Sunday, 22 April 2018


I am Miriam. Welcome to my Genealogy Corner!

I am a transgender woman from Norway, currently living in South Africa where I am working on my PhD in anthropology at the University of Cape Town.

I write this blog under the name Miriam Aurora. It is not a pseudonym, but my chosen name, which I go by in my daily life and to which I will legally change as soon as it becomes bureaucratically possible for me to do so. My current legal name is my (male) birth name, which I do not wish to divulge.

The city of Oslo is where I was born. It is also a city where I have deep and strong ancestral roots. Photo by me (2016).

As a child, I moved around a lot, and realized at an early stage that I did not truly belong in any particular geographical place. My identity has always been closely tied to my family, the people to whom I am tied through bonds of love, common experiences and, not least, common history. Combined with a love for Norwegian and world history and a strong fascination with various cultures and languages, this led me to start exploring my ancestral history. Perhaps that was where I would find out who I really was, and where I really came from.

Although genealogical research provided me with many answers, every answer spawned a multitude of new questions, and I have since learned that genealogy is a journey that can never really be finished. It has been a very important hobby for me since about 2005, and for the last decade it has been the most important of my hobbies (which also include scuba diving, hiking, music, and other things). This blog is an expression of my passion for genealogy in all its aspects. In it, I share the results of my delvings into my family history as well as thoughts and reflections about my genealogical works-in-progress and other related topics.

I write this blog for three main reasons. Firstly, because I want the information about my family history to reach a wider audience among my own close and distant relatives. Secondly, because I believe that the facts about my family history are relevant to the field of history in general, and especially the history of Norway. Thirdly, because I have amassed considerable experience within both traditional and genetic genealogy, some of my posts are aimed towards the general public.

A final reason for my writing, and perhaps the most important one, is that genealogy is, in essence, a collection of stories of interconnected human lives, and I find the stories of my family to be exciting, entertaining, moving, and often inspirational. I hope you too will enjoy them.


Many of my ancestors were immigrants to Norway from other countries, a fact of which I am very proud, since it brings cultural and ethnic diversity into my ancestral heritage. In fact, migrations and ethnic mixing is a field of particular interest for me, and several of my blog post deal with long-distance immigration to Norway (e.g. from Italy and even Brazil) in the 1500s, 1600s, 1700s and 1800s.

Genetic genealogy

I have been an active genetic genealogist ever since I received my very first DNA results back in 2011 (Y12 from National Geographic's Genographic Project), and I have a particular fascination with biogeographical admixture estimates and what they can reveal about ancestral histories. Several of my blog posts deal with technical aspects of interpreting admixture estimates, and I have written reviews of most of the big DNA testing companies (FTDNA, 23andMe, MyHeritage) as well as third-party tools (hereherehere and here). I have also written about haplogroups.

Additionally, I have written a couple of blog post about various ways of visualizing family tree data (here and here), as well as a couple of posts with political content, addressing racist attitudes and assumptions among genealogists (here and here).

My own family history

Most of my blog posts deal directly with my own family history. Below I have listed all my eight great-grandparents and categorized these blog posts (clickable links) according to which great-grandparent's side of the family they concern.

My great-grandparents (all born in Norway):

Fredrik Marensius Pedersen (1904-1979; fff), descended from farmers and crofters in Trøndelag and Gudbrandsdalen. Distant Scottish ancestry on the direct paternal line (MacMhathain, mid-1600s).

Ingrid Gunhild "Mossa" Olsen (1905-1990; ffm), of Norwegian, Sámi and Forest Finn descent. Several pieces of furniture have been preserved from her line of the family.

Inge Albert Winger Lister (1906-1974; fmf), Resistance fighter, of Norwegian, EnglishIrish and German descent, etc. Many old photos have been preserved from his side of the family.

Gunvor "Vesla" Cederholm (1915-1989; fmm), of Norwegian, Swedish and Black Haitian descent, etc. Many objects have been preserved from her line of the family. One of her ancestors helped establish the Danish colony in India in the 1620s, and was the first in my family to visit what is now South Africa.

