Friday, November 2, 2018

Anyone Here Speak Danish or Norwegian?

Sifting through the many photographs I found abandoned in an antique store in northern California, it was easy to see that several came from the same ancestral family. Others, however, may not have even been related to the Purkeys, the Wymers, the Goodmans or the Tuckers we've been discussing.

Take this one photograph I foundmuch older than the restwhich was inscribed with a greeting that filled the entire reverse of the picture. The picture itself featured what I presume would be a setting with father and mother in the background, with grown daughter seated in front of them.

Even though it was difficult to see the writing on the reverseit looked like it had been written in pencilit was clear this was not English I was reading. I tried typing into Google Translate as close an approximation as I could decipher to the original words and, for the first part of the opening sentence, the translation service pronounced it to be Norwegian...if I corrected the spelling on one word which was clearly spelled differently. Trying again with a phrase taken from the last few lines of the inscription, this time Google Translate thought it was written in Danish.

Who knows what it actually will turn out to be. Maybe it will be Norwegian. Or Danish. Or perhaps Swedish. Or maybe a very old form of one of these languages has stumped the ever-helpful Google. After all, the photograph is well over one hundred years oldmy guess, at least.

One thing for sure about this message, though: it mentioned Fertile, Minnesota. Whether the message provided any names or any other clues to help me return this old photo to descendants of the family, I don't yet know.

But I'd be grateful for any translation help from anyone who knows any of the Scandinavian languages. Together, hopefully, we can figure out this puzzle.

Original appearance of the message on the back of a hundred-plus year old photograph pictured above, with contrast enhanced. Below, enlarged portion containing the message:


  1. Being Swedish myself, I can say that It's not Swedish, but which one of Danish or Norwegian, I'm not sure.
    It's similar enough tho, so I'll have a go at translating.

    I'm not really proficient in deciphering this type of handwriting, but it's fairly readable, so I'll give it a try anyway.

    "En hilsen ifra den döde og av
    Mrs. [name] (in?)
    Maria, Fertile, Minn

    dette Portraet er taget efter ett gamelt. Til Tant [name].
    Fader och moder har ingen feil i [unreadable word], men
    det er en feil i Printingen."

    "A greeting from the dead one, and from
    Mrs. [name] in
    Maria, Fertile, Minn
    This portrait is based on an old one. To aunt [name].
    Father and Mother has nothing wrong with [unreadable word], but
    there is an error with the printing."

    If I would hazard a guess, I'd say that the unreadable word here translates to "the eyes", the photo itself should be able to confirm or deny this.

    Also not sure about that "in", may be another "og" (and) instead.

    1. Thank you so much, Per, for giving this a try! Knowing neither language myself, I was concerned when Google Translate rejected one of the first clearly discernible words in the message that I had entered: ifra. I had my doubts that the rest of the message, in such an attempt, would come out as clearly as did yours.

      On Monday, I'll post the photograph itself, and you will see what the writer meant about the eyes.

  2. I am Norwegian and I can concur to Per's comment.
    I believe the first name that is missing is Mrs Rønnøg O Rosby
    The next is Aunt J T Andersen.
    Last paragraph is: "Father and mother has nothing wrong with their eyes, it is an error in the printing"

    Hope this helps you.

    1. Yes, absolutely, it does! Thank you so much, Martin, both for weighing in on Per's comment, and for deciphering the names. I'm hoping this will be enough of a clue to locate some records on the family.

  3. Oops! Forgot; it is Mrs Rønnøg O Rosby AND Maria.

    1. Wonderful! The details are getting more clearly in focus, now!

  4. Martin: thx for filling in the blanks, and confirming the "and" and the eyes bit. One thing I noticed is that the writer uses the Swedish style "ö" instead of the "ø" I would have expected, and that you yourself used in your reply. Any ideas why the writer would have made that choice?

  5. Rönnög gets _totally_ mangled everywhere in census records and findagrave entries:
    Ronno, Rounee, Runna, Ronnou,Rannau, even transcribed as "Roger" on one census...

    In the transcription of the death record of Maria Rosby Overland, Marias mother is listed as "R... Kill"

    The 1900 entry for Runna Rosby states "1 living child, 1 child total"

    Ole dies 1902 and Rönnög 1906.

    1. This is all helpful information, Per. I've found, in looking at records in the U.S. concerning foreign-sounding names, to think of the phonetics rather than just the spelling. Your comment about Rönnög is well taken. I'll keep my eyes open for all those spelling variations--and any other phonetic equivalents.

  6. :) Lots of crowd-sourced help! So very nice to see.

    1. Yes! And especially so, since I couldn't have figured out that translation on my own.


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