Story time! 17 Mai, 06 Juni, and tracing back a name to the present

A man signs Norway’s new constitution, he is one of many to do so on the 17th of May, and his son in the coming years, well, let’s just say that he has some fun with one of the housemaids. After all, there are only so many chances to meet someone, especially on a farm estate in southern Norway in the 19th century – but when the female approaches the mother about the child now growing within her body, it is the house staff that overhear the conversation – result: “No, my son did not. Now leave immediately.” – but because there were household witnesses, people knew and so the story goes, and eventually after a few generations passed, it resulted in a man writing this down in Kentucky and contacting the other relatives, never met, scattered about the States and including in Wisconsin. At the time in the early to mid 1800s, the pregnant woman was not vindicated but instead travelled a day’s walk to settle down with the boy that was born and a man who agreed to take them both as a family and to pretend to be the father. Did that cause strife in the following years? We don’t know. It might have, depending upon his character.

The son grew up and found a wife of his own and a job at the town factory (another day’s walk). Here is the verification bit of his past: his biological father reconciled with him later on in age, hence was the direct proof of his originations. The boy, now a man, was not rich though the family of his biological father was – Grandpa signed the constitution after all. The boy took back his family name upon reconciliation, though nothing else changed. Could the biological father have given him the money needed to emigrate from Norway and to immigrate to the US? It is only conjecture, but highly plausible.

The boy, now a man, and his wife already have a few children when they decide to leave Norway. Another one is born in 1869, this is a time of massive droughts impacting food supply, and emigration, and this baby girl is taken along the passage to the New World. While named Karen and registered born in Oslo (Kristiania), she grew up in the States, was called Kari (a common shortening of Karen in Norway), and preferred it to be spelled Carrie. Not much is known about her except that her family first settled in Kentucky, and this is where the parents from Norway, the unrecognized grandson of the constitution signer and his wife, a local Norwegian woman, were laid to rest. This is also where the man who found this all out to tell us about it, generations later, was born. From Kentucky, at some point Karen made it up to Madison, Wisconsin, marrying and settling to a life there. She died with her name inscribed as Carrie, not Kari or Karen, on a gravestone in a cemetery at the top of a large glacial moraine hill. To keep things straight, however, let’s call her Kari.

Roll a stone down that hill and watch the years pass by, and you would land at the base of the hill at the concrete steps of a white two-bedroom house where a girl grew up across the 80’s and into the 90’s with her brother, sister and parents, family golden retriever, and an assortment of canaries, parakeets, and pet fish, entirely confused by her name. To her, she was a verb (carry), an emotion (joy), and a man’s name (Andrew). Carrie was actually the name of her great (great? she couldn’t remember) Norwegian grandmother, but her name was originally spelled more prettily to Carrie’s young American mind: Kari. Why would she change it to Carrie, the same-named girl wondered. Carrie in third and fourth grade alternated between writing the verb ‘carry’ as ‘carrie’ or ‘cary’ or ‘carry’, even trying the verb spelling for her own name once or twice. The past tense was just as confusing – when she died would she be called ‘carried’ as well? She had hoped her teachers would correct her, but they never did. Being named ‘Kari’ would have been far easier and prettier looking, she would muse, scratching her leaded pencil on paper and scrawling her name out.

By the time people started asking, “Carrie can you carry this, oh, ha ha ha! Get it? Carrie, can you carry? Ha ha, of course you can!,” she was fully aware of the difference in name and verb, smiling politely and agreeing to carry whatever it was; she was not the only one, it seemed, capable of seeing the importance of name in defining a person.

While Carrie thought considerably about her name and what it meant for her as a person – did it forecast who she would become? – she thought very little of Norway, or Sweden – which was whom Norway later separated from years after the constitution was signed by her great great (great? great? she didn’t even know about this fact at this point, let alone how many generations past), well since we can’t remember how many greats, let’s just call him many-greats biological grandfather.

