Letters from America

On those days it was not possible to talk on the phone or send email, so they only had pen and paper. The letters they wrote often took a very long time – sometimes months – before they reached home. Often, they used one letter to greet everyone in the family and friends and people from their village because they couldn’t write letters to them all.  

Letters from America that have been preserved are as good as any text book when it comes to describing the lives of the new Americans. For example, we can use the letters to see where most of the Norwegian immigrants settled. The earliest letters (written before 1850) are often sent from Wisconsin where very many Norwegians settled. Later (after 1870) we can see that the senders have moved farther west – to Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska and the Dakotas. Even later we can read letters from Norwegians who had moved all the way out to the West Coast, for example to the state of Washington.

We can also see that early on a lot of families migrated, while later on younger and single people increased in number.  

We can read that those who immigrated worked very hard, and that it was not always easy to get a job or make a living. Many owed money for the farms that they bought. Others did well, boasted about their good fortunes in the new land, and encouraged more members of their families to make the journey to the “land of opportunity." Sometimes they sent money they had made back to Norway to pay for a relative’s ticket so he or she could join them in America.

We can also read in many of the letters how they mixed in more and more English words when they wrote in Norwegian. We can see that things were spelled in many different and strange ways.

For example, the word Valdres (the name of a Norwegian valley) is also spelled ‘Walders’, and the state of Iowa is sometimes spelled ‘Iova,’ or the city of Decorah is spelled ‘Dechora.’ The reason for all this funny spelling is that people often had very little schooling or formal education, were bad spellers to begin with, and then had to learn a new language. No wonder they mixed up their words and spelling!

Example of letters home to Norway: 

Elsie Pladsen, John Hjelle, Nels Torvetjern   



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