Genealogy Detective

A monthly column putting people in touch with their Norwegian roots


Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Genealogical research on the name “Otterbeck” leads back to Kolvereid in the Sør-Trøndelag region of Norway, but is the surname Norwegian or German?

by Liv Marit Haakenstad + Kathy Anderson

Genealogy Detective is back with a new inquiry! This time we hear from Dinea Norrell who writes: “I am interested in how one becomes a genealogy detective subject. My great-grandparents immigrated here in the early 1900s. Axel Otterbeck (Otterbekk) and Mary was great grandma. I’ve tried to find out info, but it’s been hard to find out Norwegian info.”

Otterbeck—is the name German or Norwegian? That was the first thought we had, because there is a German sound to the name. However, a simple search in the Norwegian emigration records quickly gave us a result. Axel Karlsen Oterbæk was born in 1882 in the town of Kolvereid, Norway, and emigrated in 1906 to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Kolvereid was a part of Namdal in Sør-Trøndelag. On Jan. 1, 2017, Kolvereid was the smallest city in Norway, with a population of 1,748. It is a very well-known place for fishing. In the 1900 census, Axel named fishing, in addition to being a farm worker, as his occupation.

Also in the 1900 census, Aksel Karlsen is listed as living at the Lund Oterbækken farm in Kolveried with his parents, Karl Ludvig Johannesen and Marianne Georgine Edvardsdatter, and his three siblings. Axel was born Feb. 9, 1882 at Oterbek, according to the 1874-1885 church record for Kolvereid. His date of birth is also confirmed in the World War I Draft Registration Card at The registration describes him as a medium build, tall man with light brown hair and light brown eyes. The WWI Draft Registration card also gives his address as 3009 E. Franklin, Minneapolis. I was just in this neighborhood the weekend of March 10. Some years ago, this was the heart of the Norwegian-American community in Minneapolis.

According to the census records, Axel Otterback lived in Minneapolis with his wife, Mary (Marie Olsen), and worked as an iron worker. Mary and Axel had a son, also named Axel Otterback, who died before Christmas of 1909. About two years later, their daughter, Gladys, was born. Axel Karlsen Otterback died in 1960 in Minneapolis.

As a side note, reviewing the origin of the name Otterbeck, “oter,” the prefix in Norwegian, is the same small animal you would expect in English. “Bekk” is translated to “creek.” It is very likely that, in Norway, Axel lived near a creek populated by otters. He obviously Americanized the spelling, but kept his Norwegian name!

Want to have your genealogy mystery solved in this column? Current subscribers of The Norwegian American can submit their queries at Haakenstad’s research team will pick one case every month to get free help to find their Norwegian roots. Information from the submissions and their findings will be published here, and a detailed report sent to the person submitting the case. If your query is not chosen, the research team is also available privately to respond to genealogical inquiries for a fee.

Liv Marit Haakenstad has been doing genealogy research for more than 30 years. She is now working on her master’s thesis in non-fiction writing. She has published several books on Norwegian emigration and genealogy, and dozens of articles. She is a frequent contributor to the research staff of the Who Do You Think You Are? television show. Many of her distant relatives immigrated to the United States and Canada, including several who settled in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

This article originally appeared in the April 6, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.