Friday, November 05, 2010


Yesterday, as a special outing for my 92-year-old mother, my sister and I drove her back to her old stomping grounds to visit her younger brother (age 88), his wife (age 82), and her sister-in-law (age 90). We thought it was going to be a treat for my mother. Instead, it turned out to be a treat for my sister and me.

As a result of that visit, I learned all kinds of family history that I would never have known if we hadn’t gone. Between memories that they had and information my aunt had tucked away in her desk, one of many things I found out was that:

My maternal great-grandfather (Ingebret Sletvold) was never an “Ellis Island” immigrant. Instead, his name shows up on the passenger list of a "bark" (sailing ship) named the Nornen which sailed from Christiana, Norway (renamed ‘Oslo’ in 1925) and landed in Quebec, Canada. We were that close to being Canadian!
Our great-grandfather, Ingebret Sletvold

Although he landed in Canada, Ingebret's plan always was to immigrate to the U.S. because the Norwegians had been promised that they could get 160 acres of homestead land in Minnesota at $1.25 an acre—a whole farm for $200! They took a ship that landed in Canada instead of New York’s Ellis Island because the shipping companies much preferred sailing into Quebec. At the time, the Canadians weren’t nearly as fussy about overloading ships with passengers—and it was more profitable for the shipping companies to cram as many Norwegians into steerage as they possibly could.

Ingebret’s brothers (unknown number, but ship’s passenger list definitely includes Evan Sletvold, age 20) had emigrated two years earlier on a sailing ship called the Argonaut. They had paid the adult fare of 15 speciedalar (the Norwegian dollar currency of the time, eventually replaced by the kroner). They had boarded the ship on April 25, 1866, and arrived in Quebec on June 5, 1866—a trip lasting about seven weeks.

The Bark Nornen (source:

Unfortunately, two years later, when our great-grandfather Ingebret’s group sailed on the Nornen, they ran into a becalmed Atlantic. Instead of seven weeks, they were at sea from April 19 to July 6, 1868—a total of eleven weeks. According to the ship’s log, the food provisions ran so low that at one point, the ship’s crew had to put down a mutiny by the hungry passengers. Judging by my own appetite four generations later, 20-year-old Ingebret was probably a mutiny leader. I come from a long line of eaters.

He staked his 160-acre claim in Oscar Township, enduring many hardships, and slowly built a farm that today is owned by my mother’s cousin. He married and raised seven children (one of them my grandmother Emma).

Ingebret and Marte Sletvold’s family in 1885 (our grandmother—my mother’s mother—Emma is on the far left).

One of the stories remembered by my mother’s cousin about Ingebret happened in 1910, when he was in his 60s. A man from Elizabeth, the neighboring town, had bought the first automobile in the area. Many of the men around the community were curious, so Ingebret and a couple of other neighbors asked the auto owner if they could have a ride to Fergus Falls in his new car. Back in those days, none of the roads were paved. The automobile driver was inexperienced, and the worst happened—the driver lost control of the car and had an accident.

Poor Ingebret was the one most badly hurt in the accident, and he spent three weeks mending in the hospital. That incident just about cured him of automobiles forever. In fact, the next time he rode in an automobile was three years later in 1913—in the undertaker’s hearse.

When I look at the shrinking ranks of my elderly aunts and uncles, I feel sad that so much of their history and experiences will be lost when they are gone. I need to have more tea parties with these precious people—and take the time to listen and learn.

Three of our uncles, ages 94, 90, and 83 (wonderful photo by my sister Marian)


bd said...

It also takes someone to write the history down. Thank you for that!

Dana @ Bungalow'56 said...

So interesting. Imagine eleven weeks. I don't know how they did it. To think your ancestors may have mingled with some of our French Canadian family.
It doesn't surprise me. They probably would have gotten along famously.