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My children’s heritage is very diverse with ancestors from many European countries. While most branches of the family have been in America since colonial times, a few branches arrived here much later. The most recent arrivals were my mother-in-law’s grandparents, whose families came from Norway and Denmark. We have not yet been able to trace her father’s Danish ancestry, but her mother’s Norwegian ancestry is well-documented — in old-style Norwegian.

Fortunately for us, a distant family member, Irene (Alvstad) Berven, traveled to Norway years ago, located genealogical records for the districts of Udlesvang and Kinsarvik and photo-copied hundreds of pages. She also copied about thirty pages by hand from the records of Øyford where a photo-copier was not available. She had the overwhelming amount of information for a number of years, but didn’t know how to read it. With some prior translations by Irene’s brother, Henry Alvstad, and with the help of my own modern Norwegian-English pocket dictionary, I was able to figure out enough of the language and abbreviations to trace Berven and Warberg (Varberg) lineage back to Vikings; however, the additional comments and corrections in old-style Norwegian were more difficult to translate. In 1993, I happened by chance to meet a young man from Norway with contacts that could help with that, so thanks to his efforts, many of the comments and corrections were successfully translated.

Ole and Guri “Julia” Berven

Ole and Guri Julia Berven

Ole Knute Berven was known in Norwegian church records both as “Ola Knutson Øvre Børvæ” and “Olav Knutson Børve Ø.” As a young adult in Norway, he earned his living as a fisherman on fishing vessels in the fjords. He recalled climbing the rigging and repairing sails — and dreams of doing better things. Øvre Børvæ was the ancestral farm in the county of Søndre Bergenhus (now called Hordaland) in the Udlesvang (present day Ullensvang) District of Hardanger where his family once lived and from which his family name was derived; however, it appears from the Ættar-bok for Kinsarvik, that Ole and most of his brothers and sisters were all born in Instanes, Kinsarvik District, Hardanger after his father inherited land and moved the family there the year of Ole’s birth. Julia, his wife, was from Øyfjord (also in the Hardanger area), and was known there as “Guri Larsdotter Varberg.” When she first came to America in about 1884, she apparently called herself “Julie Larson” and later Julia. After her parents and two of her three sisters came to America a few years later, her family became known the Warbergs and from then on, Julia gave her maiden name as Warberg too.

According to the History of Emmet and Dickinson County, Iowa, Vols. I and II (Pioneer Publishing Co., 1917), Ole came to America in 1882, first settling in Lee County, Illinois, where he worked as a farm hand. In 1884, he moved to Iowa for two years. In 1886, he moved to the Territory of Dakota, married Julia, and they remained there for about ten years.

Ole and Julia were married by a Justice of the Peace in Medora, Billings, Territory of Dakota (present day North Dakota). On their marriage certificate, he signed his name Ole Berven and she signed her name Julie Larson (probably Larsdotter anglicized to Larson); however, her family remembers her always being called Julia. Her children always knew her middle name was Anna, the same as her mother’s first name. Her father’s name was Lars Anderson Warberg (his obituary from Dickinson County, ND calls him Warburg). Although there are no known records for verification, there is family speculation that he may have also been called Lewis in America, as was a grandson Lars who was named in his honor, but was more commonly known as Lewis.

On their daughter Emma’s affidavit of baptism and confirmation, Julia signed her Norwegian name, Guri, but it is clearly followed by the initial “K.” There is still some confusion as to why the name appears as Guri K. when she always said her middle name was Anna, and we wonder if the initial might stand for Kjeaosen, her mother’s maiden name. It would be more understandable for her to have signed it with an initial “L” for Larsdotter. When my Berven family research first began in about 1981, the records of her various names led us to believe Ole had been married twice; however, we now know this to be false. Adding to the confusion, Ole had a sister Guro who was also known as Julia; however, she would have been Guro K. or Julia Olsen by that time.

