Photo by Nicole Inglis
Roar Koppang, of Oslo, Norway, kneels at the Oak Creek grave of one of his distant relatives August Coupon, who settled in Oak Creek in the late 1800s. Behind him, another Koppang cousin, Ase Bull, and her husband, Tom, look on. The family traveled to Colorado for a family reunion and to share genealogical information with the Track and Trails Museum.
Steamboat Springs Halfway across the world from where he began, Roar Koppang’s genealogical research led him to the town of Oak Creek, where on Wednesday he knelt before the grave of a distant relative.
The Oslo, Norway, native sighed as he stepped back from the headstone.
“Here we are,” he said. “This is history.”
Koppang, a retired international technical journalist and avid genealogical researcher, traveled to Colorado this week for a family reunion of Koppangs, Kopangs and Coupons, all members of a Norwegian family that branched out to America in the 1800s.
In his research, Koppang traced a branch of the family to Iowa and then followed the path of August Coupon to Oak Creek, where, with the help of Oak Creek historian Mike Yurich, he learned about his relatives’ lives in Colorado.
“It’s so strange to come to a place you’ve read about, dreamt about, Googled about,” he said. “This is big for us. It’s like Christmas Eve.”
A long journey
Roar Koppang’s interest in his family history began when he was 5 years old. His family had kept a series of letters that Peder and Johan Koppang wrote back to their father, Paul, after immigrating to America in the 1860s.
In the letters, Koppang found a piece of a Native American’s scalp with a long lock of hair attached. That discovery was more than enough to spark an interest in the stories of distant relatives.
“I was wondering, ‘Who are these people?’” he said.
About 15 years ago, he inherited the letters, and his work began in earnest. In 2008, he made his first genealogical journey to the United States, where he organized a family reunion of the relatives he had found.
Karen Crisco, a Westminster resident, went to that first family reunion in Sioux Falls, S.D., meeting members of her family she never knew existed.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “So many of us don’t know why they came over, or what they did in the old country.
“It’s all come together.”
On Wednesday, Karen and her husband, Larry; Roar and his wife, Aase Westlie, and another Koppang cousin, Åse Bull, and her husband, Tom, traveled from Denver to Oak Creek to trace August Coupon’s life and visit the grave.
Putting history together
Roar arrived in Oak Creek with a book that he had put together compiling his findings, and Yurich, the Tracks and Trails Museum historian, met him with a packet of information all his own.
“It’s always exciting to help people that do this,” Yurich said. “It makes me feel like I did when I went to where my father came from. I get caught up with every family history.”
Yurich unearthed, among other things, records showing August Coupon as a town board member, mayor pro tem, a local contractor and a miner. He found pictures of Coupon and his children, Art, Wayne and Anna Coupon. (Coupon is one American-ized version of Koppang.)
Anna married into the Cleaver family — a prominent clan of Oak Creek residents — but all of the Coupon descendants have since moved away from the Yampa Valley.
“This is fantastic,” Koppang said to Yurich as he flipped through newspaper clippings, birth announcements and photos. “The book would not have been made without you.”
In all, Roar Koppang has unearthed 115 descendants of Johan Koppang, spread all across the country. The family tree is still budding, with an Elisha Koppang born just one year ago in Texas.
The book Roar Koppang wrote, with help from Yurich’s research during the past two years as well as the input of co-author Harald Lorentzen, will be on file at the Tracks and Trails Museum permanently, so that perhaps when a young Koppang goes looking for the family history, it will again lead to Oak Creek.
“The world we live in today is so hustle and bustle,” Roar Koppang said. “And so many people don’t know anything about their roots.
“There were so many different links of Koppangs, and we have brought them together.”
To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@SteamboatToday.com