Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Welcome to Sweden - My Swedish Genealogy

Over the summer, I ran into a little TV sitcom called "Welcome to Sweden." 



It starred Gregg Poehler (Amy's brother) and humorously documented his real life story of moving to Sweden with his Swedish girlfriend.  It's your classic "fish out of water" story of an American trying to fit into another culture without making too much of an ass out of himself.  (Amy Poehler was the executive producer and made some cameo appearances. Originally broadcast in Sweden in March 2014, it made it's way over here a few months later and has been renewed for another season).

Since I have Swedish roots and have been to Sweden a few times, it was a fun show for me.  According to my Swedish cousin, not so much for those in Sweden. 

Despite some stereotypes, I enjoyed thinking about my times in Sweden and my Swedish relatives and realized that I knew a great deal about my Dad's side of the family, but not so much about my mother's side, the Swedish side.

My father was an only child and his family can be traced back to the early settlers of the United States and the Revolutionary War.  His family had been Americans for generations. His grandfather and great-grandfather were wealthy Michigan pioneers, and it is all documented in a great bit fat genealogy book.



My mother's parents, on the other hand, were immigrants from Sweden and my mother was a first generation American.  The documentation is not as easy.

I know a great deal about my grandparents on my Dad's side because, as I said, the history of that family is documented, and it didn't hurt that they lived across the street for almost all of my growing up years.  If I had a question, I could ask them.  But unfortunately, when you are young, you don't usually care that much about your family's history so many questions were never asked.

I know even less about my mother's parents partly because they came from Sweden and partly because my grandfather died before I was born and my grandmother died when I was five.  Despite my mother growing up in a large family, and they all lived in the same town, I didn't know much about them. I was born to my own parents late in their lives too, they were both 40, so I was 10-20 years younger than my first cousins.  Nobody paid much attention to me, except as you would a little child, so I guess I missed out on all of the family gossip. 

But I did know that my mother was in touch with some of her Swedish relatives.  She corresponded in Swedish, despite always telling me she didn't know much Swedish and wished she did.  She would tell the story that she didn't want her mother and Dad to speak Swedish to her because she was an American and it embarrassed her.  See, no matter what generation you are in, your parents are a source of embarrassment!

So I have always felt out of the loop when it came to my Mother's side of the family and I have always wanted to know more.

I have gleaned what I could from Ancestry.com (free at many libraries) and eventually finding out more from my Swedish relatives in person (more about that later).  However, I am hindered by the fact that my grandfather and grandmother both had fairly common Swedish names and immigrated during a busy time for Swedish folks.

Here is what I think I know...

My grandfather, August Johnson, was born in Sweden in around1859 - the birth date varies from 1858-1860 depending on the source. 

Now that blows my mind right there. 

This is my GRANDFATHER.  Not my Great Grandfather or Great-great grandfather.  My GRANDFATHER.  My mother's Dad.

And he was born before the end of the Civil War!

Here I am alive in the 21st century and my own grandfather was born in the 19th century. That's what happens when people have children late in life over and over.  My mother was the second youngest of seven and August was already in his late 40's by then and then my mother having me when she was 40 basically skipped a generation.  There was already almost 100 years between the birth of my grandfather and my birth.  And interestingly, I also had my children late in life so my parents were 72 when my first child was born, once again creating that huge generation gap.  There is 121 years between the birth of my grandfather and the birth of my first child.

August immigrated to the U.S. in 1880, and I think he settled first in Chicago, where he met my grandmother, Jennie. 

My grandmother, Jennie, was born in Sweden in 1869 or 70 and came to the U.S. in 1888.  She was just 18.

What brought them both to the U.S. is unknown, but Jennie did go back to Sweden for a time.  My cousin said her grandmother told her that Jennie had come back to Sweden and tried to get her to go back to the U.S. with her, but her father wouldn't let her leave.  My cousin's grandmother was my mother's first cousin, which would make her grandmother my grandmother's niece (I think). I kid my cousin about how that would have changed her history had that happened! 

At any rate, there was a huge Swedish migration in the late 1800's, especially from Smaland, an area that was difficult to farm because of the rocky nature of the soil. So many came from this area, that once when we were getting off the train there to visit my cousin, a Swedish gentleman said, "Americans?"  And we replied, "How did you know?"  He said "So many Americans get off the train here because this is where their Swedish relatives came from."

But in general, young Swedish men and women came to the U.S. in the late 1800's because of cheap farmland in the Midwest and good paying jobs in the big cities, especially Chicago. 

Jennie and August married around 1898 and somehow ended up in Michigan.  I would love to know more.  I wish they would do my mother's family on "Who Do You Think You Are?" 

