A Little Spooky in Sweden

Bo Beckman and Jim Samuelson in Sjöhester, Sweden

Try as I might to have a simple vacation the universe seems to plan weird and wonderful for me!

I’ve blogged before about the odd happenings when I go boots on the ground and my recent Swedish heritage trip to explore my husband’s roots was no different.

Our tour guides, Kris and Mangus, had stopped at one of my husband’s ancestral churches in Sjöhester which was supposed to be open but unfortunately was not. Husband and I were fine with the missed stop as we are used to being flexible when traveling. The guides, however, were disappointed.

Since there was no contact info for the church we went onward to the next stop. As Mangus drove up to the property, Kris excitedly remarked that there was a car in the driveway.

Now for my U.S. readers, I know this is shocking to you but in Sweden no one shoots you when you knock on their door or turn around in their driveway. Instead, they invite you inside. Yes, I realize they are letting perfect strangers into their homes but they are fine with that. We can all learn a lesson here!

We could see two large dogs, a lab and German shepherd, through the window but there was a lag between the knock and someone coming to the door so we didn’t expect the door to open. Open it did and Bo, seen above, appeared. Kris explained why we were at his property, explaining that Jim’s ancestors, Amund Jonsson (1655-1741) and Anna Nilsdotter (1672-1743) lived and raised their family there. This was two generations back from where I had ended my research so I knew nothing about this couple and their children.

Unbelievably, Bo knew all about them. For forty years he rented the cottage as a summer residence. Interested to know about former residents he had painstakingly researched them. He had even written a biography that was on his website.

He kindly invited us in and we sat around his kitchen table as Kris translated the family story. But of course, that’s not all…

Bo asked if we had visited the family church. Kris mentioned that it had been locked. Bo just happened to have the key. We agreed to meet him at the church the following day at 3 for a tour.

That’s not all – Bo mentioned he was glad we came when we did as he had just returned two days before for the summer. Originally, we had scheduled our trip for two weeks earlier but had to change due to my lecture schedule. If we hadn’t, we would have missed him, the opportunity to see the inside of the home, and probably the church, too.

Bo wasn’t the only individual to allow us to photograph their homes. Earlier that day in Sonarp, the birthplace of Maja Olofsdotter (1736-1826) the family invited us in the see their lovely home. The current owner remarked that the dining room always feels happy and I agreed. It was a beautiful bucolic setting; the family has farmed the land for five generations since they first rented in 1900. Sadly, the farmer’s father had been buried just two days prior to our visit with services held in the church where Maja had been baptized and likely married. The couple shared an old photo of what the farm had looked like back in the day – not much different from the present.

The Johannesson family of Närvehult also shared a photo of their home from 1921. Birger Ingesson (1715-1795) and Maria Borjesdotter (1722-1776) raised their family there. Birger and his son, Inge (1763-1843), were both once members of Parliament representing the region on behalf of farmers.

Current owner Stephanie of Hamburg, Germany, kindly let us photograph her spacious yard. In Kjölamälen, Inge Börjesson (1763-1843) and his wife, Margareta Eriksdotter (1765-1839), lived there with their children. It remained in the family for three generations and was the birth location of my husband’s great grandfather Anders L. G. Johannesson Johnson (1839-1906) who emigrated to the U.S.

In Hammershult, current owners stopped their yard work to allow us into the grain mill that Gudmund Svensson (1767-1814) and his wife Judith (1779-?) once operated. Their daughter, Sophia (1807-?) was born in the home on the property. We had no idea that there was a miller in the family!

Was is plain luck that all of these folks just happened to be home when we showed up unannounced or not? You decide!

I’m thinking we should add another reason to last week’s blog about why you must take a heritage tour – you meet the nicest people who are living their lives in the same place that your ancestor’s did. Celebrating birthdays, graduations, and new offsprings; mourning job losses, injuries, and deaths. It is an amazing experience to visit where your forefather’s experienced the cycle of life and if they hadn’t – you wouldn’t be here hunting their stories! Do plan a heritage trip to explore your ancestry.

