I just made two great friends from Minnesota; Rick and Janet Swanson. Not only friends, it turns out that Janet and I are related. It is a pleasure to present this story
by Janet Swanson
Both of my grandfathers were born in Norway and my grandmother’s families also. They emigrated from there by ship to the United States of America in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. It is amazing to me how we can now cross oceans without even needing a boat or plane. I am talking of crossing oceans electronically, connecting with family and friends from all over the world via the internet and social media sites. I have found some amazing relatives still living in Norway and in the US, mainly through Facebook, who have helped me learn more and more of my family history. Because of some of those connections made I have actually physically crossed the ocean when in 2013 my husband Rick and I spent a fabulous vacation in “the old country” meeting them in person. We visited sites of my paternal grandfather and great-grandparents’ birthplaces. I was awestruck by the beauty of Norway. I have so much more to explore there and hope to get back someday. I have not been able to find any family connections there for my maternal grandfather and great-grandparents yet (I’m still working on that).
I have been working on my family’s tree most of my life. An 8th grade class on genealogy fueled my interest even more. One of our projects was interviewing a relative and writing their story, I still have a copy of that report. My mother worked on our family history first so I think my love to continue that started with her. After she and my father both passed away it seemed even more important to me to track the stories of the past and carry them on for the future. I have held on to some of Mom’s handwritten notes listing relationships and I was able to sit with my father and truly listened to his tales of growing up and wrote them down. I am definitely still in the amateur or hobby category when it comes to this but it is something I absolutely love. It is like putting together a puzzle but the pieces each have their own name.
Speaking of names, here is one for you, Martinus Rasmussen Vestnes. Simply a name on a page in my family tree for a very long time. No listings for parents, siblings or even any dates, only the name of his wife and his daughter, Thrine. He is my 2x great-grandfather. He remained in Norway when Thrine ventured from Vestnes to America and started her own family in South Dakota and Minnesota. In South Dakota Thrine married Knud Anton Kristofferson Vestad from Sekken, Norway, who became known as Anton C. Johnson in America. Minnesota is where I was born and have lived my entire life.
Martinus was just that name on a page until now. This all changed on March 5, 2016 when I read a blog late that night. The blog was written by Martin Roe Eidhammer, the link to it was within a posting on a Facebook page on Norwegian genealogy. I could have skipped over that article but I think something drew me to read that post and to follow that link that night. Within those words I spotted a familiar family name, Vestnes, as Martin wrote of his own forefathers. I had known of the practice of families in Norway taking the name of the nearby farm or place so I wasn’t sure if there could be any chance of this being a link to my own family. It’s funny because that was the topic of the blog also, place and farm names. I decided to take a chance and messaged him about it. Martin was able to confirm for me by the next day that yes our families are the same! We share the same 3 x great grandparents. My heart was filled with joy and excitement because here was someone I could talk with about the missing pieces of my puzzle and I now have another cousin and new friend. Because of all of his research that he has openly shared with me, I now have more ancestors identified than I could have imagined. A whole new world of family history became available to me. I now not only have his family information but I also have a face to go with the name Martinus Rasmussen Vestnes! A long forgotten, unidentified photo that I have had for years was now verified as being of him. Martin found the proof in a book on boat and ship building in Vestnes named “Båt- og skipsbygging i Vestnes” by Henry Vike which included the same picture.
This is all because of one person sharing his stories and writing a blog. Thank you Martin, I am very proud to be one of your cousins and appreciate all of your work! I would encourage everyone to tell the stories of your life and listen when others are shared with you. This is your past and this is your family’s future. Follow the leads and make new connections, you never know who you may meet. Crossing oceans… it is far easier for us now than it ever was for our ancestors. Martinus Rasmussen Vestnes is no longer just a name on a page, he has become real to me now.
I could not agree more when Janet encourages everyone to tell their story. I am happy to publish your story relating to your Norwegian ancestors here in my blog. Just go to the “Contact page” and send me a few words.