Guest blogger Eric Stroschein is currently in Stockholm, Sweden connecting with relatives and researching his ancestry. This is the second of a series of articles from his visit to the old country. You can read his first article here.
With much envy and jealousy I, like many, have read the exploits of great genealogists, like David Rencher, tell their stories of their “Best Day Ever” as a family historian. I believed my odds of something epic happening to me would be somewhere between hitting the lotto or getting stuck by lighting twice and living to tell about it. Unlikely, but possible.
Through the website Rötters, I found Per Svantsson. He is the husband of my second cousin twice removed Christina. Per is retired and he and Christina live in the south of Sweden in the town of Nye. He is an avid genealogist and loves to collect the stories of his and Christina’s ancestors.
Karen, Tedd, and I had made arrangements to meet up with Per and Christina in the small village of Vikingstad. It is located in the middle of Sweden near the larger city of Lingköpping. This area is extremely rich in Swedish culture and history. Many archeological finds date back to the 9th century. There is currently a Bronze Age dig happening in the area.
We got to the meeting spot a little early, the Sjögestad Motell. This is one of the oldest operating motels in Sweden and is located on the “old road” from Stockholm to Göteborg. From this spot we could see the Viby church in the distance. Per and Christina soon arrived. Tedd and I were meeting our cousin for the first time. Cristina is a vibrant woman with a great sense of humor and wit. Per was very tall and extremely energetic, he was boiling over with excitement. Per had a big day planned for us so he quickly got us in order. He came prepared with handouts and maps. He had done his research and had a plan.
We first jumped in the cars and drove the few kilometers to Viby Parish. Here the church or kyrka (pronounced shur-ka) was built about 1300 and had a very well maintained church grounds and graveyard surrounded by an impressive 4 foot high rock wall. Most all churches in Sweden are surrounded by a similar type of rock wall made from the rock indigenous to the area. Usually a mix of granite and basalt.
My sixth great parents Per Lundström (1710-1778) and Kjerstin Svensdotter (1721-1783) were married and are buried at Viby kyrka. Per Lundström is the oldest known ancestor in the Hogner line. His son was the first member of my family to have the Huggner name. For the most part Sweden used a patronymic naming system up until the early 20th century. This system caused some confusion in the military so the government started giving soldiers “military names.” My fifth great grandfather Anders Persson (son of Per) was given the name Huggner, meaning a cavalry man. Military men were allowed to keep their names after their term of service was done. Anders did just that and became Anders Huggner. This can cause complications in Swedish genealogical research because sometimes you will see in the record a person switching back and forth between names.
Sadly the stones for Per and Kjerstin no longer exist. In Sweden it is a common practice to recycle graves that are old and are no longer visited by family. The old stones are sometimes lined up on the inside of the stone walls, sometimes piled up behind the grounds keeper's shed, and sometimes the headstones are recycled into new grave markers or even made into cobblestones to be used around the grounds.
Next we were back to the motel parking lot talking a bit about the historical significance this area holds in Sweden and about the “old road” to Stockholm. Per said, “Follow me,” and we went on a little walk south to see the “really old road” between Stockholm and Göteborg. This road dates back to at least 900 AD and was a deep cut in the landscape from centuries of use and erosion. Here is where we found several Rune Stones that had been carved by the ancient Vikings. Each were marked with a plaque denoting its significance and interpretation of the old writing.
After, we walked north of the motel to a Ryttaretorp or Cavalry farm. This was part of a system of military farms or Soldatorps that were all over Sweden. Men in the military were expected to help grow the food needed for them and their horses as well as maintain their military readiness. These farms were a way to spread the military out among the countryside to have better preparedness in the event of invasion. There were different farms for the infantry, navy, grenadiers, etc. A building on the farm where the men stayed was called a croft. We looked at a couple of crofts on the little farm near the motel. Most of these farms have been sold off to private people and are used as homes and small hobby farms. Many of the old buildings are still used today and have been remodeled into homes, garages, sheds, etc.
