Wednesday, 7 February 2018


The i-word. This post is going to be political.

Many people seem to find immigrants scary, for various reasons. And the title and status of "immigrant" is not only reserved for someone who has actually immigrated; it is inherited in families, almost like a genetic marker. You can be a first-generation immigrant, a second-generation immigrant, a third-generation immigrant, etc. In other words, a whole family can be branded as immigrants - scary and alien - for a long, long time. You might even possibly be an immigrant without being aware of it!

Naturally I have looked into my family tree to calculate how many generations I have to go back to find my own most recent immigrant ancestors.

1. My closest immigrant ancestor is my great-great-great-grandfather Sven Hansson Cederholm (1824-1912) from Fjälkinge in Skåne, Sweden, who immigrated to Norway between 1849 and 1865. Since I've found no record of his actual crossing of the border, it's possible that it was in fact a clandestine move.

2. Then there is my other great-great-great-grandfather, an Englishman, allegedly Joseph Lister (Lord Lister; 1827-1912). He didn't actually immigrate to Norway, but does seem to have travelled there in 1856 and fathered a child with a Norwegian woman, my 3ggm. Since my 3ggm was the wife of a ship's mate from a town with close ties to Britain, it's also conceivable that she met Lister in England or Scotland. Lister's own grandmother Isabella Bull was herself an immigrant to England from Dublin, Ireland where she grew up in harsh conditions in a Catholic household in the 1760s and 1770s. Edit 9 May 2018: This family story has been proven wrong. My gggf was not English.

3. Then there are my two 4th great-grandparents, Anders Andersson (1832-1886) and Anna Johannesdotter (1830-1913). They both came from extremely poor rural backgrounds in Värmland, Sweden and immigrated to Våler, Østfold, Norway where they got married in 1858. Anders and Anna were among the pioneers of a large wave of migration from Sweden to Østfold that would last for decades. In addition to being an immigrant, Anna also belonged to a disdained and oppressed ethnic minority; her father Johannes Nilsson (1780-1859) seems to have been fully Romani and a member of a large clan, the Lunds, whose history in Sweden can be traced back to the 1600s. Anna, Anders and their children actually lived for many years at a croft in Våler called Tatermyr ("Gypsy Swamp"), which indicates that even in Norway the family was seen as "Gypsies" and forced to live apart from the majority population. See my separate blog post about my family's Romani heritage.

4. Then there is my 5th great-grandfather Claus Daniel Ellefsen (1782-1829), a timber merchant from Flensburg, who became a burgher in Oslo in 1807 and tragically took his own life at the age of forty-seven. Rather ironically, Daniel's paternal grandfather was in fact a Norwegian sea captain who immigrated from Norway to Flensburg in the mid-1700s. Immigrants upon immigrants!

5. And then, finally, there is my other (likely) 5th great-grandfather, Pierre Dérival Lévêque (1788-1852) from Haiti. An image of him can be viewed here. Dérival didn't actually immigrate to Norway, but does seem to have travelled there in 1808 or 1809 and fathered a child with a Norwegian woman, my 5ggm. Dérival's grandmother, my 7th great-grandmother Jeanne (born c. 1730), was an enslaved Black woman whose ancestors were taken to the colony of Saint-Domingue against their will as a very different kind of "immigrants". This has been proven wrong. My African DNA does not come from Dérival Lévêque, but from a different ancestor further back in time. This blog post will be updated when I solve this puzzle once and for all.

Going back through the generations there are many more immigrant ancestors in my family tree. Surprised? The ones I've mentioned here are just the closest ones, specifically the ones who travelled to Norway after the year 1800. I'm a sixth- and seventh-generation immigrant from Sweden, a sixth-generation immigrant from England, an eighth-generation immigrant from modern-day Germany, and an eighth-generation immigrant from Haiti.

Not to mention that I'm actually a literal first-generation immigrant myself, in the country where I'm currently staying; or at least I will be if I end up staying here after my studies are done.

I've looked at (and researched) a lot of Norwegian family trees over the years, and I've seen very few without a single immigrant in it. And even the few families without any known immigrant ancestors probably do have some that they just haven't found out about yet. Of course, if we go back far enough, all of our ancestors came from somewhere else - unless you're from certain parts of Africa.

To sum it up:

I am an immigrant.
You are an immigrant.
We're all immigrants to some degree.
Accept it, own it, appreciate it.

There should be no scariness about it.

Your immigrant ancestors brought with them perspectives and experiences that enriched your family history, and without which you would not be you.


  1. Yes! Here in the U.S. we are ALL immigrants, but many people choose to ignore that. My most recent immigrant relatives are my maternal great-grandparents from Norway, and at least one of them came from Finnish immigrants at that. My dad's paternal ancestors were German/Swiss Mennonites who came from Alsace, France to the U.S. in the 1700's to escape religious persecution. I have Dutch immigrants on both sides who came to "the Colonies" for various reasons and English/Irish/Scottish ancestors also. Many Americans forget that it wasn't so long ago that the Irish were considered undesirable elements, along with Southern Italians. It seems like once they get here, they want to bring up the drawbridge behind them to keep the "others" out.

  2. That seems to be the case everywhere, unfortunately...