If no one teaches your kids, who will teach theirs?

Times have changed, family values have become more complex, and even with the power of the internet and search engines, it is difficult to stay connected to the past.

According to the survey conducted online by the market research company OnePoll for Ancestry, 34 percent of all Americans don’t know about family members further back than their grandparents, and 21 percent can’t name even one great-grandparent. A third can’t name all four of their grandparents.

With that in mind, retired attorney Robert P. Tjossem followed his family’s footsteps from Stavanger, Norway through Canada, where they eventually settled in a place called Robber’s Roost here in the Kittitas Valley, a place eventually renamed Ellensburg.

“I’m very pleased with how turned out. One of the things that is in the book is about my dad’s older brother, John Tjossem, who died of alcoholism in 1943. He wouldn’t detox and ended up dying in the hospital,” said Robert, who retired from his real estate law practice in 1998.

“Our family shunned him out and wouldn’t talk about it. It was like he never existed. A couple of my first cousins were flabbergasted that there was an uncle they’d never heard of. I think the family was generally very pleased with the effort.”

Credit his attorney background and the ability to delve into research and public documents. Robert P. Tjossem, the great-great grandson of Rasmus P. Tjossem was able to sort through the details of the family’s travels from Norway in the 1870s, how his great-great grandfather and great-great grandmother actually met in the United States, even though they lived just 10 miles from each other back in their homeland.

Ramus and Rachel (Heggem) Tjossem moved from Iowa to Walla Walla and eventually to the Kittitas Valley where they homesteaded a 160-acre tract of land three miles south of town on Wilson Creek, a mile east of the Yakima River. Tjossem Road is named for the family, as is the Mill Pond, and many families are connected — such as the Billeters, the Poulsens, and the Moes.

“I really wanted to do this book, because if I didn’t do it, a lot of our history would be lost,” Robert said. “My mom and dad had an awful lot of pictures, so that’s where I started. My dad (Ralph Paul Tjossem, 1909-97) did a lot of writing about growing up in the valley. It’s very, very interesting and I expanded from there.

“It’s the story of a real pioneer family making its way on the frontier, and throughout my research, I stumbled across a lot of things I didn’t know.”

Part of Rasmus P. Tjossem’s legacy is operating flour mills, how they used to harvest ice on mill pond to be sold at market and how he cleverly used soil reclamation and irrigation on his property in inventing what is called the “Mole Plow.”

The book was featured in the Stavanger bibliotek in Norway, where the “Tjossem Family Story” originated and was featured on their bookshelves, connecting the family story across the world.

“One of my nephews went over to Norway to see the family farm five or six years ago and he put me in contact with the Tjossem family over there. They suggested I get in contact with the museum over there,” Robert said. “They put it on special display at the museum at Stavanger showing the journey of one of their immigrant families, which I thought was nice.

“I’m very proud of our family history and it shouldn’t be lost.”

The “Tjossem Family Story” is available at the Kittitas County Historical Museum.

“The book reflects on the life and times of the Tjossem family and items in our museum collection and those still held in the family’s possession,” museum director Sadie Thayer said.

“It tells how they immigrated and made their way to the Kittitas Valley, settling in the area, and what Rasmus P. Tjossem invented — such as the Mole Plow, which allowed for early soil reclamation. It is available in our gift shop here at the museum.”

Readers have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps from the humble beginnings of a Norwegian immigrant family to the Kittitas Valley, where they settled in to a place called Robber’s Roost.

“My sister, Judy, insisted that our family be registered in the Washington state with pioneer family status,” Robert said. “We achieved that status in 1985.”


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