Sunday, 8 February 2015

Hans Bardahl 1841-1922: A New Name in a New Land (52 Ancestors #6) Theme: "So Far Away"

Hans Bardahl was my paternal immigrant ancestor.  Although most of my ancestors originated far away in Europe, I think of Hans as having come from the most remote of places.

Hans was the father of my grandfather John Bardahl, the subject of last week's story. My brothers carry their Y chromosome.

Hans Olai Johnson Bardahl
Most of my ancestors were Scandinavian, with the majority being Norwegian. Although Hans may not have come from much farther away than some of the others, the place he came from sounds like the ends of the earth. Hans came from a small area in Nordland, Norway, far up the outer Norwegian Sea coastline. The area was called Bardahl (the Norwegians have dropped the superfluous "h" in this and similar words subsequent to Hans's departure, and thus you would now find it spelled "Bardal"). Current population within 7 kilometers of Bardal is fewer than 300 people. So far away - remote and isolated! Situated at 66 degrees 16 minutes 20 seconds North, it is most similar in latitude to Inuvik or Frobisher Bay in Canada's Northwest Territories. However, the winds and ocean currents make the climate at Bardal less severe than in those Canadian places of similar latitude. It is the land of majestic fjords and islands and far enough north to be the Land of the Midnight Sun.

Hans also seemed culturally and linguistically distant to me when I first started to research his background. Not understanding Norwegian made the task seem insurmountable at first, but with knowledge of the name of the area he came from, perseverance and a good English-Norwegian list of common genealogical terms, I was able to order the relevant microfilms from Salt Lake City and learn how to decipher at least some of the Gothic handwriting in the foreign language. Slowly things started to make sense. The Lutheran Church records (kirkebøker) are excellent because, as the state church, it was mandated in 1688 to keep all the records for the country for baptisms, marriages, burials, movements in and out of the community, confirmations and smallpox vaccinations. This duty was taken seriously and the resulting records are among the best anywhere. There were good census records available on microfilm as well for the years 1801, 1865 and 1875; these are called "folketelling" in Norwegian, a word so suggestive of its English meaning that it is easily remembered. (The scanned church records and census records are now made available free of charge online in Norway's digital archives.)

Hans Olai Johnson was born 30 April 1841 in Hemnes, Nordland, Norway and baptized a couple of weeks later on 15 May, as shown in the baptism record above. His parents were John Christian Larsen (note, not "Bardahl"!) and Oline Maria Olsdatter. Census records indicate that father John was a farmer and fisherman. Unusual for the times, Hans had just one sibling. This may be partially explained by the fact that his older sister Anne was born 4 May 1834, some five years before their parents were married. (Norwegian church records are very forthright about illegitimacy, clearly differentiating between children whose parents are "gift" (married) versus "ugift" (unmarried). Fathers' names are stated for all children.) On 18 September 1845 Hans was vaccinated for smallpox on the same day as Anne. He was confirmed in 1857, a notation of which was added to his baptism record in the kirkebøker.

Hans can be found in the 1865 folketelling for Hemnes, Nordland, Norway, where the 25 year-old is working as a hired man on the Storbjerka farm for a man named Kristoffer Pedersen. Hemnes is very near to Nesna and to Bardal in Nordland. Hans O Jonsen is the 4th last person listed on the farm below:

Hans could probably only dream of becoming a landowner in Norway at this time. Seeking to improve his lot, he emigrated to the United States in 1866. His name until that time had been Hans Olai Johnson (or sometimes Jonsen) in the Norwegian patronymic naming tradition of adopting as your surname the first name of your father with "son" or "datter" added to that. Once he was in the United States, Hans Johnson started to call himself Hans Johnson Bardahl and sometimes just Hans Bardahl (or Bardal) obviously after the name of the parish and area in Norway he came from. (Thus, searching for the surname Bardahl for any ancestors of Hans is completely pointless.) He certainly didn't change his name because of any difficulty with any nameless official not being able to spell his foreign name - how difficult can it be to spell Johnson? I really believe he changed his surname from Johnson to Bardahl in order to stay connected to the distant place of his birth.

Hans went first to Goodhue County, Minnesota for one year after arriving but then moved to Renville County where he farmed until 1890.  On 21 May 1873 he married Annie Erickson Elton. 

