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:

Friday, January 6, 2017

Norwegian Farms and Emigration

Norway was, and still is to a certain extent in the rural areas, made up of people working small farms as judged by our standards [USA]. There were very strict inheritance laws in Norway as there were in other Scandinavian countries. These are the so-called "odelsakkene" or allodial rights. The "first sons" basically had the first right to take over the farm.

It was not unusual for very large families in Norway during the 19th century. Five to 10 seems to be normal. There were many sons and daughters, therefore, who could not get farm land which was the way of life they knew. America, with its great land reserves and opportunity was an obvious choice. Many who had been in America came back with good reviews, prompting others to come.

Farming was counted on heavily for subsistence, especially the potato. A weak crop would cause problems. There were times when people could not get enough to eat. (The potato crop failure devastated Ireland.) Many could therefore have come to this country for farming options.

Fishing and seamanship were the other common professions for men. Seaman therefore got a chance to see the rest of the world, including America, to see what it was like. Obviously, a lot liked what they saw. (Email from Robert Risholm, 28 Nov 1994)

These are some of the causes as mentioned in "Jostein Nerboevik: Norsk Historie 1870-1905", loosely translated:

Emigration was a pressure valve. From 1836 to 1960 more people emigrated than the total population in 1801. The first wave was in 1866-1873, more than 110,000. Next wave: 1880-1893: 250,000 emigrants. Third wave: 1900-1910: 200,000 emigrants. To sum it up: in bad times people left.

These emigration waves are not isolated phenomenon. In this time people broke up, not just to emigrate, but also to move to town, away from the countryside where mechanics replaced manual labor, and where hopes of building a future were low.

The motives for emigrating were multiple. In the first phase (1866-73) most emigrants came from the countryside, farmers looking for farmland. The second wave brought many craftsmen and sailors from the cities. In the third wave/phase, the farmers were numerous again. A large share of the emigrants came from the inner parts of Western Norway, and from the mountain villages of Eastern Norway.

If you ever visit Norway, you'll understand why. All farmland was taken.

The only common factor seems to be hopes of a better future in America than Norway. In those days, most of them were probably right. Some even went for religious reasons, and letters from the States, the Promised Land, were very popular. "Amerikabrev" (letters from America) is a word with a special "ring" even today. Imagine the effect those letters had on ambitious youngsters with literally no way of working their way up. I have no problem understanding them. Today, however, Norway is the best place to stay!! (E-mail from Atle Brunvoll, 2 Dec 1994.)

Cumberland Family Software:

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Historical Atlas of the Vikings

I always find that maps really clarify a lot of things for me in history and genealogy. So the book The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Vikings, by John Haywood, is certainly a wonderful way to understand Viking History.

This book actually has quite a bit of text in addition to the maps that tell the history of the vikings. The introductory part has a nice timeline from the time of Christ up to 1500 with key events noted in Scandinavia, Britain and Ireland, as well as Western Europe and the World.

Part I: The Origins of the Vikings tells about the Origins of the Vikings, Scandinavian Environment, the time before the Vikings, pagan practices, as well as some nice photos and maps.

Part II: Scandinavia in the Viking Age discusses Scandinavia itself during the Viking Age, the development of towns and ships, and how the Scandinavian chiefdoms became kingdoms, with the usual beautiful photos and maps.

Part III: The Viking Raids. Beginning in the late 8th century with the first raids in England, maps, photos and text explain how the viking raids impacted England, Ireland, western  Europe and even through the Mediterranean. There are detailed sections and maps about the vikings in France, Normandy, Brittany, England, Ireland, Scotland, all areas I have covered in my blog posts along with a few maps. You will recognize many names from my genealogy that I have discussed in the past. The book however, is even more detailed on the history than my blog, but without the genealogy.

Part IV: The North Atlantic Saga gives details on the viking settlements in the Faeroes, Iceland and Greenland, and their voyages to Vinland (America). I have discussed some of this in my blogs. I have not covered the discovery of America by Leif Eiriksson simply because Leif and his near relatives are not in my direct ancestry. However, he is in my online genealogy database. Leif's parents were Erik the Red, founder of Greenland and Thjodhild Jorundsdottir. Thjodhild's grandfather was Atle Røde Ulvsson, a brother to Valgerdur Ulfsdottir, who is in my direct ancestral line.

Part V: The Vikings in the East is the story of the vikings in Russia - Novgorod and Kiev - the Viking Rus who became the early rulers of Russia, which I have discussed in previous blogs.

Part VI: The Transformation of the Vikings discusses some of the later history of the Scandinavians as they begin to convert to Christianity during the 11th century.

