Saturday, November 3, 2012

Infusing a Passion for Ancestors in the Next Generation

"Tell me that story again, Grandma," my four year old granddaughter Alyssa pleaded.  "Which one?" "The one about the boy who fell in love with the pretty girl," she replied.  Oh yes, that would be the story of how my grandfather, Adolph, met my grandmother, Agnes, in Norway.

Agnes and Adolph
She loves the story about how this 14-year-old boy and his father, Andreas Larsen, went inland to grind their grain, and were caught in a bad storm.  They sought refuge at the farm of Justin Frendal, and it was then that Adolph first met Justin's beautiful daughter, Agnes, and could not get her off his mind.  Some time later, Adolph accompanied his father to the Frendal sawmill to cut timber, and caught Agnes' attention in return.  As was the custom at that time in Norway, Agnes was hired out to another family to help with the household work, and oddly enough (or maybe not so odd), she ended up in the household of Andreas Larsen, and the rest is history - family history.

Thanks to the remembrances of uncles, aunts, and distant family overseas, we are fortunate to know some of the personal stories and events that breathe life into the bare facts of this couples' existence.

Like most little girls, Alyssa loves the wonderful romantic element that is the core of the story, but without realizing it, she is learning something of Norwegian geography and customs.  After telling her this story several times, we looked at pictures of the fjords; we looked at maps showing where the Larsen farm was in relation to the Frendal farm and the sea that separated them; we learned what Agnes' life was like as a girl growing up in a different land.  She learned what the immigration experience was like as Adolph and Agnes left their families and homeland, and the simultaneous hope for the future and the sadness that Agnes would not see her family again.  She has seen pictures of the Oscar II, the huge ship that carried the young couple to the land we call home today.

But the best part for me was watching her eyes open wide when I told her that her Grandpa Wally, whom she knows well, was their little boy.  Suddenly the fairy tale prince and princess became quite real, and best of all, they became HERS.

In all this, we need to be careful to keep it truthful.  I have to admit, there was some disappointment when I discovered that my German ancestral grandfather Nicholas, did not meet his beautiful French bride Dorothea Francine, while fighting in a war in France.  Nicholas, in fact, had no military experience - he was a widower with two young boys, and "Dorothea Francine" was actually Franken Dorothea, a poor German woman with a little girl.  However, they had their own stories of adventure, determination and struggles with the German government, and building "something" from "nothing."  Looking at their lives and challenges in the context of what was happening in their personal lives, their country, and in the world, makes for an interesting story in itself.  There is no need to embellish the facts to make their story an interesting one.

Of course, not all family stories are going to appeal to all children, but hopefully the realization that Adolph and Agnes were Alyssa's people, and they have an interesting story, will lead her to wonder about her other ancestors as well - Martin Adams, the Revolutionary War Patriot who was a drummer just like her grandpa; Rebecca Lair, the poor widow with nothing who ended up being a landowner; John Adams, the gold miner in the California Gold Rush; Grandma Lisa, who experienced the Nazi invasion of Norway firsthand, among others.  Knowing that these were her people, and their blood flows through her veins will hopefully create a thirst in her for more.


  1. Oh, Karen, you are so fortunate to have such stories to share! What a sweet image of your granddaughter asking for the story and then making the connection between its individuals and her grandfather. Family history doesn't get much better than that!

    1. Oh, you are so right, Nancy! I'm so blessed to have a little one showing interest. Thanks for your comment!