How I found my Norwegian Relatives

Hafslo, Norway By G.Lanting - Own work, CC BY 3.0,

February 2018 we were all watching the Winter Olympics. Norway was collecting lots of gold medals. My husband and I had recently moved back to Washington state and I was homebound and feeling sad that I had no Norwegian relatives. 

Logo from Clipartmax

ESPN Screenshot

I had relatives, but who?

My grandma, Anna Otto Johnson, (1884-1972) and her family had moved from Norway when she was a young child. They settled in Minnesota near aunts and uncles who had arrived earlier in America. I knew that one aunt, Berte Ottesdatter Kjerringness, had married in Norway and stayed back in the old country. That contact had been lost years ago. Norway had a tradition of name changes when people moved to a new farm so how would I ever find a living person? 

Otto Family, 1895 Bird Island, Minnesota  Photo courtesy Carol Larson
Anna Otto is in front row

We had an old family tree that showed Aunt Berte’s married name and of course I went to to get the answers. (That’s what all the Ancestry ads tell you to do.) But no luck…I wasn’t sure of the spelling or what happened to her name. Next step was to put her name in Google and see what happened. (I knew that I could go to the free Norwegian Archive site and carefully trace Berte’s history through the church records if all else failed.) But I got lucky. There was a Norwegian family tree on a genealogy site called The names and dates matched. I followed the family and found the tree owner. 

Detective work!

Bing Map
Now came some more detective work to find a living person. I did a quick search on Norway Telephone information and I had a telephone number for this family tree owner. What more could I do…the 9 hour time difference would allow me to make the phone call so I did it. And I got an answer…Aamund. He spoke perfect English and yes, he recognized some of the names I was mentioning. I congratulated him that Norway had won so many golds in the Olympics and in true Norwegian style he said it was a little embarrassing that Norway had all the Golds. We exchanged email addresses and I promised to send him my family history. The best part of the story we became Facebook friends and I got to meet his father Tor on Facebook. They still lived in the same village where my grandma was born 135 years earlier.


Tor, Aamund and I exchange Facebook posts from time to time and some day I hoped we would go to Norway so we could meet. It was now November 2019. Tor posted on Facebook that his son would soon be arriving in Seattle to go to meetings at Microsoft. What??? I sent Aamund a message and he was just landing at Seatac. I told  him to wait at baggage claim and we would pick him up to take him to his hotel. We drove quickly to the airport and there he was with his colleague, Kjell. We drove them to the hotel, they checked in and we had them for the afternoon. 

Joe Mabel, CC BY 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

A meal with new-found relative

A perfect afternoon to go to Ivar’s Salmon House for a late lunch and the atmosphere of Northwest Coast Indian history. We had the best time talking and learning about each other. We then drove them through the U W Campus and some NE Seattle neighborhoods. What a day. They were exhausted so we got them back to their hotel with lots of promises that we will go to Norway and they will be our Hafslo tour guides. And now I can say I have real living Norwegian relatives.


Anna Otto Johnson with her beautiful dahlias
On the East Hill of Kent ca 1962 

PS. My grandma was Anna Otto Johnson. She was born in Hafslo in 1884. She came to America with her family in 1890 and they settled in Bird Island, Minnesota. She graduated from Bird Island H. S. in 1905 and went on to college at Normal in Moorhead, MN. where she earned a teaching degree. She married Gust Johnson (born in Sweden) in Portland in 1916. She moved to his farm on the East Hill of Kent. 

Anna and Gust Johnson August 1965

Anna and Gust had two children, Alice Marie Johnson Whitley and Karl Gust Johnson (wife Ardis). Anna was a member of Zion Lutheran Church in Kent and was a member of the Ladies Aid and the East Hill Grange for many years. Anna moved to Wesley Gardens in the late 60’s. She died in 1972 and is buried at Soos Creek Cemetery.  

Carol Whitley Larson      


  1. Thank you, Carol, for this wonderful story! I have Norwegian relatives I have yet to research. But the fun part is they were in the same part of the US as yours after they came to this country. Who knows? Maybe they knew each other!!

  2. Creative thinking and following up on your instinct to connect equals magic!


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