Overall, this book is really a nice companion to go with the genealogy charts I have shown in my blogs on Scandinavia. While my genealogy charts will show the connections of many of the rulers discussed in the book, the maps and photos help clarify more historical detail around the individuals I have discussed.

Here is a link to the book on amazon.

Cumberland Family Software:

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Pirate and the Clergy

Christopher Trondsson Rustung (1490-1565) was a squire, admiral, feudal overlord in Norway and Denmark, privateer captain and pirate. He was born at the Seim farm in Kvinnherad, Hordaland. He lived during the last days of the Catholic Church in Norway as the country turned towards Lutheranism. Christopher (also spelled Kristoffer) served the last Catholic archbishop, Olav Engelbreksson (1480-1538), who fought for Norway's independence in hopes of retaining Catholicism as the State Church. However, King Frederik III of Denmark-Norway installed Danish noblemen at castles in Norway, confiscated Church properties, and I suspect also installed many Lutheran Danish clergy into the Norwegian churches, based on what I have seen in my own genealogy which will be discussed below.

For about 5 years Christopher conducted highly successful pirating activities in the Baltics, the North Sea and along the coast of Norway, as a privateer for Duke Friederich of Phalz and Duke Enno of Emden.
Kristoffer is famous for playing a role in the last years before the Reformation in Norway, first as the head of the national fleet, defending Norway from attacking Danish ships; and also as the murderer of Vincent Lunge, a Danish nobleman sent to Bergen in 1537 to enforce the Danish annexation of Norway by the King of Denmark Christian III. This dramatic moment in Norwegian history is memorialized today in an annual "midnight opera" sponsored by the Norwegian Ministry of Culture. Titled Olav Engelbrektsson, it takes place on the premises of the castle, outside Trondheim. [wikipedia: Kristoffer Throndsen]
After fighting against Denmark, Christopher eventually had a change of heart and asked for a pardon from King Christian III, which he obtained and was then engaged as a naval officer for Denmark-Norway.

The ancestry of Tormod Olsen Wiiga (Veka)'s, mother on the left side of the chart, came from the same areas in Hordaland and Hardanger Fjord as mentioned in a prior blog about Hardanger Fjord ancestry. There was much intermarrying between the family here and the families discussed previously. The farms at Sandvin and Øystese are on the Hardanger Fjord. Kristoffer Trondsen's farm at Seim is north of Bergen but still in Hordaland County. There are lots more ancestry that are in my online genealogy database not discussed in these blogs.

We had mentioned in the previous blog how Tormod Olsen Wiiga (Veka)'s wife was from Vest-Agder, so Chart #50 primarily shows Karen Johnsdatter Ugland's ancestry back through 3 different connections to previously discussed Norwegian Nobility and Royalty of the Middle Ages.

On the right side we see the Counts of Pomerania and Gutzkow, areas in north-east Germany today. Margrethe, the daughter of Jaksa II, Count of Gutzkow, married into the Panter family in Denmark. The names along the right side of Chart #50 down to Jørgen Clausen Mylting (1589-1640) all lived in Denmark. Jørgen came to Oddernes, in Vest-Agder, Norway and became the priest at the Oddernes Church.

During the time of the Reformation (early 1500's), Norway was part of Denmark, under King Christian III of Denmark-Norway. It was mainly due to the conversion of King Christian from Catholicism to Lutheranism that these two countries adopted Lutheranism as the State Church. The Archbishop of Nidaros, Olav Engelbrektsson, fled the country in 1537. It seems to me that during the early years of the Reformation, many local parish priests came from Denmark and over the generations their descendants became integrated as Norwegians. Such is the case of   Jørgen Clausen Mylting and his descendants.

Interestingly, there was another branch of my ancestry, also in Vest-Agder, which had priests from Denmark, the Schelderup family.  Kristen Jensen Schelderup (1574-1622) was also a parish priest. His father (not shown in the chart), Jens Pedersen Schelderup (1528-1592), born in Denmark, became the Bishop in Bergen. One of Kristen's brother-in-laws, Jørgen Eriksen (1534-1604), was Bishop of Stavanger, married to Kristen's sister, Adriane. Serving in the Church seemed to stay in the family. One of Jørgen's sons became a priest in Hjelmeland, and as can be seen in the chart, Jørgen Clausen, the priest in Oddernes was married to a sister of Kristen Jensen Schelderup, wife.

In the center of the chart is Saksbjørn Simonson Lindheim who had married a daughter of Pål Eiriksson Skidor (Tjørn Skior), a descendant of the Kings of the Isles (Chart #35). Shown here is Saksbjørn's descendants that lived on the Mosbø farm near Oddernes, Vest-Agder who intermarried with the two clergy families, the Schelderups and Myltings.

