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The Founding of the GG Archives - The Rest of the Story - 2010

The following is an open letter from our Chief Archivist in the USA, Paul Gjenvick.

In 1991, I took over the etterkommere of the Gjenvick-Gjønvik family. My cousin, the late Arvid Gjønvik, started working on our family history in 1972. His book, published in 1976, was focused on just writing down the facts. Arvid was unable to locate information on my great-grandfather, Johan Lauritz Johnsen Gjønvik, but was able to proceed back in time through his wife, Anna Oline Gjønvik and her ancestors.

There were several items that I wanted to change -- let's face it, reading an entire book devoted to the facts of date born, name of spouse, date of marriage, children, and the date of passing is not all that exciting. 

My primary goal in assuming this project was to make the genealogy of the Gjenvick-Gjønvik family merge with historical and social events. I wanted to go far beyond the basic facts with copies of family documents, photographs, and family group sheets. How to accomplish this as a part-time, intermittent project was the real question.

Armed with the basic facts, I began to research my grandfather first. We knew that he emigrated from Norway in 1913 and started in Rock Island, Illinois. 

Nobody could agree on how he got here. I discovered several old documents, including a Contract for passage aboard a steamship of the Cunard Lines, an Immigration Inspection card, and several official-looking documents, many of them in old Norwegian.

I had all of the "important looking" documents translated, which offered several clues. Several weeks turned into months at the LDS Family History Center, gathering information on the ship he was on. In some of the records, my grandfather had stated that the steamship was the "Lusitania" when, in reality, there were two ships that brought him to the United States. 

The first steamship was a small vessel called the Aaro (or Åro) used by a "feeder line" called The Wilson Line of Hull, which specialized in transporting immigrants from small cities along the coasts of Scandinavia and brought them to Hull, England.

This is similar to our modern-day "hub and spoke" arrangement that many airlines use. From there, he traveled by train to Liverpool and boarded the Ocean Liner "Laconia." Relatives suspected that he arrived in New York or Philadelphia. As it turned out, he arrived in Boston.

Now it was time to gather information on the Cunard steamship Laconia including photographs (exterior shots were easy to find). Due to her short time in service, interior shots -- especially of the third class sections -- were not available.

I located through microfilm at the LDS Family History Center, all of the information about the ship such as manifest for that voyage, documents about the cruise -- especially Saloon passengers.

Over time, I uncovered a copy of the booklet given to emigrants before they left Norway and a photograph of the interior of the Cunard Steamship Office in Trondhjem, where my grandfather purchased his ticket.

Along the way, I came in contact with Olaf Solem, the g-grandson who sold the steamship ticket to my grandfather. I also reviewed and took copies of newspaper articles dealing with the departure from Trondhjem, the arrival in Hull, the departure from Liverpool, and the arrival in Boston. All of these records helped to build a complete picture of what was going on in 1913.

Over ten years, I had managed to collect some outstanding, rare documents, pamphlets, and brochures from Cunard, microfilm, photographs, books, and even a tape recording of my grandfather talking about emigration from Norway to South Africa around 1900.

Now I could build an extensive timeline and add facts about my grandfather that relatives just weren't aware of before. Bringing the family history and associated documentation to the web was perfect for what I wanted to accomplish. 

You could still read basic facts, but now you also had the opportunity to view a substantial amount of additional information. If I wanted to see the steamship that he arrived on, click on a hyperlink, and photographs, ship history, postcards, and other documents were all just one click away. And, as Paul Harvey says.. now you know the rest of the story.

Paul K. Gjenvick

26.10.2000

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