A Swedish Birthday Surprise, Relatively Speaking

Birthday surprises usually come in the form of parties or gifts. I’ve received both. But last year for my birthday, I was surprised to learn about a new relative.  And fortunately, it came as a welcomed surprise.

The news arrived not with someone standing on my door, but in the form of a large mailing envelope sent from Sweden. I immediately recognized the return address as that of Bo, cousin to my aunt Marie who was married to my father’s brother, Dale. I’ve known Bo nearly my entire life. His family and my own have become like extended family. I spend time with them whenever I go to Sweden, as I did earlier this summer.

When I opened the envelope from Bo, I expected to find a birthday card, but was surprised to find much more.  Inside was a letter that read:  “As you are very like Pippi Longstocking in many ways there is some connection to her in you I must say…As the author Astrid Lindgren who wrote the book is a kind of relative to your mother.” Along with the letter was a family tree linking my mother to the Swedish author as a fourth cousin.  My mother’s fourth cousin?

The books of Astrid LIndgren on display here in a shop window in Vimmerby have been translated into 70 languages.
The books of Astrid LIndgren on display here in a shop window in Vimmerby have been translated into 70 languages.

What a discovery! Astrid Lindgren is one of Sweden’s most treasured authors. Her books about the freckled-faced, pig-tailed girl, Pippi Longstocking, has become a children’s classic throughout the world. Her books have been translated into 70 languages and made into several films and television series. There is even an Astrid Lindgren’s World, a children’s theme park and a popular family destination located outside Lindgren’s hometown of Vimmerby.

Families leave Astrid Lindgrens World after a day at the popular theme park.
Families leave Astrid Lindgrens World after a day at the popular theme park.

Lindgren herself was honored last year when her picture was placed on the 20 Swedish kronor, replacing that of another beloved Swedish children’s writer, Selma Lagerlöf. Bo had enclosed one of the freshly printed bills inside my letter. In addition, Lindgren and the characters from her books became the subject of a set of shiny silver commemorative coins.  One of these, along with the folder with spots for the other coins, I also found in Bo’s package. I want to collect the entire set.

Children's author Lindgren was honored in 2015 when her picture was placed onto the Swedish kronor. There is also a commemorative coin set.
Children’s author Lindgren was honored in 2015 when her picture was placed onto the Swedish kronor. There is also a commemorative coin set.

Having learned about my Lindgren connection, I of course made it a priority on my recent trip, to visit Lindgren’s hometown of Vimmerby where she was born, where she is buried and where Pippi’s adventures are set. It was a part of my trip to which I was most looking forward.

I drove into Vimmerby mid-afternoon on a Saturday. It was only a 48 minute drive inland from Vastervik, where my husband and I had disembarked from the Gotland ferry. The shops in Vimmerby’s town square had closed at two o’clock. I would not buy any Pippi Longstocking souvenirs to carry home. We strolled into the charming square, empty except for a handful of visitors like ourselves.

Play strutures like this child-size cottage sit in Vimmerby's town square for children to explore.
Play structures like this child-size cottage sit in Vimmerby’s town square for children to explore.

At one end of the square sat the old, mustard-colored Town Hall and opposite is a lovely hotel with patio tables on the porch.  In the center of the square, near the hotel, are several small play structures taken from Lindgren’s books:  a sailing ship,a cottage, Kindergarten-sized children were crawling in and out and climbing up and down in delight.

I meet Astrid LIndgren's lifestize sculpture which sits in he hometown of Vimmberby, Sweden.
I meet Astrid Lindgren’s life-size sculpture which sits in he hometown of Vimmerby, Sweden.

On the other side of the square, nearer the Town Hall, is a life-size sculpture of my famous cousin sitting at desk with a typewriter. It felt a little odd to meet my newly found relative in this way, but was quite an honor at the same time.

I next sought out her resting place in the neatly kept, hilltop cemetery. Thanks to some local residents, I found her gravestone, alongside that of her parents and sister. It was a simple stone for such a celebrated figure, quite humble and unassuming. I wondered if it reflected her personality in life.

The famous author's grave stone is a simple stone in the Vimmerby cemetery.
The famous author’s grave stone is a simple stone in the Vimmerby cemetery.

