The Rasmussen Family Vault

March 28, 2008 By: erik Category: Family, News, Photos 2,014 views

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Ruth and Glen RasmussenLast September, a distant cousin of mine, Mark, found my blog and left a comment explaining who he was. Mark’s mother and my grandfather were cousins, both the grandchildren of Rasmus Rasmussen, a sailor, author and Lutheran reverend that sailed from Norway to the United States on a viking ship for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The fair was set up to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus “discovering” the New World. No doubt the Spaniards, who had arrived in replicas of the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria, were a little peeved to have a replica viking ship proven capable of the journey as well. They first stopped in Washington, D.C., so that President Cleveland could meet the captain of the ship, Magnus Andersen. Check out this awesome list of “famous firsts” from the fair.

This week, Mark has started sending me some old scanned photos and documents that his mother has about Rasmus and the family in general. He even claimed to have a photo of my parents and me when I was about five years old. I didn’t believe him, of course, but sure enough, he sent it to me and there I was, cute as a button!

This excerpt from Mark’s email is particularly interesting:

As I recall, your great grandfather was Halfdan Rasmussen, brother to my grandfather, John Martin Rasmussen (Johannes, in Norway). In my grandfather’s old papers, I have found a letter from an attorney, written to my grandfather, that explains the trial of a young Halfdan Rasmussen when he was accused of stealing a ring from the home of his employer and then selling it to a merchant in town. The case was thrown out by the judge due to lack of supporting evidence. It is an interesting account – I will scan the document soon and send it to you.

You will see that there are papers quite old – one of which appears to be dated to 1887 in a document addressed to Rasmus. If you or anyone you know can translate the Norwegian, we will have great success in the understanding of what these documents mean.

I have learned that Rasmus was not permitted to be ordained by the one of the synods of the Norwegian Lutheran Church because he lacked the proper educational preparation. I believe it was the Hauge synod that eventually accepted him and consequently ordained him into the ministry to serve many rural churches and groups of Lutheran Norwegians in the wilderness of the Dakotas.


Rasmus and Ingeborg Rasmussen

Rasmus and his wife, Ingeborg. These are my great-great-grandparents. Look at the size of his hands!!

Rasmus and Ingeborg Rasmussen

Rasmus and Ingeborg again. He’s in the same chair, but looking a little older, as in the photo that I already had of him.

Halfdan Rasmussen

Halfdan Rasmussen, Rasmus’ son. This is my great-grandfather. I had that puffed-out tie look going on at my wedding.

Ruth Seversen

Ruth Seversen, Halfdan’s future wife. Look at that gorgeous Scandinavian skin and eyes. My great-grandmother.

Ruth, Halfdan, and Glen Rasmussen

Halfdan, Ruth, and their adorable little son, Glen, my grandfather.

Ruth and Glen Rasmussen

My grandfather, Glen Rasmussen, and his sister, Ruth. I think this is my favorite photo on this page. What a good looking kid!

Sten Seversen Family

My great-grandmother, Ruth, and her family.

Halfdan & Ruth Photo 1969

This is the only photo I recognize of my great-grandparents, Halfdan and Ruth Rasmussen.


For some reason, Mark also had this photo of my aunt and uncle and two cousins, [names redacted]. [name redacted]’s the miserable-looking one.

Paul, Betsy, and Erik

And here we have my parents and me. As ridiculous as they look with my 2008 eyes, I wish flannel shirts would hurry up and come back into style.


Letter RJR 1887

A letter to Rasmus, dated 1887.

Cover RJR 1902

One of Rasmus’ books, 1902.

Inside Pages RJR 1902

The intro to the book. (1902)

Note about Halfdan 1906

A note about Halfdan, August 24, 06. 1906, that is.

Letter to R Rasmussen - Aug 1907

A letter to Rasmussen and family. Maybe “Kjere” means “Dear”? August 8, 1907.

Letter to Ingeborg 1907

A letter to Ingeborg, September 2, 1907.

Letter to RJR from Rev T Dahl 1909

A letter to the Rasmussens from Reverend T. H. Dahl, dated October 9, 1909. I looks like my “Kjere = Dear” hypothesis is confirmed.

And there you have it. Mark says he’s got quite a bit more and is going to scan and send it to me when he can. I’m excited about digitizing and distributing these documents and photos to help preserve them.

  • [name redacted]’s the miserable-looking one

    I think the word you’re looking for is bershon.

    I must be imagining it, but I feel like I can see some family resemblance between you and your great-great-grandfather (!). It’s especially unlikely given that I’ve never met you and your ancestor is mostly beard and hands, but I swear it’s true. Around the eyes.

