The Search for Thor
The search continues
by Randi Millman-Brown
My previous two articles provided some information about my research into the mysterious death of my great-uncle Thor Jensen in 1941.
While my research trip started in Oslo this past summer, I began investigative work three years ago. Online resources through Ancestry.com and research libraries were helpful for obtaining genealogical and historical information. In May of this year, I contacted the national archives offices in Oslo, Tromsø, and Trondheim, and made arrangements to visit these archives during my visit. I also contacted hospitals, police stations, crematoriums, church offices, and museums that potentially had information about my great-uncle’s untimely death during the Nazi occupation of Norway.
I used a detailed spreadsheet to catalog the names of places, people, addresses, emails, and phone numbers of contacts in Norway. I needed organized information in order to keep track of the correspondence I received. Several archivists provided me with other sources to contact, and the number of people to keep track of would easily get out of hand without using a spreadsheet. This, of course, evolved as the trip progressed.
As I described last month, I started my research in Oslo at the Resistance Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art. While in Oslo, I planned to visit the graveyard where my great-grandfather Conrad and Thor were buried, Vestre Gravlund, just north of the Vigeland Sculpture Park. I hoped graveyard officials could locate the gravesite records (they did) and that it might include a cause of death (it didn’t). This was frustrating but not unexpected, leading me to reconsider my next steps.
Thor lived in his own apartment before 1939 but inexplicably moved into his mother Hilda’s apartment on Oscars Gate in May of 1939 and lived there with her until he left for Hammerfest in December of 1940. This must have been difficult, as he was 35 years old at the time. After visiting Vestre Gravlund, I found my way to Oscars Gate, which was only a few blocks north of the palace. Although I couldn’t get into the apartment, I was able to imagine them sitting in the living room, drinking “kaffe” and talking before he left for Hammerfest. I have a letter that Hilda wrote to Thor in Hammerfest on January 5, 1941, where she laments the loss of most of his furniture en route. I learned that the ship, the Arnfinn Jarl, was bombed and sunk by the British Royal Air Force on December 27, 1940, just a few hundred kilometers west of Oslo. Hilda describes contacting the insurance company to try to get reimbursement for the loss of “26 pieces of furniture.” Hilda also writes in this letter that she hopes he “puts up some curtains” and also hopes he found the “shoe-brush in the laundry bag,” (remember Thor was 36 years old at this time—his mom was still taking care of him).
I flew from Oslo to Alta on June 20, 2017—a driving distance of approximately 1,800 kilometers but a flying time of two hours. From there I booked the ferry to Hammerfest, retracing the route that Thor took when he began his fateful three-week hiking trip through Finnmark in July of 1941 (but we haven’t gotten to that story yet).
Randi Millman-Brown is an art historian, photographer, part-time genealogist, and writer living in Ithaca, N.Y. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared in the Dec. 1, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.