Melhus, Martin's Hometown

Small Map image with town of Melhus

Melhus is located just south of Trondheim, which lies on on a peninsula on the southern shore of Trondheimsfjorden (Trondheims Fiord), where the Nid River empties into the fiord.

Melhus is a small traditional farming community in a wide river valley surrounded by low hills.

NEW: A Melhus area map is available.
Head of Martin from his class picture.  Probably 8 years old

Martin was born in Melhus, Norway, on the family farm, Vollahågån, on June 28, 1888. His paternal ancestors had lived in the area for generations and several relatives lived nearby on the Skietne and Rejten farms. As a boy, Martin attended school in Melhus, Norway. He lived on the Vollahågån farm with his parents, and siblings.

Small picture of Martin's mother

His parents were Hans Nilsen (b. April 1, 1831) and Sigri Olsdatter (b. August 9, 1851). Hans grew up on the Rejten Farm. Farm names were sometimes used as part of the name of a person. Therfore, if a person moved, part of their name would change. When Hans was on the Rejten Farm (the first 42 years of his life) He would have been known as Hans Nilsen or Hans Nilsen Rejten. When he bought and moved to the Vollahågån Farm, he would have been known as Hans Nilsen or Hans Nilsen Vollahågån. When Hans and Sigri married (March 23, 1874), he would have been almost 43 years old. Sigri grew up in nearby Opdal, probably on a farm called Myhren and was 22 years old when she married.

Small picture of farmhouse on Woldhagen Farm

When Martin was not in school, he helped on the family farm, Vollahågån. There is a book in the Melhus library that told the story of the farms in the area. These books are called "bygdebooks" and are common all over Norway. Doug White located this book on one of his trips to Norway.

Picture of Martin at 16 or 17 years

Later on, Martin served an apprenticeship in cabinet making learning those carpentry skills that he would ultimately use to support his family. As a younger son, he had limited opportunities in Norway so at the age of 17, he left Norway.

Other images

See other images of Martin, his parents and siblings, and the Melhus area. Larger printable images are available from this location.

Martin's Story:

Melhus, Norway

Melhus area map
Martin's Family Tree
to the USA
New York &
Ellis Island
Martin's Relatives

Woldhagen Family Site

Norway's Story

Kamilla's Story

Martin's Story

Family Images


Duluth area

Tampa area

San Antonio

This page was last updated by Carolynne White February 2, 2002

Public Education


In 1884, Norway formally divided itself into two political parties, the Liberals and the Conservatives, although the division had been happening for 15 years. When the Liberals placed their leader Prime Minister in 1884, several reforms were implemented such as a jury system, and a law providing for primary education. According to Palmer's "Family History", Martin attended through 4th grade. This was probably sometime between the ages of 6 and 12 as he completed a 4 year apprenticeship at 16. The equivalency to American education is not known nor are the subjects that he studied. One would assume that Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic were the core curriculum. Remember that it was only in 1884 that Norway passed a law providing for any public education.

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Trondheim or Trondhejm

Trondheim is a both a city and a county which is centrally located in Norway on the northwest coast. Trondheim, or Nidaros as it was named in 1016, (originally, Kaupangr ), was the first capital of Norway. its name was briefly changed back to Nidaros in 1930, but the populace protested and the name change was reversed. The area was home to Haakon, a tyrannical ruler who was killed in 995 AD. Olav Tryggvason (Olav I), whose realm followed, founded the city by the mouth of the River Nidelva. Before he died in 1000 AD, King Olaf I built a church and a royal residence, Kongsgård, there. After a period of disunity, Olav II united Norway and again forced the people to accept Christianity. After some time, the Danish king routed him. When Olav tried to return to Norway and regain the rule, he met an army of Trondheim farmers. The "martyred" King Olav was killed there in 1030. Olav was acknowledged as a saint in Constantinople and Trondheim is the location of his shrine. After a period of prosperity, Trondheim's importance waned when the Hanseatic League made Bergen their chief port.

Today, it is Norway's third largest and oldest city, steeped in a thousand years of history. Trondheim has a special place in Norwegian history and culture but now is a modern, hi-tech city. The Norwegian University of Science and Technology is located here and ranks highly as a center of technology.

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The Skietne (also known as Skjetne) Farm

In the 1801 Norwegian census , there are 47 people living on the Skietne (also known as Skjetne) Farm in Tronhiem County, Meelhuus (also known as Melhus) Parish. This includes two farming families and Ingebrigt Ingebrigtsen and Tomas Nielsen are the heads of these families. Additionally, each farmer has two servants, one lodger with a family, and other families listed as "cottar with land". Tomas Nielsen (b. ~1750) and his wife Ingebor Hendrichsdatter (Vold b. ~1755, m. 27 Oct. 1784) have six children: Niels, a "grown child" at 16, Berit at 13, Hendrich at 11,Tomas at 6, Marit at 3, and Brynild at 1.

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The Rejten (also known as Reiten) Farm

Nearby, there was farm called Rejten (also known as Reiten) where Jon Rasmusen (b. ~1750) lived with his wife Mali Jonsdatter (b. ~1755) and their 4 children: Rasmus, a "grown child" at 27, Guru a "grown child" at 18, Mali at 13, and Marit at 10. Note: the age gap between Rasmus and Guru probably indicates that other children moved away or died.

