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Kristianafjord, Stavanger to Ellis Island

Tracing Our Roots: Scandinavian Immigration

It's evident that unless our lineage ties back to the indigenous inhabitants of the United States, we all hail from somewhere else. Our family's origins lie in Norway. Between roughly 1820 and 1920, over two million Scandinavian immigrants made their way to the United States, with about half originating from Sweden, a third from Norway, and the rest from other Scandinavian nations.

Their migration to North America stemmed from various reasons. Some sought refuge from economic hardships or societal and political discontent in Scandinavia. For many, the encouragement of family or friends who had already settled in the States played a pivotal role, as was the case with our paternal grandfather.  At the age of 19, he traveled with his brother on the Kristianafjord from Stavanger, Norway to Ellis Island, arriving on February 20, 1915.

During the peak of migration, most Scandinavian immigrants found their first homes in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota, later venturing westward with the expansion of railroads. They tended to cluster where fellow countrymen resided. Once settled, unmarried men often sought companionship within their community, sometimes marrying women from their homeland or among relatives or acquaintances. Grandpa met our grandmother in Illinois. Interestingly, one of his brothers was married to our grandmother's sister. Together, our paternal grandparents raised nine children—seven boys and two girls—on an Illinois farm.

Our grandfather's narrative mirrors that of countless immigrants to the United States, and the saga of Scandinavian immigrants resonates with those from diverse cultural backgrounds. While it may not be an extraordinary tale, what stands out is how many of us in the United States share this common journey.

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