June 4, 2007 - Remembering your heritage

I’m looking forward to spending time in Norway this month with 40 of my closest friends. Most of them are strangers now, farmers, ranchers and a few city folks from seven states and Canada, but after enjoying the people and beauty of Norway together for 12 days, I’m confident we will return to America the best of friends.

Norway is the land of my heritage, all four of my grandparents came to America from that beautiful country. Like many other people, I have found that as I mature (my term for growing older), my interest in my roots is also growing and my message on Samuelson Sez this week is to encourage you to do the same.

Let me take you back to my first visit five years ago. Our group has traveled to a small village located Northwest of the Olympic city of Lillehammer. It is a cloudy Sunday morning with light rain falling when we arrive at the town of Tretten in a narrow forested valley. As we step off the bus we are greeted by Arnie Moen, a 75-year-old retired school teacher.

During his teaching days, he assigned his students to research the history of families who sent relatives to America in the 1800's. He greeted me by saying he hoped I was wearing walking shoes because we had a mile-and-a half walk through the forest to see something that would be very interesting to me. At the end of the walk, we came to a small clearing; Arnie walked to the center and asked me to join him on a slight rise. As I walked toward him I stepped over a small row of foundation rocks and stood with him.

He turned to me and said, “Mr. Samuelson, you are now standing in what once was the house where your Grandmother Jenny was born in 1864.” I was stunned, overcome with emotion and through tear-filled eyes I looked around and realized that a part of me started in this narrow Norwegian valley. Arnie then said in 1872, her parents sent her, an older brother and an adult uncle to America because times were so tough in Norway, there was no future there. Jenny never saw her parents, my great-grandparents again. She became one of the 800,000 Norwegians who came to America between 1850 and 1925 along with hundreds of thousands of other Europeans who migrated to “The Land of Opportunity”.

Knut Knutson, a Norwegian genealogist, told me he had read hundreds of letters from homesick children in America to their parents in Norway and equally sad letters back to their children. He concluded by saying, “I hope all of you in America are grateful to your ancestors here who sacrificed so much to ultimately give you the opportunity to live so well.” Family history is fascinating and I use this personal story to encourage all of you to search for your beginning.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez