Immigrants to America

1. Joseph Arvid Thorin

Though not the first person on this list chronologically to cross the pond and settle in America, Joseph Arvid was the first Thorin to do so. If you have just finished reading “Who Are the Thorins?“, the story of the Thorins picks up here.

Örby, Sweden circa 1930 with the church in the distance where Johannes Josefsson was sacristan.
Örby, Sweden with the church in the distance where Johannes Josefsson was sacristan. c. 1930.

Joseph Arvid was born in the rural town of Örby, Sweden to Johannes Josefsson Thorin and Lovisa Larsdotter as their second son in the winter of 1871. His father had only recently began his career as an elementary school teacher, and so it was very likely that the small family actually lived in the school house. As six more children steadily entered the family in Joseph Arvid’s young years, a good education, an emphasis on family, and a focus on faith were likely important aspects of his upbringing.

During these years (and continuing through the early 1900’s) emigration from Sweden to America was beginning to pick up. Stories of untouched prairies, cowboy and indian wars, and a vast potential of American wealth waiting to be tapped into would have been the commonplace food for thought for the youth of Sweden and all of Scandinavia. Such thoughts occupied Joseph Arvid’s mind through his teenage years working as a bookkeeper, that is, until April of 1887 when he began making preparations to bite the bullet and leave for America.

An advertisement in Sweden for land in Iowa and Nebraska. c. 1879.


Undoubtedly with the stories and reports of adventure and prosperity that were coming back to Sweden from America, inspiring the youth with excitement, accounts of filthy cities, sin-filled saloons, and outlaws inspired the parents of the youth with an equal amount of fear. The God-fearing sacristan Johannes Josefsson Thorin would unquestionably have been one of these worried parents. Seeing his son Joseph Arvid’s plans, Johannes had to intervene. Perhaps having spoken with the pastor of their congregation, Johannes appealed to his faith to help dissuade his son from leaving for the sinful America. Whatever the reason, the pastor did take Joseph Arvid aside one day to give him an important message:

Anders Herder Block
A. H. Block, Örby Pastor

“Joseph, if you leave for America, your soul will go to Hell.”

Dismayed by this view, Joseph did change his plans, at least temporarily. He took up work as a farmhand, perhaps encouraged by the idea of his elders that getting his mind out of an office would stabilize his thoughts. But the change in environment made no difference, and in 1890 Joseph Arvid finalized his plans and boarded the ship Orlando headed for Hull, England. From Liverpool he then took boarded the ship Tectonic, arriving in New York on the 27th of February, 1890.

2. Erik Gabriel Thorin

Louise Thorin, c. 1916, age 14.
Louise Thorin, c. 1916, age 14.
Mary Erica Thorin, c. 1920, age 15.
Mary Erica Thorin, c. 1920, age 15.

Joseph Arvid spent some time working on dairy farms in New York to save money to strike west. By 1892 he made his way as far west as Batavia, Illinois. Through correspondence, many Swedes had made their way to Batavia, making it a gathering place for many families as they made their way piece by piece to America. At this time Joseph Arvid’s younger brother, Erik Gabriel Thorin, decided to follow in his brother’s footsteps and leave home. He left Sweden and immigrated directly to Batavia, Illinois, where his brother was waiting for him.

Batavia would become Erik’s resting place a short 13 years after his arrival at the untimely age of 29. Before his death he married Mathilda Anderson, an American-born Swede, and had two daughter, Louise and Mary Erica.

For some reason, though reunited with his brother, Joseph Arvid was not content in Batavia. Perhaps he wanted more of the western American adventure he had heard of in his youth. At any rate, he left Batavia after fifteen short months of working as a coachman and headed further west to the edge of the newly formed state of South Dakota. If relative solitude was his goal he was more successful in reaching it; the average population density of Batavia was 65 people per square mile, and that of western Iowa—Rock Rapids, the place he settled at—was 12 people per square mile. Even in the 1890’s it was considered the effective edge of civilization.

Joseph Arvid Thorin's path across America (dashed red line) against 1890 population density map.
Joseph Arvid Thorin’s path across America (dashed red line) against 1890 population density map.

3. Mathilda Dahl

Whether it was in Joseph Arvid’s heart to move further west into the true American frontier will never be known; family of his own and fertile farms entreated him to settle down and call mid-western patch of soil home. In Rock Rapids, Iowa Joseph Arvid met a young Norwegian immigrant who was working as a maid at the local hotel. Her name was Matilda Dahl, and at the age of 23 (also Joseph Arvid’s age) she joined Joseph Arvid’s adventure as his wife and companion.

Matilda Dahl with her first child, Johan Lennart Thorin. c. 1896.
Matilda Dahl with her first child, Johan Lennart Thorin. c. 1896.

Mathilda was born in the winter of 1872 in Brandvold (modern: Brandval), Norway, a sparsely populated farming valley first inhabited by Finnish slash-and-burn farmers. Life was likely hard for Mathilda and the other Norwegians in the frozen north, and the stories of awaiting wealth and plenty in America probably stirred many fantasies of leaving the rugged farms behind in search of better fortunes. But meager potato farmers, as those in Brandvold were, would have had little economic opportunity to do so without truly leaving everything behind—family and all. For Mathilda and her family, the American dream, out of reach as it seemed, would have remained just that—a dream—were it not for a tragedy.