Arne Harry Hammeren (1919-1991; mff), descended from Norwegian millersForest Finns, and German nobility with possible connections to Ethiopia and Rome.

Aase Lilly Eresia Johansen (1920-2000; mfm), descended from Forest Finns, Italians, extremely poor Norwegians, and perhaps Russians and Ashkenazi Jews. One of her ancestors was an accused sorcerer.

Torbjørn "Oslo" Johansen (1923-1985; mmf), sailor, adventurer and war hero, of Norwegian, Swedish and Romani descent.

Gerd Ovidia Hansen (1924-2005; mmm), Resistance fighter, of Norwegian and Forest Finn descent.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Life stories: Great-grandfather Torbjørn Johansen (1923-1985)

In this blog post, I will tell the life story of my great-grandfather (oldefar, as we say in Norwegian) Torbjørn Johansen. Torbjørn, often nicknamed "Tobben", is without a doubt the most colourful of my recent ancestors. Before the age of 50 he had experienced life as a sailor, a warrior, an immigrant, a prison inmate. He had been married twice, on two continents, and fathered three children. Torbjørn's life was so adventurous that a full-length book could easily be written about him. As a person, Torbjørn was a very hard working and principled man, and is remembered fondly by his descendants as a kind grandfather with lots of stories to tell. Although he had his faults - as we all do - I admire Torbjørn for his strength and stamina, his open-mindedness and love for adventure, and his sense of purpose in life. Unfortunately I never got to meet him in person (nor did any of his other great-grandchildren), as he died five years before I was born, at only 62 years of age. However, I do believe I have inherited some of his traits, traits that I also see in my mother and others in my close family.

I wish to thank my mother, my mother's sisters, and my mother's cousin Henning for much of the information that I will present in this post.

To my relatives: Please let me know if there is anything in this presentation that is factually wrong or lacking, so I can make the necessary corrections and additions.

Childhood in Oslo

Torbjørn Johansen was born on September 23, 1923 in the borough of Grünerløkka in Oslo's east end. He was the first-born child of Thorleif Alexander Johansen (1899-1970), a factory worker and professional wrestler who went by the nickname "Lille-Bunny" (Little Bunny) because of his strength and small size, and his wife Karoline Amalie Kristiansen (1900-1957), also a factory worker, who went by the nickname "Lucy".

Both of Torbjørn's parents came from the lower working class and grew up in harsh conditions. Torbjørn's mother Karoline grew up constantly on the move in the rural areas just outside Oslo, where her father seems to have been a travelling agricultural labourer and stonemason. Torbjørn's father Thorleif, a native of Oslo, lost his father when he was only five years old, and was placed in foster care at the age of ten because of his widowed mother Mina's heavy partying and "bad lifestyle" ("holder drikkekalas og fører et daarligt liv"). Mina, born in 1865, was of Swedish and Romani descent and had spent much of her childhood in a place known as Gypsy Swamp. In other words, my great-grandfather Torbjørn came from an ethnically mixed family.

Torbjørn grew up in a flat on the fourth floor of Schleppegrells gate 15, near the park Birkelunden (Birch Grove). His father Thorleif had spent his early childhood in the same flat before he was sent out of town into foster care. The east end of Oslo was a tough area for children and grown-ups alike. On the ground floor of Torbjørn's building there lived a butcher, a huge fellow who would turn delirious and dangerous under the influence of alcohol; when that happened, my great-great-grandfather Thorleif would walk down and headbutt him. That usually calmed him down! People were scared of Thorleif; he had a reputation for being "small, but tough", and it is said that the mere thought of having to deal with him was enough to shut people up.

