The PBS network is airing a popular series on American television titled “Finding Your Roots.” Its three seasons worth of programs features Americans–some of them prominent, others not–tracing their family history. Many know little or nothing about their ancestors prior to the show, not an uncommon thing for Americans. During the show, researchers, historians and genealogists uncover as much as they can about the individual’s personal family. Sometimes the results are startling, surprising, delightful and often fascinating.
I am fortunate in that I have known my family history on my mother’s side of the dating back to the 1500s for the past 30 years. This is because nearly more than 40 years ago, my mother’s cousin Dorothy decided to dig out her maternal grandmother and grandfather family roots. This was prior to all the Internet services available today that make such an endeavor easier. But at that time, Dorothy spent countless hours and money visiting libraries, traveling to see distant family cousins, aunts and uncles and reading every letter she could find that made mention of the family in Sweden.
Somewhere along the journey, my parents connected her to Bo, the Swedish cousin of my aunt Marie, who was married to my father’s brother. Bo had come to the States several times on business and also to visit his family here who had moved from Sweden. I was still a young girl when I first met when he rolled through Kansas to visit Marie and her family who grew up and lived in Savonburg, KS., a tiny, largely Swedish town north of where my family lived.
He was, and still is, a jolly guy, full of jokes and stories and little known facts about his homeland that he’s happy to share. He became computer savvy early on, largely due to his Swedish government job and quickly learned how to access historical records.
Dorothy had travelled to Sweden a time or two in her quest after exhausting her resources here. She and her husband visited churches hoping to learn more about the family. The Lutheran churches in Sweden have kept excellent records for centuries of baptisms, marriages, and deaths that anyone tracking down relatives can mine. But you must know where to start. Dorothy had gone as far as she could when she met Bo.
She and Bo corresponded by letter with her telling him everything she had learned and where she was stuck. In the meantime, Bo became a volunteer working in the archives of the Utvandranus Hus or The House of Emmigrants in Växjö, Smaland, a southern province from which many thousands of Swedes came to the U.S. This is a wonderful museum and a must-visit for anyone interested in their Swedish heritage. Built in 1968, it houses records that date from 1840 through 1930 when approximately 1.3 million Swedes, or nearly one-fifth of the country’s population, moved to the U.S. The museum serves as an international research center and also displays permanent and rotating exhibits about that huge migration.
Combing through the library, Bo was able to find our family records which, in turn, led to other discoveries. He found, for instance, that my great-grandfather had come from Anga on Gotland. That revelation eventually led us to my cousin Sivert and his family (the subject for my next blog post). A letter, tucked into the Bible belonging to my great-aunt Clara, and written by my great-grandmother to the family in Sweden, provided a breakthrough to tracing the family to He found both the homesteads of my great grandmother and great grandfather’s family. (Read my blog Father’s Day in Fagerdal.) Dorothy, my aunt Hazel, my parents and I all have been there and stood where their grandparents once lived.
My Swedish family records dating back to the 1500s, when the original family trekked across frozen ice (so the story goes) to Sweden from Poland, fill a large ledger book. The contents are the result of endless research and expense by both Dorothy and Bo. The book is one of my prized possessions and something I will hand down to my own sons.
We are still making new discoveries about my family, thanks to Bo. Just last summer, Bo presented me with an unusual birthday gift that linked me to one of Sweden’s most prominent authors. That is a story I’ll tell in upcoming blog.