My husband Bill and I are planning to visit several Scandinavian countries in September. Family history is one consideration for making this trip. Bill’s mother was 100% Swedish; her parents were both born in Sweden and came to the United States as young adults.
That’s about all we knew back in 2008 when we engaged Jan Carlson to do some research for us. Sweden has kept excellent records of its citizens since the 17th century. Swedish church records have been scanned, microfilmed, indexed and made available online through Genline. Initially, all these records were still in Swedish. Jan’s expertise in researching the records combined with her ability to speak Swedish brought quick results. Recently, in preparation for our trip, I’ve been reviewing the information Jan gave us.
Bill’s maternal grandfather, Anders Ludvig Eliasson — his name was Americanized to Andrew Ellison — was born in 1865 at Flyasen, Revesjo, Alvsborg, Sweden. (Please forgive my incorrect Swedish letters. The Swedish alphabet has three additional vowels: å, ä, ö. It’s too much trouble to figure out how to type them properly here.) Revesjo is located in Vastergottland, southeast of Gothenburg.
Bill’s maternal grandmother, Erika Johanna Mahler, was born in 1870 in Resele, Vasternorrland, Sweden. (Again, Mahler doesn’t include the correct vowel; the surname became Miller in America.) Resele is about 300 miles north of Stockholm. Andrew and Erika met in Minnesota, where they married in 1902.
The binder Jan gave us provides Genline details going back to the early 1600s for Mahler ancestors! (If only Irish records were so readily available!)
I guess it’s human nature for one’s attention to be drawn to the more unusual facts. For the Mahlers, my curiosity was piqued by circumstances surrounding the 1842 birth of Erika’s father, Johan Fredrik Mahler.
Here’s a quick summary of the generations in my story:
Erika Johanna Mahler Ellison (1870-1939)
Johan Fredrik Mahler (1842-Unknown)
Anna Helena Mahler (1818-Before 1890)
Carl Fredrik Mahler (1790-1840)
Church records for Johan Fredrik’s birth include only his mother’s name, Anna Helena Mahler, and the word “oakt” — short for oäkta (with the proper vowel), which means the child was illegitimate.
From the book Your Swedish Roots by Per Clemenson and Kjell Andersson:
Having a child out of wedlock wasn’t necessarily a shame. In Stockholm in the nineteenth century, for example, many couples lived together and had children without being married. These marriages were even called “Stockholm marriages.” In the 1840s more than half of the children born in Stockholm were born out of wedlock. At the same time, about five percent of the children in the countryside were illegitimate.
The fact that the father isn’t noted in the birth record doesn’t mean that he wasn’t known. It only means that the parents were not married.
Curiosity caused us to dig deeper. One particularly valuable aspect of Swedish church records is the “household examination roll.” According to FamilySearch, these records were used for religious and later demographic purposes from the 1600s to 1894 (or sometimes later, depending on the parish and diocese). Originally the rolls recorded the results (grade) of each confirmed person’s religious knowledge and actions as determined by a yearly meeting with the minister.
The person might have been asked to demonstrate their ability to read or recite memorized passages from the Bible, from the Lutheran Catechism, or other religious material. They might have been asked about their daily prayers, their attendance at religious meetings, how many times they partook of the sacrament in the preceding year, and so forth.
A person is listed on this record under the name of the village, farm, or other address where they resided at the time the examination was done (generally in the fall of each year). In later years, the record often reflected everyone living at that particular farm or address, not just those who had been confirmed.
The 1829 household examination roll for Carl Fredrik Mahler shows the names of his wife and children, including Anna Johanna, as well as a nephew who resided on the Mahler farm (called Norrtanflo) and worked as farm hand. The nephew’s name was also Carl Fredrik Mahler (born 1816). (Swedish naming practices from generation to generation are confusing, similar to what I’ve found while doing Irish research!)
Later parish household examination rolls taken in 1842, 1843 and 1844 show Anna Helena and (the younger) Carl Fredrik Mahler living with infant Johan Fredrik in a separate household at Norrtanflo. It seems very likely Carl Fredrik was Johan Fredrik’s father. Anna Helena and Carl Fredrik were first cousins and, at that time, prohibited from marrying. Dispensations could sometimes be secured, but we’ve found no evidence of what transpired in this case.
Church records indicate Anna Helena and Carl Fredrik went their separate ways in 1845. Each apparently married someone else.
Many countries — including Sweden — no longer prohibit marriage between cousins. In the United States, the decision is left to each state. A website, http://cousincouples.com/?page=states, shows the states evenly split between those that allow cousin marriage and those that prohibit it.
In Minnesota, “Cousin marriages (are) allowed only if permitted by aboriginal culture of the couple.”
(Who knew there was a significant aboriginal population in Minnesota to warrant this legal exception??)