One of those Facebook friend requests came in—someone I’d never heard of, and Inger Lise So-and-So claiming to be family from Norway; I shrugged and clicked Add Friend. It wasn’t the first time I’d friended a stranger claiming to be family—one of my Vang friends and I have all but concluded we’re not family, in fact, but what the heck? We’re both Vangs. He’s a nice enough guy, and he hasn’t made crude comments or asked me to fund any dubious enterprises in Nigeria.
She’s not a Vang, though, and I got it wrong at first. She mentioned something about a visit next year, and I thought she related to Kåre somehow. He’d tracked Mom’s sister down somehow and exchanged email with a handful of us about planning a visit the following summer. I don’t know if that came to pass or not, but when Mom and I visited Norway in 2008 we tried to drop in on him. The timing didn’t work out, though, and we still haven’t met Kåre.
A few confusing exchanges later, Inger Lise straightened me out—we’re related on Dad’s side of the family, not Mom’s. She had figured out the details with my cousin Diane, who has taken an interest in genealogy and done far more than anyone else on the US side of the family to put all the pieces together. It wasn’t quite clear to me how Inger Lise fit in exactly, but it was fun getting to know her in that choppy, haphazard, bits-and-pieces way we do on Facebook. When she repeated something about a visit to the US with her husband Robert, I urged her to work the San Francisco Bay Area into their itinerary.
Next thing I know, Diane’s gathering phone numbers and setting up email trees and plotting out date and route options for them. They were landing in Minneapolis in a matter of weeks, and they’d be renting a car and driving all over creation. After several days in Minnesota meeting all the relatives in the area—including my niece, who’s in her first year at the only college any Vang has ever gone to (that I know of)—they made their way to my folks’ place in Butte, MT, by way of Mt Rushmore and the other obligatory destinations along I-90.
They arrived this morning, and we’ve had a fun day and long evening getting to know each other.
There’s some evidence that the family is much the same on both sides of the Atlantic. When I was growing up, our visits to Dad’s side of the family in Minnesota were filled with dinner gatherings at this or that relative’s house, and it used to drive me crazy that we’d be trapped at the dining table for hours and hours. We’d sit down to dinner at a normal enough dinner time (6pm?), and we’d still be in those straight-backed, hard, uncomfortable dining chairs when it was finally time to break up and go home around 11pm.
Cut ahead forty years: we just got up from the dining table a few minutes past midnight.
We finally got up so that I could record today’s Kaddish, which might as well be for Inger Lise’s and my common ancestor, my grandfather’s sister, Inger Lise’s grandmother, Severine Regine Vang, born 30 June 1884. Inger Lise’s notes don’t tell me when she died, but Inger Lise did tell me that as she lay dying, she was talking to her younger sister, Ragnhild (b. 27 March, year not noted), whom she hadn’t seen much since they were children. Ragne had immigrated to the New World along with Peter, Henry, and Ludvik, leaving behind their siblings Severine, Lina (who died at age 20), Berit, Inga, Anders, the second Emil Alfred (the first Emil Alfred died at age two, so they recycled the names on the next boy), and Sivert in Norway.