Given and Chosen Names: The Kornbergs

As some of you may have guessed, I live in the Frozen North.  And up here we have something called “January” which is usually a mix of freezing temperatures, low humidity, and lots and lots of snow.  I prefer at this time of the year to think of my homeland as a “White Desert”.  And this January has more than lived up to the reputation.

Even though it’s now halfway through February, the White Desert still persists, and I find that I have little to no motivation to do any genealogy work.  But, even in this lull, I did find out some interesting things about my Scandinavian great-great-grandparents.  And I’ve discovered that just because you think you know someone’s name in your family tree, you may still come across a surprise or two when you’re doing research.

The Kornbergs

My great-great-grandparents are known to me as Hannah Olsdotter and Gunder Kornberg.  Now, if you know anything about the Swedes and Norwegians, you know that they had very different naming conventions than we do today.  Hannah’s last name is a combination of the first name of her father, Ole, and the Swedish word for “daughter”.  Now, I’m not exactly sure how to spell her last name, Olsdotter comes from a sign I saw in the American Swedish Institute.  But maybe she spelled it “Olesdatter”, “Olesdottir”, “Olsdatter”…you can see why this becomes a problem.  I have yet to find any record of her before she was married because of her strange last name, a name that up here is rather common, and spelled various ways.

Gunder Kornberg is an entirely different matter along the same vein.  We know that his last name in Norway was not Kornberg.  But I have no idea what his name really was!  Kornberg may have come from a farm, his profession, some random change made when he came to America, perhaps through Ellis Island or Boston.  I have yet to find his immigration record.  This may be because the name on the ship manifest and the name he took in America could be completely different.  Top that by the census records I’ve found that state that his date of immigration was anything between 1879 and 1890.  Well, you can bet I’ll keep looking but so far he’s been another dead end.

Now, I do some faith that year of their marriage is accurate since almost all the census records point to the year as 1887.  But I’m not sure where they were married.  My grandmother thinks they were married here, but I have yet to find a record that corresponds.  I’m not sure if they were married in Minnesota, in Wisconsin, or somewhere else in the US.  I’m hoping that perhaps the record is just not yet digitized and it will magically appear one day in my Ancestry account, or on the Minnesota History Center website.

Another thing I do know is that, after they were married and had two children, they took the family back to Norway for a “visit”.  Gunder apparently wanted to stay there, but Hannah put her foot down and they did eventually come back here (good thing they did or I would not exist!).  While they were away, their third child, Howard, was born in 1892 either on the ship to Norway, or in Norway itself.  Ever the comedian, my grandmother says Howard used to love to say how he “remembered Norway so clearly” even though he was just an infant when he was there.  Since I know that the next child, Alma Florence, was born in Minnesota in 1894, so they must have come back here between 1892 and 1894.  But…can I find a record?  Not yet.  Very, very frustrating indeed.

Which takes me to the next item (or back to it): Census records.  In Minnesota there were Territorial Censuses taken in 1895 and 1905, along with regular US census records.  So far I have not been able to spot them on the 1895 census.  In the 1900 census they show up under the name “Cornberg”.  In 1905, the same spelling.  And in 1910 they switch over to the “Kornberg” spelling.


So, what do I do now?  Start searching for variations of Cornberg!  Cornberg, Cronberg, Cornberger, Corn.  And what do I find?  Nothing more.  *sigh*

BUT, and here’s where everything starts to get even more strange, I do start getting hits on birth records for the family.  Do they have the same names as they do on the censuses?  NO.  Edward, it turns out, was born “Einer Oliver Kornberg” on 11 Jun 1888 in Minnesota, with parents named as Gunster and Hanna.  And Alma Florence?  Was born as “Emily Vendla Cornberg” on 8 Sept 1894 in Minnesota, parents are listed as Gunder and Hanna Cornberg.  Why didn’t the family continue to call these two children Einer and Emily?  No clue!  Census records show them as Edward and Alma going forward.  This may be a mystery I never solve.

I haven’t yet found the other children.  I’m dying to see what their names were though!  Was my g-grandmother Edith really “Edna”?  Was Leonard really “Lars”?  Well, that remains to be seen.

OK, but I digress.  I write about this today to demonstrate how strange genealogical research can be, and how you absolutely have to keep your eyes open for things that do not seem to fit at first.  And also be ready to hit dead ends with grace.  While I have been frustrated for years by this family, I’ve also been rewarded by being patient and waiting for the right record to come along.  Gunder and Hannah, Einer/Edward and Emily/Alma were real people who lived real lives, regardless of their names.  They live in my grandmother’s memory, as well as in mine because she told me about them.  And I know someday I will finally discover their origins and know where my family came from in Norway and Sweden.  I just need to have a little patience.  And luck.  And patience.