Monday, 12 February 2018

Our ancestral homes, part 4: Hammeren

Hammeren is a name that means a lot to me. It's my mother's family name, and both my brother and I have inherited it as our middle name. In fact, my mother has never changed or added to her surname in any way, because her name is such a big part of her identity. I highly respect her for that, and it makes me feel even more connected to the "Hammeren clan".

However, for a long time, our family did not know for sure where the name Hammeren came from. It had the look of a place-name, probably a farm name, but where was this farm?

My great-grandfather Arne Harry Hammeren (1919-1991) was born in Oslo as the illegitimate son of a maid named Gønner Larsen and an engineer named Hans Hammeren, of whom we knew little, since he had no direct contact with Harry or his descendants. Having studied all available records closely, and eliminating various candidates, I developed a strong theory of who Hans must have been, and where he came from. I was 99% sure I was right. And a couple of years ago, when another genealogist got access to Harry's official paternity case file, my theory was finally proven on paper. My great-great-grandfather Hans Johansen Hammeren was born in 1883 at Hammeren in Løten parish, Hedmark county, Norway. He was the son of Johan Nilsen Hammeren (1854-1940) and his wife Anne Hansdatter Skogen (1845-1927).

Hammeren was indeed a place, but it turned out not to be a farm after all. It was, in fact, a place of industry.

The history of Hammeren

Around the year 1800, a man named Simen Olsen came from Alvdal in the upper part of Østerdalen, and settled in Løten where he leased a piece of land in 1805. On this piece of land, Simen built a copper smithy, also known in Norwegian as a kopperhammer, on the site. Because of this, the place has ever since been known as Hammeren.

In Norwegian daily speech, the word hammer means the same as in English - a hammer - and hammeren is the definite form, "the hammer" As a place name, Hammer or Hammeren usually has a different meaning: "the cliff". However, in our case, Hammeren really does refer to a literal hammer. A smith's hammer!

Nine years later, in 1814, Simen Olsen leased more land and built a mill and a sawmill. This became the start of the business - for a business it was - which was eventually christened Hammeren Bruk, "The Hammeren works". After a while, however, the entrepreneurial Simen got into economic trouble and had to sell the works in 1830, and the place and the company continued to change hands rather frequently during the following decades.

In the middle of the 1800s, the Hammeren works had become a strong actor in the timber business. In fact, it was the first real commercial sawmill in the district. When the railway from Hamar to Grundset was constructed in the period 1860-1864, it was the Hammeren works that supplied all the ties. A major fire in 1863, in which two persons tragically lost their lives, was a setback to the activity; however, the company was too strong to be broken.

In the year 1866, a 46 year old man named Nils Børresen was hired as the manager of the Hammeren works. Nils was a very experienced miller, and must have been the right man for the job. He, and his wife Petrine (known as Trine), were the first of our ancestors who moved to Hammeren. After a while, Nils started using his residence name as his surname, as was the custom, and that is how Hammeren became our family surname. Interestingly, our ancestors never actually owned Hammeren; they were only hired managers.

Løtenboka, the bygdebok (local history book) for Løten, tells us that Nils and Trine "had many sons who were all gifted and accomplished men". Three sons and one daughter emigrated to the USA. One son became a bank manager in Sweden. The four children who remained in Norway all seem to have been successful and led happy lives. A strong entrepreneurial spirit and wanderlust seems to have characterized the children of Nils and Petrine. Løtenboka refers to them as "the gifted siblings from Hammeren".

It was Nils' son Johan, the fifth oldest of the siblings, who took over the management of Hammeren. He was born on August 14, 1854, and in 1878 he married Anne Hansdatter Skogen, literally the girl next door (she was the daughter of the farmer on the neighboring farm, Rokoskogen), who was almost nine years his senior. Anne's father, Hans Embretsen (1804-1886), came from Elverum and was of Forest Finn descent; he was the great-grandson of Anders Henriksen Himainen.

Johan Hammeren and Anne Hammeren (née Skogen), my great-great-great-grandparents. Source: Løtenboka.

Anne and Johan Hammeren had four children together, but only two of them lived to adulthood: Trine Johansdatter Hammeren, who was born on July 7, 1880, and Hans Johansen Hammeren, who was born on November 30, 1883. In 1880, Johan took over as manager of the Hammeren works, and made a business decision (a purchase) that ended up losing the company money, but all in all it seems that the family were economically well off. Johan and Anne sent Hans to school in Hamar and later to engineering college in Oslo. Trine probably got some form of agricultural education, since she later bought and ran her own farm.

