Surprising finds in the Censuses

Surprising finds in the Censuses – how research in the Norwegian census set our family story straight.

I received this interesting story from Kendall Gibson. It is part of the “52 ancestors in 52 weeks” challenge

By Kendall Gibson

Wellington, New Zealand

My great-grandmother Hanne Dorthea Christophersdatter appears in only one Norwegian census. In the 1865 Census she was 22 years old and a ‘Butiqiomfru’ (female shop assistant) in Christiania. Later that year she married Niklas Larsson from Varmland in Sweden. They appeared in no further Norwegian census as in 1873 with 3 children, they emigrated to New Zealand. After many years of hard work and 8 more children Hanne and Nicolai* managed to achieve their goal – a farm of their own. After Nicolai and their eldest son Carl died in 1888 Hanne continued to run the farm with the help of her adult sons. When she retired and sold the farm, Hanne made a trip back to Norway in 1906. Before leaving New Zealand she had a family photograph taken with her 10 surviving children. She took the photo with her to show family back in Norway.

The family story-

On her return Hanne brought back a set of photos taken at a photographic studio in Christiania. There are several photos of Hanne with her cousin Alvilde. Hanne must have been close to Alvilde – she had named one of her daughters ‘Alvilde Caspara.’ In one portrait Hanne is showing her cousin the photo of her family in NZ. Hanne’s descendents believed that her cousin Alvilde was married to the photographer Ludwik Szacinski.


A big surprise for an amateur genealogist-

Ludwik Szacinski was an early photographer working in Christiania but he was originally from Poland. He is well known even today for portraits he took of the Norwegian royal family and the playwright Ibsen. On cruising through the Szacinski collection on the Oslo Museum’s digital archive I was completely stunned to see photos of my great-grandmother Hanne with her cousin – the  same photos as in our family collection. The archive did not have Hanne’s name but the other woman in the photo, whom we had always thought was her cousin Alvilde, was recorded as ‘Hulda Szacinski’ (widow of Ludwik). We had always believed Hanne’s cousin in our photos was Alvilde. We had never heard of Hulda. Had we got the names Hulda and Alvilde muddled? (The names sound quite similar to the ear of English speakers?)


1875 Census Christiania

To get more information about Hanne’s cousin (was she Hulda or Alvilde) I went to the 1875 census. The Szacinski household included Hulda his wife and Alvilde Olsen a ‘cusine’ aged 16.  (I was then very confused.)


1865 Census Christiania

Who was Alvilde Caspara Olsen?

In the 1865 census Alvilde’s age was given as 8. Her sister Clara was 4. Further research in the birth registers in 1858 showed their parents were Christian Olsen and Andrine Hansen. According to the marriage record in 1855 Andrine’s father was Hans Christophersen.


The 1885 census recorded Alvilde as a ‘pleiedatter’ (foster daughter of Hulda and Ludwik Szacinski). Alvilde Olsen remained with the Szacinski studio all her working life. She became a noted photographer in her own right. She never married and was the sole support for her sister Clara who was crippled.


Who was Hulda Andrine Hansen?

In the 1865 census she was 21, single and worked as a ‘photography tinde.’ (Probably already working with Szacinski). Birth records in 1845 named her parents as Anders Hansen and Ellen Andrine Olsdatter. Their marriage record of 1845 named Anders’s father as Hans Christophersen.


Who was Hanne Dorthea Christophersen? –

My great-grandmother Hanne’s parents were Christopher Hansen and Marte Ingebretsdatter. Their marriage record of 1845 recorded Hans Christophersen as

Christopher‘s father.


The family story straightened out?

It would seem that Hanne had two cousins both of whom worked at the Szacinski photographic studio. Hanne, Hulda and Alvilde were first cousins! Their common grandfather was Hans Christophersen.


I have never been able to find a birth record for my great great grandfather Hanne’s father, Christopher Hansen. He was born in Eidsvold and records have been lost. (In a fire I believe?)  So I can’t be certain that Christopher Hansen, Anders Hansen and Andrine Hansen were siblings (their children would then be cousins). But as they all had a father called Hans Christophersen it does seem highly likely.


While our family are very lucky to have beautiful family portraits of Hanne and her cousin Hulda from the Szacinski studio, there is no photograph of Alvilde. It was probably Alvilde who took the photos.


Lessons learned by this amateur genealogist-

To me the family stories handed down from one generation to the next are part of the joy of genealogy.  I treasure the few tales and anecdotes we have about our Norwegian ancestors. But I have learned that like the ‘Chinese Whispers’ game we played as children, family stories can change every time they’re re-told. Even the written records of well-meaning forbears can include errors. A family member (maybe my grandmother?) has written the wrong name on the back of the Szacinski photos. I have learned it pays to check the records! The Norwegian census and birth and marriage records have proved invaluable in setting our  family story straight.



After marrying Hanne in 1865 Niklas Larsson used the Norwegian version of his name – Nikolai Larsen. Why? Can anyone help me out here? Why would he have felt the need to seem Norwegian rather than Swedish in the late 1860’s and early 1870’s?


If you have a family story that you would like to share, I am happy to publish it here on my blog. -Martin



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