sister: Anna Marie Monsdatter Feigum | b. 1892 | emigrated 1907
- Sister: Lisa Monsdatter Feigum | b. 6 April 1897 | emigrated 1913
- Brother: Johan Monsen Feigum | b. 21 May 1899 | emigrated 1913
- Brother: Karl Bertinus ‘Tinus’ Monsen Feigum | b. 20 March 1902 | emigrated 1913
- Brother: Anton Monsen Feigum | b. 11 February 1907 | emigrated 1913
Feigum in Luster
The family name comes from the area around the grand Feigum or Feige waterfall (photo #3)
When seeing the area today, one can wonder why anyone would want to leave such a beautiful place. Under external links below you will find a link that will take you to Google maps where you can take a look at the surroundings.
The following text is taken from the website sognefjord.no:
The majestic Feigum waterfall - which has a free fall of 218 metres – is one of Norway’s highest waterfalls. The walk up to the fall only takes about 30 minutes.
The landscape around the Lusterfjord is very picturesque and many great artists have been inspired by the unique beauty of its scenery. The Lusterfjord is the innermost arm of the Sognefjord.
The fjord is surrounded by the glaciers and high mountains of the Jotunheimen National Park - and the Jostedalsbreen National Park. Most of the year, the Lusterfjord has a beautiful bright green colour as a result of the meltwater coming from the glaciers. Along both shores of the fjord there are villages and lush cultural landscapes where fruits and berries are grown on small, idyllic farms.
In the olden days, travelling on the fjord was the main way of getting around and boats sailed between Skjolden and Bergen several times a week. Now, there are roads along both sides of the fjord.
No roads – going to church by boat
I'm told that when my grandmother and her family lived at Feigum, there were no roads on their side of the fjord. That means that if you didn’t have a horse to carry the load along old paths - or a boat - then you would have to carry everything yourself.
The nearest church, Nes, was across the fjord and the only way to get there was by boat (photos #5 and #6) or across the ice in the winter. The family had some ice skates and a sled with a waist high handle in back, to make it easier to push across the frozen fjord. The youngest child would often be bundled up in the sled, while an older sibling would push it on the way across for church services.
I believe there also was a post office and a small store of sorts across the fjord. It's my impression the store was mostly dry goods, tools, cloth to make clothes, etc. From what I've heard it really wasn't much, but all they had in the late 1800's and early 1900's.
Having eight surviving children (two died in infancy) and two adults to feed and care for, life was hard and while they were fairly self-sufficient in terms of food, my great-grandfather took on whatever work he could find. He is listed as blacksmith, cotter and road worker in the various records.
Mons also would take one of the older boys and row down the Luster fjord, to someplace south of them, to sell butter and cheese. I want to say it was some sort of medical or health facility, but I'm not sure that's correct. This could be the Luster and Harastølen sanatorium – built in 1902 - as a sanatorium for patients with tuberculosis. However, this is a bit north of Feigum.
It is interesting to note that in the 1910 census, Mons is listed twice: first at home and then in connection with this very sanatorium at Harastølen. He was working there in a temporary capacity as a blacksmith. Maybe employment that helped him to save funds to assist in the expense of moving the rest of his family to America in 1913.
Haymaking by the fjord
The painting attached is made from a photograph, looking down on the old farm on the Luster Fjord (photo reference #2).
Bottom right – in the yellow field - there are what appear to be lines stretching towards the fjord. Those are what were called hesje (photo #6).
A hesje was basically a long fence, consisting of 3 or 4 layers of wire, about 2 or 3 feet apart, strung between poles. The whole thing was about 6 feet tall. The grass would be hung on the hesje, starting with the bottom wires, to allow for air drying.
Hay, much of it grown on narrow fields along the mountainside, was cut by hand using scythes. They would bundle the hay and use a wire system to slide it down to the lower farm.
Along the fjord it was fairly moist and in the summer rain frequently fell. Between those factors, it was very difficult to dry hay well enough for storage on the ground. If it did rain, the way that the bundles had been arranged caused rainwater to run down the outside and not soak the drying hay.
Summer pasture up in the mountains
While hay was being produced on the lower levels of the farm - as well as working in a large garden to produce potatoes and many other vegetables needed to get a family of 10 through the long winter - my grandmother Brita and her sister Marie would be tending the families goats, sheep and cows up on the mountain, at the summer pasture.
