Relief

An Update on the Letter Project from Alastair Brown, Lands Museum

Sometimes one starts a project that just grows and grows. Family researchers will know what I mean! My initial idea was that this was a not too demanding project. We should gather in letters from both sides of the Atlantic, take excerpts from them and make a theatre where we read these. The theatre would be chronological and with some historical facts about developments in both countries. Perhaps we could use some pictures of those who wrote the letters together with their homes. The letters reflect how both countries have changed through the years, and the emigrant-immigrant experience for those who left from Land. Kari Nordal is good at reading old hand-writing, so she would write the letters into a computer. Then we would choose the excerpts, I would translate them, and then we'd look for photos.

We had thought it would be difficult to get letters, especially those sent to America, but that those we got hold of would be easy to handle. Alas, I was very wrong! It began on a rather negative note when our biggest hope for letters did not metrialise, - no one in Arvid Sandaker's family knows what happened to his collection of several hundred letters. We have to accept that we will never find them. But since then we have been able to get hold of a surprising number ofletters written to Norway. We found some  in our archives, some in publications and others are still at the farms where they were initially received. Just this week

I got a plastic bag filled with letters and Christmas cards sent from America to the Erstad farm in Torpa. Most are from the 1960s and 1970s and are in Norwegian - which is really surprising. I also have a binder with letters sent to Fmisland in Torpa from the 1860s - 1890s. They are written on the usual small paper with as much written on each side as possible. We are grateful that the letters are so well kept in the binder, but it was a bit of a blow that all the letters have holes punched in them so that they could sit in the binder. I'm sure you can guess that an awful lot of words have now got to be guessed. From another farm (Lunde) I got a binder with photocopies of letters sent to America. The letters had been translated into English, which is nice, but we really need to check the originals, but unfortunately no one seems to be able to find the family in America now.

All letters from and to America are of course in varying degrees of completeness, condition and legibility. To work with them they must be scanned (for the archive and future use) and good photocopies made for Kari to work from (she has only one pc so she can't look at documents on one screen and write and write on another). This means that every original has to be individually scanned with adjustments to make the copies legible.

This is a special challenge concerning some of the letters I get from Sandra. People send her scanned letters that are much too light. So many have to be opened in Photoshop and adjusted before we can print them. It takes a huge amount of time. But at the same time it is also a luxury problem! We could never have imagined that we would get so many letters from America - and this is all due to Sandra, who has used and continues to use an unimaginable amount of time on this project. Without her there would have been almost no letters from Norway. Thanks Sandra!

So we intend to work on the letters through 2014, then in 2015 begin with choosing excerpts, translating, finding background historical details, photos ... then we must try to find how it will be presented! Financing that will be our problem, but I hope the lag will be able to give Kari payment for one month.  We must also make a Norwegian version for the schools and film both versions for future showing. As I said initially, this is a project that just grows and grows. Questions we will meet are amongst other things how representative the early letter are. Are the letters we have mostly from the larger farms with well-educated  people, or have we underestimated literacy amongst the former cottars? And isn't it more likely that letters have been preserved on the larger farms in Norway than by the cottars who moved very often? Obviously the Norwegian class divisions disappear with time in America so the later letters will be more and more representative for all of the emigrants and their descendants.

 

    

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