Pilgrimage to the land of my Ancestors

Our son Mihai spent just under two months visiting his grandparents in Romania over the Christmas holidays.  He left in November, returning early January.  While we were genuinely happy for him, my wife was melancholy and also missing her parents.  We decided over Christmas after many FaceTime calls that this was the year that we should go back to see them.

I began the process of planning the vacation, looking at flight routes and best fares.  During this phase, I started to think that if we are going to make the journey to Europe and spend two weeks in Romania, why not take an extra week and explore Norway as well.  This after all was the land of my ancestors, a land that I have never really even seen.  While I did have opportunity seventeen years ago to travel to Copenhagen, Stockholm and Oslo, I had not ventured out beyond those cities.

My paternal grandfather was born in Naustdal, Norway in 1880.  This is a community situated on the northern side of Sogn og Fjordane.  He immigrated to America in 1898 at the tender age of 17 and never returned to his birthplace.  He was educated in Norway in the ministry of the Lutheran Church of Norway and was also taking carpentry and building as a trade course.  Coming to Minneapolis  / St. Paul, he attended Concordia College graduating in 1901.  In December of 1902, he married Selma Hanson, a daughter of a farmer and rancher and they ultimately ended up in Bromhead, Saskatchewan to homestead.  My grandfather was appointed as an evangelist of the Lutheran Church for Saskatchewan and Alberta. This seeded the roots of the new family that would now call Canada and America home.  They had fourteen children, some of which that did not survive.  Those that did, married, had children with those children also did the same.  You get the picture.  The family was growing and well established.

Many questions though were never raised or understood, at least not by me.  My father had a difficult childhood and certainly overcame many obstacles to become the man he was.  Sadly though while certain things were talked about, some of the details about family were never discussed.  Given how rustic and challenging life was for my father, born in 1916 I could only image how life must have been for his father, my grandfather.

I always felt a certain kinship to my grandfather.  He was raised by his grandparents and technically, so was I.  My father was technically, my grandfather.  He adopted me into his family after I was born in 1963.   My grandfather (nee great-grandfather) left home at 17 to discover his new life, as did I.  He passed in 1977 at the ripe age of 96.  I was thirteen at the time.  Why would he leave everything he knew.. everything he was to move to a completely unknown country?  What would compel him to do this?  The answers to many of those questions, at least in my mind have now been answered with this journey.

We arrived in Oslo, Norway as our first point of discovery.  Our plan was to stay one evening and then take the train the next day to Bergen.  The train journey takes about seven hours and crosses over specular landscapes.  Starting sea level and rising over mountain ranges we passed through a number of communities with lots of snow and avid skiers getting on and off the train.  We arrived in Bergen that evening and stayed at an AirBnB which was located in the old, historic area of Bergen  Bergen has turned out to be one of our favourite cities.  It is historically beautiful and the people are amazing.  Other than the high cost of everything, we would visit here every year.

The next day our plan was to journey approximately 200 kilometres towards the North to Naustdal, Norway.  We rented a car for two days and navigated out of Bergen taking highway E39 all the way.  This involved a few stops to take pictures and also a ferry crossing.

One observation that both myself and my wife Michaela made was how similar the land was to British Columbia, Canada.  Lots of mountain ranges with some plateau lands.  By and large though not very hospitable for growing crops.  I certainly began to understand how the Norwegians were primarily seafarers having the ocean as the primary source of food.  I also started to think about how difficult life must have been here over 100 years ago.  Yes, today Norway is a thriving, prosperous country having the highest standard of living in the world, but that is primarily due to the oil reserves and would not have been the case back then.

We arrived in Naustdal by early afternoon where we immediately noticed a church along with a cemetery o the site.  My first instinct was to explore this new find and see if there was any evidence at all of my grandfather families existence.  I was elated and also somewhat perplexed to come across a few gravestones with the name “Fengestad” on it.  It was too close to not be somehow related.  This must be on the right track.

I was told many years ago by both my father and my older brother Glen that the family had changed the name.  The original story was that our name was originally Ervik and was changed in the late 1880’s to Fengstad after the estate or farm that we came from.  According to legend, a couple of my grandfathers elder brothers made the journey to North America only passing at accidents either in the Atlantic ocean or in the great lakes of Canada.  The name was change supposedly do to superstitious beliefs.  I believe this no longer is true.

I found an area on the south side of the fjord across from Naustdal known as Ervik, Norway.  We travelled to that area in the afternoon to discover a winding road down to the side near the water with a farm in the area.

After talking to some of the locals the next day, I discovered that not only was there this farm village known as Ervik but just up higher on the plateau was an area known as Fengestad.  Turns out this area is indeed where my grandfather came from.  According to my research, his fathers name was Samuel Sorenson Ervik.  His mother was Anne Fengestad (yes, with the e in the name).  Given that he was raised by his grandparents and did not apparently have much of a relationship with his father, he adopted the name Fengestad.  The “e” was lost in translation once he came to America.

About Grant Fengstad

I’m a technology professional in the travel and transportation sector and have been very involved with the Internet for over 20 years.