Taking you back to your roots

The hikers enroute to Kappadal (Photo: Jan Johannesson)

The hikers enroute to Kappadal (Photo: Jan Johannesson)

Heritage tours connect Norwegian-Americans to Norway in an unforgettable way

By Char Rustan Brekke

Director and Co-owner of Brekke Tours & Travel

As a tour operator specializing in travel to Scandinavia, with a sub-specialty in Norway and heritage travel, Brekke Tours has had the privilege of assisting numerous Norwegian-Americans return to their ancestral roots.

Through the years, Brekke Tours has offered heritage tours to different parts of Norway, including Hallingdal, Hardanger, Nordfjord, Orkdal, Telemark, Møre-Romsdal, Numedal, Rogaland, Gudbrandsdal, Sogn, Voss and Valdres. The tours are designed to spend several days in a specific region allowing time for detailed information about the area, visits to family farms and communication with relatives. Special events and activities arranged by Norwegians to welcome Americans “home” are often included. The annual “Sogn / Voss / Valdres Heritage Tour” will be offered July 16 – 28, 2012, and we have worked with the Gudbrandsdalslag of America to arrange a tour Aug. 15 – 30, 2012, that will feature the Kringen Festival. This year is the 400th anniversary of the Battle of Kringen, which commemorates the Norwegian farmers’ victory over the Scottish mercenaries and the peace that exists today.

Brekke Tours has also assisted numerous groups and organizations (bands, choirs, Sons of Norway lodges, churches, travel clubs, University Alumni) in designing tour itineraries based on their requests with focus on a particular topic such as: architecture, knitting, textiles, history, music, religion, and heritage. There have been large and small groups, such as the 120 Americans who returned to their family farm in Toten to visit their relatives or the delegation of Tvedt, Tveit and Tweet families in America who spent a weekend with Norwegian family members in Telemark before traveling in Norway.

Many Norwegian-Americans struggle to find their roots because the family name has changed over the decades. Dr. Arne Brekke, founder of Brekke Tours, who emigrated from Flåm, Norway and taught Norwegian and German at the University of North Dakota for 25 years, uses his background in comparative Indo-European language and place name research to assist in reconstructing anglicized family names, tracing them back to the ancestral farms in Norway. Once that information is provided the next step is…the journey back to one’s roots.

One of the most remarkable journeys we have helped plan is the adventure to the Nedberge and Kappadal farms.

THE MISSION: To learn about their ancestral ties to the Nedberge and Kappadal farms in Aurland.

THE GOAL: To visit the family farms in the Sognefjord region of Western Norway.

Brekke Tours accepted the challenge of organizing this unique excursion. The Nedberge and Kappadal family farms were located on a deserted mountain slope. The Nedberge farm was inhabited until the 1950s, with necessary goods being brought up by pulley. The Kappadal farm was situated on a ledge. When the children went out to play, they were tethered with a rope to ensure their safety.

THE SOLUTION: Contact Brekke Tours for detailed knowledge of Norway, for organizing, planning, meeting challenges and solving problems.

With our own roots being Norwegian, Brekke Tours takes particular interest in introducing Norwegian-Americans to their ethnic background. We recommended that the families participate in our annual “Sogn / Voss / Valdres Heritage Tour” which was designed to offer more in-depth information in their region of interest. In addition, there were a few days scheduled in Flåm which would allow time for a farm excursion.

A local news reporter, a photographer, an author and a reporter from Norway’s largest newspaper, Verdens Gang (VG), were enlisted to accompany the group and document this exciting and unusual journey.

For the more athletic folks, we chartered boats for the participants to cross the fjord and from there proceed on a 2.5 hour hike up to the main farm perched on the mountainside.

A view from the helicopter. (Photo: Char Brekke)

A view from the helicopter. (Photo: Char Brekke)

For those who were not so athletic, a helicopter lifted them up the mountain walls to their forefathers “kingdom.” Fortunately, there was enough space for it to land on the outer part of a field high above the fjord. Tumbling out of the helicopter, hair standing on end with the rotating helicopter blades, they had arrived at Nedberge, one of two farms from which the Kappadal family had emigrated. The hikers arrived and after five helicopter lifts, the family was assembled. After 146 long years, 20+ Americans finally had arrived at their family farm, clinging to the side of the mountain situated 1,759 feet above sea level.

Hugging. Laughter. Tears. A calmness spread over the mountain realm as the Norwegian national anthem, “Ja, vi elsker dette landet…” (Yes, we love this land…) resounded across the fjord. Four American sisters and three cousins gathered to sing songs taught to them by their mother who instilled in them a love for Norway. More tears. Tears of happiness. Tears of joy.

Bread and crackers with brown cheese and cured dried meat. Doughnuts and coffee. Some nutrition was needed for those who were to brave the next segment of the journey to Kappadal where the terrain was so steep and narrow that a helicopter could not land. The only option was the 1.5-hour hike on a difficult and dangerous path. If one took a wrong step, one could slide down to the Aurland Fjord, 1,900 feet below. One of the family members recalled being told about the goats and the children being tied up so they wouldn’t fall into the fjord.

The foundations at Kappadal still stand, almost 140 years after their ancestors made the decision to pack their trunks and begin the long journey to America. It was an incredibly strong emotional experience for family members to return to Norway, to see and experience how their ancestors lived. The group of Americans visiting Kappadal were the first Americans who had been to Kappadal since their ancestors emigrated in 1866. They left with a better understanding of their ancestors, as well as of themselves.

The family gathered by the farm buildings at Nedberge (Photo: Jan Johannesson)

The family gathered by the farm buildings at Nedberge (Photo: Jan Johannesson)

Heritage exploration – where do you start?

Contact Brekke Tours who will utilize their 55+ years of unique knowledge and experience in Scandinavian travel. Our genealogical expert with access to the Arne G. Brekke Bydebok Collection at the University of North Dakota can assist in connecting your family to your ancestral farm and existing relatives.

The thrill of sharing a common bond with other family members is indescribable, and as we learn the life details of our ancestors, we begin to better understand ourselves. The benefits of heritage exploration are many.

Cheryl Fredrickson Graham, a participant on our “Sogn/Voss/Valdres Heritage Tour” explains it this way…

“This trip meant so much to all of us in so many ways and for so many reasons. Our Norwegian heritage has given us the blood that flows through our veins, the songs that we sing, the intelligence that we possess, and a family that we love. A family that is the product of a far away country and a culture melded into America. I’ve often wondered why I love knotty pine, pretty small china cups, white lace embroidery, the smell and taste of strong coffee, and the rugged rocky mountains. More than anything else this trip was a link to the past and to the future; a bridge that brought together families. We have a wonderful, devoted family in the United States and no less so in Norway. These are families that have so enriched our lives that we will never again be the same…”

Enrich your life, explore your heritage and experience majestic Norway. It’s a powerful combination!

Let Brekke Tours connect you to your roots! For more information, call toll-free at (800) 437-5302, email tours@brekketours.com, or visit www.brekketours.com.

This article originally appeared in the Mar. 30, 2012 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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