A mother's letters: Going north

This is the final part of A Mother's Letters. You can read the other posts here and here. Thank you once again to Patricia Marton for sharing these personal letters and giving us a fascinating insight into the divided Norwegian-American heart.

June 23, 1971
Dearest Patricia,

Here I am on the way to Svalbard (A northern Island owned by Norway) on the ship Nord Norge. I left Oslo last Friday by train over the mountains and valley, it was a beautiful journey. When we come to Myrdal, it was snowing a little and everyone at the station was dressed like winter. But the trip was great. I met a man from London, who travels a great deal; he had been in Kenya, Africa for several months and was on the way to London where his family lives, and his children go to school there. I had to smile at his expressions though. I met him at dinner on the train.

Ingrid’s husband got me a ticket and place on the Nord Norge tourist boat, a big and comfortable boat, and very friendly officers and helpers. I stayed overnight at Ingrid’s, we had a very enjoyable talk together. It was foggy and rain in Bergen, but it cleared later in the day, and the beautiful panorama along the coast of Norway began to unfold. I sat in awe and watched one place more beautiful than another; it was like my whole life was unfolding in all its beauty and years of dreams and longing realized.

Our first stop was Trondheim but only a short time, then Bodø; there was a stopover in Bodø of two hours, so I went ashore, had my shoes shined, went to the telephone co. and called Ida when I would come there.  Then I went to the store where Henny (Henny Jensen, a school friend from Vesterålen) works. I could see her in the back waiting on a customer, she looked exactly as when we were young; when the customer left I walked up to her, and she said “Versågod”, which means “May I help you? I said “Goddag Henny”. For second she stood with awe and amazement on her face, then she ran and put her arm around me and said “Signe, Signe.” She had just mailed me a letter a week ago; she had no idea that I was coming. She held on to me as if she thought the whole thing was unreal.  She took me across the street to see her sister Borghild, who was only 14 argammell (fourteen years old) when I left and is now in her 50’s.

They both thought I hadn’t changed, and said I looked like my Aunt Andrea, which is true; it is Knut’s mother. I shall return later in the summer to Bodø as I also have cousins there. Two days ago we arrived at Honningsvåg where BjarneHaug, Mary and Ingrid’s brother lives (a cousin). I called him from Hammerfest. He described himself as an old man with glasses, and asked how I was dressed.  I told him I would know him and he me. 

When we arrived, I saw him standing at the pier watching the people; I walked up to him and said “Hello Bjarne” -- he didn’t think I had changed either. We had two hours here -- two busloads of people going to Nordcap to see the midnight sun. I went to Bjarne’s home and met his wife. They have a nice cozy and large home. I had waffles, coffeecake, and coffee. But think, there is nothing but rocks and mountains, no grass or trees.

We drove partly up to Nordkap (northernmost point of Europe and Norway), but it was completely overcast and the sun could not be seen. So we drove to Skarva (Skarsvåg), where the boat would stop, and when the rest of the tourists came we went aboard on a little motorboat. The scenery is wild and beautiful. Bjarne showed me where last week he went skiing in shorts and sweater, it was a real good place to ski. Bjarne is head  of a large shipping company and they are very content here, but I doubt I could learn to like it here.

We just heard over the loudspeaker that we will be in Svalbard 3 P.M., and I have just bought a ticket to see the sights by bus and shop there, so your letter will be mailed from here. Yesterday it was very rough sea and many were sick, but so far I have felt great, and am enjoying every minute of the trip, made lots of friends and been invited to stop and visit them many places. But I am primarily interested in seeing the country and visiting all my relatives.

Sometime I hope I can take you, Patricia & Julie, on the same trip, you will love it, it is worth every cent. It is best to prepare for the trip long beforehand, in order to see and take advantage of everything. This trip is also 10 days. I am getting real seaworthy now. Write any letters from now on to Före. Am eager to hear from you and Julie, and how you are. I keep all of you in my prayers.

All my love to you, Mom
I have no trouble with the language, everyone is amazed and think I am a real native.

Photograph of dock in northern Norway
Dock in northern Norway.

Hello from Svalbard 6-24-71

We have just now taken a tour of Langeburn (Longyearbyen), the mining district. There is a new school being built now, a very pretty church, a government building. Only officers and government people can
bring their families, the miners live and have apartments or living quarters in 2 large buildings, some stores. It is a beautiful warm day in the 50’s or more; it is mostly moss on the mountains, no trees or grass, but some small flowers in blue, pink & yellow grow on the rough dry ground, one cannot pick them. There are not any berries here yet, not until August…about 120 children here, also a hospital and 2 doctors.  We will leave late tonight.

Love Mom

July 2, 
Dearest Patricia,

Here I am after one months travel. I arrived June 30 at Stokmarknes. It was a most glorious and beautiful scenery along the coast of Norway, sunny and warm all the 11 days. You should have the letter from Svalbard by now. When the Nord Norge was a little way from Tromsø, there was a telephone call from Tromsø where DagrunKlaussen, my cousin who was about 5 yrs. old when I left Norway, met me at the boat. I recognized her immediately, and since the boat stayed for 2 hours, she took me home and we had coffee, lefse (a soft flat potato bread), and vetebröd (a type of braided Swedish bread).

