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Joni Mitchell: With ancestors from 'the Voss Fjord part of Norway' Print-ready version

by Arnfrid Mæland
Arnfrid Mæland
August 2009

In 2008 journalist Alf Marius Opsahl, had an exclusive interview with Joni Mitchell in Los Angeles for Dagbladet in Oslo, Norway; 'Stemmen fra dypet' ('Voice from the Depths')'.

In the interview, Joni Mitchell says the following:

'- The other day I met one of my father's cousines at the shop. My father's last name is Anderson, written with the "on" instead of "en", which I understand is the write way in Norway. My father's paternal grandparents emigrated from Norway. They suddenly changed their names on Ellis Island, for some reason. Where I come from, they do not admit that they have Indian heritage, so my father has never wanted to talk about this. But my aunt has entrusted me everything. When I met my father's cousin at the shop, I used the chance. "Do we have the Sami heritage?" I asked. "Oh, yes. We are Lapland people," she said.

Joni Mitchell laughs. She has Swedish ancestry, also:

- On my mother's side. They were Vikings, and fought their way to the Shetland Islands in the 9. century. ...

- Do you think I look like a Norwegian or a Swedish?

- Eh ... Norwegian, perhaps?

- Good! My father always used to say that the Swedes are as Norwegians. The only difference is that the brain is blown out. Or was it vice versa?

She laughs again.

- I must find this out before all the old dies. '

I have admired Joni Mitchell from early youth; her texts, musical expression, - yes, her whole life has fascinated me. I had also previously heard that her father's family came from Norway, but it is only now I have had time and opportunity to study this thoroughly.

Two books; 'Freeway West' (The Falun Historical Society; 1971) and 'Early Furrows - a story of early pioneers in Provost, Hayter, Bodo, Alberta and surrounding districts' (The Senior Citizens Club of Provost; 1977) describes Joni's Norwegian Related:

I 'Freeway West' Joni Mitcells aunt, Alma Anderson (f 1903), writes :

'My parents' surnames were both Anderson. My father, from the Lofoten Islands, was named Hendrick but was called Henry, and my mother, from the Voss Fjord part of Norway, was named Ingeborg but called Emma. They came with their parents to Minnesota, U.S.A., and according to records were some of the first settlers. They later moved to South Dakota. Our family arrived in Alberta in that terrible year of 1906 when there was so much snow and cold.'

'Early Furrows' begins the chapter on' The Henry Anderson Family 'as:

'Mr. Henry Anderson and his wife Emma, were born in Norway, and raised in South Dakota. They immigrated to Canada in 1905, and homesteaded in the Wetaskiwin area.'

This is about Joni Mitchell in the two books:

'Freeway West':

'Bill married Myrtle Anderson; their daughter, Joni Mitchell, is a song writer, singer and artist; they live in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.'

'Early Furrows':

'Bill and Myrtle Anderson from Saskatoon, with one daughter, the now famous Joni Mitchell, folk singer, song writer, and artist. She has won numerous international awards in recording and entertainment fields.'

This I had to try to find out; Jonis paternal grandmother came from 'the Voss Fjord part of Norway', what does it mean? - And her paternal grandfather came from 'the Lofoten Islands' of Sami blood.................

Ancestors of Joni's paternal grandfather, Henry Andersen (1873-1952), lived in South Helgeland. They were not from Lofoten, but did go there every winter for several months of fishing. Henry's mother and father, Jonette Pedersdatter (1840-1934) and Hans Arntsen (1831-1923), emigrated from Trondheim in 1869. Jonette and Hans were born on the farms Store Reinfjord and Arnes in Sømna kommune, Nordland. In the U.S. they called themselves Anderson, and Jonette became Nettie. The Mayor of Sømna, Edmund Dahle, is Joni's third cousin.

Henry was born in 1873, as the first of their children after the immigration. From before they had three children, but two of these had already died. Henry's brother, Martin (1862-1951), was born on the farm Arnes, Sømna. Nettie and Hans also had the twins Alfred (Fred) (1883-1969) and Ole (1883-1959) born in Minnesota, and a daughter who died young. It has been possible to follow Henry's and Jonette's relatives back in time to the 17th century, and after what I have been able to find out, there is no Sami blood among Joni's Ancestors. In efforts to find Jonette and Hans from Sømna I have had the help of genealogist in Minnesota, Margaret Miller, and Norwegian genealogists with particular knowledge of the families in Nordland, including the local historical writer Tor Mathisen in Sømna. Margaret has said that it is quite common that those in America who have ancestry from northern Norway say they have Sami or Lapland blood. She has experienced this several times and found it not always to be true.

