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Finally I’m a True Norwegian!


Although I was born in Norway to Norwegian parents, I knew I could never consider myself a true Norwegian until I had eaten lutefisk. On November 21 this year, I finally had my “baptism by fire” so to speak when I attended Per Talgoy’s Annual Lutefisk Dinner at the New Edinburgh Fieldhouse. Lutefisk is dried cod which has been soaked in lye and cold water before baking. When cooked properly (and Per clearly knows how to cook it properly!) and served swimming in butter, with a boiled potato, peas, and plenty of white sauce, I discovered that it really is very good!


Per had put up a map of the Nordic countries and asked us all to stick in a pin where we or our families originated. Beside all the pins stuck in the major Nordic cities, I noticed one pin stuck right beside Tingvoll, which is in the part of Nordmøre in central Norway that my paternal grandmother came from. It happens that I have done quite a bit of research on that area because my great great grandfather was its first MP. I even visited it for a wonderful family reunion in 2014 where I met many, many second cousins. I looked around the room and tried to figure out who it was who came from the same sparsely inhabited area as some of my ancestors. Well it turned out it was Per Olav Talgoy himself! He was a charming host that evening, and I now consider him a distant cousin!


Like many Norwegians, my family has been very curious about its past ancestry, and quite a bit of research had already been done when I started to read up on it a couple of years ago. On my father’s side, I learned that my great great grandfather the MP (who went by the almost stereotypical Norwegian name of Ole Nilssen) had “pulled himself up by his bootstraps”. From very humble beginnings as the orphaned son of a poor coastal fishing and farming couple, he ended up as Secretary of Parliament. Couples like his parents survived by combining fishing with farming on the coast of Norway for many hundreds of years, and I suspect some of my ancestors are among the early ones. But Ole Nilssen was apparently also descended from one of the first “sogneprests” (Lutheran clergymen) in the area after the Reformation. This sogneprest was most likely either German or Danish, and he was a wealthy lumber trader in his day.


I learned that Ole Nilssen’s wife was the daughter of a woman who had been born out of wedlock to a hired girl. His wife’s father had much more “respectable” origins. One branch of his family tree stemmed from an ancient clan called “Aspa” that is thought to go back to Viking times, and another has been traced back to the German mining engineer, Lorentz Lossius, who is credited with discovering and developing the copper deposits that led to the mines at Røros, now a UNESCO world heritage site.

My mother’s side of the family doesn’t seem to have done much genealogical research, so I may take that on myself at some point. It seems likely that part of her family tree traces back to ancestors who have been living in southeast Norway for a long, long time. But her two grandfathers were both Swedes who came to Norway to find work and ended up marrying Norwegian girls. And we strongly suspect that my mother has some “Forest Finn” in her background too! This rather mysterious people originated in eastern Russia and very gradually migrated east into Finland, then Sweden, and finally Norway, burning down bits of forest to plant rye in the warm ashes, and then moving on as they used up the trees.

I think my ancestry is probably pretty typical for a Norwegian of my generation. Very likely my DNA would show a bit of Sami background too, as researchers have found that it is surprisingly common in the Norwegian population. All to say that I believe one’s nationality is more a state of mind than anything else, and eating my first lutefisk and enjoying it definitely contributed to my Norwegian state of mind!


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