All people here have lovely homes. There are no poor people, they are all well taken care of, pensions, social security and all health care taken care off, besides earning good salaries. So one sees prosperities all over, as far as homes, food and welfare, but roads are very bad all over, and narrow, even in Oslo streets were not good, but electricity there is plenty of and water, homes look just like anywhere in U.S.A. …

This is a very well educated land, and have all the advantage of free education  for all people who want it. So very different when I lived there.  But time change everywhere, I see long haired people here also, but mostly in Oslo and the larger cities.

I am having a wonderful time meeting people and so far I have been able to recognize everyone.  Yesterday I went to a local store with Ida, and there I saw an old school friend, and went up and spoke to him. He didn’t know me. They have been so surprised that I remembered people so long, it has been so much joy. Do you know yesterday Ida had the flag out to celebrate my coming. Last night she had some of my cousins over and my uncle. It was so nice. 

I have been up as late as 1 A.M. for several nights. In Harstad I stayed for 2 days with two of my cousins who also met me.  They weren’t even born, when I left. 

There I also went to see my old schoolteacher that Gunnar wrote me about. He was delighted and knew and remembered me.  He is now 82 but very energetic, but have had one heart attack. It is beautiful where he lives, with lovely scenery. It was a very pretty town about 2,000 population. Ida was in Stokmarknes when I arrived there. We had to wait for 2 hours, and went into a hotel to sit down and talk, it is a new and large hotel. After a while she asked me if I knew the man at the desk. I did, he was a little boy from Fjærvoll that I stayed with many times and also had in school, and he was owner of the hotel: he invited us to a lovely dinner. He is also senator from Norlandi Oslo, and had just come back for the summer

This afternoon I shall go to Töhaugen (Signe’s birthplace in Fjærvoll, the house built by her father) to see my old home. We come in car, so it wasn’t much chance to see much we came too fast. There are many changes and new homes everywhere. I hoped this would be a pleasant experience, and it has exceeded all dreams I formerly had. People are so friendly and interested, it is overwhelming and there are so many to see. I met so many on the boat also, and do you know one of the nicest were a couple from Nice, France. They lady didn’t speak English but her husband did. I also met German people, who were also very nice, and when I left the boat in Harstad so come they and shook hands and wished me good luck.

This afternoon I went to my home, much had changed, but the memories were still there, it was as if the past appeared and unfolded before me. I stood outside a long time before I went in. The house had changed also, but for the better, it is very nice, and my school friends greeted me with vigor and were very surprised…

All my love to you dearest.
I miss you too.  But am having a most enjoyable vacation.


Photograph of Fjaervoll, Vesteralen from the early 20th century
Fjaervoll, Vesteralen, early 20th c.

July 12, 1971
Dear Patricia,

I received your letter today July 10th so it took 6 days. You mailed it the 6th. I hope you received the letter …I went all the way to the post office in Skagen. The reason you could not find Svalbard is because it is only 10 degrees from North pole; you have to look way north of Norway where there are a group of  Islands. We went all the way by there, stopped and visited two islands where there was a church, school, consulates, a store, and about 2000 people. All official people could bring their families but all coalminers could not bring their families, because there weren’t enough buildings for so many. Everyone looked healthy and well taken care of.

High mountains & oceans but also little flowers everywhere; it was so warm there that we went without coats. Later so sailed we far enough to 80 degrees where ice lay all over as far as one could see. It was beautiful, sun shining and found (?) all sorts of colors; some of the icebergs were blue and pink and lavender in color, and the seals played all over them. I wasn’t lucky enough to see a polar bear, but they were there at the time. It was a beautiful trip, and the sea was quite calm except for a couple of days. But I didn’t get sick, though some people did. There are also planes which fly to Svalbard to Longmarkuen (Longyearbyen), and the boat also went to New Alesund, where only 40 men live and lots of dogs, which they use in the winter. (After Före) I still sleep long every night. Last night we saw an old Bob Hope film, not too good though.

I have had a busy time since I came here to Före, so many people to meet and see or visit. I have been invited out to their homes every day, all sorts of delicious food, and where I stay is just like home. Next week I will probably go to see my mother’s family. They live pa Malnes (a district of ), and I will probably stay there two or 3 days. I found that I also have an aunt still living, a half brother of Mother’s; it is his wife she is in her 80’s. Then I will also visit 2 of my very good friends I went to school with, it will be nice.

I think I will be here until the end of July, then I begin to go down the rest of the way inside Norway, and have relatives all the way down beginning i Bodø. Every home I visit they have everything lovely and modern, and extra extra clean. Lovely embroidery everywhere. It has been very bad weather here the last week, very cold and rainy and still is, but we are hoping it will be better soon.

Today Ida is waiting (for) a cousin from Svolvær here for over the weekend; she is a widow in her 50’s and works during the week. Also Knut, Ida’s husband, he will have a few weeks vacation. Yes, it has been wonderful to have been here once more, and see all the progress and how well people are taken care of,…All education is free, but room & board is not at the university. They have the same kind of system as there is in Sweden and Danmark. One sees plenty of longhair here too, especially in the cities: motor cycles, Hondas & automobiles, but the highways are terrible -- big holes all over, water standing and nowhere else to walk.

…I shall be back sometime in August, so get practice in cooking, and have a full 4 course dinner for me. I have made the recipe for rhubarb you spoke of, and it is very good. If you keep picking rhubarb it will grow all summer. How is the grass and flowers...On Nord-Norge there was an English woman who had been around the world 3 times, but she had only a few teeth in her mouth. She was the first one everywhere, at the table on board on ship. Took pictures everywhere. The paper is used up so I must close.

