Very early in my life I started to ask myself where the three brothers raised in my home four generations ago had gone. No-one knew anymore. - Each time I straightened my back when working in the fields and looked westwards out through the opening of the fjord I thought - as many had thought before me - "Out there is America".

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«UTVANDRINGSHISTORIE FRA NORDMØRE - Stangvik og Surnadal prestegjeld»

This book will probably not have a large enough market in America to make it worth while editing it in English, even though there are passages which are of general interest to a lot of potential readers

This little introduction - or "roadsign" might help people who are interested in the contents to avail themselves of different items of information without knowing any Norwegian

Most of you will be able to understand the diagrams, extracts of the emigration protocols, the groupings of the emigrants under the homes they left from and the photos without explanation. I will instead sketch the development of the emigration from Eastern Nordmøre which is situated between the towns of Trondheim and Kristiansund (not Kristiansand, mind you.

 

Why this book?

Very early in my life I started to ask myself where the three brothers raised in my home four generations ago had gone. No-one knew anymore; except that there had been some faint contact with the descendants of one of them as my mother had corresponded through an interpreter and we had received gift packages right after the war. The contents of these were the marvel of my childhood. America became the land of fairytales and sunsets where people spent endless afternoons in leisurely coffee parties under big trees. Was it like that? It is easy to believe as those who met problems seldom spoke of them back home. Each time I straightened my back when working in the fields and looked westwards out through the opening of the fjord I thought - as many had thought before me - "Out there is America". To get there I organized a tour with the Nordmøre Chamber Choir in the summer of 1983 and then discovered that personal contact when visiting 'on location' was quite different to interviewing by letter

Hans Hyldbakk in his 9 big volumes on the farm and family histories of the Stangvik and Surnadal parishes frequently writes: "Went to America ... Went to America". I began to wonder how many really did go to America. After one week's absence from the county office of cultural affairs spent working at the State Archives in Trondheim I found that between 1867 and 1930 more than 2,500 people emigrated from an area which today has a population of approximately 6,000

After drawing up a list of names and dates I felt a need to add some 'flesh and blood' to this 'skeleton'. Would it be possible today to get so close to the emigrants that one could 'feel the pulse' of their lives? One thing was clear: to trace them it would be necessary to spend some time in America. So I took leave of absence for six months and added to this my annual vacation, took my teenage son free from the 8th grade and with some inherited money and grants in my pocket left for the US

We spent Christmas and the new year 1984/1985 with friends and relatives in Michigan and then travelled for six weeks up the west coast investigating contemporary and recent emigration. The snow made everything difficult around Seattle, so this is the 'skinny' part of the book. However, as this is recent history the region is well described in books on Norwegian emigration. So we returned to Michigan to start working for three months on the first wave of emigration from 'our' area. Work started more or less on the assumption that this region was the starting point of the emigration and later became a transit area for people from Nordmøre. This turned out to be right - very much so. As you can see, half the book is devoted to this part of the emigration which was not known even to professional historians

The next step was to follow the traces westwards. For seven weeks we travelled through Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas. A venture which went off very well - as did all the other gambles during this stay in the US

Without the interest, generosity, hospitality and help from a lot of very nice people in the US this would never have become a book. After sleeping in all sorts of motels and staying in fifty to sixty American homes, visiting even more, we can say that we met only nice people. Especially we want to thank officially our hosts in Northport, Martha and Carlyle Roberts who took two strangers into their home for three months as members of the family. Thanks also to Martha's sister Carol and her husband, Frank Hagen who established contact with Martha and Carlyle. Carol, Martha and Frank are descendants of the first emigrants, the Garthes. We also depended fundamentally on the help of Ellen and Norman Stenvig at Northport, the leaders of the local Sons of Norway lodge. They helped a stranger to get a loan to buy a decent car which carried us faithfully through a lot of beautiful American scenery. Without all the help with housing, travelling and information there would be no book

This research became a voyage through past and present. Today's America coursed through my head like a wild river parallel to the past and at times threatened to burst through my head already full of myriad sights and sounds. As we had the privilege of visiting all these many homes perhaps the next book should be: 'America From The Inside'

Somehow it is strange to 'know' all these emigrants who have been gone so long. As the 'plane ascended into the bright July sky over the Grand Traverse region it was strange to see the graveyards in the distant haze where all my dead friends I feel I now know so well are resting. Then travelling home with my eighty pounds of paper, books and photos I knew that the task now completed and the task soon to begin was and would continue to be not only a work of obsession but also a work of love; love for all those people whom I had 'met' through interviews, obituaries, press aricles and church records; their spirits bourne on the whistling of the wind at desolate, abandoned houses and lonely graves and hallowing flourishing landscapes and homesteads

Writing this book and managing a full-time job at the same time has been hard on my teenage son and myself and I hope never to venture such and undertaking again. Yet, in all honesty, it has been a great experience

I think local history and not least local emigration history to be very important. Then the great drama of this greatest experiment of history comes closer and opens for a deeper understanding and interest in professional history books. I advise each one of you to read "The Promise of America" by Professor Odd S. Lovoll of St. Olaf College. It is a recent book that presents the whole scope of Norwegian emigration to America and also gives suggestions for further reading on the subject

Norway ceded half of its population to America. After Ireland, Norway is second on the list of European countries who have given sons and daughters to the US, population figures taken into consideration.

