Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Searching for an Ancestral Past

The Myking Church
While the Hurtigruten Ferry was the catalyst for this trip, it has been much more about finding ancestral roots. Linda and I started in Norway before the ferry ride looking for places her family had lived in the wilds around Bergen. We were fairly successful with some help from Ancestry.com, Linda’s cousin Jerry and his wife Joni, and the kindness of our Airbnb host who set us up with her father who remembered the names of places where people lived. With that we were able to get a good look at a few of those locations before heading off to our ferry cruise on the Hurtigruten. We left information with him and another stranger we met nearby with hopes that they will get back to us with more information.

The extent of farmland in Fjordland
Naevda Farm
A water world
The land is good for sheep
We also took a drive to Vik where we had tours of two churches connected to Cherie’s family. We took some pictures and hope to join them when they head that way in the next few years.

The Hove Stone Church
Hove Gravestones
Then after some time exploring southern Finland, we took the ferry to Åland Island. Cherie had made contact with someone living on property that her aunt had corresponded with. Fortunately, the woman living there today responded to Cherie’s letter and invited us to visit her. Cherie learned a lot about her family and left documents with Carlita who promised to translate them. Her husband also set us up to meet relatives of my brother-in-law Roy through an address he still had. That was the most exciting part of the trip. When we arrived at that address, we were met by two families anxious to meet us and although they were disappointed we were not the actual relatives. Even so, they entertained us with pictures and memories. We left with promises to continue the communication and visit again. We finished our stay in Åland with a visit to the Emigrant Institute where we spent a lively afternoon with the two women in charge. Among other things we learned that many of the papers Cherie had saved when her sister passed are rare and have real historical value beyond what they will teach her about her family. We also learned a lot about the context of emigration from Åland Islands which helped us understand more about the emigration of our ancestors.

Fun with paper at Carita's winter home
Roy's family
At the Åland Emigrant Institute
Then after a few days in Stockholm, Linda and I headed off to Vetlanda, a small city of about 10,000 where my grandmother was born. We already had a lot of details about the family here because she and a few others of her generation had written about the family as their contribution to the American Bicentennial in 1976. We don’t have any names or addresses of current relatives living in Sweden, so we did not expect any kind of a reunion as we had experienced on Åland Island, but we did want to explore the area and see what we could of the land where they had lived. With one possible exception, the only buildings remaining from that time are churches and even some of the have been replaced in the intervening years. The possible exception is a root cellar. The pictures look like it could be the same, but there isn’t a lot of difference among root cellars, so we can’t be sure. We did have a good time driving around the area, visiting two marvelous Emigrant Museums in Göteborg and Växjö, and looking at the amazing variety of churches the Swedes have built. There have been times on previous trips to Europe when we did tire of visiting churches and cathedrals, but on this trip, the only times a church disappointed us was when they were closed and we could not get inside. Outside and in, the amazing variety and beauty of even the smallest of these churches continues to amaze as the number we have visited approaches 20.

Vetlanda Lutheran Church
The stone fence
Root cellar - perhaps used by my ancestors
Linda pointed out that it is a bit ironic that on this trip, the person who learned the most about their past and was able to make actual personal connections is the person who wasn’t even there. Nevertheless, we were all excited with what we did learn and we all are leaving Scandinavia with the promise to return and spend more time in this stunningly beautiful region of the world.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Our last day in Sweden

Gardserum Church
From Vetlanta, we had to make the long drive back to Stockholm's Arlanda airport where we would spend the night before heading home. We added a couple of hours to the trip to see the town where my great-grandfather John Peter Thorngren was born and the church where he recorded his leaving Sweden in the 1830s. John Peter was born in Gamleby. We drove through part of this hilly town, but took no pictures. Today, it is just a modern town with little to set it apart from other Swedish towns of a similar size. At least, that was our impression. We really didn’t search the city for anything beyond what we saw in the few minutes we spent there.

