Researching Sweden

Researching Sweden

By Sarah Burnet

In preparation for my trip to Sweden as part of the LOREX program, I researched not only aquatic systems that were very different from my study system in the US, but also my family heritage. For my LOREX proposal, I read about arctic oligotrophic lakes, iced-over for long portions of the year that experience no algae blooms. This varies from US research site, Willow Creek Reservoir (WCR), located in Heppner, OR, which is highly eutrophic, with minimal ice-on periods, and toxic algae blooms that have occurred since the reservoir was built in 1983. But while my main objective as part of the LOREX program is to study lakes (more on that in future blogs), travel to Sweden provided an additional research opportunity: learning about a portion of my family heritage that immigrated from Sweden to the US.

Reading papers about arctic lakes prepared me for LOREX, but I also read family memoirs authored by my maternal grandfather, Victor Nelson, and his brother, Arthur (Art) Nelson. The early portions of both memoirs discussed from where and when my great grandparents immigrated. My great uncle Art visited where both of his parents were born and retrieved detailed records regarding generations prior to my great grandparents. I’ve known about my Swedish heritage from asking out of curiosity, but reading the memoirs has provided a valuable insight, not only for where a portion of my family came from, but also their experiences and customs.

From the memoirs, I discovered that my great grandmother, Amalia Kristianson, was born in 1873 in the parish of Enslöv, Sweden, the daughter of farmer Christian Erickson and his wife Johanna Bengtsdotter. Apparently, she did not follow the Swedish custom of taking your father’s first name and adding “son” or “dotter” (dependent on your sex) to make up your last name, since she should have been Amalia Kristiandotter. To further confuse matters, when she immigrated to the US and married my great grandfather, whomever made out the marriage certificate evidently used her father’s last name, and thus, Amalia Erickson appears on the marriage certificate.

My great grandfather also did not to follow Swedish naming customs and was born Albin Ferdinand Karlson in 1874 in the parish of Halmstad, Sweden. His father, Carl Johan Nilssen was a factory worker and married Elna Nilsdotter in Slottsmöllan. After arriving in the US, Albin went by Albert and chose to use his father’s last name of Nilssen but changed the spelling to Nelson, a name that was passed onto his children (again, not following customs).

Before my great grandfather was able to convince my great grandmother to immigrate to the US, he worked in mines in Pennsylvania, Iowa corn fields, and eventually leased and then purchased land to farm in Emerado, North Dakota. Between each job, he travelled back to Sweden and completed a total of seven trips across the Atlantic Ocean during his lifetime. Only after land was acquired and a house built in North Dakota, would my great grandmother come to the states and marry my great grandfather. After seven days of travel across the Atlantic Ocean my great grandparents arrived in New York and were married in 1913. Soon after, they began their trip to North Dakota, where they began their lives as farmers.

After settling in Emerado, North Dakota, my grandfather, Victor Nelson, was born in 1915, followed by Art (1916), and Fred (1920). Amalia unfortunately passed away in 1927 and Albert and the three boys worked the farm growing crops such as barley, grain, and corn as well as raising pigs, chickens, and having cows for milk and butter to consume or sell. If not helping on the farm, the boys went to school in Grand Forks, ND, with many details of their antics discussed in my great uncle Art’s memoir. My grandfather continued on with his schooling and received a degree in mathematics and sciences in 1936 at the University of North Dakota enjoying a fair number of chemistry classes before joining the Army during World War II. Following the war, he and my grandmother Mildred moved from North Dakota to Richland, WA (where I was born and raised) after hearing about available work at what is now known as the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. He worked a variety of jobs at Hanford and around the Richland area before retiring from work as well as the Army Reserves reaching the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

Many of my memories of my grandfather revolve around his love of gardening and music which he played the organ, guitar, and harmonica. He loved to travel and was able to return to Halmstad, Sweden on a trip around Europe with my grandmother in 1981. And while I am currently in Sweden as part of my LOREX project, I know little Swedish myself. Recollection of the little Swedish I do know comes from memories of my grandfather bouncing me on his knee as a child and reciting:

“Hoppa min far

Sicka hast jag ha,

Sicka lar, sicka ben,

Sicka skutta han ta”

Which roughly translates to:

“Hop my father

Such a horse I have,

Such legs, such bones,

Such jumps he takes”

And on the last verse, he would bounce me as high as he could.

(Photo: Albert Nelson and Amalia Erickson with sons Victor and Art (estimated date of 1920))

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