As I stopped at the magazines in Barnes & Noble recently, the feature article on the cover of a genealogy magazine gave me a quiet chuckle. The title was something like, “Discover Your Ancestors’ Occupations.” Really! I thought to myself: going back in time from my grandparents’ generation, were there any men who were not farmers and any women who were not housekeepers?! My reaction is not meant at all to disparage anyone; it’s just a fact of life from our ancestors’ time past. All the same I decided to take a closer look.
Our grandfather Emil Borreson was a farmer, and so were his father
Elias and father-in-law Bertinus. In the next generation back, so far as I can determine, the results were the same: living on a farm, tenant farmer, etc. Some of them would have been called cotters in Norway.
As I examined the family line further back in Aunt Clara’s Homestead, I found very few exceptions. One was Anders Pedersen (born 1757), the father to Borre Anderson, who was tailor. A second was Anders’ grandfather Jens Jensen Abilgaard (born 1696) who was a minister in Loten. And a third was Jen’s father Jens Pedersen Abilgaard who a “Captaine,” as high officer in the army. (This Jens, by the way, was born not in Norway, but in Jylland, Denmark.)
Of course, sometimes farmers had secondary occupations to fall back on, and one of the most common was carpentry or woodworking. Emil himself did this kind of work, as did Gina’s grandfather, Thor Taasensen (born 1797), back in Norway. Emil also worked as a cook in a lumber camp, a place of winter employment for some immigrants. Among the women, a not-unusual supplement to their housekeeping was the vocation of Gina’s mother Maria Thorson: service as a mid-wife.
It appears to me that real variety in occupations came to our family only in the generation of our parents beginning in the 1920s and 1930s. Thanks to Clara’s family history we have a snapshot of earlier generations.