Granddad’s Cousin: Hemming Gustavsen 1877-1966; A Larger Life Than Lean.

It is best that the adult life of Hemming Gustavsen be told first. After all, circumstances surrounding his uegte birth, or of unwed parents, were so complicated that its telling in the same breath, risks overshadowing his own story.1

Likewise, it is best that his last census be up first; that of 1950 taken in Seattle during his 73rd year.2 He was lodged at the Compass Center, in the waterfront area. “Flophouse” was penned below. Within, was a man full of surprises.

He was just a year younger than Granddad, Matt Hemmingsen, cousins of the Groli Farm. He had likely been a good chum during Matt’s long wait to join family in Wisconsin, who had left him behind in Hattfjelldal Parish. (See note A)

Hemming was already a man by fourteen, having gained a stable step-father at seven. Census 1891 showed him absent from his home farm where he managed livestock, to conduct the same job as a visitor on another farm, fulfilling the need to pay his step-father’s account.  


Such double employment was not uncommon at the time, so there was no suggestion that he was not well loved in his family. Still, his whereabouts went cold-case after that, when looking for him using expected knowns.

Now, this blog is “Double Genealogy: The Adoption Witness” which seeks to appreciate those ancestors whose situations of birth often result in their becoming lost from the family story. The crumbs laid along their paths of discovery often lead searchers astray. That discovery follows, however impeded it was, by Hemming’s fixes.


We do not know if he ever met his father, Gustav Henriksen. The gentleman skipped town, never revealing his age or where from. Gustav did allow that he was a skovdriver, on which we tried to track him down for Hemming’s sake; that is, to complete their genealogy, but came away unsatisfied. Instead, looking into that term revealed a much larger family situation surrounding Hemming’s birth that is set to publish next: “Skovdrivers and Maiden Descendants of Ole Hemmingsen, born 1800”.


Hemming never referenced either his step or biological father in his documents of life, but he did fix his mother. That is, he deemed Anne Marie Hemmingsdatter to be Annie Maria Gustafson. Therefore, his document trove which is perfectly explainable, looks to belong to another soul. His mother never would have been called that in Norway, even had she married his father. She lived life in her home county of Nordland as Anne Marie Hemmingsdatter, except that she is buried as Anne Hemingsen and would have been Mrs. Lauritz Johnsen in America.3 He lost her in 1949, in her community of birth.


A need for self-fix was not apparent, but Hemming constantly reinvented himself in considerable travel and job flexibility. He never wed, thus foregoing another means to publicize his particulars. On top of that, he claimed to read and write, as well as not. Whichever be true mattered not; his records were seldom interpreted to his given name. In fact, he actually gave up on Hemming, in favor of Henning.

Foreign shores called in 1906.4 Knowingly or not, the cousins separately pursued the west coast of British Columbia for opposite crossing at the US/Canada border. Hemming had just quit a short term residency in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan for digs in Portland, Oregon. This latter-day search party was unaware of that yet, though.

The day upon which it all came together was one in August of 1911. He stood at that border again, now as a single cement finisher, to leave permanent residency in North Vancouver and relocate to San Francisco. Clearly it was him: Hemming Gustapson, born 1877 Norway, whose mother was “Annie Maria Gustapson of Hatfjelldalen”. That fixed point put other data-mangled records in Hemming’s court as his life’s journey became clear.

He had sailed from Trondheim, 25 April 1906, aboard the Tasso to Hull, England, touting a new occupation of miner. Then he shipped out of Liverpool aboard the Canada to arrive in Montreal on 12 May 1906. In the interim, he had acquired an NATC Bonus Allowed; an agricultural benefit to lure Norwegian talent to population-needy Canada. Maybe his Moose Jaw summer had been to evaluate this opportunity.

Copper River in Valdez, Alaska provided the next surprise. The town was enjoying a mining boom in 1910, so Hemming, newly the miner, should easily have fit its census.5 However, the credentials were off a tad and Alaska was far from Oregon. Instead, an occupation of “road or rail work” seemed to emerge for him, from pages that were filled with thousands of men, whose tasks had been purposely obliterated by an after-census process. The why of that surely puzzled. He appeared in household #87, which consisted of thirteen single men. While Valdez was much favored with amenities, something unspoken strongly suggested that “spartan dormitory” described his shelter.

At any rate, Valdez echoed an earlier disguise. A Henning Hatfjelddalen, born 1877, had been spotted in Norway’s 1900 Census for Ankenes, later to join Narvik. He was a railroad worker, domiciled in Barakke no. 53. Over 70 such Barakke were clustered in one census district, where the majority of residents were such workers. He was housed with fifteen single men, plus a family and cook.

Both Valdez and Ankenes seemed to be our Hemming Gustavsen, despite deficiencies. Many in the Barakke had had their surname replaced with the name of their Parish.

