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, fantasyguide.stormthecastle.com/reviews/the-vikings-trilogy.htm]
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: www.cft-win.com

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: www.cft-win.com

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: www.cft-win.com

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: www.cft-win.com

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: www.cft-win.com

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: www.cft-win.com