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Sundberg Oral History Digitization Project

Bergen Harbor, Norway
Bergen Harbor, Norway
(Image is not in database. Source: Desktop Nexus.)

Between 1847 and 1917 more than two and a half million people emigrated from Nordic countries establishing lives throughout agricultural and urban areas in the United States. A significant portion moved to the Pacific Northwest from Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark settling in locations such as Point Roberts, Guemes Island, Blaine, Poulsbo, Seattle, Gig Harbor, and Tacoma.

In the late 1960s Edward and Gerda Sundberg began a genealogy project to investigate their family’s history. They quickly became inspired to document the experiences of immigrants and their immediate descendants from all over the United States. Their tape recordings of interviews with immigrants, which the Sundbergs later carefully transcribed and indexed, captured the accents, intonations, expressions, and emotions of the interviewees, fleshing out their stories and capturing memories candidly and in great detail.

Interviews follow an elastic set of questions expanded or contracted depending on answers received and delineate the emigration process from first awareness of America to assimilation. Many include a narrative of the voyage, learning the English language, first job, creating a home and becoming U.S. citizens.

The result is a collection of personal journeys by intrepid pioneers to a new land. As the Sundbergs wrote, "Our program began as a very intimate family affair. It became an academic study. We feel that each interview is like a dot of paint that an artist puts on a canvas. With enough dabs, we will form a picture of those who came to this country from the Nordic area."

This collection was researched and prepared by the University of Washington Nordic Studies Librarian, the Libraries Special Collections Division and Digital Initiatives Department, thanks to a grant from the Friends of the Libraries.

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