#52Ancestors: Another heirloom

Kendall Gibson from Wellington, New Zealand shares a heirloom kept in his family for generations

52 Ancestors: A family heirloom – but what is it?

I didn’t ever see this little painted box until after my grandmother died in 1970. (She was Sena Larsen [Roberts] born in New Zealand in 1881 of Norwegian immigrant parents, Hanna and Nicolai Larsen.) There are no family stories about the history of this heirloom box, except that it came to NZ with great grandma Hanna in 1873 when she emigrated from Christiania with our great grandfather Nicolai and 3 children.

The amount of luggage that anyone could take on board the emigrant ships was strictly limited. But Hanna found room for 2 personal family treasures.

  1. A photo of her mother Marthe Ingebretsdatter.

This is the oldest photo in our family collection. In the photo Marthe is wearing a ‘bonnet’ which may be the type worn by a widow? This would indicate the photo was taken after her husband (Hanna’s father Christopher Hansen) died in 1871.

Hanna must have known that when she left Norway in 1873 she would probably never see her mother again. A photo, the heirloom box and memories would be all she would have to remember her mother by, in her new home in a far off foreign land. (Marthe died in 1880.)


  1. The heirloom painted box.

I have since learned (from Prof Google) that the painting on the box is an example of rosemåling, ‘a traditional form of decorative folk art that originated in the rural valleys of Norway.’  The date it was made is painted on the lid and again carved underneath the base, along with several letters – the maker’s initials or signature?


‘An anecdote about the Nazi occupation of Norway (1940–1945) is that at a time when the public display of the Norwegian flag or the State Coat of Arms could bring imprisonment or even death, the Norwegians discovered that they could display the ‘H’ overlapping the ‘7’ of the Royal cypher of their exiled king, Haakon VII, at the center of a rosemåling design without the German occupation forces seeing anything but a colorful peasant design. Christmas cards with the Royal cypher at the center of a rosemåling design were especially popular.’ (from Wikipedia)

We can only assume (because we don’t know for certain) that Hanna’s rosemåling box has been in our family since it was first acquired by one of our ancestors in 1783! It’s staggering to think that this heirloom has been handed down through the family for 235 years. That’s around 7 to 10 generations to the present day and as far back as the records go (that I can trace with any certainty).  If the box has been passed down through the female line (from Hanna’s mother Marthe born in 1815, from her mother Dorthe Engebrethsdatter born in 1775 and perhaps originally from Dorthe’s mother Siri Jensdatter who married Embreth Mortensen in 1771 in Elverum, Hedmark County) then it is truly an heirloom and has clearly been much valued by every generation of our family.

Perhaps Marthe passed the box on to Hanna when she left Norway in1873 for a new home in America? (How the Larsens ended up in New Zealand is for another story!)



4 thoughts on “#52Ancestors: Another heirloom

  • March 6, 2018 at 5:13 pm

    Enjoyable! Thanks for sharing!

  • March 6, 2018 at 7:59 pm

    If you send a picture of your box to Vesterheim Museum in Decorah, Iowa, they may be able to give some information on the type of box it is.

  • March 6, 2018 at 11:37 pm

    Just loved this story. Such a treasure to own.


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