To Norway, with love
"Better late than never," the saying goes – it's certainly true when it comes to searching out family history.
Take the serendipitous story of Robyn Gaustad-Mangnus.
Robyn knew that her great-grandfather, Christopher Gaustad, was a Norwegian pastor who came to New Zealand in 1880. He ministered to the Scandinavian Lutherans of Manawatū and Wairarapa, and settled first in Palmerston North, then in Halcombe.
She'd heard some things about him from older members of her family: Christopher was a homeopathic practitioner who spoke seven languages and he and his wife had had eight children. Their son John Alexander was Robyn's grandfather.
Her own father had dark hair, apparently similar to the pastor's wife – but who was Mrs Gaustad?
"I knew nothing about her, not even her name," says Robyn.
In April this year, that would change.
She and her Dutch husband Tony Mangnus finally made a family-roots pilgrimage to Norway, to find relatives both living and long-gone, and to document whatever they discovered along the way.
Two things had spurred them to go.
First, they took a closer look at a bad photocopy of the Norwegian family home of the pastor's wife, given by a distant relative years earlier.
Then they came across a Memory Lane story, published in the Manawatū Standard on August 1, 2009, under the headline: "Pastor Saw Great Things". It recounted a strange, prophetic dream Pastor Gaustad had in 1888, at the age of 50. In it, he saw things that hadn't yet been invented: aircraft, underwater vessels and an invention for people to listen to music and talk with others thousands of miles away.
He also saw a "fearful battle in mid-air fought with two large armies" and the disappearance of printing presses in favour of a self-printing communication apparatus.
With these visions still fresh in his mind, he cranked out a pamphlet on his hand-press entitled The Wonderful Dream, or what might happen in the 20th century and distributed it. He also gave lectures about the dream in Manawatū and during a trip to Europe.
Many years later, in 1937, his daughter Anna presented a copy of the pamphlet to the Manawatū Standard to mark Palmerston North's diamond jubilee year. The story of the dream was printed in the newspaper, and the pages eventually reproduced on microfilm.
The Memory Lane story also mentioned Gaustad's wife. She was Anne Gorine Oulie, a fellow Norwegian who met Gaustad when both were studying in Berlin.
Next, they served as medical missionaries in India, and married there.
So now Robyn and Tony, armed with another piece of the ancestral puzzle, started corresponding from New Zealand to Norway with genealogist and historian Jonny Lyngstad, and Robyn's cousins Eva and Annelise.
At last, excited and not knowing quite what to expect, the couple arrived in Oslo, Norway.
What they received was an overwhelming outpouring of family warmth and welcome.
Cousin Eva drove Robyn through green countryside to Oulie Gaard, in Nes Akershus (now Haga Station), the childhood homestead of Anne Gorine Oulie. The Oulie family line, Robyn would learn, stretched back 500 years.
As they travelled along, she recalls: "I had a lovely feeling of calmness – as if I'd been there before. I felt a connection. I thought: I know this place."
The Oulie house, about 100 kilometres outside Oslo, was under renovation and not open for viewing, but they enjoyed a walk in the garden among lavender and white roses.
Today, in their home, Robyn and Tony have a specially commissioned painting of the house, which includes a bit of artistic licence – colourful but non-existent mountains in the background.
In Oslo, relatives arrived to meet them "from everywhere – north, east, south, west, elderly to babies. We had two lovely days. It was a very emotional time."
The journey also included stops at Trondheim, birthplace of Christopher, a visit to his original home site; to Domkirk Cathedral where he was baptised, and other places of family significance.
In Molde, a central Norwegian city – "like Palmerston North", adds Tony – a surprise awaited them.
Through a genealogical society friend, they were interviewed by journalists from the local newspaper, the Romsdal Budstikke. The second word of the newspaper's name in English is literally "message sticks", a nod to olden days when people left news or letters in hollowed-out wooden sticks with a cap on one end, and a point on the other, for sticking in the ground along a route.
Robyn and Tony thought their story might make a few paragraphs, but, they exclaim, "it ended up as an eight-page supplement."
Back home in Auckland after their trip, Robyn recalls, "people said to us afterwards, why did you leave it so late?"
But a home, a family and a business can take up a lot of time. "We had such a very busy life."
She still thinks, heartwarmingly, of a comment her cousin Eva made at the family reunion.
"Anne was the first [of the Oulie family] to leave Norway, and Robyn is the first to return from New Zealand."
It's been 90 years since Pastor Gaustad died, at his son's home in New Plymouth.
Anne had died earlier, in 1910, and is buried in the Halcombe cemetery, near Feilding.