Finding ancestors is not always straightforward.
Featured photo with permission from Romsdalsmuseet
Making an advanced person search in the Norwegian Digital archive for the common name Hans Hansen returns 1582 hits only from the emigrant records.
The same search in the 1865 census give us 5618 persons. If I narrow down the birth year to 1840 – 1850, we still have 1140 hits.
Censuses are not always accurate when it comes to age or birth year, that goes for Norwegian as well as US censuses. Also the year of immigration may be off. This shows that there are a lot of traps to fall into. I have fallen in too, and I now try to tread a little more carefully.
It is highly advisable to check the records ans see if there are other persons that our target can be confused with. This can save us from a lot of work if we later learn that we picked the wrong person.
If we are having trouble proving the identity of the person we believe are our ancestor, we may have to take the time to research and hopefully exclude the persons that he or she can be confused with.
The problem was made clear some time ago while helping a newfound friend tracing her Norwegian ancestry.
I was looking for Berhand Gudbrandsen Moe and wife Anne Mortensen who married in Cook county, Illinois. They were both supposed to come from Lillehammer in Oppland county. We remember the Olympics and know that Lillehammer is a small town. I went to the Digital archives and made an advanced person search. As Lillehammer is in Oppland, I filtered the search to results from this county.
Bernhard was fairly easy to find because my friend knew he came from the farm Morsveen that is situated in Fåberg parish, Oppland. Anne, on the other hand, was a little more tricky. The US census 1900 said she was born October 1850. The US census 1910 confirmed the year, but said nothing about the month. I made a search for her and lo and behold; The first name that popped up on the list was Anne Mortensdatter born October 14. 1850. I went to the church records and found Anna born by parents Morten Pettersen and wife Olia Ellingsdatter Gabhol, in Gausdal, Oppland.
I have often seen that when describing their origins, Norwegian-Americans relate to the nearest larger place or town. Gausdal is about 28 miles north of Lillehammer so I figured that qualified. The other Anne Mortensdatters my initial search produced were born so far away that I didn’t find it likely they would relate their birthplace to Lillehammer.
I then went to the list of people leaving the parish (utflyttede) and I found the girl Anne Mortensdatter Nørstevolleiet leaving in 1872 bound for America. I didn’t worry that much about her farmname/address, as people moved around all the time. What caught my attention though, was her age. She was listed as 24 years old i.e. born 1848. It might be a slight slip of the minister’s hand, but I went back to the baptism listing to check. Would you believe it? There was an Anne Mortensdatter born October 14th 1848?
Which one were the right Anne. Anne born 1848 did emigrate in 1872. Did Anne born 1850 emigrate? Going to NORWEGIAN HERIRAGE Passenger lists and emigrant ships from Norway, I found that Anne Mortensdatter born 1850 had indeed emigrated. She had travelled with her siblings and parents Morten Pedersen og Olia Ellingsdatter Gabhol in 1868. Even though the censuses said that the Anne I looked for emigrated in 1872, I have seen this information be incorrect in other cases so I didn’t put too much trust in this.
I still had two Annes born two years apart who emigrated four years apart. This well within the inaccuracy of the censuses. I guess I should also mention that I found different family trees on Ancestry that had both Annes as Bernard’s wife.
However, at Norwegian Heritage someone had added a note:
I had no reason to doubt the person that had added the note, but as I try to never take anything I find at face value, I wanted to check this piece of information. I went on the Facebook group North and South Dakota Norwegians – Genealogy. Here good helpers gave me the information I needed. Morten Pedersen og Olia Ellingsdatter Gabhol did live in Brule Township, Anne had married Andrew Hall.
So now I was left with one Anne. I was still a little puzzled by the fact that she consistently was listed as born in 1850.
At this time someone pointed me to the site Find a grave. I have used this resource before and should probably have though of this myself. Anyway, on the profile presenting Bernard Moe I found that someone had added something that was written in the book History of Barron County, Wisconsin. Even the page number was given. In this account Bernards’ wife Anne was also mentioned and it said that she was the daughter of Martin Olson and his wife, Ingeborg Torgerson. This was almost too good to be true. The book too claimed that she was born October 14 1850.
As this was information that someone had typed in, I wanted to see the book myself or have someone check it for me. I went back to Facebook. This time to the group Wisconsin Norwegians – Genealogy and was quickly pointed to an amazing resource called HathiTrust’s digital library. Here I found the book and could read it online.
Like I was hoping, the note at Find a grave, was an exact transcript of the book and I now had the parents of Anne Mortensdatter. A book is, of course, authored and thus, a secondary source. This book was, however, published in 1922 well before the time when all sort of databases are throwing more or less accurate information at us. I figured that the one who provided the information for the book was either Anne, or someone who knew her well so the information could be trusted.
It turned out that “our” Anne had cut two years off her age and claimed to be born 1850, while she in fact was born 1848. Her husband, claimed to be born 1850 while he in fact was born 1851.
The main thing we can take away from this is that we don’t jump on the first person we find. I try to make it a habit to look for other persons that can be mixed up with the one I am looking for.
Another thing to learn from this is the value of local history literature.
Newton S. Gordon (editor), compiled by Franklyn Custiss-Wedge. History of Barron County, Wisconsin Minneapolis, Minn. : H.C. Cooper, Jr., & Co., 1922.