Tracing Norwegians

Somewhere, in one of the relative’s collections, there is a photo of my great-great grandmother Karen Austvoll – saying goodbye to her sons as they leave for America, circa 1885. A rather unusual photo for that era – no one is dressed up in their Sunday clothes – the shot seems almost candid. Karen, or “Mutti” as she was affectionately known, appears distraught with all the sadness evident on her face of a mother who will likely never see her sons again.

John Jacobsen Hodnefield

Karen “Mutti” Austvoll’s husband, John Jakob Hodnefjel

In the background are stone fences reminiscent of a scene from “Fiddler on the Roof.” Her clothing could be from the same film, with an everyday shawl and babushka type head covering. There is nothing of the studied soberness of more elegant family photos.

Karen Østvold 2


As it turned out, she saw at least one son again. Within the next year, Jon, her husband, died. It was impressed upon the sons that someone would have to return to Norway and run Austvollgaard, the farm, and the Hoyland Bank. How the decision was made is unclear, but his descendants in Norway say Halvard did not want to return from America. He did, and lived out his years at Austvollgaard. His great-great-grandson, Rune Austvoll, with wife, Rita. live there still. When they visited us in America, they told us house is 500 years old, and they were told there was documentation that the land has been in the family for 800 years.

Halvor Ostvold

Halvard, who returned to Norway from America to take over the family farm

Some time, after Halvard returned from America to Norway – they wished to level out a raised area to make a garden. As they leveled the area, they found the king. Apparently he was the King of Austvoll – kind of like being the “King of the Neighborhood.” Autvoll was originally about 1000 hectares and the King was from about 800 AD. They found his sword, his brooch, and a “holystone – used in blood sacrifice.” They believed he was an ancestor.

Research shows oral tradition can sometimes be off a bit. Rita now says the family has lived there since 1600. The family name, “Austvoll” bears this out. Norwegian sur-names don’t necessarily follow the male line – especially when it comes to place names. If the farm goes to one of the daughters of the family – her husband will take her name. This has happened at least twice, probably more, with the Austvoll (Eastvold) name. Karen Austvoll – of the babushka – was always Karen Austvoll. Her husband, born Jon Jakobsen Hodnefjel, took her sur-name after marriage. It appears that Ingeborg, an ancestor born in 1681, has the surname “Arsvoll,” while her husband’s place-name surname is “Heigre.” When the Heigres came to America this was anglicized to “Rage (pronounced Ray-gee).” A Rage is married to one of of my great aunts – on the Dahl, not Eastvold, side. Heigre is a place about 5 km from Austvoll. Arsvoll and Austvoll, as place-names, are almost side by side, and, if I’m reading Google Maps correctly, you have to drive on Austvoll road, then Arsvoll road, to get to Sandness – the nearest town.

The family tree gets very strange in the 1600s. One wife is 20 when her husband is 70. They manage to have two children before he dies, and each has at least two spouses – including her new husband. It looks like a mess – - with everyone waiting around to inherit the farm. Though the Norsk doesn’t translate well – it looks as though her daughter is “shoved” off the farm in her old age.

The Eastvold family seems to stay in Rogaland County, none more than 5 km apart over hundreds of years – while the Dahl side of the family is more centrally located near Oslo, Norway, at Buskerud, and Drammen – also Tylldal – which is further north.

John Eastvold II

My ancestor, Jon Eastvold – who came to America in 1885

Copyright © 2014 Carl Eastvold

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