Next Friday, 7:15 PM Eastern time, I, along with 6 other genealogists, will be presenting at the online only National Genealogical Society (NGS) conference. I am part of Rapid Roots: 7 Share Their Secrets in 7 Minutes. Please attend as I’ll be live for the Q&A – let’s chat!

Why You Need to Plan a Heritage Trip

Mangus and Kris

Hubby and I are back from a world wind tour of Sweden, his ancestral homeland. The best way I can describe it was MAGICAL! Here’s why I think you need to plan a trip to your ancestral home:

Get to Know Your Ancestors – they are more than just names, dates, and places on a pedigree chart. In order to understand their lives you must follow in their footsteps. Considering their educational experiences, jobs, religion, home type, and climate will enhance your understanding of your family today. Have you stopped to think why your family eats a specific holiday meal? Visiting may unlock the mystery of your family’s customs.

Gain Historical Perspective – We didn’t learn the history of the countries our forefather’s left in school so we are lacking in understanding what made them tick. I had no idea that the Vikings roamed as far as Egypt and traded with the Greeks! Geez, my people were in Greece during that time period. I never considered that my people and my husband’s people could have possibly met 2000 years ago!

Unexpected Discoveries – It was news to me that in medieval times, brides in Sweden wore jeweled crowns maintained by the church. The custom has largely gone out of practice but in many churches, the crown remains. A kind church member allowed me to wear a crown that was likely worn by one of my husband’s several times great grandmothers. It is a tremendously memorable experience to bond with those from the past.

Connect With Others – I was able to meet up with an APG colleague I’ve only previously met virtually. We also met many homeowners and renters who were living in houses once inhabited by my husband’s family. So many wonderful ministers and parishioners took the time to provide us with the history of churches where family members had once attended. We greatly appreciated that they took the time to share their knowledge with us.

It Won’t Last Forever – It is amazing that structures have survived for centuries but that doesn’t mean they will always be there. Don’t let climate change steal your past from you! Taking photos will preserve the family story.

Make the Most of Your Trip – Although I am a professional genealogist I am not an expert in everything. Reaching out to other genealogists for help is vital. For our trip, we contracted with MinnesotaSwede.com. Kris and Mangus verified my research, extended it, and planned the day to day itinerary. They booked the hotels, arranged stops for food, picked us up and dropped us off at the airport, and drove us to 14 ancestral churches and over 20 ancestral sites in Östergötland and Småland. They also provided us historical background by visiting sites in Sigtuna and Stockholm, Sweden and in Copenhagen, Denmark. They are genealogy guides extraordinaire!

For my long time readers, you know wherever I roam the strange and unusual occurs. Sweden was no exception so next week I’ll be writing about those experiences.

Swedish Coincidences

Two weeks ago I wrote about genealogy patience.  This is a follow up that I’m having difficulty writing because I’m so overwhelmed with joy at the moment I can hardly contain myself!  Now this story is also just plain weird and I think proves that the universe has a wicked sense of humor so I hope you enjoy what I’m about to relate.

I have searched for a picture of my husband’s maternal Great Grandmother Lovisa “Louise” Carlson Johnson for years (pictured above with her three daughters).  When a DNA match was discovered two years ago in August I sent an email asking if the match had a picture.  He responded this year on Halloween that he didn’t think so but would check with another family member who had a box of unlabeled photos and would get back to me.  I put it out of my mind as I wish I had a buck for every time a family member said, “I’ll check and get back with you.”  My people procrastinate and they never seem to followup up unless I keep bothering them.  I figured, with the holidays approaching and people getting busy, I’d wait til after Thanksgiving and send a gentle reminder.

I went about my business and was volunteering two weeks ago at a local genealogy library  event assisting interested patrons in finding their roots.  I had helped 2 wonderful retired teachers when things got really slow.  I considered leaving but the event was supposed to continue for one more hour and I don’t like to cut out early when I’ve committed so I decided to bring up Arkidigital.com, a Swedish genealogy site, that is awesome.  I used to belong but found most of my husband’s Swedish records so I didn’t renew.  Since it was free for the weekend I decided I’d revisit and see if they had added any new records.  I was still bringing it up when a new patron stopped by.  So, you can probably guess that the woman had deep Swedish roots.  What a coincidence, I thought, and told her I just happened to open up the free site.  She was interested in discovering information about her great grandfather who settled in Minnesota.  She thought he had changed his name at Ellis Island so she wasn’t sure how to verify the story.

