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Imagine a class called Genealogy 101: Fillmore County Pioneers. You are only given the following information for your assignment: "Astri Herbransdatter, age 65, and her husband Tosten Larson Nøbben immigrated to America in 1857 with their two daughters, Gunhild, born August 13, 1832 and Ingeborg, born March 12, 1837." To complete the course you need to find out where Astri is buried.
Given an assignment like this, would you know how to research your pioneer ancestors and their families? These last couple of months my mother, Char Nelson, and I have been in this imaginary genealogy course. We not only learned what resources are available in Fillmore County, but found an incredible amount of information about our pioneer ancestors as well.
At age eight, I had rescued from the burn pile the rosemaled trunk that belonged to my Great-Great-Great Grandmother Astri Herbransdatter. This single event set in motion my lifelong interest in genealogy. Last October, after my story "Astri Herbransdatter 1812" appeared in the Fillmore County Journal, I was contacted by a reader, Delphin M. Johnson, Astri's first cousin four times removed from Superior, WI. Del informed me that Astri and her family had immigrated to America. I was ecstatic. My interest had taken me "from the trunk to the family tree."
For the past 26 years, I had only been searching for Astri's death records in Norway. Now, within a few days of her story being published, I learned she was in America. But the important question of where she was buried remained unanswered.
Mom and I headed straight to the Fillmore County History Center and Genealogy Library in Fountain, which contains thousands of books, photographs, microfilmed newspapers, as well as county records, State and Federal Census reports, and other government sources. We specifically wanted to research the center’s death records, cemetery transcriptions, and obituaries to see if Astri came to Fillmore County.
No Church records at Genealogy Library
We suspected Astri settled in Fillmore County since her older daughter, Gunhild Guttormsdatter had immigrated seven years earlier. Gunhild and her husband Knud Knudson were buried in the Elstad Lutheran Church Cemetery near Highland. Thus, we requested to see all the Amherst Township Church records, prior to 1900. To my disbelief we were told "at this point in time the Fillmore County Genealogy Library does not have any microfilmed church records for Fillmore County."
Having no pioneer church records at the Genealogy Library became my greatest frustration in trying to find Astri. I was discouraged. How was I going to find Astri and her family if no church records were available at the Genealogy Library for birth, baptism, confirmation, marriage, but most of all death and burial records? The thought of having to contact each individual church was quite staggering.
Missing Church records
A brief sketch found in the Elstad Church anniversary book only added to my disappointment. "To write a complete history of the Elstad Lutheran Church is an impossible task due to loss of pioneer church records over the years; and to the fact that some ministerial records were destroyed by a parsonage fire in Washington Prairie in 1870." How was I ever going to find Astri when there were no duplicate copies of these records?
Located in the Elstad cemetery is one tombstone with the names of four children on it; two with the name Birgit Knudson on the front-side and two with the name Guttorm Knudson on the back-side. Beside their tombstone is the stone for Kjersti Knudson. The existing church records did not contain the parents of these five Knudson children.
However, the diligent Genealogy Library staff workers provided other types of resources that enabled us to document that these children belonged to my Great-Great Grandparents Knud and Gunhild Knudson. This method was obviously much more difficult and time consuming, but we were able to answer questions the church was not able to.
The Riksarkivaren National Archives of Norway Digitalarkivet website, available in English, http://digitalarkivet.uib. no/index-eng.htm provided us with the missing information we needed to identify the Knudson children's tombstones. Included on their website are 6,480 baptisms during the years 1854-1883 from the following Fillmore County Churches: Arendahl, Elstad, Greenfield, Highland, North Prairie, N.P. Hauge, Rushford, Rushford 2, and Union Prairie. Within the Elstad parish are records for Highland Prairie, Newburg (Garness) and Whalan.
To locate this data base first go to their home page and make the selections in the following order: menu ordered by source categories (on bottom), church registers, baptized, abroad, and MN Fillmore Co baptisms 1854-1883. Next, under the following sources are available, select baptisms or confirmations (available for limited number of churches).
It became very clear to me at this point in time that it would be very beneficial for the Genealogy Library to have access to pioneer records from all of the Fillmore County churches in order to help people research their families.
Norwegian traditional naming system
To research Norwegian genealogy, one needs to have an understanding of the Norwegian traditional naming system. As if part of the Ten Commandments, these traditions were considered almost unbreakable. The child's 1st name:
• 1st son named after his father's father
• 2nd son named after his mother's father
• 1st daughter named after her father's mother
• 2nd daughter named after her mother's mother
• If a spouse died the next child of the same sex was named after the deceased
• If a child died the next child of the same sex was named after the deceased (this explains why Knud and Gunhild Knudson had two daughters named Birgit and two sons named Guttorm).
The child's second name came from the father. Datter translates to daughter. Thus, if your father was Guttorm or Tosten, you were Guttomsdatter or Tostensdatter, respectively.
The child's third name was the address or farm you lived on. Børtnes was located near Nes i Hallingdal (Nes in the valley of Hallingdal). If you moved to a different farm, you obtained a new last name identifying your current location in Norway, i.e. Ulsdalen and Nøbben.
Understanding this traditional naming system explained why Astri had two daughters named Gunhild. The second Gunhild was named after her second husband's mother, Gunhild.
Norway to America
Astri was born in 1792 and in the 1801 Norwegian census, her family was documented as living on the Børtnes farm. Astri descended from Gaute Olson Børtnes, born in the 1500's, and was known as one of the wealthiest landowners in Hallingdal during his time.
Astri was first married to Corporal Guttorm Jensen Gulbrandsrud. Their son, Jens Guttormsen, and my Great-Great-Grandmother, Gunhild Guttormsdatter Knudson, both immigrated to America. After Guttorm’s death, Astri married Tosten Larson Ursdalen. My earlier search of Astri had ended at this point, as I was unable to find further documents about her life, until my story was recently published in the Journal.
References from Emigrater fra Nes og Flå i Hallingdal by Sigmund Sevre and Boka om Gol by Terje Østro provided the missing information I needed. Tosten Larson and Astri had moved from Ulsdalen to Nøbben, changing their last name, which explained why I did not know that Astri came to America.
Genealogy Library employees, volunteers or Works Project Administration (WPA) have over the years walked more than 150 burial sites in Fillmore County which included church, city, private, aban