Friday, May 4, 2012

Bergliot Elida Berentsen, Belle -- remembering her early years

Bergen, Norway ca 1900

I visited Auntie Belle several times in her home and on one occasion I took a tape recorder.  Belle was almost 93 years old at that time and lived into her 100th year.  She passed away 14 April 1997.  She was rather proud of her longevity remaining spry and cheerful to the end.  She had lost considerable eyesight but still managed to get around fairly well.  She laughed about how she sometimes was surprised at what she had picked up at the grocery store, as she couldn’t see well enough to read the labels on the cans.  She was great fun to visit. 

Here is a little background to place her in the family.  Belle was born in Bergen, Norway on 28 September 1896.  Her Norwegian name was Bergliot Elida Berentsen however that was changed to Belle when she came to America.  She was the youngest of the three children born to Bertel Ananias Berentsen and Elen Nikoline Ingebrightsen.  Her brothers were Ingvald Kristofer Berentsen, born 8 January 1886, and Birger Amandus (sometimes written as Amungus) Berentsen, born 29 December 1893.  Ingvald remained in Norway but Birger came to America with his aunt Karen Landaas in July 1909.  Not quite two years later in April 1911 Belle left Norway at age 14 with her father, Bertel Ananias (Uncle Nias) and her stepmother, Anna (Tante Anna).  Nias was a half-brother to Karen Landaas being the child of her mother, Kristi Mor, and her mother’s second husband, Berent Berentsen.  I so wished I had a picture of her but Belle had had a facial palsy as an adult so she was self-conscious and would not let me take any photos of her. 

I asked her about her life in Norway. 

“I was born in Bergen.  I was there until my mother passed away.  And I was 2 ½ years old when my mother passed away.  I was born in Bergen and I was baptized in Johannes Kirken in Bergen and I was confirmed for Laksevag.  That’s right across from Bergen.  Then after my dad remarried, then we moved out to the country, you see.  My dad was a seaman.  So he wasn’t even home.  He didn’t come home until about six months after my mother passed away.  Well, we had an aunt living out in that neighborhood of Haakonsalle, and she, she was the one who tried to . . . and I guess my aunt here in America, tried to get us distributed around.  My aunt, Mrs. Landaas, Karen Landaas, she lived in Bergen.  She went over and looked in on my mother when she was sick in bed for a while.  Then she had a little help.  And my oldest brother, he was the one who took care of us kids and the house.  So he wasn’t very old.  He was only 13 years old.

“And I had another brother, younger.  But he was 2 ½ years older than I was.  I was the youngest one of three.  So we were three kids.  So then one was placed in one family.  My oldest brother lived with my aunt out for Haakonsalle.  But I was put over in Alvern (Alvøen) to a lady; she had another little girl my age, a little older than I was.  For about six months until my dad came home.  And then he had to find another place for us kids.  So he had to, he got busy and he met this lady.  That’s where she lived, that’s where her folks lived, out there.  Up for Haakonsalle, that‘s what it’s called now.  Haakonsalle.  That’s about a mile, seven American miles from Bergen.  Like from Ballard to Seattle.

“My dad was the half-brother of Karen Landaas.  My grandmother, she married again.  Her name was Olsen, I think, when Karen Landaas and them were born.  But he is a Berentsen.  And that was my grandmother’s name.  She lived at the Frue Enkehus in Bergen.  All the old women lived there when they got older and couldn’t take care of themselves.  Frue Enkehus in Bergen. 

Kalfaveien, Frue Enkehus,* Bergen, Norway, ca 1900

“My grandfather, I think he drowned.  He was a “fløtmann” they called it in Bergen.  A fløtmann, that’s the same as carrying, as had a boat and carrying people.  A ferryboat, like.  But it was just an ordinary rowboat, I think.  And he drowned; I think that’s the way it happened.  It’s quite a long story.

“Anyway, they didn’t have a place to leave us.  All three kids were in different places when my dad came home.  So then he had to get us together to find somebody who would take care of us, all in one place.  So he found this lady and about a year later, I guess, they married.  They married in 1901, the 15th of January 1901.

Tante Anna,** ca 1910

“Then we lived with another family till after my father came home and they got married and got settled and then they rented a place.  A room, that’s all they could get.  Until they got their house built and moved in.  And so we lived . . . let’s see, her folks owned a big farm up for Lindaastjerne, that was the name of it.  And her folks owned that farm, but he had just turned it over to his son.  You see, the oldest one, back there, was supposed to have the farm and the others just got a little plot for their house.  So she had a sister, another sister, my stepmother, and she got a plot over on the east side where he (the brother) lived.  The grandfather was in the middle and we got a plot over on the west side overlooking the bay.  It was really nice.  We lived in a really nice place there.  That was a very pretty inlet there where we lived.  Very beautiful.  We could stand outside of our window and wave to the ships.  My dad, if he were on the boat coming into Bergen then they always tooted the horn when he came in.   And when he left they did the same thing.  Because if you went south, and he had to go that way to get out to the North Sea across to the other countries.  We lived there until I was 14 years old.  I would be 15 in September.  We came to America in April and I would be 15.  So I was 14 years old when I left Norway. 

“My grandmother, Kristi Mor, she used to come out and visit us.  I always remember that because I was just a youngster, you know, and she used to use, have snuff.  That was supposed to be good for her asthma.  I guess it was asthma she had.  She put a little bit up in her nose, in her nostrils.  And we used to think that was so funny!  But back there, you know, we went to visit some other older, my stepmother’s older relations.  They lived way up by the ocean, up close by the North Sea.  And they used to smoke, that, what do you call them, clay pipes.  And, you know, us kids, when you’re kids you get a kick out of just about anything.  You think that’s so funny.  So that’s the way it was, but I remember my grandmother using that snuff.  But it wasn’t very much. 

“She had a skaut.  That’s what they call it in Norway.  It was wired, I guess, or a frame or something.  I don’t know just how it was.  Oh you know, I wish I had a picture of it so you see it. “

Later I did find this photo of Kristi Mor wearing the skaut and dressed in a traditional everyday type costume.  

Kristi Mor wearing a skaut

To be continued.


*  I am not absolutely certain this is the Frue Enkehus but it seems like one of the older relatives told me at some time in the past that it was.  If anyone reading knows more, I would appreciate hearing from you.

**  As a small child I was enchanted and fascinated by Tante Anna.  She was so very tiny, dressed in black, and was 101 years old!  I remember seeing her at Aunt Wilhelmina’s house for some sort of Landaas family gathering.  I was quite young.  My grandmother was not quite 5’ tall, yet Tante Anna was smaller.  Like my grandmother, Tante Anna, liked to wear necklaces and bracelets.  She was an altogether delightful little lady.  She was almost the size of a child.  All the older relatives fussed over her quite a bit too.  It may have been her birthday.


  1. Thats a coinsidence, my name is Elida Berentsen, and I live in Norway :)

  2. I think Elida is a very pretty name. Can you tell if you are in any way related to this Berentsen family? Just curious.