Jon Syvertsen Augland (Ugland) moved from the family farm at Augland to the nearby city of Kristiansand, where his daughter Karen met Tormod Olsen, during his military service.

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:

Monday, January 2, 2017

Norwegian Ancestry from Ryfylke

Chart #49 traces a different branch of the family that we had discussed in the prior blog. This chart shows the descendants of Svein Sigurdsen Aga, grandson of Jon Gautsson på Ornes (Ænes), a brother to Brynjulf Sigurdsson Aga, shown in the prior blog. This family did not stay at the Aga farm, as Svein's grandson Alfinn Brynjulfsen (1235-1322) became the Bishop in Bergen. This was before the Reformation, meaning this would have been the Catholic Church in Bergen. However, Alfinn is not shown as one of the Bishops listed in wikipedia under the "Ancient Diocese of Bergen". However, his son, Jørund Alfinnsen (1270-1309) is listed simply as "Jørund" as the Archbishop of Nidaros from 1288-1309 on wikipedia's page, the "Archdiocese of Nidaros".

Nidaros is the old name for Trondheim. The Archdiocese of Nidaros covered the entire country of Norway during much of the Middle Ages. Nidaros remained the spiritual capitol of Norway, even after the capitol was moved to Oslo, up until the Reformation when Lutheranism became the state church. The Nidaros Cathedral was built over the burial site of St. Olav II Haraldson (995-1030). It is the northernmost cathedral in the world and an important destination for pilgrimages all over northerner Europe during the Middle Ages.

Jørund's son, Arne somehow is then located back in Rogland county on the Foss farm in Hjelmeland. This is an area of Rogaland called Ryfylke, which lies somewhat generally between the Hardanger Fjord and the Lyse Fjord. Arne's descendants are then living for several generations at the Foss and the Fevoll farm. There is much detailed explanation of genealogy under the notes of Odd Sevatson (Sjovatsen) Fevoll (c.1485-1539) in my genealogy database, which I am not reproducing here. In fact several of the people around the center of this chart have some detailed explanations (in English and/or Norwegian) - mainly extracted from the Hjelmeland bygdebok.  Here is an excerpt from Jon II Olafsen (Olsen) Tøtland Foss Fevoll (1540-1623):
As we can see from this, there have been a lot of proceedings concerning Foss and Fossmanor, where it has been owned by both bishop and secular greatmen as judges (rettertingsdommer). This says something about the family.  Here we also see Jon Foss pronounce that he will not allow history to say that he did not do right and pointed out what he knew about common allodial possession goods (traditional Norwegian inheritance rights).
But he must also have been a temperamental man, for in the county accounts we can find that he had to pay 1 daler (monetary unit in Norway at that time) because he boxed his brother-in-law Eirik Byre (Eirik Koll) in the mouth. [full name in my database: Erik Jakobsen Koll Byre] 
As can be seen my maternal grandmother's purely paternal line goes straight back to the Ryfylke area, since all the farms from Foss down to Veka (in Suldal) are located there.

Tormod Olsen Wiiga (Veka) was born and raised in Suldal. He was a cooper (bødker) by trade. He served in the military in Kristainsand where he met his wife, Karen, who was recently widowed. Her first husband had died only 4 years after their marriage and they had no children. They were married in 1807. Karen was from Oddernes near Kristiansand, Vest-Agder. For a few years they continued to live in Kristiansand, where my grandmother's grandfather, Knut Tormodsen Wiiga was born. We will take a look at Karen's ancestry in the next blog.

In 1812 during a time of a great famine in Norway, there was a boathouse which was being guarded as it was being used as a storehouse for grain for the military. The people stormed the boathouse and Tormod kicked the door open and the crowd helped themselves to the grain.

In 1815 Tormod and Karen moved back to Rogaland where they lived in Tysvær from 1815 to 1824. Tormod was a Quaker. He was an employee at Ploug and Sundts. He was buried on Kvekerkirkegården, Stavanger.

Tormod's son, Knut also became a cooper, same as his father. Then his son, Johannes Knudsen also owned a copper working metal shop and also constructed barrels for the salting and preservation of herrings. This shop was quite likely in Stavanger where Johannes was born. Johannes and Gunhild had seven children. One of them was my grandmother, Josephine. Two of Johannes' sons, Knud and Johannes never married but were very successful financially. Knud owned a hardware and furniture store and Johannes owned five herring canning factories. Knud and Johannes helped support their sister, Josephine's large family after her husband Johan died. The hardware store was started back in the 1800's and was still owned by Knud's nephew, Frithjof (my uncle) in 1976.

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: