According to previous released articles, Hans Petter Lillejord was the eldest of 20 siblings. We have the impression that Hans was a gifted man. He was determined, he sought challenges and he had an optimistic attitude towards future. He left a life of poor opportunities in the Dunderland Valley, and together with his wife he walked through 30 miles of wilderness to establish a new life in the Beiarn Valley. He succeded, but was not satisfied. As we have seen, at the age of 56, he and his family left relatively good and safe conditions at home and emigrated to America, .

The Norwegian sociologist Eilert Sundt postulated in the 1850s that ”the best leave first”. The pioneers of Norwegian emigration to America were strong and persistent people, like Hans and Margrete.

Hans was not the only persistent member of the Olsen family. One of his brothers, Per, and a sister, Dina, settled in Beiarn, too, and two of his brothers and one sister caught the ‘America Fever’ and migrated to ‘The New World’.

Nevertheless, the most prominent member of the family was beyond doubt, Ole Tobias, b. 1838. He was first educated as a teacher, and later read theology at the University in Kristiania, now Oslo. However, he was probably more interested in technology than theology, and he did not serve as a priest for many years after graduation. He got interested in photography and was one of the first professional photographers in Norway. He travelled a lot and now and then he visited the family in the Beiarn Valley. Unfortunately his elder brother Hans Petter left for America before he got his camera. But we do have some photos from Beiarn, as the one of his nephew Sakri Olai, and the ones from his brother Per’s home and family.


Per Johan Olsen and wife Dortea Tomasdtr. with their family outside their home at Rengaard in Beiarn. The photo is taken in early 1870s.

(Photo: Ole Tobias Olsen, lended by: Beiarn Historielags fotoarkiv)



Per and Dortea’s home. It is a log house, and we may assume that the house of Hans and family was similar to this house. (Photo: Ole Tobias Olsen, lended by: Beiarn Historielags fotoarkiv) (Later local People have told us that this is Peder Olsen Leiråmo’s home)

During a trip to England in 1862 Ole Tobias got interested in railways. Back home he wrote an article in a newspaper, arguing especially for a railway to the high north of Norway. It would make a more efficient transportation of fish from the rich fisheries offshore the north of Norway, he argued. The struggle for The Nordland Railway became ‘the task of life’ for Ole Tobias Olsen. He planned and surveyed for the railway and was known as ‘The father of Nordland Railways’. At last he got the opportunity to see the Parliament’s decision in 1923 to build the railway. Ole Tobias died in 1924.

O. T. Olsen was a versatile man. He was interested in mining and was especially prospecting for iron ores in the Dunderland Valley. Later, an international company, The Dunderland Iron Ore Company, rose from those ores. From childhood on he learnt the folk songs and poetry of his home areas, and another one of his great tasks was the publishing of his collection of folk tales and folk songs from Nordland. Actually he also had a clerical career. He was minister of the small parish of Hattfjelldal for 21 years, and of course he became Mayor of the municipality.

Not so much is published about O. T. Olsen in English on the Internett. Comfort Hotel Ole Tobias in the city of Mo i Rana is one such place.

To those of you who can read Norwegian, we recommend an article in Encyklopedia of Norwegian Biography, which gives a brief summary of his life and work with references.

O. T. Olsen has been commemorated in many ways. Many towns and cities in Norway have named their streets after him, a hotell bears his name and so does a train on the Nordland Railways. A bust of him is placed at the railway station of his home town, Mo i Rana, and a plaque is to be seen at his childhood home at Bjoellaanes.


The bust of Ole Tobias Olsen outside the railway station of Mo i Rana. (Photo: Sandivas Wikipedia)

The collection of his photos is preserved at the National Library and Oslo City Museum.

Ole Tobias Olsen was in 1919 awarded the rank Knight Class I of the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav.


6 Responses to “The Olsen Family”

  1. Meredyth & John Lillejord Says:

    Does the log home of Per and Dortea still stand? Also are any of the original Lillejord family log homes still standing in Beirn?

    Thank you!
    Meredyth Lillejord

    1. ingestrand Says:

      Sorry, the log house is not there anymore. It was pulled down many years ago.

  2. Amy Says:

    Hi All,

    Wondering if anyone can help me solve this mystery … In the letter presented in “From Old World to New,” Lars Olsen writes to his brother Mathias as the family is immigrating to America:

    “Tell E. Larsen that Dina and Milda are getting along well, and give him our hearty greeting. Also, tell those who criticize me regarding my sister and think I have done too much for her, they can mind their own business and not concern themselves so much about me or her. However, enough about this.”

    Dina is Dina Marie Olsdatter (1825-1889), Lars’s sister, daughter of Ole Pedersen and a relative of mine. Milda is her daughter. I have a dictation from decades ago from Dina’s son/Milda’s brother, Ole Tobias Eliassen/Ellison (1863-1934) which gives more detail.

    In it, Ole states that he immigrated to America in 1882 aboard the Lord Clive, passing through Philadelphia and continuing on to Herscher/Kankakee, IL to join his uncle Anders Olsen (who sent him the ticket to immigrate). Anders’ son, Ole Tobias Olsen, taught Ole Tobias Ellison English and American History and Ole Tobias Ellison installed himself in the town and began farming. The note says that he saved enough money to send a ticket for his mother and sister to join him and while the timeline is a vague, it seems that they immigrated along with Lars and his family in 1883.

    According to the note, Dina kept house for her son and at some point she passed away unexpectedly. Most family trees people have constructed online indicated that she died in Norway, but this note states, at least anecdotally, that she died in or around Herscher/Kankakee, IL in 1889. Soon after, Milda (at this point married to a Mr. Moe – I don’t have more details – and had two children, Marcus and Dena) contracted tuberculosis and passed away. At this point, Ole Tobias decided to move to South Dakota to join his cousin, the note says “O.M. Jensen,” and later another cousin, Elling H. Lillejord, moved to the area and there were apparently quite a few stories of these two young, single men and their lives on their adjoining homesteads.

    Despite Lars’ request that people “mind their own business,” I can not help but be intrigued! E. Larsen was Elias Larsen, Dina’s husband (1813-1889). Why was he left behind? Why did she leave? What could he mean by having done “too much for her?”

    Any ideas welcome! Thank you!

  3. J. Inhoff Says:

    Amy, I don’t know the answer to your riddle, but I wanted to post here a link to the “From Old World to New” story in pdf format to which you refer. Perhaps others reading this blog may be interested in the story of the family in the ‘new world’.

    I do have a hard copy of the ‘family tree’ of this branch in the new world to which I can make available to those who are interested. Regards. J. Inhoff

  4. Frank Bessesen, Jr. Says:

    Lars Olsen was my maternal great grandfather who emigrated to the US in
    1883 with his family. My grandfather was Anders Olsen, his eldest son.
    In the early 1900’s, Anders and his brothers changed their family name to Orfield.
    I have a copy of the book “Ole Tobias Olsen” – Og Nordlandsbanen which
    I can’t read since it is in Norweigan ( Ole was Lars’ brother ).
    I would greatly appreciate a copy of the ‘family tree’ from Mr. J. Inhoff.

    Thanks, Frank Bessesen, Jr.

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