Thursday, February 1, 2018

Book Review: Vår felles slektshistorie, by Odd Handegård

In 2017 I met Odd online via our common interest in the Y R-Z18 DNA project, although Odd is on the S5676 branch, while I am on the S6989 branch. But our ancestral paths do cross several times on my maternal line from Norway. Odd lives in Norway and introduced me to an ebook which he had recently written titled Vår Felles Slekthistorie, which translated means “Our Common Genealogy”, which focuses on the multitude of noble families living in the Hardanger, Sunnhordland and Ryfylke areas of western Norway.
All these areas are where my ancestors come from and almost all the families he discusses in his large book of over 700 pages are in my ancestry. It does become obvious as I worked through the genealogies in his book, that he is focused on his direct ancestors. Earlier in the book he is more focused on the older ancestry where our paths cross many times. But later in the book as he discusses ancestry closer to our time, his lines begin to follow down his ancestry, which begins to diverge from mine.

However this is an important book for genealogy in this area from the 12th through the 17th centuries!  Odd has gathered together all the documentation from previous researchers and authors that are found in multiple sources. He explains the pros and cons of various issues concerning ambiguous documentations and areas where there is questionable source material. This should be the definitive fall back source for much of the genealogy in my own personal database when questions arise on the families involved.

The book is filled with various genealogy charts and I have spent many hours going through and adding, sourcing and even correcting errors in my own database. Thus almost everyone in Odd’s book is in my genealogy database. There are still discrepancies though, between his book and my genealogy. Sometimes I had a hard time reconciling what he had with other sources that I trusted. But these cases are rather rare as most of his genealogy is in agreement with mine.

Besides the multitude of genealogy charts there are some nice detailed maps showing the location of many farms. There are pictures of coat of arms, seals, insignias and beautiful photographs of this wonderfully scenic area of the Norwegian fjords that just make me homesick for Norway, although I have never lived there. But because I have read and studied maps and genealogies all over Rogaland, Vest-Agder and Hordaland for decades and even a bit further afield back through the Middle Ages, Norway just holds a special place in my heart.

The biggest issue I have with studying this book is my limitations on the Norwegian language. Some of the text I can make out due to my many years of working with Norwegian genealogy, specifically bygdebok. However, my Norwegian is really limited. Thus much of the text I have not “read” nor understand. But I certainly understand the generalities and outlines of the book.

The list of families in the book shown below can also be seen on the nearby images of the CD cover. Almost all of them are also in my direct ancestry, with the exception of the ones marked in red below:

Sletta/Dall greina
Orm- ætta
Aga, Byre Hestebø, Talgje
Hovland (in Kvam, Hordaland)
Vik – Brattabø
Sandven and Norheim
Torstein Bjørke / Rike Torstein
Reiseter in Ullensvang
Randa/ Talgje

The book also contains nice photos of coats of arms and seals, such as the example seals above of Olav Jonsen Tøtland Foss (1510-1563) and his son, Jon III Jonsen Tøtland (1565-1626) in my direct ancestry.

Mette-Marit Tjessem Høiby

I will also mention that the CD I got from Odd included a second book called "Hardanger – aner for Mette-Marit Tjessem Høiby" (The Ancestry of Mette-Marit Tjessem Høiby from the Hardanger Fjord).  Mette-Marit Tjessem Høiby was born on 19 August 1973 in Kristiansand, Vest-Agder, Norway, and is the wife of Crown Prince Haakon, the heir apparent to the throne of Norway.

Much of Mette-Marit’s maternal ancestry is from Rogaland and Hordaland counties and thus intersects with Odd’s (and my) ancestry. Thus Odd became interested in writing an ebook about her ancestry which is over 200 pages long. This book is also full of genealogy charts, very similar to Vår Felles Slekthistorie. I have also spent many hours meticulously going through that book and entering all the data which I previously did not have. I am related to Matte-Marit along many different branches but the closest are those where we are 11th cousins. Nearby I show one of my closest relationships to the current Crown Princess of Norway.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Book Review: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Dr. Yuval Noah Harari

Dr. Harari is an Israeli historian and tenured professor at the Department of History of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is best known for his international bestseller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. It has been translated into more than 30 languages, the book won the National Library of China's Wenjin Book Award for 2015.

For me, this book was like a followup or Volume 2 of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel. Interestingly enough Harari even claims that Diamond's book was an inspiration for his book.

I felt like Diamond's book answered a lot of the big questions of the human story. However, his final explanation about why Europe instead of China seemed somewhat lacking to me. The East-West axis of Eurasia included the Middle East, North Africa and India as well as Europe and China. Diamond does attempt to answer this also based on geography, but his explanation doesn't quite satisfy me. Did not China have as many resources in their geographical location as Europe did? So if it boils down to pure geography and available resources then why Europe and not China? Perhaps Mesopotamia's climate had changed, become drier and no longer had the resources it had in earlier times. But weren't there as many resources in India and China as there was in Europe? My gut feeling was that Diamond's advantageous geography was only the first part of the answer. There then had to be something about the culture that gave Europeans the advantage over other areas with similar resources. And I think that Harari has the answer. It was the culture of Europe that boosted it over not just China, but India and Southwest Asia, although he really doesn't call it culture. But for me, Sapiens now seems to complete the full story that began with Diamond's book.

This book, spanning a larger time frame than Diamond's, covers all the way from archaic human species up to the twenty-first century. One of Harari's main points is that humans are the only species capable of cooperating in large numbers. This is primarily due to our ability to  believe in things that exist purely in our own imagination, such as gods, nations, money and human rights. You might think that something like nations or money are real but you need to read his arguments to understand how they really are not. They are basically human created ideas that we all trust and believe in which creates the ability to consider them the same as if they are real.

I like the way he divides human history into four major time periods:
  1. The Cognitive Revolution began when homo sapiens began new ways of thinking and communicating, between 70-30 thousand years ago. This is when they left Africa and began to spread around the world.
  2. The Agricultural Revolution began 10-12 thousand years ago when homo sapiens first learned to cultivate wild grains and domesticate animals.
  3. The Unification of Humanity began long before the discovery of America by Columbus as there was extended trade among the nations of the Old World for hundreds of years. But since about 1500 Globalization began in earnest. Today we often think of Globalization as rather new. But it is a long term trend measured in hundreds or even thousands of years.
  4. The Scientific Revolution is more recent - perhaps only a few hundred years. Once mankind stopped believing that they knew every thing and discovered ignorance as Harari says, they looked for answers and were curious about what was over the horizon or just why things were the way they were. Although some inventions originated in China or Arabia, it was the Europeans who took it even further. Almost all the recent profound scientific inventions came from the West.
When the other large centers of civilization such as the Ottomans or Chinese were uninterested in expanding, nations of Europe had a mindset (which I call a culture) that drove them to explore and conquer. Harari explains how it was in Europe that people were interested in exploration, conquering, colonization, invention, scientific learning and capitalism that brought them to global dominance. After reading the details, I simplify this in my mind to a single word: culture. The culture of the Ottomans and Chinese did not encourage exploration, colonization, invention, etc. You need to read the book to get a clearer understanding of how this all happened.
Sapiens focuses on key processes that shaped humankind and the world around it, such as the advent of agriculture, the creation of money, the spread of religion and the rise of the nation state. Unlike other books of its kind, Sapiens takes a multi-disciplinary approach that bridges the gaps between history, biology, philosophy and economics in a way never done before. Furthermore, taking both the macro and the micro view, Sapiens conveys not only what happened and why, but also how it felt for individuals. [Yuval Harari's personal website:]

Here are some links to help you learn more:

TED Talks by Dr. Yuval Harari:

Cumberland Family Software:

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Book Review: Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond

This book and the next book by Dr. Harari which I will shortly follow up with in the next blog may not really seem related to genealogy. However, they are related to history and I have a deep interest in understanding not just my own personal ancestry but the larger ancestry of humankind that these two books address. Perhaps this blog and the next can be considered an extension of my earliest blog posts concerning DNA ancestry - which also fit into our larger long-term ancestry.

Jared Diamond, an American scientist and author, is best known for his 1997 book Guns, Germs and Steel which won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction and the Aventis Prize for Best Science Book. This book is now 20 years old and perhaps many already are familiar with it, but I wanted to write about it because of how much I love the book!

This book is a short history of the last 13,000 years of human history and attempts to answer the question why Europe became the dominant power of the last few hundred years, rather than some other power elsewhere in the world. The title of the book sums it up - it was more advanced technology with guns and steel, with the support of diseases that others were not immune to.

