The Last Ship Out, or How the 1940 US Census Missed My Grandfather

20 July 2012 | Tags: , , ,
Steam Ship Bergensfjord via GalleriNOR

S.S. Bergensfjord via GalleriNOR

Between the 1 April 1940 US Census enumeration and the 9 April 1940 German invasion and occupation of Norway, S.S. Bergensfjord steamed from Bergen, Hordaland, Norway to New York, NY for the last time as part of the Norwegian America Line.1 The Bergensfjord was the last passenger ship (at least of NAL’s) that left for America before the invasion.

On board during that April 1940 voyage was my paternal grandfather, Nils Jorgensen (Nils Ludwig Jørgensen Kjølås, 1901-1982), an American citizen on his way back to the States after visiting family in Stranda, Møre og Romsdal, Norway.

During the pre-invasion tensions over military control of the North Sea, his family had a tough time convincing him to go back to the States. He later said that the passengers were able to see the German fleet on the horizon behind them and were told of the invasion by the captain.

When they arrived in New York on 15 April 1940, the Bergensfjord was laid up herself, unable to return. It was later converted to a troopship for the British Navy in November 1940.2 One of her sister ships, S.S. Stavangerfjord, which was laid up in Oslo at the time of that trip, was similarly converted to a troopship for the occupying German Navy in September 1940.3

Here’s my grandfather’s entry in the passenger list (cropped, full image via Ancestry.com):

Bergensfjord US Citizens April 1940 via Ancestry (Crop)

Bergensfjord US Citizens April 1940 via Ancestry (Crop)4

From before the official Census date of 1 April 1940, through the first two weeks of April — when the rest of my local US family was enumerated (other than Nils’s future wife, in Alaska when enumerated early in November 1939) — Nils wasn’t in the United States. I’ll still check the neighborhood he listed for his address, in case of any notes about absence, but that’s a page-by-page reading moment.

The 1940 US Census isn’t yet searchable for every state, though volunteer indexing is at approximately 92% complete at the moment.  Browsing page-by-page is another option. But even when searchable indexes become 100%, those who were not enumerated for various reasons will still be “missing”.

How were some of your “Missing in the Census” people finally found? Did you have a historical lead to follow?

~ ~ ~

References
1 S/S Bergensfjord, NAL Timeline via NorwayHeritage.com
2 Ibid.
3 S/S Stavangerfjord, NAL Timeline via NorwayHeritage.com
4 “New York Passenger Lists 1820-1957,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://ancestry.com/ : accessed 20 July 2012), List of United States Citizens, S.S. Bergensfjord, 5-15 April 1940, page 17 [stamped], Nils Jorgensen, age 38.

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