I am Mike Oiseth, living in Bloomington, Minnesota.

This is a web site about the early years of a Norwegian-American community established before Minnesota became a state in 1858, and about many of the individuals who have lived in Olmsted and Dodge counties. On these pages and by way of the links found here is local history, biography, and an extensive Genealogy Database for many thousand of persons who once called this place home (along with some of their ancestors and descendants).

The Research Suggestions section aims to help others conducting genealogical research on Norwegians who immigrated to the United States.

Through this web site I hope to encourage the collaborative efforts of those with ancestors in the Dodge-Olmsted community. Please share your questions, answers, and the resources you may have to help us more fully understand those lives of long ago.

I became interested in the 19th-century origins of this settlement because my two paternal grandfathers lived in Dodge County, Minnesota. It was home to my father’s maternal grandfather, Ole Mortensen Beaver, who came from the silver mining area around Kongsberg, in Buskerud, Norway. Ole and two brothers emigrated to the U.S. in the 1850s by way of Quebec, and first stayed in Columbia County, Wisconsin. In 1863 they crossed the Mississippi and bought land in Canisteo and Vernon townships of Dodge County. My dad’s paternal grandfather came to Dodge County from Høland, Akershus, in 1885 and rented a farm in Canisteo. His wife and several children joined him in 1888.

Some years ago I became interested in the Oiseth family archives and decided to add to research already done by my father’s cousin and my older brother, both of whom visited Norway in the 1930s and 1950s.

As probably happens to many genealogists as they study the records of a particular area, my interest in the history of the place itself increased. I wanted to know more about the community–and not just dates and other facts about the particular individuals to whom I happen to be related. Of course, learning about the community and its culture offered many insights into the lives of my ancestors.

I learned that this particular Norwegian community of southwest Olmsted and southeast Dodge counties had its beginnings about 1853 as a settlement historians have called either the “Rock Dell settlement” (named for an Olmsted County township that borders on Dodge County) — or “St. Olaf settlement,” for its early Norwegian Lutheran congregation organized in 1856 by one of the very first ministers among the Norwegians in America, Pastor Claus L. Clausen.

above: the John Tverberg cabin on grounds of East St. Olaf church in Rock Dell, Olmsted Co, MN, used in 1850s for over 100 church services

The first settlers of this place came in the early 1850s, some five years before Minnesota Territory became a state, and just a year or so after the treaty by which Indians in the southeastern part of the territory ceded their land. Some were here even before the land had been surveyed and land offices were opened to sell it. Another nine years would pass before the Homestead Act provided a way to acquire land more easily–and by that time most of Dodge County’s public lands had been sold off. The early birds of the 1850s had to worry about the land they had been farming being sold out from under them, and they needed to have ready cash with which to buy it when it went on the market. In 1857 a financial panic in the country made cash very scarce.

Recording gravestone inscriptions – South Zumbro Lutheran Church Cemetery, Salem Township, Olmsted County, Minnesota

Many early Norwegian settlers in the Dodge and Olmsted settlement came from older immigrant communities in Wisconsin, which had been the new home of choice for most who left Norway in the first half of the 19th century. But there were some from Iowa and Illinois, and still others who came directly from Norway. The settlement expanded westerly, from Rock Dell and Salem in Olmsted County, to Canisteo and Vernon Townships in Dodge County. Then Hayfield Township was formed farther west and, with the coming of the Winona and St. Peter Railroad in 1865, the town of Kasson sprang up a little to the northwest.

As the years passed, the original St. Olaf Congregation founded in 1856 evolved into two churches about five miles apart. The Haugeans also organized their South Zumbro congregation in Salem Township. More churches grew out of the St. Olaf nucleus–expanding into Rochester, Kasson, Hayfield, and Sargeant Township in Mower County.

Recording gravestone inscriptions – West St. Olaf Lutheran Church Cemetery, Vernon Township, Dodge County, Minnesota

Over the decades within this close-knit ethnic community, there were many marriages among the farm and merchant families. Just a few extensive family trees, it seems, can link together a majority of the Norwegian-stock residents of the area.

Content on this site will be expanded and changed (generally in a chronological manner, beginning with the 1850s). More resources for researchers will be added, too.

I encourage you to contribute further information that you are willing to share.

All questions are welcome.

Please Contact Me