Thorleif was a very successful wrestler, and won the Norwegian championship in the bantamweight class twice, in 1925 and 1926. That, however, was the peak of his sporting career, which seems to have ground to a complete halt after 1931. The textile factory where Thorleif had worked was closed down in 1925, and he was likely left without a job. It was a period of financial crisis, unemployment was on the rise, and without even his wrestling to provide him with an income, Thorleif, probably as a result of depression, developed a problematic drinking habit.

Later in life, Torbjørn recounted to his grandchildren that his father had been violent and abusive during this difficult period. Understandably, Torbjørn spent much time away from home, climbing the facades around Birkelunden Park and arm-swinging along the eaves gutters (to his mother's distress!) He was a real rascal; one time, he even broke into the gymnasium of Lakkegata School with some friends and played with the sports equipment there.

Schleppegrell Street in Grünerløkka, Oslo, photographed by me in 2016. The yellow building is number 15, the childhood home of Torbjørn and his father Thorleif.

Birkelunden Park around 1935, the time when Torbjørn was climbing the facades. Source: License: Creative Commons 3.0. Unmodified.

Life at sea

When Torbjørn was in his teens (at 14 or 16 years old, depending on whom you ask), deciding that he wanted to get away from his violent father, he became a sailor. Torbjørn's nickname at sea was "Oslo". I do not know much about the details of his early years as a sailor, but what I do know is that Torbjørn travelled very long distances and had many adventures in various parts of the world, which he later recounted in stories to his young grandchildren. He also learned to play the harmonica, which I find significant because I too play it; indeed, it is one of my favourite instruments.

Torbjørn was at sea when World War II broke out in 1939. From 1940 onward, the Norwegian merchant fleet, of which Torbjørn was part, was administered from London and would make significant contributions to the Allied war effort. We know that Torbjørn sailed with the Murmansk convoys, shipping supplies to the Soviet Union between 1941 and 1945, and he was present at several sea battles, including the Battle of the North Cape on December 26, 1943. Torbjørn's wartime experiences gave him severe emotional trauma. I have heard several stories about the things he witnessed, but I will not recount them here.

Ruby and Alexander

Torbjørn's convoy activity took him as far afield as the United States. In our family, there have always been rumours that Torbjørn got married in the US and had a child there. For a very long time I was convinced that this story was pure imagination, and it was only a couple of years ago that I stumbled upon a record that proved the story true.

In early 1943, Torbjørn filed an intention of marriage with a woman named Ruby Elizabeth Rockwell O'Driscoll, in the town of Keene, New Hampshire. The actual wedding date seems to have been January 11, 1943. Ruby was 19 years old and worked in a shoe shop, and in spite of her young age, she was already a divorcée. Her parents were George Tozier Rockwell from Boston, Massachusetts and Helen May Chapin from Sullivan, New Hampshire, neither of whom were Norwegian-Americans. Torbjørn listed his birth city and the names of his parents correctly, but claimed - wrongly - that they were both deceased. I wonder if he actually believed that they were dead (it was wartime after all, and Norway was under Nazi occupation), or if he was simply trying to cut all ties with his past.

According to the story told in our family, Torbjørn and Ruby moved to Brooklyn, New York, and had a son named Alexander. I have not been able to verify the existence of Alexander, but if he did exist, he must have been born between early 1943 and early 1945. The story then takes a tragic turn. When Alexander was still a baby, Torbjørn and Ruby went out one evening and left their son in the care of Ruby's mother, who accidentally left Alexander sleeping under an open window. He fell ill from the cold and died.

Is this a true story? Since the story about Torbjørn's marriage to Ruby turned out to be true, I am prepared to believe that the story of Alexander is also true, even though concrete evidence has yet to be uncovered. Perhaps Alexander was so young that he wasn't properly registered in official records yet, or perhaps he wasn't born in Brooklyn at all (other sources say the family lived in East Boston, Massachusetts). It is said that Torbjørn never stopped grieving the death of his first child and only son.