 

The Pattern Of Emigration From Inner Nordmøre

The Nordmøre settlements in Michigan - The Grand Traverse Region
Isak Garthe of Northport was the first to emigrate from our area travlling in a group of about 30 other emigrants to New York in 1867 and up the Erie Channel. Their ship, "The City of Freemont" stopped at Northport to load cordwood. A Swede said, "Stay here boys and cut wood. Don't go down to that rotting place, Chicago". But they went. All except two who travelled west followed Isak back to Northport after just a short stay in Chicago

The next year, a new group of about 30 arrived at Quebec on the schooner "Johan". 400 people were crammed into this ship which was going to carry timber back to England. For 53 days they lived in the hold running the length of the ship. Hurricanes one after the other induced such fear that the passengers had said their last prayers many times. At last they floated ashore at Quebec on what was more a raft than a ship. After this trip the ship was chopped up and partly burnt. Sources differ as to numbers, but it seems that 12 died and 6 were born on the "Johan"

Among those aboard were Lars E. Bæhle, who became the founder of the Nordmøre settlement at Suttons Bay, and Sjur S. Glærum who seems to have been one of the first or even the very first to found the settlement of Nordmøre people at Elberta/Frankfort. Later he and his wife moved out to Wilmar, Minnesota, to become members of the fledgling society there

Several of the "Johan" people very soon ended up out west. Lars Sogge became engaged on the "Johan" and became one of the founders of the settlement at Jackson County in soutwest Minnesota. His brother accompanied him

Ole Erickson Follerøli from the "Johan" settled in Willmar when it was still a cluster of cottages

Among the emigrants of 1869 the Skrøvseths and Kvandes went as far as the frontier. A large group which left in the spring of 1869 also arrived at Northport. From here Lars Glærum hurried further on to Avoka in Murray County, Minnesota

The pattern is: they seemed to travel through Quebec to Northport. All of them stop here or at the Fox and Manitou islands to work in the lumber camps to obtain immediate income. Some settle as farmers with 5 to 6 cows, selling eggs, cream and butter. Gradually they go into potato-growing and fruit-farming mostly for the Chicago market

Others go west after having earned some money. Most of them stop over in Goodhue County, eastern Minnesota, either to work or, if finances are good enough, to buy equipment to go west, homesteading. It seems they skip Wisconsin at first

From 1880 we find many settling at Porters Mills directly south of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and also at Stanley when the mills are moved there. (All the places marked on the maps indicate 'pockets' of our people from inner Nordmøre.

Leelanau, Benzie, East Jordan and Traverse City in Michigan continue to be the base of the emigration stream from inner Nordmøre. "Guest workers" arrive to work for a few years usually at places where their relatives had settled and then return home. Some find permanent means of sustenance as time goes by while others still use the area as a point of departure for other destinations in the US, heading west later. The area continues to be important both for settling and transit purposes. Old people at Stangvik and Surnadal still nod when you mention Northport, Suttons Bay, Traverse City, Empire, Elberta and Frankfort. At these latter places several worked as sailors on the lakes, in the coastguard service and lighthouses. However, the link between Nordmøre and Michigan has practically disappeared

Mr. Holand, who published a long article on the Leelanau settlements in 1919, says the Nordmøre people here have been unknown to the main stream of Norwegian immigrants. He says that the Nordmøre people broke off from the main stream and turned north. The fact is they came 'from up north' except Isak Garthe of Northport and his group who were the first

Professor Lovoll, who is also the editor of the archives of The Norwegian-American Historical Association, said that so far they have nothing on the Nordmøre emigration in the archives, so this book will be a new source of material for professional historians. Especially the Michigan settlements are interesting in this respect as it seems that the Nordmøre people in this area have been rather 'untouched' by the rest of Norwegian America. Being a Norwegian from Nordmøre in this part of the country seems to have been a very natural thing. One has to look closely to discover the Nordmøre identity today. But gradually it emerges from all over the Leelanau peninsula, in food traditions, language, physical characteristics of the population, names on roadsigns etc. Even the "Amen" at The First Lutheran Church at Suttons Bay still has an inner Nordmøre intonation

The Nordmøre descendants in this area have not had their heritage 'standardized' by the all-embracing 'Norwegian Image' of 'lutefisk and lefsa' that you find at the bigger settlements where people from several parts of Norway have been included in the circles of "The Norseman's Federation" and "Sons of Norway". The latter has just recently erected lodges in this part of the US so the 'Norwegian Image' will probably soon erase the nuances of the Nordmøre identity, which is only to be expected.

It is very interesting to discover this group of Nordmøre settlers who seem to have had a closer contact with Nordmøre than with the rest of the 'Norwegian America' from which they seem to be isolated. At the same time it seems they kept individual contact with those moving west

The Leelanau and Benzie area closely resembles the fjord area of Nordmøre, except that the landscape lacks the blue distant mountains. The ones who settled here found a very familiar country with a vegetation a little more lavish and exotic than that back home. Isak Garthe writes a long complimentary article in the newspaper "Norden" in 1875 that expresses just this

Their farms represented a life a little better than that at inner Nordmøre and this must also have contributed to their love for the area. Some even returned after having tried living further west

 

West of Lake Michigan
The biggest concentrations west of Lake Michigan were Fergus Falls and Otter Tail County and the neighbouring district Richland County southwest of Fargo. In these areas the Stangvik and Surnadal people mingled with the Rindal people who were their neighbours to the east back home in Norway. Marie Bahle, one of the 1868 emigrants on the "Johan", came out here when her husband Anders had proved up their land. But Anders died and Marie travelled with all six children back to Suttons Bay. It is amazing to see how quickly people from the "Johan" settled on the frontier instead of staying longer in Michigan where they could find not only all sorts of work but also land

In the years before World War I we find people settling on the west coast. Several participated in the war, serving in France with the American forces. We find 'our' people settled in all the small towns from Seattle up towards the Canadian border engaged in farming, fishing, lumber work or as contractors. Conway especially was densely settled by people from inner Nordmøre. The immigration to the west coast has still good contact with the homeland

At about the same time the Edmonton area in Canada was receiving people from Nordmøre. However the Sæter people came as early as 1896, moving up from Porter, Minnesota. They were the very first immigrants to settle here

The 'contemporary emigration' to the west coast contains both the interwar emigration and the postwar emigration of the 50's. Young people were impressed by 'Movie America' and came to the big cities on the west coast

 

Emigration Today

Today it seems that people emigrating from Norway go to other European countries like France, England and Germany mainly because of jobs, studies and marriage. Few emigrate to the States. As far as immigration is concerned, Norway receives refugees from Vietnam, Poland and Pakistan

"If we had known how fast things became better in Norway, we would not have left", one 90-year old lady told us from her hospital bed in Everett, Washington. But very few admit this. One 95-year old man living on the bare 'land-dunes' of northwestern North-Dakota has been back to his fjord and mountains and lavish woods 11 times. A younger emigrant from right across the Canadian border from where the 95-year old man is living is visiting Norway for the 22nd. time in March 1986. But the majority never looked back.

 

Who left?

It has generally been believed that those who left were mostly poor tenants and share-croppers from inner Nordmøre. The first who emigrated were the sons from the big farms 'without odel'. (Only the oldest son could inherit the farm). At this time there was no more land left on which to build tenant farms so sons were leaving from every farm. But times must have been bad for farming in Nordmøre in the 70's and 80's. Several of the very best farms in the area were sold and whole families went across "the blue bog". This really is a puzzle. But a lot of poor tenant farms at Nordmøre were also abandoned

As the people 'kept coming up from the records' at the State Archives at Trondheim, it seemed as if an endless processions of people were travelling into the sunset and I had to see what happened to them all. I hope this book will give you, also those of you who cannot read Norwegian, at least an idea of our share in the greatest experiment of migration in the history of man: the European settling of America

 

Yours sincerely
Dordi Glærum Skuggevi

 

PS:
The Norwegian vowel ø is pronounced like the vowel in 'bird', æ as in 'man' and å as in 'all'. Å was previously written aa. There are also other vowels in Norwegian which are pronounced differently to English, but one cannot start a language course here.

 

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* Copyright Dordi Glærum Skuggevik 1986 - ISBN 02-991394-0-6. Please note: The original text and photo captions in Norwegian – and any digitisation and translation thereof - contain information from public, private and personal sources and may contain unintended errors, inaccuracies or omissions. The author - and as applicable: the digitiser and translator - accepts no liability for any such errors, inaccuracies or omissions. To continue, the reader must accept all limitations of liability and the text ‘as is’ - or should refrain from further reading.

The above content is from the book "Utvandringshistorie fra Nordmøre - Stangvik og Surnadal Prestegjeld" (History of emigration from Nordmøre – Stangvik and Surnadal Parish (Norway)) - published in 1986 by Dordi Glærum Skuggevik - and is used by the author's kind permission. All photos are used by the owners' kind permission.

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