All my love to you always, Mom

Wednesday I had a letter from Julie, the first one. They had a week’s vacation at Cape Cod (Massachusetts), rested and cooked. They had a nice cottage…Snoopy also went swimming…Julie is now interested in embroidery and have finished the towel we bought together.

Photograph of sheep on a hill in Norway
Sheep on a hill behind Signe's old house.

July 27, 1971
Dearest Patricia,

Thank you so very much for your letter and enclosures; it was so nice that there was an appreciation party for Father Lyons. He deserves the best. Yes, I would have liked very much to see Island (Iceland), the clipping sounded very interesting, but I will have to save it for another time. I am still having a wonderful time, meeting friends and relatives, and have been invited and treated like a royal guest.

This weekend I had a family get together at a quiet house pa Vinje (a section of ), which is a short distance from here. A lovely place. It was the only uncle and aunt, each 85 years old, but in excellent form, and all the cousins I could reach and could come, as many were far away and could not leave, but they were here from Tromsø, Harstad, Bodø, and Trondheim. There were 31 all together, and it was a lovely party, including 4 of my closest friends also. They gave speeches and sang songs. It lasted to midnight. Then of course I have been invited out every day somewhere. Yesterday was the only day with sunshine enough to take a walk up the hills and mountains, it has been 3 weeks of cold and rain all July so I haven’t had a chance to take many pictures.

I will probably leave here late this weekend, as I will be going south with stopovers in Bodø (the largest city in Nordland), Ornes, Mosjøen, Trondheim, Molde, Voss(the family home in southern Norway, where the Clausens first settled, after leaving Germany), Bergen  & Stavanger before I arrive in Oslo, where I will probably stay a week and then home.

I am not planning to go to any other country at this time, I will save it for the future. I will be traveling in the middle of Norway now, seeing the valleys and waterfalls. I haven’t been so tired so far, although often I have been as late as 12 P.M. But I sleep to 10 A.M. and very soundly. Ever since I left home I haven’t had a sleepless night. The air is pure and cold, a great land to live in, but not forever. I still feel U.S.A. is the land for me, it is there I have lived the longest and and have my family. I am most grateful to have had this beautiful trip. Every day have been a joyful event, and I have a wonderful place to stay with Knut & Ida (cousins from Före), it is just like home.

People here live extremely well, and have money, lovely homes everyone, and well educated and successful children. It sure is different from the time we lived there.  If only my brothers and I had the chance they have here now. We would have gone far in our education. But then (?) we have all much to be thankful for where we are too, even though we worked hard for what we got. We have a lovely family each doing well, that is all we care about. Wherever I have been invited so have they had the flag up, it is so wonderful, but that is the way the Norwegians are. Sociable and hospitable. Wish you could see the food and cakes.  But so far I haven’t gained, why I cannot understand.

There are not any berries here yet, not until August…Everything here is very inflationary and expensive, some things more than in U.S.A. I will not be going to any other country this time. I haven’t seen all of Norway yet, and there will not be time to see other countries, as I want to be home before the end of August. Are the gladiolas up yet? They should be pretty.

Yes, I spoke French to the wife of the man (on the coastal steamer); she didn’t speak English.  It was fun for us both. They were wonderful people. I also talked German to the Germans. They were jolly and drank lots of beer. I shall see if I can find something real nice for you….Give my regards to my friends, Mrs. Wildes and Margie and the Fiskes (neighbors) .Have he had my car out yet? I had my old shoes soled here, and he did a wonderful professional job and the beauty operator is the best I ever had. I asked her to move to U.S.A. She is pretty, nice and capable, with beautiful red hair and lovely complexion.

Today is my wedding day and thoughts go back through the years, could you be so kind as to put out a plant for Oscar from us all for his birthday. Don’t stint on your food, eat well so you won’t get sick. Keep up your good spirit dearest, your future will be to your liking, I am sure.

All my love to you, Mom
You can send the letters to Fru Dahlen next time, but I won’t be there for a couple of weeks yet.

July 31, 1971
Dear Patricia,

It was nice to hear from you. I also had a letter from Julie and she hopes to find an apartment (new) soon. We have lovely weather now, the first in almost 5 weeks.Yesterday I went out in the mountains, and had a beautiful view over a great area. I saw lots of sheep, and picked a few blueberries.  If it is nice tomorrow, I will take another trip up the mountains and take some pictures.

First part of the week I shall begin my journey inland. I hope to take a plane from here to Bodø. I am waiting toget a place as it is difficult during tourist season, but so far I have been lucky. I will make many stops if people are not vacationing. I will probably take a couple of weeks to take the trip before I come to Oslo. I will be there a few days and then find a plane for home. It has been a wonderful trip. I shall never forget, and cherish if I should never return. But one never know. I have felt great all the time, and sleep like a log every night. But I shall not visit any other country this time. It is expensive to live here, just like in the states, and I shall be ready to come home when it is over….

I am proud of the way you are taking care both of my business and yourself. I haven’t had a worry since I left or thought about the house, so I trust you greatly. You can write Fru Dalen your next letter.

All my love to you always     

A mother's letters: Arriving in Norway

Read the first part of the story here.

By Patricia Marton.

Photograph of Signe Marton ca.1922
Youth portrait of Signe, ca.1922.
My mother’s desire to return to her homeland became stronger as she grew older. Finally, encouraged by my sister and myself after our father’s death in 1971, she made the long journey again.  Her letters were written at that time, her record of her first journey back to a beloved country. Many aspects of this journey are of interest, but in particular the conflicting emotions she experienced -- her love of the old country, as well as that of her adopted land; the emotional conflict that exists regarding ties to the country of birth and the adopted country -- the so-called “divided heart” syndrome.

