The Family Photos

Ottar Jakobsen 1900 Norway

Ottar Jakobsen emigrated to the US and is said to have been killed there. His belongings were shipped home to Norway without any explanation. He died under mysterious circumstances and the story I was told is that he probably was murdered during gold digging.  The original type of gold digging :-)

This photo is one of my favorites from my family photos shoebox.

Ottar was my grandmother’s youngest brother. He was born in the year 1900 in the north of Norway. My grandmother said my dad looked like the spitting image of Ottar. That he both looked the same and had the same type of personality. The first time I saw the photo I thought it was my dad in the photo.

So Ottar was my dad’s uncle. It sort of  feels like it is my dad in this photograph. It both is and it isn’t.

In 1923 Ottar Jakobsen travelled with the ship Stavangerfjord to the US, arriving at Ellis Island in June. Life was tough in Norway at the time and Ottar was the hope they sent out in the world to save the family finacially. Instead he died.

For the last week I have tried to search geneaology records but I have found no trace of Ottar beyond the Ellis Island passenger records.

On the passenger record for Stavangerfjord I found that he had listed a Simon Andersen in Wisconsin as his uncle whom he would stay with. I managed to trace Simon Anderson (1868-1955) and his wife Ingeborg Olina Anderson (1874-1952) in Wisconsin and later Minnesota. Google earth even provided me with photos of the house Ottar said they lived in, and the house they were listed as living in in 1940. It was really strange to see a photo of an unknown house and try to imagine that Ottar had lived there.

Do you have a shoebox of old family photos stowed away on a shelf somewhere?

I wonder what will happen to the family photos after I am gone. When no-one knows who are in the photos anymore.

I hope the public digital archives will allow for uploading images along with details of who are in the photos. I sometimes visit vintage shops and look through boxes of old photos. And I find it sad that there was nobody around to save those photos for the future family members who would then get the opportunity to know more about their own history. Before the house was emptied.

So this is my suggestion to you as a photographer. Scan them. Professionaly. High resolution. Name the people in the photos. And keep them somewhere searchable for the next generation. If you are not so interested, there may be someone further down the line who is.

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I later found Ottars grave and he had changed his name to Otto Jacobson. The death certificate confirmed that it was him, stating the name of his parents along with the same death date imprinted on the grave stone. It also listed the cause of death, a cause which came as a surprise. He died of tuberculosis, and the doctor had confirmed that he was diagnosed with it only two years after he arrived on Ellis Island. I then started digging a bit further. Two years after Ottars death in 1928, his two year older sister died of tuberculosis home in Norway, in 1930. Two years after that his father died of tuberculosis in 1932. His mother died in 1933, but her records are still blocked for privacy reasons. In 1933 my grandmother only had one of her four siblings left, and both her parents were dead as well. She was fourty years old.


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