    This is really cool that you have these. I don’t think my family’s archives go back quite that far, though my sister is getting ready to do some delving.

  • That is all absolutely fantastic.

    I can see some resemblance between you and your grandfather too. If your family is like mine, they have long since parsed every feature you have, right down to who you inherited your fingernail shape from.

    My Dad found a distant cousin a few years ago in Tennessee who has been working on the George family history, so we now have access (and have contributed) to a couple of books and a website.

  • sgazzetti: Bershon is a great word. I shall propagate the meme at every opportunity.

    Yesterday, when I showed these photos to Marga, I said, jokingly, “See, we look almost identical!” But then as I started looking more closely, I, too, saw a little resemblance. I suspect that a lot of that is confirmation bias, though.

    A quick side anecdote: When I was in fifth or sixth grade, our class was studying history (called “Social Studies” at that level) and we were learning about Vikings. So I raised my hand and proudly stated that my great-great-grandfather came to the US from Norway on a viking ship! My teacher, who understood that these viking ships were primarily used about a millennium ago, condescendingly told me that my statement was impossible and to put my hand down. I was pretty hurt about it. It was several years later, I think, when my brain fully comprehended the time difference and why Rasmus’ voyage was special as a historical reenactment. And thus another childhood classroom trauma transforms into humorous adult anecdote.

  • I love all the photos, but especially the first one.
    I have a couple of friends in Norway, although I don’t know if they’d have the time or energy to translate that stuff. I could ask. Or are you going to try babelfish?

  • That’s a great story. Traumatic then but funny now.

  • Wow. I’m impressed. I know very little about my own family history.

  • Simon, Babelfish doesn’t seem to do Danish. Most of Rasmus’ writings are in “Old Norwegian”, which I’ve been told is closer to modern Danish than any of the other Scandinavian languages. Of course the Norwegians, Danes, and Swedes can all read each others’ languages without problem.

    You’re more than welcome to ask the favor of your Norwegian friends, but I’ll be surprised if they’re willing to take the time to translate a, probably mundane, letter from a hundred years ago.

  • Paul

    Very interesting. I’ll be looking forward to learning more about Halfdan’s trouble with the ring and the law. The man had strong values and high morality. This sounds like the sort of incident that might have helped to cause those 🙂

    Another replica of the Gokstad was built about 20 years ago, and is in use now promoting the tourist ports of Vestfold. Some video of it in operation can be found on their “Viking for a Day” site:

  • Cool video! Thanks for that, Dad.

  • Uncle Neil

    Are you sure flannel shirts are not in style?

  • Yeah, I’m pretty sure there’s not much flannel on sale on Fifth Avenue these days. I don’t know what’s happening on the catwalks of northern Minnesota, though.

  • Uncle Neil

    The Ben Franklin has a huge line of flannel but Buck’s Hardware is on Fifth Avenue one block off the harbor and two blocks off the Gunflint Trail and has enough. Everything from underwear to touqes. That’s where I shop and I did suspect that I set the style.

  • I too am disappointed by the current lack of love for flannel shirts.

    Also I think you need to put your amazing family history into if you haven’t already.

  • Hi! I’m working on a book about the VIKING and was directed to your site by a person on Norwegian genealogy because I’m trying to find descendants of the crew, especially Andersen. If you are willing to help, please free to send me at email ([email protected]; anyone who knows anything about the crew or journey are invited to write me).

    The story is fascinating. One of my favorite facts is that the caravels were towed across the Atlantic by other ships while the VIKING went under its own power and, in fact, often outsped its tugs when navigating the Great Lakes and rivers forced the VIKING to be towed–Andersen noted that the crew resented that even when it had to be done; he said, they were Norwegian seaman for pity sake! The fact that the caravels were towed caused no little amount of ribbing during the fair, and the reception of the VIKING was even greater than that a week before for the caravels!

  • Thanks for that comment, Folo. All the information I have is about Rasmus, I’m afraid. The only thing about Magnus I have is this lithograph that most everyone in my family has a copy of.

    Viking Lithograph (partial)

    This version is badly cropped, but I could get you a full version if you wanted it.

  • Oh, that is a wonderful print! I’d love to get a copy of the complete lithograph!

