Three cousins, Terry, Skip and Sigmund Rønneberg, have been searching for our family’s genealogy, and we have been learning about our family’s history since August 1996. At the very beginning of our search, we assumed that there was a likelihood that all those possessing our surname may be related. Subsequently, we learned, from Hans Bernt Starheim, (an amateur genealogist and a member of the Rønneberg clan from the Norddal region in Norway) there are three separate Rønneberg clans in Norway.
One clan has its roots in Øvre (upper) and Nedre (lower) Rønneberg in Vestfold , which is south west of Oslo, another has its roots in Norddal, between Eidsdal and Linge, about 85 km from Ålesund (this is the area in which one finds the breath taking views of the Norddals fjord). Our clan is from Røyneberg in the former Håland parish, which is now Sola in Rogaland. Later in this brief overview of our family history, the reader will learn more about another branch of our clan which was established in the Ålesund area. So far we have not found any connection between the three clans. Also, there are some families carrying the surname Rønneberg whom we have not been able to connect with the three clans.
Since the early 1600’s and until recent times, farming has been the main occupation of Rønnebergs in the Sola area, but before that time, we can only surmise what the family did for an occupation. We suspect they were Vikings before they settled down to be farmers.
Asbjørn Rønneberg (1617-1687) was the first of our ancestors who we know used the name Rønneberg. Asbjørn married Guri Olsdatter (1625-1695) and settled at Røyneberg in Sola just south of Stavanger, Rogaland. They were farmers who did not own the land they worked, but instead rented the land from wealthy farmers. Asbjørn and Guri’s great grandson, Anders Asbjørnsen Rønneberg, was the first to own the land he worked.
As with most farming families during older agrarian times, the Rønneberg families usually had many children to help with the farm work. When the farm owners died, it was the Norwegian custom to pass the farm to the eldest son. This custom sometimes presented a problem for enterprising, hardworking sons who were not the first born. If there was a scarcity of available farm land in the area, these sons had to consider becoming a tradesman or a craftsman or move on to an area where they could establish themselves and raise their families. Such was the case with our distant cousin, Kristoffer Rønneberg.
Kristoffer found himself in the situation of being an intelligent, hard working, and enterprising young man who was not a first born son. The prospect of little money and no land did not seem promising, so about 1753 or shortly thereafter, Kristoffer decided that he must set out on his own to look for opportunities elsewhere.
An interesting story that offers insight into a facet of Kristoffer’s personality was told to Sigmund Rønneberg by Judge Anton Rønneberg, a living descendant of Kristoffer. This story has been passed down through many generations. It goes like this: When Kristoffer was leaving, his stepmother said to him: “Do let us know how you are doing, Kristoffer.” His reply was: “If I am doing well, there is no reason to let you know. If I am not doing well, there is no reason to let you know about that, either.” So Kristoffer set out for destinations that lay to the north. He settled in the Ålesund area, became a large land owner, a farmer and a merchant. The firm that he started was for more than 100 years the largest employer in Ålesund. Kristoffer is referred to as the forefather of the “Ålesund Rønnebergs”.
In a direct descending line from Asbjørn Andersen Rønneberg, we find Tørres Andersen Rønneberg (1845-1913) Asbjørn’s 4th great grandson and Skip and Terry’s great grandfather. Tørres chose not to inherit the farm but instead moved to Stavanger assisting his uncle Enoch in his drapery and food store for twelve years.
But Tørres was a risk taker and a visionary. He founded the Rønneberg Preserving Company at 35 years of age, thus becoming a pioneer in the Norwegian canning industry. Tørres’s brother, Martin Kristian, (1858-1929) took over the second half of the family farm, and he is known for the draining of Stokka Lake. Another of the brothers was Jon (1853-1948). He moved to Soma where he and his wife Karen took over the farm from her foster parents. Jon is Sigmund’s great grandfather.
Many other Rønnebergs have gone on to become farmers, medical doctors, dentists, bankers, chemists, engineers, architects, graphic designers, housewives, saboteurs, radio personalities, construction managers, merchants, journalists, educators, judges, painters, cabinet makers, fighter pilots and government bureaucrats.
Other Rønnebergs have emigrated from Norway over the years. Skip and Terry’s great grand uncle, Bertel Teodor, their grand uncle, Nathal, and their grandfather, Trygve, immigrated to the United States. Several other family members immigrated to Canada and Australia. Bertel immigrated sometime around 1880, and he settled in the small town of Escanaba, Michigan, where he owned a paint store. Grand uncle Nathal immigrated in 1898 and settled in the Chicago area where he was an engineer/architect. We believe grandfather Trygve immigrated around 1900. He first settled in Chicago and then came to the San Francisco Bay Area after the 1906 earthquake and fire where he earned his living as a structural engineer. It is possible that Bertel may have sponsored Nathal and Trygve’s immigration to the United States.
By now some readers may be wondering how the Rønneberg name came to be. There are two equally good theories about the etymology of our surname. Our cousin, Sigmund, was kind enough to relate these theories. The first theory: “The place Rønneberg/Røyneberg is itself a hill, and seen from a distance, it is very rounded against the western horizon.” Sigmund went on to explain, the Norwegian word used today to describe “round” is “rund”. It is possible that “Rønne” derives from a former version of the present Norwegian word “rund”. Berg in Norwegian means hill, thus Rønneberg could mean “round hill”.
An equally plausible explanation comes from the Norwegian word for a Rowan tree which is also known as the European Ash or the Norwegian Ash tree. The Norwegian word for a Rowan tree is “Rognebætre.” The Rognebætre produces red berries, and they are known as “rognebær.” Sigmund related that, “The Danes called the Rowan tree ‘Rønnebær-tre’.” Mr. Hans Bernt Starheim maintains that the name Rønneberg describes a hill covered with Rowan trees. According to our cousin Phillip Rønneberg’s notes, “there were few other kinds of trees in this area earlier.” So we don’t know for sure, but both theories seem plausible.
We hope future generations will have a better sense of their past due the efforts of the many people who have made a contribution to this work. This shall continue to be a work in progress, and to all those who may continue this work, may you have as much fun as we are having, and learn as much as we have learned.
Terry Rønneberg, Sigmund Rønneberg and Skip Rønneberg
27 September 1997