As I mentioned last time, I came across a mystery postcard sent to my great-grandfather P.W. Pearson from a previously unknown cousin, “E.H. Olson”. My guess was that this person had to be on Will’s mother’s side of the family since pretty much everyone on his father’s side (the Pearsons) are well-accounted for. I also presumed the person was male, since the use of two initials for men seemed to be a widely-used convention during the early 1900’s.
Prior to our trip to Sweden, I was finally able to locate Will’s mother, Johanna Nilsdotter, in the records of her home parish Ivetofta in Sweden. I spent as much time as I was able to on fleshing out her family tree, at least her immediate family members. Here’s what I discovered:
- Her parents were Nils Olsson and Botill Jönsdotter, both born in Mjällby parish (not too far from Ivetofta)
- Johanna was the youngest of five children. She had two sisters, Elna and Bengta, and two brothers, Ola and Johan. Johan died in infancy. If Ola married and had children, and they continued to use patronymic names, those cousins would be known as “Olsons” in America. Also, if the daughters came to America as single women, they might take their father’s surname of “Olson”, or conceivably they could marry an “Olson”. So there are several ways that Will could have “Olson” cousins.
- Johanna emigrated to America in 1873. Her mother Botill died in 1877, and her father Nils emigrated to America in 1881 with a stated destination of Omaha, Nebraska. By then he was 66 years old. It’s possible that he could have remarried at a late age and his children would be “Olsons”. That’s a little far-fetched but something I would keep my eye out for.
It didn’t take too much Googling and fishing around on Ancestry.com to find a likely suspect.
Knowing that E.H. Olson was writing his postcard in Omaha, I reviewed city directories for Omaha from the early 1900’s. The example at left is from the 1920 edition. There are only a few of possibilities for “Olsons” who have first names starting with “E”. The men on the list (at left) include: Edward, Elmer, Elroy, Enoch, Eric/Erick, Ernest and Eulie.
A census search happened to turn up a “Eulie Olson” in 1880 living in Saunders County, Nebraska in Stocking Precinct. Hold on! Christian and Johanna owned land in Stocking Precinct. Was this a connection?
Doing a search on Ancestry.com for Eulie Olson turned up a family tree done by one of his descendants. Eulie’s parents are shown as Hakan and Bengta Olson.
So here’s a working theory: E.H. Olson is actually “Eulie Olson”; he is living in Omaha in 1920 working as a contractor; he lived in Stocking Precinct in 1880 with his parents Hakan and Bengta Olson; and Bengta is possibly Johanna’s sister.
The 1880 census record for Eulie Olson says that his birthplace is Sweden. So my next step was to dive a little deeper into the Swedish church records for Johanna’s sister Bengta.
At this point I should mention, have you ever heard the name “Eulie” before? I haven’t. Is doesn’t even look like a Swedish name, does it?
So. Back to the Swedish records. It turns out I already had the answer. The Household Record (a church record) for the Nils Olsson family for the period 1872-1877 showed the following (click to enlarge):
This record shows that Bengta had a son “Joel” who was apparently born while Bengta was living in Mjällby. She returned home as a single mom and after about a year, Bengta and Joel left for America.
Think about how you would pronounce “Joel” in Swedish – where “j” is often pronounced with a “y” sound.
The Household Record says that Joel was born on March 31, 1871. What do we know about Eulie’s birth date – does it match up?
The person on Ancestry.com who posted Eulie’s family tree shows that Eulie and his family, a wife and four children, left Omaha sometime in the 1920’s. They moved to Chicago, Illinois. Eulie died in 1932. His death certificate lists his date of birth as March 31, 1871 (match!) and his mother’s name as Bengta Nelsson (match!).
But questions still remain: I suspect that Haakan Olson is Eulie’s stepfather, since Bengta left Sweden as a single mom. So who is Haakan? And who is Eulie’s biological father?
As I mentioned in the first post, I was right (that Eulie was related to P.W. through P.W.’s mother’s side of the family) but for the wrong reason (the Olson surname come’s from Eulie’s stepfather, not his mother).
Next time, a bit more digging into the story of Johanna’s and Bengta’s family back in Sweden, and some more about Eulie’s family here in America.