She was fairly neutral, though every once in a while proud enough of her Scandinavian heritage. She grew up with lefse, krumkakes, rosettes, stories of lutefisk, saying “uffda”, understanding the differences between “yeah, no” and “no, yeah,” with characteristic pronunciation of the letter O, but the countries were far off places of little daily relevance. She was adept at turning bright red in the face when called on in class, or even just if someone talked to her, and blamed it on Norway, because she knew her (German-Swiss-French) grandmother’s father (on the other side than the relations discussed here) angrily denounced his daughter’s love for a “Red-faced Norwegian,” but it was the US after the first World War, so the children of the two European cultures married and this quote became a manner of pride to the third daughter born, Carrie’s mother, Joy (a baby-boomer) and which was repeated many times in Carrie Joy’s youth). The red-faced Scandinavian was actually twice as much Swedish as Norwegian and equal part Danish as Norwegian, this was Carrie’s grandfather, but this ancestral fact was never brought up in the retelling. Anyways, through these indirect ways young Carrie was aware of Scandinavian countries, and a likely propensity for people there to blush like her, if she remained not entirely well educated on them.

During a middle school conversation, it was explained to her by a friend (before internet and cell phones) who also had considerable Scandinavian heritage, that ‘Norway is cooler than Sweden because it has a constitution and gained freedom from Sweden, so it is independent like the US, it is more like the US, you know, liking freedom and, yeah, it is just cooler. And my dad says their rich now or something. I didn’t really understand that part.” Carrie agreed with the logic and thought nothing more of it for years to come, and so the two 7th grade friends continued to emphasize their Norwegian ancestry more than the Swedish, but only with a few comments every once in a while, or an acknowledgement if the countries were brought up.

She grew up and, like her one-less-many-greats grandfather, the biological child of the son of the many-greats biological grandfather who signed the Norwegian constitution, she joined the workforce without much money. This led her on the opposite path: bypassing Kentucky, instead a Boing jet sent her over to Oslo for a three year job. While there, she learned the language, worked a lot, walked around and still thought about the meaning of her name, which no longer was a verb in Norwegian. To carry is å bære, to bear, so in that respect she thought that was her name, too, but Carrie was clearly derived from Kari and she wondered considerably about the origination. Three coincidences connected: the name she had been given at birth, and the city she moved to, Oslo, from which baby Kari moved to Madison, each crossing the Atlantic and half of North America in differing ages and time periods, and that she grew up down the hill from where aged Kari was laid to rest. To a woman with a history of searching for meaning in her name, hence was a new possibility given.

Let’s now consider the other side of the family tree, from which there was the other source of Scandinavian heritage: the “Red-faced Norwegian” that married the German-Swiss-French woman and who – by the way – only turned such color if upset. He was not frequent to react, but Joy, the third daughter, would recall to her own kids repeatedly how it was possible to see steam coming from his ears if he did become angry. This was usually said as a way to remind the kids to behave properly when visiting their grandparents. She had an amusing tale of, one Christmas (they celebrated on the Eve, like in Norway and Sweden) carefully unwrapping all the presents to see what she was getting, then carefully replacing the tape in the exact locations prior to unwrapping. She missed a spot on a gift or something, hence was caught, and that was an example she gave of her witnessing steam exuding from human ear canals. Her father was first generation Swedish and second generation Norwegian-Danish.

The Norwegian-Danish side had arrived with a boy born in Norway the same decade that baby-Kari was on a boat heading to the US. The Norsk-Dansk family arrived to Scandinavia, Wisconsin (not far from Wausau, the lumber-mill town of the region), purchasing farmland 40-acres at a time starting in 1861. The farmland costed $1.25 per acre, possible due to US military land grants after the War of 1812. The boy bought the land from his parents and married his housekeeper, a widowed Danish woman who had immigrated to the States sadly while her first husband, part of the King’s Guard of Denmark who had arrived earlier to the US, died of tuberculosis. She found a means of employment that led to farm-life, never learning English and being fondly called “Besta,” shortened from “Bestamor,” literally Best-mother, a term of endearment that also reflected the extra help this mother usually provided to her children and grandchildren. From them was born the mother of the “Red-faced Norwegian,” a farm girl with the means to afford pencils and to attend at least some schooling, as the story goes.