Signe’s personal journey, however, was part of a continuum, for her original family was not strictly Norwegian, but formed of refugees from Southern Scotland (on her mother’s side), and Northern Germany (on her father’s side) during the time of the Reformation, another tumultuous period in history. The Clausens came from Miltzow and Treptow (villages close to Stralsund and Greifswald near the Baltic Sea) in Western Pomerania, the Lockerts from Stirling and Ayr, settling first in Bergen before going north to Vesterålen, (My Uncle Morton once described Vesterålen as being “the Alaska of Norway” because of  opportunities in the fishing industry).

Signe and her family were following a tradition that had begun centuries before.

In a Strange Land
          Only ten short days from the time I had left my beloved Fatherland, where I had lived through happy childhood and young adult, and sailed into a strange and unknown future.  But being young and eager, full of dreams and hope, I stood on the deck as the ship slowly steamed toward New York harbor at midnight. It was an awesome sight to see the dazzling lights  Signe Klaussen, March 6, 1923.

The previous excerpt, part of a story Signe was writing (and never completed) describes her first journey from Norway to New York on the liner Bergensfjord from Kristiania (Oslo) when she was only twenty-two years old. I often wished she had finished her story, telling us more about her arrival at Ellis Island. She said little about her experiences there -- though once, years later, she told me about meeting a man who had worked there and how he apologized for the way immigrants had been treated. (I have placed her name on the Wall of Honor at Ellis Island and also included a story about her journey and life on the Ellis Island Foundation’s “Peopling of America,” (Tell Us Your Story) website, together with a story about my father’s mother, Julia Reiff, who arrived at nearby Castle Garden in 1867 at the age of eight from Swabia in Southern Germany.)

I would have liked to know more about the train journey too (she remembered changing trains in Ohio and seeing her first black person there). She might have taken the New York Central, a steam train, to Cleveland, and then the local Toledo, Peoria, and Western Railroad to Hamilton. In Hamilton, her new life would begin.

Her return journey, some forty-eight years later, was quite different. In her letters, she first details the excitement of the journey on the ocean liner Bergensfjord  (a ship with the same name as the one she originally took to America) -- a first class transatlantic voyage that no longer exists, and her first view of the Norwegian coast

There are regrets too, when she sees the changes in Norway -- “If only my brothers and I had the chance they have here now. We would have gone far in our education.” But she is also aware of negative aspects, i.e. the high cost of living. “It is expensive, some things more than in the United States,” and the bad roads --“Big holes all over.” 

Her written language also changes subtly during the journey, Norwegian words and phraseology occasionally replacing English ones -- “14 ar gammell,” referring to a young cousin fourteen years old; “relatives pa Vinje,” instead of “relatives in Vinje.” “I have no trouble with the language. Everyone is amazed and thinks I am a real native.” (Later, during a trip we took together when she was ill, I pointed to some blue flowers growing by the roadside, and she identified them by their Norwegian name -- blåklokke.) But finally she realizes that she is now an American -- "(Norway is) a great land to live in, but not forever. The USA is the land for me. It is there that I have lived the longest.”
Through her journeys and mine, I experienced the importance of home -- and the great desire to return there again; the deep emotional attachment to the home of one’s childhood, perhaps a mythic place that doesn’t exist now and probably never did. I learned more about myself and my personal background, which was an ex-
citing journey in itself. I also realized the importance of recording my family’s life, and encouraging other people to do the same, for this places one’s family directly within history itself, increasing awareness of the past. I remember getting up late one night to read about the Reformation in a college history book when I found that members of my mother’s family had fled to Norway during that time.

So, this is Signe’s record of her first journey back to a beloved country. There would be other journeys later -- one with her brother Gunnar and his wife Beulah (1980), and two with her daughter Patricia (1987 and 1988), but the first had the most meaning because it was the one she had waited the longest for.


The Letters

June 10, 1971

I arrived at Oslo 8 A.M. this morning. It was a wonderful trip, smooth sailing all the way, sunny and clear, and we saw the Orkenaeland (Orkney Islands), North Scotland, The Heberdine (Hebrides) Islands; it was the first time in many years that they could see the islands, so the crew said.  Hardly a ripple in the ocean all the way, and a gentle rocking at night.  I met many people and found lots of good friends.  At my table were two Canadian ladies, mother and daughter, lots of fun, a Miss (Vivien) Hertzwig from Jamesburg, New Jersey, she was the life of the party, also our ship Doctor, who had been on the ship since Christmas, but was leaving to practice in Trondheim.  He was quite reserved at first, but soon changed to our tempo (?)

There wasn’t too much entertainment on the ship except a few travel films on Norway, a small area for dancing in the evening, which only a few took part, otherwise card playing in the evening. But oh the food, wish you could see it, all day long, nothing but eating. Breakfast 11 A.M. bouillon, 1 P.M. lunch, hot or a cold table full (of) everything.4 P.M. coffee and cakes.7 P.M. dinner, cold table, 11.30 P.M. more food. However I faithfully stuck to 3 meals a day, and luckily escaped gaining more than one pound. I walked the 4 decks 3 times around 3 miles, 3 times a day which I am sure helped. 

