March 21st, 2022 / posted by paularath

Arriving at my Norwegian roots, on Helgoya Island in Mosoe Lake. (And my first steps toward learning to walk on ice, with the help of my “Norwegian brother,” Erik Holtedahl.)     Photo by Jerry Mayfield

Jerry and I have just returned from a sojourn to Norway, where I have deep family roots. My great grandparents on my father’s maternal side emigrated from Norway to Concord, Massachusetts in 1872. My grandmother Nana, Ragna Helsher Rath, was the Helsher family’s historian. She left us a great deal of information regarding our Norwegian ancestors.

My knowledge was limited and a bit vague until I came across some of Nana’s files that my late brother, Robbie, had been keeping for the family. Nana wrote that our ancestors were farmers on  Helgoen Island (now called Helgoya) on Mosoe Lake. This 60-mile lake snakes through the center of Norway.

Erik Holtedahl of Oslo, whom I call “My Norwegian Brother,” took an interest in the Helsher Family roots and began his own research with Oslo library archives and government files. He was determined to find – and share with me – the place from whence my family came. (Erik was our Punahou class of ’65 foreign student and has remained a dear friend for more than 55 years.)

Erik and I on the porch of the former Helsher farm house. Photo by Jerry Mayfield

Erik researched historical records of my great grandparents, Martinus Olsen Helsjier (1851-1944) and Eline Evensen Helsjier (1852-1894) and was able to find the approximate location of their farm. (Note: The name Helsjier became Americanized when the eldest daughter, Evelina, attended school in Concord and her teacher was unable to pronounce her last name. So, in the appalling style of those times, the teacher took it upon herself to change the family name to an easier phonetic spelling,”Helsher.”)

First view of Moen Lake from the Helsher Farm.

Amazingly, Erik has a close friend who used to spend summers on Helgoya Island. He remembered the Helsher Farm, as a child he bought eggs and strawberries there, and was able to describe its location. A three-hour drive in beautiful, though chilly, weather brought us to the front door of a Mrs. Hovinholm, whose family had been the owners of the farm since the 1700s. It is still a working farm, and among the most prosperous in Norway.

This kind and gracious lady happened to be standing on the front porch of her lovely mansion and pointed out to Erik where the Helsher family farm houses were. (The Helshers were tenant farmers, not owners.) They were right next door! She also insisted on loaning me her walking sticks for the icy walk, as well as her warm mittens.

A gorgeous, and relatively mild winter day on Helgoya Island.

Why did my great grandparents leave this beautiful farm in  Norway? Well, in 1872, Martinus wanted to continue farming, but the Norwegian Army was demanding that he spend two years in their employ. He was a draft dodger who chose to emigrate to the United States rather than serve in the Army!

As I stood on the little porch, in that serene and silent place, I marveled at the wonderful world that brought Ragna Helsher Rath’s family from Norway to Hawaii.

Yes! We did see the Northern Lights while in Norway! Stay tuned for another blog very soon, featuring some fantastic photos!

Paula Rath



What are they saying?
Leave a comment below.
Anne Mari
March 25th, 2022 at 9:30 am

Dear Paula and Jerry,

It was a pleasure to meet you when you were in Norway and I am very pleased to read that you got to admire the Northern Lights!

Ha det bra and Aloha!

Anne Marie

March 29th, 2022 at 9:02 pm

How nice to hear from you! Your father was so good to us and we loved meeting your whole family. I hope you will visit Honolulu one day so we can share our island with you. I am trying to talk your father into coming for our 60th reunion in 2025. Perhaps you can join him then?

Leave a comment:
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *.