ŅLostÓ Swedish Family Found in Galesburg


a Story of Problem Names



by Virginia Sholin Smallwood


In 1913, sixteen year old Kristina Stršm left her family in Sweden for a new life in America. Like so many other Swedes before her, she sent letters and photos back home, and her family in Sweden must have read her ŅAmerica lettersÓ with great excitement. Kristina had, indeed, started a new life, as well as a family of her own. The family in Sweden who had known her as a daughter and sister went on with their lives, as well, and time passed.  Eventually, both Kristina and her birth family in Sweden passed away.


I became involved when KristinaÕs grand-niece in Sweden, Kjerstin Stršm, found the names of some of her ancestors on my Sholin family website.  StršmÕs husband, Ulf Kaxekarlsson contacted me.  His English is better. His wife wanted know what had happened to her great-aunt, Kristina. By the time Stršm started looking for her family history, only the few of KristinaÕs letters and photos remained, and any surnames and addresses were lost with the envelopes. The photos contained only scanty information. Nobody alive today seemed to know where Kristina Stršm had lived in America, or even if she had actually married her sweetheart, Jonas HŠgg.


Kaxekarlsson told me that Kristina Stršm was born in Alfta, Helsingland, Sweden on Aug 9, 1897, a daughter of Jonas Olsson Stršm, born June 30, 1865, and Christina Johansdotter, born Dec 11, 1872. Also, Kristina had emigrated in 1913 and might have married Jonas HŠgg. That was all I knew at first. 


Right away, though, I had some luck. A shipÕs passenger list online at Ancestry.com shows that Kristina had sailed to America with a group of five young people from Alfta and nearby BollnŠs. Kristina Stršm, age 16, and Jonas HŠgg, age 24, posted the same destination, an address in Chicago.  The others were bound for destinations far away. As a favor, a genealogist friend in BollnŠs sent complete names and birthdates for every member of both Kristina StršmÕs and Jonas HŠggÕs birth families. But thatÕs where it all ended – for a time. Though I searched for many hours using every name variation I could think of, I could find neither Kristina nor Jonas in any other records. These were distant relatives, and I do genealogy for fun. So I filed this case away. Months passed.


Then one day Kaxekarlsson sent me some photos. The captions on the back showed Jonas and Kristina with their children: Ruth, Miriam, Maria-Louise, an unnamed boy and an unnamed baby. One shows Miriam with Jim Johnson, apparently her husband. The photo with the parents, a boy, a girl and the baby was stamped, ŅGalesburg, Ill., August 22, 1933.Ó With this new information, I searched for the family in the 1930 census for Knox and even Henry Counties.  I still had no luck. 


Another message came from Kaxekarlsson. He and his wife had visited an elderly cousin, Anders Norlund, who had been part of a dance troupe touring in the United States in 1979. As he remembered it, the high point of the trip was at a place called ŅBishop Hill Chicago.Ó He was at a festival at or near that place when he heard his name blaring from a loudspeaker ŅIs there anyone here called Aaanders Norrrrlund?Ó Answering that call, Norlund found an old lady of about eighty years. With tears streaming down her face, she said, ŅI am Kristine, your motherÕs sister!Ó  She hugged him hard and for a long time. But he didnÕt speak any English, and Kristine had forgotten most of her Swedish.  This is about all he could remember of that encounter, and he could provide no more information.


Bishop Hill!  That place struck an instant chord with me, and I was hooked.  Many of my own ancestors had strong ties with the Bishop Hill area in Henry County, Illinois. In fact, lots of Swedes from Alfta had gone there.  Funny I didnÕt think of it sooner. Perhaps it was because my own Bishop Hill ties had pretty much dried up at 1870, by which time most of my relatives who first migrated there had moved on to Kansas. Kristina Stršm did not come to America until 1913, and her destination was Chicago, not Bishop Hill. 


Searching again at Ancestry, I omitted the surname. Using only given names, birthdates and places and year of immigration, I searched the 1930 census in Henry and Knox Counties. Finally, in the 1930 census for Galesburg - the same town stamped on the back of the 1933 photo - I found the family. There was a Christina and Joans [sic] of the right ages and born in Sweden, both immigrated in 1913. Also listed were the children, Ruth M., 14; Marian C, 11; Everett J., 5; and Mary L. 3 years and 3 months. These were the right given names, the right ages, the right birthplaces and the right year of immigration.


