Family lore tells us that my great-great-grandfather Christian Pearson had two brothers that emigrated from Sweden to Minnesota. Fact or fiction?
Well actually the facts are a bit better than just “family lore”. We see reference to the two brothers in Christian’s 1908 Wahoo, Nebraska obituary: “He leaves…three brothers, two in Minnesota and one in Sweden.”
We know from the Swedish household examination records (HER) records from Christian’s early years that he actually had four brothers. They were Christian’s two older brother Nils and Johannes and his two younger brothers Per and Anders. (Perhaps one of these pre-deceased Christian, leaving three still living at the time of his death.)
Anyway, the two brothers who came to America were supposedly Johannes and Anders, and supposedly known in America as John and Andrew Peterson. They are said to have lived near Sauk Center, Minnesota.
Can this be proved? This post examines the records trail for Johannes Persson/John Peterson.
Going back to Christian’s early years in Sweden, here is the HER for the family for the period 1842-18461. They are living in the parish of Riseberga in Kristianstad län. We see the parents Per Pålsson and Johanna Tufvesdotter and their six children: daughter Kristina and sons Nils, Johannes, Kristian (we see Christian’s name spelled with both “C” or a “K”, depending on the record), Per and Anders. There was also an older daughter Catarina who had likely moved out of the house by the time of this record.
I have spent countless hours tracking Christian’s movement through Sweden. He moved about a dozen times, never staying any place for more than year. This probably indicates poverty and lack of opportunity, but I’ve also wondered whether it says something about Christian’s difficult personality.
I undertook a similar tracking of Johannes. Johannes at first followed a similar pattern. At age 20, he left home and worked as a farm hand in the nearby parish of Tirup. Then for the next seven years, he bounces from farm to farm in the Skåne province. At age 27, he settles down back home in Riseberga with wife Agnes.
Agnes had a daughter Emilia who was born illegitimate, although it appears likely the Johannes was in fact the father. I understand from prior research that due to poverty, Swedish couples during this time period would often postpone the church’s wedding rites as long as they could because the church charged a fee to be married. Once a baby comes into the picture, however, they inevitably go forward with the wedding because there was also a fine for having a child out of wedlock; the cost of that fine was greater than the fee for the wedding.
We see more signs of extreme poverty: Johannes is not identified as “drängen” but instead as “inhyses” which translates as “housed” or “boarder:. This suggests that he does not have regular employment. In 1868, another daughter Selma is welcomed into the family.
Finally in March, 1869 Johannes leaves for America, but leaves behind his wife and daughters. It’s likely that they only had the resources to secure one ticket to America. A year later, however, Agnes and the girls follow him to America.
Can we pick up the trail of this family in the 1870 census? Indeed we can – in the Todd County, Minnesota census taken on July 21, 1870 we find a John Peterson living on a farm in Kandota Township just a few miles north of Sauk Center2. With him are wife Agnes and daughters Emily and Selma. The ages line up perfectly; there can be no doubt that this is our John.
A county history3 lists him as an early pioneer, and General Land Office records4 suggests that he may have been among the earliest homesteaders in the area. Like so many of my ancestors, the Homestead Act was the cure for poverty.
A farmers directory from 1914 lists John and Agnes as still living in Kandota Township5, and indicates that they have been living there for 45 years – that puts him as arriving in Minnesota in 1869, the very year that we know he emigrated from Sweden.
The records get kind of sketchy after this – his tombstone6 has a badly mangled birth date (15 Jun 1829 instead of 21 Feb 1833). I’m hoping that someday some Minnesota church records might clear this up.
Ancestry has a family tree for the John Peterson family of Todd County, Minnesota. I have not verified it, but it shows two more children added to the family after Agnes arrived in America – sons George and Anton. The tree appears to have been assembled by descendants of John and Agnes’ daughter Selma.
I checked my mom’s Ancestry DNA test results for matches in Todd County, Minnesota. There are four individuals that test as fourth cousins, and more than a dozen that are more distant. One of them shows an Andrew Peterson as a descendant. Is this the other American brother? Next time we’ll see whether the records can also confirm his emigration to Todd County.
1ArkivDigital, Riseberga (L) AI:9 (1842-1846) Image 13 / Page 391 (AID: v100919.b13.s391, NAD: SE/LLA/13313) (ArkivDigital link, subscription required)
2“United States Census, 1870,” database with images, FamilySearch: 22 May 2014), Minnesota > Todd > Kandota > image 2 of 6; citing NARA microfilm publication M593 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
6Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 06 July 2018), memorial page for John Peterson (15 Jun 1829–17 Jan 1928), Find A Grave Memorial no. 87742773, citing Svea Lund Cemetery, Little Sauk, Todd County, Minnesota, USA ; Maintained by kandota (contributor 47586653) .