According to Ole and Julia’s youngest son Ted, his parents knew each other in Norway, and when Ole left for America three years before Julia, he promised to send for her “as soon as he made his first million dollars.” Although Ole came to America empty-handed, he did to some degree realize his dreams of success. He may not have kept his promise verbatim, but he eventually married the girl he had known in Norway, and became “quite wealthy” for his time as an investor, farmer, and businessman.

Julia’s parents and her sister Sella (b. 1867), came to America in 1895. They settled in Belfield, Stark, North Dakota, about twenty miles east of Medora. Julia’s sister Brita (b. 1863) had already married in Norway by that time, and she remained there for the remainder of her life. Her other sister, Katarina (Katrina in Norwegian records; b. 1870) came to America in 1889.

The town of Medora, where Ole and Julia were married, was founded in 1883, by the Marquis de Mores, a French nobleman. It “grew by leaps and bounds, becoming overnight one of the wildest cow towns in the West, the sort of place, as Theodore Roosevelt once remarked, where pleasure and vice were considered synonymous. In New York, in an article about the Marquis and his efforts, the Times described Medora as a ‘thriving, bustling’ town with nearly one thousand people and a big future.” (David McCullough. Mornings on Horseback. Simon & Schuster, NY, 1981. 326.) The Marquis was accused of murder in 1884, and his empire began to crumble. The failure of an important stagecoach line from Medora to the town of Deadwood, along with the tragic winter of 1886-1887, proved to be the downfall of Medora’s future. During that year, the worst winter on record swept the Great Plains. There were blinding snows, and relentless, savage winds. “Children were lost and froze to death within a hundred yards of their own doors. Cattle, desperate for shelter, smashed their heads through ranch-house windows. The snow drifted so deep in many places that cattle were buried alive and temperatures hovered at about 40 below. People locked up in their houses could only wait and hope that elsewhere conditions were not so bad. A few who could not wait, blew their brains out.” (Ibid. 345.) Every rancher lost about seventy-five percent of his herd, causing a terrible economic hardship for the residents of the area.

Near Medora, Ole and Julia owned a boarding house for several years known as the “Berven Road House.” Julia ran the boarding house, feeding cowboys and railroad men while Ole worked for the Northwestern Railroad Company with several of his brothers. Their son George said, “hobos seemed to have mother’s boarding house marked. Often she would feed five or six of them every day with no pay for her efforts. She was afraid not to!” Native Americans also sought her hospitality. It frightened Julia to see “Indians” coming (not all in the area were friendly) and she would quickly draw the curtains so they would think no one was home, but out of childish curiosity, George would promptly pull them back revealing their presence! Taking a fancy to George, the women of the nearby tribe often gave him rides on their ponies which frightened Julia even more, as she feared they would kidnap him.

George recalled that whenever the Bervens butchered a cow, the “Indians” would invariably come asking for meat. “One day an old Indian came begging. He went out to the ice house where mother cut off a good slab of the lower quarter. The Indian shook his head and pointed to the upper portion. He wanted the very best beef.”

Ole was gone a lot of the time, working on the railroad. According to George, “one day a gaunt, hungry stranger, as pale as death, found him hiding in a culvert. A gun battle ensued and [Ole] was shot in the culvert.”

George told of another time when a “lean, pale fellow in his early twenties strolled into the Berven boarding house. He was an easterner, different from the usual type that drifted in,” and although he was average height for a man in those days (about 5′ 8″), he seemed very tall to young George. This man was Theodore Roosevelt, who later became the 26th President of the United States. He had gone west to build up his health, and “he and a friend stayed a long while with the Bervens.” George and his sister Anna, who recalled being about ages 6 and 7 at the time, said in their later years that they had often sat upon his knee while he tried to teach them how to read. He also played a major role in improving Ole and Julia’s ability to speak English.

