My birthday is in December and it always makes me think a little bit more about the reality of genealogy. Sometimes it seems like we deal so much with census and death records that we lose sight of the people our ancestors were. Today is/was my great-grandmother Olga’s birthday, she’d be 126 years old today. She was born Olga Matilda on December 30, 1888, in Aurskog, Akershus, Norway, and her father’s name is, well, a bit of a mystery.
When Olga was 3 years old, she immigrated to the US under the surname Sannes with her mother Hansine (Sina) Olsdatter Sannes. They lived in Howard, Miner, South Dakota, and Evanston, Cook, Illinois, before arriving in Lac Qui Parle County, Minnesota, where Sina married Johan Elstad when Olga was 9 years old. Olga considered Johan to be her father.
I never knew Olga, but I get the impression that she was very close-mouthed and a little cranky. In fact, most of her grandchildren didn’t even know that Johan wasn’t her biological father. I only knew that she had a different father than her younger siblings from talking to my oldest aunt about Olga.
I’ve tried hunting for information on Olga for years and after I learned a few years ago that Sina was born in Blaker, Akershus, Norway, I looked through Blaker’s digitized parish records for Olga and I thought I’d found her. The baptism record had the correct birthdate and the correct name Olga Matilda, but I couldn’t make heads or tails of the rest of it. Norwegian was worse than Greek to me and I didn’t see her mom Sina’s name anywhere in the record. I told myself I’d have someone translate it one day, in case it was my Olga. Then I became absorbed in something Konzen related and I forgot Olga’s record somewhere on my computer.
Then while looking through my Ancestry DNA matches this fall and wondering if I was ever going to get a confirmed match beside my father (I am glad that he’s a match), I realized that Ancestry now lets you search your DNA matches by surname or place name in their trees. I typed in “Konzen” one match (I’ll talk about that another time), “Sannes” no match, “Sumner” no match, “Ronglien” no match, and “Elstad” no match. That just sucked. All these people with Norwegian ancestry that “matched” me and we had no common surnames. Suddenly, I realized I was being an idiot and I’m not related to any Elstads except for Olga’s half-siblings and their descendants. I typed in Akershus, Norway, and Blaker, Akershus, Norway, and I messaged all 16 matches with a family tree containing those places. I explained that I didn’t see any common ancestors or surnames in their family trees (the public ones), but that maybe we were related through my great-grandmother Olga’s father or even through her mom Sina. I told the story of Olga and Sina arriving in the US alone and that I knew Sina’s parents were Ole Sannes and Karen Thui.
I was too excited about the possibility of a match to wait for a response, so I started looking through Norwegian parish records and searching the Norwegian digital archives again. I extended one side of my Norwegian family back into Norway and another generation, but nothing on Sina or Olga was that easy. I looked through every parish in Akershus county for Sina’s birth on March 8, 1868, and I finally found a Hansine Olsdatter born on that date to Ole Hansen and Karen Jacobsdatter Kroken in Svarstad. Was Sannes the last name of Olga’s father or just a name Sina chose for them? Or was this not her at all?
I looked for more children of Ole Hansen and Karen Jacobsdatter and I found a Karl Laurits Olsen and a Gudbrand Olsen. I matched these men up with a Karl Laurits Sannes and Gudbrand Sannes in the US and confirmed they were Sina’s brothers. Gudbrand, Karl Laurits, and Sina must have all decided on the last name Sannes for some reason. It could be that they all worked on the same farm called Sannes before they left for America. That’s still a mystery.
I revisited Olga’s baptism record and I could see the name Hansine Olsdatter in the section for parents, but I still couldn’t understand the rest of it. I searched through lots of information on Norwegian baptism records and had a few different translations done of the baptism record, but her father’s identity still is a mystery.
Olga’s baptism record reads “Born on December 30, 1988, and christened Olga Matilde on January 20, 1889. The father is listed as bachelor Hagbart Edvardsen Ringstad, cottar’s daughter maiden Hansine Olsdatter Kroken. Hansine gave the name of the father’s daughter as bachelor servant Ole Olsen Enerud. Father’s location: Vestre Aker. Mother’s location: cottar’s farm called Kroken. Father was born in 1864, mother was born in 1868. Godparents: Farmer’s wife Anna Kristiansdatter Myrvold, farmer’s daughter Bolette Hansdatter Nyhus, Edvin Kristian Olsen Kroken, farm hand Anders Johansen Myrvold, and servant Gulbrand Olsen Kroken. Birth was illegitimate. (The father’s 2nd illegitimate child (the 1st with cottar’s daughter Pauline Petersdatter Bakken, the child Petra (12th birth in 1888) born August 9, 1988))”
So is Hagbart Edvardsen Ringstad or Ole Olsen Enerud the father of Olga? I asked my translators if they’d ever seen anything like this in Norwegian parish records and they said they had not. Our conclusion was that Sina (Hansine) had told them that Ole was the father and they (being the church or her family or the men involved) believed that Hagbart was the father. The only thing that will really solve the mystery is DNA. Ole was the father of the illegitimate child Petra, daughter of Pauline Petersdatter Bakken, I’m currently tracing both Hagbart and Ole’s family trees to find a descendant so I can hopefully compare DNA results with them.
Really, it makes sense why Olga wasn’t a very cheerful and happy person. She was born into such an odd situation where it wasn’t clear who her father was. Her half-siblings from her mom’s marriage to Johan Elstad were prettier and more petite than Olga. I can understand how the entire thing can make someone unhappy and bitter. I’ve never had a bad impression of Olga, but now I have even more sympathy with her. As much of a mess that her birth is on paper, I’m sure it was a much bigger mess in real life. Happy 126th birthday, Olga! I like to think she’d appreciate that people today are trying to understand her life.