Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Upper and Lower Lerbergs

The Lower Lerberg Farm

I went to Norway with modest expectations—cautious optimism. For instance, I did not go hoping to find any living relatives. My entire family from Valdres—my great-great grandparents and their ten children—left for the New World in 1849. My tiny family from Hallingdal—the other set of great-great grandparents and their two surviving children—made the journey in 1852. It is true that some of my great-greats had left siblings behind who might have produced peripheral cousins, but since I had no solid information on the existence of anyone who would qualify as being a cousin of mine, any pressure of searching for such a person was removed.

Another hope I did not harbor was that of finding the gravestones of my ancestors. I knew they wouldn't be there. There is limited space in the church yards, and if there are no living descendents to pay for the upkeep of the graves, those graves are given over to more recently deceased church members and the gravestones are yanked. Sometimes they are leaned against a wall of the church or against the graveyard fence for a while, so that some lucky searchers are able to find them before those expired markers are finally, inevitably, permanently disposed of. What's left of the contents of the grave are dug up to make room for a new occupant. And so I carried no illusions that, on lichen-covered gravestones, I might read the names that had become so familiar to me through my research. There was no one left to be buried or to tend to the buried.

I have to say, it did occur to me to wonder if, when I arrived in the town of Aal, I would look around at the faces in the streets or in the shops—and see people who looked like me. I had heard of that happening. In fact, one of the women in the Valdres group who was back for a second visit, told of just such an occurrence: She had gone to the farm where her ancestors had lived to meet a relative who was currently living there. When this relative opened the door and they saw each other face to face, Kristin thought she was looking in a mirror. I did not have such an experience, but it was no great loss or disappointment to me.

So, in the absence of gravestones or living relatives or spitting images, what was I hoping for? Well, it was this: To find the farms where my ancestors had lived and tilled the soil. That wish was in fact granted. In Hallingdal, I had the great fortune to find the Lerberg farm where Knud Halvorsen Lerberg, his wife Ragnild, his daughter Bergit (my great grandmother) and his son Peder, lived until 1852. And the way this came about, I never could have anticipated.

Shortly before I left for Norway, I had unexpectedly received an invitation from a Lars Stavehaug to attend his family reunion near the town of Aal, where the Lerberg farm was. Lars was a fellow Halling who had also made use of my genealogist's services, and she had put us in touch with each other. The reunion just happened to be scheduled during the time I would be in Hallingdal, so I happily accepted. I wasn't quite sure why I was being invited to a Stavehaug family reunion, but I thought, “Why not? Even though it isn't my family reunion, it's bound to be interesting. I won't be meeting relatives, but I might meet people whose ancestors were neighbors of my ancestors.” Well, to make a long story short, it turns out it was not a Stavehaug family reunion. The sign in the hotel lobby pointed the way to the location of ....drum roll, please....the Lerberg family reunion.

Now before you get too amazed, I have to remind you that the Lerberg name is the farm name and therefore does not necessarily indicate kinship. (See my Bergit Who? post.) And so the Lerbergs I met at this reunion did not share my DNA, but their ancestors lived where my Lerbergs lived. Well, actually, they lived near my Lerbergs. Because it was the Lower Lerberg farm that was home to Knud, Ragnild, Bergit and Peder—my Lerbergs. These present-day Lerbergs I was meeting were descended from the Upper Lerberg farm folk. I know, I know—it is increasingly convoluted, and I'm sorry.  


But the good news is that the following day, three cars full of Upper Lerbergs were planning to visit the family farm and they were willing to take this eager Lower Lerberg with them. From the Upper farm I was told I would be able to look down to see the fields of the Lower. Because of time constraints, it would not be possible to actually drive to it—it was not connected by road to the Upper. Even so, I was elated—I was to see the homestead.

The next morning arrived—gray , rainy, foggy. When, after several wrong turns, our caravan finally arrived at the Upper, we could barely see from the farm house to the barn, let alone to the field downhill from the farm. I contented myself with standing where I could look in the direction of the Lower Lerberg farm and imagine what it might look like. But then miraculously the clouds lifted and I could see! The field, the trees, a ramshackle building, the roof of another whose walls were hidden by encroaching woods. I could see them. Of course, it was still quite misty, so my photos of the Lerberg farm are a little Monet-like. But still...there it is, the Lower Lerberg farm!

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