We walked back to the cars and Per directed us to follow him to another farm south of Vikingstad called Lilla Harg (small Harg). This is where my fourth great grandfather Anders Huggner was a cavalryman. The croft where he stayed is still there. It has been moved, added on to, and remodeled over the years. A wonderful family owns the property and they were gracious enough to allow us to tour the property. To be on the grounds where my ancestors walked made me feel very connected to them. I thought this was my epic moment, my best day ever story. Then we were invited into the home and were allowed to see the inside of the old croft. Many of the old features where still visible, like the vertical four inch thick hand hewn logs that were used as a prominent design feature of this lovely old home. The original fireplaces were still there. One room of the house still had the original wood floor intact. Once again I got to walk in the footsteps of my forefathers. The old building is as solid today as it was in the 1700’s. What an incredible experience and all because I connected with cousins abroad.
By now it was time for lunch and Per hinted at having an even bigger surprise for later. We drove back to the motel where we met more cousins, Per and Christina’s son and wife, Erik and Lotta. Erik is my third cousin once removed. It was delightful to meet up with Erik and have lunch at the motel. Tedd and Erik hit it off and were talking about Erik’s job working for a drone and aircraft manufacturing company. Karen and I spoke with my family about a wide range of subjects including genealogy.
After lunch we followed Erik to his house which was about a 15 minute drive over twisting and winding narrow back country roads of Sweden. Erik has a new Mini Cooper which he proceeded to race down the roads which made for a bit of an adventure getting there.
Erik and Lotta’s home is on the site of an old grist mill on the Black River. It is beautifully picturesque and as part of their landscaping they used the old grist stones that were found buried in the soil as prominent features. The old wash house has become the boat house next to the river. Their home has an intriguing history attached to it.
The day seemed like a blur and it was time for “fika.” Fika is the time Swedish people take for coffee and a pastry. It is a big deal in Sweden, everybody must fika. As we sat down to a nice cup of coffee and a fresh blueberry pie prepared by Lotta, Per brought out a notebook and we started to discuss more members of the Hogner family. He handed both Tedd and me a packet of information and copies of photographs of our family in Sweden. It was incredible to see my second great grandparents and all of their children.
The day so far could have been considered an awesome day by any measure but what happened next left me speechless and stirred emotions in me that are hard to put into words. Per presented me with a copy of my second great grandfather’s memoirs. Nearly 200 pages of his words describing his life of nearly 80 years. These pages explain my Hogner family in details that were unknown to me. The memoirs answer so many questions, yet like most evidence found in genealogy, generates many, many more. It will take me years to explore, corroborate, and document the information contained in the memoirs. It sheds light on some of the myths and rifts that have occurred in the family. The pages are chocked full of love, intrigue, betrayal, triumph, and tragedy. This is a genealogical mother lode. This was like winning the lotto, my best day ever.
While still reeling from this fantastic surprise, Per asked me if I could handle one more. I told him I was game for just about anything. He then presented with the photo album of Elsa Hogner the sister of my great grandfather. I was completely blown away. It had photos of my family back to my third great grandparents Per Gustav Hogner (1815-1897) and Margaretha Carlen (1823-1880). Not only did I get to look at them but my cousin Tedd was given permission to professionally photo document and preserve the pictures. What an incredible gift. Yes, lighting can strike twice. I am living proof.
My head is still spinning from the massive amounts of information, mementos, and generosity given to me by my cousin Christina and her husband Per. I am forever grateful and indebted to them. I have been the recipient of some truly remarkable gifts, and all because I took advice and found cousins. I can only describe this day as epic and now I have my own “Best Day Ever” as a family historian tale to tell. Now I am off to buy a Swedish lotto ticket.
If you missed part one of this article be sure to read it here.
Eric Stroschein is a Forensic Genealogist. He specializes in resolving difficult genealogical questions. Eric is very active in Swedish genealogical research and has resolved many difficult problems for clients. He is especially adept at finding the origins of Swedish immigrant ancestors. Learn more about him at GenerationsDetective.com.