D-Day and the return to Norway

After Alexander's death, Torbjørn left his settled life in the United States for good. I don't know if he got an official divorce from Ruby, but I hope he did, and from what else I know about him, I believe it is unlikely that Torbjørn would have deliberately abandoned his wife.

Torbjørn's war did not end with his marriage to Ruby in 1943. It has been said in our family that he was shanghaied in Scotland in 1944 and taken aboard a ship bound for Normandy to join the Allied invasion force. This story, too, has proven true. There is in fact a record of Torbjørn shipping aboard D/S Heien in Glasgow on April 18, 1944. This ship took part in the Normandy landings on June 6, the so-called D-Day. I have heard no concrete stories about what happened to my great-grandfather on this fateful day; I only know that his ship was damaged. Torbjørn went ashore on July 21 in an unknown harbour. I'm still a novice when it comes to war history, but one day I'm going to find out more details about all this.

D-Day seems to have been the climax of Torbjørn's war experience; indeed, it is hard to imagine a bigger climax! I don't know if he was still married to Ruby at that time, but he is recorded in the United States for more than a year after Normandy, finally leaving for Norway in the summer of 1945. By that time he had been abroad most of the time for either six or eight years. I wonder what it would have been like, coming back to his native Oslo after the devastating world war, seeing people celebrating the end of the occupation. Torbjørn brought with him his own memories of war, infinitely more dramatic than anything most people in Oslo had experienced. What was it like for him to see once again the country and the way of life that he had been risking his life to protect? What was it like for him to be surrounded, yet again, by people speaking Norwegian?

It is said that Torbjørn and his father Thorleif reconciled, and that they remained good pals for the rest of Thorleif's life.

Marriage to Gerd

Very shortly after arriving in Oslo, Torbjørn met a woman from his past. Gerd Ovidia Hansen, (1924-2005) a year younger than him, had been his childhood sweetheart, but as he had gone off to sea at such a young age, their relationship had never had the opportunity to develop. During the war, Gerd had been engaged to another man, and had taken part in the war effort in her own way by working in the illegal press in Oslo. Caught by the Nazis, she spent the rest of the war in bondage, doing hard labour on a farm outside the city.

Gerd and Torbjørn immediately reconnected, and the old spark was rekindled. On February 23, 1946, the couple got married in Paulus Church in Grünerløkka. Gerd was already several months pregnant. On July 7, 1946, she gave birth to her first child, a daughter who was named Kari - my grandmother. Two years later, Gerd gave birth to a second daughter, Mette.

At first, Torbjørn and Gerd lived in Grünerløkka, but they soon moved to Lørenskog, a town right next to Oslo, where Gerd's brother was running a small business. Although she was born in Oslo, Lørenskog is where my grandmother Kari grew up, going crayfishing in the nearby lake and exploring the locality with her friends. Lørenskog had a significant resident population of Romani people, and my grandmother connected with them on several occasions. My memory might be playing tricks on me, but I do believe I have heard that some of them knew that my grandmother was of Romani descent, and that they told her she was their relative. This is not an unlikely story, in light of recent research which shows that we are in fact distantly related to prominent Romani families in that area of Norway.

Torbjørn and Gerd were not well-off, and both had to work full hours to support their little family. Torbjørn started out as a factory worker and later worked as a window-cleaner in the city. Gerd was a housewife by day and a factory worker by night, stretching herself to the limits to provide her children with the ideal comforts of 1950s family life. Sometimes both parents would be away from the house at the same time, leaving the daughters home alone at night.

We are moving closer to our own time, and I will not recount Torbjørn's later life in detail, since others can do this much better than me. Having married Gerd and settled down in Lørenskog, Torbjørn seemed to live like an ordinary working-class man. That, indeed, is mostly how he spent the rest of his life. Torbjørn's last adventure happened in 1968, when he spent several months in Kongsvinger prison. I am not sure what his crime was, as none in our family remembers, and I have not seen the court documents. In our family we have always assumed that it was some kind of theft. My mother was three years old at the time, and she still remembers how my great-grandmother took her to visit Torbjørn in prison. While there, he did carpentry work, and among the things he made were a footstool and a doll bed for my mother, both of which are still in her possession.