Apparently Roosevelt developed quite a fondness for the Berven family, for George remarked that often when he and Anna played in their sand pile just below Roosevelt’s window, Teddy and his friend would throw nickels and dimes out the window to them. George said that he had a toy bank practically overflowing with money he got that way. Eventually Roosevelt left the Bervens and purchased some land near Medora where he ranched for a number of years. One Christmas, when George was still quite young, Roosevelt presented him with a large rocking horse that had genuine horse’s hair for its mane and tail, and its eyes were made of glass. Over time, Roosevelt built up his health and George said that no one was any handier with a six-shooter or could beat the future President when it came to riding a bronco. Ole and Julia kept a warm spot in their hearts for Roosevelt, and later named their youngest son Theodore in his honor. In 1963, an article about George’s life appeared in the Estherville [Iowa] Daily News, and in 1966, George was asked to appear on Gary Moore’s “I’ve Got a Secret” television program to tell about his contact with Teddy Roosevelt; however, George was 79 years old by then, in poor health, and he died shortly before he was scheduled to appear.

Homesteading on the Dakota prairie proved to be a difficult life for Ole and Julia. Those were the days when the west was a wild, lawless land. The Dakota Badlands were a refuge for all types of lawbreakers as well as a home for good, “God-fearing” men seeking to earn an honest living. North Dakota was admitted to the Union as a state on November 2, 1889. It is believed that Ole and Julia moved from the area of Medora and Belfield to Iowa around 1897. If that were the actual year, then they would have had at least four more children born in Medora. It is documented that Emma was born in Belfield in 1893.

Julia’s brother-in-law, Anton Anderson (Sella’s husband) was a rancher and banker in Belfield. He apparently loaned Ole and Julia enough money to go to Iowa and set up a homestead. It is believed that they first moved to Decorah, Iowa, but shortly after, Ole and Julia purchased 160 acres (Section 35) and started a farm in Swan Lake Township, Emmet County, near the small communities of Ringsted, Armstrong, Halfa, Maple Hill, and Gruver. They tilled and cultivated the land and the youngest three of their children (and possibly Oscar) were born on that farm. In 1929, they also purchased 44 additional creek-front acres across the road from their established property. According to the History of Emmet and Dickinson County, Iowa, Ole was very energetic and progressive. He was a trustee of Immanuel Lutheran Church, school director, an ardent Republican, and a self-made man who was highly respected in the community.

Their son Ted said that like many others, Ole lost much of his wealth during the stock market crash of 1929, but because he had kept large amounts of cash in his home rather than in banks, Ted was still able to go away to college and had money available to him for whatever expenses incurred.

Between 1984 and 1991, several family documents were discovered which are now in the possession of Shirley (Hansen) Watts, daughter of their child Alma. Two of the documents are affidavits of baptism and confirmation dated 1892, and 1906, for their son, Knud Ole Berven, who was known to us as Knute. The certificates were both written in old-style Norwegian, and on one is the following:

“Knud O. Berven födt den 22 Januar i Avret 1892 Daahs Attest af Foraldrene Mr. Ole Berven og Nuns Hustru Guri Berven blev den 30th Januar i Avret 1892 döbt i Medora, Billings Co., North Dakota.”

The wording on the document translates as:

“Knud O. Berven born the 22nd of January in the year 1892; Baptismal certificate from the parents Mr. Ole Berven and his wife Guri Berven; was baptized on the 30th of January in the year 1892 in Medora, Billings Co., North Dakota.”

Another document which was found was a hand-written marriage certificate for Ole and Julia, transcribed as follows:

Certificate of Marriage

Medora Dec 31th [sic], 1886

Territory of Dakota
Billings County} Before John Copeland
Justice of Peace

This certifies that Ole Berven of Medora, County of Billings, Dakota Territory, and (Ole Berven again, but scratched out) Julie Larson of Medora, County of Billings, Dakota Territory were united in holy matrimony, according to the ordinance of God and the laws of the Territory of Dakota at (left blank) on the Thirty First Day of December in the year of our Lord, One thousand, eight hundred and eighty six. I further certify that the said parties namely Ole Berven and Julie Larson are known to me to be the identical persons described; that I ascertained that they were of sufficient age to contract Marriage: that after due inquiry, there appeared no lawful impediment to such Marriage; and that the witness here to subscribed namely (left blank) and resides in Medora, Couty of Billings in said territory. Witness my hand this 31th day of Dec 1886.