A few times we had some entertainment; the crew put on a talent show one night and also on Monday eve, the Captains’ dinner.  I saved all the menus for you to see.  They performed with a play and folk dancing which were very good. Mrs. Dahlen (Frieda Dahlen, Headmistress of Rosenhof Folkeskole, a primary school in Oslo; Signe met her in the United States when she was an exchange teacher.) met the ship this morning. 

The first class people got out first, and I was lucky to be among the first. Then I heard my name called over the loudspeaker, so I went to the information desk and there I met Frieda. She is very nice and wanted me to stay here; she has a huge place, and very lovely. I have a big room all to myself, and have the run of the house; she is still working, so I can go and come as I like, but we are going on some tours here. Tomorrow I will go downtown to see about the trip north, possibly sometime next week if I can get a reservation to Nordcap, it is difficult -- unless perhaps a cancellation.

We stopped at Kopenhagen; there was a six hours stay there yesterday, but I didn’t go to town as I thought I may see it later; some were disappointed in it, too flat and Tivelo (Tivoli) gardens, only children were there. Yes, I will see the ballet (Royal Danish) when I go there. There is a real inflation in Norway, and everything is very expensive, more than in USA. I shall remember what you would like from Finland….(Patricia liked Marimekko fashions, colorful clothing for women.)

I had a wonderful time at Julie & Kurt (Lauridsen, daughter and son in law in New York). We went shopping Friday and it was beautiful weather; we had lunch at Altman’s (A Fifth Avenue department store that closed in 1989.) In the evening Julie made a scrumptious chicken dinner one day and roast the other day. It rained for 2 days while I was there so I stayed inside. Snoopy (the family airedale) and I fell in love all over again, and she stayed close to me, and cried when I left. I didn’t feel the excitement as I arrived here in Oslo; I believe the real test comes when I arrive in Bö, but I am feeling great, no worries or concern. I have slept wonderfully every night since I left. Even at Julie’s I didn’t  hear the noise from the street, I slept so soundly.

For the first 5 days on board the ship, we set our clock 60 minutes forward; the first night I woke up suddenly 4 A.M. with the sun pouring in the room, but went back to sleep again. I had a 2 passenger room all to myself. It was great, right at head of the stairs, and round the corner to the deck. It was a most joyful and leisurely trip I shall long remember.

 …You cannot know how much I appreciate you being there and taking care of the home, Patricia, so I won’t have to worry. I shall write you very soon; keep sending the letters here for while. I shall tell when to send mail to Ida (Arntzen, a cousin in Bö, Signe’s birthplace).

All my love to you dearest, Mom

Photograph of wheat field and house in Norway
Wheat field and house in Norway.

Sunday June 17, 1971
Dearest Patricia,

How are you? I hope your world is not full of trouble and problems, while I am so far removed from responsibilities, for the time being. I certainly feel great; if getting away is good for a person, it sure has been for me. I enjoy every minute of the day, and sleep like an infant at night from 10 to 7 & 8 in the morning. The weather here in Oslo has been gorgeous, sunny and cold in the 50’s. But Oslo is much like any city, noisy and in places cluttered. I have seen much of the sights but have to leave more for later.

Sunday Frieda & I went to service at the Akerhus Slott’s (A fortified castle first begun in the thirteenth century) church service, then to Holmenkollen (ski jump) and had lunch there. It was lovely scenery, but oh all those steps to climb to the top. I thought about you being there, and looked for your footsteps. (Patricia had visited Southern Norway in the early 1960’s). At times I wished that you were along; it is more fun, but I guess it is also good for me to stand on my own feet, and learn to find places and directions.

I have been downtown nearly every day exploring and shopping, but have not found anything I liked. Clothes are as expensive as in the States...  But lots of all sorts of fancywork. I bought a stamped apron in blue with a sailboat and fishes in white embroidery, which I have now finished and will send to Julie.  I also met Eilif Strand (a childhood friend and pupil) and visited his school (Grefsen Skole). He is superintendent of the (elementary) school of 600 students. I visited some of the classes: real good system there, and cute children. He is the man who was my student in first and second grade, and who wrote Alden (her brother Morton’s son).

I had a very lucky break. Had a telegram from Ingrid last night that there will be room second class on the North Star leaving Bergen for North Cape Saturday morning at 9 A.M., and will arrive 6:30 P.M. at Bergen, and will stay overnight at Ingrid. If on the way back from North Cape, which take 3 days one way, I should go near enough to Bö, I shall go directly there instead of Bodø, as it would be out of the way anyway. But one never know when the tourist boat will stop.

However, I am greatly looking forward to the trip, guess it is really beautiful…. About the davenport Patricia, I talked to Julie about it and she thought the price was terrible, it is so close to the price (?) of upholstery that much it is better to do that. How is the yard coming? There would be some gladiolas coming up. If you don’t use the rhubarb, Patricia, let Mrs. Allen (a neighbor in Bloomington) take it. All you need to do is wash and cut it up, put a little water in, and cook it in the big pan, which I think is on a shelf where the canned goods are in the basement. From now on, mail all letters to Ida’s home, Före, BøiVesterålen. I am now going downtown to cash some travelers checks. Haven’t spent much money so far. Write soon, and don’t work too hard.

All my love to you. I think about you every day.  Mom

Photograph of rocks by the sea in Vesteralen, Norway
Rocks by the sea in Vesteralen, Norway.

