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

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?

~ ~ ~

1 S/S Bergensfjord, NAL Timeline via
2 Ibid.
3 S/S Stavangerfjord, NAL Timeline via
4 “New York Passenger Lists 1820-1957,” digital images, ( : 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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  1. Robert Bauer
    September 8th, 2017 at 18:45
    Reply | Quote | #1

    My parents Franz and Magda Bauer arrived in the US on the SS Bergensfjord in 1940, and I believe it was on the same passage as your grandfather. I have temporarily misplaced my copy of the passenger manifest sent to me by a friend, so it is possible, if the Bergensfjord made the passage earlier in 1940 that my parents arrived on that earlier trip and did not have a chance to play shuffleboard with Nils.

    In any event, your mention of the Census date in 1940 explains why my parents, likewise, do not appear in the 1940 Census.

    I have only recently been searching details about the Bergensfjord, so your (5 year old) story was interesting and useful. Thanks.

    • Eric T. Jorgensen
      June 29th, 2018 at 19:23
      Reply | Quote | #2

      It looks like they missed playing shuffleboard together by one cruise. Franz and Magda Bauer were on the voyage that left Oslo on 28 February 1940, while Nils Jorgensen was on the voyage that left Oslo on 5 April 1940.

      Some free search links from FamilySearch, “New York Book Indexes to Passenger Lists, 1906-1942”, Film #100660771 (850 images):
      Image 482: “Passasjerliste S/S Bergensfjord fra Oslo 28. Februar 1940” Cover Page
      Image 486: Franz and Magda Bauer from Helsingfors [Helsinki] starting the B’s alphabetically

      Image 826: “Passasjerliste S/S Bergensfjord fra Oslo 5. April 1940” Cover Page
      Image 830: Nils Jørgensen from Seattle, Wash. ending the J’s alphabetically

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