    Apparently, Andersen published a little booklet of photographs of the journey that he sold as souvenirs during the Fair and the ship’s stay in new Orleans. It was a way to raise money for Snug Harbor Sailor’s Home, his pet project. I haven’t found a copy, but that would be great to see! 🙂

  • Paul

    About 35 years ago, Betsy and I stopped by the nursing home in Findlay to visit with Halfdan and Ruth. Their room was small, and full of things from their lives. Grandpa took me to his closet, reached up to the upper shelf, and took a lithograph from a short stack of them. I would estimate that at that time he had perhaps five or six more. He wrote “My Dad” next to Rasmus’s picture, and gave it to me and Betsy. We framed it, of course.

  • Grandma Joyce

    Erik, The black-edged item with the name Rasmus Johan Rasmussen is not a book—it is the funeral obituary for Rasmus’s son who died June 8, 1902.

  • Wow, that is so cool to dig into the past and learn about your family! I will probably never be able to do that. I asked my grandmothers to pass me on all the information they possessed about their respective families while they lived but due to the terribly poor relationship we have with the rest of my paternal family, I will probably never get hold of the photos.

    By the way, did your cousin Mark translate the letters for you?

    As far as my knowledge of Norwegian permits to judge, the note says the following:

    Halfden Rasmussen was my pupil in the 1st and 2nd grade. He had good abilities and has (shown?) diligent and good behaviour.

    School Nordnes

    and yes, kjere means “dear” but the rest of the text is too small to be able to make anything out for me.

  • Wow! Thanks for that Costarossa! You’re quite the polyglot! No, Mark doesn’t understand Norwegian.

    He had good abilities and has (shown?) diligent and good behaviour.

    Hmm…maybe I’m not his descendant after all. Just kidding! That’s about the one sentence description Halfdan received throughout his life, I think. Thanks again.

  • Well, the truth is I speak Swedish, not Norwegian, but they are pretty similar. If you want, I can try to see the other letters published above if you can send them in a better resolution, though they are quite long and I probably wouldn’t have time to translate them, but I think I might get the gist out of them for you. That would be fun, I am an amateur linguist. 🙂

  • Steve Fiebiger

    Greetings – I found your blog when googling Rasmus Rasmussen. He’s my great grandfather. My granfather was Elias Rasmussen, Rasmus’ son. My mother was Gloria Rasmussen Fiebiger, daughter of Elias and Clara Rasmussen. Elias and Clara had seven children and there is an extended family of Rasmussens and offspring in the upper midwest and elsewhere. My wife and son and I live in Burnsville, MN. I saw the Viking lithograph on the blog and it was weird because most of our family have the same one – it was a little weird because I didn’t know all of you existed! Interestingly, the actual Viking ship that sailed to the Chicago’s World Fair in 1893 was in Lincoln Park in Chicago for many years and a restoration project was attempted. I’d be interested in learning more about the extended family and sharing some about ours. My sister in law, for example, speaks Norsk and maybe could help with some translation (she would have to give the okay of course). Best regards,
    Steve F.

    • Steve, you and I communicated back in 2005 when you found this Rasmus page I made. If your sister-in-law is up to the task, it would be wonderful to have a literal (not just summarized) translation of the book on that page.

      • Steve Fiebiger

        Erik – You’re right – and thanks for refreshing my memory on the earlier connection. I’ll check with my sister-in-law.

  • Friends of the Viking Ship

    Erik, Your great great grandfather’s book, Viking – from Norway to America, written in 1894, was translated from Norwegian to English back in 1984. It is a delightful book to read and gives us a first-hand account of the crew’s courageous journey across the Atlantic, through the Erie Canal and on the Great Lakes to Chicago. Friends of the Viking Ship, NFP, a 501(c)3 organization devoted to the preservation of the very ship your great great grandfather sailed to the Columbian Exposition was given permission to republish the translation. All proceeds from the translation are being used to preserve the “Viking”.

  • Elizabeth Chamberlin

    Thanks for this! I’m one of David’s (Glen & Joyce’s son) biological daughters. Your information is great.

  • Justin Anderson

    Whoa…stumbled upon this while looking for online references for The Viking’s wikipedia page. Your distant cousin, Mark, is my uncle! Rasmus is my great-great grandfather through his son Johan/John. Everything on this post seems to be from many years ago, but if you get notification of my comment here, let me know! I have an original printing of his book (in old Norwegian/Danish script) as well as an original copy of his obituary from a Norwegian-American Lutheran Newpaper and many other documents…I did not expect to find comments from so many other descendants here! Also the photo of you as a child looks so much like two of my cousins.

    • That’s great! So cool. I’ll send you an email.

  • Alexander

    Hi, the letter intro states “Kjære”. It’s the same as “Dear”. This is actually written in Danish, which was the written language in Norway at that time.