We know that both Anne and Johan Hammeren were involved in politics. Løtenboka tells us that Johan was "much used" in municipal matters, and Anne was one of the signatories of the Women's Suffrage Association's 1905 petition for dissolution of the union between Norway and Sweden. The petition was later used as an important argument in favour of women's suffrage in Norway, which was granted in 1913.

After having completed school in Hamar, Hans Hammeren travelled to Kristiania (Oslo) to study structural engineering at Christiania Technical College. In 1918, when Hans was well established in the city with a job at Aker Mechanical Workshop, he received a tragic message from back home: The Hammeren works, with all its buildings, had burned down to the ground. The damage was total. His childhood home, and his father's place of work, was gone. And since the stockholders were of the opinion that Hammeren's location was not optimal, it was decided that it should not be rebuilt.

Johan Hammeren got back on his feet and continued his life as a farmer at Vealund farm, which he had bought in 1916. His daughter Trine bought Vealund in 1922, and after Johan's death in 1940, she took over the whole running of the farm. Trine never married, and in 1953, when Løtenboka was written, she was still managing the farm, at the age of 73.

Meanwhile, Hans stayed in Oslo, and on October 20, 1918, he got married to a young woman from Gran in modern-day Oppland county. I truly wonder what happened in the following months. Did Hans marry a woman he didn't love? Did he experience a weak moment? We will probably never know. What we do know is that sometime in the beginning of the year 1919, Hans Hammeren met my great-great-grandmother Gønner Larsen and made her pregnant. Gønner went alone to the Women's Clinic in Oslo and gave birth to my great-grandfather Harry on December 12, 1919. Hans Hammeren does not seem to have been a part of the life of his son, and seven years later, he emigrated to the USA. He was allowed to emigrate only after having paid his child support debts to Gønner.

Hans had a rough start in the States, working at low wages during the Great Depression and writing numerous letters to the Norwegian consulate explaining why he couldn't pay Harry's child support on time. However, he always came through in the end. Hans worked at the Bethlehem Steel Corporation in Pennsylvania for the rest of his life, doing well as a structural engineer in the steel business and even filing a couple of patents. He died in Bethlehem in 1970, almost 87 years old. I wonder if he knew that he was already a great-grandfather?

Hans Hammeren in 1951

Hammeren today

Hammeren in Løten still exists today. However, it is no longer a sawmill. The only thing that is left of the old business is a worn-down brick wall next to a small stream, with fittings for a mill wheel that is long gone. The place is now used as a campsite by the Norwegian Guide and Scout Association (Norges speiderforbund), and is well-known by Scouts under its local dialectal name Hammer'n.

Ironically, my family has always insisted on pronouncing the final e: Hammer-enn!

If anyone is in doubt about the identification of the Hammeren works with the modern-day campsite Hammer'n this can easily be verified by comparing their gårds- og bruksnummer. I checked this when I last visited Hammer'n, and the numbers clearly show that it's the same place as the Hammeren where my family are recorded in the old censuses.

I've grown up with Scouting, and spent most of my childhood not too far from Løten. The first time I visited Hammer'n, I was five years old. My father had a Scout conference, and I was allowed to come along. I remember it well. What I didn't know was that this place was my ancestral home and the source of my family name.

It truly is a small world!

See also:


  1. I so envy you your knowledge of your family. Sadly it seems that when my ancestors came to the U.S., everything was "forgotten" because they were Americans now.

  2. That's such a shame! However, if you dig, I believe there's always something there to be found. It took me many years to find out all this about the Hammeren family.

  3. My DNA test was the greatest discovery. It opened the door to the Forest Finns and a whole host of ancestors I never would have known about. I do know that I have French Huguenots on my mom's side, newly discovered German Mennonites on my dad's, Dutch founders of New Amsterdam (we owned what is now Wall St. in New York City) on both sides, and some English/Irish ancestors who were early American colonists. I've had to find all of this out on my own, like you. No "family lore" about it that was passed down.

  4. An extremely fascinating mix of peoples and cultures. You should definitely do some genealogy posts on your own blog! Or maybe you already have?

  5. Yes, I did do a little on my family and their ancestry. Here's the first one (I was unaware of the Forest Finn connection at the time.)

    And here's the follow-up:

  6. Thanks! I look forward to reading them:)