“The wagon was fully loaded for the burn pile when I spotted amongst the scrap lumber the old painted trunk. I was an 8-year-old at the time and yelled above the tractor noise: ‘Where did it come from?’ ‘Why does it have 1812 on it?’ and ‘Can I keep it?’ ”
Thus begins the first chapter in the book “Astri My Astri: Norwegian Heritage Stories” by Deb Nelson Gourley.
Deb’s book, published in 2004, is unique for several reasons: Along with documenting her genealogy research and her half-year stay in Norway as a young woman, it is bilingual—with text in both English and Norwegian.
Research eventually revealed that the trunk once belonged to Deb’s great-great-great-grandmother, Astri Herbrandsdatter Bjortnes Syversrud of Nes, Hallingdal, Norway. The date “1812” was likely the date Astri received the trunk as a hope chest; a generation later, it served as an emigrant trunk for either Astri’s daughter (in 1848) or Astri herself (in 1857).
Deb’s first bilingual book just whetted her appetite for the publishing business. She has published 12 books in all, many of them nonfiction works with a historical theme. She named her new company “Astri My Astri,” in honor of the third-great-grandmother whose old trunk she had rescued. It also happens to be the name of an old Norwegian love song: “Astri Mi Astri.”
One of the first books Deb brought to life as a new publisher was “History of the Norwegian Settlements” by Halmar Rued Holand. The book, written in Gothic Norwegian, was first published in 1908. It documented the experiences of the earliest Norwegian pioneers as they gradually moved from state to state, ever westward. For years, a manuscript of the English translation languished on archive shelves, where it was all but inaccessible to researchers.
Deciding this “bible” of history and genealogy needed to be shared with the world, Deb worked to get it in shape for publishing—a tough task, since the original book was in Gothic text. The 512-page, 63-chapter bilingual translation went to press in 2006, allowing readers to trace the trails of 3,800 indexed immigrants through Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas as they explored new frontiers and built new communities. Their hardships (diseases, grasshopper plagues, prairie fires and loneliness) and triumphs (establishing homes and communities in the wilderness) are documented. The book, edited by Jo Ann Winistorfer (me!), went on to win the G.K. Haukebo Resources Award via the Heritage Education Commission, Minnesota State University Moorhead. The award recognizes projects that preserve and/or restore cultural heritage.
Since then, Deb has produced a number of books of historical value—including another Haukebo award winner, the Martin Ulvestad three-volume set of “Norwegians in America, Their History and Record: A translated version of the 1907 and 1913 Nordmændene i Amerika, deres Historie og Rekord.”
Many thousands of Norwegians who immigrated to America from 1825-1913 were recorded in Ulvestad’s oversized volumes in the Norwegian language. The data included pioneers living in 41 states and 500 counties in the U.S. and six Canadian provinces, and emigrating from 1,700 locations in Norway.
The project was completed with the help of two translators (Odd Steinar Dybvad Raneng and Olaf Tronsen Kringhaug) and two editors (Margit Nysetvold Bakke and Deb herself). The Gothic script of the original books was transcribed by Deb’s younger son, Ben Huntrods.
Raneng, a Norwegian-Australian historian, writes: “These books are not just for genealogical research of your family with lists of statistics upon statistics. No, herein lie the true facts of the pioneer life, their daily lives ... Stories of drought, floods, fires, storms, plagues, mortal diseases, starvation, and more, even murder. ... But here there are also stories that will bring a smile to your lips.”
Another bilingual project of Astri My Astri was the book “Norwegians in America: Some Records of the Norwegian Emigration to America (Nordmændene i Amerika)” by Knud Langeland, published in 1888. Langeland, a Norwegian emigrant, was editor of several Norwegian-American newspapers, including Skandinaven.
Divided into two sections, the first part deals with immigration and the authors experiences in America. The second section retraces his life in Norway prior to emigration.
Translator Raneng says of this book: “Those of us who are historians will know about the arrival of Norwegians in America. But we are missing one important chapter. Their life before they emigrated. Well, here it is!”
Several of Deb’s projects are excellent for those wishing to learn Norwegian. Especially instructive is “Kings of Norway,” a 128-page, richly illustrated nonfiction book that features 58 bilingual vignettes of the kings (and one queen) who ruled Norway from circa 875 to present. Accompanying the book are three CDs featuring audio in both English and Norwegian; the English is narrated by Deb’s older son, Alex Huntrods, who has helped her on many translation projects.
Her latest books, fresh off the press, can be enjoyed by “kids” of all ages. Originating in Norway in 1944 as a cartoon series that appeared in Norsk Barneblad, “Norwegian Folk Tales, Fairy Tales and Trolls: Tuss og Troll, Volumes 1 and 2” is based largely on the collected folk tales of Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jorgen Moe, as well as others. Many of these tales were gathered nearly two centuries ago. Each of the newly revived “Tuss og Troll” books is packed with more than 600 full-colored illustrations. “Tuss og Troll” translates to “gnomes and trolls.” Princes and princesses and other fascinating characters lurk on these pages, with comic-book-style illustrations accompanying the bilingual English-Norwegian text.
The next time you attend a bygdelag meeting or a Scandinavian festival, check to see if Astri My Astri is one of the exhibitors or presenters. It’s your chance to meet Deb Nelson Gourley in person and purchase a book or two. Look for her in the Trondheim Book Store of Norsk Hostfest, Oct. 2-5, at the North Dakota State Fairgrounds in Minot.
For more information on books by Astri My Astri Publishing, log on to: www.astrimyastri.com
Reprinted with permission:
“Old trunk inspires Astri My Astri publisher” by Jo Ann Winistorfer appeared in the Fall 2013 issue of Scandinavian Press. The magazine is available at the following address: Scandinavian Press, P.O. Box 1, Minot, ND 58701.