Anyway, August was a carpenter and together they had seven children.  He was such a good carpenter, that he was called "Prince" in the Swedish community.


My mother is the youngest girl in the picture sitting in the middle with the bow (that's a boy on August's lap).

They all lived and died in the same town.  August died in 1942 before I was born and Jennie sometime in the early 50's.  They both became U.S. citizens.

My Mom and Dad met in high school - my Dad an only child with deep American roots - my mother one of seven children, a first generation American.  I see trouble brewing, but they were married for the rest of their lives, almost 60 years.

 
My mother is the one with the chic haircut on the right.

My mother traveled to Sweden all by herself when she was in her late 50's or early 60's (my Dad rarely traveled). I'm not sure of the dates because I was in my selfish period - my twenties - didn't care what my Mom was doing.  But I guess she figured it was now or never. She had never been overseas before.  She met all of the living relatives, one of whom was her cousin's granddaughter, Jane. Jane was a young girl with a desire to go to the U.S. so a few years later, she contacted my mother and asked to visit.  I didn't meet Jane, because I was living in San Francisco at the time.  My dates are a bit fuzzy, but I remember talking to Jane on the phone while I lived there.

With being half Swedish, I was happy that my son showed an interest in Sweden and wanted to go there to study for a semester when he was in college.  Though I had never met Jane and it had been years since she had stayed with my parents, I wanted my son to meet his Swedish relatives and to have a local contact, so I tried to find her.  I am not sure why my mother and sister couldn't point me directly to her, but I remember sending an email and saying, "Are you the Jane who stayed with my parents?"  And she was.

Thus began a long and wonderful friendship.

Our son was going to study at Lund University, near Malmo.

Lund University



We flew into Copenhagen and crossed the very new Malmo Bridge into Sweden.



Jane and her partner, Lars (who is now her husband), traveled down to Malmo to meet us for the first time.  While our son was there, she introduced him to all of the relatives, entertained him in Stockholm and when he was injured in Prague (long story), she looked after him.  It was so comforting to know there was family there if he needed someone.


Especially since he joined what was the equivalent of an American fraternity - called Nations in Sweden.  I don't even want to know what went on!




We went back to Sweden three more times and each time had wonderful visits with Jane, Lars, and the other relatives.



We also visited the Ice Bar in Stockholm...

and the Kingdom of Crystal


and had some cheap laughs.



The second time we went to Sweden, we flew directly to Stockholm and arrived at Midsummer and here is a travel tip. 

Don't go to Stockholm in Midsummer if you want to mingle with the locals. 

It's like Paris in August.  They aren't there. 


There was nobody around but us!



They are off in the country enjoying summer.  So as they say, "When in Rome..," er, "When in Stockholm, do as the Stockholmers do..."  We went in search of them and found many of them in Skansen, an island retreat decked out as "Old Sweden." 



And we joined in, yelling "Hey Ho" as they raised the maypole.



Hey Ho!


Hey Ho!

Hey Ho!

And, of course, we needed to dress appropriately.



Hey, it's Midsummer!




The house where my grandmother was born still stands and belongs to the family and we have been there a couple of times. 

 


The relatives like to relate the story of Alex finding out for the first time that there was no toilet inside the house.  It was in the outhouse.  This is quite common for the "summer houses" in this part of Sweden (the family now uses the house as a "summer house"), because the ground is so rocky, trying to put in plumbing would be prohibitive.  But they also seem to enjoy "roughing it," so to speak - it's like camping out, living like the old days.

The dark building is the outhouse.

So the last time we visited, we once again went to the "summer house."




Jane gathered everyone together. We played the Swedish game Kubb,



and had a lovely lunch. 



This last time we were there, I would guess I was about my mother's age the first time she visited. I could hardly believe I was sitting in the house where my Swedish grandmother was born and lived and where my mother and my son met their Swedish relatives for the first time. 

Here I sit in this house with my Swedish relatives 142 years after my grandmother was born in this house.  

Can you imagine the feeling?



My parents were 72 when my son was born and 77 when my daughter was born, so I was fortunate that both of them lived long enough that my children remember them.  They were able to spend a couple of summers with them. 

One summer when my daughter was quite young, she spent some time there alone as our son was playing baseball that summer.

My mother belonged to Vasa, a Swedish-American group, and my daughter was able to get a little taste of Sweden at their version of Midsummer, dancing around the Maypole.






Four generations of Swedish women spanning across three centuries.

Can you imagine the feeling?


 
Thanks for Reading.

See you Friday
 
for
 
"Gone Girl"
 
and
 
The Week in Reviews


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