onsdag, oktober 04, 2006


My parents took this photo last month at a fjord in Norway. I love that shot.

Maybe it's the distance in the photo that reminds me of emigration. It's hard to believe that so many Scandis left these incredible vistas and fields for America, but then you read their letter archives and you find out just how difficult life in that landscape could be and how tied to family they all were, so that when one left, another might, and the more who emigrated, the more crushing it was to remain.

We have a fascinating collection of family letters and photos from Sweden and the early days in the United States. To read the Ahlgren family's correspondance about life back in Sweden and life here in America (Rockford and Chicago, Illinois, mainly), to read the intrigues within the family and all the longing is like a good soap opera: there are debts, deaths, warnings about love, hope and despair. People have last names like "Asp." Depression strikes. Joy cannot be contained. Etc.

Some character background might be of use--such as Carolina is the fun-loving daughter who runs off to Stockholm and leaves debts--but I'll fire away with a letter instead. I think the most beautiful line in this letter begins, "I keep looking towards the forest...."


Letter dated 27 November 1887
From: Johanna Ahlgren, Gärdslöv, Sweden
To: Maria Ahlgren and Mathilda Ahlgren Hanson, Rockford, Illinois
Translated by Berit Nightingale

November 27, 1887

Dear beloved sisters,

First of all, I want to thank you for your letters. The reason we waited with the answer is [that] we expected to hear from Wilhelm [their youngest brother] first. He is in Malmö [working] as an apprentice for a carpenter—Högstedt. He lives in the house where Justina is working, Södergatan 19, and he is very happy about his employment. We are all healthy but I have had a terrible toothache.

Everything is as usual. Old Lundgren is working around here, but Father had to go to a funeral for the fat Lars Larsson who is dead. Löfdal is also dead and buried. I have greetings from the Asps in Skurup. Their little boy is dead [and] Mrs. Asp is devasted and has been in bed ever since.

It is close to Christmas and we have two big fat Christmas pigs. You are welcome to a sausage meal! You cannot believe how empty and quiet it is [here]. I keep looking towards the forest, but no girls are coming, and I don’t get any letters from Carolina.

I am worried about her not writing. I sent two letters to her after she wrote to me, and last time she told me she has a fiancé, and she had a wonderful time. I told her I was happy for her, but for God’s sake be careful and don’t get into bed! I don’t know if that made her angry, but she has not sent money to Mrs. Nilson for the fabric. It is a long time since she got her salary, and Father keeps muttering [that] it will be his problem eventually. I feel sorry for Father, and shame on Lina! You did not believe Olof got money from Svensson, Father got nothing—and that is not right! Olof could have paid Father for what he used, and he must have as much [money] now as he had before.

But now on to something else. How are you all? You did not [give birth] to little Ester on Father’s birthday, but my children are longing to see Aunt Mathilda’s little girl. This afternoon at sunset we were all talking about you. Hilma, Gustaf and I—we were so lonely!

Good night to you all.


The ancestral home of the Ahlgrens.

The site of the Ahlgren home, August 2005. This angle doesn't show the gorgeous colors in the fields. There was a long swatch of lavender or something of that sort. My parents returned a week or two later, dug down an inch in the soil, and found pieces of the home.
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