Tracker Pixel for Entry

North Dakotan begins new journey as family historian in Norway

Culture | March 21st, 2024

By Maddie Robinson

maddierobi.mr@gmail.com

Johan Stenslie has always been immersed in Norwegian culture. His mother, originally from Norway, and his father, from small-town North Dakota, met at Concordia College and were strong proponents of keeping their children connected with their Norwegian heritage.

Growing up, Stenslie was only allowed to read and speak Norwegian at home. He also kept a Norwegian journal, visited Norway every other summer and performed Norwegian folk dance with his family at the Norsk Høstfest, a festival celebrating Scandinavian culture and tradition, every year in Minot until 2012.

Stenslie is incredibly grateful for his cultural upbringing because he feels many Americans don’t grow up with a strong connection to their family histories.

“One of the common criticisms that Americans receive, and sometimes give themselves, is that we have no culture, we have no identity, and there is truth to that,” Stenslie said. “I think a lot of us just feel like America, it’s just a conglomeration of different backgrounds and a lot of times we don’t grow up tied to history.”

Since then, Stenslie, who has been working as a seventh grade United States history teacher, moved to Norway to pursue a master’s in history at the University of Bergen once the program starts in August. In the meantime, he works as a full-time private-hire family historian to help people establish ties to their own heritage.

Before moving to Norway and pursuing the field full time, his passion for family history research started about four years ago when he visited his grandparents’ house in Voss, Norway. After digging through dozens of old letters and photographs, he was hooked. Now, Stenslie has three years of part-time experience as a professional genealogist.

Stenslie primarily focuses on expanding family trees, writing biographies for specific ancestors and performing other requested research that is considered “out of the ordinary.” Despite his love for uncovering people’s familial history, Stenslie finds the personal stories he discovers are the most rewarding part of his work.

“The personal stories, that’s where the most fascinating parts come because family history for me, I mean diving into it has completely changed my worldview,” Stenslie said.

A major reason why Stenslie loves researching other people’s ancestors and learning their stories is because he finds it easy to connect with family history due to how personal it is. To him, the stories that are discovered through family history research reveal humans’ connectedness to the past and how major historical events, like the American Civil War or the Great Depression, specifically affect each person and their lineage.

Family history also gives people a glimpse into the miraculousness of human existence.

“It’s interesting because family history — and history in general, I’d say — shows you two profound truths,” Stenslie said. “That first, it shows how insignificant our lives are, in a sense, in the grand scheme of the universe and the cosmos. We’re just this tiny, irrelevant thing. But at the same time, it shows you how incredible it is — the fact that you even exist.”

Stenslie will be living in Norway for the next three years to pursue his degree and research. But, despite his strong connection to the country, his end goal is to return to North Dakota and continue teaching. Not only does Stenslie feel a deep sense of home while in North Dakota, but he thinks teaching history in the state he is originally from will allow him to fulfill his dream of being the best teacher he can be.

“I feel like there’s no place I can teach history better than the place I was born in,” Stenslie said. “I understand the history of that land and I feel like I can connect the history of North Dakota to the history of the world in a very clear way, so I can make history personal to my students in almost any scenario.”

To learn more about Stenslie’s work, contact johanstenslie@gmail.com.

Recently in:

By Vanessa Jugarap Clarkvanessajugarapclark@gmail.com "I lived in Gaza, Palestine from 2003 to 2017 and 2020 to 2021. From water cuts, to the electricity schedule of 6-on/12-off (on a good day), every day was a reminder of the…

By Annie Prafckeannieprafcke@gmail.com As an elementary school kid in the early 2000s, Kristy Tran didn’t start her day the way most kids do. Instead of rolling out of bed to go straight to school, Tran and her parents went…

March 19-23Fargo Theatre314 Broadway N, FargoCheck out luncheon panel discussions, pre-parties, a 2-minute movie contest, local, international and award-winning films for your viewing pleasure. Producer Will Greenfield will be…

By John Strandjas@hpr1.com What’s that you just said? “Tell somebody who gives a shit”? Stop reading this now if you don’t care about anyone else. Don’t waste your time. You’ll only get mad. Vocal. Obstinate.…

By Ed Raymondfargogadfly@gmail.comThe Catacombs under Paris Contain the Bones of Millions of FeudalistsSixty-five feet below the Paris streets are about 170 miles of tunnels that go through stone quarries, galleries, and ossuaries…

By Rick Gionrickgion@gmail.com Holiday wine shopping shouldn’t have to be complicated. But unfortunately it can cause unneeded anxiety due to an overabundance of choices. Don’t fret my friends, we once again have you covered…

By Rick Gionrickgion@gmail.com In this land of hotdish and ham, the knoephla soup of German-Russian heritage seems to reign supreme. In my opinion though, the French have the superior soup. With a cheesy top layer, toasted baguette…

By John Showalterjohn.d.showalter@gmail.com It is not unheard of for bands to go on hiatus. However, as the old saying goes, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” That is why when a local group like STILL comes back to…

Now playing at the Fargo Theatre.By Greg Carlson gregcarlson1@gmail.comPalme d’Or recipient “Anatomy of a Fall” is now enjoying an award-season victory tour, recently picking up Golden Globe wins for both screenplay and…

In the 20th and 21st centuries, the pursuit of knowledge has directed humankind to new horizons – the ocean depths, the infinite reach of space, and the hidden secrets of cells and microbes…or to Artificial Intelligence, which…

By John Showalterjohn.d.showalter@gmail.comHigh Plains Reader had the opportunity to interview two mysterious new game show hosts named Milt and Bradley Barker about an upcoming event they will be putting on at Brewhalla. What…

By Annie Prafckeannieprafcke@gmail.com AUSTIN, Texas – As a Chinese-American, connecting to my culture through food is essential, and no dish brings me back to my mother’s kitchen quite like hotdish. Yes, you heard me right –…

By Sabrina Hornungsabrina@hpr1.comNew Jamestown Brewery Serves up Local FlavorThere’s something delicious brewing out here on the prairie and it just so happens to be the newest brewery west of the Red River and east of the…

By John Showalter  john.d.showalter@gmail.comThey sell fentanyl test strips and kits to harm-reduction organizations and…

JANUARY 19, 1967– MARCH 8, 2023 Brittney Leigh Goodman, 56, of Fargo, N.D., passed away unexpectedly at her home on March 8, 2023. Brittney was born January 19, 1967, to Ruth Wilson Pollock and Donald Ray Goodman, in Hardinsburg,…

By William Cooperwcooper11@gmail.com When people look at political questions through a partisan lens, they apply their own personal gloss to the world. They reflexively interpret events in favor of their own tribe and against the…