June 17, 1971
Dearest Patricia,

Just mailed you a letter when your second came with pictures; they look ok, hope I turn into a successful photographer… Yes, first class (on the Bergensfjordis special in food and service, and one saw evening dresses every night, but also regular. I wore my Anderson dress (A woman’s shop in downtown Bloomington, specializing in quality clothing, now closed) to the captain’s dinner, and had people stop and ask where I found it; as you know it is an original so it says. And I had my hair done for the occasion, had a picture taken which I will show you of our table…

Tell Fr. Lyons (Thomas Lyons, minister of the family church, St. Matthews Episcopal Church, Bloomington) I went to service on Bergensfjord given by New York Seamen’s minister who is transferred to Bergen.  He spoke excellent and clear Norwegian, I thanked him -- he, his wife and 4 darling children were on 1st class also. My language is ok, although not perfect as yet, but everyone thinks I speak as if I lived here, which is nice to hear.  Eilif (Strand) gave me some grammar books and two new dictionaries on the two languages which was changed in 1942, quite different but easy to learn the spelling of.

I am truly getting excited now to go North; yes, I do hope I can celebrate St. Hans Day (Midsummer’s Night celebration with bonfires at the end of June). I will send Bettye (Meyer) and the boys a card to Germany (A German teacher and students from Illinois) when I reach Nordcap, but I am taking my trip leisurely, and make no definite plans, as I am primarily visiting friends and relatives in Norway, and I will need time to do that.

Tell the Bankerts (Ellen and Ralph—friends in Bloomington) hello, that I am truly enjoying every minute of it. I miss Father Lyons’ sermons on Sunday, but it was a nice service at Akerhus Slotte Church (in Oslo), and to see all the vaste rooms etc… I appreciate more than you know that you are taking such good care of the house… I shall write you soon again; send future letters to Före, BöiVesterålen (near her family home, Fjærvoll).

All my love to you  Mom

Next time maybe all 4 of us can take the trip together.

Read the rest of the letters from Signe's trip here.

Emigrants' Specials

The transmigration across the north of England is one of the main interests of our project. We've written about the journey from Hull to Liverpool several times on this blog and, of course, offer the 3D version of the experience in the virtual world for anyone to explore.

We've now been fortunate to receive some information about the train operators who were in charge of transporting the emigrants across England. It shows the scale and efficiency of the operation and makes it easier to understand why this stage of the journey features so little in the history of the migration; it was so stream-lined that the migrants didn't dwell on it for long and, more importantly, didn't write about it in letters and journals.

Thanks to Helen Spencer-Oatey for sending us this material and her husband, Andrew, for transcribing it.

Click on image to enlarge. See transcription below.

‘EMIGRANTS SPECIALS’ (Taken from the Appendix to the 1884 Working Timetable)
Specials With Emigrants, And Emigrant’s Baggage From Hull & Co., To Liverpool,
Run As Required.
They must be signalled as follows :-

‘Telegraph’ means that a properly written message must be handed to the Telegraph Clerk.

‘Telephone’ means that each Signalman must give the information by telephone from point to point.

‘Wire’ means that the passing of the train must be reported by the Platform Staff to Telegraph Office, to be signalled to those stations to which Express Passenger Trains are signalled.

Sending Station

Must Promptly Telegraph Time of Arrival
Telegraph, Telephone and
Wire Departure.
Sowerby Bridge
Smithy Bridge
Pass. Supt. Manchester
Sowerby Bridge
Telephone from point to point and Wire according to above instructions.

Rainford Junction
Telephone, Telegraph and Wire
Mr. Gill, Aintree Sorting Sidings, Liverpool.

The messages must be despatched from the several stations as soon after the passing of the train as possible, and they must be promptly delivered. The Station Master must immediately inform the staff of the running of the train, and do all that is possible to afford it an uninterrupted passage. In the night time Normanton must telegraph the time of departure to all stations which are open.

The Specials will stop at Smithy Bridge for the accommodation of the Emigrants. On receipt of intelligence of the running of a Special, Smithy Bridge must provide a number of buckets, full of clean water, for drinking, ready for use on arrival of the trains.

These trains stop as required for the engines to take water. The only stations they regularly call at are Smithy Bridge and Sandhills. They must, therefore, be treated as Express Passenger Trains, and other trains must be shunted for them to pass. Any cases of delay must be investigated at once, and a full report sent to Passenger Superintendent.

Wagons of Emigrants’ luggage from Hull waybilled to North Mersey must be detached from the trains at Fazackerley Junction and worked forward by pilot.

The time allowed for running from point to point is as follows :-




Sowerby Bridge

Sowerby Bridge

Smithy Bridge

Smithy Bridge


2 Hours – 30 Minutes
Crow Nest Junction

Crow Nest Jcn.
Upholland (via Loop Line)



The trains will stop at the following stations :-

North Dean
Cord Stop & Take Water
3 Mins. Allowed
Cord Stop & Take Water
3 Mins. Allowed
Smithy Bridge
For Accommodation of Emigrants
5 Mins. Allowed
West Houghton
Cord Stop
1 Min. Allowed
Cord Stop & Take Water
3 Mins. Allowed

Guards must show these stations on their Road Notes.
_ _ _ _ _


When it is necessary for these trains to run, the North Mersey Pilot Engine must be at North Mersey Junction to take hold of the rear of the train and work it to North Mersey Station, and in addition to the Guard, one of the Station Inspectors at Liverpool must travel with the train. The train must not run except when it is daylight, and only then after notice has been given to Mr. Windle of the North Mersey Goods Station. Mr. Ingham, Liverpool, will be responsible for giving due notice of the running of the Special.