In the summer of 1883, when Matilda was only 11 years old, her mother, Eli Einarsdatter, suddenly died at the age of 43, leaving behind her husband and five young children, the youngest, Mary Dahl, being only eight months old. With nothing to lose, Matilda’s family sold their farm and headed for better fortunes across the sea in 1885. Having friends already settled in the foreign plains town of Rock Rapids, Iowa, the Dahl family immigrated directly to the American frontier. Mathilda would spend her teenage and young adult years in and around Rock Rapids until the day a particular Swede, Joseph Arvid, entered the town hotel.

Interestingly, Brandvold, Norway, being near the western edge of Sweden, is only 200 miles from Örby, Sweden, Joseph Arvid’s hometown. That’s about the distance from Sioux Falls, South Dakota to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Despite that short distance, it would be over 4,300 miles away on another continent—the proverbial new world—where fate would have them meet and fall in love. Through the years they would end up raising 10 children on the prairie farmsteads they would move to in and around the neighboring counties of Lyon, Iowa and Rock, Minnesota, eventually settling near Hills, Rock county, Minnesota.

Thorin Family Young-1
Joseph Arvid Thorin and Matilda Dahl (both seated) and their 10 children. Back row: Arthur Julius, Johan Lennart, Carl Edwin, Mabel Caroline, Emil Louis; middle row: Emma Olina, Louisa Matilda, Joseph Arvid Jr.; front row: Einar Olaf, Alice Marie.

4. Charles M. Dahl

Charles M. Dahl was Matilda’s father, and Eli Einarsdatter—she whose death spurred the family’s departure from Norway—was his first wife. Charles was born in November (another cold birth month) of 1851 in Brandvold, Norway. In 1871 at the age of 20, he married Eli Einarsdatter who was 11 years his senior. There is some indication that three years earlier Eli gave birth to an illegitimate son whom she named Eberhardt (Halvorsen). Unlike Eberhardt’s father who abandoned Eli when her pregnancy was discovered, Charles made the choice to propose marriage to Eli when she became pregnant with his daughter, Matilda. In December of 1871 they married, less than a month before Eli gave birth to Matilda.

Charles loved Eli, and together they had four more children—three boys and a girl—before Eli’s untimely demise. The sad life change would become the impetus for attempting a new life a world away. In America, Charles would find love once more with Lena Larson of Norway. They married in 1888, both of them in their mid 30’s. In 1889 they had a son together who they named Lewis who sadly died shortly after his birth.

"Here Are Some Old Timers" Lars O. Kolsrud and Charles M. Dahl; second from left and far right, respectively.
“Here Are Some Old Timers”
Lars O. Kolsrud and Charles M. Dahl; second from left and far right, respectively.

Like many who left Norway, or other Scandinavians countries, in the 19th century, Charles changed his name to a decidedly more American-sounding name upon immigrating to the new country. Before his new life in America began, Charles was known to his friends and family as Karelius Martinsen. The farm the family lived on in the old country was called Dahlen, meaning “valley” (a reference to the Brandvold valley area, known as the Solør valley). As was commonly done, Charles’ new name was a combination of his first name, though modified; his last name as a middle name; and the farm name as his surname. (Another example of this is Lars O. Kolsrud, a fellow immigrant from Brandvold who also ended up in the Hills, Minnesota area, whose former name was Lars Olsen from the farm called Kolserud [Lars’ son, Olaf Kolsrud, an American-born child, married Charles’ daughter, Mary Dahl].)

5. Soren Severson

Though Charles’ leaving of Norway was spurred by the ill-timed passing of his wife, he was actually following in the footsteps of a childhood friend named Søren Syversen (Soren Severson), also from Brandvold, whose first wife’s early death also prompted his family’s immigration to a new, hopefully-better life.

Soren was born just three years before Charles in June of 1848. His first wife, Martha “Mattie” Arnesdatter, was born near Brandvold, Norway in a town called Grue (made famous by one of the worst fire-related tragedies in Norwegian history). Together they had three children, the first, Anna Sophia Sørensdatter (Annie Severson), being born six months before their wedding.

After Martha’s death, Soren took his family to America, arriving in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1882. Perhaps being one of the earliest of Brandvold’s citizens to depart the old country, he followed no fashion of name change besides the English spelling of his name (e.g. the Norwegian patronymic suffix “-sen” became the English equivalent, “-son”). Whatever the reason, the fact remains that Soren was the first American immigrant in the Thorin family tree.

Sigrid Larson (seated, far right) having just arrived at the Kvale farmstead. c. 1886.
Sigrid Larson (seated in grass, center) having just arrived at the Kvale farmstead. c. 1886.

In America, Soren—like his friend Charles—also remarried. Sigrid Larson, of Valders, Norway, came to America in 1886 at the age of 25 as a single woman to work as a helper on the Kvale farmstead near present day Beaver Creek, Minnesota. There Soren and Sigrid met and they were married only two short years later in 1888, a true pioneer couple. Together they had six children—bringing the total Severson children count to nine—two of whom died before the age of 20.

Soren's American Family. c. 1898. Back row: Soren Severson, Julia, Sigrid Larson; front row: Sigurd, Jennie, Lawrence.
Soren’s American Family. c. 1898.
Back row: Soren Severson, Julia, Sigrid Larson; front row: Sigurd, Jennie, Lawrence.

Soren and Sigrid lived long enough to see one of their children, Mabel Amanda Severson, grow up to marry a doting young man, the son of a local Swedish farmer. The young man’s name was Johan Lennart Thorin, son of Joseph Arvid Thorin, and grandson of Charles Dahl, Soren’s childhood friend.

Johan Lennart Thorin and Mabel Amanda Severson on their wedding day: 18 February 1925.
Johan Lennart Thorin and Mabel Amanda Severson on their wedding day: 18 February 1925.