Reminiscing and researching family history

A missing Harding

The Brock-Utne family home in Utne, Norway, is known as a the Brock huset or the Jacob huset.

John G. Brock-Utne
Stanford, Calif.

I am sure that most of readers of The Norwegian American, if they are not from Norway, have family who have come from the old country.

Nonetheless, it is a fact that at least 80% of U.S. citizens who have Norwegian ancestors do not know where in Norway the family came from.

On the other hand, many Norwegians who left Norway in the 19th century were never heard of again. Here is a story of how our family found “a missing Harding.”

You might ask, what is a Harding? A Harding is a person from Hardanger County in western Norway.

Utne, Norway

The village of Utne is located in Ullensvang municipality in the Hardanger region of Vestland County on the northern end of the Folgefonn Peninsula, about two and a half hours east of Bergen.

One of the many beautiful rooms restored by the Hoeyerstens in the Brock-Utne family home.

In the center of Utne is the Utne Hotel, a large white house with a red roof. Founded in 1722, it is Norway’s oldest hotel in continuous operation. Just to the right is the post office, and beside that is one of two general stores, the other and most popular was the small light green house just opposite the hotel.

Up the hill behind the hotel is a long white house. This is the family home known as either Brock huset or Jacob huset. Utne was isolated, as there was no road out to the rest of Norway, until about 1970. The ferry boat arrived with all essentials.

A new larger and modern ferry quay was suggested in about 1960. It was supposed to be placed just outside the hotel and take away the old quay shown on the picture. Our family protested. They wanted the new proposed quay to be put about 2,500 yards to the east of the center of Utne.

But the “powers that be” ignored the family’s plea. This was truly a shame, as it ruined the charm and peace of the place. This is akin to so many other old places not only in Norway, but around the world.

Yet, even today, the old hotel is still going strong, and you can even find it on the internet. The last time I stayed there was about four years ago. I had a great time reminiscing with my family about the people and my childhood summers there.

There was an old faering also known as an Ose-eleveren. It was like a miniature Viking ship. It was built in about 1840. Certainly, my relatives would have sailed in it. The boat is now in the Sjøfartsmuseum in Oslo.

The main sail of the færing was akin to the mainsail on an Optimist (El Toro) with a sprit. The faering also had a jib. With the wind behind the boat, it would plane and reach a speed of 10 knots. However, the faering was not easy to sail, made even more difficult by the constant wind changes in the fjord. But it did make for exciting sailing.

Sailing there in Utne, with the beautiful snow-capped mountains, blue sky, the Folgefonnen glacier, and white houses on small farmsteads, made it an unforgettable experience. I remember rowing in a boat in Utne and looking north toward Kvandal and the mountain called Oksen (the Bull).

utne hotel

Established in 1722, the Utne Hotel is the oldest hotel in continuous operation in Norway.

Andreas’ story

Our missing Harding, Andreas Lind Brock Utne, was born in Utne, Kvinnherad, Hardanger, on Sept. 1, 1871. Andreas Lind Brock Utne’s father was Jacob Utne (July 12, 1838 – May 9, 1874), a ship owner and captain who went down with his ship in Skagerak (the name of the sea between the tip of Denmark and Norway). He managed to save all his mates. The Danes were so impressed by this heroic deed that they erected a statue to his memory where the survivors were found at the edge of the sea.

chest

Dr. Hoeyersten lifts up the lid of Andreas’ chest, left untouched since Andreas left home in Norway.

Andreas’ mother was Anna Martha Adler Brock (Nov. 21, 1845 – Nov 17, 1909). She was a trained midwife and later became a schoolteacher. After she and Jacob got married Aug. 24, 1866, in Utne Hotel, Utne, they and their children took the name Brock Utne. (Note that the name Brock Utne changed to Brock-Utne in 1960). The hotel was started by Jacob Utne’s family.

After Jacob died in 1874, Martha was left with four small boys, all younger than age 7. She settled in Bergen, where she became a teacher to care for herself and her children. It could not have been easy and shows the tenacity and strength of Martha.

The youngest son was Andreas. He became a blacksmith and emigrated to the United States when he was 18 years old. He arrived in New York from Liverpool, England, via Queenstown (now called Dun Laoghaire), Ireland, on March 25, 1889. The ship was called City of Chicago. 

