I’ve been hunting down my family . . . I mean, my ancestors. I wouldn’t want to give you the wrong idea! When I first began working on genealogy, I started with my husband’s family. They arrived in Massachusetts in 1635 and have been well documented over the years, so they were easy. Then I decided to start on my own family.
I knew I would have problems. The biggest problem is that whatever line I follow, I hit the US border within 2-3 generations. My father’s parents were Polish – BUT – my Polish grandmother was born in Austria and my Polish grandfather was born in Russia. I have some letters a Polish cousin wrote to my parents, but they will do me no good until I find someone who reads Polish. I don’t. My mother’s heritage was Swedish and French-Canadian. I had 1 year of French (not Canadian French) in high school to go with my four years of Latin, so I can make out some French (don’t ask me to speak it, though!). But the French-Canadians moved back and forth frequently – some coming down to work in the mills for a time, then returning to Canada with the money, then coming back. That can be worked out. But the names! Everyone was Marie something or Joseph something or Jean-Baptiste something. A girl named Marie Louise Agnes Bouvier might show up in various records as Marie Bouvier or Louise Bouvier or Agnes Bouvier or any number of other combinations of the names. When she got to the US, she might also end up with a totally different spelling on her last name. You need to be a detective to figure it all out, especially if you don’t have a lot of family information from parents and other family members.
The Swedes take the cake, though, when it comes to trying to follow family lines. They did not use the system that most of Europe and the US used of a surname following the generations. They had descriptive surnames. If you are named Nils and your father’s name was Gustaf Andersson (that is, Gustaf, Ander’s son), your name would be Nils Gustafsson (Nils, Gustaf’s son). If you were female, say Hilda, you would be Hilda Gustafsdotter (that is, Hilda, Gustaf’s daughter). While that works in very small, close knit communities, it makes for a lot of duplicates on a large scale. Without a specific birth date or similar exact information, it is impossible to determine which Nils Gustafsson you are looking for.
I was lucky that my mother had written down enough information for me to get started. I wish she were still here – both to try and get more information and especially to share what I have found with her. She would have been so happy to know that I’ve found cousins that I didn’t even know existed on the Swedish side. It’s times like this that I miss her.
So, what have I learned about my Swedish side. Hmm, my great-grandfather, who arrived in NY in 1882, seems to have married his first wife in Manhattan on December 20, 1892. This is interesting because his first son was born in Newark, NJ in April of 1893 – seems like an “oops” to me. The family moved to Connecticut for the mill work in the mid 1890’s. His first wife died in childbirth with their second child (who also died) in 1898. My great-grandfather remarried (needed a mother for his 7 year old son) sometime after mid 1900. But there is no record of the marriage in the town where he and his bride were living. I had been unable to find the information for quite some time, when I came across a reference to a marriage of two people with the same names and ages as my great-grandparents – in a town in eastern Massachusetts! But they were living about 100 miles away! Why would they go all that way to get married, especially with a Swedish Lutheran church right in their community? Hmm . . .
I’m going today to check out the town clerk’s records in that Massachusetts town to determine whether or not it is actually my great-grandparents. Since that marriage occurred in Nov 1901 and my grandfather was not born until Jan 1903, I think we may be safe from an “oops” this time — but you never know.
After we finish at that town hall, I hope to go to a nearby town to get copies of my husband’s ancestors’ records from the 1600’s, if they exist.
I don’t know which set of records will excite me the most, the well-documented and very historic or the elusive. If I find both, I’ll have to celebrate somehow!!