A "social distancing happy hour" reunited long-lost relatives who lived just four houses away from each other.
Like many of us in the pre-pandemic busy days, Kjetil Njoten and his wife Zoe Leigh-Njoten rarely got time to get to know their neighbors. Despite moving into the La Crescenta community—15 miles outside of L.A.—with their son last summer, it was only after California issued a stay-at-home order in March that the Njotens got the chance to really meet the people living near them. This has now proved to be life-changing for them after a "social distancing happy hour" on their street in early April reunited them with a long-lost family line living just four doors away from them.
Amid the pandemic, a family learns their neighbors are their long-lost relatives https://t.co/C8AGR7fuYj— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) April 26, 2020
According to The Washington Post, it all began when the Njotens struck up a conversation with Erik and Jen Strom during the lockdown meet-and-greet. Kjetil, 45, and Erik, 38, soon realized that they both shared Norwegian heritage. During the conversation, Jen revealed that although she'd previously attempted to trace her husband's family history, she didn't have much luck. The 37-year-old informed her neighbors that she had to stop when she was unable to locate Newton Island, where Erik's Norwegian family was supposedly from. The Njotens casually joked that perhaps Newton Island was Njoten Island, a tiny speck of an island northwest of Bergen, Norway’s second-largest city.
Kjetil's roots run deep in Njoten Island as it's where his family derived its surname from and is also the place where he grew up. Three miles long and one mile wide, the island has a population of about 30 people, he revealed. Although it's spelled "Njøten" in Norwegian and pronounced "nyuh-ten," the name is often pronounced as Newton in English. "When [Jen] said 'Newton,' I thought, ooh, maybe! It would be a ridiculous coincidence. Ridiculous. But maybe it’s Njoten!" said Zoe.
Intrigued by the slight possibility that his neighbors could have roots in the small island of Njoten, Kjetil emailed his mother in Norway that night asking her to do some digging around the family ancestry. When she got back to him the following morning, Kjetil was shocked by the revelation that not only was Erik's family from the same island, they actually shared the same great-great-grandfather. Furthermore, the house Kjetil grew up in previously belonged to that great-great-grandfather, Jacob Njoten.
The elated Njotens immediately asked the Stroms to walk over to their house where they broke the life-changing news. "Hey, good news! You are from the island, but not only that, we are related!" Kjetil told Eric while maintaining the recommended social distance. The Njotens and the Stroms stood there for a moment in disbelief before the gravity of the revelation fully sunk in. "We were ecstatic!" said Jen while Zoe added, "None of us can believe it."
I needed some inspiration today, and this is perfect. You know Njoten Island is remote when you can't even find a single iota about it on Wikipedia. And here they are, four houses away.— Paul Gundlach (@PaulSGundlach) April 26, 2020
Although they wanted to run over and embrace their long-lost family members, the four of them had to resist the urge and celebrate from afar. Speaking of making such a monumental discovery during the pandemic, Eric said: "It’s given us an exciting thing during this difficult time. But having it happen during this time also means we can’t do what we would like to. We can’t hug or have dinner together or go in each other’s homes." However, Jen pointed out that if it were not for the lockdown, they may have never found the truth.
"We wonder how long it would have been [for us to make this connection] if we didn’t have this reason to slow down from our regular life," she said. Kjetil agrees, noting that uncovering their shared ancestry during the lockdown was "such a bright light in what is a pretty uncertain and worrying time." As they wait for the pandemic isolation to end, the Njotens and Stroms are now keeping busy exchanging recipes, photos, and family stories through their new family WhatsApp thread and looking forward to celebrating holidays together in the future and perhaps even travel to Njoten Island as a family sometime soon.