Finding Norwegian Roots

Part of the village of Øksendal in the municipality of Sunndalsøra, where Kathi found her roots.

In this nation of immigrants, most of us can trace our ancestry back to pioneers of one kind or other. My adventurous stepdaughter, Kathi, lives in Naples, Italy, and takes the opportunity to travel in many European countries. Most recently she set out for Norway to find Sunndal, the community her great-grandfather, Jon Anderssen Husby, left in 1882, when he emigrated to the Pacific Northwest at the age of 19.

With information provided by Don Reinseth, a distant cousin in Washington State, and armed with a great deal of pioneering boldness, she found where Jon was born, the house where he was raised, and the farm where he worked before emigrating. She also found a number of relatives she didn’t know she had.

Due to the modern electronic miracles of e-mail and Facebook, she was able to share her research, her adventures as they happened, and pictures as well.

The sun breaks through on the Øksendal pier, at the tip of the Sunndalsøra fjord.

In her Sunndalsøra hotel, Kathi met a girl who Googled the Norway phone pages in both Sunndalsøra and nearby Øksendal for Husbys and gave her directions to the nursing home. Along the way Kathi took dozens of photos of Husby grave markers, in cemeteries that dated back to the 1200s.

Five patients in the nursing home were named Husby, but all were too sick to talk to her. An assistant and a guest there looked at her telephone list and recommended that she talk to a man named Per Steiner Husby. With help from the clerk at the Øksendal store (also named Husby), she found the Per Steiner Husby farm. Per and his wife had already received two calls telling them that an American was looking for them.

They pulled out volumes of family history that have been compiled back to before the 1700s but couldn’t seem to find Jon (pronounced Yone) Andersson Husby. So they called another cousin, Helge Husby, who turned out to be one of the contacts Kathi had been given by Don Reinseth in America. It was Helge’s opinion that Jon Andersson Husby was actually born Jon Andersson (Anderssen) Sjølset (Sjølseth). Because the birth dates and American emigration dates match, he believes that they were the same person.

Per’s wife took Kathi to see the place where Jon lived as a young man. The house was not the original, but some of the other structures, including the boathouse, were present when Jon lived there.

Later, Marie Husby, the clerk from the little store, took her to see another family. They poured over a volume of family histories from Øksendal, excitedly turning pages and making phone calls. Then they took her to a farm called the Sjølseth/Sjølseth farm. They had also deduced that Jon Anderssen Husby was born to Anders Larsen from the Sjølseth farm and that, indeed, Jon actually was born Jon Anderssen Sjølseth. (People often took the place names of where they lived as their surnames.) Jon had evidently changed his name to Husby at some later date. Perhaps the immigration officials in America could neither pronounce or spell Sjølseth, so he gave them a name they could handle.

However it happened, Kathi found herself standing on the ground in Norway where both her great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather had lived, surrounded by newly found relatives.
She still has unanswered questions. Why did Jon leave the beautiful fjords and farms of Norway to become a logger in Western Washington? Why did his descendants on both sides of the Atlantic lose track of each other? Why is so little known of his story?

It’s up to pioneering modern-day researchers like Kathi to fill in the blanks of the past.

This is the farm where both Jon and his father worked. Kathy can’t officially determine that it was a Husby farm. If Jon’s father was not an oldest son, then he would not have had his own farm. In that case, they would probably have worked for someone else. If that someone else had been a Husby, that might explain why Jon took that last name. Husby is also the name for “house by a city” or for a group of houses. So Jon could have taken the name for a neighborhood. The original farmhouse is on the left. All photos by Kathi Ferguson

Snohomish County’s Favorite Hike…The Big 4 Ice Caves

Early visitors at the ice caves.
Photo courtesty of Granite Falls Historical Museum

Hot Weather Weakens Ice Caves. This recent headline told a familiar story. The ice caves at Big Four Mountain are a favorite hiking destination for people in our part of Washington State and have been ever since Big Four Resort was built in 1921 at the foot of its namesake mountain.

