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Norwegians in America

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    The Emigration Experience: A Recommended Reading List to Help You Understand Your Ancestor

    What was the Emigration Experience Like?

    Sometimes data isn’t enough. Knowing when an ancestor lived and died is great, but many times, the stories are missing. The emigration story is often one of them. If you’re searching for a migrant ancestor, it’s not just when they left the old country that matters, it’s why. Why did they decide to leave? How did they leave? And did they ever return home to visit, or did they never see their loved ones again? What was the emigration experience truly like?

    Look for the Context

    As an immigrant to the United States myself, I understand the experience, although mine was dramatically different from that of past generations. When I researched my ancestry, I was surprised to find that I was far from the only person who had made the decision to emigrate. I found family members who had emigrated to America and perished on the way, family members who had emigrated and made it big, and family members who had emigrated and then returned home. The why was always of biggest interest to me, especially since I had my own reasons for leaving my native country.

    write my stories down, so that future generations will understand why I left Sweden, but many of you out there will find ancestors who left very little trace of the why. Filling in those gaps are what makes their stories come alive, so what do you do if you have no sources? You look for the context. What was happening at home? Did other families leave around the same time? Did they already know someone in their final destination? Understanding their why will make all the difference in preserving their stories.

    Create a Reading List

    There’s so much to read, and so little time! I get it. We’re all busy, and it can seem very overwhelming to have a list of books to get through, but I’ve found that having a book wish list is really the best way to read more. I want to encourage you to read more on this topic because it really does fill in the gaps well.

    I have an organized list of all the books I want to read, all the books I have read, and all the books that are in my personal collection, so that I can always check back and see what I have and what I’ve already read. I include the edition and the ISBN, so that in case I come across a book somewhere at a great deal, I can cross-reference it with my list. You think that you’ll remember what you have, but you won’t, especially when it comes to new editions. My reading list is mobile, so that I always have it with me, which is essential as I’m on-the-go a lot. I use Airtable, but you can of course use Evernote, Google Drive, or any other service that you like. In short, create a reading list that you can check off as you research your emigrant ancestor.


    The Emigration Experience: A Recommended Reading List

    I’m a Perfect Pinnable!


    My Recommended Reading List

    There are some wonderful books on the market if you are tracking a migrant ancestor. Many of these books are hard to get, but more and more of them have begun to pop up as kindle reads on Amazon, so try there first! You can also find some through the E-O-D program, and some may be available through a library listed in WorldCat!

    Here are Some of my Favorite Books:

    Swedish Emigration:

    • Swedes in Minnesota. Anne Gillespie Lewis. Minnesota Historical Society Press (2004). ISBN: 0-87351-478-5.
    • Swedes in the Twin Cities: Immigrant Life and Minnesota’s Urban Frontier. Philip J. Anderson. Minnesota Historical Society Press (2001). ISBN: 978-0873513999.
    • Your Swedish Roots. Per Clemensson and Kjell Andersson. Ancestry Publishing (2004). ISBN: 978-1-59331-276-3
    • Swedish Passenger Arrivals in New York 1820-1850. Nils William Olsson. Swedish American Historical Society (1967). ISBN: 978-9995149512.
    • I Go to America: Swedish American Women and the Life of Mina Anderson. Joy K. Lintelman (2009). ISBN: 978-0873516365.
    • Letters From The Promised Land: Swedes in America, 1840-1914. H. Arnold Barton. University Of Minnesota Press (2000). ISBN: 978-0816638482.

    Danish Emigration:

    • New Perspectives in Danish Emigration History. Birgit Flemming Larsen (2002). ISBN : 87-987938-0-2
    • Overseas Emigration – an annotated registrant. Birgit Flemming Larsen (1998). ISBN: 87-982912-9-3
    • A Guide to the North American Collections of The Danish Emigration Archives. Bartlett, Nancy Ruth (1997). ISBN: 87-982912-8-9
    • A New Life. Anne Lisbeth Olsen and Niels Peter Stilling (1994). ISBN: 87-982912-7-0
    • On Distant Shores. Birgit Flemming Larsen, Proceedings of the Marcus Lee Hansen Conference, Aalborg, Denmark, June 29-July 1 (1993). ISBN: 87-982912-6-2
    • Dansk Emigration til USA. Birgit Flemming Larsen & Henning Bender (1992). ISBN: 87-982912-5-4

    Norwegian Emigration:

    • A Taste of Norwegian Ancestry. Liv Marit Haakenstad (2013). ASIN B00D1BC2C4
    • Norwegians in Wisconsin (People of Wisconsin).  Richard J. Fapso.. Wisconsin Historial Society Press (2013). ASIN: B00DYA3PJQ
    • Norwegians in Minnesota (The People of Minnesota). Carlton Qualey, and Jon Gjerde. Minnesota Historial Society Press (2013). ASIN:B0035N1UGC
    • Norway to America: A History of the Migration. Ingrid Semmingsen. University of Minnesota Press (1980). ASIN : B00EDBOY86
    • In Their Own Words: Letters from Norwegian Immigrants. Solveig Zempel. University of Minnesota Press (2013). ASIN : B00IK7WQ5M
    • America-Lettes from a Norwegian Mother and Pioneer in Iowa. Gro Svendsen, and Per A. Holst. Per A. Holst Forlag (2012). ASIN : B007RS4O1E
    • History of the Norwegian people in America. Olaf Morgan Norlie (2012). ASIN : B009AV4SWQ
    • Norwegians in America, their History and Record, Vol.1. Martin Ulvestad, and Margit Nysetvold Bakke. Astri My Astri Publishing (2010). ISBN: 0976054167
    • Westward We Came: A Norwegian Immigrant’s Story, 1866-1898. Erling E. Kihldahl. Purdue University Press (2008). ISBN: 1557534713
    • History of the Norwegian Settlements. Hjalmar Rued Holand. Astri My Astri Publishing (2006). ISBN: 0976054116
    • The Promise of America. Odd S. Lovoll. University of Minnesota Press (1999). ISBN: 0816633509
    • Norwegians on the Prarie: Ethnicity and the Development of the Country Town. Odd S. Lovoll. University of Minnesota Press (2007). ISBN: 0873516036
    • Across the Deep Blue Sea: The Saga of Early Norwegian Immigrants. University of Minnesota Press (2015). ISBN:0873519612

     General Emigration:

    • American Passage: The History of Ellis Island. Vincent J. Cannato. Harper Collins (2009). ISBN: 978-0-06-074273-7.


    [Please note that bibliography and citation formatting has given way to readability in this list. Resources are listed in random order.]

    Don’t see your favorite emigration book listed here? Let me know in the comments because I’d love to read it!

    What are some of your best reads on this topic?