Select Olson Surname Genealogy

Olaf has always been a popular Scandinavian name, in part due to the fame of St.Olaf, King of Norway, who brought Christianity to the country in the 11th century.  The Norse root of the name is anleifr meaning “ancestor and heir.” 

The main resulting surnames have been Olsen in Norway and Denmark and Olsson in Sweden, meaning the son of Olaf or Ole. 
Notable Norwegian Olsens have been Fred Olsen, the founder of the Fred Olsen shipping line. and O.T. Olsen, the promoter of the 730 kilometer Nordland railway line running down Norway from Trondheim. 

The spelling has tended to become Olson in America

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Select Olson Ancestry

The Scandinavian population of Olssons and Olsens in Sweden, Norway and Denmark is approximately 340,000 today.  It is estimated that some 23,000 made the journey to America, with the peak years of migration being in the late 1800's.  On arrival most anglicized their name to Olson.  Some remained Olsen. The Olson population in America, including Olsen, is close to 90,000 today.

England and Scotland.  The Olsen name has been found in England and Scotland, although in small numbers, as a result of the earlier Viking invasions in the 10th and 11th centuries.  It has cropped up in NE Scotland, in Caithness and Sutherland, and in NE England, in Northumberland and Durham.

  Olsons headed in the 19th century to the Midwest, primarily to Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois.  Some made it west, to Utah and California.  There were also Olsons on the East Coast in Maine.

Midwest.  One early arrival was Jonas Olson from Westergötland in Sweden who came to America in 1861, married, and was homesteading in Alfsborg township in Sibley county, Minnesota three years later. 

“They farmed there, planting, cultivating, and harvesting with hand tools, usually homemade.  The only fuel available was wood.  They raised nine children on the farm.  All the nine children were raised as devout Christians and abstained from alcohol." 

The Olsons farmed there until Jonas’s retirement in 1908 at the age of 77.

Two Olson families from Norway have also had long histories in rural Minnesota:
  • one Olson family settled in Jackson county. Their Olson-Staabakken cabin, the oldest structure in the county, was donated by Emmet Olson in 1927 and is to be found in Ashley Park.  
  • while Halvor Olson arrived in Minnesota in 1889 and later homesteaded in rural Madison.  He lost his farm during the Great Depression but then managed to buy it back.  His descendants celebrated the Halvor and Mary farm centennial in 2003.
Floyd B. Olson was a second generation American who grew up on Minneapolis's North Side.  His immigrant father from Trondheim in Norway had eked out a living there as a railroad checker.  But Floyd trained to be a lawyer, became the leader of Minnesota's Farmer-Labor Party, and was the much-loved Governor of the state at the time of the Great Depression.

West.  Some like Hans Olson from Norway had been drawn west by gold fever.  He arrived in California in 1853 and spent most of his life wandering from one mining camp to another before finally settling in the Los Angeles area of southern California. 

A few were Mormons.  Jorgen and Kirsten Olsen had heard the word by Mormon preachers in Odense, Denmark in 1865 and departed for Salt Lake, Utah three years later.  

“They departed Denmark on the sailing ship Emerald Isle which carried 876 emigrants to New York. Thirty seven deaths occurred on the ocean, their grandson being one of the victims.  The ship sank on the way back.  Jorgen, Kirsten and their children walked most of the way across the plains, Jorgen being sick with stomach trouble.  They arrived in Salt Lake City with only $1.50 to their name."

Another Mormon convert from Denmark was George Olson who made his home with his wife Delilah in Fillmore, Utah.  One son Edmond was a noted pioneer and writer in Fillmore.  Another son Culbert renounced the Mormon faith and moved to Los Angeles in 1920.  He became Governor of California in 1939. 

John and Anna Olson left Sweden in 1888 and headed directly for California.  They bought 22 acres of land near Kingsburg in California’s Central Valley and started a legacy in stone fruit farming, Olson Fruit Farms, that has continued until today.  

Stuart Olson Farms is a fourth generation family farm located outside Salem, Oregon in the Willamette Valley.  Bill Olson, Stuart’s father, began farming with his uncles in the West Salem hills in the 1930’s. Another Olsen family in the
Willamette Valley, descended from farmers who had moved west from South Dakota, operate the Olsen Family Vineyards.

Maine.  John Olson was an early settler in the New Sweden community in Maine, arriving there in 1871.  He was a farmer and violin maker whose poem of his voyage from Sweden to America has been preserved. 

A better-known John Olson was the sailor from Sweden who landed ashore one cold winter’s day in 1892 and met and married a young woman in Cushing.  Their home, Olson House, and family was made famous by the painter Andrew Wyeth.

Canada.  The rural community of Gimli in southern Manitoba was once known as New Iceland as it was home to the largest concentration of people of Icelandic ancestry outside Iceland.  Included in their number had been one family who arrived in 1876 and adopted the family name of Olson.  Carl Olson, also Icelandic, had been born in Minnesota and came to Gimli in 1913 as a Lutheran minister.  He later moved onto Saskatchewan.

Africa.  Ole Olsen from Stavanger was among those recruited in Norway by Captain Ludvig Larsen to sail on the Agnes in 1872 to Madagascar and set up a trading post there.   His family later joined him and they stayed at Tulear until 1882 when they relocated to Durban.  Another Olsen line at Tulear began with John Achille Olsen from Trondheim who had married the daughter of a local chieftain and died there in 1903.   His nephew George moved to New Zealand and made a name for himself as a boxer.

Select Olson Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

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Floyd B. Olson was Governor of Minnesota from 1931 to 1936.  As leader of the Farmer-Labor Party, he pursued an activist agenda to ease the impact of the Great Depression.
Charles Olson
was an American poet of the first half of the 20th century, a link between older modernist poets such as Ezra Pound and the Beat generation.

Johnny Olson
was a well-known American radio and TV personality from the early 1960’s to the mid-1980’s.
Merlin Olsen
was an American NFL football player and commentator

Select Olsons Today
  • 3,000 in the UK (most numerous in Durham)
  • 89,000 in America (most numerous in Minnesota) 
  • 36,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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