13 January 2011

A Personal "Thank you" to Clair O. Haugen

Many family historians may be familiar with the Norway Heritage website--a veritable gold mine of ship information, passenger lists, images, stories, and more, pertaining to the Norwegian emigrant experience. I was saddened to learn recently that Clair O. Haugen, a retired professor and major contributor to the website, passed away at his home in Moorehead, Minnesota on July 31, 2010. He was 75 years old. During his long career, Haugen taught at Concordia College in the speech communications/theatre arts department. After retirement, he engaged in research and writing as a historian. It was in the latter capacity that I came to meet his acquaintance, albeit, electronically.

Clair O. Haugen (1935-2010)

When I first came across the Norway Heritage website, I was startled to find my great great grandfather's (Gulbran Olsen Berge's) sea voyage diary published among the information collected there, concerning the 1868 voyage of the sailing ship, the Hannah Parr. Decades ago, my mother had been given the same translated and typewritten copy of Berge's diary entries by a maternal aunt. The original handwritten copy was weather-damaged and had been destroyed many years ago, but, as far as I knew, no one had ever published the copy. I also did not recognize the name of the contributor that was credited online, so my first response was to e-mail the copyright owner of the online article (Haugen) to ask where he had obtained the diary.

The 1868 expedition of the Hannah Parr is one of the best documented of any of the early Norwegian emigrant passages. Due to severe storm damage resulting in broken masts and the galley being washed overboard, it was necessary for the ship to limp back to port at Limerick, Ireland for repairs, after which, local newspapers recorded related events.

Mr. Haugen responded to my e-mail in a very sincere and gentlemanly manner, giving me more information than I had hoped for. For one thing, he helped me to get in touch with a "new" cousin of mine--the one who had provided the Berge diary for the website. Haugen had done extensive research on the Hannah Parr voyage, and he was always excited to make contact with fellow descendants of the America-travelers onboard. He sent me a CD containing his research and required no compensation because, after all, I was Hannah Parr "family."

"In his research Clair joined forces with many others, including other descendants of the ship’s passengers, Norwegians interested in emigration history, and Irish friends who were touched by the story of 400 shipwrecked and destitute Norwegian emigrants aided by citizens of Limerick in the months of May and June 1868." (www.norwayheritage.com)

To read the Norway Heritage background essay collaborated on by Clair O. Haugen and James Overdahl, click here: The LONG crossing of the Hannah Parr.

Within year or so, Mr. Haugen e-mailed me again, this time to ask if I still had the CD he had sent me. He had lost the version on his hard drive and was hoping to replace it using someone's backup copy. I made him another copy and put it in the mail straight-away--happy to do him a good turn in exchange.

Haugen also notified me of a project and encouraged me to participate. In 2006, he assisted the Island Theater Company in Limerick to produce a play about the Hannah Parr experience. He sought greetings from descendants of the emigrants to include in the staged production. Gathering as many sound clips as he could, including mine, he sent them along to Ireland, giving real voice to the kindness shown to the unfortunate emigrants by the people of Limerick so very many years ago.

Clair O. Haugen's love of historical research and sharing touched many people, including myself. He admitted there was a strong spiritual dimension to his work, and in researching his ancestors, he felt closer to them. Now, that is something that a Nearby Norwegian like myself fully understands.

Siste Farvel, Mr. Haugen, and may the luck of the Irish be with you on your travels.


Chery Kinnick