Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sentimental Sunday - An only child with four siblings

My seventh-great-grandfather Johannes Andersen of the Berstad/Bergstad farm married Dorethe (or Dordei) Larsdatter from Hiornevigen farm on 22 June 1751 in Evanger sogn, Voss parish, Hordaland County, Norway. It still boggles my mind that I have digital copies of the church records from when they were married.
Marriage record - Johannes Andersen Berstad and Dorethe Larsdatter Hiornevigen
A little over a year later, their daughter Marite Johannesdatter was baptized. Marite had at least four siblings that I have found records for - sister Barbru born in 1753, sister Anna born in 1756, brother Anders born in 1759, and another sister named Barbru born in 1761.

However, Marite and her parents suffered a tragedy in 1758 when the older Barbru died at just 4 years and 19 weeks old (she never even got to see the youngest two siblings). Another tragedy struck when little Anders died in 1760, just 16 weeks after he was born. They remained a family of five - Johannes, Dorethe, Marite, Anna, and the younger Barbru - for the next 12 years. Then something, perhaps illness, claimed the lives of both Anna and Barbru, who were buried the same day, 22 March 1772. Not yet 20 years old, Marite had witnessed her family lay four of their five children to rest. I can't imagine what that kind of frequent encounter with loss and grief would do to a young girl.

Then, nearly two years later, something wonderful happened - Marite married Sjur Nielsen from Horvei farm, also in Voss parish. Part of me wonders what she thought about that day - did she remember the siblings who should have been there? Did she grieve for her parents, who would only get to see one of their five children live to be married? Or was she happy that she was able to give them that day of joy, to give them the chance to see their only surviving child find a husband and have a family of her own? It was probably a mixture of all of that, and more.

It's sad that Marite ended up being an only child, but I'm grateful that she survived. The loss of her siblings may have helped her cope with the losses she suffered as a parent - she also lost four children in infancy. Her parents lived long enough witness the first of those losses, a son named Niels Siursen who died at 8 months, and I'd like to think that they helped her and her husband get through it. But Marite also had two children, Johannes (my ancestor) and Niels, that her parents lived long enough to see. Hopefully they were able to spend time with their grandchildren before they passed away. It wouldn't have made up for all the losses they experienced, but it might have made things a little easier knowing that some of their posterity would survive.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Two brothers, one name

In doing genealogy research, I've come across habits and traditions of people in different places that sometimes leave me scratching my head. I've written before about some American traditions of this nature, but in my research into Norwegian records I've come across a new one.

My Norwegian ancestors had a habit that is, from my perspective, very unusual. If the family had a child that died young, they would sometimes name a subsequent child (of the same gender) with the same name. I'm not sure if it was just a determination to have the name in the family, or the desire to see a descendant carry on a family name into future generations, or what ever else may have inspired the tradition. But I've seen it happen in multiple generations of that side of my family. For example, my second-great-grandparents Knute and Betsy (Olson) Bergstad had a daughter named Olga, born in 7 January 1900, who died before she was a year old. Knute and Betsy's next child, another daughter, was born 12 Feb 1901, and they named her Olga as well, but added the middle name Sophia. 

Knute's great-grandparents Johannes Sjursen and Brytteva Johannesdatter did something similar a hundred years earlier. Johannes's third child and second son, Johannes Johannesen, was born about September 1807, but died just 15 months later in February 1809. Later that year, Brytteva gave birth to a baby boy, whom they named Johannes Johannesen, just the same as his older brother. The name Johannes is pretty dominant in this family, so maybe they were just determined to have a surviving son carry the name forward. But it still seems a little morbid to me to give a child the same name as an older sibling who passed away. 

However, just recently, I found a new spin on this tradition in the family of Johannes Sjursen's parents, Sjur Nielsen and Marite Johannesdatter. Sjur and Marite's firstborn son, Niels Sjursen, was born in February 1775. 
Baptism record of Niels Sjursen b.1775
I knew from previous research that he died in 1779, and that a younger son, also named Niels, was born in 1779, so I assumed it followed the traditional pattern. But then I found that this wasn't the case. 

Burial record of Niels Sjursen, b.1775, d.1779
By going to the original records, I found that the older Niels was buried on 24 October 1779, but that the younger Niels was baptized on 3 October 1779, three weeks earlier. This took me by surprise; why would the family name one son Niels, and then a second son also Niels while the first Niels was presumably still alive? If the older Niels had died before the younger Niels was born, why did they wait at least 3 weeks to bury him? I am admittedly completely ignorant of Norwegian burial customs, but I doubt the family would have waited a month to bury their son after his passing. So what happened? 

Baptism record of Niels Sjursen, b.1779
After thinking about it for a while, I came upon a possible solution that made me very sad. What could have happened is this - perhaps the older Niels had taken ill or been injured at some point, but not fatally, or at least not immediately so. By the time the younger sibling was born, it was apparent that the older Niels wasn't going to make it, and they named the younger sibling Niels to preserve the name. Then sometime in the next three weeks, the older Niels passed away and was buried, leaving only one Niels in the family. I can't imagine losing one of my kids at any point in their lives. But to lose one so close to the time that another one is about to be (or has just been) born, and to know ahead of time that he was going to die, and so name your newborn son after him, is especially heartbreaking. 

If naming the younger child after the older was a form of paying tribute to the lost child, then the older Niels must have made quite the impression on his mom and dad in the short four years and eight months he was with them. And now, 235 years later and thousands of miles away, little Niels is remembered again.