favorite name: bridget, saint of sweden

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks, 2018; week 6 prompt:  Favorite Name.
Favorite name, favorite name…  This one stumps me.  I don’t have a favorite name.  (I found choosing one for my own child tortuous; there are so many.)  Currently, my ears particularly like very old-fashioned names and, I love virtuous Quaker female names, but again, no favorite.

When I was in high school I remember going through a period of wishing my forename was more original than same-old same-old “Susan” though, and, “Bridget” was high on the list of my rather-haves; plus, raised Catholic, when I first began researching my Norwegian ancestry and saw “Saint” before some of my way-back great-grands, I was awed & delighted, so,

Saint Bridget in the religious habit and the crown of a Bridgettine nun, in a 1476 breviary of the form of the Divine Office unique to her Order1

I decided to honor with this week’s blog post, the patron saint of Sweden, my 18th Great-Grandmother Saint Bridget of Sweden (circa 1303–July 23, 1373).  From Catholic.org2:

“Saint Birgitta was the daughter of Uppland’s Lagman3, Birger Petersson and his wife, Ingeborg, who was a member of the same clan as the reigning family.  Birgitta’s family was pious; her father went to confession every Friday and made long and arduous pilgrimages as far away as the Holy Land.2

Image of Birger Petersson & wife Ingeborg at their Uppsala Cathedral, Sweden, tombstone.4

“Birgitta’s mother died, leaving Birgitta, ten years old, Katharine, nine and a newborn baby boy, Israel.  The children were sent to their maternal aunt for further education and care.  It seems that as a young child, Birgitta had a dream-vision of The Man of Sorrows.  This dream was very vivid.  Birgitta asked Him who had done that to Him. His answer:  ‘All those who despise my love.’  The memory of this dream never left Birgitta and may have even left an indelible mark on her sub-conscious.  As was usual during the Middle Ages, Birgitta was married when she was 13 years old to a young man, Ulf Gudmarsson with whom she had eight children, four daughters and four sons, all of them survived infancy, and that was very rare at that time.2

“When the King of Sweden, Magnus Eriksson married Blanche of Namur, he asked his kinswoman, Birgitta to come and be Lady-in Waiting and to teach the young queen the language and customs of her new country.  After her years of service at Court, Birgitta and Ulf made the long pilgrimage to Santiago di Compostela.  On the return journey Ulf became dangerously ill in Arras.  Birgitta feared for his death and sat all night by his bed praying, and then a bishop appeared to her, promised that Ulf would recover and ‘God had great things for her to do.’  He told her that he was Denis, Patron of France.  Ulf recovered and was able to continue his work as Lagman in the province of Närke until early in the year 1344, when he was very ill so Birgitta took him to the monks at Alvastra where he died and was buried.  Birgitta remained in a little house near the abbey and she spent along hours in prayer by Ulf’s grave.  She said that she ‘loved him like my own body.’  She arranged her affairs among her children and various charities and prayed for guidance.  She was 41 years old and in the abbey at Alvastra God called her ‘be My Bride and My canal’.  He gave her the task of founding new religious order, mainly for women.  He said that the other orders had fallen into decay and this new order would be a vineyard whose wine would revivify the Church.  He showed her how her abbey church was to be built, gave directions concerning the clothing and prayers of the nuns, 60 in all, who needed priests as chaplains, 13 priests, 4 deacons and 8 lay brothers.  These two communities were to be ruled by an abbess, who was to represent the Blessed Virgin Mary together with the Apostles in the Upper Room in Jerusalem.

“King Magnus Eriksson donated a little palace and much land to the new monastery, but almost as soon she had begun altering the palace and organising the work, Christ appeared to her and asked her to go to Rome and wait there until she got the pope to return from France to Rome.  She was to be there during the Holy Year 1350.  Birgitta left Sweden at the end of 1349 never to return.  For the rest of her life she saw visions concerning the reform of the Church, messages to kings and popes and many other persons in high places, directing them to work for the Church.  It may be noted that Birgitta never wrote in the first person.  She always said the she carried a message from a very High Lord.  Although she had longed to become a nun, she never even saw the monastery in Vadstena.  In fact, nothing she set out to do was ever realised.  She never had the pope return to Rome permanently, she never managed to make peace between France and England, she never saw any nun in the habit that Christ had shown her, and she never returned to Sweden but died, worn out old lady far from home in July 1373.  She can be called the Patroness of Failures.  In this she was like her Lord.  He was also classed as failure as He hung on the Cross.  Birgitta was a successful failure as she was canonized in 1391.  Birgitta was the only women ever to found a religious Order, Ordo Sanctissimi Salvatoris.  It was never a double order but an order primarily for women with permanent chaplains, ruled by an abbess.  The brothers had as their head, not a prior but a Confessor General who was responsible for the spiritual business of both convents.

“The order spread swiftly throughout Europe with monasteries from Scandinavia right through Europe down to Italy.  In modern times is has expanded into five different, juridically independant branches; Spain 1629, Rome 1911, U.S.A. 1970, Mexico at the change of the century.  None of these foundations have brothers (except U.S.A. which has one male convent).  The last Birgittine father died in Altomünster 1863.  She is the patroness of Sweden.  Her feast day is July 23.”2

In first & second grades I attended a Catholic elementary school.  We were rewarded with holy cards (picture old baseball cards but with a saint’s image on one side and her or his bio on the other) &, medalions for particularly good work or behavior.  I kept mine in an old cigar box, lost after my mother’s death when I was yet in grade school.  Below, an image of a similar dime-sized medallion of St. Bridget of Sweden:

St. Bridget of Sweden medallion 5

My ancestral line to St. Bridget of Sweden runs from my maternal great-grandfather Carl Johan EILERTSEN Fjelse, on up like so: Ellert TOLLAKSEN Haugland (1806–after 1864), Tollak ERIKSEN Osen (1768–1852), Erik TOLLAKSEN Sporkland (1723–1811), Tollak JOHANNESSEN Sporkland (1689–before Sept. 7, 1763), Johannes TOLLAKSEN Sporkland (ca 1653–before June 10, 1742), Tollak SIGBJØRNSEN Sporkland ( –1685), Sigbjørn TOLLAKSEN Sandsmark (?–?), Tollak SIGBJØRNSEN Stordrange (before 1598–1658), Sigbjørn TORLAKSEN Drange (1530– ), Torlak GUNNERSEN Stordrange (ca 1500), Gunnar ASBJØRNSEN Tengs (1470–1546), Unknown forename (birth & death, Tengs, Egersund, Rogaland, Norway), Gunnbjørn TORDSEN Tengs ( –after 1486), Sir Tore GARDSEN Garå, Knight (ca 1400–ca 1454), Ramborg (ca 1360–ca 1408), Marta ULFSDTR Sweden (ca 1319–ca 1375), St. Bridget.6
1 Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia,” “Bridget of Sweden,” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bridget_of_Sweden , accessed Feb., 2018.
2 Catholic.org, “St. Bridget of Sweden,” at http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=264 , accessed Feb., 2018.
3 “A lawspeaker or lawman (Swedish: lagman, Old Swedish: laghmaþer or laghman, Danish: lovsigemand, Norwegian: lagmann, Icelandic: lög(sögu)maður, Faroese: løgmaður, Finnish: laamanni) is a unique Scandinavian legal office. It has its basis in a common Germanic oral tradition, where wise people were asked to recite the law, but it was only in Scandinavia that the function evolved into an office. Two of the most famous lawspeakers are Snorri Sturluson and Þorgnýr the Lawspeaker.” — Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia,” “Lawspeaker,” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawspeaker , accessed Feb., 2018.
4 Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia,” “Birger Persson (Finstaätten),” at https://sv.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birger_Persson_(Finsta%C3%A4tten)#Barn_med_Ingeborg_Bengtsdotter , accessed Feb., 2018.
5 CatholicSaintMedals.com, “St. Bridget of Sweden Tiny Charm – Sterling Silver (#84804),” https://www.catholicsaintmedals.com/St-Bridget-Charm-Sterling-Silver-84804.aspx , accessed Feb., 2018.
5 Genealogist Signe Elisabeth Zijdemans, Flekkefjord, Vest-Agder county, Norway, “Ahnentafel of Sally Marie Eilertsen Fjelse,” prepared Oct.  23, 2001; source, Norwegian bygdebøker; in possession of myself.


favorite photo

52 Ancestors In 52 Weeks, 2018; week 2 prompt:  Favorite photo.
Old photos are my “favorite photo.”

I could no more single one out as my favorite anymore than I could single out one chocolate chip from a bag as my “favorite;” I love them all so much.  My favorite photo of this particular moment, however, is this one:

Many thanks for this gem, cousin Knut Asle Røsnæs!

Seated with the three youngest of their 11 children, my maternal great-grandparents Carl Johan EILERTSEN Fjelse, Sr. (Mar. 12, 1848 Fjelse nedre Br.74, Nes, Vest Agder, Norway–Between 1911-’30 Norway) & Ingeborg SIGBJØRNSDTR Homma (Feb. 11, 1871 Homma, Gyland, Vest Agder, Norway–1953 Norway).

While I don’t know when this photo was taken, I’m going to speculate between 1926 & 1930, based on my guess of the daughters’ ages in it.  The youngest of the three pictured, Judith Synnøve EILERTSEN Fjelse (Apr. 8, 1911 Flekkefjord, Norway–Feb. 15, 1977 Norway), looks to me to be aged no more than her mid-teens; in 1926, she would have thus been, at the most, about 14 or 15; in 1930, 19 or 20; so, I think a 1926-to-1930 date-taken guess is pretty solid for this photo…  This would make Ingrid Elise EILERTSEN Fjelse (Aug. 11, 1909 Fjelse, Flekkefjord, Norway–Sept. 29, 2003 last residence Largo, Pinellas, Florida, USA) aged 16-to-22 here, and, Gunhild Solveig (Solveig) EILERTSEN Fjelse (July 14, 1907 Flekkefjord, Norway–Sept. 29, 2001 last residence Largo, Pinellas, Florida, USA) somewhere in the 18-to-23 range.  [<- Your feedback?  Appreciated.]