Diamond contends that there are no inherent genetic differences between Europeans and say New Guineans or any other race that would make Europeans more intelligent. Instead he theorizes that civilization developed from a chain of developments over thousands of years, beginning with something as simple as geography and available resources. As humans moved from nomadic hunter-gatherers to farming, this occurred only in areas where conditions would allow for this to occur. Both crops, such as wheat and rice, and large domesticated animals such as sheep, goats, pigs, cattle and horses were the beginnings of agriculture - and developed only in geographical locations where these resources were available, Only in such locations was it possible for larger societies to begin to develop.

The ability to control crops and animals led to food surpluses which then led to specialized work and larger societies. These larger groups then led to rulers and bureaucracies which led to nation states and eventually empires. These larger civilizations and empires grew in geographical locations that were favored by the right types of crops and domesticated animals. 

As civilizations grew and spread, animals and crops would also spread but only at the same latitude with the right climatic and geographical conditions. So the first civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt had crops and animals that could still handle conditions along an east-west axis - eastwards to India and China, and west into Europe, but were not suitable for moving too far south into Africa. The Americas had the disadvantage of sitting along a north-south axis, rather than a east-west axis like Eurasia and thus the spread of crops and domesticated animals was less likely due to greater climatic variation.

Since Eurasians lived close to farm animals with diseases, over time they became immune via natural selection such as the Black Death and other epidemics. The stark example of 95% of native Americans being wiped out by the colonizing Europeans, was primarily due to the diseases they brought with them which the natives had no resistance to.

So societies that started as agrarian and developed into larger empires with specialized skills allowed for artisans and technological advancements that lesser developed societies did not have - steel being foremost. So with more advanced technology and cunning, a few hundred Spanish conquistadors can conquer millions of natives in Mexico, and Pizarro with less than 200 men could conquer the Inca Empire of millions in South America. Then over the past few hundred years European nations also set up colonies in Africa, Asia, Australia and the islands of the Pacific.

It is easy to see how Europeans had more resources than sub-Saharan Africans or Australians or New Guineans and thus were able to create large states.  But why did the Europeans come to dominate the world? Why not the Chinese? China had a large civilization along the same latitude as Europe with many resources also. What about the Ottoman Empire in the Near East? Why didn't they do it? What about the large subcontinent of India? All of these areas lie along the favorable east-west climate axis. Diamond tries to answer this question based on geography and provides some really provoking thoughts, although I felt like the last argument about Europe vs China was a bit weak. Dr. Harari in his recent book Sapiens I think has the answer, which I will review in my next blog.

In 2005 National Geographic created a 3 episode documentary based on the book, with the same title Guns, Germs and Steel, which at one time I watched on Netflix but I believe is no longer available there. At least for now it looks to be available on Youtube (links below). Highly recommended to see. But read the book also.

Here are some links to help you learn more:

Cumberland Family Software:

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Boleyn and Shelton Families

I had briefly mentioned the Boleyn and Shelton families in an earlier blog post (English Nobility - Part 4). But having recently watched the The Tudors, a historical fiction TV series, it got me interested in reading and discussing more details about these two families. Of course, with almost all historical fiction there is a mixture of facts and fiction, so not everything can be relied on as truthful in the show. But I found the series fun to watch, nevertheless. Much of it seems to accurately follow actual history, of course with embellishments.

The marriage of Anne Boleyn to King Henry VIII was pivotal in the political and religious upheaval resulting in the English Reformation, which had repercussions beyond England. I found the last episode of Season 2 which depicted the beheading of Anne quite moving. Anne's aunt, Anne Boleyn Shelton (my direct ancestor) was one of those sent to serve Queen Anne while she was imprisoned in the Tower of London. As I watched that final scene in Season 2, I couldn't but help notice one of the older courtiers standing on the gallows as Anne was beheaded, thinking that she must be my great ancestor, Anne Boleyn Shelton.

Earlier, my ancestor, Anne Shelton, along with her sister, Lady Alice Clere, had been put in charge of King Henry and Catherine of Aragon's daughter, Mary, who later became Queen of England and is often called Bloody Mary due to the large number of Protestants she had executed. On one hand, Catherine and Mary were staunch Catholics, while the Boleyn family was Protestant, creating a rift between the two factions of King Henry's own family. This is clearly displayed in the TV series. It seems that Anne Shelton may have been quite harsh to her charge, Princess Mary. Perhaps it was due to religious differences, but also the fact that Queen Catherine and her daughter Mary, would not agree to the annulment that Henry was seeking from the Pope so that he could marry Anne.

There are a couple of other connections between King Henry and the Boleyn and Shelton families, also briefly mentioned in the TV series. Anne's older sister, Mary had been a long time mistress of King Henry. Henry also had a brief fling with one of John and Anne Shelton's daughters, Margaret (or Mary) - typically called Madge. As suggested in the show it may have been correct that Queen Anne herself may have instigated this fling with her cousin Madge.

Another intriguing connection is that John and Anne Shelton's son, John was married to Margaret Parker (both also my direct ancestors), whose sister, Jane was married to George Boleyn, 2nd Viscount Rochford, a brother to Queen Anne. Jane had complained that Queen Anne and her husband, George, had incestuous relations. This was one of the accusations that caused Anne to be put in the tower and subsequently executed, although historians are not convinced of the truth of any of the charges against her. Thus we see the intricate family relations between the Boleyns, Sheltons and even the Parker families, all holding important noble titles and playing a part in this pivotal moment of history.
After the coronation of her daughter, Elizabeth, as queen, Anne was venerated as a martyr and heroine of the English Reformation, particularly through the works of John Foxe. Over the centuries, she has inspired, or been mentioned, in many artistic and cultural works and thereby retained her hold on the popular imagination. She has been called "the most influential and important queen consort England has ever had", for she provided the occasion for Henry VIII to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and declare his independence from the Holy See. [wikipedia: Anne Boleyn]
My descent from the Boleyn and Shelton families is shown in Chart #51, which is somewhat of an overlap with the earlier Chart #45.

Here are links to some of the key people in my online genealogy database:

Here are some links to help you learn more:

Cumberland Family Software:

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Y-DNA: R1b-U106-S6989 Skanke Family Project


If you have Y-DNA tracing back to R1b->U106->S6989->CTS2158 then we are related somewhere in the past along the purely male line. A current ongoing project by a team that I am on is attempting to get FamilyTreeDna Big-Y tests on as many male descendants of this "Nordic branch of R1b-U106" as possible to link the family together.

This blog is primarily a connection to an online database I have been creating as well as a summary of what is currently known about the genealogy of the Skanke family.

My online database includes as many of the direct male descendants of Nicolaus (Nils) Hallsteinsson Schanke-Mjelle (1300-1355) as I can trace as well as his purely paternal ancestry all the way to legendary and mythological origins. At present I suspect that all males with the S6989 marker will tie into this line somewhere in the past couple of thousand years. It is also a certainty that not all direct descendants of S6989 are in this database. It is estimated that there are about 110 million currently living males directly descended from S6989. It has been confirmed that the Skanke family (and almost certainly the Barfod) family have this marker.

A couple of points to remember. Just because you do not have the Skanke or Barfot surname does not mean you don't tie into this line. And the reverse is also true, just because you have the Skanke or Barfot surname does not mean your male ancestry does tie into this line. I have seen a few instances (in the past few hundred years) where a man married into the Skanke family and took his wife's surname, which continues on down through the generations.

I am open to any corrections and additions. This is an ongoing project for now. I also have not included my own short paternal line or some other genealogy on people I know who also tie into this line, because I don't know how they link into this line, but they are known from Y-DNA testing to belong to S6989. My paternal ancestry certainly ties into this line somewhere but it may be that a paper trail will never validate the exact location. But we'll soon see where the Big-Y DNA tests take me...

If you know you are in the S6989 group I would be interested in your paternal genealogy. One day we may find connections. I plan to include and update data over time - and all connections even my own when they are made - and perhaps even add other genealogy from S6989 even if we cannot yet make the connection. Send me an email:

The sources for all names in the database are documented in the online database. Main Sources for the online database:
  • Skanke Family:
  • Barfot Family:
  • Nils Hallsteinsen ancestry from my own database collected over many years. The Kings of Man are well documented in the book by Mike Ashley, Mammoth Book of British Kings & Queens. (Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc. New York: 1999). p 420, 427.

Access my online R1b-U601-S989 Genealogy Database (click on a link below):

Database Statisitics

  • Total Count of individuals in the database (includes wives): 793
  • Total Direct Male descendants of Nicolaus (Nils) Hallsteinsson Schanke-Mjelle (1300-1355):  416
  • Total Direct Male ancestors of Nicolaus (Nils) Hallsteinsson Schanke-Mjelle (1300-1355): 90 generations

Commentary on the Male Genealogy of R1-U106-S6989

All commentary refers to the large ancestry chart at the end of the blog.

1. DNA Prehistory

I have written previously about DNA studies. The most pertinent posts are referenced below.

2. Biblical Genealogy

The genealogy shown from Adam down to Japeth (the son of Noah) come from the Christian Bible. The connection of Japeth to the Kings of the Dardanians and Troy comes from The O'Clery Book of Genealogies, written in the 17th century. We certainly cannot accept the historical accuracy of most of these genealogies. Perhaps these myths are based on actual historical people at some distant point in the past, but certainly the genealogies and dating cannot be accurate. As can be see in the timeline on the first chart below, the R Haplogroup was already in Europe before the Biblical Adam would have existed.

I will point our here the book, Eden in the East, by Stephen Openheimer, a British paediatrician, geneticist, and writer, who has explored the possibility that the early Biblical stories originated on the submersed continent of Sundaland, the flooding of which would have given rise to various flood myths such as that of Noah in the Book of Genesis. If so this would have occurred about 6-10 thousand years ago after the last ice age, rather than the Biblical chronological date of abt 2400 BCE.

In addition to my blog post links on DNA above also see:  Genealogy from the Beginning

3. Ancient Troy

According to Greek Mythology, Dardanus (Dardano), the King of the Dardanians was the son of Zeus and Electra. He and his descendants ruled around the area of today's Dardanelles's Strait (Turkey), between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, not far from where Heinrich Schliemann excavated the ancient city of Troy. According to archaeology, Troy seems to have been occupied on and off between 3000 and 500 BCE, which covers the period when Tros, Ilus, Laomedeon and his son Priam (brother to Tithonus) were Kings (approx 1300-1100 BCE). There is likely some historical basis to the Greek stories about the Trojan War, although some details are too fantastic to be believed.

But it is hard to know what to make of the genealogy from Tithonus (~1230 BCE) down to Odin (~200 CE). Most of this genealogy is given in old Icelandic sources. The dating would almost seem to be within reason for dating based on DNA, but location is not! Between the time of Troy and the time of Odin these "ancestors" were said to have lived around the Black Sea. However, Y-DNA studies indicate that the R1b Haplogroups is already in Europe during this entire time.

See Prior Blog post:  Priam, King of Troy

4. Odin and the Yngling Clan

The story of Odin and Njord traveling from the area to the east of the Black Sea to settle Scandinavia does not align with the fact that R1b is already in Europe and probably in Scandinavia by the time of his supposed migration which I have seen variously reported anywhere from 200 BCE to 200 CE. My own dating of intervening generations suggests closer to the 200 CE time frame.

If there is any truth to this migration story by Snorri Sturluson then there is very likely disconnects in the genealogy - missing and wrong generations. It is known that rulers will often create fictional genealogy to tie themselves back to prominent founders. It is quite unlikely that the Skanke male ancestry actually ties into this  line if they were in the Black Sea area rather than Europe, for the simple fact that we know R1b was already  in Europe.

According to Snorri Sturluson, Skjold, the son of Odin was the one who settled Denmark and his descendants ruled from the old capital at Lejre (Hleiðr or Hleiðargarðr) on the island of Sjæland (Zealand). He is the supposed ancestor of our Skanke/Barfot clan.

See Prior Blog Post:  Legendary Kings of Scandinavia

5. The Age of the Vikings

It is hard to know where to draw a line and finally say that the genealogy at this point forward is accurate. Ivar the Boneless is considered historical. There is some question about his father Ragnar Lodbrok, the legendary viking hero of the Icelandic saga Ragnars saga Loðbrókar. Ragnar lived during the beginning of what is known as the Viking Age (late 8th century).

As can be seen in the large chart at the end, his descendants were early vikings in Dublin (Ireland) and York (England). Much could be written about their stories (and perhaps I might at some later date). There are two possible genealogical connections from Sitric II Caech "Squint-Eye" down to Godred I Crovan "White Hands", King Man & Dublin as shown in the diagram below. My genealogy chart at the end of this posts follows the left side, although most online genealogy I have seen traces the right side. Both possibilities are in my online database.

