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                     Revised by Donald Oftedahl, September 2001

The story of the Oftedahl family is an exciting one that must begin with the background of the Scandinavian Viking culture. Yes, the Oftedahl heritage goes back to those fierce fighters and explorers from Norway, Denmark, and Sweden.

The Norse Vikings were the best ocean-going sailors of their time, and perhaps of any time. They dominated the seas for several hundred years, influencing the business of sailing even today. The Vikings were more than pirates. They raided far and wide, but they also explored and colonized around the world. One obvious example that comes to mind is Normandy in France which was named, in 911, for the Norse men who settled there.

vikingship.jpg (4140 bytes)I like to start the story of the Oftedahls with the true account of King Olaf Trygvason of Norway. Olaf was the son of Trygve Olafson, who was the grandson of Harald the Fairhaired. The Gunhild-sons killed Trygve, the king in Viken, in 963 a.d., and his wife, Astrid, fled the country. She was pregnant with his child, and gave birth to Olaf Trygvason later that same year. Their flight took them to numerous places in Norway, finally Sweden, and then Russia.

As time went on, they were attacked by Vikings from Estonia, and Olaf was separated from Astrid, and both were enslaved. At the age of nine, Olaf was saved from this life by being purchased at a slave auction by his mother’s brother, Sigurd Erikson. He was subsequently raised by King Valdemar from 973 to 981. At the age of eighteen, Olaf was given ships and men by the king, and he set out on Viking cruises to Denmark, England, Northumberland, Scotland, the Hebrides, the Isle of Man, and western France.

 

On these trips, he was converted from the Asa faith to Christianity, and he became a strong mission-minded man. Early in the year 995, at the age of 27, Olaf returned to Trondheim, and was crowned king of Norway. Olaf introduced Christianity as he knew it to Norway. His Christianity was a form of Roman Catholicism, and he forced the people to submit to baptism into the faith!

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Left: the modern village of Oltedal, in southern Norway, not the same village in this narrative, but the current home of Oftedahls.

Submitted by Alf Inge Lima of Norway

In 984, a man from Jaederen had to leave Norway, because he had killed another man. He went first to Iceland where he killed still another, and at Thorsnes Thing he was banished from there. A Thing was like a council meeting, or a meeting of Congress in today‘s America. He sailed further west to find a land that had been reported to lay in that direction, and he colonized what he later named Greenland. His name was Erik the Red.

In the summer of 999, Erik’s son, Leif Erikson, sailed to Norway, and on meeting King Olaf Trygvason, became converted to Christianity. The king sent him back to Greenland to proclaim his new faith there. He did a good job of being a missionary, gaining converts and building churches. He did great with everyone except his own father, who eventually made him leave the country.

He bought a ship from Bjarne Herjulfson, who some time before had spotted land farther west of Greenland, and set sail for that unknown land. Leif and his crew of 35 men landed first on a land that had a shore of flat stones and an interior of great icy mountains. He named this country, Helluland from the Norse word helle, meaning a flat stone. This area is considered to be what is now called Newfoundland. In Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula lies an archeological site named, "L’anse-Aux-Meadows" where there are reconstructed dwellings built by Vikings, possibly by Leif Erikson on that first visit, or possibly a later visit by other Vikings.

Leif then continued his course southward, and came to another country which was level and covered with woods. He named this country Markland, which means outfield or woodland. This was on the northeast coast of Nova Scotia, Canada, at about Ingonish.

From there, they sailed southwest for two days and landed at a place where a river which came from a lake fell into the sea. They landed and explored in two groups, one of which reported back that they had found a great number of vines with grapes. This land Leif called Vinland, and was about where Cape Cod, Massachusetts is today.

The Vikings wintered there, returning to Greenland in the spring with a load of grapes and timber. During that year, Erik the Red died, and Leif Erikson was duty bound to take over the leadership in Greenland. It is presumed that this is the reason he never returned to Vinland.

Over the next years other Vikings made many trips to the new world and some stayed for a number of years. There were fights with the native Americans, called "skraelings" by the Vikings, as well as times of peaceful trading. The first European to be born in America was a Viking, Snorro Thorfinnsson.

