Finn Christensen, a Waisenhus boy (Part 1)

The Waisenhus in Kongens gate 1

Every time I am in Oslo (previously called both Kristiania and Christiania) and pass the former Waisenhus in Kongens gate 1, I think of my great grandfather. He lived in this orphanage, which also was a school. The stories from Norwegian orphanages are often sad, but I believe that for Finn, this was an opportunity that helped him in life.

Finn was born in 1869, the fourth child of Hulda Marie Hansen and Johannes Christensen. His father was a musician in the Army, later a basket weaver. Money was scarce and they moved from dwelling to dwelling in Kristiania. Johannes died when Finn was 10 years old, in 1879. The boy was confirmed in April of 1885. The parish record shows that he then lived at “Opfostringshus” which means “foster care house”, and that term was used about the Waisenhus.

The Waisenhus was a place where children (from the age of six and until they were confirmed in the Lutheran church in their teens) could live if they could not be with their families. In order for the institution to generate some income, they had the children sing at funerals for a fee. They also had a book printing shop where Finn might have worked, as that was their main source of income while he lived there. What we also know is that he learned different subjects relevant to business administration, like keeping accounts.

In the census of 1885 (which shows residents on the night between December 31st and January 1st), Finn is recorded as a sales clerk “handelsbetjent”, living at home with his mother and most of his siblings. Hopefully he could then help support his family. His mother is recorded as being a widow and five of her children were still living at home without any occupation listed.

Finn Christensen as a young man.

I only have glimpses of Finn’s life, more research is needed. He marries Elida Marie Jensen in 1897, seven days before their son Rolf Bratlie is born. This is a civil marriage, Finn is not a member of the State church, while Elida is. Finn was not a member of any other denomination, as far as I know. Their second child, Gunvor, is born in on December 23rd, 1899. Ragnar Bratli was born in 1903. Times were difficult in Kristiania, the “Kristiania-krakket” (the Kristiania recession) occurred at the turn of the century. Finn’s occupation at that time was clerk, skills he had learned at the Waisenhus. The situation was difficult for the family in 1905 and 1906, they moved four times, and they probably had to apply for support from the poor relief fund (“Fattigvesenet”). According to the Population Register’s index card (Oslo Folkeregister – registerkort) for 1907 the family moved to the town of Notodden.

Family lore tells us that the family left Oslo at some point of time. Finn got a job digging trenches, which must have been tough for a man who was not used to manual labor. At this time Notodden was an expanding industrial town, based among other things on hydro-electric power. Tinfos was established in 1873, and Notodden Salpeterfabrikk in 1906 (the latter produced fertilizer).The family lore is that the family left Oslo at some point of time. Finn got a job digging trenches, which must have been tough for a man who was not used to manual labor. At this time Notodden was an expanding industry town based among other on electricity. Tinfos was established in 1873 and Notodden Salpeterfabrikk in 1906. (At the plant they produced fertilizer.)

Employee card for Finn Christensen

At the Telemark Archive at Vemork, they found an employee card for Finn at my request. It states that he started working at the Notodden Salpeterfabrikk on June 27th, 1906. He and his wife have a third son, born in September 1907, called Odd Bratli. The infant’s father is recorded as being a “Formann”, meaning supervisor. Two more boys are born in 1909 and 1911 respectively, Trygve and Arne, but both die in infancy. A workers’ association, “Salpeterfabrikens arbeiderforening”, is organized and in 1908 Finn is elected as secretary. In 1913 he representants the workers in signing the first tariff agreement with Notodden Salpeterfabrikk. I have started to search for the location of this document, it is not in a local repository, but is probably to be found at “Riksarkivet” (The National Archives of Norway) or Arbeiderbevegelsens arkiv og bibliotek (The Labour Movement archive and library).  

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