As we walked back through the streets of Vimmerby we noted the spots where Pippi and her sidekick, Tommy, had their adventures. Then we headed out to the Lindgren family home, where Astrid was born and lived as a child. The little house is located on a farm known as Näs in Vimmerby.  It stands exactly as it was when Astrid grew up there, having been restored by Lindgren herself. Tours of the house are available almost daily except when closed for the winter from mid-December until March. Unfortunately, we arrived after hours. Had someone been around I might have told them that I was a ‘cousin’ from the U.S., in hopes that they would take pity on me and allow me inside.

In the Exjoibit Jaöö. Lindgrenäs life and achivements are presented for visitors.
In the exhibit hall. Lindgren’s life and achievements are presented for visitors.

Also on the property, owned by the city of Vimmerby, stands a modern glass-walled exhibition hall where her life and achievements are displayed. But again, we were too late and unable to go in. I was disappointed but until only a year ago, I didn’t even know that the woman remembered here was even remotely related to me. Now that I do, I will return the next trip to see both the house and the museum.

Back in Stockholm, three long, large banners hung down from the city’s concert hall.  On two of the red banners were the words: Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award with the name and image of the winning author—Meg Rosoff—printed on the center banner. The award is presented annually to presented to authors, illustrators, oral storytellers and reading promoters to honor her memory and promote interest in children’s and young adult literature. It is the largest such literature award in the world.

Banners of this year's Astird Lindgren Memorial Aware stream down in Stockolm's Concert Hall.
Banners of this year’s Astrid Lindgren Memorial Aware stream down in Stockholm’s Concert Hall.

Lindgren’s apartment  in Stockholm where she lived for 61 years, is also open for tours but reservations must be made in advance. Even though we were unable to secure reservations, Bo accompanied me to apartment. The apartment itself looks out over a large park, Vasa Park, bustling with children. Lindgren would be pleased, I’m sure, to hear their gleeful shrieks and young laughter outside her window.

Next time I visit Sweden, I will return to these places for an inside tour. For now, however, I have the commemorative coins Bo sent to me and the 20 kronor bills that I collected and carried home to share with my family. How many people can say that their cousin appears on their national money? What a birthday surprise that was!

 

Going Back to Gotland

Relatively few Americans can trace their family’s history, even though the U.S. is a nation of immigrants. Even fewer know exactly the place where their ancestors lived before leaving for this country. And, I’ll wager, even fewer have ever been to visit that spot.  I’m one of the fortunate who have.

Even within my own family, only three of us (so far) on my mother’s side, have made the journey “home;”  myself, my mother and my aunt Hazel.  And we know our family from my great-grandfather’s side who remain in the ‘old country’ although we were lucky to find them.

My aunt points to my great grandfather's name written in the registry at the House of Emigrants in Sweden.
My aunt points to my great grandfather’s name written in the registry at the House of Emigrants in Sweden.

Until 1970, we had no idea that my mother’s family still had relatives living in Sweden. We only learned this after considerable sleuthing by Bo (see last week’s blog post), who helped us track down my mother’s Swedish family history. We knew from Bo who located the records of embarkation stored in Växjo, Smaland at the Utvandranus Hus (House of Emigrants) that my great-grandfather, Johannes Frederick, had come from Anga on the Swedish island of Gotland.  There he had been a ‘crofter’ or someone who had worked the land for the farm owner.

With this information, Bo set out to find the family on Gotland. He eventually found the farm in Anga where my great-grandfather had lived through a death registry at the ‘county’ archives in Visby. There was listed someone with my family name who had had a brother living in the U.S.  He then turned to a record book with the names of those who had owned farms in the area.  This led him to the farm in Anga. But finding the rest of the family wasn’t as easy.

My parents visited the farm in Anga during their trip to Gotland and met the farmer and his wife who lived there. My mother's cousin Bengt, left on steps and his son, Sivert, seated, joined them.
My parents visited the farm in Anga during their trip to Gotland and met the farmer and his wife who lived there. My mother stands opposite her cousin Bengt, left on steps and his son, Sivert, seated, joined them with the couple who own the farm at the top.

