Connected Bloodlines


Photo: Svein Solhaug©


Bjørnskinn is located in far northern Norway, above the Artic Circle, in the county of Nordland, on the island of Andøya, one of the islands in the Vesterålen island group, north of the Lofoten Islands. The name "Bjørnskinn" can technically refer to one of three different administrative entities:

  • 1. The Herred called "Bjørnskinn"
  • 2. The Gard called "Bjørnskinn" located within the Herred of Bjørnskinn.
  • 3. The municipality called "Bjørnskinn" (established in 1924 when the old municipality of Dverberg was split into three: Andenes, Dverberg, and Bjørnskinn. In 1964, these three municipalities were reunited to form a new municipality called "Andøy.")

Photo: Finn Myrvang©


Bjørnskinn had been a central place in the area for many centuries, but it is hard to say how old some of the settlements on the farm are. The parish, established very early, was named aftr the farm. It must have happened long before the Black Death. [NOTE: The plague arrived in western Scandinavia in about 1350.]

The oldest written information about a church building stems from the 1500s. A small church, called a korshus, stood there. Around 1750, the church was destroyed by a landslide. A new church was built further away from the foot of the mountain in about 1740, perhaps with materials salvaged from the landslide. This was the start of a long period of strong population growth in the parish, and eventually, the church became too small. In 1884, the old church was torn down and a new one was built. Bjørnskinn continued to be the location of the church, but there was resistance from the people south of the Risøy Strait. They would rather have had a church by the sea.

Church functions had operational consequences for the settlement communities. In the first part of the 1600s, Bjørnskinn only had two tenants; they held very large leased tracts of land. In 1660, half of the farm was leased by sheriff Ole Aslaksen at Saura; however, he never moved there. In 1675, the parish took over all the land on the farm and Bjørnskinn became underutilized by the parsonage at Dverberg.

The farm was without farmers for the next sixty years; the priests ran the farm using tenants. But, at the same time, many families lived in Kobbedalen. We do not know when the Sami arrived, but they were there before 1700.

From the 1730s, Bjørnskinn had only Norwegian tenants, but only for a part of the farm. Priests at Dverberg kept the rest of the land until about 1760, when all of the farms had their own farmers. One of them (Anders Bull) operated Bjørnskinn for some time. In addition, he owned docks on the strait at the neighboring farm called Risøya.

The first years of the 1800s were hard for Bjørnskinn. Between 1810 and 1814, the population decreased to a fourth of what it had been, mostly because of death, and it was nearly forty years before the population again reached former levels. For the rest of the 19th century and into the 20th, population increased significantly.

It was not just agriculture that contributed to the population increase. As the church steadily grew, other common features came to Bjørnskinn, including a school and shops, but the administrative local government center for the creation of the Bjørnskinn municipality did not occur until 1924. Just as Anders Bull laid the foundation of trading in Nordland a hundred and fifty years earlier, that function continues.


Towns and Population Concentrations in Andøy



    Two cemeteries exist in Bjørnskinn, one called the old cemetery and the other called the new cemetery. for the old cemetery. for the new cemetery.


    From Wikipedia: "Bjørnskinn Church (Norwegian: Bjørnskinn kirke) is a parish church in the municipality of Andøy in Nordland county, Norway. It is located in the village of Bjørnskinn on the island of Andøya... The oldest church in Bjørnskinn was located right at the base of the local mountain on the north side of Bjørnskinn. That church was destroyed in an avalanche in the 1700s. It was replaced by a wood church in 1740. That church lasted over 100 years before it needed replacement. After some time and debate about the location of the replacement church, a new church was built in 1885 in the village of Bjørnskinn. The new church was designed by the local architect, Johan Kunig, to seat about 250 people. The new church was consecrated on 29 April 1885 by the Bishop Jacob Sverdrup Smitt. The organ in Bjørnskinn church was built in 1860 and has been at the church since 1936."


    Gerald Lowell's maternal grandfather, Harold D. Nelson, was born in Bjørnskinn. Gerald Lowell's great grandmother, Kristine Margrethe Hanssen (Harold's mother), was born in Bjørnskinn. Gerald Lowell's great great grandparents, Hans Andreas Mikhael Jakobsen and Pauline Jørgine Olsdtr (Kristine's parents) died and are buried in Bjørnskinn.

    Helmer Hanssen, polar explorer and one of the first five men to reach the South Pole on the expedition of Roald Amundsen, was also born in Bjørnskinn. He was Harold Nelson's uncle (brother to Harold's mother).

    For a complete listing of individuals associated with Bjørnskinn found in the Connected Bloodlines database,


    Photo: Roy Samuelsen©