The Non-Emigrants

Some months ago, I wrote an article entitled ''The Emigrants'' for this column. The article told of my Swedish relatives who sailed from the eastern Swedish seaport of Gavle in 1850 and landed in New York Harbor. They then traveled from New York and settled near Wataga, Illinois. The youngest member of the family was born of the sailing ship, ''Maria'', while en route. In remembrance of this feat, he was named ''Moses Ocean.'' M.O. Williamson, as he was to be known in later years, was to become president of a Galesburg bank and the Treasurer of the State of Illinois. He was one of the last to see the remains of Abe Lincoln as he was asked to view and certify the remains, when they were transferred to the final resting place at Lincoln's Tomb, in Springfield, Illinois. Carl Sandburg mentions M.O. Williamson in his autobiographical ''Always the Young Strangers,'' published in 1952.

The Zephyr also publishes some of its columns on the Internet. This ''Backtracking'' column is lucky enough to be one of those. A few months after the publication of ''The Emigrants,'' Norm Winick, the Zephyr editor, forwarded an e-mail to me that he received from Sweden. It was from a young man named Mats Larsson, who was writing on behalf of his father, a genealogist, who claimed that we were related.

With hope, but some skepticism, I e-mailed Mats and asked for more details. To my delight, the response proved beyond doubt that these fine people were descendants of a sister who stayed behind in Sweden, while two of her brothers left for America -- one in 1849 (whom I didn't know had gone to America) and one in 1850 (my line). In addition, the Larssons had two letters written by my Williamson ancestors from Wataga, Ill. and mailed to Jarvso, Sweden in 1853, including a family photo taken in Illinois.

In subsequent e-mail and letters, we have exchanged information on our lines, and I have also been able to confirm their information of the other brother who had sailed to America in 1849. They have been kind enough to send me photocopies of the old letters and of the old photo of my Wataga Olssons who became Williamsons. In addition, the son, Mats Larsson, has translated one of the old letters from ''old Swedish'' to English. This is not an easy task, as Sweden changed its written language around 1907, changing the alphabet, spelling, and grammar.

Although Mats has left the small hometown of Jarvso and lives in one of Sweden's larger cities, his father, Olle, still lives very near to where my ancestors departed nearly 150 years ago. Olle recently mailed me photos of the old family home, still standing. Olle also mailed me information on our common Swedish ancestors that tracks them back several hundred years. As the letter and charts are in Swedish, I am slowly translating the information, one word at a time, with the aid of a Swedish/English dictionary.

In an effort to provide more information to my Swedish cousins, I took my camera and my mother to Wataga recently. The purpose was to photograph the Lutheran church. In its early days, it was known as the ''Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church,'' being established in 1853 by Dr. T. N. Hasselquist. Dr. Hasselquist was also the founder of several other Lutheran churches in the area, as well as the first publisher of Galesburg's Swedish language newspaper. The interior of the Wataga Lutheran Church has a picture of its founder.

For reasons unknown to me, Dr. Hasselquist was used as a return address for my ancestor's letters to Sweden. Perhaps this was done to minimize the Post Office mixing up the every increasing number of Swedes and their letters from home. Dr. Hasselquist was well-known in the community and knew the members of the Swedish community.

My ancestor, Olof Olsson (Williamson), is listed as one of the charter members of the church. The original wood church was build in 1860, but was hit by lighting on July 17, 1875 and was destroyed in the resulting fire. It was rebuilt the same year, and this structure remains, with some modifications today, being nearly 125 years old and still in service.

The Williamson family name is someone interesting in how it came to be. It probably needs explaining as I have talked about the Williamson family, but mentioned Olof Olsson, above. According to family history, Olof Olsson, the father and husband of the group that left Sweden, was in bad health, probably consumption. After arriving in Wataga, he only lived a few years before the disease took him. He was buried in the woods nearby their first log cabin, south of Wataga. The exact burial site, to my knowledge, is lost to time. After his death, the support of the family fell to the oldest son, William. In recognition of his effort and fulfillment of his responsibilities, the family changed their name to Williamson.

It is nice to know that I have living, Swedish cousins in ''the real'' and not just in some abstract way. It makes the world a little smaller and perhaps a little friendlier. From a genetic point of view, that many generations ago for the split of the lines, I probably don't share much more common in the gene pool that I do with about any one walking the streets of Galesburg that has a Swedish connection. But nevertheless, it is nice to know and is a personal example of how chance and the Internet have made the world a little smaller and a little nicer.

I hope you have been encouraged to take a little time in your busy life to pause, ask a few questions, and do a little backtracking. Find out why you are here and where your line came from. Learn and record your family history. It may be that this will be the most important legacy you leave for your children and children's children.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online February 2, 2000

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