Stories of my Swedish Heritage

The Swedish immigration to Wisconsin began 1838 with the Friman family settling in Genoa City and the first settlement, New Upsala, was established east of Pine Lake in Chenequa, Waukesha County in 1842. There were waves of Swedish immigration in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s and in the 2012 census there were 150,000 Wisconsin residents claiming Swedish heritage. This page is dedicated SAHSWI members heritage stories.

Brent Erickson’s story

Member Brent Erickson shares the story his grandmother Sarah wrote about both her Swedish parents who had known each other when living in Sweden immigrated to Wisconsin and after arriving here and were reacquainted.

Brent: “This was written by Sarah Larson concerning her parents, Blom Olof (B.O.) Larson and Der Sara Ersdotter, daughter of Der Eric Jacobsson.  (Blom and Der are Swedish farm names.  It was common in the province of Dalarna, where they were born, to record the farm name (gårdsnamn) before a given name).  B.O. and Sara lived with their parents in or near Dala-Järna prior to emigration.  Sara Ersdotter emigrated with her parents and siblings to Wisconsin in 1883 and B.O. emigrated a little later in the same year. Sara Ersdotter and all her siblings changed their last name to Erickson in Wisconsin, and she added the letter h to her first name.  Here is the story”

“My mother and dad (B.O. Larson and Sarah Erickson) went to the same state Lutheran church in Sweden, my dad living close to the church, and they had a lot of company. My mother lived about 1 Swedish mile from the church, guess about 7 English miles, and walked to church. So each one know who the other was while in Sweden. While still in Sweden, several of my mother’s family joined the Baptists, and the Lutherans thought that terrible. 2 of my mother’s family came to Merrillan (Wisconsin), believe John and Erick, the oldest, to find a place to get things in readiness to bring the rest of the family to this country, and (then) they all came to Merrillan. Of my dad’s (B.O.’s) family, just Dad (B.O.) and his brother came. His three sisters and parents stayed in Sweden. Dad came alone to Merrillan, believe his brother Lars Larson came later to Merrillan. Dad’s mother felt terrible to have him leave home, and she told him not to get mixed up with the Ericksons who had turned Baptist. Dad had written Peter Olson to meet him at (the railroad) station in Merrillan. No Peter there when he got off the train, but my mother’s 2 brothers were there and asked him home with them. He was glad to accept. And in about a year or so later Mother and Dad were married on April 6, 1885.”

Brent:  The Larsons and Jacobson/Ericksons along with many other Dalarna emigrants became members of Swedish speaking First Swedish Baptist Church (aka Swede Town Baptist Church and Free Baptist Church) of the Town of Garden Valley, Wisconsin.  This church was built about 1888 by people from Dalarna.  B.O. and Sara were buried in the West Garden Valley Cemetery on Swede Town Road in Jackson County, only one mile from the site of the former church and one mile from their farm.

Member Carol Gustafson story about her great great Niece Christina Nilsson

Posted on “A Rags to Riches story” was the headline of SAHSWI member Carol Gustafson presentation at the only social meeting of the Swedish American Historical Society of Wisconsin in 2020. Carol, who is the great, great niece, presented the life of Christina Nilsson, the famous Swedish opera singer, who sang at the opening night of the New York Met in 1883, and was very popular in USA, Russia, UK, France, and Sweden. It is a story about a poor girl from a small village in Sweden who became famous worldwide.

Carol talked about her family ties to Christina and her recent trip to Christina’s homestead, now a museum in Sweden as well as her visit to the mansion Villa Vik and mausoleum in Växjö. Carol showed pictures of Christina including an illustration of her wedding with the French banker Auguste Rauzaud, and and another with her second husband, Angel Ramon Maria Vallejo y Miranda, Count de Casa Miranda.

At the meeting Carol and Mary Stetson, artistic name “Goda Vänner”, performed Christina’s signature Swedish Folk song: “Fjorton ar tror jag visst att jag var” translated “I think for sure, I was fourteen years old

This song is performed on YouTube by Mia Marianne and Per Filip.

Christina Nilsson in Kyrkhult

The extra ordinary life of Christina Nilsson and her genuine personality is illustrated in an article from Kyrkhult “Hembygdsförening” a local historical Society of Kyrkhult. Author Olof Jönsson’s article from their annual publication 1984, Vår Hembygd, is translated and provided here: (Kyrkhult is located in Blekinge, in the south of Sweden.)

Christina Nilsson Biography Wikipedia

Mary Haarmann referenced Paul Fanlund story about the Spanish flu

Posted on April 17, 2020. Coronavirus pandemic is affecting us all today, some much worse than others. A 100 years ago the world was dealing with another pandemic, the Spanish flu. The estimates vary, however, a commonly used death estimate is 50 million people worldwide. Sweden was affected very hard with 34,500 people died during the first year (reference: Here are 2 stories of how the Spanish flu pandemic affected our ancestors:

Paul Fanlund’s articleA century ago, a pandemic devastated my ancestors.

SAHSWI member Mary Haarmann advised us about an article written by Paul Fanlund in the Capital Times newspaper (reference about his Grandfather Julius Fanlund who emigrated from Sweden in 1914, and how his family in Sweden suffered from the Spanish Flu in 1918. The headline of the article “A century ago, a pandemic devastated my ancestors.” One brother and two sisters died in the flue within 5 days.

Bev Wenzel’s story “The presence of pandemics in our family”

Membership Secretary for SAHSWI, Bev Wenzel, remembers her own family’s hardship with the Spanish Flu. Her grandparents lost one daughter to the flu, after already having lost three sons. The stories have an interesting connection: Bev’s father, Erik Olson, who emigrated in 1926, and Julius Fanlund came from the same area in Sweden, Erik from Rönås, and Julius from Slagesnäs, both small villages near the town of Kyrkhult, Blekinge, in the South of Sweden.

Kyrkhult is located in the south of Sweden in Blekinge, press the “local map” below and see the locations of Rönås and Slagesnäs, close to Kyrkhult.

Kyrkhult Sweden

Martha Bergland story about her ancestor Anders Berglund

Anders Berglund immigrant from Sweden, settler in Bishop Hill

In the 5/11/2019 program of the Swedish American Historical Society Member and Author Martha Bergland presented the story of her ancestor Anders Berglund who arrived at Bishop Hill in 1847 to join the Swedish colony.  This is a fascinating story of a young man in Sweden brought up under difficult circumstances and hardship leaving his home country to seek a better and more meaningful life in the USA. At age 63 Anders wrote a letter describing his life in Sweden and the reasons for his immigration to the USA. Below are sections of Anders’s letter with Martha’s comments:

(Martha) “Anders Berglund wrote about leaving home as a boy to go to work.”

In my early years, small for my age and with a weak body, I had to leave my dear childhood home and my beloved mother and go out into the world to get food and clothing to support myself.

(Martha) “Like most Swedish children of the lower classes in the first half of the 19th century, Anders left his home around the age of twelve to be a servant. Under contract from September to September, they would live with another slightly better off farm family, perhaps relatives, like Anders who lived and worked for uncles. Boys were hired for a year at a time to care for cows and sheep and oxen and to work in the fields. They often slept in barns and sheds. Girls worked in the house taking care of young children, the garden, chickens, fowl, milking cows, making cheese, weaving, and cleaning. Near larger towns or manufacturing areas, the children may have worked in grain mills or saw mills.”

With poor upbringing I only had my mother’s … simple advice and … no more education than the ability to read a book. I was strongly frugal with what I had, and was eager to work and faithful in my service to my uncles on my mother’s side, who gladly employed me and cared for me in a physical sense. But about my soul and my needs for my spiritual life, they seemed to have no understanding. On that subject they left me alone in darkness and ignorance and I had to work it out all by myself the best I could.

Anders and Britta Berglund

History of Bishop Hill. Erik Jansson, leader of the Janssonist religious sect in Sweden left Sweden in 1846 guiding his dedicated followers to America where he established the Swedish Colony of Bishop Hill in Illinois.  For several decades, letters home to Sweden extolling the fertile agricultural land in the Midwest stimulated migration for more than 1000 of his followers.  Bishop Hill Colony population increased and flourished as it grew, but the colorful and dramatic history of the colony ended in 1861. With the site presently preserved as Bishop Hill Historic District, the story of the colony of Bishop Hill is an intriguing history of a group of Swedish American immigrants to the Midwest.

Video below is produced at the Moraine Valley Community College Library by Troy Swanson.

Bishop Hill history

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