May 17 is Norwegian Constitution Day, a commemoration of the adoption of Norway’s constitution in 1814. Many Norwegian-American communities celebrate the holiday in the United States.
A. H. Bratferg was among the many Norwegians who immigrated to the Upper Midwest and Northern Great Plains in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Born in 1856, he set sail for America with his parents, brother, and sister from Ringsager, Norway, in 1860. Sylvan Lee recorded in an oral history interview:
Upon landing in New York they boarded a freight train and came to La Crosse, Wisconsin. This town was but a mere lumbering camp and had no depot. The family was dumped off the train, bag and baggage at a point near the present Mill Street crossing, where they awaited the arrival of John Kjos who was to meet them and conduct them to their future home.
Sylvan Lee, “Pioneer Days of A. H. Bratferg.” American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940. Manuscript Division
My parents came from Norway and settled in Chicago, where my father was a carpenter, he helped to rebuild after the great fire of 1772…. My father came to Nebraska and homesteaded in what is now known as North Branch, Boone County. He came alone. He put up a sod house and some sheds for the stock and when he was ready to send for us every think [sic] burned down. So he had to put up more buildings and when we [went] to Nebraska in a moving wagon, mother, brother and myself…
Fay Levos, “Inger Watland,” Petersburg, Nebraska, February 26, 1940. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940. Manuscript Division
The Bratferg and Watland families were part of the large wave of Norwegian immigrants who came to the U.S. during the late 1840s through the 1860s. These pioneers came to better their economic and social conditions, largely settling in Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and the Dakotas. Their strong religious heritage was evidenced in the construction of many Lutheran churches and colleges, such as St. Olaf College founded in Northfield, Minnesota in 1874.
The Norwegian immigrants brought their musical traditions with them. “Paal paa Haugje“ (Paul on the Hill) forms part of a group of field materials documenting Norwegian songs performed on February 18, 1939, by Alf Nilsson, originally from the Lofoten Islands of northern Norway. His songs were collected by Sidney Robertson Cowell in Carmel, California and form part of the collection California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties.
- Read more Norwegian-American memories by searching on Norway or Norwegian in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940.
- Digital Horizons: Life on the Northern Plains External includes several hand-colored photographs of Norwegian immigrants and their descendants; search the collection on Norwegian.
- Pioneering the Upper Midwest: Books from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, ca. 1820-1910 includes a wide variety of written materials portraying life in this part of the country ranging from the seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries. Search the collection on Norwegian to learn more about the Norwegian immigrants who populated the Upper Midwest.
- The Map Collections include early maps of a number of Midwestern cities where Norwegian immigrants settled, such as Chicago, Minneapolis, and La Crosse. Follow the instructions presented with each map to zoom in on houses, paddle wheelers, horse drawn carts, the aftermath of the Chicago Fire, and much more in fine and accurate detail.
- Search Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers on Norwegian-Americans, Norwegian immigrants, or other terms of interest to find hundreds of newspaper articles.
- Search on Norway or Norwegian for photographs in the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives collection.
- View an intoduction to Norwegian-American Immigration and Local History from the Library’s Local History and Genealogy Reference Services.