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.)
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