For the last few years, my parents have been driving around various areas of Sweden, exploring our family roots; this year, I joined my mum on one of these trips. She’s always been interested in learning more about our family history. She herself grew up without many relatives close by and with three of four grandparents dead long before she was born. She’s also interested more generally in how people lived in previous generations. Exploring our family history is a way to connect more personally with how people used to live – it’s easier to relate to an individual’s fate than a general description in a history book (just like Kate and Leo on Titanic!).
On this particular trip, we were following my maternal grandmother’s branch, to her father Arnold and his father, the vicar Anders Anngren, whose roots are in the county of Dalsland. We went even further this time, going back also to Anders’ father, Anders Jansson. He was born in 1826 on a torp in Landhult, a set-up in Scandinavia that allowed a poorer man to lease a little piece of land and a simple cottage while he worked on the land of a larger farm. We visited the place of this larger farm, the main gård, although there’s no longer a farm there and the residential building is of course much more recent.
When Anders Jansson came of age, he moved to another torp, Tomtekullen, in order to work on another gård. In fact we’ve discovered that Anders was quite the entrepreneur. He chose to cultivate oats and thanks to a high level of demand for horse fodder at the time (in the mid-1850s), he made enough money to buy a small gård of his own, Skällsäter. There he had a family of six children, though two of his sons Enock and August sadly died in the aftermath of the measles aged five and eight. Anders’ youngest son Karl eventually took over the gård, after a brief stint in the US. Karl’s two sons later also emigrated to the US but they on the other hand would not come back to take over the gård when Karl asked them to, and he was forced to give it up when he became too old to run it.
But coming back to my own direct line of descent and my grandmother’s grandfather, Anders Anngren: he chose the path of priesthood and became curate in various small parishes including Skållerud and Ör, eventually working his way up to become vicar in Filipstad in the neighbouring county of Värmland. Here he lived with his wife Elisabeth, with whom he had five children, until his death in 1927. He is buried in the Filipstad churchyard with these five children, joined by my grandparents in the last few years.
My grandmother lived in the vicarage in Filipstad from 1921 to 1927. She had been born in Norrland to Arnold, oldest son of Anders Anngren. Although poor, Arnold somehow managed to finance his law studies (presumably with the help of a scholarship) at Uppsala University – but then he met my mother’s grandmother Magda, Maggie. He couldn’t afford to marry her and continue his studies, so he chose instead to join the army as an officer with a small salary. Married in 1918, they moved to Sollefteå in the north of Sweden and had two children, Britta followed by my grandmother Inger in 1920.
Arnold died in the Spanish flu in 1921; he was 29, younger than I am today. At least 50 million people died of this flu pandemic in Europe, which infected 500 million people across the world at the end of the Second World War, although it was quietened down at the time so as not to demoralise people further. Maggie couldn’t take care of two children alone and so sent Inger to Filipstad, where she lived with her grandparents in the vicarage along with one of her unmarried aunts, Hildur. When the vicar Anders died in 1927, the vicarage passed on to the new vicar and everyone had to move. Inger was sent off again, this time to her other aunt Märta in Nyköping.
Of course this is only dipping our toes in the fates of these individuals, who each of them lived rich lives with joys and tragedies in different measures. I think it’s always humbling to learn about their circumstances, both to be grateful that I was born when and where I was (my mum likes to remind me that I would have been working as a maid if I had lived in previous centuries) and also to understand that our time on earth is really just a fleeting moment, and we’ll soon be turned to dust like all these before us.
“As you are now, so once was I
As I am now, so you shall be”
A cheery thought, don’t you think?!
Have you explored your own family history? What have you found?