All Emigrant Trains going into North Mersey Station must come to a stand at the Viaducts, and be conducted forward by the North Mersey Goods Inspectors, who must be on the lookout for them, and see that no delay arises.

From the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway Society Newsletter, Number 95, May / June 1977.
I think that “Cord Stop” means a statutory stop that otherwise non-stopping trains had to make every 20 miles if they were not fitted with a communication cord (AHS’ note).

My Bestemor and Bestefar that came to America and some of their families in Norway

Thanks very much to Melissa Knutsen for sending us this information about her family. We've added a map of Norway to illustrate the main locations where her family comes from.

By Melissa Knutsen.

My Bestefar, (Grandfather), came to America more than once before my Bestemor, (Grandmother). He came here for work as the story goes. He had a green card so he could work. He did not become a citizen of the U.S. as he planned to return to Norway to his home. He died before he could do so. My Bestemor raised my Tanta Evelyn (Aunt) and my Dad alone. She later became a U.S. citizen.
Some of the places mentioned below.
My Father, Konrad Knutsen, born April 1937 in Staten Island, NY.

My Bestefar (paternal grandfather), Konrad Emil Knutsen, born 25 April 1898 in Vollekjaer by Housland, Norway, died 28 July 1950 in Elm Park, Staten Island, Richmond, NY USA.

His father, Karl Bertel (Bendiks?) Knutsen, my great grandfather, born 22 July 1868 in Bergen, Norway, died 23 April 1959 in Vollekjaer, Fevik, Aust Agder, Norway.

My great grandmother, Inger Nilsdatter, born 16 November 1871 in Kleppekjer, Norway, died 17 March 1907 in Grimstad, Aust Agder, Norway.

My 2nd great grandmother, Ellevine Knudsdatter, born 19 November 1843 in Vaeding, Aust Agder, Norway.

My 2nd great grandfather, Nils Terjesen, born 1841 in Norway.

My 2nd great grandfather, Knud Hansen (Is Karl Knutsen's Father??? Wife unknown???) Trying to go back further w/o success, born 1822 in Norway, died in Norway.

My paternal grandmother, Lovise Sofie Larsen-Holm, born 27 December 1902 in Bomsholmen, Norway. died July 1986 in Staten Island, Richmond, New York, USA.

Her parents:
My great grandmother, Stine Johanna Rine Jonasdatter, born 2 January 1875 in Farsund, died 15 February 1951 in Grimstad, Aust Agder, Norway.

My great grandfather, Kristian Severin (Hauge) Larsen Holm, born 3 August 1871 in Blodekjer--Arendal, Norway, died 15 February 1946 in Grimstad, Aust Agder, Norway.

My 2nd great grandmother, Sidsel Larsdatter, born 1843 in Vigmostad, Vest Agder, Norway.

My 2nd great grandfather, Christian Severin Hauge, born in Bergen, Hordaland, Norway.

My 2nd great grandfather, Jonas B. Stillifssen.

Pauline Unknown

Prelude to 'A mother's letters': Journey to a beloved country

By Patricia Marton.
Immigration is an act of bravery and self-discipline and adventure, and these are the stuff of great sagas, then as now…the warm and inspiring tale of familial continuity, memory, and tradition. Thomas A. DuBois, University of Washington, Seattle.

Signe Marie Clausen left Norway on February 23, 1923, sailing from Kristiania (Oslo) to New York, part of a stream of over a million immigrants that began in 1825 and subsided a hundred years later. She arrived on her twenty-second birthday (March 6), then traveling overland by train to Hamilton, a small town on the Mississippi River in Western Illinois, where her older brother Morton had established a newspaper publishing business. She had just finished teaching in the primary school at Fjærvoll, Bo i Vesterålen, in Nordland (Northern Norway), where she was born.
Signe as a young woman (ca. 1922).
Her father Mathias farmed, fished and worked for the local kommune (government) until he left Bö c.1910 to work in the lumber business in Somers, Montana. His two older sons, Morton and Halvdan, followed him just before World War I; his youngest, Gunnar, in December of 1922. Charlotte Lockert, his wife, was the last to leave, in October of 1923; Mathias accompanied her, returning for the last time to sell the family home, Töhaugen, which he had built himself on a small hill overlooking the sea. Two daughters, Marie (1895) and Nanny (1898), had died earlier, in infancy, and were buried in the local cemetery (Duken) at Vinje. 

Most of the family settled in Illinois: Morton, his wife Elsie and children Joycelynn and Alden, and his parents in Hamilton, Gunnar in Pittsfield, where he established a photoengraving business with his wife Beulah. Halvdan, however, farmed in Indiana. Signe became a photoretoucher and photocolorist in Keokuk, Iowa, a small city across the river from Hamilton, later moving to Bloomington further east, to continue her profession. When she married Oscar Marton, a pharmacist, however, she stayed there for much of the remainder of her life. There were shorter stays in Rockford, Illinois, where her first daughter Patricia, the author of this piece, was born, and Los Angeles, California, where the second one, Julie, arrived.

Signe would not return to Norway for forty-eight years. She had wanted to return for a long time, but financial restrictions, the Second World War, family responsibilities, and her husband’s illness caused the journey to be postponed. But Norway remained a part of her life and the life of her family, for she was proud of her heritage and shared it with her daughters, singing Norwegian lullabies when we were young.

