A Family Resurrection

When someone tells you that they are a family geneaologist, your first reaction is to gird yourself for a boring conversation about begats that will sound something like a chapter out of the Old Testament Genesis. What you probably don’t understand is the compulsion that drives us in this task.

A pretty little scene from one of my ancestral places near Uddevalla!

5,176 – That’s the number of people I have helped bring back from oblivion through my labors. There is an ineffable feeling of deep satisfaction in having tracked them down through the countless Swedish church records spanning over 600 years of  history. Every one recovered and named was a personal victory for me against the forgetfulness of time and history. Ancient Egyptians believed that if you removed a person’s name from monuments, or ceased to speak it, that the person’s spirit would actually cease to exist.  That is why so many pharaoh’s defaced their predecessor’s monuments by removing their names. To counter this eternal death, all you have to do is again speak their name!

I, personally, have resurrected over 15 families who I never knew existed. I can now name their parents, their children, when and where they were born and died, how often they pulled up roots in one town and moved to another. I know where and when they lived among the countless towns and farms in rural Sweden. I can also anticipate what major stories and geopolitical issues must have been the small talk around dinner tables and among their fellow farm laborers in the fields.

Everyone loves the thrill of the hunt, the stalking of prey, and the final moment of satisfaction at the completion of the pursuit. For a genealogist, we hunt through historical records in pursuit of a single  individual. Pouring through a record containing a thousand names, we spot the birth of an ancestor. The accompanying census record tips us off about his family unit captured in hand-written names, birth dates and places. A bit more work among the records of that moment clinches the number of children and where the family had last been in its travels. Looking forward, we recover the names of the grandparents, the birth and death dates and places of the parents, marriages, when the children left home, and where they later wound up as their own lives played out in the course of time.

Countess ‘Aha’ moments reward you as you meticulously slog through these records, and step-by-step recover a parent, a child, a place, a history. In doing so, you enter the acute fogginess of an alternate state of mind. The reward for this compulsion carries you on for many days until at last your labors are completed and you sit back and admire what you have just accomplished. There on your pages of notes, an entire family has been brought back from the depths of time. Like a diadem recovered from the soil, you can now admire the texture of this family and see it as an organic and living thing in space and time. As little as two weeks ago, you never even knew they existed. For years and even centuries before that, these ancestors lay buried in time and utterly forgotten by the living. They slumbered in the many fragmented pages of a hundred church books spread across countless square miles of Sweden until you, one day, decided to resurrect them and tell their story.

The curious, but typical story of Eric Juhlin!

Eric Ulric Juhlin, my second great great uncle, was born on July 4, 1823 to my third great grandfather Magnus Juhlin and his wife Britta Ulrica Gadd, in the town of Tutaryd, Sweden.

In 2010 I only knew Eric existed from the town’s census record that revealed the 11 children of my distant grandfather Magnus Juhlin, which were listed neatly in their own little rows of data. Eric was the twin to Petrus Juhlin who, sadly, died three months later as was a common risk for young children and infants in 18th century rural Sweden.

Well, Eric eventually met Eva Cajsa Svensdotter from Ljungby, Sweden; The exact details of how they met are obscure. But they settled for a time in the town of Halmstad, where on March 6, 1855 they had their first child Clara. Returning to Tutaryd in 1856, for the next 22 years they gave birth to six more children: Ida Regina, Ferdinand, Hedvig, Davida, Ulrica, and Gustaf Adolph. By the time their seventh-and- last child Carl Leonard was born in 1878, Eric was by that time 55 years old and Eva Caisa had turned 48 only 5 months later.

This family was singularly unlucky in raising their children to adulthood. Ferdinand died at the age of only five years. Carl Leonard made it to age 3, and Gustav Adolph, with an impressive King’s name, died at age 8. But there were also some hopeful stories too among their more fortunate siblings who they barely got to know.

Ida Regina did survive childhood and went on to marry Magnus Adolph Persson. Settling in the southern town of Hjämarp, they raised three sons and three daughters who all grew up and lived to old age. Magnus eventually died in 1930 at the age of 69 followed by Ida ten years later at the age of 83. Ida’s 16-year-old sister Ulrica, decided for whatever reason to emmigrate to the United States, where she eventually met and married her husband Fredrick William Picknell in 1893. Settling in Champaign, Illinois, they raised three sons: Percy Gordon, Frederick and Charles. Sadly, Ulrica died in 1915 at the age of 45. Her husband survived her another 30 years. Their three sons went on to form their own families until they, themselves, passed into history; the last of them, Frederick exiting this world in Toledo, Ohio on Halloween Day, 1986. But each of them managed to cast yet another generation into futurity, and through their children, colonized the years between 1920 and 2012. One of them, Harry Gene Picknell lived in Bethesda, Maryland only a stone’s throw from my own front door…but I never got to meet him.

What became of Clara, Hedvig and Davida? Well, between the ages of 20-22, they moved from their family homes in Tutaryd to the far-flung towns of  Hesslunda and  Mörarp. Their younger sister Davida followed suit on August 10, 1883 and moved to the Big City of Halmstad. The census for this town spans thousands of pages and is a daunting challenge to study. Perhaps Davida will turn up somewhere among them, but it will be a long while before I muster up the courage to dive into THAT archive.

Or perhaps like so many other ancestors, Davida Juhlin’s story will remain the silent gold of history!

Check back here on Wednesday, March 8 for a new blog!