The 1920 Cambridge, Henry County, Illinois census confirmed the 1930 information.  Christina and Jonas, born in Sweden, both immigrated in 1913, were shown with their children, Ruth M., age 4 years, 7 months; and Marion C., age 1 year, 3 months.    The family name in both censuses, though, was a surprise. It was not HŠgg or any form of that name. It was Westberg! No wonder I hadnÕt been able to find them!  It seems that Jonas had done a very Swedish thing. He had simply changed his surname.


IÕve seen this sort of thing before. Pehr Larsson Kraft, born July 22, 1842 came to America with his wife and children in 1869, but I could not find them in any American records. However, Swedish records showed that his brother, Jonas Larsson Wallberg, born June 12, 1836 had also emigrated with his wife and children that same year. After finding Jonas in Republic County, Kansas, and living as Jonas Larson, I narrowed my search to that area. In a neighboring town in that same county was JonasÕ brother, Pehr Larsson Kraft, transformed into - Peter L. Norlund!


Swedes in the late 19th and early 20th century were simply not very attached to their surnames. There are some exceptions, such as the fifteen percent who had a family name, such as Nyberg or Eklund. But, most Swedes in the 19th century, in fact, did not even use their own fathersÕ surnames. Most Swedish surnames are patronymic. For example, Pehr HanssonÕs son, Olof, would have been called Olof Pehrsson, indicating he was PehrÕs son. Olof PerhssonÕs son, Jonas, would be known as Jonas Olsson, since Jonas was a son of Olof. The same held true for daughters, except that Pehr HanssonÕs daughter, Brita, would be called Brita Persdotter. 


Swedes serving in the military might be given a Ņsoldier-name,Ó such as Lind or Skšld, to sort out one John Jonsson or Pehr Persson from the next. Since Swedish men shared only about nine basic names, the soldier-name solved what would have been a big problem. Calling out, ŅSkšld!Ó brought forth only one man whereas ŅOlsson!Ó might bring ten. Often a soldier kept his soldier-name, but it was usually just for his lifetime.  In the late 19th century, some families kept the fatherÕs soldier-name. In my own family, the sons kept their fatherÕs soldier-name, Sjšlin, eventually Americanizing it to Sholin.


And just because a Swede came to America using one name doesnÕt mean he continued to use it once he got here. Such was the case with our Jonas HŠgg, a.k.a. Jonas Westberg. When I found Jonas and Christine Westberg in the censuses, I rechecked the shipÕs passenger lists for Kristina Stršm and Jonas HŠgg. Remember they were going to the same address? Well, Kristina said she was going to the home of her friend, Tilda HŠgg, and Jonas listed his sister, Tilda Westberg. In fact, they were the same person, Maria Mathilda HŠgg. Mathilda probably married someone named Westberg. As for Jonas, the Swedish letter in HŠgg may have been problematic in America. Maybe some Americans mispronounced it, or for whatever reason just couldnÕt get it right. Jonas may well have thought, ŅMy sister has a pretty good name. In this new country, IÕll use a new name.  From now on, IÕll be Jonas Westberg.Ó


Conclusion: Sometimes our Swedish ancestors changed their names, but this is not an insurmountable problem in research.  It just makes things more interesting.  By looking for and using every clue, following the migration patterns of other family members, and keeping an open mind about Swedish names, these problems can be solved.


Postscript: Christina and Jonas Westberg had at least one more child, born about 1933, the baby in the carriage in the 1933 photo.  IÕm currently looking for living descendants of the Westberg family.  Kjerstin Stršm and Ulf Kaxekarlsson would like to find her American cousins. Perhaps they might even read this account and recognize themselves.




Johansson, Carl-Erik.  1995.  Cradled in Sweden. The Everton Publishers, Logan, UT


Westerberg, Kermit B. 1979.  Swedish Exodus. Swedish Pioneer Historical Society


Virginia Sholin Smallwood has been doing family history since 1988, and is especially interested in her Swedish roots.  She is a retired teacher living in California. Believing that descendants of the Westberg family might still be living in Galesburg, she Googled the town along with the words, genealogy and Sweden. That's how she found Terry Hogan's stories in his Backtracking column, Swedish Roots, Illinois Soils. She enjoyed them so much she wrote to him to tell him so.  She also told him a bit about the Westberg story, which he thought might make a good story for The Zephyr.  If you would like to contact her, our editor will be happy to forward your message.