I didn’t need Arkivdigital for that so I went in search of naturalization records and World War I and II draft records to see if we could find a clue.  There it was – he hadn’t changed his name at all.  What she had thought was a last name appeared to be a Confirmation name that he had stopped using between 1917 and 1942.  He had emigrated under the name he had arrived with in the U.S. and continued using it; it is on his tombstone. 

By the time we had found the evidence, the event was ending so I showed her how to go to Arkivdigital to search for his birth record in Sweden.  Turns out, she was also a former educator and she told me a funny story of her attending a conference in Wales several years ago.  I replied I wanted to go there, to Croatia and to Sweden to see family’s old haunts but I couldn’t find a tour that went where my husband and my people lived.  She told me she had gone on a fantastic trip to Sweden through a group out of Minnesota and gave me their website.  I told her I’d check it out when I got home.

On the way home I stopped in a store to pick up a few items and yes, they were already playing holiday muzak.  What was on was Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.  Geez, I thought, what a dumb song.  I couldn’t get it out of my mind.

I got home and told my husband I’d love to go to Sweden next summer and was going to check out a tour group.  Sure enough, the tour went exactly where we needed to visit.  Wow, I thought, that’s coincidence number 2 for the day – the last lady just happens to give me the info that I’ve been looking for.  I sent the company an email.

After dinner I decided I’d bring Arkivdigital back up and search for a bit.  I had my tree up on one screen and the website I’d be searching on the other when an Ancestry little leaf appeared.  As I’ve written several times, I typically just ignore the hints but this time something told me to check it out.  It was for my husband’s paternal great grandfather, Samuel Samuelson, who had died in 1908.  It was a link to Find-A-Grave.  I already had that info but clicked to go to Find-A-Grave anyway.  I’m so glad I did because a man interested in history had recently posted a newspaper story from a Chesterton, Indiana paper that is not available anywhere online regarding the circumstances surrounding Samuel’s death. The information hadn’t been there the last time I looked (so you have to go back and look over sites again or you might miss something important).   I had the death certificate which noted accident – skull crushed but I assumed that was the result of a farming accident of some sort.  Nope, the accident explained that Samuel and a neighbor were crossing a train track when the sleigh they were in was hit by the train.  Both men and horse died.  Okay, so here’s the weird, twisted part – I couldn’t get the reindeer song out of my head.  I was humming it when I read this.  I got a sick feeling – I’m humming a song that’s supposed to be funny but I just discovered someone’s gruesome death in a related accident.  That was the 3rd coincidence that day.  The individual who posted the article had also posted the obituary which said, “…his youthful looks and manner, his good nature, and never failing sense of humor made him a delightful companion…”.  Somehow, I thought he would be amused by this twisted occurrence.  And learning about his personality, the man sounds just like my husband.

By this point I was just done with genealogy for the day so I thought I’d check my email and then call it a night.  There was an email and it was from the DNA match who said he’s get back with me – he had found a few pictures that were labeled and they were of my husband’s maternal great grandma!  It must have been Sweden Day as the photos he sent me were of different stages in the woman’s life.  He promised to send me a thumb drive with all the photos of other relatives he had but warned me that most weren’t labeled.

I just got the thumb drive – my, oh, my, what a wonderful early Christmas present!  There was my husband’s maternal grandparents wedding photo which was also the earliest photo of his grandfather I had ever seen.  

There were photos, labeled, that had stepchildren of his great great grandfather.  There were church records!  Someone had gone to a long closed church and photographed the handwritten membership list.  There is so many genealogical gems that I haven’t even gone through everything yet. 

Oddly, he had even sent photos of my husband’s paternal side of the family who isn’t even his relation.  I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised but in 1917, they all had attended a wedding for one of his relatives.  Living in the small farming community, it shouldn’t have been surprising a wedding would have brought neighbors together.  I just never expected to find so many of my husband’s great and grandparents in these photos.  