Somewhere along the way, my great-grandfather’s brother’s family (following?) had changed their last name. The reasons for this, so the story goes, is either because they were embarrassed by a family member who had been a Lutheran priest in Dalhem, Gotland, and who was known to imbibe a bit too much of the communion wine or, depending upon who you believe, a family member, Johannes Frederick’s brother perhaps, got into a little trouble with the law (possibly during the prohibition era in the United States). We’re a little hazy on the details. But the end result was that Johannes Frederick’s brother changed his last name. It wasn’t until Bo discovered this that he located the other side of my family still living right there in Gotland!

My mother and her cousin, Dorothy, who was, at the time, researching the family history were ‘thrilled’ that Bo had found our relatives.  As my mother wrote to Bo in 1970: “We realize that we are fortunate in having you do our research as I don’t think anyone else would have been able to find them. I have a sister living in Arizona who is planning a trip to Sweden next year so she is more than happy to receive all the information as she will, no doubt, visit them.”

My aunt Hazel, left, meets her Swedish cousin Bengt for the first time as Bengt's son, Sivert, translates for them.
My aunt Hazel, left, meets her Swedish cousin Bengt for the first time as Bengt’s son, Sivert, translates for them.

As it turned out, my aunt Hazel, to whom my mother referred, wasn’t able to go on the trip in 1971 with her cousin Dorothy. So it was Dorothy who was the first to meet her cousin, Bengt, and his son, Sivert.  Hazel finally met the family 1991 when she and I went together on our first visit to Sweden. (Click the link here for that story.)

Meeting the family in Gotland was something I’ll never forget.  Sivert and Bengt greeted us at the airport, then we drove us to his father’s home where we met his wife.  My aunt sat next to Bengt on the sofa, who sat next to Sivert who was translating as Bengt spoke limited English as neither of us spoke any Swedish at the time. (I have since learned the language.) Chills shot up back as Bengt began to speak. I couldn’t believe it.  I recognized that voice. I had heard it before even though I had never met Bengt. Bengt’s tone was the same as that of my own grandfather, who had died when I was only three but who had lived the last days of his life with my parents. His voice had obviously stuck with me and now, more than 30 years later, was giving rise to a memory long forgotten.

This summer, Sivert and I returned to the farm in Anga where we took a photo beside the cottage where my great grandfather had lived.
This summer, Sivert and I returned to the farm in Anga where we took a photo beside the cottage where my great grandfather had lived.

Since that first meeting, I have returned to Gotland three times. I have visited the farm where my great grandfather lived and worked before leaving for the U.S. and met the farmer and his wife who now own it. My parents too travelled there in 1993 and also drove from Visby, where my cousin Sivert lives, to Anga.  One of my three sons has also visited Gotland with me and stood beside the cottage where my great grandfather had lived. Most recently, my husband accompanied me on a trip there. Going to Gotland feels like going home. I guess, in a way, because it is.

My cousin Sivert's daughter and I cool off in the Baltic Sea. Connecting our children, the next generation, is important to both Sivert and myself.
My cousin Sivert’s daughter and I cool off in the Baltic Sea. Connecting our children, the next generation, is important to both Sivert and myself.

My cousin and I have become, well, cousins. We keep in touch. We know each other’s families (he has visited the U.S. twice), exchange Christmas cards, shared the loss when both our parents, Hazel, cousin Dorothy and other members of our family died just as we will share the happiness when his daughter, Natalie, soon marries. As Sivert says, we both want our sons and daughter to know one another; to know that they have family who, although separate by a great distance, aren’t really that far apart at all.

 

 

Finding My Swedish Family Roots

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.

CrooksDalhem 750
The research that Bo did for my family led us to the place where my great grandmother’s family lived. My parents, right, visited the farm in Fagerdal where they met the farmer and his mother, who I saw on my recent trip there.

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.Bo and me 68 750

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.

During my first visit to Sweden with my aunt Hazel, Bo escorted us around Stockholm and showed us the city.
During my first visit to Sweden with my aunt Hazel, Bo escorted us around Stockholm and showed us the city.

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.

Bo and his wife, Eva at a dinner together during my recent visit to Sweden.
Bo and his wife, Eva at a dinner together during my recent visit to Sweden.

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.

 

A Father’s Day at Fagerdal

My Father’s Day arrived a two weeks early this year while I was in Sweden visiting family and friends.