The Valdez census was taken in April 1910. [Hemming was definitely NOT at Matt’s wedding.] He next professed to that North Vancouver residency at the Canada/US border in August of 1911, but Canada Census 1911 had not captured it. Still, had there been no kernel of truth, the specification to “North” Vancouver, would seem off. He was, however, included in San Francisco’s Street Directory from 1912-1913, which advertised continued work in cement finishing.

Having once traded the favorable clime of Portland for Valdez, Hemming next traded San Francisco’s for Ketchikan, AK. His WW I Draft Card, filed in Ketchikan in 1917, noted him tall, of medium build, with blue eyes and brown hair. He seemed to have dodged census in 1920, but this good substitute established that he was labor at a packing plant.

Hemming probably worked Alaska through the 1920s. He started the 1930s off in Anchorage as labor on the Steam Road and headed a household of one. Naturalization papers, filed as resident of Seward in 1928 and finalized in Fairbanks in March of 1931, formalized his name to Henning and updated his stature to 5’10” at 210 pounds. A record of travel to Norway remains for 1934, with return to Anchorage that same year.


Hemming spent the war years in Norway. He was issued a passport in Oslo on 11 Oct 1945, referencing those papers of Fairbanks. He shipped out the next day and arrived in New York on October 23rd.

Curiously, this document-set says he had last arrived in Norway in 1938, for which there is backup. Yet there is positively a record of arrival in New York on 31 March 1939 from England that might suggest a different story. He had to have made another journey to Norway, closer to the time of its invasion, such that he was not caught by war in Europe, rather chose to be there – perhaps to lend his considerable skillset to the war effort.

His exit in 1945, was from Orkland, Sor-Trondelag County, an area that would continue to draw him. This time he reported his job as construction. One could speculate where he would have been most relevant as a man in his sixties, had he engaged.

His 1900 census had fallen short of specifying that the reason for the Barakke was construction of what is known today as the “Arctic Train”. It was about iron ore then, and would be so, in the 62-day battle of Narvik. According to the governments of Norway and Sweden “decided in 1898 to complete the railway, one of the most extreme construction projects in Norwegian history”.6

Whether there, or elsewhere, civilian labor from someone like Hemming with this intense background that had been updated over a lifetime with improving American technology, would have been invaluable. Again, this is conjecture.


Hemming was already beyond today’s retirement age when he left Norway, in 1945. His travel records cited “Sailors Home” in Seattle WA at 107 Columbia Street for his destination. He had used this same address during the late 1930s and continued throughout the 1950s.

Seattle Street Directories never listed him, but they did this facility, under Lutheran offerings. This likely meant no personal phone, but then, as sole home occupant in Anchorage, he had not invested in a radio set. On the other hand, his history of travel showed him tourist class, but with four-piece luggage and average pocket funds.

Hemming’s ongoing pull to his homeland was more than matched by this facility. In 1950, though, he was known to be at Compass Center, 77 Washington Street, again, described in census as a flophouse. The facilities were neighboring, related, needed and appreciated. Thank God for love.

The Reverend Otto Karlstrom and his wife, Alva, had founded a Mission in 1920, at Seattle’s waterfront to serve those in need of community and resources. It originated as Lutheran Sailors and Loggers Mission and flourishes today, as the Compass Housing Alliance.7

Hemming had the resource and wherewithal to repeatedly take himself across the US continent, the Atlantic Ocean and Norway, into his old age. Alaska must have prompted many Pacific voyages too. He grew up in the beauty of Norway, then gave himself a plethora of the most spectacular cities in North America. He was still able to seek railroad labor at seventy-two. Being broke as reason to seek long-term assisted shelter, seems inconsistent with the record.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is gustavsentravelfour.png

Community is a strong and legitimate need. Sad things happen when persons do not seek it. Hemming had booked a rugged and awesome no frills package throughout life, appearing on paper to be personally alone on his journey. Karlstrom’s accepting mission of comfort perhaps sang a sweeter song, one far outweighing the negative impact that the descriptor, flophouse, had to offer. Trusting he fairly compensated for his two decades of care, one can imagine a unique pay-it-forward, sharing improbable can-do adventures and inspirational tales, with chosen home mates.

His last known arrival in New York was in 1958, but he had to have made another trip. He passed at 89 on 14 March 1966, in Orkdal, Sor-Trondelag, now part of Orkland. There must have been more story there. Privacy concerns keep the records closed.


Hemming Gustavsen was a long time resident of Seattle. He was a worthy grandchild of Hemming Paulsen and Gurine Olsdatter, as were three nearby cousins. Granddad and his brother, Ed, were in Victoria BC, their sister, Etta Church, in Bellingham WA. What a tragic waste should the pioneer adventures of this foursome, had not been shared amongst themselves, with fond reflection of their Norwegian childhood around Groli Farm.

