I have two letters in my stash, both from “Johannah Hallberg” and until recently, I had no idea who she was. The letter dated January 18, 1930 has some interesting clues in it (the other letter doesn’t contain much of genealogical interest).
- it is addressed to “Dear Aunt Gustava”
- she says, “You wondered if I was the girl that stayed with you when you left Sweden. Yes, I am the one.”
- she also says, “I was very much surprised to hear of Uncle Johnson in Wyo. being dead.”
- she also says, “I am now 68 years old”
- the envelope is postmarked Ottumwa, Iowa and is addressed to Mrs. Gustava Brodd c/o Miss Edna Pearson – and the first line of the letter (image above) shows that Edna had initiated the correspondence with Johannah.
So from these clues I can infer that:
- Johannah is related to the family through Gustafva Brodd and J.W. Johnson (who were brother and sister), In other words, she’s a Johnson relative and not a Brodd relative.
- She is clearly a daughter of one of Gustafva’s and J.W.’s other siblings
- If she was 68 in 1930, then she would have been 13 in 1875 when Gustafva and her family left for Sweden
- Apparently, Edna Pearson (my grandfather’s sister) had been helping her grandma Gustafva make contact with this long-lost niece.
So who is Johannah and how exactly is she related to Gustafva, J.W., and Edna?
This letter has been bugging me for literally YEARS and I was so excited to have finally solved the mystery a few weeks ago. Just some fair warning – this is a rather long and detailed post.
Shortly before we left for our trip to Sweden in May 2013, I FINALLY found information about Gustafva and J.W. in the Swedish church records. It was a painstaking process to trace Gustafva backwards through the records to finally find evidence of her baptism along with names and dates for her parents and siblings.
The family lore was that Gustafva was from the Lena parish in Älvsborg County in Sweden. However, I was never able to locate Gustafva in the Lena records. After I found her with her husband and children (in the Broddetorp area), she was listed as having been born in Bergstena parish. It turns out that Bergstena is very close to Lena and in fact, Lena is sort of regional large parish while Bergstena is a little “satellite” parish. Some of the records for Bergstena are sometimes mixed in with the Lena records. The Bergstena church no longer exists, so that complicates things even further. (Nowadays, I think the paper records are physically stored in Lena, but the online digital records are separate.)
Gustafva was born to Johannes Andersson and Anna Cathrine Andersdotter – she had the surname ‘Johansdotter’ because her father’s first name was ‘Johannes’. She was one of eight children. The oldest was Maja Cajsa, Gustafva’s only sister. Her brothers were: Anders Petter, Karl, Svante, twins August and Johan, and another brother Johannes who died as an infant. Her brother Johan, one of the twins, would be later known in the United States as J.W. Johnson.
Gustafva’s mother died in March of 1850 of Typhoid Fever. The records show many people in the Lena area dying of the same thing that spring. Typhoid Fever is transmitted through contaminated drinking water. I would imagine that Gustafva’s baby brother Johannes, who died just a few weeks later, succumbed to the same disease.
Only three years later, Gustafva’s father died of Colic (a generic term for some sort of stomach ailment). Gustafva and the twins were still at home and became orphans. The church record show that they then became wards of the parish and actually lived on the parish property. Can you even imagine what this would have been like?
I tried without a lot of success to trace the other siblings through the records. For the most part, Swedish records are very thorough. But when young people move frequently, from farm to farm and from job to job – and when they’re all named ‘Johnson’ and ‘Anderson’ – sometimes the records are confusing, incomplete or even missing altogether.
Maja Cajsa disappeared from the family at about age nine – presumed dead. The older three boys left home after their mother died. I was able to trace them forward only a few years as they moved from job to job. Gustafva and the twins stayed as wards of the parish until 1860 – a total of seven years – and then got jobs and moved out. I could only trace the twins forward a year or two before their trails grew cold.
So this is where my research was stuck for the past year. I assumed that Johannah was the child of one of Gustafva’s older brothers: Anders Peter, Karl or Svante. So depending on which brother was her dad, I was looking for a Johannah Andersdotter, a Johannah Karlsdotter or a Johannah Svansdotter, born in 1862 (plus or minus a year). Not knowing which parish to look in was a real obstacle. In desperation, i turned to the ships’ passenger lists, looking for random Johannah’s. There were a lot of Johannah’s that emigrated from Sweden to the United States, let me tell you!
Believe it or not, I finally found a Johannah that fit the bill. She left Sweden in 1884 and her stated destination was Ottumwa, Iowa (that fits!). She was 23 years old at the time (so she would have been born in 1861 – that fits too!). Her birthplace was listed as Långered, Elfvsborg (the old-fashioned spelling of Älvsborg).
Just one big problem – her last name is listed as “Persson”. What the heck? I decided to pursue this lead anyway since I recognized Långered as a parish in the vicinity of Bergstena.
Well I hit the jackpot. Turns out that this Johannah is the daughter of Pehr Andersson and Maja Cajsa Johansdotter. Maja Cajsa is Gustafva’s big sister and I had assumed she was dead! I don’t think she really disappeared from the family at age nine – this is probably just one of those rare instances where the family record is incomplete. It was so great to see her alive and well in 1884, married for the second time (Pehr, Johannah’s father, died in 1863 and she remarried to Gunnar Andersson) and the mother of four children.
Further digging in the records showed an interesting series of farm hands working for Maja Cajsa and her husband Gunnar:
- From 1864 to 1867, Johan Johansson (yes, that’s J.W. Johnson)
- From 1868 to 1880, August Johansson (J.W.’s twin brother)
- From 1884 (est.) to 1889, Svante Johansson (one of the older brothers)
J.W. Johnson’s 1921 obituary says that he was survived by a sister still living in Sweden. Of course that could only have been Maja Cajsa and she would have been 94 by then – wow, that’s a pretty ripe old age!
I have no way of knowing what Maja Cajsa’s character or personality was like, but I enjoy imagining her as a caring older sister, taking in her orphaned brothers one by one and helping them along. And apparently in 1875, she sent her teen-aged daughter Johannah to stay with Gustafva’s family and help them before they moved to the United States (“Yes, I am the one.”).
I think this is my biggest genealogy research victory EVER. Even though it doesn’t change the family narrative very much, I find it so incredibly fascinating to be able to reconstruct the lives of my ancestors even by just a tiny bit.