Witnesses}
(signed) E. E. Mikkelson

(signed) Ole Berven
(signed) Julie Larson
(signed) John Copeland
Justice of the Peace

Ole and Julia are both buried at Swan Lake Cemetery in Maple Hill, Emmet, Iowa. Julia’s newspaper obituary stated, “To this union was born ten children…” This was an error since there were actually eleven children. One son, Anton Elias, died young and a brother who was born after Anton’s death was given the very same name in his honor. We may only speculate that when the newspaper was given a list of the children’s names for her obituary, one Anton was assumed to be a duplicate of the same person’s name and was deleted. It is unusual, in America at least, for two children in the same family to be named exactly alike, but it was a common practice in the old country to honor a deceased child by naming one born after with the same name. Their children were: George (1887-1966), Anna (1889-1984), Lars “Lewis” (1890-1917), Knud “Knute” (1892-1918), Emma (1893-1930), Anton (1894-1901), Oskar “Oscar” (1896-1910), Johan “Joe” (1899-1974), Alma (1901-1981), Anton “Tony” (1903-1987) and Theodore “Ted” (1905-2007).

In 1990, a museum in the main terminal building opened on Ellis Island in New York to honor the millions of immigrants who came to this country. Ellis Island opened as the first immigrant station when the states turned the task of immigration control over to the federal government. It was in operation from 1892 to 1954. In the name of the Berven family, Lucille (Speak) Bennet made a contribution to support The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation and in return, she was presented with official certificates of registration for her grandparents Ole and Julia. Although they apparently came to America before the Ellis Island immigrant station was opened, their names along with other immigrant relatives now appear in public display on the American Immigrant Wall of Honor at the museum as a testament to the heroism and triumphs they experienced in coming to America.


Ættar-bok Sources: #295d, page 77 Ættar-bok for Udlesvang (1936); #157, page 106 and #150a, page 266 Ættar-bok for Kinsarvik (1931), both by Åmund Knutson Bu; Odda, Udlesvang and Kinsarvik. (Bottom Front Cover: “Utgjeve På Eigen Kostnad”; Inside Cover: “S. Botnens Boktrykkeri-Stord”). Ættar-bok for Øyfjord, #164d and #185a (probably also by Åmund K. Bu – my record copies from Øyfjord were handwritten and I have no page numbers).

Kinsarvik:

Instanes
p. 106:

157. Knut Olavson Børve Ø. [295d]

Kristi Jakobsdtr. Ystanes (150a)

Knut d., skifte 1896, 8 born [this conflicts with our family’s date of 21 Apr 1892; not sure which is correct]

Gift 1856
Born:

å. Gjøa Fødd 1856; Avliden 1882; Bustad (blank) [Her entire entry was added in someone’s hand after publishing]
a. Guro (g. m. Torvald Olavson frå Olso) Fødd 1858; Avliden (blank); Busted (U.S.A.)
b. Olav Fødd 1861; Avliden (blank); Busted (U.S.A.)
c. Kristi (g. m. Samson Tveit frå Odda) Fødd 1863; Avliden (blank); Busted (U.S.A.)
d. Jakob Fødd 1866; Avliden (blank); Busted (U.S.A.)

p. 107 (Framhald):

e. Aslak Fødd 1868; Avliden (blank); Busted (U.S.A.)
f. Knut Olai Fødd 1871; Avliden (blank); Busted (U.S.A.)
g. Torbjørn Fødd 1873; Avliden (blank); Busted (U.S.A.)
h. Johanna Fødd 1878; Avliden (blank); Busted (U.S.A. ?)

