Transitioning from one gender to another is a process that encompasses all of your life and reaches deep into your inner self and your relations with other people. And even though this is rarely, if ever, discussed among genealogists (transgender genealogists being very few), it also affects your relationship with your family history and the way you see yourself in relation to your ancestors.
Suddenly, I have gone from being part of the male line of descent to being part of the female line. My descendants, if I have any, will be connected to my family on their female side instead of the male side, at least socially, if not biologically/genetically.
These thoughts inspired me to write this detailed blog post about my direct female/maternal ancestral line. I've written something about this line before, but in less detail.
I will start with the story of my 4th great-grandmother, Olea, who was born into rural poverty in the early 1800s and established herself as a crofter's wife far away from her home village. Each generation of her female descendants would work to improve their situation as well as they were able to, one step at a time. It has been a long journey.
Our story starts in Stange parish in Hedmark county, on the eastern shore of Mjøsa, Norway's biggest lake.
Olea (Olia) Hansdatter Lillehagen was born in Stange on October 23, 1817 as the illegitimate child of Hans Andersen and Berte Embretsdatter. Olea's childhood and teenage years seem to have been turbulent; as a young girl she moved a rather long distance away, to the parish of Elverum in Norway's largest and longest valley, Østerdalen, perhaps to stay with relatives. Olea was confirmed in Elverum church in 1833. Then, in 1842, she moved yet again, this time to the parish of Aurskog, in Akershus county, several hundred kilometers to the south. There she married Hans Hansen in 1843, and the couple settled in Blaker village, at the croft Kleiva (or Kleven, in the Dano-Norwegian orthography of the time), which was located on land belonging to Svarstad farm.
No photo of Olea exists. We know little of what she was like as a person, but in her burial record from the year 1900 she is described as sindsygt fattiglem, "mentally insane pauper". In other words, she must have suffered from serious mental illness.
Gerd Ovidia Hansen, the youngest child of Sofus and Dagny, was born in Grünerløkka, Oslo on December 29, 1924. Her first boyfriend was a local boy named Torbjørn Johansen, who was a year older than herself, but he went to sea at the age of 14 (or 16). During World War 2, Gerd is said to have been engaged to another man. At this time, while Norway was occupied by Nazi Germany, she was also active in the illegal press in Oslo, distributing patriotic newspapers and leaflets. Unfortunately I don't know the details of Gerd's underground activities, but I know that she was caught by the Nazis and sentenced to hard labour - she had to pick turnips at a farm in Blaker!
When the war was over, Gerd's old boyfriend Torbjørn came home after many years abroad (at sea and in the United States). The two got back together, and got married in Paulus church on February 23, 1946. Their first daughter, my grandmother Kari, was born later that year, and their second and last child, Mette, was born two years later. Eventually the young family moved to Lørenskog just outside Oslo. The family was not well off. Torbjørn worked at a factory and later as a window-cleaner, and Gerd, too, had to work in order to make ends meet. She and Torbjørn would both work night shifts, leaving the two children home alone. In the daytime, Gerd was at home being a housewife. It must have been extremely tough, but they managed.
Kari Johansen, Gerd's oldest child and my maternal grandmother (mormor), was born in Grünerløkka, Oslo on July 7, 1946. She had to start working at a young age, and it was at her workplace that she met the man who would later become my grandfather. They married in 1965, and their oldest daughter, my mother, was born later that year. My grandmother was only 19 years old then. Out of respect for my her privacy and that of my mother and my aunts, I will not write in detail about my grandmother's life. Suffice it to say that things did not come to her for free, and she worked hard all her life. My grandmother died in 2003, only 57 years old, and was survived by her mother Gerd who died in 2005. We all wish my grandmother lived longer, not least because my brother and our younger cousins did not get the chance to know her well. I cherish the good memories I have of her.
My mother is a self-made woman. She was the first person in her family to go to high school and university, where she studied geology, social anthropology as well as English and German. In 1989, she spent a semester in Austria and experienced the fall of the Iron Curtain up close. Back in Norway, my mother later became a schoolteacher, then a school inspector, and she is currently working as a headmistress. She has in fact headed three different elementary schools, and each school has ended up in a better state because of her leadership.
Although comfortably off today, my mother has never forgotten her working-class upbringing and has never failed to impress on me and my brother the importance of hard work and the mentality of not taking life for granted. I'm very proud of my mother's achievements and I always try to carry her down-to-earth values with me. Hopefully my brother and I will be able to pass those values on to the next - as yet unborn - generation. I also hope that if I ever have children, I will be as close to them as my mother has been to me and my brother, and to give my children as much love and support as my mother has always given us.
Olea, Thea, Dagny, Gerd, Kari and my mother - I'm extremely proud to be a descendant of this long line of strong, resilient, resourceful, loving women. And I feel very privileged, in transitioning, to join their ranks.