This was my first trip there in ten years and I wanted to return to some of the places where my great grandparents had lived before emigrating to the United States in 1868. Americans rarely know much, if anything, about their ancestors from the ‘old country’, let alone know exactly where the family resided before packing up and moving to America.  I am one of the fortunate who do.

About 30 years ago, my family learned from my mother’s cousin (with help from Bo, the Swedish cousin of my aunt by marriage), that my maternal great grandmother who had left for the States as a child with her family had lived in Småland. The family dwelled in the Swedish province of Småland on a beautiful, but rocky, piece of land near a lake. They were contracted for 49 years to the farmer who owned property.  It was, as the man who currently owns the farm explained: “a very bad contract.”

You can see the wooden fence that ran along the familyäs property in this photocopy of the original photo. My great grandmother's family was contracted to work the land for the farmer for 49 years.
You can see the wooden fence that ran along the familyäs property in this photocopy of the original photo. My great grandmother’s family was contracted to work the land for the farmer for 49 years.

Like so many others at the time, the family fell on hard times when a famine hit the country. Nearly 100,000 Swedes emigrated to the U.S. between 1868 and 1873. My great- grandmother was among them. My great-grandmother, in a letter written when she was 70 to the family ‘back home’ wished she could return and see her old home once more. But as she was 70, she never made the trip. (Click here to read more about this in my blog post of May, 2015.)

My great grandmother's family from Sweden. My great grandmother is one of the two little girls standing on either end but I can never remember exactly which one she is.
My great grandmother’s family from Sweden. My great grandmother is one of the two little girls standing on either end but I can never remember exactly which one she is.

Instead, my aunt, Hazel, and I made the trip for her, visiting the ‘homeland’ together in 1991. We went with Bo to the farm in Småland at a tiny spot known as Fagerdal. It was an emotional visit as we walked around what was left of the foundation of the farmhouse and explored the nearby root cellar. My aunt recalled stories her grandmother had told about being a little girl there. Then Bo beckoned us over to a juniper bush and upon parting the branches, revealed to us the stationary paper-sized copper sign attached to a post. The inscription, in Swedish, commemorated the fact that my great-grandmother’s family had lived there from 1853 to 1867.  Tears welled in both our eyes as we read the words.

Two years later, my mother and father travelled to Sweden to visit the family, as my aunt and I had done. They too drove with Bo to Fagerdal where they met the farmer and his mother living there and went down to the pasture to see where the house had once stood and to view the sign in the juniper bush.

Our family friend, Bo, made a map for me to follow to Fagerdal when he was unable to make the trip with us.
Our family friend, Bo, made a map for me to follow to Fagerdal when he was unable to make the trip with us.

On this trip, I journeyed alone to Fagerdal with my husband. Bo was unable to join us but he had mapped out the route for me and written instructions as to how to find the place. I hoped to see once more that farmstead in the field and the sign that had so moved me 25 years previously.

We turned off the highway just outside Åtivdaberg and headed south on a two lane, well-paved country road.  Although early evening, we had a few hours of daylight left as the summer season is one of very long days in Sweden. The countryside was lush and particularly verdant in the late day golden light. It was difficult to imagine that this area at one time had suffered such a famine that families had to leave in order to feed their children.

Our rental car had a GPS to help guide our way, but Fagerdal is such a small spot (if not just the name for the farms there), that it didn’t even appear on the electronic map. As we drew closer, I stopped at a ‘sommar stuga’, or summer cottage to ask if we were on the right track. We were. After asking for directions twice more, and pointing to the map that Bo had made, we arrived at a cluster of farm buildings sitting at the end of a drive at the top of a hill. An elderly woman shuffled in the yard apparently checking on her flower garden when I hopped out of the car with my map.

The current farmer and his mother, shown here, were warm and welcoming. She invited us for kaffe.
The current farmer and his mother, shown here, were warm and welcoming. She invited us for kaffe.

She spoke no English. I did my best to explain to her in Swedish why I had pulled unannounced into her drive. The woman had a sweet smile and kind eyes but she couldn’t understand my request. She called to “Stefan,” within the house and in moments her son, a man about my own age, appeared. He spoke some English so between my Swedish and his English he figured out my reason for the unexpected visit and offered to take us down to the field. I was ecstatic.

I stand on the stones where my grandmother's family home once was.
I stand on the stones where my grandmother’s family home once was.