There was a son Astien (or Erstine and more commonly called Steve) born 8 September 1868, five years before their marriage, in Cannon Falls, Renville County, Minnesota; it isn't clear whether Steve was their son, or Annie's son from a previous relationship. Records in the United States were not nearly as clear about these matters as the Norwegian church records had been. 

Other children arrived in 1876 (Sarah), 1879 (John), 1883 (Ole), 1886 (Synnova or Susie), 1887 (Hannah) and 1890 (Ella). All were born in Rennville County, Minnesota. Other children were born but must have died young since in the 1910 census, she is said to have given birth to 10 children of whom 7 were still alive. 

Hans and Anna seated center front with Ella between them and Sarah seated on left
Back row, left to right: Hannah, Ole, John and Susie; photo about 1895-1900

We are able to follow the movement and growth of the family through census records from 1875, 1880, 1895 and 1900.  By 1900 they were in Elk Lake Township, Grant County, Minnesota listed as Hans Bardahl, born May 1845, Norway, farmer; Anna, born March 1850, Norway, married 26 years, sons John born May 1874 and Ole born 1883, daughters Sonava born 1886, Hanna born 1887 and Ella born 1890. All the children were born in Minnesota. The family moved to Sanford Township, Grant County in 1890 and then in 1895 to Elk Lake Township where Hans had 280 acres in section 30. By 1910, Hans and Anna are living at this same place with the two youngest daughters Hannah and Ella. Daughter Susie and her husband Carl Estergren are listed just two households away.

Original Hans Bardahl barn near Barrett, Minnesota

He engaged in general farming and stock raising until 1913 when he retired at age 74 and moved into the town of Barrett. 

Original Hans Bardahl home near Barrett, Minnesota

The Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 hit this family hard. Two of the daughters, Hannah (31) and Susie (a.k.a. Synnova) (32), succumbed to the disease, both after just 4 to 5 days' illness. The obituary for daughter Hannah gives a sense of the horrible tragedy: "He who spares neither age nor sex in the relentless toll of death has again entered a happy home and called away another dear daughter, sister and friend. Hannah Amalia, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Hans Bardahl of Lien, answered the final summons Monday, Nov. 18th, after a four day illness of influenza-pneumonia.  She was a sweet winsome young lady, and held a warm place in the hearts of all she met on life's pathway. She was earnestly interested in the church and all its activities, and will be greatly missed by all. Her sister, Mrs. Ed. Estergren, passed away Nov. 9th. Death has indeed laid its hand heavily upon this family, and the bereaved ones have the heartfelt sympathy of the whole community in their sad hour of affliction."

The 1920 census has Hans and Anna with youngest daughter Ella still residing at Elk Lake, Minnesota.  Living next to them was son Ole and his wife Annie and their children.

According to a local history book from the area, Hans was a member of the Synod Lutheran Church and took an active interest in the work of the church. He was also active in the civic life of the community and was associated with the Republican party. 

When he died 13 March 1922 at age 80, his newspaper obituary indicated that "Hans Bardahl, a prominent and respected resident of Barrett, passed away at his home in that village Monday evening, March 13. Death was caused by chronic cystitis. Mr. Bardahl had been ill for several months." His funeral was held at 1 o'clock from Our Savior's Church in Barrett and from the town of Lien Church at 3 o'clock. He is buried in the Lien Cemetery at Barrett, Minnesota.


  • Lutheran Church kirkebøker microfilm LDS 307102 for Nesna, Nordland, Norway
  • Norwegian digital archives record for the 1865 census at Hemnes, Nordland, Norway for the Storbjerka farm
  • Photo of Hans Bardahl headstone and Hans Bardahl barn and home by Ken and Elinor Bardahl, 1992
  • US Census records from and
  • Barrett, Minnesota local history book page and newspaper obituaries provided 2 April 1988 to Kenneth Bardahl by his cousin Harold Bardahl, (unfortunately not including more detail as to original sources)
  • State of Minnesota Marriage License 484 dated 14 May 1873 and Certificate dated 21 May 1873
  • Google Earth map 


  1. I enjoyed this post! I love how you've worked hard to understand the Norwegian records... something I'm working at doing with my German records. And, I found so many small points interesting, like the "gift" vs "ungift" children. And, seeing how the surname came into being! Very interesting!

    1. Thank you, Dana. Researching in an unknown language does add an extra challenge - but also some extra rewards. I wish you good luck with your German records.