Hans Petter Olsen was born in 1811. We don’t know the date exactly, yet. He was the eldest of twenty children of his father Ole Pedersen. His mother was Dortea Hansdatter, and she was mother of ten, and Ole’s next wife Milda Nilsdatter, was the mother of the rest. Hans grew up at Bjoellaanes in the Dunderland Valley, almost at the Artic Circle in the county of Nordland, Norway.
The Dunderland Valley where Hans Petter and wives came from. Bjoelaanes in the background.
His parents were peasants. The land was owned by a foreign proprietor, and the tenant farmers had limited possibilities to divide the farm to make homestead for their children. A lot of youngsters had to leave the Dunderland Valley to find their living. Hans was one of them. He married Maalfrid Sakariasdatter July 20 1834, and then they moved to the Beiarn Valley where they could have land and make a homestead. Beiarn is a neighbouring community, a long day’s walk beyond the Artic Circle. Their homestead spot was named Lillejord, which means “little field”, and Hans and his family took that name when they went to America 30 years later. In Norway they were named Olsen (which means son of Ole).
This part of the Beiarn Valley was at that time wilderness in which only occasionally wandering Lapps came through, but in the course of 30 years the valley was settled, mostly of other immigrants from the Dunderland Valley. The soil was not too bad, but there were a lot of woods which they had to remove before they could cultivate the land. They grew potatoes and some barley, but they didn’t get ripe crop every year. The main culture was grass to feed the cattle; cows, goats and sheep – and may be a horse. Remember, we are beyond the Artic Circle, and they need to feed the livestock eight months a year. The pastures were not ready until June, and mid September the season was gone.
We don’t know exactly where Hans P. Olsen had the houses. But Geir Heggmo (right) is pretty sure that this is the place.
Maalfrid died in 1854. It was impossible to be a farmer in the Beiarn Valley without a wife, and the next year he married the 24 year old Margrete Nilsdatter. Hans was then 45 years old.
The settlers were hard-working and skilled. They made a better living here in the narrow Beiarn valley than they could achieve back home. The national census 1865 tells that Hans had 3 horses, 21 cattle and 16 sheep, more than most farmers in the valley. The next year he and his family were on their way to America. Follow this link to see it yourself:
Historians use the term ‘serial migration’: People who have been on the move, more easily break up and move again. Hans Petter Olsen is an example of that.
In 1866 he had four grown up children who had settled in the area. They didn’t follow the rest of the family across the Atlantic Ocean. They got a lot of descendents, among them the organizing committee of the reunion. The fifteen year old Lars Stabel changed his mind and stayed with his sister Hanna Pauline in Beiarn. Later he married, got 11 children, and left for the US in 1904. He later moved to Canada and is the forefather of most Lillejords there.
The Olsen family left from the small town Bodoe with the ship ‘Norden’ June 3 and arrived at Quebec August 8. The voyage lasted more than two months. You may see the Passenger list at:
Margrete gave birth to a little girl January 23 the same year. She was christened Abara Lincora. Quite a strange name? The name gives us reason to believe that the Olsen Lillejords were informed people, although they had no newspapers and just a few chances to get news from abroad. They obviously knew that the President of the United States was assassinated April 15 1865. May be the choice of name expresses some idealistic attitude to the new world ‘over there’.