We followed him in the car along a rutted road down to the place where I had been so many years before. Together we walked up the little hill to the spot where the house had been and over to where the stone walls of the root cellar were still intact although now a tree was growing up from the center. Then I looked for the sign, the thing I had hoped to see once again. The farmer knew it, had seen it but search as we did, we could not find it. He was mystified and couldn’t understand why it was not in the bushes, now grown into small trees.  We walked all around the area, looking in the tall grass in case it had fallen or been dragged off by the cattle who had grazed there. Perhaps, the farmer ventured, someone had taken it. Taken it? Why? How? Where? These were questions to which he, nor I, had any answers. As disappointed as I was, I was nonetheless thrilled to stand once more at the place where my great-grandmother had been as a child. Tears again came into my eyes.  As much as I would have liked to have stayed longer, dusk was settling in and we had further to go that evening.

The stone walls of the root cellar remain intact where the family stored their vegetables.
The stone walls of the root cellar remain intact where the family stored their vegetables.

I had fulfilled one of my goals for the trip by visiting the farm once more. The farmer and his mother were warm and welcoming. She even asked us to stay for ‘kaffe’ afterwards, an invitation that I had to decline because we had to yet to drive to our hotel further south. But before we followed her son down to the farm field, he disappeared back into the house and re-emerged with a large, manila envelope from which he pulled a few papers.

My great grandmother's family farm in Småland, as it appeared in 1916 seen here in a photocopy of the original picture.
My great grandmother’s family farm in Småland, as it appeared in 1916 seen here in a photocopy of the original picture.

Among the papers were photocopies of photos of my family’s farmstead, as it appeared in 1916, when relatives who came after, still lived there. I had never seen these photos before. I did my best to photograph the copies so I could show Bo and my family back in the States. I had just finished snapping the photos when the farmer picked up the other papers from the envelope that he had placed on the porch bench. A little slip of paper fell out.

I instantly recognized the handwriting. It was that of my own father’s.  My Dad had torn a piece of paper from the little pocket calendar that he always carried with him and had written upon it his name, address and phone number. The date at the top read: September 1993. “Det är min far,” I exclaimed. “Det är min far!” (That is my father!) Tears welled in my eyes at the sight of it.

My father had written down his contact information when he and my mother had visited. He had left it with the farmer and his mother who had kept it all these years in the envelope with the photos and other information about Väster Lund, as that farm was called, perhaps just so that it would be there when I returned.  Now, 23 years later it was as if my Dad was saying: “Remember, we were here too,” and sending me his love simply with this slip of paper. It was my Father’s Day in Fagerdal.

 

Take Pictures, Lots of Them

There’s an ad currently airing on American television in which the main character tells the viewer to “Take pictures, lots of them. In 20 years, you’ll be glad you did.”  Honestly, I can’t remember the advertiser, or much else about that ad, but that one line stuck with me. Maybe it’s because I’m a photographer and pictures are not only my livelihood, they are my life.

In reality, I think people are actually taking more pictures than ever before. Consider just how easy it is to record images on devices such as phones and tablets, let alone digital cameras.  People are snapping pictures of themselves, their kids, their dogs, their food, whatever, every time you turn around. Just the other day, for instance, on my drive to Vancouver B.C., I watched in amusement as a couple, one-armed with a digital camera, the other with a phone on a ‘selfie stick’ struck a variety of stances in front of a bed of flowers planted in the color and shape of the Canadian flag. Their on camera antics were highly entertaining as I, and a long line of others, inched towards the border crossing in our cars.

So yes, people are undoubtedly taking more pictures than ever before. But it’s the second part of that advertising phrase that TK me.  In 20 years, will the people who took those images, or their progeny be able to see those pictures, or even know where they to find them?  It struck me because recently Photo Central, a photo supply store in Winnipeg, Manitoba, posted this image here onto their Facebook page.

The caption of this image from Photo Central says it all. Make prints of your precious photographs so you'll have them when your technology is outdated.
The caption of this image from Photo Central says it all. Make prints of your precious photographs so you’ll have them when your technology is outdated.

They have a point, one that I hope everyone who clicks a camera or presses a phone will take to heart.  I print all my own personal and professional digital images for myself and those of my clients.  Because, as I so often explain to potential clients who say they only want ‘digital images’, I want them to have that image in 20, 30, 50 years or more down the road.

