As time fades away, history has a tendency to fade along with it.
But for the many members of Bygdelagenes Fellesraad, a national council comprised of descendants of emigrants from Norway to North America, they are attempting to preserve and strengthen historical bonds with their home districts or communities of origin in Norway.
There are five regions of Norway that are further divided into 19 administrative districts. Each province had many families and individuals immigrate to the United States many years ago.
There are descendants of these immigrants throughout the United States who belong to bygdelags or “lags” that represent these various districts of Norway and hold annual conferences or meetings known as a stevne.
There are nine lags that hold annual meetings in Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota this year. Several of the lags include more than one of the Norwegian districts.
“I think heritage is important,” said Shirley Sampson, president of the Nordlandslag, which recently met in Granite Falls for its 110th annual stevne. “My grandfather, Iver Iverson, was a charter member.”
Sampson is stepping down after four years as president after this year, but will continue to be the editor of the quarterly newsletter for her lag.
“Since joining the lag, I have found a lot of people that I am related to,” she said. “It’s very interesting to learn about all of our ancestors.”
Nordslandslag, which includes the districts of Finnmark, Troms and Nordland in northernmost Norway, was formed in 1909 for those who had ancestors in the aforementioned counties.
“Only about 5 percent of the population of Norway comes from these three districts,” said Mike Wick, of Eagan, a member of Norlandslag for the past 10 years. “It wasn’t a good area for farming, and still isn’t, so not a lot of people lived there. So our lag might not be as big as others because there were less ancestors living there.”
There are approximately 200 members in Nordlandslag, but because many of them are scattered throughout the United States, they are unable to attend the stevne, but remain active through social media, websites and quarterly newsletters.
Elaine Hasleton, of Utah, has been president of Fellesraad for the past three years.
“Since my husband and I are both natives of Alexandria (Minn.) and 100 percent Norwegian, we are members of seven different lags for the past 10-plus years,” she said.
Hasleton feels strongly about the importance of the various lags and the influence they can have on Norwegian heritage, specifically the localities where the members’ ancestors originated.
“Meeting yearly at a stevne, we can renew our friendships with other Lag members who have ancestors from the same locality in Norway,” she said. “And we can meet new people with ancestors from that same locality.
“Frequently, lag members are related to one another, having a common ancestor born many years ago in Norway. The stevne also provides an opportunity for enlightening classes as well as good Norwegian food.”
Besides the Nordlandslag, the other lags are: Vestlandslag, Seven Lag, Hallinglag, Tre-Lag, Sognefjordlag, Romerikslag, Opdalslag and Nordfjordlag.
“When the Fellesraad first started (in 1916), there were a lot more members,” said Sampson, showing a 1936 photo of a Stevne in Minneapolis in which there are hundreds in attendance. “Many of the people back then had parents and grandparents that came to the United States from Norway. “Today, the ancestors of many of the people in the various lags are great-grandparents or great-great grandparents.”
And as the years have gone by, the younger generation is not joining the Lags in as high of numbers as those leaving them.
“The numbers in our lags get smaller and smaller each year,” Wick said. “And it’s very hard to recruit new members.”
The various lags are educational and entertaining. It’s a way to connect with others who are seeking to find more information about their ancestors, such as where they lived, what their occupation was, what role women played in the household, and difficult things they may have had to endure or overcome.
“We tend to help one another with ideas or bits of information that we’ve learned,” said Jay Liedman, a genealogist for Nordlandslag. “We all have old photos, but we don’t always know who the people are or the area they lived in by looking at the photos if there isn’t an identification on them. We all know each other in our lag from these yearly meetings, and we’ve become like a family. So we are all willing to share ideas.”
Fellesraad’s mission is to serve today’s community of Americans having Norwegian ancestry. It strives to provide members with the latest information on bygdelag activities, links to family search resources, helpful paths to respective regional websites and connections to various genealogical helpers available for each region.
Most lags have extensive resources to assist them in searching for ancestral family links originating within their regions of expertise. Cultural ties to Norway and traditions handed down through the families of most members are still carried on in today’s family celebrations. Food, fun, entertainment and speakers on relevant current and past topics fill out the annual meetings of these groups.
“I think the Internet is one of the biggest facets to help people connect together,” said Hasleton. “Each bygdelag has a collection of records and bygdeboks (informative farm property books) pertinent to their specific locality in Norway.
“Several of the lag genealogists have created extensive databases to help extend your ancestral lines back, or to help you identify your ‘cousin’ relationship with other lag members.”
The name of each bygdelag, the date and location of its stevne and the districts it includes is listed below.
Nordlandslag • Stevne: June 11-13 in Granite Falls, MN
Districts: Finnmark, Troms, Nordland
Vestlandslag • Stevne: June 20-22 in Decorah, IA
Districts: Hardangerlag, More og Romsdalslag, Nordhordland, Rogalandslag, Sognalag, Sunnhordland, Sunnfjordlag, Vosselag, Valdres Samband.
Seven Lag • Stevne: July 10-13 in Fargo, ND
Districts: Agder, Hadeland, Landingslag, Numedalslagenlag, Ringerike Drammen Districts, Sigdaislag, Telelag, Totenlag.
Hallinglag • Stevne: Aug. 1-3 in New Ulm, MN
Tre-Lag • Stevne: Aug. 7-10 in Alexandria, MN
Districts: Gudbrandsdal National, Tronderlag, Nord Hedmark og Hedemarken
Sognefjordlag • Stevne: Aug. 15-17 in Lanesboro, MN
Romerikslag • Stevne: Sept. 10-14 in Willmar, MN
Districts: Romerikslag, Solerlag
Opdalslag • Stevne: Sept. 14 in Centerville, SD
Nordfjordlag • Stevne: Sept. 15 in Spicer, MN