Sunday, April 29, 2018

New Zealand Immigrants

The Swinbournes
Richard Swinbourne (1789-1866) and his wife, Ann McGrath (1790-?), my 3rd great-grandparents,were born in Ireland and died in New Zealand.
They had ten children: 7 sons and 3 daughters. Some of the children emigrated to the United States (last name changed to Swinburne), and some of the children emigrated to New Zealand.
As I wrote in my last blog, a Norwegian ancestor and his family emigrated to America due to famine conditions in Norway. Ireland, too, had famine conditions. Beginning in 1845, and lasting into the 1850s, the potato famine killed over a million men, women, and children in Ireland and caused another million to flee to the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. At the time of this mass migration, the Irish were among the poorest people in what was considered the “Western World.”
Richard and his wife left Collon, County Louth, Ireland, for Christchurch, New Zealand, aboard the Duke of Portland steamship on 20 June 1852.  The ship arrived in Lyttelton, New Zealand (just south of Christchurch), on 21 October 1852. At the time of their departure, Ireland was still suffering from the “Great Famine” which lasted from September 1845-1852. [1]

It just happens that at the time of the Swinbourne immigration, Australia and New Zealand were using financial schemes to help pay for the costs of immigration:  They wanted settlers.  However, not everyone received financial assistance. The governments used these schemes to exercise control over who got to immigrate; and, these schemes were biased against the poor. [2] It is, perhaps, the offer of financial assistance that encouraged Richard to head to New Zealand rather than to America.  It was certainly a much longer trip: 10 days to America versus 75-120 days to New Zealand. [3] 

It has been reported that Richard was “given a prize” by New Zealand for the promise of bringing sons with him from Ireland. [4] In fact, of the seven sons, two are known to have emigrated to New Zealand, and it is believed that another three sons also made that trip. 
Google Image
Richard Swinbourne

Their accommodations aboard the Duke of Portland were in the “Second Cabin.” [1] As far as I can tell, “second cabin” is the equivalent to “Second Class.”  There was little difference between traveling Second Class and First Class at that time. There was, of course, a third class commonly referred to as “Steerage.” The class of passenger determined how much luggage that individual could take. The higher the class, the more luggage. As second-class passengers, the Swinbournes were actually able to take quite a bit of luggage with them and probably many personal possessions. This would be important for Richard as he was a boot maker by profession, and when he settled in New Zealand, his occupation was one of a boot and shoemaker. 

 Once they arrived at the port of Lyttleton, the conditions were not good for the new arrivals.  In the first days and nights of arrival the New Zealand immigrants stayed in the "Immigrant Barracks." These barracks were meant for temporary shelter only - one week maximum; and, food rations were provided, but again for only one week. The barracks were
Immigrant Barracks - Google Image
were designed for 300 people; however, there were usually at least 200 cabin passengers and almost 600 steerage passengers. So, many people stayed on the ship for as long as possible.  There was no permanent housing available - so many people ended up living in tents and sod huts. [5] This was truly a pioneering situation. I wonder if the immigrants were aware of the conditions that they were to meet upon arrival.

Regardless of the long journey and the deplorable conditions found upon arrival, the Swinbournes probably felt it was better than being in Ireland. So they stayed and prospered.

NOTE: Photographs of Richard Swinbourne and his wife, were kindly provided by Angela Milnes,

[1] “Shipping News.”, 21 Oct. 1855. Lyttelton Times
[2] Richards, E. “How Did Poor People Emigrate from the British Isles to Australia in the Nineteenth Century?” Journal of British Studies, vol. 32, no. 3, July 1993, pp. 250-279, doi: 10.1086/386032.
[3] Wilson, John. “The Voyage Out – Journeys to New Zealand.” Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand,
[4] “Swinburne of Collon, Co. Louth, Ireland, New Zealand and Australia.” The SWINBURN(E) Family History Site, UK Genealogy Ring, 23 Dec 2002, um_7035/index.html
[5] "Shelter--'Home, Sweet Home'." The Bridle Path - Their Story Our Story,

Sunday, April 1, 2018

A Norwegian Family

Google Image
By birth I am 20 percent Norwegian.  My Scandinavian origins come from my maternal family line.  One of the family names I have recently been looking into is Ringstad. A 2nd great-grandfather, Peder Johannsen “Peter” Ringstad (1854-1936), was born in Sør-Fron, Oppland, Norway, and died in Cass Lake, Cass County, Minnesota. His father, one of my 3rd great-grandfathers, Johannsen Andersen, was born about 1813 in Fron, Oppland, Norway.

One of the distinctions in Norway, and other Scandinavian countries, is that prior to the 1860s,  families did not use fixed surnames. They used what is called a “patronymic” system of naming: This system was also used by Dutch families. Thus, Peder Johannsen is the son of John. (A daughter, would be identified by the last name of Johnnesdatter – the daughter of John). However, when a name could be easily confused with someone else (think John Smith), then to clarify their identity, they would add on the farm name where they currently reside – not where they were born. So, Peder Johannsen becomes Peder Johannsen Ringstad. [1]

Google Image

Peder was born in Oppland County, one of only two land-locked counties in Norway. The town, Sør-Fron, came into existence in 1851. At that time, the municipality of Fron (where Peder’s father was born) was divided into two towns: Sør-Fron (South Fron) and Nord-Fron (North Fron).

Gulbrandsdalen Cathedral - Google Image
Norway’s official religion at this time was Lutheran. In fact, the Norwegian Constitution of 1914 stated that the Evangelical Lutheran religion was the official state religion. [2]  One of the best-known churches in Norway is found in Sør-Fron:  It is an octagonal church built in 1751 and simply known as the “Gulbrandsdalen Cathedral.” Gulbrandsdalen refers to the geographical area around Sør-Fron. Since this was a Lutheran church, and Peder’s family was Lutheran, it is probably a good assumption that they attended this church.

Gulbrandsdalen Valley - Google Image
Johannes and his wife, Anne Ericksdatter, had four children who lived to adulthood. These children all emigrated to the United States between 1867-1874. So why did they leave their home country? It turns out that there was a devastating famine in Scandinavia, including Norway, during the years of 1866-1868:  potatoes and vegetables rotted in the field. And though Norwegians emigrated prior to this famine, the famine prompted the first major wave of Norwegians to the United States. [3]

Why settle in Minnesota?  In 1862 the Homestead Act was adopted. This legislation promised 160 acres of free or cheap land for those who would make a home on undeveloped land west of the Mississippi River. (This was primarily land seized from the American Indians.) This promise of land was advertised not only in the United States, but also in the Scandinavian countries. So, between the famine and the promise of free or cheap land, the immigrants came.

Google Image

Peder married Kari Olsdatter Moen (1856-1942) on July 3, 1879, in Otter Tail County, Minnesota, and they had 11 children. Below is a picture of Kari and Peder (Per) and 10 of their eleven children.

1 – “Understanding Norwegian Naming Patterns.” Norwegian Ridge, 10 July 2011,
2 – Christenson, Elroy.  Oppland (Upland) Norway: A Brief History.
3 – Norwegian Immigration to America. www.emmigration.ino/norewgian-immigration-to-america.htm