The white addition is the mausoleum

Shortly after leaving Gamleby we stopped to look at some church ruins. After what we learned yesterday about churches being left in disrepair when new ones were built to replace them we weren’t really surprised to see this one across the street from the new, larger church even though the setting for the older one is quite a bit nicer. What was surprising was that the actually blew this one up once the new church was finished. Built at the beginning of the 12th century, it is another example of a medieval church. Västra Ed Church was reduced to rubble about 1870 after the new church was consecrated. The artifacts from the old church either went to museums or the new church, so at least they were saved. The other interesting item about this ruin is that a crypt is attached to the back side away from the road is still in use.

Our final stop before heading to the airport was Gardserum Kyrka. This is where Johannes Peter Törngren registered the fact that he was leaving Sweden for America. We were amazed to find this large beautiful church almost isolated in the country. Only a few houses are even in the neighborhood. The present church was built on the site of a smaller church in the 1850s and consecrated in 1857. It was built to hold the 2500 people then living in the parish. Its 20 small towers make it unique. According to the church’s website they offer tours during the summer. Perhaps not on Sunday’s however as it was closed during the time we visited.

It turns out I was technically wrong to think that would be our last stop before reaching the airport. As we reached southern Stockholm we entered the worst traffic jam we have ever encountered. No exaggeration! It took us over an hour to travel less than two miles. Then, as traffic jams do, it completely opened up and we were again driving the speed limit of 110 km/hr (about 65 mph). Pleased that our hotel was literally next door to the car rental agencies, we dropped off luggage so Linda could check in while I returned the car only to discover that our hotel was actually in the airport. When Linda expressed surprise that there are two Radisson Blus at the airport, the clerk said he had only learned that when he reported for his first day of work. Fortunately, there is a shuttle bus to take us to the airport where we had a pleasant evening and morning waiting for our plane.

Thus ends our trip

This is ALL snoose for sale in the airport.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Emigrant Institutes

Göteborg as it was
 We visited two different Emigrant Houses (Museums) on our first two days in Vetlanda. We started with Göteborg because that is also the city from which most Swedes left for America. That was a full day trip. The next day we began with a trip to Växjö to see the museum there and its magnificent cathedral.

The life they left behind

While quite different in style and somewhat different in content, the two museums tell the same story about why Swedes were leaving in such numbers (25% of the population left for North America between 1850 and 1930) and what life was like once they arrived in America. The Göteborg Emigrant House has a much more informal feel as it is housed in the building the emigrants had to pass through on their way to America. As soon as we entered we were greeted by a guide who took us through the displays. He explained that their primary purpose was to show the similarities between the lives of Swedish emigrants and those who are immigrating to Sweden today. Several pictures of Swedish emigration are paired with those of today’s immigrants. One key aspect to the story is that those who leave one country for another don’t leave everything behind. They may be anxious to fit in to their new country, but at the same time they don’t want to lose touch with the old. They bring with them the foods and cultures of the old country. News of the old country remains important. At one time, there were literally hundreds of Swedish language newspapers printed in the US. Today, of course, that news comes via the internet. Even today, more than 100 years after most of those Swedes emigrated, there are still viable clubs and organizations working to keep those old ties alive. Linda and I are a good example of that as we are here to learn more about our ancestry and belong to Nordic Northwest, one of those clubs keeping the old ties alive.

Smallpox vaccinations increased life expectancy
The museum in Växjö is in a new building with bright, modern-looking display panels, and several places where visitors can listen to emigrants talk about their experience. Unfortunately they weren’t working when we visited. This museum also included an exhibit about Vilhelm Moberg, Moberg is a much-loved Swedish author who wrote a four-book series about Swedish emigration. He was meticulous in his research as he told the story of a family leaving Sweden for a new life in America. We actually first heard about him at the ABBA museum. Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Anderson have written two musicals along with their work on Mamma Mia!. One of these, Chess, is about a chess match, but the other is based on the Moberg novels. I was a bit surprised that his name was new to me, but I will definitely check him out when we return home.