They milked the cattle and made butter and cheese. Each week a brother or two would ride one or both of their horses up to bring fresh vegetables and things like lefse for the girls to eat - and bring down some fresh milk and the butter and cheese that they produced.
It was a challenging life, being a basically self-sufficient large family living a long ways from towns of any size.
The first time my grandmother saw a city
When my grandmother - at the age of 19 - made the trip to America, she had not ever been to a large town or a city before. All she knew was the farm and the area around it on the Luster Fjord.
The first city she saw was Bergen, Norway, where she set sail for Boston, Massachusetts and America, in 1905.
What an arduous trip it was. I've tried to imagine what it must have been like for her at that time, all of the hazards she may have faced and how brave she must have been traveling all the way to Iowa, where she had a contact and a job waiting, before later settling in Pope County, Minnesota.
My grandmother is listed as Brita Monsdatter Kroken (Feigum) in the emigration records. She left from Bergen 6 May 1905. Her listed destination is Iowa. Her given profession is maid and she is giving ‘improved earnings’ as her main reason for emigrating. According to the records she was travelling to family.
However, family and possibly her church in Norway had helped to arrange for her to go on to live in Decorah, Iowa, with the family of a Luthern minister. He had lost his wife in childbirth and was left with a baby and other young children.
Brita, being the oldest daughter in a large family, had a good deal of experience in childcare. So, she helped to take care of the house and the children in her early years in America.
We also see that she is on the same boat as Ingeborg Olsdatter Feigum and they were most likely travelling together. Ingeborg’s destination was South Dakota so their ways would have parted somewhere along the journey.
In the immigration records we find her as Monson Brita Feigum. Also here we see that she is travelling together with Ingeborg.
They arrived in Boston aboard the ‘SS Arabic’ which left Liverpool 12 May 1905. The travel route was most likely by boat from Bergen to Hull – then train from Hull to Liverpool – and then by boat from Liverpool to Boston.
From Boston, they travelled by train to Albany, New York, then on a “packet boat” along the Erie Barge Canal to Buffalo on Lake Erie. From there they travelled by lake boat to a port in Wisconsin and then by train west to their destinations.
Brita’s destination is here listed as Lawler, Iowa. The records go on to say that her ticket was paid for by her uncle - Ole Offerdal - and he is the one she is travelling to in Lawler, about 25 miles from Decorah, Iowa, both in the Northeast corner of the state, not far below the border with Minnesota.
Uncle Ole and his family returned to Norway in 1909 – to the exact spot that Brita left
An interesting observation is that we in the 1910 census for Norway find an Ole Offerdal in Luster. He is listed as the farmer of Stensland farm – which is exactly in the same area where Mons and Britha raised their family (photo #3).
According to the 1910 census, Ole emigrated in 1893 and returned in 1909 from Iowa.
Other than Brita listing Ole as her uncle, the connection is not yet clear.
One can see the Stensland property on an interactive map by going to seeiendom.no and adding 1426-65/4 in the search field. According to The Norwegian Mapping Authority, this property was originally part of the Hagenes farm and became a separate entity in 1910.
The local history book gives no clear explanation to this farm and the people living there. This indicates that it may previously have been a cotter’s holding – or that the buildings here were built after the property became a separate entity.
Losing the Norwegian language
Part of the challenge has been that, unlike today, my mother’s generation were basically not allowed to speak Norwegian. Their parents believed their children needed to speak English and do well in school.
Even in my youth in the late 40's and 50's many of my older Minnesota relatives still spoke Norwegian among themselves, however none of the young people I knew did.
Mom could understand more than she could speak it. In those years - around Starbuck and Glenwood, Minnesota - there still were Norwegian language church services for the older folks and we would attend the English versions. In those communities, their churches were very important. I have fond memories of things like wonderful pot luck supers and other activities at church.
I do recall at a number of funerals (my grandparents' and even my mother's) there were some Norwegian hymns and prayers spoken. Many of us younger folks did not understand them, but it was seemingly an important gesture to the departed and their heritage.
Also, on major holidays, we would follow my mother in a Norwegian prayer that always was on the wall in her kitchen. It now is on our kitchen wall and I see it every day (photo #7).
… these are my writings so far – Don.
Sources: arkivverket.no, sognefjord.no, wikipedia, Kartverket, Google maps.