Olaf Olavssen Vinje, and the Legacy of his brother, Aasmund
Olaf Olavssen Vinje, and the Legacy of his brother, Aasmund.
By Dave Gunderson, Fergus Falls, Minnesota
Olaf Olavssen Vinje [1832-1911] – photo provided by his great-granddaughter, Hannah "Ann" Vinje Kasper.
I read with great interest Harald Hvattum’s article on Aasmund Olavssen Vinje in the November, 2005 Brua, the Hadelandslaget's publication in America. I became interested in A.O. Vinje when I assisted my neighbor, his half great-grandniece, with her Vinje genealogy. During this process, I became acquainted with LaVonne Houlton, who has written extensively on A.O. Vinje for the Telesoga, the publication of the Telelaget of America. (more).
A.O. Vinje’s only marriage was to Rosa Kjeldseth on June 20, 1869 in Oslo. Tragically, Rosa died on April 5, 1870 shortly after the birth of her son Olaf. Less than 4 months later, A.O. Vinje died in Granavollen. I have heard a number of different stories concerning the fate of A.O. Vinje’s only child, Olaf. I think it is generally accepted that Olaf Aasmundsen Vinje never married, died relatively young, and was not a great success in life. A.O. Vinje had a sister, Margit Olavsdatter, who never married, and a half-brother, Olaf Olavssen Vinje. After Olav Aasmundsen Plassen’s first wife, Torbjør Gjermundsdatter Gøytil, died in 1828, he married his second wife Ragnhild Herjusdatter Kaasi, July 18, 1831. Olaf Olavssen Vinje was born October 5, 1832 in Vinje, Telemark. As a child, Olaf was taught by his brother Aasmund. Later, Olaf attended school in Kviteseid, Telemark, and became a teacher. Everything indicates that the two brothers were very close. On January 5, 1864, Olaf Olavssen Vinje married Marthea Syversdatter Brænna in Eidskogen, Hedmark. She was born January 3, 1844 in Vinger, Hedmark. During this period, Olaf farmed and was involved in a number of business ventures. Ultimately, Olaf Olavssen Vinje and his wife Marthea [Thea] had 12 children.
In 1881, Olaf Olavssen and his oldest son, Olaf, came to the United States. Olaf purchased a farm from William Cowing in St. Olaf Township, Otter Tail County, Minnesota. This farm also included a country store and post office. The Cowing Store was one of the earliest trading centers in Otter Tail County. Olaf Olavssen then returned to Norway and brought the rest of his family to Minnesota. Olaf operated the store for only ten years and then farmed exclusively. Thea Vinje died December 13, 1909. Olaf Vinje died August 19, 1911 in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. The Fergus Falls Daily Journal concisely summarized the character of Olaf Olavssen Vinje as follows:
“Mr. Vinje was the brother of the Norwegian poet, Osmond Vinje, and had much literary ability himself. In fact he has been one of the strongest writers in the county and has contributed much to the various newspapers on current subjects. He possessed strong views on various questions and was a vigorous writer. He took an active interest in political affairs in which he was a progressive radical, yet according proper praise to the men in all parties who were loyal to the interest of the public but fearless in his condemnation of those who were unfaithful. His approval or condemnation probably went as far as that of any citizen in the county.”
The article concluded with the comment that “in the death of Mr. Vinje, Otter Tail County loses a strong character and while he had perhaps lived more than the allotted time, his loss will be severely felt. In his going there passes one of the virile characters which have made Otter Tail County one of the active reform centers of the state and northwest.”
It is clear that Olaf Olavssen Vinje was driven to be educated, successful, and very active in the life of his community. His children also followed this family legacy.
Children of Olaf Olavssen Vinje and Marthea Brænna
Ragnhild Olafsdatter Vinje was born in Norway and died as a very young child. Her name was subsequently reused.
Olaf Vinje [1866-1942] never married. He operated the family farm after his father’s death, and retired at age 59.
Martha Vinje [1867-1921] married a local farmer, Nordahl Melby. They had 4 children.
Syver Vinje [1869-1957] was a doctor and surgeon. He was married and had 4 children.
Ragnhild Vinje [1872-1954] married Anton Thompson. He became the Otter Tail County attorney, and later a district court judge. They had 7 children.
Osmund Vinje [1875-1946] was a dentist. He was married and had 3 children.
Signe Vinje [1877-1948] married Olaf Schei. He owned a clothing store. They had 4 children.
Eivin Vinje [1879-1939] was a dentist. He was married and had 1 child.
Dagny Vinje [1881-1956] married John Thompson. He was a farmer, businessman, and bank director. They had 2 children.
Arne Vinje [1884-1948] was an attorney. He was married and had 1 child.
Svein Vinje [1886-1961] was a dentist. He was married and had 2 children.
Helga Vinje [1889-1975] was a nurse, was married and had 1 child.
In subsequent generations, the members of the Vinje Family have included doctors, attorneys, judges, politicians and other professional occupations. As just one example, my neighbor’s father, Bernard Thompson, graduated from Moorhead State Teacher’s College, and was a Ford dealer in Henning, Minnesota. He enlisted in the U.S. Army during World War One. He was awarded a Silver Star for valor in the Battle of St. Mihiel. He had served two full terms in the Minnesota State Legislature, prior to his untimely death in 1949. One of his brothers was a judge – another brother was a veterinarian.
When I saw the Vinje Monument at Granavollen, and visited the Sjo House, I was reminded of the legacy of Aasmund Olavssen Vinje in Norway. I thought of A.O. Vinje’s sister Margit, standing by her little nephew, Olaf Aasmundsen, when the monument in Granavollen was dedicated. I was also mindful of the pride of the Vinje Family in the United States in their heritage. It seems to me that when Olaf Olavssen Vinje and his family left Norway, it was but another example of Norway’s loss, and America’s gain from the great migration! There are nearly 300 Vinje descendants in the United States.
I am grateful to Lavonne Houlton for her A.O. Vinje expertise. The Otter Tail County Historical Museum also provided vital information.