The Vikings explored much of what is known as the United States of America, leaving a record of their travels in the form of rune stones. Heavener Runestone State Park near Heavener, Oklahoma is a great place to see one of these stones.

Being sorely outnumbered by the Skraelings, the Vikings finally left America for others to find again in later years. It is interesting to note that Christopher Columbus visited Iceland in 1477 to gain nautical information, undoubtedly reading the Flatey Codex, which is the complete contemporary account of the Viking discoveries.

In 1103, King Magnus (Magnus Barefoot) was killed in an expedition against England, and his three sons inherited the kingdom of Norway. Eystein, the eldest son at fourteen years old, was to have the northern third, Sigurd, who was thirteen years old, was to have the southern part, and Olaf, who was only four or five years old, would get his share when he grew a little older.

This was at the time of the Roman Catholic Crusades against the Muslims who controlled the Holy land. The first Crusade began in 1095 and liberated Jerusalem in 1099.

norway2.jpg (25803 bytes)In 1107, King Sigurd sailed from Norway with sixty ships and about 10,000 men, mostly from the south of Norway. He led his crusade down around Narvasund, known today as Gibralter, and on to Sicily where he found many Norse living. He wintered there with Duke Roger before going on to the Holy Land. Throughout this trip he battled pirates and secured great treasures. In Palestine, the Norwegian Crusaders battled with King Baldwin to free Sidon. He spent time in Jerusalem, visiting all of the Bible sites, including bathing in the Jordan River, and committed himself to spread Christianity around the world.
From Constantinople, the Crusaders traveled overland through Europe to Denmark, there boarding ships for Norway, returning home in 1111. King Sigurd earned his new name, Sigurd the Crusader. He and his men were heroes to the homefolks, and brought great riches back to their families.

Along on this Crusade were three men from Oksendal, later called Oftedahl. These were Hirdmen (hyrdmen). The lineage of authority at the time and place was as follows: 1} The King 2} The hirdman, who was in charge of a hird, or a security guard 3} The jarl (earl), who was in charge of an area of the kingdom. So, these men were noblemen.

There is only a record of two of them returning from the Crusade, and they brought along a great copper pot full of money. The legends vary concerning much of this story, but it is still quite important to the people in the district of Bakke in Norway. It may have been silver or it may have been gold, or a combination. Maybe it was jewelry, as some has been found in the area where they supposedly buried the treasure.

Some of the stories say that they stole the money from a king, and some say that the treasure was booty from the Crusade. At any rate, these seem to be the men who started the Oftedahl family.

 

They settled in Oftedal, meaning "Big Valley," which is a community along with Houghkom in a beautiful valley about 21 miles inland from Flekkefjord, and a few miles from Sira. They married and raised families. They must have had sheep up on the mountainside, as they apparently had a large, wooden vat or barrel, called by some the "fish vat." This vat is about five feet in diameter, and was possibly used for the storage of water. This is still in the valley, and was tested in 1966 and found to be about 900 years old.

norway1.jpg (35394 bytes)The legend varies, but for some reason, a sheriff or other official came to arrest them. They convinced the official(s) to wait until they had treated them to some home-made ale. They went into the basement to get the ale and escaped through a tunnel prepared for just such a need. The remains of this tunnel can be seen yet today.

When they didn’t return, the officials discovered the tunnel and ran outside, but too late. One of the Oftedals was up the side of the mountain called Hansefjeld, which is behind the farm. He shouted back that if they treated his wife and children good, they could have the fish vat. He then disappeared.

The other man didn’t fare quite so good. He tried to cross the river without letting go of the belt full of silver he had retrieved. It weighed him down and caused him to drown. They recovered his body and buried him under an unusual slab of rock in the yard of Bakke Kirke (church) at Sira. The silver was hand hammered into communion ware for the church, and is still there.

From that time, the oldest son of each generation of Oftedahls has been buried under that slab. The name of the valley, and therefore, the family, has changed over the years from Offedal to Oftedal, Optedal, Oftedahl, and others.

