A Swedish descendant from America visiting Virestad parish

During Midsummer 2013 a very nice lady by the name of Jean Larson of Dallas, Texas, USA visited Virestad parish. She made a trip more than 8000 kilometers across the world, in her ancestral tracks, to see with her own eyes places where her roots are firmly rooted in the soil of Småland.

Jean’s great-grandfather’s name was Sven Larsson, and he was born in 1848 in Kateboda (then associated with Virestads parish). In 1870 Sven emigrated, like so many others, from the small poor Småland, to the great rich land of America, where opportunities to earn a living was so infinitely greater. Sven went first to Rockford, Illinois, and the following year his siblings went also. Peter and Nilla joined him in Rockford, Illinois. Sven and Peter earned their living as farm laborers for eight years in Illinois. They saved their wages to eventually be able to buy their own separate farms. in Maple Valley township, Buena Vista County,  Iowa.
In 1881 Christina Johnson, born in West Torsas, migrated to Buena Vista County, Iowa. She and Sven took a fancy and married shortly. Sven sold his first farm and bought, together with Christina, a new farm in Diamond township, Cherokee County, Iowa. At about the same time he renounced his allegiance to the Swedish king, and became a United States citizen.
Sven and Christina had four children, three sons and a daughter. The eldest son George became a farmer like his father. He had a farm in Aurelia, and he married a Swedish widow originally from Hestra. She already had two children, and together they had three more. Their son Orville abandoned his fathers’ occupation and became an accountant for the governement. His only child was his daughter Jean, who is now an avid genealogist and thus a third generation Swedish descendant.
After actively researching her family for over18 years, Jean decided she wanted to visit the places where her ancestors had been born and where they experienced their childhood. So went on a week-long guided group tour in Denmark and Sweden and remained in Scandinavia a few extra days for personal travel. Prior to leaving she researched household association web pages for parishes where her ancestors lived. She also contacted the Kronoberg Genealogical Association and asked for information about Virestad and Western Torsas. Ingegerd Johansson, from Kronoberg genealogical association, and Ylva Samuelsson from Virestad homestead society responded. She sought assistance for the additional days that she wanted to spend  visiting Virestad and Western Torsas. And since Ingegerd and Ylva themselves are dedicated genealogists, there was of course no doubt that this was something that we very much wanted to help with.
A detailed plan was made up for the three days that were available. All aimed so Jean would see both as much as possible of her ancestral home, but also that she would get a glimpse of ”today’s Småland.”

At noon on Midsummer Eve Jean arrived at Pensionat Björkelund in Stenbrohult. There she met Ingegerd and Ylva and the first item on the agenda was a visit to midsummer celebrations in Virestads Community Park. In America midsummer is not celebrated, so it was especially satisfying to show how Swedes celebrate this event, with midsummermast, folk dance team dances and costumes, girls with garlands in their hair, etc.. (Even the typical Swedish ”little frogs-dance” was of course performed, to Jeans delight.) We visited the cabins in the park so Jean could see what her ancestral homes may have looked like.

After midsummer celebrations, we were welcomed at the home of Hugo Magnusson and his wife Maj-Britt in Virestad. Hugo was born in Brommeshult, and it turned out he is a third cousin to Jean’s father!
He showed a photograph he had on his grandfather’s aunt’s son and his family, and Jean was pleased that she knew the photograph well. It was her great-grandfather with his family, and it is a copy of the larger picture that she has at home in Dallas. It was an exciting moment, and we could hear the ancestors echo across both centuries and continents. For Jean this must have been a special feeling, when the bonds so clearly were tied together.
The talk with Hugo and his wife was both enjoyable and interesting, and Maj-Britt served coffee and homemade cakes that tasted deliciously good on midsummer evening.

The next day, it was time for a tour along the byways around Virestad and Western Torsas. Ingegerd was well prepared and chose farms where Jean’s ancestors resided. First stop was Gottåsa old inn, then we visited the Kärr, Kull and Torsas village. In Torsas we visited the first chapel and looked for a headstone that may be related to Jean. Then we went to Torsas Sjögård, where we were welcomed by Ann-Kristin and Thomas Sjostrom who now own and occupy the beautiful old farm that has been in Ann-Kristin’s family for many generations. Even Ann-Kristin is distantly related to Jean, and it became a nice chat with the family before it was time to rush on to a lunch on Thurs farm in Lönashult.

After lunch we visited the memorial stone in Håldala, then we drove to Finnanäs where Jean’s grandfather’s mother Christina was born. Jean had her camera ready, and took pictures of all the farms we showed her. Of course, most of the houses are newly built or renovated since her ancestors inhabited them, but the Småland core is still there and can always be sensed.
Jean told an anecdote about how Swedes who moved to America felt about rocks even after they left Sweden. One of Sven Larsson’s sisters, Ingrid did not move to the United States but her daughter Signold did. She married Charles Nelson, from Western Torsas and they had four children. One day their two daughters wanted to build a ”rock garden”, ie a garden with rocks, in their yard. When Charles Nelson came home that day he told the girls to put the rocks back. He said he was from the rocky Western Torsas and did not want his daughters putting rocks in his yard. Since childhood he had to work himself weary removing all these miserable stones from the fields in Sweden.

Well, via Brommeshult and Hormeshult we came to Åbogen, and then the day was spent already so we ended the tour there.

Sunday began with a visit to two of Kateboda’s farms. In advance, we had contacted the current residents there, Per-Olof Johnsson and Stefan Salomonsson, and they had kindly consented to let us come and roam around the yard and take pictures. Unfortunately, the weather was not the best, but for Jean, it was obviously a good experience to finally see her great-grandfather’s birthplace. She turned up the jacket hood against the rain and photographed everything of interest. The house in Kateboda is certainly not the same anymore, but there are gateposts, root cellar, stone walls, and much more that looks like it could have been there since the late 1800s. Even some older farm implements, such as a scythe leaning against the barn, was photographed and discussed.

From Kateoda we continued the trek out to Tjurkö, Agunnaryd where Ingegerd offered a lunch of smoked sausage cooked the “Småland way”, in the wonderful environment of the beautiful old farm where she grew up.

In the afternoon we visited Massa Petterns earth hut in West Torsas. It is a well preserved poor man’s dwelling, which shows visitors how modern living conditions actually were like for the district’s less fortunate. On the way we stopped also, of course,in Grönhult and Stahult, two farms that often occur in a Western Torsas researchers ancestry.

The evening ended with a visit to Stenbrohults church, where this year’s Music Week had begun that  day. A visit to one of our beautiful churches, with a taste of our beautiful Swedish music thus rounded off American Jean’s visit to Småland. We hope she has had a fruitful stay in our wonderful countryside, and that she has taken home many wonderful memories from her ancestral homeland.

Please click on the pictures, to show them in a larger size.