Torbjørn wrote many letters to his wife from prison, describing his great love for her and their children and grandchildren (of whom only my mother and one of her sisters had been born at that time). He also described everyday life in prison, as well as the crimes of the other inmates, some of which were truly horrible. Torbjørn wrote that he repented his own crime very much, and that he felt he had betrayed Gerd; he wanted to be at home with his family, spending time with them and providing for them. He was released soon enough, and was never again convicted of any crime.

On December 23, 1985, Torbjørn passed away. Due to his traumatic experiences in the war, he had developed alcoholism, which had taken its toll on his health. Torbjørn was one of the many Norwegian krigsseilere, war sailors, who were not properly acknowledged for their effort during the war, and part of whose wages were actually held back until 1972. Although Torbjørn did eventually receive a medal near the end of his life (and another one posthumously), he refused to shake hands with the King. In 2013, the Minister of Defence, Anne-Grete Strøm Erichsen, gave a formal apology to the war sailors on behalf of the Norwegian government. Those words were also directed at Torbjørn, and by extension, to his family and descendants.

Torbjørn is remembered fondly by all who knew him. He is a grandfather and great-grandfather we can be very proud of.

Torbjørn Johansen is listed in Krigsseilerregisteret, the online War Sailor Register, which was established in 2016.

Take your African admixture seriously!

I recently took part in a Facebook discussion on genetic genealogy and admixture estimates in particular. Among other things, we discussed people being over-dismissive of African DNA. Several of us had noticed that a lot of people - especially people of European descent - have a tendency to dismiss African admixture out of hand much more often than any other kind of admixture. As a Norwegian, I have noted that some people will go to great lengths arguing that it is not just unlikely but practically impossible for Scandinavians, in particular, to have recent African ancestry. I find this very problematic, not because every Scandinavian has recent African ancestry (most of us probably don't), but because those claims are often based on very problematic assumptions or an outright lack of knowledge.

In this post, I will go through some common claims I have seen bandied about in Facebook threads and online forums about people of mainly European descent getting unexpected traces of African admixture.

Note: When referring to admixture estimates in this blog post, I am talking about original testing-company results; not GEDmatch calculators or other third-party tools. If used correctly, such tools can be extremely helpful in verifying and debunking African admixture, but they can also be noisy and must be interpreted with care.

The claims

"Your trace of African is just statistical noise."
This is probably the most common argument, and also the most sensible one. It is very possible that a small percentage might be statistical noise. However, to find out for sure whether something is real or noise, you need to be prepared to dig very, very deep, using techniques like Roberta Estes' Minority Admixture Mapping. If you do not have the time or motivation to do research at this level, that is OK, but if so, please refrain from making bold claims. It is perfectly fine to say "I don't know". DO NOT dismiss anything out of hand just because it doesn't fit your expectations.

A lot of white Americans go out of their way to prove Native American ancestry on the basis of extremely small admixture traces. This makes the widespread dismissiveness towards African admixture traces all the more peculiar, especially in the American context. It often seems to me to be a kind of special pleading with subtle undertones of racism.

"Your trace of African shows that you can never take admixture estimates seriously. If you come from Sweden, you can't have African DNA. It's impossible."
This shows a lack of historical knowledge, if not an outright racist agenda aimed at maintaining an image of Scandinavian people as "pure whites". Several well-documented African-descendants lived in Sweden as early as the 1700s, some of whom have large numbers of descendants and even dedicated lineage societies. Again, to find the truth, you have to dig deep. Even if you can't find a paper trail, perhaps you have an unknown NPE (non-paternity event) in your tree. Work with your cousin matches. Build trees. Create hypotheses and test them. This takes time and effort, but if you really want to know the truth, that is what you must do.

I found my Black Haitian ancestors this way.

"All humans come from Africa. That's what your trace of African DNA means."
Statements like this show a total lack of knowledge about how autosomal DNA mutates and recombines over time. The fact that all humans ultimately come from Africa means that even your European DNA is ultimately African in origin if we go back 70,000 years. Those 70,000 years of separation from African populations means that the admixture is no longer read as African, and if by chance an African-like ancestral segment has been passed on to you from that far back, it will be infinitesimally small. If your admixture estimate shows African percentages today, it almost certainly comes from much more recent times, quite possibly modern times (23andMe says their Ancestry Composition feature covers the last 500 years). Read up on colonialism and the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

"That trace of African just means you have DNA that is similar to people of African descent, and since many of them also have European ancestors, your so-called African admixture is probably just a misreading of European DNA."
No, that is not probable at all. Non-Africans are more closely related to each other than to present-day Africans, making African admixture very distinctive compared to the rest of the world. 23andMe's precision and recall rates for Africa and its subregions are very high. This, by the way, is another reason not to assume that African admixture is statistical noise.

Conclusion: Do not dismiss anything out of hand without doing research first! Your African admixture might well be real, and it deserves just as much care and attention as any other part of your admixture.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Ancestor stats!

In this post, I want to try to visualize some personal and geographical data about my ancestors. I decided to do this today because Facebook reminded me that I had done something very similar a year ago. Since I have made new genealogical discoveries since then, I have created brand new graphs for this blog post.

The charts are based on what I know about my 5th great-grandparents (tipp-tipp-tipp-tipp-oldeforeldre in Norwegian), 128 in all, born between 1723 and 1817.

(For other visualization ideas, see my blog post about colour-coded family tree charts.)

A couple of interesting things can be read from these graphs. First of all, the women in this generation tend to be a little bit older than the men, which is rather counter-intuitive. In addition, there is much less diversity in the women's names than in the men's names.

There is much more data among my 5th great-grandparents to present in graphs, such as occupations, social class, marriages vs. unwed relations, etc. However, I believe the six graphs above are sufficient to provide an illustration of the possibilities.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

The United Kingdom

This blog post is a summary of the genetic evidence for my family's connection to the United Kingdom. I've been playing with the thought of writing this for a long time, and today I finally got around to it

To be honest, I've never really travelled much in the UK. I've been to London three times (2000, 2004 and 2007), and attended a wonderful scout camp in Downe (2004). The places I saw were fascinating and beautiful, but I know that there is so much more to the UK that I haven't seen, and that 99% of the country is still completely unknown to me. This is something I will need to rectify, as it seems likely that I really do have recent ancestry from there.


The first piece of evidence is the Y-DNA of my grandmother's brother, my great-uncle I.-R. Lister. He belongs to a subclade of R1b-U106, and all his matches - except one - have English paternal lines. An FTDNA project administrator who specialized on this particular subclade, and with whom I have corresponded on numerous occasions, has stated that it looks very likely that my grandmother's paternal line is in fact of relatively recent English origin. However, interestingly, the lineage seems to have originally come to England from Scandinavia with Vikings!

The story in my grandmother's family has been that her grandfather (born 1857 in Farsund, Norway) was the illegitimate son of an Englishman, and that he took the name Lister (which he did, in 1900) at his mother's request as this was the surname of his biological father. The English Lister family from whom we supposedly descend can be traced back to a Bryan Lister (c. 1534-1607) of Bingley, Yorkshire. The whole of Yorkshire was under Danish and Norwegian rule for a long time, from the mid-9th century up until the Norman conquest in 1066. The Y-DNA, in other words, matches the family story very well. The FTDNA administrator agrees.

The location of Bingley within the British Isles (Google Maps).

