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The Osmo, Aandal, and Femmer Families

  Last Updated 17 January, 2008


 should know more about this family line than any other, given how much time I spent with my "Bestamor", Hedvig Margrethe Bjerring Osmo Dame. The big joke among my siblings is that, although we are only a quarter Norwegian, it is a very large quarter.

Research in Norway is both difficult and fascinating. The difficulty is the curious way Scandinavian families inherited their surnames. There is help, however, in that the Norwegian Government has posted digital versions of its census for the years 1801, 1865, 1875, and 1900 including full indices.

There is also the matter of the Norwegian geographic unit known as the Farm, that subdivides counties. As late as 1875,  70% of all Norwegians lived on or otherwise associated themselves with a farm.  People living in the farms of Norway before 1900 named their children using the patronymic system.  Under this convention,  Johannes , son of John  would be known as Johannes Johnsen, while Johanne, daughter of John would be known as Johanne Johnsdatter.  Often the farm name was appended to the name (Johannes Johnsen, Osmo), but this would only represent the farm they were living on at the time. 

The Hemnes District in northern Norway was sparsely populated, and this caused problems when it came to the task of finding a mate.  When a young man came of age, he would row across the Fjord to other farms in search of a wife  Once married, the couple would need to decide where to spend their lives.  If they were lucky, they  were able to stay on one of their familys' farms.  If the wife came with a dowry, they could purchase land in the area and start a new farm or sub-farm. .

Large families and limited arable land placed severe pressure on the farms in the Nordland region of Norway.  This was, after all, one of the most arctic and mountainous inhabited regions of the world.  Inheritance laws that passed the land to the oldest son were strictly followed and many children were forced to move to the urban areas of Trondheim, Bergen, Kristiana (Oslo) or to America to live.  There, they adopted a surname that was either their patronymic name or the name of the farm where they last lived.  In the 1870s a Norwegian law forbade the use of the "-datter" suffix on newborn girl's names, requiring all to use the -sen suffix instead,.  By the time of the 1900 Norwegian Census, most farm residents in Norway had adopted one of the two forms of surname and by 1923 Norwegian law required all citizens to do so.

The Osmo surname comes from the Osmo Farm located in the Hemnes district 25 kilometers south of Mo i Rana and about 525 kilometers north of Trondheim.   The farm is mentioned in Church records as early as 1745.  According to the Hemnes Land Register of 1865, it is described thus:

"25  mål  [1 mål = ¼ acre]  arable land, poor water, sandy soil. 25 mål of meadow, plus a little low lying bog and a field that is assumed to produce 98 locks of hay annually.  Insufficient harbor access   Insufficient in forest.  Farm is somewhat uncomfortably close to the sea."


The Osmo farm ( in the foreground of the photo at left) is located  on a peninsula jutting into a spectacular fjord across a strait from the Village of Hemnesberget (on the far shore in the photo).  It was first separated from the Hestnesosen Farm in 1742 by Elias Pedersøn of the Mellingsjorden Farm upon his marriage to Maren Jonsdatter of Valåmoen farm in the Korgen district. Their son Elias Eliasen, born in 1753, carried on the farm after the death of his mother in 1789 and, with his wife Elen Jonsdatter from Srausmnes Farm, had eight children, including Ole Adrien Eliasen.  Elen survived her husband Elias, and had two additional husbands and two more children before she died in 1826.

Elen Jonsdatter, born in 1760 was the third child of John Olsen of Straumsness farm and Randi Helene Andersdatter of Bryggfjell farm.  Randi Helene's mother Elen Nilsdatter was one of the most interesting characters in the  Hemnes/Korgen region. 

Born in 1705 in Bryggfjell farm in Korgen District, Elen Nilsdatter married Anders Jorgensen, a ship captain ("Skipper" in Norwegian) in 1730.  In 1743 Anders bought 2 cargo ships in partnership with Anders Larsen of Mula farm (Great-Grandfather of Hedevig Pedersdatter) and obtained a  license to trade fish from far northern Lapland for general goods from Bergen to the south.  Being centrally located, the Bryggfjell farm became a natural way station for the trade.  Anders captained the boats south to Bergen while his wife Elen captained them north to Lapland.  Elen came to be known as "Skipper Eli" throughout Korgen. 