But that’s not all!  I had a grainy photo of the Harbaugh family reunion but I could never make out most of the individuals because someone had moved the camera as the photo was taken.  It was also a far shot and the people were so tiny.  Enlarging the photo only made it more blurry.  Turns out I had the first photo and the photographer decided to take a second shot.  I can tell as the man in the front row far left has turned to walk away from the group.  Unbelievably, the photo I just received has names attached and is clear as can be:

Check out the man in row 2, third from left that looks like Abe Lincoln.  That would be my husband’s maternal great grandfather.  It is the only photo known to be in existence of him!  His wife is right in front of him.  I had a grainy photo of her from a church group shot taken about 10 years before this one.  All of my husband’s great aunts and uncles are also pictured and we never had any of their photos, either!  The mysterious Louisa, who I had originally contacted the DNA match for a photo, is also shown.  

So my patience really paid off and I highly encourage you, this upcoming holiday season, to ask for the stories – photos – documents – DNA tests – that will enhance what you’ve already discovered and give you a more complete story of your ancestors.   Happy Hunting!

Moving Day

Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com on 18 Jun 2015.

My grandparents were able to blend their youthfully acquired Croatian culture with that of American (as in United States) society easily, or at least they made it seem easy.  I never thought much, while growing up, how difficult it had been for them to immigrate, as it must have been for all my other gateway ancestors, especially for those who did not speak English as a first language. I started thinking about these moves after recently helping my daughter relocate from West Virginia to Florida. For our daughter’s move, we rented a truck, hired 2 college kids to help load it, drove it 18 hours using gps and unloaded it with help from family. Not a fun drive but it was the cost effective.  Total time involved:  2 days.

Granted, as much as it is a pain to move today it’s certainly far easier than back in the day of our forefathers and mothers.

I wished I had asked my grandparents details about their move to the U.S.  Sadly, there is no living relative that would have that information as everyone in their generation and their children’s generation are all deceased.  I have several cousins and second cousins but I was the closest to my grandparents since I lived with them during my childhood and am the keeper of the family stories and records.  None of my cousins have any idea about the family’s migration.  All I know is that my grandmother emigrated with her younger brother, Joseph, and her mother, Anna, as her father, Joseph Sr. had come earlier to set up the household.  I would love to hear how the family traveled from a rural area outside of Zagreb, then in Austria-Hungary, to a port in Hamburg, Germany about 800 miles away. Sailing on the President Lincoln, the family arrived in New York where they were met by my great grandfather.  My grandmother had told me they stayed the night in a hotel in New York City but I have no idea its name or location.  The family went window shopping and my great grandmother fell in love with a lamp in a department store window.  My great grandfather told her it was too delicate to survive the trip but he would purchase one for her when they arrived in Chicago.  He kept his word and I have the lamp, it was passed from mother to daughter to grand daughter to great grand daughter and it will soon be given to 2nd great grand daughter. (Personally, I think it was first seen in Macy’s window as it was purchased from Marshall Fields which carried similar merchandise.  Makes me laugh thinking of my great grandma in her babushka being a Macy’s shopper in her youth!) Nothing from the Old Country, though, has been preserved so the only belongings brought over must have been clothing.  Being a family of pack rats, if any heirlooms had been transported they would have been cherished and displayed. Talk about a Fresh Start!

My husband’s family has been in the states for much longer than mine so it’s not surprising that there are no stories remembering his ancestors journeys.

His great grandfather, Anders Gustaf “Gust” Jonasson emigrated in 1882 from Byarum, Sweden with his wife Thilda “Anna Matilda” and 6 children.  The 8 of them packed all of their belongings into 3 trunks.  The largest is shown below:

The other 2 trunks, about the size of today’s carry on bag, are in my sister-in-laws possession.  The trunks were stored in my in-laws basement in Miller, Indiana until the late 1970’s.  I had grand plans to restore the large one (the white area is where I started to clean the rust) but I never finished.  It’s still on my to-do list.

Now on the one hand, moving with so little is not such a bad thing.  Not a lot of time was involved in packing, transporting and unpacking.  Leaving behind cherished possessions along with family and friends, however, is a difficult concept for me to wrap my head around.  I’m so glad I don’t have to make that kind of move!