In Norway, at this time, land was usually passed from father to eldest son who had a responsibility to "care for" the property and the rest of the family as necessary. This system is known as primogeniture. For some reason, in this instance, the system did not work that way. Niels appears to be the eldest son according to the 1801 census and should have inherited his father's part of the Skietne farm and Rasmus should have inherited the Rejten farm. (Perhaps, Rasmus did inherit but remained a bachelor and finally passed the farm to Niels.) Regardless, Niels Tomassen (b. 1785, d. 1845) married Marit Jonsdatter (b. 1791, d. 1878) on 25 August 1814, and Neils ended owning the Rejten farm. (Note: Niels Tomassen was the grandfather of Martin Woldhagen.) They had 8 children: Jon (b. 1815), Ingebor (b. 20 July 1817), Tomas (b. 9 August 1819), Jon ("Little Jon" b. 12 November 1821, purchased the Oyaas Farm), Mali (b. 1 December 1823), Merit (b. 21 June 1826), Nils (b. 11 November 1828), Hans (b. 1 April 1831, purchased the Vollåhågen Farm).

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The Vollahågån Farm

Neils' son (Martin's father), Hans Nilsen "Reiten" (b 1831), originally of the Reitan farm in Melhus, bought the Vollahågån farm (also known as Voldhagen) from Ola Tofte in 1873 just before he married. In 1902, Hans turned the farm over to his eldest son, Nils Hansen, who kept it through 1905. Nils received the farm through primogeniture but again it did not work in the traditional manner. Nils had married Anna Swensdatter and taken over his father's farm in 1902 or 3. After a couple of years, they mortgaged the farm for 1000 Krone and went to America. It was sold in 1905.

The bygdebooks in Melhus listed the Vollahågån farm from 1856 through1941. These are the translated ownership entries on Hans and his son, Nils:

1873 -1902 Hans Nilssen from Reiten, b. 1831, d. 1908

1903 -1905 Nils Hansen, b. 1875, went to America

Hans' children are also listed. The children's births and deaths are from this source. Martin's :

Martin, b.1888, went to America, lives in Florida

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Like his father, Nils Thomassen, Hans farmed and was a carpenter. He married Siri (Sigri or Siri Olsdatter Myhren (perhaps the farm's name) from Oppdal, Norway) in 1874. Their children were Nils (b.1875), Sigrid (b.1876), Marit (b. 1878, d.1887, age ~9), Ola (b.1880, d.1881, age ~1), Ola (1881, d.1889, age~8), Johanna (b.1884, d. 1899, age~15), Oline (b.1886, d. 1912, age 26), Martin (b. 1888), Olga (b.1890), Signe (b. 1893). Additionally, Siri's mother, Siri Toresdatter, lived with them until her death in 1901. (The causes of the children's deaths were not listed but it assumed that the grandmother died of old age.) Hans died in 1908 at the age of 77. The date of Siri's death is not known at this time. Nor is known where the family moved after the sale of the farm. Note: According to writing on the back of a photograph, Olga married Hjalmer Mykles. Interestingly, both she and her husband are wearing glasses in their photograph.

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Norwegian Surnames

At Ellis Island, he used his name, Martin Hansen (Hansen because he was Hans' son) with the farm name, Voldhagen (Woldhagen) as his last name.

In 1929, Norway passed a law that said that said that everyone should have an inheritable family name. This may seem unusual to Americans who always had had an inheritable last name system. Prior to 1929, the Norwegian naming convention was patronymic (from the father with a location or address name added when needed to eliminate confusion. Therefore Hans Nilssen Reiten meant Hans, son of Nils (sen means son and datter means daughter) who currently lives on the Reiten farm. Each farm in a district had a unique name but other farms in other districts could have the same name) When he moved to the Vollåhågen farm, he world be referred to as Hans, son of Nils who currently lives on the Vollåhågen farm or Hans Nilsen Vollåhågen. The first two of these names were always used with the location added when desired. This is why so many Norwegian last names are Erikson, Hansen, Olsen, etc. Note: therefore, a common last name does not imply blood relationships. If Martin had used this Norwegian naming convention, his name would have been Martin Hansen Sunnyhill when he first lived in Minnesota.

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In Palmer's "Family History" he describes the practice of young men obtaining formal training in a "trade" outside of the immediate family. Carpentry may have been the only trade available &endash; the plumbing and electrical trades were unknown. Palmer states Martin served a 4 year apprenticeship and earned his "cabinet makers commission" or "diploma" and became a journeyman by the age of 16 1/2. Note: In trade unions, there are several levels of expertise. The lowest is an apprentice (divided by the number of years already completed), followed by the journeyman (which has levels based on experience), and topped by the master.

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In Norway, at this time, land was usually passed from father to eldest son who had a responsibility to "care for" the property and the rest of the family as necessary. This system is known as primogeniture. As a result, Martin's older brother Nils inherited the farm. In the late 1800's Norway's population rapidly increased and opportunities were very limited. Even though problems with the economy and with Sweden were slowly improving, many Norwegians emigrated to America just before and at the turn of the century. Most of the Norwegian emigration to America took place before 1905. Although Norway's economy was improving, there was not enough work for the expanding population. Additionally, some Norwegians yearned for the freedoms in America such as freedom of religion. Stories of good farming land, economic opportunities, and religious freedom were widely reported in letters from America.

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