Journey of a Norwegian American Family: An Adventure in Research

For a time, when Ms.Jeannie was small, she thought she was Asian.

She recalls a story, her mother was telling at the dining room table one night about her great grandparents, the Wongs. Certainly Ms. Jeannie didn’t look Asian, with her dark blond hair and green eyes, nor did any of her family members look Asian. But Ms. Jeannie had a wonderful imagination as a child and of course, she was a subscriber to National Geographic.

She could picture the Far East with it’s geishas, it’s red paper dragons, it’s rice fields….the silk brocades, the fishing villages, the serene gardens. She could here the gonging of the metal.

As the dinner conversation continued, Ms. Jeannie learned from her mother that in fact the Wong ancestors were not really Asian at all. They were Norwegian actually.  Their named just happened to both look and sound Asian.

Well, from that moment Ms. Jeannie was hooked. She peppered her mother with questions about her Asian sounding now Norwegian ancestors. But Ms. Jeannie’s mother knew very little, so the questions went unanswered, and the spark laid dorment for a time.

Years later, taking matters into her own hands, Ms. Jeannie emabarked on a mision to find out just who these Nordic people were. She started with this information from her mother…which turned out to be the only things that her family knew about the Wongs at that time.

So she knew that Martin & Clara had eight children and she knew there birthdates & the parents death dates. It was a mystery where they were born, where they lived, the last name of mother Clara and what happened to all the kids.

So the research began! Through careful study, the process of eliminaton and millions of census records, the mystery of the Wongs started to unravel.

Ms. Jeannie learned the Wong name was really spelled Wang (and pronounced Vang) so out the door the Asian culture theories flew!  Now that Ms. Jeannie had the correct spelling, her search got much simpler.

She narrowed it down to households containing the name Martin & Clara and all the children.  There were only two families with similiar names, one in North Dakota and on in Wisconsin. Ms. Jeannie’s grandmother was born in Wisconsin, so she started researching that family. Luckily she was on the right track! Through ancestry.com she found a few records for Martin Wang and a picture of he and Clara…

Martin & Clara Wang

Exciting! Through the information provided in the census, Ms. Jeannie learned that Martin & Clara were from Ostre Toten Norway and Hurdal, Norway respectively.   And Clara’s last name was Erickskillet. Martin applied for American citizenship in 1876 as determined by this document:

Martin Wang’s citizenship card

Martin & Clara actually had nine children. J. William Wang died when he was 12 years old. Ms. Jeannie uncovered this picture of the Wang family taken at J. William’s funeral. Everybody looks sad, especially little Edwin (the one holding the frame)…

Ms. Jeannie was on a role now – gathering various bits and pieces of information. Martin had a glass eye. He was a cabinet maker. They lived on a farm.

Martin built a church in Wisconsin:

The church that Martin built

Interior view of the church.

Contemporary picture of the church.. It’s still there!

Ms. Jeannie’s mother found a box with some old unmarked family photos and now they could add names to faces…

Wang Family Portrait

Juna Wang.

Originally everybody thought this was Nora Wang – Juna’s sister. But extra research put the right name with the right face.

Juna and her sisters.

Juna and her sister. Unidentified men -pPossibly her brothers.

Meeting other Wang family relatives on ancestry.com led to the sharing of this picture of Clara Wang in her senior years. She sure looks like a hard worker.

Seeing this picture, Ms. Jeannie’s mother realized she had  this  picture of Clara that was taken with Clara’s granddaughter.:

Clara Wang with grandaughter.

Ms. Jeannie’s mother now recalled stories  of  Clara not being able to  speak any English. The census lists the family as speaking Norwegian in their household. Possibly Martin spoke English and Norwegian, in order to conduct business in America.

Ms. Jeannie has now learned quite a bit about of information about the Wang Family. She has all their birth & death dates and places, information about all the children, who they married, where they lived and died, etc.

It’s exciting to see that Ms. Jeannie started here:

And wound up here:

Custom Ancestry Chart by msjeannieology

If you’d like help tracing your family stories and photographs, send Ms.Jeannie a message! She would love to spark your interest in genealogy!

Want to learn more stories? Watch celebrities trace their roots on  Who Do You Think You Are on NBC every Friday at 8:00pm.  They are already in their third season!

Here’s a clip from one of Ms. Jeannie’s favorite episodes from season 1 featuring Lisa Kudrow:

Who Do You Think You Are

Search for amazing Norwegian antiques on etsy.com. You never know…you might find something that once belonged to your relatives!

Antique Scandinavian Oval Wedding Box from mustnc

Antique Norwegian Baptismal Spoon from davidjp1927

1879 Norwegian Psalm Book from Bill

1927 Map of Norway & Sweden from ImSoVintage

Antique Photo Card – Lady in Norwegian Uniform from christmasangel

Miniature Norwegian Folk Art Chair from BlackRoosterVintage

1920’s Norwegian Christmas Card from BurtsFirstRodeo

1920’s Ivar T. Holt Brooch from ZoesGems

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