Every spring, snow avalanches fall from Big Four’s sheer cliffs and pack to glacier hardness. Cascading waterfalls burrow under the ice, forming caves that tempt the ignorant or foolhardy to enter. Almost every year, in spite of warning signs at the trailhead, someone is hurt. A few people have died under collapsing ice. The newspaper story in question was triggered by another such incident. Someone, probably climbing on the glaciers or the cliffs above, had slipped and fallen. Rescuers passed through one of the caves to help him, and got out just as chunks of ice came crashing down behind them.

But for those who use good sense, the ice caves make a spectacular outing. The trail is smooth and mostly level for a good part of its one-mile length, making it handicapped-accessible to and even past the newly installed bridge over the Stillaguamish. It begins as a plank walkway over wetlands, where you can lean over a railing to watch small trout schooling in the shallow water. Walkers have a choice of turning off on a trail which loops back to the trailhead via the roadbed of the old Everett to Monte Cristo Railroad or continuing on through some old growth trees to the river and up to the foot of the mountain.

Steve and Lenora Anderson on the new metal bridge

Beyond the bridge, the stream from the glaciers enters the river and the trail begins a moderate climb. Along the way, hikers see all stages in the life of the forest, from seedlings growing on nurse logs to decaying snags that house bugs and birds. Once we were lucky enough to see one of these snags topple to the ground without warning. We were also fortunate to be far enough away that the many-ton behemoth missed us!

Yes, if a tree falls in the forest, it does make a noise.

The last part of the trail is the most difficult. A recent winter’s avalanches, adding to the devastation of previous slides, snapped trees in half or completely uprooted them. One of the avalanches took out part of the trail, necessitating a detour. But the new gaps in the forest afford one a sneak preview of what awaits around the last corner. The massive wall of rock, with snowfields sloping upward from the base, is breathtaking.

Below: Avalanche passed this way

Up close, wildflowers springing from newly uncovered ground bloom madly to finish their cycles before snow comes again.

Tiger lilies and budding fireweed

In fact, in whichever direction you turn, the scene is breathtaking, even with a summer’s worth of dirt begriming the glaciers. Just remember, if you go, obey the signs warning against too close an inspection!

Snowfields at the base of Big Four

Don’t climb on this cave’s roof !

Cooling off in the rush of chill air from the caves

Feeling close to creation and its Creator

In Defense of Big Families

Delbert Rawlins and his five offspring, in the doorway of our “new” house.

Today, big families are the stuff of TV reality shows.
In my grandparents’ generation, they were simply reality. Grandmother Rawlins raised seven children. Grandma Schmidt gave birth to eleven, eight of whom lived to adulthood.

Those fifteen children raised smaller families, but still, having four or more babies wasn’t unusual. In the next generation, the size of the families dwindled to two or three children. And now our children are raising children…maybe. Of the five siblings in my immediate family, several of their offspring have no children. Four of the offspring have one child apiece. Only one had as many as four babies.

There are lots of reasons for this. Almost every mother is expected to work outside the home today. Children are not needed to help with the family workload like they were in their grandparent’s day. Young people expect to have a career and to make a good living before they even think about having families, and some wait until their biological clocks are on their last ticks.

Years ago I asked my dad why, when making enough money to live on was so difficult, he and Mom had had so many children, so closely spaced. He looked nonplused. “They just came,” he said.

I had barely turned six when brother David, the last of us, was born. Five children in six years and one month! Poor Mom scarcely had time to recover from the last birth before becoming pregnant again. She said she cried when she realized another baby was on the way. An aunt who prided herself at having stopped at two well-spaced siblings criticized our parents for having “all those children” so close together. “How do you expect to care for them when times are so hard?”

We children were blissfully unaware of all that. We didn’t even know that a new brother was joining the family until the evening Daddy picked us up from various neighbors who’d been caring for us for nearly ten days. He drove us to the hospital in Everett.

Daddy left us in the car with an admonition to be good. “I’ll be right back with a surprise,” he said. In minutes the doors of the hospital swung open. Light flooded out, and we saw a white-uniformed nurse pushing a wheelchair toward our old car. Mama sat in the wheelchair, holding a bundle on her lap.

