Svanøe Family History

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SIE 4-82

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Svanøe Family History


  • 1992-1994 (Creation)


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A detailed genealogical list of the Svanøe family and an historical account of its “establishment” on the island for which the family is named. Within this is also an extensive description of Svanøy itself, complete with a description of its geography. Many of these documents, including speeches and sermons retelling the family story, were written and/or compiled especially for the Svanøe family banquet that was held at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa on the 10 July 1994. Also included is a well-wishing letter from Ambassador Harald Svanøe Midttun who also retold the family story, sending his greetings to the family and reaffirming his own ties to the Svanøe family in America, as his grandfather was Atle Svanøe. The Nordic Fest sermon that is part of this collection tells the Svanøe story as it relates to that of Hans Nielsen Hauge and the religious aspects of the family’s foundation, the immigrant experience, and Norway’s 19th Century “Nation Building” as a whole. There is also a photocopy of a book documenting various Norwegian immigrants to America with a short excerpt on Atle Svanøe. Documents specific to the family banquet include a program for the event with family tributes, presentations, and genealogical updates, an invitation letter to the banquet and travel arrangements, and addresses of the various family members in America, Canada, and in Scandinavia. There are also articles in local Midwestern newspapers specific to the Svanøe family story and legacy.

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Biographical Note

The motto of the Svanøe family written on many of the documents telling the story of its founding is “No man is an island, but Svanøy is.” The history of the founding of the Svanøe family is one closely tied to that of Hans Nielsen Hauge, the founder of the popular Haugean “low church” movement in 19th Century Norway. It was during the end of Hauge’s fifteen month mission throughout Norway through Tromsø, Trøndelag, the interior of Norway in Gudbrandsdal, Oslo, Stavanger, and back to Bergen, that Hauge helped one of his closest friends and associates, Ole Torjussen Helling, in the purchase of Svanøy near Bergen. Ole Torjussen later became the “founder” of the Svanøe family. This island spans six kilometers from east to west, and two miles from north to south on Norway’s west coast. It was long considered “crown land” that was historically owned by the Danish and Norwegian aristocracy and high-ranking members of the Danish state church. The island was formerly known as “Bru” until 1685 when the widow of the well-known Danish historiographer and tutor to Frederik II, Hans Svaning (who changed his name to Svane), received permission from the king to change the island’s name to Svanøy. Today, this island is known as the “Jewel of Sunnfjord.” The island itself became the regional center of Haugeanism, welcoming Haugeans to gather at the island. Because of Ole Turjossen’s wealth and relative remoteness, the Haugeans could hold their informal religious meetings without disturbance from the government and state church.

Ole Torjussen (sometimes referred to as “Torgersen”) Helling Svanøe (1781-1855), along with his wife Kjersti Asmundsdatter Korsbøen, took possession of Svanøy at the age of 23 during Pentecost, April 1804, purchasing the island for 12,000 riksdaler. Ole Torjussen built a sawmill and grain mill on the island in addition to other agricultural and fishing infrastructure that made him a wealthy businessman. In 1812 he took a civil position as a merchant in Bergen, and in 1814 was a member of the Storting that met at Eidsvold to write the Norwegian constitution. In 1821 he received a medal from the king for outstanding civil service.

Another Svanøe whose story is recorded in this file is Thomas Svanøe. Thomas Svanøe was born on 27 July 1890 in Bergen, Norway, son of a captain and ship owner, Thomas Svanøe (1837-1900), and Margarethe Cicilie Holdt (1850-1932), and became a chemical engineer, studying through to Ph.D. level at the Technische Hochschule “Friedericiana” zu Karlsruhe, and later working at the University of Berlin, the Norwegian Superphosfate factory, and the Flora margarine factory in Bergen. He was active in the Norwegian Institute of Chartered Engineers, the Norwegian chemical society the Norway-America Foundation, and the Nordmanns Forbundet. In 1917 he married Gunvor Magnus in Bergen in 1917, and they had a son named Torgeir in 1918. Gunvor died six months later during the Spanish influenza epidemic and afterwards Thomas married Reidun Berg in Kragerø in 1921, and with her had three children, Turild in 1922, Grethe in 1923, and Thomas (“Tommy”) in 1931. He died on 27 June 1985.

Atle Svanøe is another prominent Svanøe and one of the family’s earliest immigrants to America. Born 8 September 1869 in Askevold, Søndfjord (Sunnfjord) to Oscar Christian and Kirstine Svanøe, he attended many different schools and seminaries, including the Førde private Christian high school, Christiania University (the University of Oslo), as well as Chicago Lutheran Seminary. He was a member of the China Mission Society from 1897 until his emigration to America in 1898, where he served as a pastor in Greenwood, Wisconcin, and later as a city missionary in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He authored the book Lægmandsvirksomheten I luthersk Lys. He married his first wife, Emma Sofie Trondsen in 1895. A year after her death in 1905, Atle married Martha Simonson, and had five sons, Ansgar Christopher, Harold Cecil, William Marion Rennord, Sigvard, and Richard Frederick, and one daughter, Kirsten Louise. He died on 9 December 1958.

Bjarne Svanøe (1883-1925) was one of the contributing founders of the Sunnfjordlag in 1912 in Northfield, Minnesota at St. Olaf College. Sunnfjordlaget was an organization for the Norwegian emigrants from this region of Norway, and their descendents in order to maintain the connections to the region.

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