The Search for Thor


Hammerfest 1044

Photo via Hammerfest historielags group
Hammerfest, Norway, 1944, before the Germans burned the town.

by Randi Millman-Brown

Thor Jensen, 36, moves from Oslo to Hammerfest. He is promoted to bank manager, becomes engaged, and takes a one-month hiking trip through occupied Finnmark in 1941. By the end of the year, he is dead, leaving behind a mystery, a diary, and many questions. This column chronicles his great niece’s attempt to solve that mystery.

In northern Norway in mid-November, mørketid begins. Translated directly, the term means “dark time” although there are other phrases more poetic: Polar Night, Blue Time, and Winter Darkness. This period lasts until mid- to late January and describes the time when the sun does not rise above the horizon.

There have been times during the research phase of this book that I feel like I have been in this “dark time,” where I just can’t see what’s in front of me.

Over the past year, the road to finding out what happened to my great-uncle has been paved with problems, misdirection, and roadblocks. I feel as if I have been on a thousand different paths along the way. Here is a recap of resources I have consulted to date:

1. Thor’s travel diary

2. Personal letters

3. Family history records

4. Norges Bank (only via email)

5. National Archives

a. Oslo

b. Tromsø

c. Trondheim

6. Museum of Reconstruction, Hammerfest (Museum of Reconstruction for Finnmark and North Troms) (Norwegian: Gjenreisningsmuseet for Finnmark og Nord-Troms)

7. Hammerfest church records (see October 2018 article)

8. Trondheim crematorium (Tilfredshet crematorium)

9. Folkeregisteret (National Registry)

10. Nidaros Cathedral, Trondheim (to find pastor who presided over cremation)

11. Vestre gravlund (cemetery in Oslo)

12. Resistance Museum (Oslo) (Norwegian Home Front Museum) (Norwegian: Norges Hjemmefrontmuseum)

13. National Library (Oslo)

14. Hammerfest local library

15. Hammerfest historielags forum—FB group members

16. Odd Fyhn via FB group (met through the Hammerfest Facebook group)     

17. Author Alf. R. Jacobsen (met via Odd Fyhn and the Hammerfest Facebook group)

18. Oppslagstavla i Alta (Message board in Alta)—FB group

19. Finnmark under Hakekorset (Finnmark under the swastika)—FB group

20. Vi som driver slektsforskning (We who conduct genealogy)—FB group

21. Aftenposten—Oslo (for obituary)

22. Finnmark Dagblad—newspaper office in Hammerfest

23. Relatives of Ruth Haagensen (via FB)

24. Relatives of one of three doctors in Hammerfest who might have had contact with Thor (via FB and email)

25. Various books and articles

Obviously, there is a lot of information to keep track of and manage. I will continue to do research but need to just start writing. I thought the best way to start writing the novel would be to start with the first sentence. This has proved to be unrealistic. Have you ever thought of how hard it is to write a first sentence of a story? I decided to take the psychic’s advice and just start writing—writing anything. It turns out I am writing the middle of the novel first. I have decided to add my own story into the novel—using a format with alternating timelines. Much of the story seems to be more and more integrated with my own life and the significance of Thor’s life on my own.

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Randi Millman-Brown is an art historian, photographer, part-time genealogist, and writer living in Ithaca, N.Y. She can be contacted at

This article originally appeared in the November 30, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Randi Millman-Brown

Randi Millman-Brown is an art historian, photographer, part-time genealogist, and writer living in Ithaca, N.Y. She can be contacted at