Norwegian Roots

My Mother, Lorraine (Thorson) Sturm, was 100% Norwegian. She grew up in a Norwegian community in rural southern Minnesota in the 1920’s and 30’s when folks still tended to congregate in places by nationality of origin. Her family and their relatives and friends would gather often and celebrated their heritage especially during the holidays with lots of traditional foods and goodies.

Her grandparents, Kristian and Helena Thorson along with Thomas and Olava Worlie immigrated to America within one year of each another in the early 1880’s. Kristian left Norway at the rather late age of 42. They left behind the land of their birth and upbringing and a place central to the lives and history of their ancestors.

Her grandparents and their ancestors as far back as 1740 for which we have history were born and lived in Rogaland, Norway. Rogaland is a coastal county in south-western Norway with lots of fjords and islands. Her father was the youngest of fourteen children and the only one not born in Rogaland.

The history of her ancestors in Norway was centered in a relatively small region as roughly shown on the map below with significant farms and places of interest identified.

Farms in Rogaland have historical names that have existed for generations. A farm, unlike in US, has separate but closely located home and building lots for more than one family to live. It was common in Norway at that time for farmers and their children to use the name of the farm as an additional surname. Sometimes that surname would change if they then had a long and significant association with another farm. In later times when it became more common for a single surname, the farm name, in some cases, became the permanent surname.

Between the Høyland Church and Høle which is a distance of less than 15 miles there are two valleys called the North and South Valley. The North Valley is home to several farms mentioned in our genealogy record; in particular the farms of Skjelbrei, Sporaland, Kjosavik and Veraland. The Veraland farm has two home and building lots as shown below.

The farmers in this area raise sheep, maintain dairy herds and grow grass to put up enough hay to keep the animals happy all year. This is much as it was during the times of my Norwegian ancestors. Below is a photo looking up at Veraland 1 farm from the road leading to the village of Høle as well as picture of a typical grazing pasture for sheep nearby.

In July 2019, Jackie and I meet with Jostein & Hjordis Sporaland who live on the Sporaland farm. Jostein is a distant cousin whom we hadn’t met before. But now after spending a wonderful afternoon together along with his lovely wife, we are no longer distant or strangers. Jostein and I are very close in age. He is the handsome one in short sleeves.

Jostein can trace his family’s roots to Sporaland farm for over 300 years. Sporaland farm has three home and building lots located about midway up the North Valley. The farm on the right in the photo below is where Jostein & Hjordis live along with their eldest son and his family. There are two homes on that property.

Jostein and I share common great, great, great, great grandparents, Tore Toreson Kjosavik and his wife Magel. Note that given his surname, Tore had a connection at some point in time to the Kjosavik farm. Our common relationship to Tore and Magel happened because my ancestor Gunnar Gunnarson Veraland married their daughter Gunnhild in 1798. Gunnar worked the Skjelbrei farm from 1805 to 1820. The family then moved to Sporaland where he worked and lived till his death in 1845. Gunnhild died earlier at Sporaland which was also the place of her birth. Gunnar clearly had an earlier association to Veraland farm but that history was not available.

Gunnar Gunnarson Veraland was born in Høle in 1768. His parents, Gunnar Bendiksson and his wife Joren were also born there in about 1740. Høle is located along the Høgsfjorden and within easy eye sight of the entrance to a side fjord called the Lysefjord. The Lauvvik Ferry Pier is close to Høle and provides an even better view of the Lysefjord entrance.

Lysefjord is home to the famous Pulpit Rock that we visited by boat during our stay. Lysefjord is a place my ancestors must have loved and enjoyed often during their lifetime.

It was while Gunnar Gunnarson Veraland and Gunnhild were at Skjelbrei that their son Tore Gunnarson Veraland was born in 1809. When he was twelve, the family moved to Sporaland. He grew up, married in 1836 and worked the farm till sometime after his father’s death in 1845. He then moved to the Vårlie farm near Riska where his wife Karen had grown up.

The Høyland church below was built in 1840 which is the same year my great grandfather, Kristian Thorson, was born in Sporaland to Tore Gunnarson and Karen. It is still in use today. There has been a church on this site since the 1300’s. A medieval church was first, then a wooden church built in 1664 and demolished in 1840. Jostein tells of an old, dirt road that was built in the past by farmers in the North Valley which ran to the church and across Sporaland farm near his present day home. Traces of that road are still visible. This church and/or the earlier one were certainly very important in the lives of my ancestors as well as all those who call the North Valley home.

As was the Nordic tradition at the time, children took their father’s first name as their surname. So Tore Gunnarson’s sons became Thorson and the daughters Thorsdotter. And, of course, the Thorson name is what continued after immigration to the US. I’m not sure why the last name wasn’t Toreson instead of Thorson but perhaps that was a happenstance of the immigration process.

My Mom had a wonderful upbringing with great memories of her extended family and a grateful appreciation of her heritage. A heritage profoundly influenced by a few generations of ancestors who lived and farmed in the North Valley of Rogaland, Norway. After our recent visit, I’ve now come to a deeper appreciation of the richness of my Norwegian history and the beauty of the land and fjords where my ancestors lived, loved, laughed, danced and sang.

Reference: Register Report for Gunnar Bendiksson complied by Albert Sturm dated January, 2012

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