It’s a tie as to who jumps out at me first in the photo:  my grandaunt Ingrid or, my great-grandfather Carl Johan.  Ingrid because, I had an Oh my gosh! reaction to how much she resembles both myself and my next-down sister in the face, and, as someone who never saw any photographs of her Norsk-side kin (other than of my own grandmother, who died when I was four) until she started researching her ancestry, this just felt so extraordinary, astonishing:  I look like these people.

But, Great-Grandpa Carl Johan because, WOW.  I mean, just look at him…  To me, he looks to have stepped right out of Johanna Spyri’s, Heidi, among my very favorite childhood reads, and, the wonderful 1937 movie adaptation of the book featuring Shirley Temple as Heidi and, Jean Hersholt as the mountain-dwelling grandfather.

A genealogist cousin1 in Norway told me that Norwegian bygdebøker (farm record books) show Carl Johan’s occupation as woodworker.  While I don’t know exactly what sort of “woodworking” was involved, I look at those hands — long fingers, and I imagine artistry.

Then my eyes move to my Great-Grandma Ingeborg — and may I just interject here, isn’t it neat to see photos where the subjects are not all looking straight into the camera?! — and, she seems a softly elegant contrast to “Heidi’s mountain-dwelling grandfather,” i.e. my Great-Grandfather Carl Johan.

Ingeborg’s hands too, long-fingered and much like my own, and, I know from family lore that she was an excellent seamstress, a skill she passed on to at least two of her daughters, my grandmother Sally Marie (Rosalie) EILERTSEN Fjelse (June 4, 1892 Fjelse nedre Br.74, Nes, Vest Agder, Norway–Oct. 22, 1952 Madison, Dane County, Wisconsin, USA) and, eldest daughter Emilie Katinka EILERTSEN Fjelse (Nov. 25, 1889 Norway–Sept. 15, 1975 Enfield, Hartford, Connecticut, USA).  (Grandma Rosalie & Emilie are said to have joined in a dress-making & -designing effort in New York at one point, early on before they both married.)  My hunch, all of the clothing in this picture was made by women in this family…

I could study this photo repeatedly; it hasn’t stopped talking to me, yet.
1 Signe Elisabeth Zijdemans, Flekkefjord, Norway.

sailing to america… (52 Ancestors #1)

Theme, Week 1 (Jan. 1-7):  “Fresh start”

To me it seems, so brave, to up and move one’s life to another country, something numbers of my ancestors did and something I’ve thought about doing myself, yet, lack the courage required of such drastic change?

From my well-documented 7th & 6th Great-Grandfathers Hans & Christian Herr — Swiss Brethren, later called Mennonites, seeking religious freedom in America in the early 1700s; to my Swiss Hubschman/Hibschman and Komler/Kumler great-grands seeking same; to my maternal grandfather Edward who left English service to immigrate to this country; to my maternal grandmother Rosalie from Norway, immigrating all by her 16-year-old self to the United States in 1908 to “earn more money:”  my respect for these ancestors is huge.

Rosalie — christened “Sally Marie Eilertsen Fjelse;” no-one remains alive to tell me just when/where/why she became “Rosalie” — departed her homeland of Norway from Kristiansand Harbour in Vest Agder County on Oct. 2, 1908, on the steamship “Celtic.”


Ship records note Rosalie’s occupation as “fabrikarb” (factory worker), and, under reason for emigrating, “for at tjene mer” (to earn more money).


Her education consisting of having finished the common school in Norway and having had some private tutoring before coming to the U.S., Rosalie ambitiously enrolled in a business college while living initially with an uncle in Brooklyn, New York.  She attended for several months before taking up dress-making & -design, which she worked at for several years in New York City.


Meanwhile, Edward Charles Vallis had left a position as a valet in his former life in England, he too immigrating to America, arriving at the Port of NY in the early 20th-century.

All the romance we fans of PBS’ series “Downton Abbey” might associate with castles & lords & ladies & even household servitude notwithstanding, Edward looked for a new future with himself as his own man.

Just where & how they met I haven’t yet learned, but somewhere along the way the handsome six-foot-one-inch, brown-hair & -eyed, olive-complexioned Edward, born & raised in Wilts County, England, married, circa 1913 in NY, the lovely auburn-haired, fair-skinned Rosalie from Norway.


By June of 1914 the young couple was living in Madison, Dane Co., Wisconsin, and my mother Solveig, their first child, was born there.

Grandpa “Dad,” as all his grandchildren would come to call him, was working as a janitor when daughter Solveig was born and, later, as a salesman; he eventually took employment as a linotype machinist at the Democrat Printing Co., staying there until his 1957 retirement.

Although I was only four-years-old when Grandma Rosalie died, hers was a vivid personality and I recall her lovingly. I see her braiding my hair in coils, one each side of my head; offering me chocolates; and, most clearly, bending over working in she & Grandpa Edward’s flower garden, a virtual forest of blooms & greenery that my toddler self loved to wander through.

Now though?  I’m seeing Rosalie & Edward in a new light:  as wonderfully brave as those further-back great-grands; all of them, seeking out brand-new lives in a land an entire ocean away from their homes.