These stories can also be heard Sunday mornings around 10 am on WILD 102’s “Look Back in Time” program. Each week’s radio story will be posted here on our website.
Weekly radio stories are researched, compiled, and read by Sheila Winstead, RCHS Board Member.
May 21, 2023
At the Roseau County Museum in the research area, you can find a ledge full of personally written and
generously donated family histories. One of them was created by Wayne Melby and he named his book
“Our Family History from the 16 th Century to 1986”. It’s full of names especially familiar to people
around the Badger area including Vatnsdal, Melby, Gislason, etc., and tells the stories of their
immigrations to the USA from Iceland and Norway. I’ll read one of those stories today.
The future was not bright for the younger generation in Norway during the late 1800s. For those who
preferred to farm, acquiring land was difficult. It was the custom at that time for the oldest son to
inherit the land and the younger brothers would have to seek other employment. Jens Holter was the
first relative of the Melbys to immigrate from Norway to the USA and take advantage of the new job
opportunities. The Hans Larson family arrived next and later the Thorvald Melby family joined them. All
of these early pioneers settled first at Madison, Minnesota and later moved to Roseau County.
Thorvald Melby and family lived at Nannestad, Norway before immigrating to the USA. In Norway, he
worked for a farmer as a hired-man, referred to as a “husman.” In addition to earning his board and
room, a “husman” was also entitled to one cow as partial compensation for his work. Thorvald was 24
years old when his family left Norway and settled at Madison. After Thorvald lived at Madison for six
years, his family moved to Roseau county and he homesteaded northwest of Badger.
Born in Nannestad, Norway on December 24, 1864, Thorvald was the son of Ole Pedersen Kogstadhagen
and Anne Thorsdatter. Anne earned her living by spinning yarn. Ole married twice and consequently
Thorvald likely had many half-brothers and sisters. We are also told that Anne may have married later
and had children. While Thorvald lived in Norway, he married Inger Dorthea Larson and they had three
children there, Hans, Mary and Tom. Inger Dorthea Larson, referred to as Dorothy, was the daughter of
Hans Larson. Mrs. Hans Larson’s sister, Karena, was married to Jens Holter, the first Melby relative to
immigrate. It was Jens Holter who sponsored the Hans Larson and Thorvald Melby move from Norway
Thorvald made the necessary arrangements and left Norway by boat in 1889. As a member of the
Norwegian Army, Thorvald had a three year commitment and had to receive permission to waive six
months of service before immigrating. To obtain this, he traveled to Gardermoen, a military training
center. He would reminisce about how happy he was about the new venture and remembers watching
his mother cry as he left port. The boat trip took approximately three weeks and he was sea sick during
most of the journey. Thorvald and family entered the USA in Philadelphia, traveled by train to Chicago
and finally arrived in Minnesota. After they arrived in Minnesota, they traveled to Madison, which is
where Dorothy’s parents lived. Imagine the excitement the Larsons must have had welcoming their
daughter and family to Madison.
During his first years in Minnesota, Thorvald farmed at Madison. He first rented land from a minister and
later bought land from a local farmer. Wood was not abundant for heating in this area, and Dorothy was
upset about heating with prairie fuel, “dried chips”. After six years at Madison, Thorvald and family
decided to move northwest of Badger in 1895. The trip from Madison to Badger took six weeks. They
traveled by horse and buggy, taking with them livestock and poultry. They traveled Monday through
Friday and set up camp, usually by a water source, on Friday evening. Saturday was set aside to do
laundry and bake bread. Sunday was their day of rest and Monday they resumed their travels. Thorvald
told about a tornado that destroyed some buildings directly across the river from where they were
camped during their trip to Badger. He occasionally joked about taking three weeks to get from Norway
to the USA and six weeks from Madison to Badger.
Thorvald and family first homestead northwest of Badger on what is now [in 1986] the Millard Melby
farm. There were few roads in that area so later Thorvald borrowed money against his homestead and
bought land further south on what is now the Loyd Melby farm. Incidentally, Dorothy’s parents also
homesteaded in this area; their homestead is now owned and occupied by the Arthur Kjersten family.
After Thorvald had acquired land at Badger, the seller of the land Thorvald had purchased in Madison,
offered Thorvald half-payment on the land in Madison for Thorvald’s homestead. Thorvald refused the
offer and remained northwest of Badger.
Name changes were common when immigrants came to the USA. Thorvald’s original name was Thorvald
Olsen but later he changed his name to Thorvald Olsen Melby; he often referred to himself as T. O.
Melby. He indicated that there was some confusion in mailing and thus a change seemed in order
Church records from Nannestad reveal that his mother, Anne Thorsdatter, lived at the Melby farm at
Nannestad for some time; Thorvald also spoke of the Melby house at Nannestad. Many last names were
taken from a farm site in Norway and therefore it would appear as though Thorvald took the name
Melby from that specific farm.
There are many anecdotes about Thorvald’s life in Norway. Thorvald was married when he was 18 years
old. He was a soldier in the Norwegian Cavalry and completed his military training at Gardermoen We
are told that he was an accomplished horseback rider. He spoke of the stallion he rode in the cavalry
and the difficulty he had training the horse to lope. Thorvald never knew his father and he told about
standing across from him in a business establishment in Chicago on his trip to Minnesota. He wasn’t
aware of this at the time but someone who was with him later told him. During each fall harvest in
Norway, Thorvald would set aside a bundle of grain for a Jule Band. The Jule Band was thought of as a
special gift set out for the birds in Christmas Day. He continued this custom after he immigrated to
There were also many stories about Thorvald’s pioneering experience in the USA. Apparently Thorvald
was quite strong. He told of a time in Badger when Mr. Sjoberg, a local merchant, offered to give him a
barrel of salt if he could lift it. Thorvald picked it up, set it on his buggy and drove home. Thorvald’s son,
Hans, died from gangrene while working in North Dakota. Hans’ death had a big impact on Thorvald and
we are told that he changed considerably after Hans died. In 1914, a neighbor named Ole Pedersen
returned to Norway for a visit. Thorvald sent money with Ole to give as a gift to his mother. Ole returned
and informed Thorvald that his mother was living in an old folks home. Great-grandchildren of Thorvald
remember him as a husky man, with a white goatee, sitting in his big brown leather chair, and was
always appreciative of their visits. When the great-grandchildren would sit in his lap, he frequently
would take out his small brown coin purse and give them money. When they thanked him for the gift,
he would respond with a chuckle. Thorvald suffered serious health problems in the latter years and
passed away December 18, 1953 at the age of 88.
Thank you to (www.roseauonline.com) for letting us share our county’s history with your listeners by donating air time, studio time, and production staff every week.