The train station today
Post Street is not so busy today

The customs house all had to pass through
The story of emigration is pretty much the same everywhere. People need a reason to leave their home, family, and friends, the push factor. They also need a reason to go to a place where they believe life can be better, the pull factor. For Swedes, ironically, improvements in lifespan actually made living conditions worse. Peaceful times, the smallpox vaccine which became mandatory in 1874, and the introduction of the potato to the farms and the diet all meant that more children survived and life spans increased. Even though the amount of farmland increased, the larger families still had trouble getting enough to eat, especially when they had an early frost or other weather conditions that meant less food available. The landless population in Sweden quadrupled between 1830 and 1850. While leaving home was not something people wanted to do, it almost became a necessity. A few also left for religious reasons. The Swedish State Lutheran Church was able to persecute non-believers until 1858. While Sweden was not a hotbed for alternatives, there were still many who practiced a different form or Christianity including 8000 Mormons who emigrated by 1910.

All your belongings
The crowded ship to Hull
 Meanwhile, land in America was cheap and plentiful. The railroads had been give huge amounts of land by the government to entice them to build the transcontinental railroads. Railroads began promoting these lands to immigrants. They could sell the land cheaply and then charge the farmers for transporting their crops increasing business in the long term. In addition, the Homestead Act meant that settlers could buy land cheaply from the government. Even though Sweden banned foreign advertising of land in 1883, there were plenty of local entrepreneurs actively promoting emigration.

This is what steerage looked like
The actual process of leaving Sweden was not difficult once one had raised the money. You had to get permission from the local priest. Although the priest was forbidden by law from stopping the emigrant, many did try to dissuade emigrants from leaving arguing that it really wasn’t that much better in America and, “What about your poor mother?” From the old home, they would travel by train to Göteborg. The train station was a short three blocks along Post Street to the Emigrant House where they would show their papers, walk down the “steps of tears,” and board a ship to Hull, England. Most emigrants would spend two days in Göteborg before boarding a ship.

The life left behind
A place to relax while waiting for the ship
An entire industry grew up on Post Street to accommodate the emigrants. Hotels and restaurants were essential, but you also had promoters who helped those who did not have all their plans in place. Most of them were legitimate. Churches also set up shop to help emigrants and make sure that their souls were cared for on the long journey ahead.

From Hull they would take the train to Liverpool or Southhampton where they would board an ocean liner to America, most likely New York. At the beginning in the 1850s, the trip could take as long as 15 weeks. By the time the Swedish-American Line opened in 1915 so that ships could sail non-stop from Göteborg to New York or Canada, the trip was down to eight or nine days. It could still be difficult if the weather was bad and you were in a steerage compartment. Steerage improved over the years, too. At first, the emigrants might be housed with animals on the trip from Göteborg to Hull. By the time the new steamships were being built in the 1900s, steerage was relatively nice for the passengers.

A test to put the pieces in their correct spots.
The eye exam
Once the Swedes got to America, they quickly found places to stay. Most would either go to farm country already populated by Swedes who had come before or into Swedish enclaves in the cities. At one point Chicago was the second largest Swedish city in the world. In Chicago, “Snoose Street” anchored the Swedish part of town. So-called because the Swedes all seemed to be snoose users, the street was full of Swedish shops and services.

Mockup of a street in Chicago
Young Swedish women were especially welcomed in the cities. They were excellent maids who could cook and sew along with the regular duties. The women were happy to work where they would get room and board along with a wage and Thursday afternoons off. This was a huge improvement over their life as a maid in Sweden where all they earned was room, board, and a set of clothes with no time off. Their ability to sew also put them at the top of the line in the textile industry earning the best wages for their work.