Lars Fredricksen Nuland is an Oftedal who has lived in Flekkefjord, Norway all his life, and he has written two books about the area. He has written the following lineage of the Oftedahl family:

Markus Pederson Mjaasund (census of 1664)

Tollak Markusson Fedjestad, Gyland

Atlak Tollakson Fedjestad, Gyland

(Died without heir so passed to brother)

Oyulf Tollakson Fedjestad, Gyland

Lars Oyulfson Fedjestad, Gyland

Oyulf Larson Fedjestad, Gyland

Frederik Oyulfson Oftedahl Oftedahl, Bakke This is the first to take the geographical name as his last name. He was my great, great, great grandfather (D.O.)

Oyulf Fredrikson Oftedahl Oftedahl, Bakke

Eiel Tobias Oftedahl Oftedahl, Bakke

Ommund Eiel Oftedahl Oftedahl, Bakke

 

And I add on the next two!

Russell Bernhard Oftedahl Dawson, MN, USA

Donald Russell Oftedahl Elkhorn, WI

 

This list follows the lineage of the eldest son, and does not list every child. The last part of the list follows the lineage leading up to me, regardless of the "eldest son" idea.

Eiel Tobias is the exciting and adventurous Oftedahl who brought our line of the family to America. Eiel was born in Oftedahl, Bakke, Norway in 1830. His parents were Oyulf (Oiuf or Joseph) Frederickson and Berthe Oftedahl.

Oyulf and Berthe had eight children: Frederick, Eiel Tobias, Atlack, Tori, Helene, Ingeborg, Oiuf, and Peder Christian.

Oyulf was one of a long line of Oftedahl farmers, and he was a good one. Eiel was raised on the family farm, and he had a knack at farming just like his forebears.

To understand why he left Norway, one has to know something about the land, its beauty and its problems. Aunt Doris Oftedahl Cook, who traveled to Oftedahl twice, said that the mountains are not as tall as our Rocky Mountains or the Alps, but that they have an indescribable beauty that surpasses the others. Oftedahl is a beautiful, green valley with a river running past the farm. There is a waterfall nearby. Only 4% of Norway is tillable ground, so most of the farmers raise sheep, which can climb the hillsides to find grazing.

Frederick, Eiel’s grandfather, had several small pieces of land that he had been able to purchase over the years. The piece that Eiel inherited was too small to farm successfully, so he sold it and purchased another farm at Listol, in Gyland, not far from Oftedahl, in 1852. He was a very successful farmer there for sixteen years, during which time, he married Ingeborg Ommunds-datter Hougkom. She was the daughter of Ommund and Tori Hougkom (sometimes spelled Haughkom) who lived nearby.

This marriage took place on October 26, 1853, when he was 23 years old. They had five children born in Norway: Berthe Oftedahl Hanson (10/19/1855 to 7/10/1929), Oyulf (10/19/1858 to 8/5/1938), Ommund E. (8/19/1861 to 8/3/1951), Tori (Tillie) Oftedahl Dahl(6/14/1865 to 11/10/1937), and Peder Herman 4/6/1867 to ?). Ommund was my grandfather.

According to a letter from Mrs. Sam (Berthe Oftedahl) Hanson, one of the daughters born in Norway, the decision to move to America was made because of the better future for the children. They had three sons, and knew that there would be more coming. How would they make a living? There was not enough farm land for the men in that area, and as the next generation grew up, it would be worse!

Many of their neighbors and friends were talking about America, and the land that stretched farther than the eye could see. Much of this land was available for homesteading, and many of their friends had already made the trip, settling in the new land. A man by the name of Cleng Pearson was promoting the exodus of Norwegians to this new land. He was encouraging Norwegians to settle an area covering Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa. This area was so much like southern Norway, but with better farmland.

In the Norwegian section of the Institute of Texan Cultures in San Antonio, Texas, I found the following song, which speaks so strong about many of the feelings at that time:

OLD EMIGRANT SONG

Farewell, thou Mother Norway,

Now, I must leave thee.

Because thou fostered me,

I give thee thanks.

All too sparing wast thou

in providing food

for the throng of laborers,

Then gave so much

to thy well-schooled sons.

 

Finally, Eiel Tobias decided it was time to go. He sold the farm easily, because it was one of the better ones in the valley. There were no roads to speak of, and the family needed to travel to Flekkefjord to board an ocean-going vessel. Much of the travel at that time and place was by rowboat on the many rivers in the region, so they picked up their boat and the other belongings they were taking along, and set off over the mountains to the rivers that would take them to the coast.

That was in the spring of 1868, right after the Border War in Scandinavia, and the Civil War in America. People of courage were on the move everywhere! The great Westward Expansion was taking place in America, and they were determined to be part of it! It took a couple of days to get to Flekkefjord where they boarded a small boat for the trip to Stavanger where they bought their tickets and supplies for the trip. Things were a bit different then, as each party had to provide its own food for the voyage.

In a week, they were out on the ocean, on the way to the fulfillment of the big dream. Things were complicated for the five week trip, as Eiel’s hand was infected, and Peder Herman was sick. Strength of family and faith in a never-failing God brought them through the dangerous ordeal.

The ocean crossing was rough, but after five weeks and two days, the Newfoundland Banks came into view, and in another two days they reached Quebec in Canada. There, they bought passage in railroad cattle cars for the midwest. They had decided that western Wisconsin was the land where the Lord was leading them to make their new home. There were some friends and relatives who had located near Viroqua, in Vernon County, which was fifteen or twenty miles from La Crosse.

As they approached La Crosse, they were in a bad way. The money was gone, and the food was almost a memory. What would they do? There was no way to get in touch with those who would care enough to help them, but the Lord Jesus had a plan!

According to Selma Oftedahl Moe, and verified by Berthe Oftedahl Hanson, one day, a traveler appeared at the home of Sigbjorn Hoverson, telling him he must go to La Crosse the next day, because Eiel Tobias and family from Norway would be at the depot. They had no money and no place to stay, so he must be sure to be there. After exacting a promise to that effect, the stranger disappeared and was never seen again by anyone.

Hoverson went to La Crosse the next day and found the Oftedahl family walking across the bridge from the island depot to the downtown area. Once again, the Lord provided a miracle for His people! It is accepted commonly in our family that this was indeed an angel sent from God to care for His own!

The faith in Jesus Christ, God the Son, has always been the centerpiece of family life for the majority of our family of Oftedahls.

Eiel Tobias and his brave family settled in Vernon County, Wisconsin, in an area called Coon Valley. Here they found land and climate that were similar to back home, but more spacious and with more tillable ground. Here were their family and friends from Norway. Here they were comfortable and ready to go to work earning their living.

Eiel apparently leased land to farm for a number of years before homesteading his own land. He received his patent on his forty acre homestead on November 28, 1884, which meant that he had lived on and improved that land for five years. Eiel Tobias and Ingeborg increased their land to eighty acres and sold that to their son, Ommund E. and his wife, Emma on 10/24/1892, according to records at the courthouse in Viroqua.

These were good years for the Oftedahl family. They built a log cabin on the hill overlooking their farm. Ommund, known as "OE", carved his initials under the sill of one of the front windows, and it is still visible today. The cabin has been restored by John Dobbertin and moved to Chaseburg, Wisconsin, about seven miles from its original location.

Eiel Tobias was parish clerk in West Coon Prairie Lutheran Church from 1883 to 1908. He often preached there and later in Rice Lake, WI. He was known as a "nice, kind man" who was quite a Bible scholar. Eiel and Ingeborg had three more children after arriving in the United States: Theoline Fredrikke Oftedahl Gabrielsen (9/29/1869 to 12/11/1913), Theodore (4/6/1872 to 11/22/1947), and Elias, who died in infancy.

As happens with most families, the children grew up and scattered. Grandpa Oftedahl, "OE", stayed on the farm, built a new barn and expanded the acreage.

In the meantime, back in Norway, Morten (1834-1889) and Anna (Anderson) (1836-1923) Olson, gave birth to a girl, Emma Mortenson (2/19/1866 to 8/5/1900) who was to become Mrs. Ommund E. Oftedahl! The Olsons had seven children: John Mortenson Westrum, Andrew Mortenson Westrum, Christie Mortenson Johnson, Emma Mortenson Oftedahl, Dora Mortenson Barsnes, Christine Mortenson Oftedahl (11/11/1873 to 10/19/1962), and Ole Mortenson.

Morten Olson was a tailor in Sogndal, at the end of the Sognefjord. He died of stomach cancer at the age of 56, and is buried in the cemetery of the Stedji Church in Sogndal, Norway. All of the children had gone to America except Christine and Ole when Morten died. In 1891, their daughter, Christie and her husband, Gilbert Johnson sent money to bring the last three to the U.S. Christine was 18 and Ole was 12 years old at the time.

There was a steamship rate war on at the time, and the fare was $35.00 for an adult and $17.00 for a child. They came over on the "Parisian" of the Alan Line. It took nine days to reach Quebec, Canada, through the St. Lawrence River route, and another three days by rail to reach Madison, Wisconsin. Anna and Ole stayed with the Johnsons for some time, and Christine went to live with her sister, Dora (Mrs. Ole Barsnes) in Iowa. She was a house-hold worker until the time she married Ommund Oftedahl.

Somehow, Emma Mortenson met and married OE Oftedahl November 19, 1888. They had five children born on Grandview Farm in Coon Valley: Ernest Tilford (9/14/1889 to 12/26/1954), Albin Mandius (3/14/1892 to 6/29/1988), Ida Emelia Oftedahl Anderson (8/13/1893 to 10/ /1964), Mabel D. Oftedahl (10/18/1896 to 10/22/1897), and Oscar Clarence (1/12/1900 to 9/26/1963).

Emma suffered apoplexy (stroke) and died two months later, April 5, 1900, at the age of 34. She is buried in the cemetery west of Viroqua, Wisconsin on County Highway Y.

Emma’s younger sister, Christine, moved to the farm to take care of the five youngsters, including my uncle Oscar, who was just short of three months old. Ommund sold Grandview Farm on September 30, 1901 for $2,400.00 and moved to Dawson, Minnesota, where Ole Mortenson had settled. Christine and Ommund were married on October 18, 1901, and gave birth to eight children while there:

Joseph Melford (9/8/1902 to 7/ /1988), Russell Bernhard (1/17/1904 to 8/25/1961), Lloyd Vernon (8/5/1905 to / /1983), Elmer Martin (3/1/1907 to 3/14/1907), Myrtle Ardace Evangeline Oftedahl (1/23/1908 to 5/30/1955), Earl Stanley (1/9/1910 to 7/18/1946), Doris Evelyn Oftedahl Cook (8/16/1912 to present), and Lawrence Raymond (12/13/1914 to present).

They farmed there until moving to Nobleton, Wisconsin on Long Lake in about 1915 or 1916. Kenneth Ferman (9/4/1916 to present) was born at Nobleton.

In 1918, Ommund purchased 120 acres in Section 33, northeast of Rice Lake, called Loveland Corners after Mr. Loveland who kept a general store and post office there on Highway 48. It was here that Eiel Tobias Oftedahl died at the age of almost 88. An immigrant and true American pioneer who dared the elements and helped to open the West to civilization. He was buried in the cemetery back in Vernon County, near Grandview Farm.

The family farmed Loveland Corners successfully for a number of years. Prosperity caused them to build a modern, brick home which is still a beauty! The problem came from borrowing a small sum to finish the house just before the Great Depression of 1929. They had to sell the farm at a tremendous loss in order to keep from losing it.

They then purchased a farm south of Rice Lake. Ommund suffered a stroke in the early 1940’s, and his youngest son, Kenneth stayed to run the farm.

In the early 1950’s, Ommund and Christine bought a small house at 420 Hatton Avenue in Rice Lake, where he lived out his years. Ommund died October 3, 1951, and Christine October 19, 1962, and they are buried in Cedar Lake Cemetery on Highway 48, near Loveland Corners.

Russell Bernhard Oftedahl (1/17/1904 to 8/25/1961) left home in the middle 1930’s, moving to Evanston, Illinois and finally to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. There he met and married Hazel Christine Ryan (2/5/1918 to 5/ /1998). They had six children:

Dorothy Christine (8/29/37 to present), Donald Russell (6/11/1939 to present), Alice Patricia (2/11/1948 to present), Linda Ruth (1/17/1951 to present), David Allen (9/1/1955 to present), Dean Stanley (12/12/1957 to present).

 

PIONEER FARM LOCATION

For those who might be interested in seeing the original American location of this branch of the Oftedahl family, the following is provided.

The farm is located northwest of Viroqua, Wisconsin. Travel north of Viroqua on Highway 27, then west on County Highway Y to the junction with County B. The cemetery where Eiel Tobias, Emma, and Mabel are buried is located on the east side of B. There are some Oftedahls buried in the other cemetery, but we don’t know who they are at this time. There are Oftedahls living in Westby and around this area who are probably not related, unless many generations ago.

They were Lutheran, and Eiel Tobias was a lay worker in the church which was located by the cemetery. The building is gone, but was a different brand of Lutheran from the one across the street.

About 1 1/2 miles farther west on Y is the Asbury Methodist Church where they sometimes attended Sunday School.

Another mile west, turning left on Irish Ridge Road, the school where the kids attended is on the left. The last time I was there, the building was up on blocks and may have been moved.

From the school, continue west on Y about 1/2 mile to Rolling Hills Road. Grandview Farm is located on the northeast corner of this intersection. The original log cabin has been moved to Chaseburg, and has been restored and placed on a new foundation by John Dobbertin. It is right on the highway, and there is a family living in it! It was well built, with each log being the heart of an oak tree, measuring some 6 to 8 inches by about 18 inches.

It’s possible that by now the barn and other outbuildings at Grandview Farm have been torn down so the farmer can grow crops where the buildings used to be. Continuing west on Y from the farm location about .4 mile on the left is a windmill and stones outlining where buildings used to be. This is where Eiel Tobias moved in his retirement years while Ommund took over the farm.

 

Note from Don Oftedahl: This is an unfinished family history dated September 5, 2001. Let your criticism be constructive by sending me corrections and additions to be included in future revisions. As you can understand, the family history continues to be built day by day.

You can contact me at:

Donald R. Oftedahl, 6628 Lyndale Drive, Watauga, TX 76148, (817) 581-0136 oftie@juno.com

 

Family legend (in our branch of the Oftedahl clan) has it that the name "Oftedahl" or "Oftedal" (as it is alleged to have originally been) came from the traditional family village, which we were told meant "of the river (Ofte) or by the river, etc." I'm not sure what the origin of that story was, but modern Norweigian uses the word "ofte" to mean "frequently" (perhaps frequently emigrating?? :- ) ) This interpretation can be found at the Norweigian/American dictionary online at http://homepages.rootsweb.com/~norway/na17.html There are a couple villages in Norway named "Ofte"...

However, in the scattered information handed down to us by Deb Reed of Moorhead, MN, the family originated in the Sirdal region in the South Country/Jaeren region, and her reference for this is a tiny inland village called "Optedal". There are a couple other scant references to Optedal among our archives, so I've tended to believe - at least at this early stage of research - that this is at least a "good guess" The village of Optedal, according to the info at:

The Optedal, Norway Page

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corresponds with the area given in Deb's geneological information (there is another village of Optedal in a different area of South Country). The village is at Latitude 58.5500 Longitude 6.7333 Altitude (feet) 1437 Lat (DMS) 58 32' 60N Long (DMS) 6 43' 60E Altitude (meters) 437 - for those geo-stat type persons (so you can find in on a very good map!).

This corresponds to the general area info given by Deb Reed, so I believe we are talking about the same place! If any one else has other info regarding place of origin of the Oftedahl clan, please pass it along...if you have any info that corraborates this, let us know that too! I hope to continue this research soon... And hope to hear from more Oftedahls!!

-Randy Oftedahl, Rhode Island

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