Monday, February 4, 2013

The Nielsens & Olsons: Portrait of a Norwegian-American Family

Mikal Nilsen
 The following is a post written by contributor Winnie Nielsen. In it, she will trace the journey of her husband's Norwegian ancestors to America, and explore how they retained their Nowegian roots in some ways, and became American in others. She is also kind enough to share a family recipe with us! Thank you so much, Winnie!~

The Nielsens & Olsons

By Contributor Winnie Nielsen

    My husbands' Norwegian family story begins in Sandar Sondefjoprd, Norway with the marriage of Nils Andreasen and Maren Pedersdotter in 1852. They were a farming family and the 1875 record showed that the year produced 1/4 ton barley, 1 1/2 ton oats, and 3 tons of potatoes.   They had 6 children and their fifth son, Mikal Nilsen, was born in 1864.

Amunda Nilson
    Mikal Nilsen immigrated as a young man to American in March 1887 on the vessal named Thingvalla.  His passenger ticket was number 355 and they landed in April in New York City.  He worked as a laborer and went back in in 1894 and married  Amunda Anderson( born in Tonsberg, Norway in 1866).  He returned to American and she joined him one year later.  During the US census of 1910, both Mikal and Amunda were US citizens living in Brooklyn N.Y. Mikal was employed in an asbestos plant and they both could read, speak and write English.

Mikal and Amunda Nilsen and child

    Mikal and Amunda's seventh son was Arthur Nielsen.  Nilsen was changed to Nielsen when Mikal immigrated.    Arthur met and married Kathleen Olson in Brooklyn N.Y. in 1942 during World War II.

Marthilde Olson
    Kathleen, was from an immigrant Norwegian family who was also living in Brooklyn , N.Y.  Karl ( Haukas) Olson, born 1881, married Marthilde Gabrielle and they immigrated to Brooklyn N.Y. in 1905.  Karl named himself Charles (Charlie for short) here in the US.  He worked as a high skilled ship mechanic on boats in the New York Port.  Marthilda worked as a domestic for a wealthy  family.  Together they had two children: Kathleen and Oweida Ethel.
Charles Olson

Charles and Marthilde
    Kathleen and Arthur had two children : Warren Charles and Susan Lynn.  Arthur served in the US Navy in the Pacific during WWI and was a career enlisted man residing most of their married life in Norfolk, Virginia.  Kathleen stayed at home while her children were small but eventually entered the workforce in office support roles.

    Like many Norwegian immigrant families, the Nilsens and the Olsons, came here to seek a better life with the many work and life opportunities that were not available to them in Norway.  They were regarded in the US as  hard working and highly skilled. They  banded together in the Brooklyn ,N.Y,  Norwegian community supporting one another and helping new family members come and get established. They worked hard to learn the language and American way of life.     
      By the time Kathleen and Arthur grew up, they did not speak Norwegian and were fully   westernized with friends and life in American public schools.  They saw themselves as Americans first and Norwegian second.  Warren's family grew up on the naval base in Virginia and the traditions of the Old Country became more faint as the years passed.  But true to many second and third generation Norwegians, what did survive were favorite recipes.  Marthilda was known for her delicious waffles, which were made with lots of eggs and fresh ground cardamon.  Kathleen carried on that tradition with her grandchildren and whenever she visited, she made Nana Olson's waffles.  My children loved them as well as their cousins. 
Kathleen and Arthur with their children

Nana Olson's Waffle recipe here:

2 C regular flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp ground cardamon
1/4 C melted butter
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 - 3/4 cup milk or enough for a thick batter depending on the size of your eggs.

Mix all ingredients together and cook in a waffle maker till golden brown.  Serve immediately with butter and warm syrup. Delicious!!

   America was the melting pot for so many countries.  Scandinavian immigrants took many pathways to a new life here.  Some went west to homestead on the prairie while others congregated in cities and applied their skills to the labor force.  Today, they look back with pride at what their great grandfathers and grandmothers did to make life better for themselves and their children.  The joined the many other immigrants who helped build this nation and shared their love of their homeland with neighbors and friends.  For the third generation family of these Norwegian immigrants, I would say they sweetened the effort one delicious waffle at a time!


  1. What a wonderful story - and a beautiful family! Thank you for sharing it, and the waffle recipe.

  2. Those waffles really are amazing!! So cool to see my heritage like that....I can't wait to visit Norway someday :)

    1. Jessica, I'm going to have to try them! They sound delicious! Glad you liked the post :D

  3. Lovely, Winnie! I am always fascinated with the heritage and family stories of both my family and that of others, and this was such a delightful post! My Dad's Grandmother passed down her German pancake recipe through the generations, and to this day, 'Germans' for breakfast is the sure sign of a very special occasion!

    I love the (new to me) blog, Heather! Carl Larsson... the best. I need that book someday:)

  4. Thanks for visiting my blog today !! from me

  5. What a lovely story! It's wonderful to treasure that heritage and remember Norwegian traditions and recipes passed down.

  6. This story is wonderful! Thank you for sharing, and thanks for sharing the waffle recipe, too...

  7. I am pleased that everyone is enjoying the family story! I do recommend the waffle recipe. It is so delicious fresh out of the waffle iron and smothered in butter and syrup=D!!

  8. Well thats good reading!!!!!Love it!!

    You have probably seen the Imigrants by Liv Ullman too..If not you tells how poor we was here in Scandinavia at that time..And what a relief it was to many to come to the _Golden Land..America..:))

    1. Anita-- thank-you for your comments! I do not know about Liv Ullman so I will look her up. Here in America, we all come from immigrants who had the same dream of making a better life. My background is a huge mix of countries , unlike my husband's who is all Norwegian. We are planning to visit Norway this summer and I look forward to learning more and seeing your beautiful country!

  9. Very interesting! Love the vintage photos Winnie. You uncovered a lot of your past. it's always interesting to read about people who make America today - the Dutch, the Irish, the Germans, the Scandinavians :)

    thank you for visiting my blog ad comments on my work. lovely to come in touch with someone of similar interest :)