Joni's paternal grandmother, called Emma Anderson in the U.S. and Canada, has been much harder to find, but eventually I had only one candidate, namely Ingeborg Gjertsdatter Andersen, born 7. May 1882 in Modalen, Hordaland, a few miles north of Bergen. If this should prove to be correct, Joni Mitchell's musical heritage may lie in Modalen, and a jazz singer I know very well has common great grandparents with Joni, in other words, they would be third cousins.

Emma was baptized as Ingeborg in Mo Church in Modalen 17. May 1882. Her parents were Gjert Andersen from Indre Takle in Gulen, Sogn & Fjordane, and Brita Olsdatter from Farestveit in Modalen, Hordaland. From before, Gjert and Brita had a daughter, Christiane. On 24. May 1882, the little family emigrated from Bergen. Emma was only a few weeks old when they left. They settled, as did so many others, in Minnesota , and we find them in Vernon, Dodge City, in 1885. So I cannot find Emma before she turns up in Day County in South Dakota in 1900. Then she and the two and a half year older sister, Christiane, were waitresses at a restaurant in Webster, 'capital' in Day County. Even their father, Gjert Anderson, is found in sources in Day County from 1887 to 1900. However, it has not been possible to find out what happened further with Emma's Norwegian family. As a curiosity can be mentioned that Gjert's third couisin was the famous Norwegian poet Henrik Wergeland (1808-1845).

The link to Henry Anderson, was found in a local census for South Dakota in 1905, when Emma and Henry lived with their two eldest children Alma and Hilda, in Lynn, Day County, South Dakota, about 10 miles north of Webster. Here Emma writes that she was born of Norwegian parents in Norway in 1882, she emigrated as a newborn and has lived in Day, South Dakota, since 1889. Census 1900 for Day, South Dakota, shows that there was only one Emma Anderson, born in Norway in 1882 of Norwegian parents, namely Ingeborg Gjertsdatter from Modalen. It should be said here that it was not uncommon to use the name Emma for Ingeborg in the U.S.

This began to be as exciting as a crime novel. I had to call Linda Farestveit, the jazz singer I mentioned above. It was obviously a shock, but a positive shock, for her to hear that she might be Joni Mitchell's third cousin, a vocalist who has meant a lot to Linda as a singer.

It was now quite clear that it was the right person I had found. It was interesting to find out more about Joni's paternal grandmother. On Joni Mitchell's official homepage there are many articles and interviews, all the way back to the 1960's. Joni tells about her two grandmothers in almost every interview. About Emma she says that she cried her last tears already as a 14-year-old girl, when she realized that she would not get the piano that she wanted.

From 'Women Of Heart And Mind', Steve Matteo, Oktober 2000:

'What do you think gave you the drive to do what you do?

I assume there must be some kind of genetic thrust. My two grandmothers were very different, but both of them were frustrated musicians. My paternal grandmother had a hard life - baby after baby after baby. She was not a martyr, but she was a total self-sacrificing animal to her many babies. She cried for the last time in her life when she was 14, I'm told. The last thing she cried for was that she wanted a piano, and she told herself, 'You silly girl. You'll never have a piano. Dry your eyes.' I forget which aunt told me this, but to me it's incredible that if that was the main turning point in her life - 'I want to play this thing so bad, but I can't; it's not my destiny' - then there's a possibility that that urge went into the genetic pool. She had a lot of children who then had smaller families ... maybe three or four children. One of them has got to get that gene, don't you think?'

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Added to Library on August 31, 2009. (32920)


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LarryO on

Re:"Margaret has said that it is quite common that those in America who have ancestry from northern Norway say they have Sami or Lapland blood. She has experienced this several times and found it not always to be true". National Geographic is involved in the Genographic Project which traces your DNA over the millennia. I think it would behoove Joni to get tested (if she hasn't already). My DNA is associated with the Sami. 50% of their population have this DNA segment, and I'll bet she does too.   [ed.]