I was at my sisters place over christmas, and was reminded of my grandmother by this oilpainting of her (painted by Ragnhild Thrane in 1904). Her mother and father both had unusual family names, and for a laugh I thought I should see what I could find on that grand internet of ours.
I worked briefly at the National Archives as an apprentice bookbinder yonder, and I remember the genealogists that came trundling up the path from the metro every day, carrying heavy bags of notes. They would request church registres, dusty tomes, old newspapers and microfilm from the six floors below ground. A systematic, gargantuan, taxonomic task. I always thought I would never bother with it, because: back then you needed serious discipline and a keen sense of priority. You would only have a few sources of information available at one time, and flitting to and fro by fancy was not a good idea. Enter scene: the internet!
I started out with the names of my great grandmother, for the simple reason that they are unusual, and therefore easy to follow. The first name, Schjoldager, goes to Trondheim, and I find a small street there named after my great-great-great-grandfather or so. I thought that was rather swell, actually. He was a chimney- and chimney sweeper-inspector. Trondheim burned several times, so I guess this was a reasonably important job. At least not one they would give to the town drunk. Then Schjoldager morphs into Wolner/Wølner, and goes to about 1590, to Jacob Wølner who came to Norway from Freiberg, Germany to work as Overstiger at Kongsberg Silver Mines. Schjoldager stops there – or at least, I have not tried to find the rest of the Wølmers of Freiberg.
So, back to great grand-mamas second name, Figenschou. It goes to northern Norway, then to Bergen. There, a fellow by the name Elias Fiigenschow (b. ab. 1599, in Copenhagen), was apparently one of the best portrait painters in the country. His grandfather, Mathias Fugenshuh (1540) was a royal saddlemaker from Hindelang, Germany, and he had a coat of arms. I was chuffed. Hurrah, I thought. A proper, swirly family crest complete with animals, acantus and shields.
Elias married a Bloch, and to make a long story short, she hails from the old Norwegian noble families. Apart from having hilarious names such as Benkestokk, Smør (Butter), Smørhatt (Butterhat), Krukow, Bratt til Tomb, Ku til Tomb, Stangjarfylja, the crowning beauty is a governor on Iceland, Tore Bjørnsson Tinghatt (Tinghatt = thing (as in assembly) & hat). The source considers that the name Þinghottr may be because he “came to a thing (assembly) wearing a peculiar hat“. This strikes me as wild speculation, but hey – I love the thought, so I am sticking with the story:
Some time in the early 1200, one of my ancestors came to the assembly meeting wearing something amusing on his head.
From another path of the Figenschou line, I find the unassuming name Hage. The line goes to Danefær, to not-so-unassuming Holstein, to von Reventlow, to Rantzau, Buchwald, Breide, and further to the positively pompous von Ahlefeldt, Limbek, Gyllenstierne, von Rugen. This may not say very much, but they are all nobility, knights, members of Council of the Realm. Wherever that may be. I was at this point swimming in more crests and coat of arms than I cared to, and it was clearly steering towards Scandinavian royalty. And if you get mixed into that, there is no way out. To cut a very very long story very short, I end up at various kings and queens of Sweden, Denmark; princesses from England, Poland, Italy and Russia. Some saints too. This is around year 1000, and if things are a little shady after the black death, it certainly gets foggy around 1000.
Of course, genealogy is not an exact science, and I am no professional. I am good at digging around on the internet though. Of course I may have gotten something wrong, but I would be in good company, among those hobby genealogists that came to the National Archives. I have tried to find at least two sources and confirmation of the lines, particularly the high royalty. They often had multiple wives, husbands, children out of wedlock left right and centre. The men might die early in war, the women in childbirth. I am learning much about “NN”, and the politics of marrying off your daughters for political reasons. And after all, we are all related, more or less. At least in Scandinavia it was not uncommon to send a child to a neighbouring lord or a relative to be brought up there. This was to ensure connections and peace, but it might also leave the origin of the child uncertain. At some point in history, the idea of “parent” may be biological, or may be whoever raised the child. See the confusion?
From Figenschou, I find three distinct lines that I have not followed through. One point to the old kings of Norway, and the two others both point to Charlemagne. I mean, what do you do then? Behind him is the Byzantine empire.
Once you have hitched your family tree to a royal line, there is little point in following it through: others have done that. The royal connections are amusing, but I do not feel any relation to them. My initial interest was to find amusing anecdotes such as the guy with the peculiar headgear, and the guy that “in a fit of anger did away with himself with a rope” (Johan Reinertsen Wormhuus, 1686, Bergen).