After leaving Utne, he never communicated, as far as we know, with the family back in Norway. Nobody knew where he went to in the United States or even knew if he had arrived. There was a rumor that he went to Red Bluff in California.

Andreas’ mother, Anna was heartbroken when Andreas left Utne for the United States. His chest with all his personal items, including his clothes, are still in the family home in the attic and have been left untouched. Anna declared that no one was to touch the chest until Andreas returned. As children, my cousins and I would roam through the old house, but we didn’t dare to touch Andreas’ chest.

Dr. Jon Geir Hoeyersten and his wife, Inger, who now own the old Brock-Utne family house, are keeping an eye on the chest.

On another note, Jon Geir and Inger have done a phenomenal job in restoring and getting the house back to its original condition at the time it was originally built, namely in 1620, the year of the Mayflower. The house is mentioned in several books on wooden houses of the world, including Wooden Houses by Judith Miller.

row boat

The author has fond memories of rowing out into the fjord as boy. He is pictured in the center, oars in hand.

Finding Andy

Since I now live in California, I decided to attempt to find Andreas. But the Red Bluff Historical Society could not find any record of him. By chance, I got in contact with Jennifer Bryan of the Siskiyou County Historical Society in Northern California. Together, we have managed to trace him.

Andreas made his way to Yreka in Northern California in the summer of 1889. Here he worked, most likely as a miner before he got a job as a blacksmith. The shop where he worked was on the corner of Main and Miner streets. He called himself Andy Utne.

Initially Andy worked with a Mr. P. O. LeMay who was a large man and was most likely to be found asleep in the shop, according to Waldo J. Smith in his article entitled “Yreka in the Good Old Days of 1906.” Andy became a U.S. citizen on Feb. 3, 1898, and according to the records, he voted Republican.

Andy lived in a small village called Hornbrook, not far from Yreka. We do not know exactly where he lived in that village. Unfortunately, only a few houses are left after a wildfire in 2018 that destroyed 100 housing structures.

Andy’s grave, designated with a simple marker, is found at Evergreen Cemetery in Yreka, Calif.

Was he married? Searching for marriages in records at the genealogical society in Siskiyou County from 1852 to 1910 —again with the help of Jennifer Bryan—one could not find any listing of Brock Utne or Utne being married. Furthermore, as there were no voting rights for women, there was no need to have a woman register. Registration of women was only required after 1920, the year when women won the right to vote. Hence, a woman could have married Andy before 1920, but there would have been no record. Taking this into consideration, it is most likely that he was not married. Interestingly, there are many Utnes in California!

Hornbrook is located near the Klamath River. A lot of mining was done at that time. Whether Andy had a mine, I have not been able to find out from the Mining Claim Index book in the country recorder’s office in the Yreka Old Courthouse. But then again, one needed a lot of money to tunnel a mine.

Andy was put to rest in Evergreen Cemetery located in Yreka, 853 Evergreen Lane, Yreka on Jan. 2, 1933. You will note that in the United States he was recorded as being born in 1872.

For those interested, his burial location is Eagles Section, Block 10, lot 7. Sp 2. (Memorial ID is 17058719). When entering the cemetery, the section where Andy is buried is on your right. His burial is at the top of that section along the top fence. Note that metal markers are often dislodged while the grounds­keeper blows leaves or kills weeds. Occasionally, wild deer rub their antlers on the metal markers, causing them to move.

Should you find yourself there, you may have to dig through leaves to uncover Andy’s marker, but it is there. A big thanks to my son Arne Brock-Utne, who found this gravesite on the internet. Should you venture up to the cemetery, then Andy’s burials are near Alvin Rubenking, Andrew Thrase, and Snow Unk.

Utne

A view of the picturesque village of Utne, Norway, as it appears today, with its quaint wooden houses painted in white.

All photos courtesy of John Brock-Utne

This article originally appeared in the January 2024 issue of The Norwegian American.

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John G. Brock-Utne

John G. Brock-Utne, MD, PhD, is a professor (clinical) of anesthesia, emeritus, at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., with a specialization in anesthesiology, perioperative, and pain medicine.