Vilhelm Moberg's writing room
Two displays deserve special mention. In Göteborg, they have built a replica of a ship, the Green Parrot. The name comes from the fact that the British called the emigrants parrots because that is what the Swedish language sounded like to them. We were give lanterns to see inside the hold where the passengers would spend most of their time. The ship doesn’t rock on the waves, but they do turn on the sound for passengers. In Växjö, they have built a model Snusgaten in Chicago to show life on the street.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Medieval Swedish Churches, Part II

Hylletofta Kyrka
Shortly after we entered the Hylletofta Kyrka, we were joined by the early-arriving guests for the wedding soon to take place. We felt a bit (a lot, really) underdressed, but still took our time looking at the interior before removing ourselves from the premises. An ironclad door stored near the entrance to the church includes a crow that has become the symbol of the church. One story tells us that the crow’s feet were bound together and then released. Where it landed would be the site of the new church. Modern scholars believe the bird represents ravens who brought the bread of life in communion to Elia during a time of drought in Palestine. Also of interest is the 12th century christening font. Originally, there were no windows on the north side of the chancel which represented evil. The lone window originally on the south side is now bricked over. The brochure suggests that today it is a resting place for angel’s as they gather new strength at the altar.

Like the other medieval churches, Hylletofta Kyrka has been changed and restored over the centuries. It was enlarged at least twice adding a new entrance and a vestry. In the 18th century, the old campanile was torn down and replaced by a steeple. At the same time the nave was extended by 7 meters and the triumphal arch widened. Larger windows were added and old wall paintings covered with limewash. In 1832 a crypt in front of the altar was found to be in disrepair. These were uncovered during another restoration in 1956. Since the family was not interested in preserving the grave new flooring was put in over it. The most recent restoration took place in 2010 when the exterior was finished with a new coat of plaster.

Wall carving of St. George in Hylletofta Kyrka
Next on our agenda was the church at North Lunga. The campanile has been in place since at least the early 17th century. It has been rebuilt at least three times since 1899. An electric ringing system was installed in the 1930s requiring a stronger tower to contain the two bells. The final renovation in 1955-57 removed a hood added in 1899 that gave the tower a rather strange look for a medieval building. This old church has some of the most recent major decorative items because a 1977 fire that destroyed old paintings by Pehr Hörberg on the breast of the gallery, the pulpit, and the bench doors. Pontus Ljungberg, a local artist, painted the replacements.The church was re-consecrated in 1979.

North Lunga

North Lunga Baptismal Font
From North Lunga we moved on to Nävelsjö Kyrka. Built in the 12th century, one of the beams has been dated to 1181-82. The christening font, also from the 12th century, standing in the original apse has a motif typical of the time. The sides are carved in a swarm of beasts, demons, and angels but the beasts are kept from the edge of the font unable to touch the holy water by the angels proving that while evil is always present, God is always strong enough to protect us. Because stone masons often carved their own name into their work, we know this one was carved by Bestiarius, a name that literally means “wild animals master”.

Nävelsjö Kyrka

Nävelsjö Kyrka Altar
The 1669 pulpit shows the four evangelists. The organ was built in 1937 by Olof Hammarberg using the same facade as the previous organ built by Johannes Magnusson in 1852. The 1682 clock tower originally had an open skirt-like appearance. It was clad at the beginning of the 20th century. A 1992 renovation adorned the tower with a cockerel, a symbol of vigilance.

Näsby Kyrka

Unfortunately, our last church of the day, Näsby Kyrka, was closed so we were unable to see the interior including three magnificent coats of arms and the beautiful ceiling and altar paintings dating to the 1740s. Situated beautifully overlooking Lake Flögen, the size of the church was influenced by the fact that it is in the parish of the county seat. An open air cross graces the front lawn.

Each church has a panel like this one.
Unfortunately, this was just a tease at Näsby Kyrka

By this time it was nearly 4:00 so we headed back to the hotel having completed a fascinating day learning more about Swedish churches from medieval times.