Ro, Ro til fiske skjær,
mange fisker får du der.
En til far, en til mor,
og two til den som fisken dro--
og det var lille Patricia og Julie…

She also brought out her richly embroidered bunad (national costume) that she had made while a student at the Vågan Folkhogskole in Lofoten, together with other pieces of embroidery, to show on special occasions. My sister and I liked to trace our fingers around the colorful designs. She continued to use her native language, speaking Norwegian with her brothers, subscribing to a Norwegian newspaper, Norsk Tidende, and Norwegian magazines (Familien and Illustret), and corresponding with friends and relatives in Norwegian.

Signe's embroidery.
Signe’s heritage was reflected particularly through her choice of food  our family ate at five p.m., a time earlier than that of many other families; when I finally went to Norway myself, I found that it was common there too.  Our foods included gjetost (dark goat’s cheese), flatbrød (a thin wheat bread), risengrynsgrøt, rice cooked with milk on Saturday evenings, med litensukker “with a little sugar,” and especially her cookies at Christmas  berlinerkranser and sandbakkelse (butter cookies in the shape of wreathes and ovals with fluted edges). I was amazed when I saw bags of sandbakkelse in a Trondheim bakery years later; for me, they were always special concoctions made from scratch only by her. One Christmas, when I was living in Belgium, she mailed a box of cookies to me  many arrived in pieces, but I was happy to have them anyway.
Recipe for Christmas cookies called berlinerkranser.
Needlework continued to be important to Signe too. She taught me how to do cross stitch when I was hospitalized (and bored) with tonsillitis as a child, though I never mastered it as well as she did. Her choice of patterns and colors in her own American needlework often reflected Norwegian traditions too. Once, in Bodø, Norway, at a party given by a daughter of a friend of hers, I showed a piece of this needlework with a floral design to the group of women. They commented on the colors and how closely they resembled those of Norwegian flowers, even though the work was done long after she had left Norway. Our home was also decorated with memorabilia from Norway  brass candlesticks, an enamel Viking ship, a glass bird, all of these items representing aspects of her former life and home. 

More of Signe's needlework.
Her brothers had a similar eclectic background. Gunnar, who lived in Pittsfield, Illinois, still played the accordion music that he had learned as a boy in Norway. His older brother Morton was fond of woodcarving and painting, and spent his retirement years making furniture and working in oils  mountain scenes, even though he lived in Yucca Valley, in the California desert. His younger brother Halvdan lived in rural Indiana  still drawn to the life of his childhood. For this is what being an American means.

Through my mother, I learned about the pain of immigration as I grew up  the intense pressures to conform to a new culture, for she had a real sensitivity to the feelings of people around her; about what was proper and what was not. It did not make a great impression on me until I lived in Norway myself. I had a year’s visiting scholar appointment at the University of Trondheim and travelled throughout the country, presenting writing and storytelling workshops in schools and colleges. (One of my mother’s final wishes was to spend an entire year in Norway to watch the seasons change, to take a weaving course, and to pick blueberries. Since she was not able to do any of this, I did it for her.)

Photograph of Fjervalen in Norway
Fjervalen, Norway.
Though the land itself is beautiful, with jagged mountains plunging to the sea, my experiences there, like those of most human situations, were mixed. I struggled with the placement of fish bones and potato skins at the dinner table. (They are typically placed on small side dishes). The winters were long and dark  I remember huddling in the doorway of a Lofoten boat dock during a bitter snow and windstorm. I was in Bergen in May when I saw the first spring flowers appearing through the snow (In Illinois, they usually appear in early March), and greeted them as long lost friends.

There were unanticipated communication problems. Though I began to master the rudiments of reading, I did not learn to speak much Norwegian. This was a handicap for lengthier stays, as I should have realized beforehand. This also separated me from many of my mother’s older relatives, who unlike their younger counterparts, had not learned English in school. It was also difficult to understand the accent (or variety of accents) of the language.

In many ways, I was naïve  caught up in a myth of a golden land that does not exist anywhere in this world.  For I (and I’m sure others like me) also create a “Norway of the Mind,” our own personal Norway, which is often different from the real one. But what is real anyway?  Reality itself is individualistic. However, my mother’s love of Norway was deep to the end of her life, so deep that despite misunderstandings, I could never lose this affection.

By Patricia Marton.
There were many memorable moments for me in Norway too  picking blueberries on a hillside above my mother’s farm, when two young girls, gathering berries near me, began to sing a song my mother had sung to me when I was a child. Wonderful Christmas parties, with red decorations and blazing lights. Outside, in the winter darkness, children built lanterns of snowballs and the cemeteries glowed with candles on Christmas Eve. I also learned how to cook Norwegian dishes, and developed a liking for lefse and bøller (thin potato bread and sweet rolls), how to dance Norwegian dances, which can be treacherous, as the couples often perform them in tight circles, and made an attempt to learn hardanger (cutwork embroidery), as well as weaving.

I took a wintertime weaving course at my mother’s former school (VåganFolkhøgskole) in Lofoten  something she had wanted to do herself, but never did. I learned how to work a loom, with considerable help from  teachers and other students, after morning assembly in a small auditorium where her class picture hung on the wall above me. (I was able to weave two blue and red scarves too - for myself and my sister). And one summer, the last summer we had together in Norway, my mother and I stood outside the house that she was born in and that had been built by her father, watching the grey and white seagulls fly overhead. Through such experiences, I realized my deep connection both to her and her land.

Don't forget to check back soon for the next post. It will feature Signe's letters written during her first visit back to Norway.