Valdres Norway History - Strand & Axness Families
During my building of the “Strand” branch of the family tree, I noticed that several of my relatives resided in specific areas: North Aurdal, Slidre, and Valdres Norway. I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a comprehensive book self published in the 1920’s by A Veblen that detailed not only Valdres Norway but an entire movement that at least two of my ancestors were active participants. Valdris is equivalent to a county in Southern Norway, occupying approximately 2100 square miles or about 3 percent of the country and is geographically south of the Trondhjem Fjord. Valdris is flanked on the northeast by Gudbrandsdal and South east by Aurdal, also listed as areas occupied by my ancestors. Within this area lies the Strand Fjord (after which I assume certain members of my family took their surname) The region is punctuated by fjords, lakes and the cataracts of the Begna river. The small dairy farming communities nestled amongst the granite faced mountains and alpine valleys are organized around church congregations.
The earliest recorded history of the Valdres region is intertwined with the saga of Harold the Fair haired. As a minor chieftain he became enamored with Gyda, daughter of king Erik of Hordaland who was betrothed to a bonde (farmer) of Valdres. Her refusal of his courtship prompted Harold to conquer most of the petty chieftains of Norway and thus win Gyda several years later. At the time of Harold’s unification of Norway, the population was primarily pagan, conversion to Christianity not occurring intil the rule of Olaf the Great in 1023.
It is my assumption that most of my ancestors were converted to Protestantism during the reformation, and may have worshipped in the ancient “stavkirkers” or stave churches which themselves are unique to Norway. These structures are comprised of upright pillars and girders with hewn plank walls or “staves” The churches have sharply pitched roofs often decorated with dragons heads. The doors were framed with intricate scrollwork inclusive of the dragon motif.
While it was not mentioned in Oline Strand’s family history, I found evidence that two of my ancestors were part of the Bygdelag Movement – or a societal organization formed by immigrants dedicated to the preservation of ancestral memories and publishing historical and biographical information about regional immigrants. The word Bygdelag itself translates to mean settlement, or neighborhood and society or a society of people from the same “neighborhood” in Norway. Our ancestors, JK Axness, and TK Axness are recorded in Veblen’s The Valdris Book as members of the Valdris Samband 143. For any person of Norwegian descent, I recommend this publication as the list of members included is quite comprehensive. The book in its entirety can be found via google search on line.
The Valdres Samband is the oldest bygdelag in America and is still in operation today.