Photo Central’s picture drew my attention too because one of my brothers’  recently had been researching our family history on-line.  He started it to determine whether or not one of relatives, James Crooks from North Carolina, fought with the Union forces at Gettysburg during the Civil War. He didn’t.  During his hunt, he uncovered not only some new tidbits about the family–that some members served in the American Revolution for instance–but found some old photos of great, great, great (maybe another great in there) relatives.  Like this one of Catharine Darr, who,  according to the research done by my brother, was the mother-in-law of one David Crooks of Lincolnton, N.C. , our great, great-grandfather and the father of James, mentioned above.

While reseaching the family history, my brother came across this old photograph of Catherine Darr, the mother-in-law of my Great, Great Grandfather.
While reseaching the family history, my brother came across this old photograph of Catherine Darr, the mother-in-law of my Great, Great Grandfather.f

It is he, who, according to family legend and my own father, told his son James when war between the states was imminent that “one day, these rivers will run with blood. When they do, you need to go North.”  In 1864 at the age of 19 or 20, he signed up the 13th Tennessee Calvary Regiment.  He may be one of those pictured in the reunion photos found on the regimental website. (I’d post one of the pictures here but the website strictly forbids copying them.)  But I can show you the photo my brother found of Catharine Darr who lived from 1794-1888, was married to Jacob Barrier and was mother-in-law to David, father of James.   Had this been an image taken with digital technology, we might not have this photograph.

My brother also found photos of the “Rock House” built by Adam Sprach Sr., our sixth great-grandfather. who was born in Pfaffenhofen, Germany in 1820 and came to the U.S. with his parents. They settled in North Carolina. In 1754, Adam moved near  Bethabara, N.C. and built himself a sturdy house, seen here,  of uncut stone, laid up without mortar, except for plastering inside. As you can see from the photos, there is a lower level beneath this one-story house. 

Adam Sprach's rock house had a basebment with an outside entrance so he could herd his cattle inside when under attack.
Adam Sprach’s rock house had a basement with an outside entrance so he could herd his cattle inside when under attack.

According to my brother’s research,  the house basement had an outside entrance so that during attacks, Sprach gathered his cows and drove them into the basement for protection. Each room also had loopholes, through which the defenders could fire. You can see in the pictures both the lower level door and loopholes in the walls.  But if these photographs didn’t exist, we would see neither.

This was the North Carolina home of one of my relatives. Even though it's a pixelated image, you can get an idea of what the house looked like.
This was the North Carolina home of one of my relatives. Even though it’s a pixellated image, you can get an idea of what the house looked like.

Then there’s the photo that I love best, the one of my own Grandfather Crooks’ sister, Katherine Crooks Moore.  She was a music teacher and is shown in this wonderful old photograph from 1907 in a class portrait. I believe that she’s standing, fourth from the left on the back row.  Don’t you wonder where they got all those guitars and mandolins?  Particularly since instruments weren’t cheap or easy to come by in those days.  I had never seen this photograph, or remember seeing one of my Grandfather’s sister before this one.  It’s a delightful picture to have. I’m glad it survived.

My great aunt is among these budding guitarist in this historical photo taken of her class in 1907.
My great-aunt is among these budding guitarist in this historical photo taken of her class in 1907.

Of course, my point is, that taking pictures is great.  But whether it’s a snapshot done with one of your own devices, or a professional portrait created by someone like myself, without prints, the images you take today might not be around in 20 years. And it’s anyone’s guess whether they’ll be there in 100 years or more, like these of my own family. Prints offer you a glimpse into your personal past, they bring alive your history and they are, by and large, permanent. Digital images can be deleted, erased, lost in cyberspace, corrupted or become merely ‘inaccessible’. So take pictures, lots of them. But please, also be sure you have prints of at least the ones most important to you because one day, someone’s brother may want to look back and learn about your family history.

a

Remembering Our Ancestors on Memorial Day

This weekend, millions of Americans are celebrating one of this country’s oldest and biggest federal holidays–Memorial Day.  Originally named, Decoration Day, it was created after the Civil War to honor those who had died in our military service. Today, in cemeteries across the United States, veterans’ and other organizations place small U.S. flags at the graves of those who served in our armed forces.  My Dad, along with those of so many others, is among them.