Autosomal DNA

Several of my close relatives have done the Family Finder test at FTDNA, and all of them get significant amounts of "British Isles" admixture. It is difficult to know how much of this is real recent British ancestry, how much comes from prehistoric or Viking Age migrations, and how much is a misreading of Scandinavian or Western European DNA due to ancient shared origins. For most of my relatives, the "British Isles" percentage does not seem to reflect recent British ancestry. However, my grandmother's brother might be a different case. He has 14% British Isles at FTDNA, which is still within the normal range for a Norwegian and therefore difficult to assess.

I am the only one in my family who has tested at 23andMe. My Ancestry Composition result is quite interesting. First of all, it shows that I have 4.4% "British & Irish" admixture. According to my chromosome painting, one whole copy of my chromosome 9 is completely "British & Irish", which indicates that this admixture could come from a recent ancestor. If it was very distant, it would have been broken up into smaller pieces due to the recombination that happens in every generation.

Analyzing my matches, 23andMe has even concluded that I probably have ancestors who lived specifically in the United Kingdom (as opposed to Ireland) within the last 200 years.

It is clear, in my opinion, that I have some ancestral connection to the United Kingdom in a relatively recent timeframe.

My amount of British DNA at 23andMe (4.4%) is roughly consistent with a 3rd great-grandfather, even allowing for some statistical noise. The 200 years timeframe also fits perfectly (my supposed English 3rd great-grandfather was born in 1827). Seen in combination with my grandmother's brother's Y-DNA, I believe it is likely that our family story is true; that my grandmother does indeed have an English great-grandfather and that her surname Lister is of Yorkshire origin.

Bingley, the ancestral village of the Lister family. It is a place I must visit. Photographer: Graeme Mitchell (source). License: Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license 2.0.

The caveats

Of course, nothing in genetic genealogy is simple, and there are two caveats to the Lister conclusion.

The first caveat concerns the alleged NPE itself. My grandmother's brother does have an autosomal match to a relative of his grandfather's official father (from Vanse). More precisely, a great-great-grandson of the official father's sister. Does this mean that the England story is wrong? The aforementioned FTDNA admin puts more store in the Y-DNA and thinks it is more likely that the Vanse match connects through a different line. My great-great-grandfather's mother, the woman who allegedly had an affair with the Englishman, was also from Vanse, so there are many opportunities for Vanse links further back.

The second caveat has to do with the fact that my grandmother's brother does not have any Listers in his Y-DNA match list. This means that even if the England story is correct, our English ancestor might not have been a Lister. I have tried to find a Lister Y-DNA project, but it does not seem to exist. Perhaps this question will be resolved in the future, as more people test.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Remembering the Invasion

Today marks the 78th anniversary of the Nazi German invasion of Norway on April 9th, 1940. Norway was occupied by the Nazis for five years, until May 8th, 1945.

Many Norwegians were complicit in the atrocities committed by the Nazis during the occupation period. More than 770 Norwegian Jews were deported to German death camps, with the assistance of the Norwegian police force and other Norwegians. More than 760 of those Jews died. The Norwegian Roma had been shut out and stripped of their citizenship several years earlier by the independent Norwegian government, while trying to get home after travelling in Germany. Most of them, too, died in Nazi concentration camps. Many Norwegians were members of the local Nazi party Nasjonal Samling and actively supported Nazi ideology, including my great-great-aunt and her husband.

However, many Norwegians also fought heroically in the Resistance against the occupation, and many took part in the war effort abroad, risking their lives on land and at sea in the fight against Hitler. My great-grandfather Inge (whose sister was an active Nazi) was part of the Resistance, but was outed, and a bounty was placed on his head. The whole family - father, mother and three small children - had to flee to Sweden, where they lived as refugees. Another great-grandfather of mine, Torbjørn, was a sailor in the Merchant Fleet and took part in the Murmansk convoys. He saw action at sea several times, including the Battle of the North Cape in 1943. In 1944, not yet 21 years old, he took part in the landings at Normandy. He returned to Norway in late 1945 after almost a decade abroad. His experiences took their toll on him, and he suffered from alcoholism until the end of his life.

While remembering brave men like these, let us also not forget that women, too, took part in the war effort in many ways. My great-grandmother Gerd was active in the illegal press in Oslo, but was caught by the Nazis and sentenced to hard labour, picking turnips at a farm in Blaker.

Our grandparents and great-grandparents had the courage of their convictions. Their blood runs in our veins. Those of us whose families were allies of Hitler should not be ashamed but remember that the Nazis, too, fought for their beliefs, although those beliefs were misguided. We are not bound to the destiny of our ancestors. We must draw on their strengths and leave their weaknesses behind. Hateful ideologies are once again on the rise; two days ago, Neo-Nazis marched in my mother's town, Fredrikstad. In these turbulent times, let us hold firmly on to the values of love, respect and freedom for all, so that we, too, may help create a better world; and if we must go to war, that we do so for the right causes.

And I wish a happy birthday to my wonderful grandmother Gunvor, who is 77 years old today and still remembers her days as a refugee child.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

A Brasileira in Norway in the 1600s

Until now, I've mostly blogged about my own family history and written technical reviews of DNA analysis sites and apps. However, the world is bigger than one's own back yard, and from now on, I will also blog about historical persons and events that are not necessarily directly connected to myself.

One of my main interests within the fields of genealogy and history is the concept of migration, especially inter-continental migrations in the early modern era, and particularly migrations into Norway from other continents. Many people mistakenly believe that up until very recent times, Norway has been solely a source of emigration and not a destination for immigrants. This, however, is wrong, a point I have made in several earlier blog posts (this and this and this and this and this).

Some early immigrants to Norway came from very distant shores. One of them was Anna Catharina Stricht van Hoffmerssel (1651-1731). She was born on 17 December 1651 in the town of Recife, then called Mauritsstad or Mauritius, which was the capital of Dutch Brazil. Her father, Abraham, was commissary general of the Dutch artillery in Brazil; her mother was Catharina Alberts. The names of both parents suggest Dutch origins, but neither Abraham's nor Catharina's ancestors are known, and there might well be other ethnicities in their backgrounds in addition to Dutch. Recife/Mauritsstad started out as a Portuguese settlement, and it is not unlikely that Anna Catharina Stricht van Hoffmerssel had some Portuguese ancestors, maybe even Sephardic Jewish and Native American ones.

Mauritsstad in 1645, close to the time of Anna Catharina's birth. Engraving by Peter Schenck the Elder, after a drawing by Frans Post. Source. This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 100 years or less.

As a young girl, Anna Catharina travelled to Europe on what must have been a long and difficult sea voyage, and on 13 March 1667, at the age of 15, she married Danish civil servant Peter Drejer (Dreyer). Peter, who passed away in 1703, is rather famous, and has his own article in the Norwegian Biographic Encyclopedia. He was from Denmark, but had an international career; among other things, he was Embassy Secretary in London in 1663-64.

In 1668, Peter, who wanter a "calmer" position, was appointed vice lawspeaker of Trondheim in Norway. He rose in the ranks of the Norwegian (Dano-Norwegian) civil service and also became a director of the Kvikne copperworks. At home, however, things were less easy. As the Norwegian Biographic Encyclopedia tells us, his wife Anna Catharina "had a difficult mood", and "Peter Drejer's notorious infidelities did not make matters easier". Peter ended up leaving Trondheim, quitting his position as lawspeaker and "fleeing to Denmark" (!) while his wife stayed behind in Trondheim where she died in 1731, almost three decades after her husband.

Peter Drejer and Anna Catharina Stricht van Hoffmerssel had four children, two sons and two daughters, and there is a large number of descendants living today.

The Brazilian origin of Anna Catharina is no secret among Norwegian genealogists, and she is mentioned in a number of online family trees (e.g. here and here and here). However, she is rarely discussed outside her circle of descendants (one public discussion can be found here), and I don't think the majority of Norwegians - or Brazilians, for that matter! - are aware that at least one Brazilian lived in Norway in the 17th century.