Saturday, September 17, 2011

Some Things I've Learned While Researching My Swedish Roots

When I started researching my family in 2000, I knew very little.  I only knew their countries of birth.  I did not know birthdates or maiden names or specific locations. A family letter mentioned that my father's father (farfar) and mother's mother (mormor) came from the same part of Sweden. The letter informed us that my parents met at the funeral of my Dad's father. My mother's mother (Mormor) found that my dad's uncle had died in Chicago and since she knew him from Sweden, she wanted to attend the funeral. Mom went with her, and that started a romance which culminated in the marriage of my parents one year and one day later. Few people know the exact day and location where their parents met, but we do.

My cousin had asked one of our dad's first cousins for information on the Olson side of the family back in the early 1970s. Her letter told about the parents and siblings of our farfar but dates and locations were not mentioned.  It also told us about the foster parents of our father's mother (Farmor). We later learned that most of the information in the letter was correct. There were only a few tiny errors. We knew we would recognize the family in Sweden if only we could find the parish in Sweden, but we had no idea how to do that. We didn't have much in the way of home sources, or at least I didn't because a fire had destroyed old photos and letters and other useful information a few years previously. We weren't sure if we would ever be able to solve the problem but of course we had to try.

My cousin and I became inspired to start researching our family history during a family reunion in 2000. We had discovered that although family members didn't know much about our family's history, we knew some different things. Our talks during that reunion added some missing details. We started digging in U.S. sources to find more clues. Sources included old letters, censuses, city directories, vital records, etc. I also went to the Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. They don't have online records but what they have provided a lot of detail about our Swedes after they came to the U.S. Unfortunately our grandparents weren't church members at the time, so we didn't find their parishes of birth at that time. We did find a lot about baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and funerals, providing additional information to build upon. I also spent a lot of time at the Great Lakes NARA branch. (NARA stands for National Archive and Records Administration.)

A big breakthrough came after my cousin posted on a message board called Rootsweb. (It is actually the same board which can be accessed, for free, though A Swede answered him and offered to help. Our helper used a cd called Emigranten. (That cd has been updated in recent years and is called Emigranten Populär.) More specifically, he used the Emihamn database. Emihamn was made from registrations with Swedish port police before leaving Sweden. There are about 1.1 million Swedes listed. He found our farfar's sister emigrating from Frändefors parish in Älvsborg county, and found our farfar and farmor going to the U.S. in 1898. No Swedish parish was listed for our grandparents because both had already been to the U.S. However, I was able to find their passenger arrival manifest, which told us that they had left from Frändefors.  It seemed quite clear that we should be able to find the Olson side of the family in Frändefors, although we didn't know if they were born there.  We also thought that my mormor should also be in the records for Frändefors, although it was certainly likely that she came from a nearby parish. Finding my mormor was going to be hampered by the fact that we didn't know her maiden name.

I knew that my mom's cousin had graduated from Augustana College about 1915. I wrote to the Alumni Office and they had records which told the names of her parents, the name and city of her high school, her major, plus information about her husband and children. (I had already known who they were, but it was amazing how much the  college was able to find about someone who graduated so long ago.) Armed with that information, I knew the maiden name of my mormor and her sister, so they were also found in records in Frändefors parish. My farfar and mormor and their ancestors had been born in and lived in Frändefors parish for generations.

My farmor remained a problem for a while.  I owned her old Swedish to English dictionary which had her address but no town. The Swede found by my cousin solved the problem. He looked in a  cd  called "Söder", which covered part of the city of Stockholm. She was listed there with her parents and siblings. Later he also checked "Gamla Stan", which covered another part of the city of Stockholm, and that record had the address found in her dictionary. He later learned that the street name had been changed, but the building still existed. (I saw it last summer, but that is another story.)

I'm in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City at the moment, so I want to keep researching. Next week the Swedish American Genealogist Workshop (SAG Workshop) will be held, and I want to dig deeper into my roots while I'm here.  I'll try to write more when I have a chance.


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