Meet Elaine Hasleton—Daughter of Norway

Elain Hasleton with her granddaughter.

If you are fortunate enough to spend a little time with Elaine Hasleton, you’ll come away richer for the experience. Elaine is a deputy chief genealogical officer (CGO) for FamilySearch International and a key participant for FamilySearch’s Discovery Experiences with Famous Norwegians initiative. Yet if you were to ask Elaine what she does, she probably would not mention any of her job titles. Elaine would much rather refer to herself simply as a “cheerleader for Norway,” but she is much more than that. Once you get to know Elaine, you’ll easily see why.

Immersed in Norwegian Culture

When it comes to Norway, Elaine loves the land, the people, and everything about the country. Elaine admits her affinity for Norway must have been something she was born with, since the Norwegian culture was a major part of her upbringing. Both Elaine and her husband, Jim, grew up in the same hometown of Alexandria, Minnesota, an area where numerous Norwegian emigrants settled. Elaine’s own family roots run deep back into Norway, as her maternal grandfather was born there. Her other grandparents and nearby relatives were all Norwegian too, except her maternal grandmother, who was Danish. In addition, her husband’s family ancestry is completely Norwegian.

As a young child, Elaine recalls listening to older relatives speak the Norwegian language to one another; for many it was their first language. At the time she thought they spoke Norwegian so that the younger ones wouldn’t know they were being talked about. When Elaine went off to college as a young adult, she studied the Norwegian language, and she remains semi-fluent in the language today.

Elaine's grandchildren make Norwegian krumkake cookies.

The Seven Varieties of Christmas Cookies, a Norway Tradition

In addition to the language, many common rituals continue to tie Elaine to her Norwegian ancestors, including holiday foods and family traditions that she keeps alive in her own family. If she learns that you, by chance, have Norwegian ancestors, she might jokingly ask you about the 7 varieties of cookies you make and share at Christmas. It is a familiar custom for Norwegians to bake, eat, and share 7 different types of cookies all through the Christmas season when visiting with friends and extended family. She once asked a visiting colleague from Norway about this cookie tradition who simply responded, “Oh, I just buy them at the bakery!”

A modern interpretation of this custom doesn’t require the cookies to be homemade. However, one of the family favorites gracing Elaine’s holiday celebration is Norwegian krumkake cookies. These are delicate, thinly rolled cookies consisting of sugar, flour, eggs, butter, and cardamom baked on a special krumkake iron.

Krumkake cookies are a holiday tradition in Norway.

Of course, Elaine also enjoys serving “riskrem,” a rice pudding with a raspberry fruit sauce and slivered almonds. One whole almond is hidden within the pudding and whoever finds the almond is said to have good luck in the coming year.

Serendipity and a Remarkable Career

Elaine Hasleton and her granddaughter celebrating Norwegian heritage.

As a teenager, Elaine first met her future husband, Jim, while she was dating his younger brother. Around the same time, Elaine’s older brother went off to college in New York and then moved to Ohio, where he joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Soon afterward, Elaine and her mother also became part of a small congregation of Latter-day Saints in Minnesota, where Jim and his family had been members since he was 9 years old.

Upon high school graduation, Elaine secured a scholarship to Brigham Young University (BYU), which turned out to be fortuitous. Since the first grade she had every intention of one day becoming a nurse, but through a series of events at BYU, her plan changed. One of her college roommates convinced Elaine to attend a genealogy class with her. It just so happened that the instructor mentioned an upcoming BYU Scandinavian genealogy study abroad trip, emphasizing points of interest at the archives.

Elaine liked what she heard well enough to know that Scandinavian genealogy was what she wanted to do, so she changed her major to genealogy. At the time she didn’t know what a pedigree chart was or even a family group sheet. Based on this one decision, her education and career path took off and she hasn’t looked back since.

Elaine graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in genealogy and later earned credentials needed to become an accredited genealogist for both Norwegian and Swedish research.

Genealogy, Another Norwegian Tradition

With Elaine’s expertise in Scandinavian genealogy and special emphasis on Norway research, she knows who keeps the vital records, where to locate the best sources, and what information can be found in the Norwegian multigeneration farm books, known as bygdebøker.

Elaine knows that Norwegians are some of the best record keepers. From her professional associations, she is quick to explain a secret about Norwegians in general, from the point of view of a Norwegian. She says, “Descendants of Norwegians seem to have especially strong connections with ancestors and an affinity for visiting the ancestral homeland and keeping traditions alive from generation to generation.”

Farm in Norway

Perhaps this is embedded in their DNA, or perhaps it is because many emigrants tended to settle in communities similar to those in Norway with other Norwegians while maintaining customs and cultural connections back to their ancestral homeland. Either way, this is a boon to anyone researching family history in Norway, because it makes tracing ancestors easier from the present back to locations where families emigrated from.

It also explains why there are many organizations in North America dedicated to tracing emigrants from specific regions of Norway, such as the 30 bygdelags. Each bygdelag has resources for family history based on their geographical area and strives to foster cultural connections for descendants in multiple ways. The bygdelags provide a depth of knowledge about each area in Norway where their ancestors lived. Many people contact a bygdelag for help, advice, and information about where their ancestors originated so they can find information about their ancestral roots and perhaps ways to connect with distant living relatives.

Currently, Elaine is providing leadership for the Bygdelagenes Fellesraad, the umbrella organization for the 30 bygdelags. She and her husband are members of 7 different bygdelags, as they have ancestors who came from 7 different regions in Norway. They include Gudbrandsdalslag, Hallinglag, Nordlandslag, Sigdalslag, Solørlag, Telelag, and Trønderlag.

Historical photo of a norwegian farm

Making Connections with Norway

Always generous and willing to share her knowledge, Elaine has played a role in connecting descendants with Norwegian ancestors for many years. Elaine herself has traveled to Norway over 30 times to do research, visit ancestral farms, and connect with distant relatives in the regions where her ancestors came from. She has developed friendships with numerous Norwegian-Americans, Norwegians in Norway, and Americans married to native Norwegians currently living in Norway. She has recruited them to assist with the Norway as a Maturing Homeland project.

When she speaks of the people working with her, she explains, “It’s a matter of people working together.” Notice how she doesn’t take credit for her work, though it is apparent she possesses an uncanny ability to draw out the best in people in her circle of influence. Each one has a talent and wish to work on a list of 460 famous Norwegians. This involves researching several generations for each famous Norwegian, so it is more likely that everyday Family Tree users with Norwegian heritage will discover connections to famous relatives.

Other volunteers with language skills help her translate records, and still others put the research, along with the documentation, in Family Tree, ensuring dates are correct, with properly formatted place-names and interesting facts added into time lines for Norwegians and Norwegian descendants to discover.

Elaine Hasleton with Jan Myrvold working on Forest FInns.

Continuing to Make a Difference for Norwegian Descendants

Elaine is now focusing on the Discovery Experiences with Famous Norwegians initiative. She is an all-around champion for family history and Norway research and, well, just about everything in between. Her current research interests center on the Forest Finns (Finnskog) settlements and those who settled in eastern Norway and western Sweden.

Like many, she has been working from home, using technology to connect with her colleagues online. In her on-site office, any visitor would see the Norwegian flag prominently displayed on a wall of her office space. It’s an inviting reminder where the heart of this daughter of Norway lies.


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