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Checking Stories and Finding Pasts

By Daniel Hubbard | November 17, 2013

Yesterday was the second annual “Exploring Your Swedish Roots” at the Swedish American Museum in Chicago. I was one of the researchers who helped people with their Swedish research problems. I always enjoy events like this. In a way it was almost an athletic event. Every half hour, for five hours, a new research problem to try to get a handle on, a new set of names and dates and relationships with new sets of evidence as input and new clues to tease out of what is already known. When an event like that is over the feeling is very similar to the one I remember having after a track meet—a mixture of exhaustion and joy.

One of the most enjoyable things is working with people with different levels of experience and so many different types of problems. Today one visitor had been researching for years, so he knew quite a bit about his ancestry but there was a name that appeared in his family seemingly out of nowhere and a story that had been passed down about a soldier in the family. Swedish soldiers were issued new names to go with their uniforms. The alternative would be a company of men made up of 50% Svenssons, 30% Larssons and the remainder made up of a mixture of Perssons and Olofssons. Imagine that chaos that would ensue when an officer bellowed “Svensson come here.” So Swedish soldiers got new, unique names when they joined the army. A new name just appearing in the family and a family story of a soldier. Could their be a connection? Not this time, both men turned out to be mill workers. There may be something to the story but it wasn’t to be found among them.

Someone else I helped was looking for the origins of her Swedish grandfather. I found him but needed to also explain that he was born out of wedlock. When I first started researching that was still a discovery which was not always accepted or even to be discussed. It was often actively denied despite the evidence. I guess because of that I still have a moment of hesitation when I need to bring it up even if it is never a problem anymore. In this case the response was, “Well, that confirms the old family rumors. Great!” I even found that he had taken his maternal grandfather’s name and used it as a surname when he emigrated. There will always be more mysteries but at least that one was solved.

The last bit of research was in many ways the most fun. She was just starting out and only had some notes jotted down from research she had been helped with just a few minutes before. We got both Swedish branches of her family back a generation without too much trouble. She was ecstatic. Her reaction reminded me of the joy that can come with making those first discoveries when even the possibility that those ancestors can be found is a revelation and finding a few families can double or triple a family tree. Suddenly you have names, dates and occupations. You have places that you can dream of visiting. You have a personal past.

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