Sunday, April 1, 2018

A Norwegian Family

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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]

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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.

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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

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