Daddy stowed her suitcase in the trunk, then took the bundle while the nurse helped Mama into the car. He placed the bundle in Mama’s arms as we children crowded close to the back of the bench seat to hug and greet her. She turned around with smiles and a few tears at seeing us again. Of that moment, she later said, “I’ll never forget all those little round faces peering like moons over the seat back.”

Then the bundle squirmed and made odd little noises. Mama folded back the blanket to show us little-round-face number five, twisting itself into an outraged wail. We had a new baby, and with five children in the family, we would never lack for someone to fight with or have fun with.

Children are precious and should be treasured. There’s a lot to be said for big families.

Baby Grace Mooring makes new friends at a family reunion.


A glance at the clock this morning told me it was time to get up. But something was amiss. The bright sunshine which has greeted us most mornings this summer had taken temporary vacation. Gray light filtered through the blinds. Overcast skies threatened rain…needed, of course, but not particularly appreciated. We’ve been spoiled!

On the other hand, most of us like variety. Daughter Lenora in Tucson, Arizona, called yesterday to say that it was cool enough to leave the house and sit on her patio. For her, that was cause to celebrate!

Here in western Washington, we comment when the wind kicks up. Evenings we stand at the window to enjoy the interplay of setting sun, clouds, and salt water. We love storms, too. At dusk recently, we walked down the street, marveling at the light show going on in dark clouds over the Cascade foothills. The sky above us was clear, the thunder too far away to hear, but the show was better than fireworks…and just as dangerous in our dry forests.

(One of many lightning-caused fires smolders in the western foothills. This one is too small for serious concern but officials keep an eye on it.)

On the east side of the Cascades, wildfire is a constant hazard. This summer a number of lightning-caused fires sent firefighters from all over the state to try to save property. Friend Carolyn and her husband recently moved to Omak in the northern part of central Washington. They love it there, but in two years they’ve watched two fires from their home.

Here’s what she wrote about the most recent conflagration:

“We saw it begin this afternoon. Three little tan wisps of smoke curled slowly into the sky behind the hills in the west. They didn’t look like much, just a bit of smoke that would soon disappear.

“A couple of hours later, the sky began to take on a grayish cast. Joe tuned into the sheriff’s radio frequency. Bits and pieces of conversation crackled. Fire units called to Buzzard Lake. Evacuations likely. Old Highway 97 closed.

“We looked to the west again. A burnished orange glow backlit the hills, with smudgy brown clouds billowing above. A brisk north wind blew the ugly clouds toward the south. By supper time the orange glow became a neon light on the hilltop. The entire sky turned brown and gray and white. Dusk deepened as the orange glow pulsed, turning red, back to orange, then fading only to reappear and begin again, all the while moving behind the hills to the south. Monotone voices on the radio droned about road closures and shifting firefighter units. They gave directions for citizens seeking evacuations.

“Since we worried that some of our property might be in the fire’s path, we hopped into the truck and headed south on Highway 97,parallel to what we thought was a fading fire. Out beyond the town, the sky turned black. Then the acrid smell of smoke began stinging our lungs,and cinders and bits of blackened foliage floated down in front of the truck. About 6 miles south, we couldn’t believe our eyes. A jagged line of red orange flame exploded out of the night and burned angrily down a steep hillside toward an access road. Looking above the fire to the top of the hill, we could see a second line of fire streaming down the other side. Black smoke billowed above flames which looked like molten lava.

Credit: Al Camp/The Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle

“Enough. We turned around and headed home. We are grateful for professional firefighters who have gotten all residents safely out of harm’s way, for family and friends who have taken them in, who are monitoring the flames and doing all they can to protect livestock and property. Nothing else can be done till morning.”

Several days later, Carolyn wrote:

“By Saturday morning, the flames on this side of the hills had been extinguished. A layer of smoke like cotton batting lay over Malott (a nearby town) and wrapped around the hills. The fire now had a name–the Oden Road fire. Two residences and a vacation home were destroyed.”

By Tuesday, Carolyn said, the fire was mostly out, with only a smoky haze still drifting up and down the valley.

East-siders and “coasties” alike, we’re much aware of the hazards of wildfire. As we watch the current destructive fires overrunning hills and residences in southern California, we are grateful for the sacrifices of firefighters and others whose work keeps us safe.