The father of the “Red-faced Norwegian”, however, did not originate in the US. He was the youngest son of seven boys all born to a butcher and his wife in Ramvik, Sweden. There were 13 children total, and the family business was reportedly well-known in the region, “Broderne Karlson’s,” i.e., The Carlson Brothers. You might add a second ‘s’ to the name and, actually, Brothers is not quite spelled right but, oh well, names often changed upon reaching the US. So the boy grew up a generation after Kari’s, but the economy was still poor and another round of droughts and fire swept through Scandinavia (Norway was still part of Sweden), hence, there was little chance to survive in Sweden for the youngest Karlsson boy. This was common at the time. The boy took a boat over to the U.S., landing in Chicago, Illinois at the age of 17. He worked for a quarry and later, through a labor pool agency in Chicago, was hired out to work on a farm a couple hundred miles north in Wisconsin, for $30.00 a month, including washing. His description is marvelous and should engender Scandinavian pride: “A Class A man, clean, dependable, hard-working.”

Again, not much of this reached the attention of the young, American, Carrie who was the third generation from the Swede and fourth from all the Norwegians and Danes of ancestry-past. Really, she hadn’t the slightest idea on the difference of Norway, Denmark or Sweden except what her friend had once told her (there was no google or internet to communicate information yet). However, this is the side – not that of Kari’s- that continued the traditions of rural life, deer hunting in autumn, fishing, celebrating Christmas on the Eve with lefse, krumkakes, and rosettes, and from which any lingering remnants of Scandinavian heritage would have arisen.

Let’s move this story forward: Carrie is still wandering around various countries, still contemplating her name, among many other things, and while she finds writing in the third-person overly self-serving, bordering on egotistical-sounding (she hopes not; it’s supposed to be amusing), and is very much tiring of it, the story lent well to this writing style. She has just moved to Sweden.

The one-generation closer relation of her Swedish ancestry makes it easier for her, sometimes, to see harbingers of her girlhood times visiting with her Grandpa and Grandma Carlson. Especially the current older generations in Sweden that she sees will soften her heart in remembrance of her relatives. In Norway, she thinks often of her Grandma Andrew (the side of Kari), and so far in Sweden it is the “Red-faced Norwegian” and the German-Swiss-French wife, who adopted the Scandinavian baking that is, really, almost the only thing remaining from countries and cultures of past. She can imagine how proud her grandparents would have been that she was temporarily living in Sweden, and that she can even understand a level of Swedish due to the Norwegian. They would be proud equally of her connection to Norway. Language followed less linearly than genetics in her family’s history, as her mother seems to recollect hearing Norwegian sung to her by her half first-generation and half second-generation father, not Swedish or Danish.

Something very cool for Carrie to see is how the present countries of Norway and Sweden are not that of the past. She is American, and her values have been shaped by the waves of immigrants to the US, and only very indirectly via subculture to anything Scandinavian, which is different than that of today for each country. Diversity, equality, and understanding are all vital to her ethics. Hence, her American values far exceed any national pride of a past country.

She has been able to not only experience life in a form of immigration, but to witness how it is not just the US where immigration is occurring. Also in Europe, and especially in Sweden, have new rounds of immigrants arrived, termed the “European Migrant Crisis,” or “Refugee Crisis,” which began when Carrie was living in Norway. Millions left under dire circumstances to Europe, in search of home and work – the same as her relatives of past, though often with histories and political events of violence far graver and additional to the drought, famine and socioeconomic need that brought her relatives to North America.

Sweden was one of four countries in Europe to receive 2/3rds of asylum applications, and this is changing Sweden and its people. Names are changing. Generations are changing. The rainbow is filling out. Diversity is being implemented in action. Social welfare and equality are the forces to demographic change. A name means only so much, and can be used to tell a story, but there are many stories to share. Carrie’s is of the past, so on 06 June she will cheer to her heritage but, more importantly, to the massive respect she has for a country that has given refuge to immigrants in need, and to the social system in place to provide the welfare they need and, she believes, everyone deserves.