My mother's family gathers at the cemetery to honor her grandparents.
My mother’s family gathers at the cemetery to honor her grandparents.

Americans also use this day to decorate the graves of their loved ones and to gather together in cemeteries large and small, to honor those generations who have gone before them.  The U.S. doesn’t have, as do many other countries in the world, a day specifically designated as ‘ancestors’ day. Probably one reason for that is because so many Americans don’t even know their ancestral heritage. I am fortunate in that I have the history of my mother’s paternal family dating back to the 1500s. And I know my family in Sweden, from where both my great-grandmother and great-grandfather emigrated during the late 1860s. I have been to visit my family there several times and one year, took with me, my aunt, who, was the second oldest in my mother’s family and who had fond memories of her Swedish-born grandmother and grandfather.

My aunt and Swedish cousins read the entries in the history book kept by the owner of her grandfather's farm in Sweden.
My aunt and Swedish cousins read the entries in the history book kept by the owner of her grandfather’s farm in Sweden.

During that trip, now many years ago, we first met my Swedish cousins and went to the home places of both her grandparents. What a thrill for both of us. Shivers shot down my back when I first heard my cousin’s father voice because his sounded so much like that of my own grandfather–who would have been his uncle–,who died when I was only three. We were both excited when the farmer who then occupied the farmhouse where my great grand father had grown up, invited us in and proudly showed us the book that had come with the farm, documenting its history and those who had once owned it. Later on that same trip, we found his name registered with many others who had left Sweden during that time, when we visited the Utvandrarnas hus, or the House of Emigrants in Vaxjo.

My aunt points to my great grandfather's name written in the registry at the House of Emigrants in Sweden.
My aunt points to my great grandfather’s name written in the registry at the House of Emigrants in Sweden.

Then upon walking around field where my great-grandmother’s had once stood, our family’s Swedish friend and host for much of our stay, motioned for us to “Kommer här.”  He was standing next to a thick green bush and when we joined him, he parted the center of the bush with his arms to reveal a small, tarnished bronze plaque attached to a metal pole. The inscription on the plaque took my breath away. It said, in translation, that “Here in this place once lived 1858-1867 Carl Axel Carlsson and his wife who emigrated to North America”.

My aunt holds back the bush to reveal the plaque commemorating her family at the Swedish farmstead.
My aunt holds back the bush to reveal the plaque commemorating her family at the Swedish farmstead.

Carl Carlsson was my great-great grandfather. I still get chills even writing this as I did upon first seeing this. My aunt was nearly in tears. For her, this was a completion of a journey for my great-grandmother who was old enough to remember her Swedish childhood when she left with her family. At age 70, the same age as my aunt was then, great grandmother had written a letter to her family in the old country, expressing her desire to  see Sweden once more but knew that she never would as she was now too old to make the long trip. My aunt felt as is she had made the trip for her.

The family sings an old hymn that was favorite of their grandparents.
The family sings an old hymn that was favorite of their grandparents.

A few years later, my aunt decided to honor her grandparents by designing a new headstone for their graves engraved with the provincial flowers from their respective Swedish homes and an inscription that commemorated their immigration to America. All her brothers and sisters, and their spouses, gathered at the little creek-side cemetery in the Missouri countryside for a private installation ceremony that my aunt had planned. They placed flowers and an American flag on the headstone, they listened as my aunt recounted the story of our visit to the homes in Sweden and her vivid memories of her grandparents. Then they sang a hymn that had been a favorite of her grandparents:  Shall We Gather at the River. Tears welled in my eyes as they sang. Afterwards, I surprised my aunt by presenting to her an exact, framed replica of the plaque that we had discovered in Sweden and a photograph of the Carlsson family taken shortly after they had arrived in this country. It was now her turn to be in tears.

 Cheryl presents her aunt with a replica of the plaque they saw at the farmstead in Sweden.
Cheryl presents her aunt with a replica of the plaque they saw at the farmstead in Sweden.

Last Memorial Day, my brother and I drove the two hours to the same little Missouri cemetery. We placed flowers on the graves of our family members buried there, stopped by the spot where their two-story wood frame farmhouse once stood and remembered our family, my aunts and uncles, their parents and grandparents, just as they did on that day in the cemetery.  The framed plaque hung in the entryway of aunt’s home for years. When she died a few years ago, I was given the plaque. It is now displayed in my entry hall where it reminds me everyday of the trip we made together, the family we loved so much, and of a heritage of which I am proud.

 

Family Photos Relate Past to Present

Early last month, I made a weekend trip to visit my cousins in neighboring Oregon and to help celebrate my aunt’s birthday. I packed just enough clothing for a couple of days. And I took along some of the old family photograph albums that had been at my parent’s home until my father passed away this past spring.  My Dad had designated me to be the family ‘historian’ I guess and placed me in charge of sorting through all the photograph albums, movies and slides that they had accumulated through the years.

I had already begun this process during the many visits to see my parents in recent years. Since I was on West Coast time, I was often awake long after my parents retired for the night. I’d sit in my Dad’s recliner chair in the family room with a pile of loose photos on my lap. While watching a movie, I’d slip them into albums. I knew that one of the things that my mother, who had dementia, could still enjoy was looking through the old family photos. Until the onset of her disability, my mother had put together the photo albums and had taken care to label many of them, especially the ones from her childhood and youth, on the reverse side.

Scenes from everyday life   of my family tell us what they liked to do together. Here, my aunt and uncle are ready for a game of tennis.
Scenes from everyday life of my family tell us what they liked to do together. Here, my aunt and uncle have their racquets ready for a game of tennis.

Some nights, instead of assembling an album, I’d pull out one of the older albums. I handled them delicately because the black or faded yellow paper scrapbook pages, to which the photos were affixed with little black corners, were pretty brittle. Carefully, I’d turn through the pages, reviewing my family history and becoming acquainted with the faces and events that belonged to my relatives generations before me. It was like stepping into my own personal time capsule. Their stories unfolded as I gently lifted the individual prints out of their spot to read what had been written on the back.

Pictures of my family members from the past show us how much our family members today resemble them.
Pictures of my family members from the past show us how much our family members today resemble them.

Captions such as “Clara and Hulda Lonberg. Made in Doling Park Springfield, Mo. about  1912”  or “Lonberg Family Reunion” gave me clues to the time and place of the photo. It was not information that had much bearing on the history of things at large, and yet, these simple people did help to shape a country in their coming from their original homeland to settle here, to work and build homes, farms, businesses, schools and churches and, most importantly, to raise a family.

I carried with me to my cousins some of these books of collected visual memories to share with them. They had probably not seen many, if any, of these photographs, I guessed, because they had seldom visited my parents’ home in Kansas and when they did, I doubted that the albums had ever come out. Or, if they did, a long time had since passed.

Late one evening, after the littlest family members had gone to bed and the guys were in the family room talking about football, I sat down at the kitchen table with my cousin and my aunt and opened one of the books I had brought. It was like story-time in kindergarten class. My cousin was captivated by the people I paraded past her as I turned the pages.  She was thrilled because in one of the albums that once belonged to another aunt who had died a few years earlier were snapshots taken at my cousin’s own parents’ wedding. She had never seen them.

My cousin had never seen this photo of her parents taken on their wedding day.
My cousin had never seen this photo of her parents taken on their wedding day.

My aunt, her mother, who was sitting beside us smiled as she remembered that important day. Tears welled in her eyes as she recognized her sisters and brothers with whom she had grown up.  We broke into laughter when a photo prompted a memory about something silly that one of them had done.

For two hours, we turned through those fragile pages, asked questions of my aunt, read the snippets of information recorded, and studied the people and places preserved in the photos. The time passed quickly and left us tired–it was well after midnight–but wanting to see and know more. I promised to scan and share them all with my cousins, and to give to them the originals of the photos that were of their mother so that one day, they could sit down, as we had that night, and relate to their own grandchildren the history that is ours.

the family lines up at a reunion for a group photo that preserves the day forever.
The family lines up at a reunion for a group photo that preserves the day forever.

PostScript:  I have since started a group on Facebook for both sides of my family and have systematically been placing the old family photos in them as I scan them. We also now have an album in Dropbox dedicated for that purpose. The only ones with access to them are our family members who can download, save and print them for themselves. You might want to consider doing something similar for your own family.  But with hacking incidents such as the most recent one involving the iCloud, I’d still recommend making prints of all your most precious family photos.