* Matt Hemmingsen’s wedding of 1910, subject of several posts.

Please leave comments and corrections below, in the Reply Box, after Notes and Sources.


Note A: Background for this genealogy comes from the Memoirs of Matt Hemmingsen written in 1954, output of audio of Gina Dahlby Plocker (born Rued), of 1959 and The Family History of John O Hemmingsen, written in 1999, all unpublished, and protected here.


1 National Archives of Norway via its Birth of Hemming Gustavsen, Church Book, Hattfjelldal Parish 1865-1878, Event 1877-10-14 baptism (born July 6th), with reference to skovdriver // Death Archive: Statens institutt for folkehelse. Døde 1951-2014 County Hele Norge (for Hemming Gustavsen 07-06-1877 to 1966 -03-14. Death municipality Heim. // Census 1891, Hattfjelldal for Hemming Gustavsen and Census 1900, Ankenes, Nordland for Henning Hatfjelddalen. // Church Book Hattfjelldal Parish 1879-1916 Event 1884-11-20 marriage Anne Marie Hemmingsdatter. // Trondheim politikammer, 1/32 Emigrant protocols, no. 13: Emigrant protocol no. 12, 1904-1907 for 1906 Henning Gustavs. // Church book from Narvik parish 1926-1940 (1805Q)

2 NARA US Census Data via for 1910 Henning Gustavsen at Valdez AK, 1930 Heining Gustave at Anchorage AK, 1950 Henning Gustavsen at Seattle WA. // US City Directories 1822-1995 via for Henning Gustavsen at San Francisco and Seattle’s Seamens Mission at 107 Columbia under the heading Lutheran page 2061 for 1931.

3 profile for “Anne Marie Hemmingsdatter Aasen”

4 Immigration and Travel via for NARA a) US Border Crossings from Canada 1895-1906 i) Henning Gustavsen in 1906 (from residence Moose Jaw, SK [port of landing Quebec 11 May 1906] to Portland OR and ii) Hemming Guptapson in 1911 (from residence N. Vancouver to San Francisco CA. Mother Annie Maria Guptapson) // b) NY, US Arriving Passengers and Crew Lists 1820-1897 for i) Henning Gustavsen 1934-Apr 19, ii) 1939-March 31 citing Naturalization Papers from Fairbanks June 14, 1932, with destination Sailors Home 107 Columbia Seattle WA. iii) for Henning Gustavsen 1945-Oct-23. US Passport #35 issued at Oslo US Embassy, destination 107 Columbia. // c) NY US Arriving Passengers and Crew Lists 1917-1967 for Henning Gustavsen 1958-May-19. // d) NY US Departing Passengers and Crew Lists 1914-1966 for Henning Gustavsen 1954-March-25 citing home 107 Columbia, Seattle and 1956-Sep-14 /// Norway Emigration Records via 1867-1960: i) Oslo Politisdistrikt 1935-1955 pg. 36 for 1945 to New York; a new question asked previous emigrants when they had last arrived in Norway: 1938. ii) Oslo politisdistrikt 1931-1938 pg. 67 for 1934, to Anchorage /// Canada Incoming Passenger Lists 1865-1935 via for Henning Gustagson depart Liverpool, arrive Montreal 12 May 1906. Image shows NATC Bonus for the farmer. /// Library and Archives of Canada for H. Gustazsein


6 The Arctic Train on the Ofot Line


9 thoughts on “Granddad’s Cousin: Hemming Gustavsen 1877-1966; A Larger Life Than Lean.

      1. He, James Alexander sharpe-Mahood crossed the Chilcotin trail two times carried 1 ton of goods, apparently as required to enter the Yukon. He found gold and asked his sister to buy property where they were building stump town, the Hotel Vancouver stands on that property now. Instead she bought 50 acres in North Vancouver up by the current highway to West Van. I have a picture of the house he built. While in the Yukon he roomed with a man in a shack with newspaper in the chinks. The Man was helping my grandfather learn to read. He answered a ad from the paper in the chink, from a young girl in Scotland who was bedridden due to a broken leg. The Magazine is called Boy’s World. To shorten the tale she came to Canada they were married a few days later, honeymooned on the mountain had 7 children and 26 grandchildren. He was a Forest Ranger in British Columbia.


      2. That’s SO interesting – especially about the newspaper ad! Its possible he and Hemming met, but not likely for distance from Valdez to Yukon and that your Granddad married in Vancouver in 1910. However – ask John – Granddad Hemmingsen did goldmining in Alaska in 1930 when Hemming was in Anchorage. There might have been an opportunity to meet then. Your Granddad found gold and bought Vancouver land, mine found enough to go bust on the deal.


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