This is the Ringebu Stavkirke in Oppland, Norway, where my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother, Synnøve Eriksdatter Lunde, was buried on 9 May 1733. At least
48 76 of my ancestors (and more to find) were baptized, married, or buried from this church.
I know this, because I went there a few weeks ago, fulfilling a dream of mine for heritage travel. I didn’t expect to come home with 21 new generations –stretching back to 1220 and about the time the Ringebu church was finished – but thanks to the generosity of a local genealogist and other residents, that’s exactly what has happened.
The Ringebu Church
One of 29 surviving stave churches in Norway, the Ringebu example was built early in the 13th century. The stave church is a medieval wooden Christian church building style, once common in northwestern Europe. The name comes from the posts (stafr in Old Norse; stav in modern Norwegian) used in the timber framing. The 12th century soapstone font I saw was used to baptize my ancestors.
My immigrant great-grandmother, Ahne Andersdatter Flatmoen, was baptized at this church on 23 Mar 1856. She was confirmed there 18 May 1871. After working as a tjenestepige (hired girl) at a nearby farm, Ahne left for Chicago in 1882, where she met my Norwegian great-grandfather. They were married the following year and had six sons, all baptized at a Chicago Norwegian-language Lutheran church.
The Ringebu Farms
A few weeks ago, my husband and I rented a car in Oslo and made our way about 3 hours north to Ringebu (rhymes with peek-a-boo), still a small town in the heart of the unbelievably beautiful Gudbrandsdal valley north of Lillehammer. When our B&B host learned I was there to see my great-grandmother’s birthplace, she decided we must meet her friend Knut. Unbelievably, Knut rearranged his schedule and appeared about 15 minutes later.
He brought the second volume of the Ringebu bygdebok (farm book), Ringebu – Home and People. Vol. 2 – Kjønås, compiled and published in 2005, and showed me where my great-grandmother and her family appeared in this book. Then he showed me Utvandringa til Amerika frå Ringebu, documenting Ringebu inhabitants who emigrated to America. I was able to buy both books at the local bookstore.
Then we followed Knut up into the farmlands on the steep hillsides surrounding the village. He found my great-grandmother’s farm, Flatmoen, and even called ahead to his friend who lives there. Mr. Forkalsrud had copied the bygdebok entry for Flatmoen and printed out a photo of the farm in the 1920s. He has two sons who live in Santa Barbara and we marveled at how small the world is. Knut took us two other farms nearby where my great-great-grandparents had lived.
After spending two hours with us looking at the gorgeous countryside at my ancestral farms, Knut showed me the most amazing database, Slekter fra Ringebu og Gudsbrandalen at www.onshus.no, compiled from baptism, confirmation, census, and land records for all of Ringebu. Before the trip, I had researched back to Ahne’s parents and grandparents, but the Onshus website is where I found 21 generations of my family at the three local parishes: Ringebu, Fåvang, and Venabygd.
It was all overwhelming in the best possible way, finally being in this place I’d looked at on the web so many times, meeting people with a shared obsession with the past and with family history. I learned about Norwegian culture, religion, language, food, and architecture, but mostly I learned about incredible generosity.
Finding Norwegian ancestors in Ringebu – that feeling of rootedness, of walking where my ancestors had walked – was even more satisfying than I ever dreamed.