Birgit Halvorsdatter Holte (1889-1978) – a husmann’s daughter

My grandmother was born in Atrå, Tinn in Telemark on 4th June 1889, as the ninth child of Aslaug Olsdatter Velta and Halvor Toresson Odden, later Holte. (The family group is detailed here, as well as the previous owners of the place.

They lived on the husmannsplass (smallholding) Holte, hence Birgit’s last name. I do not know of any pictures of my grandmother as a child. But I found a group picture where I, with the help of my mother, had added her name to a face.

The Holte siblings: first row, second from left; Gjertrud Holte, and Anne Holte second from right. Third row from left, number seven and eight Tore and Halvor.

I am a member of the Facebook group: “Gamle bilder fra Atrå” (Old photos from Atrå), which is the exact locality where she came from. I posted the picture and received many responses. First of all, some persons with more local knowledge could tell me which school she would have attended, Gauset. The picture has more than one grown-up, the school had only one teacher, so it is probably from a special occasion. The flag in the background makes that even more probable. One thing I remember my grandmother telling me was that she wrote on a small blackboard with chalk. No writing books back then.

Then one of the members of the Facebook group visited a local historian and a member of the Holte family. They told me that Tov Halvorsen Holte had named everyone in the picture and that he was 19 when the picture was taken, so that was 1894. Tov was Birgit’s brother, and he lists three of his siblings: Gjertrud, Tore and Halvor. The flag belonged to the recently formed youth organization Gauset Ungdomslag. In the Facebook post it is thought probable that the picture was taken on the 17th of May, the Constitution Day.

Being a husmann family was hard. My grandmother never talked much about it. But I have found a letter from her, where she writes of her life. Herding cattle at the age of ten, all alone. But an experience she had as a 13-year-old really scared her. She had “lost” a few cows and the owner sent her out at 3 AM to look for them. There were both bears and lynx (gaupe) in the area. She prayed that God would protect her and in the morning she came to a house with nice people. They wanted to report her employer to the police, that was how seriously they took this occurrence.

Aslaug Olsdatter (Velta) and Halvor Toresson Holte.

Birgit was of sturdy stock, the following text confirms this. In Norway people have been asked to tell about their early life, for example, they asked everybody who was born before 1900. Tov answered this request, it was his son who put pen to paper. He tells us about work, living conditions and much more in the book I manns minne 2 (As far as man can remember). He tells the story in the perspective of being a husmann’s son, and the indignities he felt he experienced. But this is what he says about his mother: “Mother told us that when she walked the two kilometers to Flåten to do her duty work (as a husmann’s wife, her husband worked away from home as a stonemason among other jobs), she had her twin sons in a basket (teine) on her back, me (Halvor) in her arms in front of her and the goat tied to the basket”.

In the same book I find more information about the flag. It is believed that the first time the flag was flown in Tinn, it was by the Ungdomslag. My great-uncle Halvor was asked to carry the flag on another occasion, and he was very proud of this task. When the flag was hoisted and could be seen against the sky, people gasped for breath and called out “Å, å-nei!” Notice the flag is similar to what it is today, the Swedish flag previously incorporated in the corner is not there – a very important detail for a population looking forward to independence.

The siblings in the Holte family remained close throughout their lives. One sister, Astrid, emigrated to the United States but kept in touch. We, descendants of Aslaug and Halvor – more than 100 of us –have met in Tinn from the 1960’s onwards. When my grandmother came to live in Oslo in the sixties, they formed a club for the cousins, kusine-klubben. My grandmother was the oldest, and the others were mostly nieces of her, only women participated. It was not easy to be heard in this flock, but they did have fun! Later smaller groups of the Holte family met in the Oslo area. There was always a lot to talk about and share. Some siblings had died young, while others lived to a high age.

One thought on “Birgit Halvorsdatter Holte (1889-1978) – a husmann’s daughter

  1. Thank you so much for the information. I love learning more about our Norwegian people. God bless you, Sally in Texas

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