14 August 2011

About notable Norwegian-Americans ... and Karl Rove

Towards the end of my vacation in July this year the website Side3.no, owned by the media company Mediehuset Nettavisen, which also owns the first Norwegian online newspaper Nettavisen, published a survey of notable Norwegian-Americans. The article of 25 July 2011 was titled "Her er norsk-amerikanerne" ("Here are the Norwegian-Americans"). Such surveys are rather "timeless", so I am not too bothered about the fact that I haven't found the time to comment on it until now, more than two weeks later. There are of course plenty of such lists on the Internet, including Wikipedia and the Norwegian-American Hall of Fame, but the topic is well worth revisiting.

Side3.no's article lists among others several top politicians, including former Vice Presidents Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale (I was, by the way, pleased to get the opportunity to shake hands with the latter during his visit to Oslo in 2009) as well as Governors Knute Nelson and Earl Warren (the latter was also a chief justice), models and celebrities such as CariDee English and Paris Hilton, actors (Dynasty soap star Linda Evans, James Arness, Marilyn Monroe and Renee Zellweger), Academy Awards winners (James Cagney and Jennifer Connelly), musicians Matt Sorum and Tom Waits, sports stars like Knut Rockne and Sonny Jurgensen, etc.

The list is almost endless. It is of course a discussion on its own who should be regarded as "notable" and who should not, but it is as interesting to note the many rather well-known persons who were not mentioned. The road racing cyclist Lance Armstrong, who was born Gunderson, is one example. Comments to the article (go to the bottom of the website) mention among others Atlanta Thrashers ice hockey player Justin Byfuglien, who won the Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2010 (go here for a discussion about his ancestry) and actress Kirsten Vangsness of "Criminal Minds". I'd like to add my grandmother Torborg Hoelseth's first cousin Bjorn Egeli (1900-1984), a notable artist (all his five children - Peter, Cedric, Bjorn James, Mary Lois and Carolyn - and at least four grandchildren - Lisa Egeli, Arthur Bjorn Egeli, Anastasia Egeli Deppe and Ingrid Egeli McGuckian - have followed in his path) who originally came from Horten in Vestfold, but whose Egeli/Ekeli family originates from Haukeli in Vinje, Telemark.

The GOP presidential candidate Congresswoman Michele Bachmann as well as Senator John Thune are not mentioned. Senator Thune decided in February this year not to run for president in 2012, so his omission from the list might be understood, but it is rather strange that the journalist has forgotten about Bachmann. I don't think she will be nominated for the Republicans - I am rather certain that it will either be former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney or Texas Governor Rick Perry - but Bachmann has certainly made a name for herself. Despite my doubts about her winning chances, she is a strong candidate and will certainly win a decent number of delegates. I have earlier promised to write something about her ancestry, and hope to get more time to do more research in the winter. In the meantime you can read George Gooding's article on the subject (see also his report written in English). I have earlier opened a discussion about her at the genealogy forum at Digitalarkivet. Concerning John Thune, I have got some more details from one of his Norwegian third cousins and hope to come back with more details later.

But one name stands out in the survey of politicians among the notable Norwegian-Americans: Karl Rove, the political consultant (and brilliant election strategist) who served as President George W. Bush's Senior Advisor and Deputy Chief of Staff from February 2001 until August 2007. Rove, who was born in Colorado in 1950 but grew up in Nevada, is a Norwegian-American by adoption only. So does he really belong to such a list? Well, it depends on what definition you want to use.

According to Karl Rove's autobiography Courage and Consequence. My Life as a Conservative in the Fight (2010), which I still have only read the first chapter of, Louis Claude Rove Jr. (1928-2004), who originally came from Wisconsin, adopted Karl and his older brother Eric, when he married their mother Reba, née Wood (1929-1981). Karl learned about the truth only after his parents were divorced in 1970. He has met his biological father, whose name has not been revealed (but is not relevant to this story), but neither were interested in having any further contact.

One could perhaps use a "cultural definition", but from the little I have read about Rove in interviews as well as the first chapter of the said autobiography, he doesn't strike me as having been brought up in a particular Norwegian-American "Fargo"-like environment (those who have seen the movie "Fargo" know what I mean) with lefse and lutefisk on the dinner table. I could be wrong, of course, and it would be interesting to get Rove to comment on this one day, but as of now that is the impression I have got.

But it is evident that Karl Rove clearly identifies himself as a Norwegian-American. Throughout the book he refers to Louis C. Rove as "my father", has often made a point of his Norwegian connection in interviews and speeches and according to VG Nett (16 May 2003) he had a portrait of his great grandfather (i.e. Louis Rove's grandfather) Olaf Julius Rove on the wall in his White House office and he has also visitied Norway together with his stepfather. So I guess it is not totally wrong to include Karl Rove in such a list of notable Norwegian-Americans, but it should still have been mentioned that the connection goes through his stepfather. One should of course not rule out the possibility that Rove could have Norwegian ancestry somehow through his mother's parents Robert G. and Elsie Wood or through his biological father, but as Rove doesn't mention it himself, it is a long shot.

So, what exactly is Louis C. Rove's Norwegian connection? Rove descends from the farm with the same name at Kirkeøy in Hvaler in the Norwegian county of Østfold. You can find a photo of the farm in Fredriksstad Blad's article "Det startet på Rove" ("It started at Rove") published on 5 November 2005. In the national census of 1865 one can find the Rove ancestor Andreas Johannessen Rove living in Frederikshald (today Halden) together with among others his wife Magdalene Jonsdatter, his son watchmaker Severin M. and daughter-in-law Gunhilde (Azora), née Olsen/Olsdatter, and several grandchildren. One of them was Olaf Julius Herman Emil Rove, b. 15 April 1864 and christened as late as 23 April 1865 (see no. 34). He emigrated 22 years old to Wisconsin in the United States where he married the Swedish-born Emma, b. 1863, and had at least 2 sons, Louis C. Rode (1895-1967) and Olaf N. Rode (1898-1980). My sources are several US censuses found at Ancestry.com, SSDI etc. Louis was the father of the previously mentioned Louis C. Rove, Jr., the stepfather of Karl Rove. I am sure I could have found more details if I had done a more thorough research, but this will do for now.

I have been told by a distant Norwegian relative of the late Louis C. Rove that also the explorer Roald Amundsen (1872-1928) of South Pole 1911 fame descended from the same Rove family, but I have not got the details on exactly how he was related to the line mentioned above. As far as I understand it, and this must be taken with some reservation, it is not from Andreas Rove, so the connection must be further back. That is of course a topic I could get back to another time.

Updated on Monday 15 August 2011 at 08.25 (minor text addition, typos corrected), last time on Friday 7 December 2012 at 11:10 (typo corrected).



  1. Seems Norwegian-Americans (like Americans from most parts of the world) have produced quite a few impressive individuals. A couple of small points:

    Earl Warren was indeed a governor, but is much better remembered as chief justice of the United States during one of the momentous periods in the history of the Supreme Court.

    A rare for you, but somewhat amusing, typo: Atlanta's hockey team is the Thrashers, not the Trashers...

    I cannot figure out why anyone would want to claim Karl Rove, but you are more than welcome to him. I would very happily see him repatriated to Norway!

  2. Thanks for your comments and corrections, Gary. I was of course aware of the fact that Warren was also a chief justice, and I have added that piece of information now, but had first of all grouped him as a politician and thought too much information would make the sentence somewhat unreadable.

    The two comments I have received so far to my blog article (here and on Facebook) have shown a resentment against Rove... :-) No doubt he was a controversial figure, but no-one - regardless of party affiliation - would surely oppose the description of him as being a brilliant political strategist?


  3. A brilliant political strategist, without a doubt! So, of course, was Machiavelli... :)