Ystanes
p. 266:

150. Jakob Knutson Midnes (113i)

Domhilda Sjursdtr. Tveisme (117f)

Gift 1833
Born:

a. Kristi Fødd 1833; Avliden (blank); Busted: Instanes (157)
b. Knut Fødd 1835; Avliden 1907; Busted: Ystanes (170)

c. Gjøa Fødd 1838; Avliden (blank); Busted (U.S.A. 1864)
d. Marita Fødd 1841; Avliden 1901; Busted: ug. Ystanes

e. Lisbet Fødd 1849; Avliden (blank); Busted (U.S.A. 1871)
f. Joseffus Fødd 1853; Avliden (blank); Busted (U.S.A. 1873)
g. Sjur Fødd 1855; Avliden (blank); Busted (U.S.A.)

Udlesvang (Ullensvang*):

Ø. Børvæ
p. 77:

295. Ola Sveinson Ø. Børvæ (284e)

Gjøa Olsdtr. Espæ (193d)

Gift 1813
Born:

a. Svein Fødd 1813; Avliden 1897; Busted: Ø. Børvæ (310)
b. Ola Fødd 1815; Avliden (blank); Busted:
Ø. Seksæ (345)
c. Atlåk Fødd 1820; Avliden 1844; Busted: ug. l
ærar Koparvik
d. Knut Fødd 1823; Avliden 1892
[this agrees with family’s date]; Busted: Instanes (157)
e. Anna Fødd 1825; Avliden 1910; Busted: Lote (201)

f. df. gj.
Fødd 1828; Avliden 1828

Øyfjord (Oifjord; present day Eidfjord**):

Varberg

164. Anders Olson Varberg (147c)

Guri Tormosdtr. Røyso (128)

Gift 1823
Born:

a. Ola Fødd 1824; Avliden 1824
b. Ola Fødd 1825; Avliden 1845; Busted: ug Kom burt i fjellet
c. Tormo Fødd 1828; Avliden 1911; Busted: Lund (144)
d. Lars Fødd 1831; Avliden (blank); Busted: Varberg (185) [Came to U.S.A. after publishing]
e. Kristoffer Fødd 1833; Avliden (blank); Busted: Røyso (142)
f. Katrina Helvik Fødd 1837; Avliden (blank); Busted: Jodno (283) Hamre Sæbbe (241)
(no g.)
h. Torbjorg Fødd 1842; Avliden 1928; Busted: Jodno (283) Hamre Sæbbe (241) [Hamre Sæbbe may be meant for Torbjorg or omitted child “g.”]
i. Guri Fødd 1845; Avliden (blank); Busted (U.S.A.) Sæbbe (230)


185. Lars Anderson Varberg (164d)

Anna Maria Hansdtr. Kjeaosen (116c)

Gift 1858
Born:

a. Guri Fødd 1861; Avliden (blank); Busted (U.S.A.)
b. Brita Fødd 1863; Avliden (blank); Busted (blank)
c. Sella Fødd 1867; Avliden (blank); Busted: (U.S.A. 1895)
d. Katrina Fødd 1870; Avliden (blank); Busted: (U.S.A. 1889)

Kjeaosen

116. Hans Toreson Kjeaosen (114a)

1. Brita Åmundsdtr. Tveit (156c)
2. Ekkja Sella Tormosdtr. Litlatun (g. 1846)

Gift 1827
Born:

a. Marta Fødd 1828; Avliden 1919; Busted: Varberg (179)
b. Tore Fødd 1831; Avliden (blank); Busted: Kjeaosen (124)
c. Anna Maria Fødd 1834; Avliden (blank); Busted: Varberg (185)
d. Brita Fødd 1838; Avliden (blank); Busted: Lægreid (281)

* Udlesvang is a dialect pronunciation of the name Ullensvang (which means “the meadow of the Norse god Ull”). Ullensvang is a municipality in the county of Hordaland, at the innermost end of the Hardangerfjord (SE of Bergen). The history of the municipality, its farms and their owners is well documented in a “bygdebok” by Aamund Knutsson Bu: Ættar-bok for Udlesvang (reprint 1988), which you should be able to find at one of the university libraries in Minnesota, Wisconsin or Iowa.

Jon Gunnar Arntzen,
Norsk Biografisk Leksikon
(Norwegian National Dictionary of Biography)

In Ættar-bok records, the county of Hordaland was then known as Søndre Bergenhus.

** Øyfjord has also been called Oifjord, but is present day Eidfjord. Julia’s birth location today would be written as Varberg, Eidfjord, Hardanger, Hordaland, Norway, but it is the same place. Hordaland is the county and Hardanger is the district.

Knut and Kristi Øvre Børvæ

Ole’s father, Knut, was a teacher (“lærar”) and/or school master for forty years. He taught at the Skjeggedal-Kvalnes school before 1861, later teaching at the school in Ulsnes-Sandvik until he retired.

In 1856, he married Kristi, and in 1861, he inherited an interest in the estate of a relative in Instanes.With his inheritance, he bought the “bruk” (a small farm, once part of a larger farm) from the estate. While in Kinsarvik, he was also the “klokker” (church servant), with various duties including bell ringing and leading songs. After retirement in 1885, he and Kristi made their home in Brotet, where they later died and are assumed to be buried.

His name was also recorded as “Knut Olavson Børve Ø.” in the Ættar-bok for Kinsarvik, and as “Knute Borvøe” in the History of Emmet and Dickinson County, Iowa, Vols. I & II (Pioneer Publishing Co., 1917).

In the Ættar-bok for Kinsarvik we find Kristi’s name recorded as “Kristi Jakobsdtr. Ystanes”; however, in America, Kristi’s descendants spelled her name in a variety of ways. Son Jacob’s Emmet County biography calls her “Christi Jacobson”; son Ole’s biography calls her “Christina Jacobson”; she has also been recorded as “Christi Ystenes,” “Christine Ystenes” and “Christina Ysternes.” Flora (Colton) Berven spelled her name “Christei” [sic] from letters signed that way by her husband’s aunt who was Kristi’s namesake, and was also known as “Christie.”

Knut and Kristi Øvre Børvæ

Knut and Kristi Øvre Børvæ

Lars and Anna Warberg

Besides the Ættar-bok records, about all the knowledge we have of Lars and Anna comes from Lars’ obituary from page one of the June 15, 1907 edition of the Dickinson Press, which spells his last name incorrectly and we believe gives the wrong year for their marriage (Ættar-bok for Øyfjord has record of 1858).

Obituary

On Saturday, June 9, occurred the death of Mr. Lars A. Warburg [sic], four miles southwest of Belfield.

Mr. Warburg was born in Norway January 16, 1831. In 1862 [should be 1858] he was married to the surviving widow and to this union were born four daughters — Mrs. [Julia] Berven, living in Iowa; Mrs. [Brita] Peterson, still in Norway; Mrs. [Sella] Anton Anderson, four miles southwest of Belfield, and Mrs. [Katrina] August Johnson, at Taylor, all of whom survive the deceased.

In 1895 Mr. Warburg emigrated to America and for several years the family lived at Sully Springs. Later they removed to their present home, where the couple lived very exemplary Christian lives. Neighbors who knew the family well report that much time was spent in reading the Scriptures, which they loved so much, and in appreciation of their respect for the deceased, the whole community attended the funeral, which was conducted from the home by Rev. F. W. Gress of St. Paul’s Methodist Episcopal church, Dickinson, at 1 o’clock Tuesday, the 11th, and interment was made in the Belfield cemetery. “The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness.”

Lars Anderson Warberg

Lars Anderson Warberg

No photo of Anna is known to exist.

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