Norway Road Trip 2017: Gudbrandsdal

~or~ the one in which we creep around churchyards.

Years ago I had asked my grandma whereabouts in Norway her mom’s family had come from. She didn’t know, so had turned around and asked her cousin. Her cousin told her that they were from Gudbrandsdal

‘Great!’ I thought. ‘Where’s that?’

A quick Google later I had my answer. It is… a lot of places actually. Gudbrandsdal is a valley, covering a large area of central Norway. Like, 15k square kilometers (or nearly 6k sq. miles if you prefer Freedom Units). In other words, this information was not terribly specific.

Since my grandma is now gone, when we started planning this trip, I asked my mom who then asked my aunt if we had any more information. My aunt had many copies of my great-great-grandfather’s citizenship application, and his birthplace was listed as Ringlia (or nearby), Norway. Google that, and it’s a hill somewhere kind of but not really near Trondheim.

See where this is going?

Americans get grief for not knowing about their family history, but we’re working with geographical regions, 150 years ago, at a time when people sneezed and died and crossed oceans and houses burned down routinely and two people were literally struck dead by lightning in the same place at our old family farm so I guess it makes sense that accurate paperwork was not always priority number one?!


A whole lot of googling and cross-checking of entries on later, I still had no idea where this great-great-grandfather had really come from. It seems he may have changed his name at some point (a common thing among farm workers at the time? Changing their name to the farms they worked?), but I had a better idea about his wife. She had been born in the U.S., but her parents had emigrated from yes, Gudbrandsdal.

Gausdal, where we were staying, is a municipality within Gudbrandsdal, and this was part of my strategic plan. Our temporary home was just a short drive away from two towns I wanted to check out, Tretten and Øyer.

Our first stop was Tretten’s church. It sits on the hillside overlooking the Gudbrandsdalslågen river, perfectly picturesque.

Tretten Kirke

BV helped me scout the headstones, starting with the older-looking ones, but no luck. Behind the church we noticed many more stones that had been removed. These were all much older, weather-beaten, and most completely impossible to read. The church itself was closed, so we turned back towards the car.

It also then occurred to me that if the standard practice in Norway is anything like the Germans and their rent-a-plot temporary burial method, there was a flaw in my plan. I have no idea if this is a thing in Norway, but if you know, drop a comment!

Outside the churchyard was some sort of memorial, and we stopped to take a closer look. Lucky too, as sure enough, on the front side was a last name *pretty* close to the one we’d been looking for. Considering the changing of spelling that often occurred when people arrived in the States, a letter or two difference  seemed good enough to me.

We knew that some of the family must’ve stayed behind, because my great-grandma had visited Norwegian cousins back in the 1970s. This might well be the right place then, or at least it had been at the time of the memorial.*

Though we’d possibly already found what it was we were looking for, we continued on. After all Øyer was just a few kilometers downriver, why not stop there anyway?

Øyer Kirke

Øyer’s church looked quite similar, and was also overlooking the same river, but this yard was a bit bigger. We spent more time searching, and eventually a man who’d been cruising between headstones on a riding lawnmower asked if he could help us.

Note the neatly mowed lawn.

We told him the name we were looking for, and he shook his head, pointing back towards where we’d been. “No, they’re in Tretten.” Well, now we knew for sure. Granted, we didn’t (and don’t) know much, but it’s a starting point if I want to try digging a little deeper on the next trip!

Bonus Norwegian cows, because this whole thing is the result of restless Norwegian dairy farmers.

And? Are you also a fan of creeping around churchyards? Have you had more success following dubious family ancestry information? Leave a comment! 


*The inscription on the back says it was erected by the town on the 100th anniversary of Norwegian independence in 1914. I think there may have been something else on the front, and there’s something about 1807-1814 on the top of the back so… multi-purpose memorial? If you know, please enlighten me, good people of Tretten!

2 thoughts on “Norway Road Trip 2017: Gudbrandsdal

  1. This stuff is super fascinating. I’ve had a similarly difficult time following my own lineage because two generations back, the borders of most european countries shifted any time someone sneezed wrong. I just found out last week that my grandmother was born in an entirely different *country* than I had believed for my entire life.

    • Same thing here. My paternal grandma’s side of the family was very insistent that they weren’t Polish, they were German, but if your last name ends with -cyzk and there’s a lot of polka at family events… I’m inclined to think differently. 😉

Ich liebe comments! Leave one here....

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.