Family, a centennial, and bygdebøker

Reflections on genealogy sparked by the Bygdelagenes Fellesraad’s anniversary

Photo courtesy of the Arne G. Brekke Bygdebok Collection Dr. Arne Brekke.

Photo courtesy of the Arne G. Brekke Bygdebok Collection
Dr. Arne Brekke.

Larrie Wanberg
Features Editor

During the Fellesraad Centennial event in Minneapolis/St. Paul from May 5-8, 25 speakers presented workshops to an in-gathering of an estimated 500 participants from 28 Bygdelag chapters in North America.

The speakers were historians, genealogists, and authors who reflected on their life dreams of contributions to Norwegian heritage and preserving family histories from Norway for future generations.

I became inspired by the workshop titles of the Centennial event from the Fellesraad website, which reflects the theme of a collection of dreams and life legacies by many dedicated contributors (see fellesraad.com).

In fact, the Centennial Website program reminded me of an innovative “family” Facebook site and social media portal where officers, speakers, and Bygdelag officers gave their names, addresses, phone numbers, and often email addresses as an open interface to members in support of Norwegian history and heritage.

As a result of viewing the posted website, I took two actions initially.

First, I emailed the Vosselag site to join as a member because of my wife’s family history of growing up in Voss. Then, I emailed the Nordfjordlag site to join, as our family-farm name dates back to Old Norse times by ancestral landowners near the inner fjord town of Olden.

Surprisingly, I learned that the webmaster of the Nordfjordlag site was an older cousin of mine, as his mother was a sister of my father (born in 1888). My father’s mother was born in 1839 in Norway, immigrated to Minnesota in 1871, and married my grandfather Rasmus Vanberg, highlighting the life­span and timeline of our family genealogy.

My cousin, Gene Rodi, has collected family genealogy over a lifetime. We reconnected online and will compare notes from the 30-foot-wide butcher paper scroll of family generational history that my mother handwrote as a life dream before she died.

Finally, I emailed my long-time friends Arne Brekke (since 1949) and Michael Swanson (for five years) who were in attendance at the Centennial event to get their observations of being there. They represent the most exciting new development of a life dream that they presented in one of the nine vendor booths for sharing information during major breaks in the conference.

Photo courtesy of the Arne G. Brekke Bygdebok Collection The University of North Dakota houses one of the largest collections of Norwegian bygdebøker, books containing family history stories from Norway. Dr. Arne Brekke began the collection in 1980.

Photo courtesy of the Arne G. Brekke Bygdebok Collection
The University of North Dakota houses one of the largest collections of Norwegian bygdebøker, books containing family history stories from Norway. Dr. Arne Brekke began the collection in 1980.

Dr. Arne Brekke is a retired UND professor and founder of Brekke Travel of Grand Forks who began his life dream in 1980 when he began to collect and donate Bygdebøker to the UND library. Over 36 years, this Bygdebok Collection (Family history documents from all of Norway) has grown to over 1,600 volumes.

The collection has become, in my estimation, the most complete, most accessible resource for anyone who carries a Norwegian gene or holds an interest in learning about one’s ancestral origin in Norway. He has been the principal funder of the project, along with others in a state matching-grant program.

“I met many enthusiastic people at the Fellesraad celebration,” reflected Arne Brekke, “that voiced their support of the Bygdebok Collection and its value for future generations.”

“The use of the internet has enhanced the rapid growth of book numbers,” he added.

The growth of the UND Bygdebok Collection in the last five years is attributed to Michael Swanson in his three roles as UND Library archivist, as ongoing president of the Minnkota Genealogy Society in East Grand Forks, Minn., and as a contributor to the Arne G. Brekke Bygdebok Collection on the UND Web portal (see library.und.edu/special-collections/bygdebok).

In a phone conversation with Michael, he offered his overall impression of the weekend, saying “a number of people spoke to me about their familiarity and use of the UND website. The workshops were excellent, and ample opportunities were available to network with others to discuss future exchanges.”

Undeniably, the UND Bygdebok Collection will have an impact on future generations for both online users and for Bygdelag resources, based on the fact that anyone who lives anywhere in the wide world of the web is able to use the benefit. Because this benefit is shared with a community, a university library, and a worldwide audience on the web, the fulfillment becomes a unique storied legacy.

Through a life-dream legacy of one person that has become so far reaching as the Bygdebok Collection, future generations will have a way to connect to a place in time and family history that is a part of a person’s identity.

This article originally appeared in the May 20, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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