Also See Prior Blog Post:  Early Kings of Denmark and Sweden

6. The Kings of Man

Godred Crovan seized control of the Isle of Man from a kinsman and set up a dynasty in Man that lasted for two centuries. The genealogy from Godred down to the Skanke family is probably pretty solid, although the wikipedia page for the Skanke family says that the connection to the Isle of Man is perhaps not totally certain. I have not seen any genealogy for the Skanke family that claims any other ancestry than that shown here. Here is how a prince from the Isle of Man came to Jämtland, Sweden:
"Hallstein Torleivsson Schanke-Egge was a knight and member of the State Council (riksråd) in Norway. He was governor in Jemtland (Sweden) from 1326. Hallstein was a prince from the Isle of Man, but did not inherit it, when King Magnus VI Håkonsson by the treaty of Perth in Scotland in 1266 was forced to cede Hebrides (Isle of Man and Hebride Islands) to Scotland. A (bavaret?) seal from 1303 shows that he had the Isle of Man's coat of arms (kongevåpen), three severed legs. This may have came from his mother's family. (His maternal grandfather was also a King of Man, descended from Godred Crovan.)" [Markhus, Bjørn. Markhus Genealogy Computer Database. (Norway: 2000).]
Wikipedia: Skanke (noble family)
Wikipedia: History of the Isle of Man

7. The descendants of Nicolaus Hallsteinsson Schanke-Mjelle

In Scandinavia most surnames were derived from patronymics or farm names. (See my earlier blog: Scandinavian Naming Patterns). A surname like Skanke or Barfot that was passed down for hundreds of years is neither of these. This type of enduring surname would likely have only been typical of royalty and nobility. The ancestry and descendants of Nicolaus (Nils) Hallstensson confirm this. "Skanke" must have had a powerful connotation for many people over the centuries, as several times I have seen a man marrying into the Skanke family take his wife's surname in order to perpetuate the Skanke family name.

Most of Nicolaus Hallsteinsson's sons kept the Skanke (Schanke) surname and passed it down through the generations, most living in Sweden. Although most descendants stayed in Sweden, many around the area of Häckås, Jämtland, Sweden, some moved around. Several descendants seem to have soon moved to the Trondheim area in Norway. But descendants are sure to be found all over Scandinavia - and eventually migrations to elsewhere in the world, such as America.

One of Nicolaus' sons, Mikkel took on the surname Barfot, moved to Denmark and most of his descendants are found in Denmark. Again, not all descendants stayed there and just as with the Skanke family they are sure to be found elsewhere.

It is interesting to compare the symbols on the coat of arms from the Isle of Man, the Skanke family and the Barfot family. The Isle of Man coat of arms contains three armored legs. The Skanke family shows a single severed armored leg, and the Barfot (meaning "Bare foot") crest shows a single bare leg. It is supposed that the Skanke and Barfot symbols were derived from those of the Isle of Man.

Cumberland Family Software:

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Book Review: Viking Series by Tim Severin

Leif Eiriksson, the man who discovered America in the year 1000, did have a son by the name of Thorgils, with a woman named Thorgunna, who he had met while he was in the Hebrides. But what the life of Thorgils Eiriksson was really like is not so historically certain. But Tim Severin picked a perfect protagonist for his Viking trilogy that lived long enough (at least in these historical fiction novels) to have encompassed some rather amazing historical events at the height of Viking influence. I don't think I can summarize these books better than The Fantasy Guide:
I class this fantastic trilogy as essentially a fictional bible to the world of the Vikings and their era of the dark ages. I say this because you are introduced to the world right at the height of the Vikings strength and shown through many adventures how far their influence reaches across the globe, how strong their presence is felt at key battles and how much of an impact they have made on people from all kinds of countries defining history in battle as well as trade. The detail is so rich yet finely woven into a story it is like the best Viking history lesson on earth, you have so much fun following the characters on their travels, encounters and experiences you don't realise how much you learn and how many stereotypes and disbeliefs are shattered until you reach the glorious end. This trilogy really is a MUST READ for any fan of the era and of the great Viking people. [The Fantasy Guide: A Review of Tim Severin's Viking Trilogy,]
During the early parts of the first book, Odinn's Child, Thorgils is involved in historical affairs associated with the discovery of America, quite accurately portraying what is told in the Vinland Sagas. Later he is off to Ireland. Often the plot is more like the plot of the old Icelandic Sagas as a series of events, rather than a clear overall plot. However, the details of life across the North Atlantic during this time period is clearly defined by all the details Severin includes in the novel

In the second novel, Sworn Brother, Thorgils is in England during the time of King Canute the Great, who ruled over Scandinavia and England. Interestingly he finds himself involved in a love affair with Canute's wife, Ælfgifu. Fleeing England he teams up with the outlaw, Grettir the Strong, the protaganist of the old Icelandic Saga called Grettis saga Ásmundarsonar (Grettir's Saga).

Towards the end of the novel, Thorgils is now in Constantinople, where in the third novel, King's Man, he becomes a Varangian guard under the leadership of Harald Sigurdsson, who later becomes the King of Norway, famously known as Harald Hardråde, the Thunderbolt of the North. Harald accumulated quite a fortune from his service in Constantinople and returning to Norway becomes King. Then Thorgils and Harald are involved in the famous events of the unforgettable year of 1066, the death of Harald at Stamford Bridge in northern England prior to the Norman invasion from the south.

Almost all of the main characters in these novels are historical figures and contained in my online genealogy database. Many of them we have discussed in prior blogs, showing their genealogy relationships in my direct ancestry line. The basic plots are really historical. The fleshing out of life, I believe are also quite accurate. Thorgils, although an actual historical figure, his life is all fictional.

Here are some other reviews of these books:

Here are links to purchase the books on amazon:

Cumberland Family Software:

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Book Review: The Novels of Sigrid Unset

Sigrid Undset (1882–1949) was a Norwegian novelist who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928. Undset wrote several novels set in the 20th century, but the books that I am interested in are the older historical novels listed below:

  1. Gunnar's Daughter, Undset's first historical novel, published in 1909. This short novel (150 pages) is written in the style of the old Icelandic Sagas is set in Norway and Iceland during the 11th century. This is definitely not a fairytale story with a happy ending, but a true to life historical novel that explores all the foibles of human kind and the social codes that dominated this era, which often controlled peoples lives, much the way our own social codes control our lives today.
  2. The Master of Hestviken is a set of four volumes, published 1925-27, by the titles of The Axe, The Snake Pit, In the Wilderness, and The Son Avenger. Hestviken is a fictional farm in the Oslo fjord. Olav Audunssøn, the main protagonist in the story is guilt ridden because he secretly murdered his wife's lover. All his life he does not want to confess it to the Church in order to preserve his wife's infidelity and the true father of her son. Undset was converted to the Catholic Church and all the clergy in her novel are presented positively during this time of the Norwegian Civil War in the late 12th and early 13th centuries. In The Snake Pit, Kristin Lavaransdatter's parents make a short appearance. The four books are often sold bound together in a single volume, just under 1000 pages in the copy that I own.
  3. Kristin Lavransdatter is a trilogy written during 1920–22 by the titles of The Wreath, The Wife, and The Cross. This is her most famous work and is "much admired for its historical and ethnological accuracy."  The three volumes follow the entire life of Kristin, a fictitious Norwegian woman from the 14th century. The novel is quite interesting from the complex relationships she has with her husband Erlend, her parents, the Church and other extended family relations. Like no other novel I have read this one really puts you into the life of the Norwegians of the Middle Ages. In 1995 The Wreath (the first book in the trilogy) was the basis for a film, Kristin Lavransdatter, directed by Liv Ullman. Although the film probably is not quite as historically accurate as the novel, it was a huge success in Norway and solidified Sigrid Unset and Kristin Lavransdatter as part of the Norwegian national identity. Some of the locations mentioned in the novel have been turned into historical sites. The location of much of the filming of Kristin Lavransdatter has been turned into a museum, the Jørundgard  Medieval Center.
The copy of Kristin Lavransdatter which I own is the older English translation made in the 1920's (published 1936), contains all three books in a single volume with over 1000 pages. However, there is a newer translation from 2005 that is claimed to be a better translation. I have to admit that reading the older translation there are some old English words that would be unfamiliar to modern readers.

Here are some links to help you learn more:

Here are links to amazon for the books mentioned in this blog. Both The Master of Hestviken and Kristin Lavransdatter shown here have all books in a single volume. The last item listed is the movie on DVD (with English subtitles) which may no longer be available. 

Cumberland Family Software: