August 17, 2008

Forgive me if this blithers a bit.....

I've been keeping a little secret...that all started with the little walk I took out to Rekkevik and the silly little note I left hoping to make contact and find family...that very evening I had a response! I got an email from a man named Kai, who said he was the husband of my 3rd cousin once removed, Marthe (Tolstrup) Strøem. It turns out that the houses I found belong to descendants of Paul Hermann Tolstrup – Magnus’s youngest brother and the only one who stayed in Norway. Over an exchange of emails, Kai and I made arrangements for me to come out to Rekkevik again - but this time to meet the family. He told me that he'd read my blog and was surprised to see a picture of his house! (theirs is the big house I photographed -brand new, actually – but built in a traditional style). The little house next door belongs to Ruth Eli Tolstrup, born in 1920, the youngest daughter of Paul Hermann – which would make her my mother's age, but my grandfather's 1st cousin. She is the oldest living relative on that side of the family and keeper of all the family stories, photos, papers and memories. Kai wrote to me that Ruth wanted to find some old photos to show me and also wanted to get someone to come during my visit to act as translator – as I can’t yet speak Norwegian and she doesn’t speak any English. Arrangements were made for me to come to meet Ruth at her house on Friday at 4:30pm and then we’d all have dinner at Kai and Marthe’s house at 6. I could barely contain my excitement.

When Friday arrived I suddenly wished I'd expected rather than hoped to meet family, because I would have brought wonderful gifts from Australia gifts for everyone. But I hadn't - I guess I just hoped, but never really thought it would happen...or failed to realise that when it happened it would feel so important. So instead, I asked Elisabeth (my lovely B&B hostess) what would be customary and/or appropriate to bring. She suggested flowers, so I went off to a shop she suggested named Himmelen (Heaven) around the corner (I can't remember the rest of the Norwegian)..

At about 3:30 I headed off again on the4k trek to Rekkevik and as I turned onto Tolstrupveien the whole neighbourhood was out doing yardwork and everyone smiled at and greeted me as I passed - clearly, word had gotten around that that weirdo who 2 days prior walked up and down the street photographing her shoes was family and coming for a visit. It felt nice...I already felt welcome.I knocked on the door and Ruth answered. Kari, who is her neice and daughter of another of Paul's children, Rakel, (mentioned on that infamous scrap of paper, Dave) was also there. We started to chat and at first they were most curious to know about people in some photos they had from America. Mostly they were Magnus and Louise, Harriet and Doris - there were none of anybody I knew very well - Nana and Grampa, Mum or Uncle David. I really wished I could have told them more, but I didn't know all that much. One picture, though,- looked like it might have been taken on front steps of 44 Noble St. I asked Kari about Paul Hermann's descendants and she told me he had 10 (!) children - Paul born in 1910, Waldemar, 1912, Dagmar 1913 - 1958, Borghild 1915-18, Grethe 1918, Rakel 1920 -1987, Hangry 1922 - 1989, Magnus 1925 - 1982, Marthe 1927 -1993 and Ruth Eli. (Don't worry Dave, I have more specific details about spouses and children, too). Then, Ruth brought out some more photos and some letters: These were photos of Magnus and Louise - probably when they were first married and one of Mathias as an older man. But the letter! It was from Magnus to Paul, dated Oct 1888 (about 3 1/2 months after he arrived in Boston)! Kari translated it and it told about his voyage (particularly about the food), commnted on news about a neighbour, gave advice for Valdemar's journey (So Magnus must have gone first, after all) and tells a bit about his new life. He also talks about sending home money - so he must have trid to help the family as he could. I knew David would be desperate to see it - and even felt a little guilty that I was getting to see it without I asked if I could photograph the photos and letter. So, here they are Dave...especially for you.
After a while, Kari asked me if I'd like to go to the Tjølling Kirke to see where Paul Hermann, his wife Hanna and their sons Hangry and Magnus (and as it turns out, Magnus and Grethe Nikoline, as well) are buried. Tjølling had been a place I had really wanted to visit and so said yes and of we went. As we were driving we talked more and I asked Kari if Magnus had ever lived in Tjølling (as the records seemed t say) she said no - always Rekkevik, but had gone to church in Tjølling, so that's why he's sometimes listed there. It seemed a long way - they used to walk it every Sunday - but Kari said they had no doubt cut through the fields and taken a much more direct route. The church was quite stunning - it dates, I think to the 11th century - which is kind of hard to fathom when you grow up in the US or Australia. I took some photos and we headed back. Ruth then brought out some old papers - shipping manifests, crew lists, commissions and provision lists for ships Magnus captained. She had an amazing amount of stuff - but she saved the best for last: when they started to build Marthe and Kai's and Ruth's new houses, they tore down the old house that had stood between them. Under the floorboards they found an old school lesson book belonging toKristen Tolstrup, dated 1765 and referencing Salling (an old term for Denmark)! Yes are the pictures. I really couldn't imagine the visit getting any better... Then it was on to Marthe and Kai's house for dinner. Elin (Ruth's daughter, Marthe's mother and my 2nd cousin once removed?) and her husband Bjørn and Marthe and Kai's 2 children Emil (6 and about to start school!) and Emma 2 were waiting. I introduced myself all around and Elin asked what had brought me to Larvik and I said, I came to find all of you. Then she asked how I'd found them and I said that Dave had told me the family came from Rekkevik, so I looked on google maps to find Rekkevik and saw there was a street named Tolstrupveien...and figured it was a good place to start...then when I saw the mailbox with Magnus Tolstrup on it....I had to leave a note. She seemed flabberghasted and in fact asked me a couple more ties over the course of the evening if I'd really only come there to find them and if I'd really found them by walking down their street...the answer was always 'yes' and she'd get this big grin, shake her head and look pretty amazed (I'm pretty amazed, too!) The evening was fantastic...warm and connected. I could sense a growing interest in some of the others - especially Kari - about the family history and I showed then the work Dave has done on

All too soon, it was 11pm and time to say goodbye...Marthe and I both took some here, Boston Tolstrups is your Larvik family...

Kari and Elin

Ruth EliMarthe, Kai and Emma (Hei Kai and Marthe, I need good photos of Marthe's father and Emil!)So Larvik family, if you read this... I'm just so grateful that I've had the chance to meet you. Thank you for your kindness, your interest and warmth. I promise to keep in touch and I'll be in Boston at the end of August - so keep a look out - I'll be posting photos of the Boston Tolstrups soon!


Katie and Emir said...

Sandy, that brought tears to my eyes... how amazing! Let's invite them ALL over for a great big BBQ!!!

ibu kate said...!!!! This must have been an awesome experience and I can't wait for you to tell me more about it when you get back.
How long have you been away? You could have filled all the experiences you've had into a year long trip.

sharon said...


Max, Ebbie and the Fuzzheads said...

The second I started reading this my face just split with ridiculously large smile. Just insanely awesome.. Talk about a dream come true!

*Waves hello to Larvik Tolstrups!*

Gosfield said...

you all have the same nose !!

jt said...

Good grief. This is too much to absorb from a sofa in Connecticut! And yes, to whomever noted that there is a nose connection--I thought so too--particularly Ruth Eli has the same cheeks/nose as my dad and his dad and ....... I don't know what to do with myself right now! Hello long lost family!

Hilary said...
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