Skipper Eli, was an astute merchant and never missed an opportunity to make a profit.  Because her farm was so far from the village of Hemnesberget where she attended Church, she maintained a small house near the church where she could rest after her journey.  Realizing that other Parishioners had long distances to travel as well, she  stood outside the church selling refreshments.  She often wore bright colored, beautiful clothing she obtained through her husband's trade and available for purchase.

Because of these activities, Skipper Eli was habitually late for Church services.  One Sunday the Priest of the Church, on observing another late entry by Eli, stopped the service and publicly chastised her by singing to her the third verse of an obscure Danish hymn.  The words criticized her disrespect for God and the Church.  To the surprise of the whole congregation, Eli responded to the Priest by singing back the ninth verse of the same hymn, whose words defended her way of life.  This episode is recounted by parishioners at the Hemnesberget Village church to this day.

Skipper Eli was reputed to be a witch, one of two living  in the District at that time.  It was said that she would throw a fishing line from her top floor window at the Bryggfjell farm and catch fish even though the farm house was located far from the sea.   Some Church parishioners associated it with her reluctance to come to Church on time.  Although the other witch, Mastermo Tobba was burned on the island of Bardolsoen, Skipper Eli died a natural, though premature death.  This may be because her husband was the local Sheriff.

Skipper Eli was said to be stingy in the extreme and amassed a great deal of wealth during her life.  When she died in 1757 her property was inventoried on 37 pages and was valued at over 1606 Daler- a princely sum.  Being miserly in life, she was apparently unwilling to part with her goods after her death and her spirit was often heard rummaging through her things in the attic of the family home.   After the death of her husband her things were sold off but she continued to be heard amongst her things in their new home.  One family who had purchased her Akje (a Lapp sledge) had to call a Spiritualist to get rid of her presence in their house.

Anders and Skipper Eli had six children, including their oldest Randi Helene Andersdatter.  When Skipper Eli died, her husband married Berit Olsdatter, the sister of Randi's husband.  When Anders died in 1794, the estate was inventoried again and this time amounted to only 271 Daler, showing which spouse was better at handling finances.

Ole Adrien Elissen, born in 1794 was the fourth surviving child of Elias and Elen.  He took over the management of the Osmo farm after his mother's death and purchased it from the Crown in 1841 as part of a nationwide Norwegian Land Reform program.  In 1828 he had one child, John Olssen by his wife Inger Hansdatter from Buvik Farm.

John Olsen obtained ownership of the farm from his Father's estate only after he proved that he was the only legal male heir.  He married Hedvig Pedersdatter from Brennesvik farm  in 1859 and had the10 children.

 The photo of John's children at the right was taken about 1883 and includes all 10 children of John and Hedvig as follows:  Back Row, l-r:  Benjamin Tonder (b. 1877), Ole Nikolai Myhre (b. 1866), Peder Lorents (b. 1860), Jens Groenbach (b. 1869); Front Row: Else Helene (b. 1874), Idda Margrethe (b. 1865), Johannes Kornelius (b. 1872), Elen Maria (b. 1856), Inger Emille (b. 1862); Front Center:  Lorents Christoffer (b. 1879).

(Photo courtesy of Svein Osmo) 

In 1894, Johannes Kornelius Johnsen, seventh child of John and Hedvig, married Elen Anna Olsen from Aandalsnes near  the city of Molde, in the Romsdal Region of Norway.  They had seven children between 1895 and 1903 including my grandmother.  In 1896, Johannes Johnsen, his wife and family left the Osmo farm to set up a bakery in Trondheim, leaving his brother Peder to run the farm.  The bakery was for a time quite successful but in 1905 it went bankrupt.  Johannes, using his son Femmer as a straw,  purchased the farm from his creditors in 1906.

It was about this time that Johannes came to be involved with a young woman, Henriette Johnsen who worked for him at the bakery.  She bore him an illegitimate son, Henning Johnsen in 1905 in Oslo.  In 1907 Johannes left Norway for America,  followed shortly afterwards by Henriette, leaving Henning to live with Henriette's mother.  Johannes' wife Elen returned with her children to the Aandal farm in Romsdal.

Known initially in America as John Johnson, Johannes worked in Swedish bakeries in Cambridge Massachusetts.  In 1914 he established his own Bakery under the name of John Osmo at 119 Green Street in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston.  He wrote his wife to send some of his children to America to be with him, and on 12 October 1914 his oldest, Hedvig, and youngest, Johanne, arrived at Ellis Island.  Hedvig married William Dame in 1918 in Boston.  Johanne (Jenny) eventually returned to Norway, married and lived her remaining years near Bergen Norway.

