Sunday, August 28, 2011

Anna Hornnes the Adventuress

Continuing with the immigrant stories we next meet Anna Hornnes also known as Lil Anna and Anna Mikalsdatter. Anna was born 20 January 1884 in Hornnes, Aust Agder, Norway. This area is known as Setesdal and is made up of mountain valleys with farms and small towns. The beautiful Otra River winds through the mountain valleys and there are evergreen trees everywhere making it very similar to the Pacific Northwest here in the USA.

There used to be a narrow gauge railroad with a steam engine train that ran from the city of Kristiansand in the south up north of Evje og Hornnes to Byglandsfjord but now the small train only runs part way as a tourist attraction and only in the summer months.
Kåre Hodne and Alf George Kjestå made a film commemorating the 100th anniversary of the train called "Setesdalbanen 100 År" with Olav Arne Kleveland as narrator. Anna traveled from Evje og Hornnes to Kristiansand on this train. She kept a journal and wrote a personal history of her early life and parts of her later life so we have the rare opportunity to read in her own words her experiences. This post will feature the first part of her immigrant story but future posts will also show what it was like to grow up and live in Norway in the late 19th century.

Unlike some of our other ancestors, Anna left her homeland not so much because of need or circumstance but because she wanted to experience the grand adventure. She did return to Norway for a visit five years after she left and later sponsored several other friends and relatives by paying their tickets and providing them with a place to stay until they got jobs and could find a place of their own. As soon as one paid her back she sent the money forward to bring someone else over.

Here is part of her story--

“The next big thing that happened in my life was my journey over the Atlantic to America in 1903. I had been longing to travel but had no time or money to do so. My brother John, 10 years older, had left for North Dakota in 1901. His wife Lydia left in 1902, so I knew in time to come I would also pack a brand new trunk and cast off and start out on life’s big adventure. I went around to all my dear ones, some of my sisters and brothers, had home and children and it was quite a big undertaking to say goodbye to them all*, but it finally came to my last day. Mother took a long look at me never saying a word, she went for a long walk, train time and she didn’t come to say goodbye, but I understood, and it helped me too.

“It was on September 27th 1903 I first had a glimpse of the big Atlantic Liners. As I walked up the long gang plank, looking back on my dear ones on the wharf, I wondered if I’d see them again in five years as I had promised. As we left “Kristiansand” I looked on with tear filled eyes at the dear familiar landmarks and the beautiful shore line, snow capped mountains and dark pine forest. It is a dreadful feeling when one is leaving everything one has known and starting out in life at sixteen years of age** all alone to a land where we don’t even know a word of their language. But youth has courage and I had more than my share of willpower, so I just gave myself a good shaking and had one grand time on the boat.

“Had my first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty on October 14. We were sixteen days on the water; a little seasick the first day but nothing like some of the other passengers. It was like hearing a lot of Chinese, when we got on the deck, then we were all separated in from A to Z stalls***, so we never got to see our friends on the ship again, and I felt more lonely than ever. Not a soul to speak to, as I did not know any English then and no one that could speak Norwegian. I sure wish I had never started on this mad trip. But things went surprisingly well, an address was printed on a card and that was pinned on my coat. I had promised to work for a family that lived in Buffalo, New York. They in turn had sent my ticket to Norway so I had their address. I arrived safely, like the parcel post package, was met by the man of the house, a real nice good man he turned out to be, I liked the family and they took to me, so I stayed two years, paid for my ticket and saved $65.00 besides my clothes. I learned English very fast and loved the sound of it.”

More about her adventures in her new country in future posts.



*Anna’s father, Mikkel Alfsen was married twice. He had 12 children with his first wife and after she died he remarried at age 56 to a 19 year old and had 11 more children. Anna is the youngest of the 23 children. She was the second Anna in the family so she was referred to as Lil Anna while her older sister was known as Store Anna. Their mother was another Anne pronounced Anna.

** She says she was 16 but since she was born in 1884 and she left Norway in 1903 that would make her 19. That is still very young to leave home on such a journey all by herself.

*** This was at the Ellis Island Immigration center. Metal railings and cyclone fencing material separated the various stalls and the newly arrived immigrants were segregated by nationality and sorted alphabetically for processing. There is a photograph showing these stalls
that appeared in an Ellis Island exhibit several years ago. The caption stated that on an average day 4,000 immigrants were processed but 2,000 of them had to stay overnight.

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