Johannes' relationship with Henriette Johnsen did not last.  The couple may have lived together for a time in Cambridge. Henriette returned to Norway in 1909 and returned in 1910.  In 1914, the Boston City Directory indicates that she moved to Brookline Massachusetts.  In 1926 Johannes closed his bakery and returned to Norway.  There he repurchased the Osmo Farm from his son, built a new house on the property and lived there until he sold the farm in 1939.  He died in Hemnesberget in 1958.

In 1917 Henriette married Lewis Carl Hornow of Boston, a worker at the Green Street Bakery.  She maintained contact with her son for a time, and returned to Norway in 1920 to attend his Confirmation.  Henning Johnsen changed his name to Fagge in 1941.  He married, had three children and died in 1947.  His mother Henriette died in 1948.

Elen Anna Olsen, wife of Johannes Kornelius Johnsen, was born in 1870, the daughter of Johan Nikolai Femmer Olsen, a ship Captain from Kristiansand, Vest Agder Norway, and Elen Sofie Aandal from the Aandal farm in Romsdal.  We know little of Johan, except for the name of his ship, the White.  The 1875 Norwegian Census indicates that Johan was away at that time as Captain of this ship.

Of the Aandal Farm, we have much information.  It is located in a remote mountainous region of More og Romsdal called Raumadal.  Located at the head of a Fjord,  it enjoyed deep water access and became a preferred location for the distribution of local farm goods in the 18th century.  In the mid  19th century, the region was noticed by the English gentry, and soon tourist boats were arriving to marvel at the spectacular views and healthful air.  The Aandal farm was joined in 1824 with the Naess Farm with the marriage of Søren Jorgensen, Aandal and Elen Anna Fredricksdatter, Næss.  It was not long before Tourist Hotels were built on the grounds and a thriving tourist trade was underway.  Today, Aandalsnes is a center for Norwegian Tourism as well as some light industry.  Odd Meringdal and Andrew Russell Aandal published a comprehensive genealogical record of the Aandal and Næss farms, and sponsored a family reunion there in 1992. Many in our family attended this reunion, and had a great time.

What part Elen Anna played in Johannes' life after he went to America is something of a mystery.  She is listed in the Trondheim City Directory for 1910, 1916 and 1931 as a widow, suggesting that their separation was not amicable.  Nevertheless, when requested to send some of her children to America to live with him, she willingly complied.  When she was in Norway, her granddaughter Anna Dame became very close to her, and communicated with her often when she returned to the US.  After Johannes went to America, Elen and her children remained in Trondheim.  She died in 1944.

Hedvig Margarethe Bjerring Osmo, oldest child of Johannes and Elen, was born at Osmo farm in 1895.  She was named for her great-great grandmother, who died in 1843 and for her grandmother, (or Bedstamor in Norwegian.)  In 1914 her father asked her to accompany her youngest sister Johanne to America to live with him. and they arrived at Ellis Island in October 1914.  She married William Dame in 1918, and lived for a time next door to her father's bakery.  Soon after the birth of their eldest, Anna, she returned to Norway in what would become a replay of her father's actions.  She returned to Boston in 1921 and had two more children- John and Roy.  In 1927 she returned to Norway with the children   She remained in Norway until the end of World War II, finally returning to the US in 1946.  After that she returned to Norway regularly aboard her favorite Steamer, the Stavangerfjord, and after 1963 by air.  She last visited Norway about 1978, about seven years before she died.

About 1935, William Dame began divorce proceedings against his wife for desertion.  The case was a bitter one, and because she was not in America, it was fought by proxy.  When their daughter Anna returned to America in 1936, she was forced to testify against her mother in Court.  The divorce was not granted, but an alimony settlement was reached and the couple lived separate lives until death reunited them in a common burial plot at Woodlawn Cemetery in Everett Massachusetts..

There is a recurring middle name in our family, that of Femmer. The family in Norway has portraits of a couple named von Femmer from the early 18th century. Family tradition holds that this Royal couple fled Germany for religious reasons and settled, penniless in Norway.  Records show that there were individuals with the Femmer name in the area of Christiansand as early as 1680. and in the 18th century in Romsdal and Nordland Counties.  Femmer Osmo, brother of Hedvig, researched the Femmer line that is documented here.  The Femmer name connects through the Aandal family tree,  passing through several female ancestors before it appears in the Osmo line. One gets the feeling that our family were really proud of this family connection.

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