As I wrote earlier, I’ve got the genealogy/family history bug. I’ve had a fairly successful time putting together information on much of my family. I’ve learned which part of Germany the Jarchows (my Dad’s great-great grandparents) came from: Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. I’ve learned that my Mom’s great grandfather, James T. Frew – whose grandparents were born in Ireland – was struck by lightning as a kid. Englehart Widder, my third great grandfather, was born in Eppingen, Baden (a kingdom that later became part of Germany). I learned that one Friday night, after drinking too much moonshine, he slipped off his carriage seat and gave himself a concussion that led to his death a week later.
These are the sorts of stories I’m after; I don’t want to just know where my family lived and important dates in their lives, I want to know why, how, and with whom they did what they did. After all, it’s a great puzzle that spirals off into every direction. There is always more to find out, another branch to explore, more family history to uncover.
I wouldn’t generally consider myself a “puzzle person,” but this sort of puzzle has really gotten hold of my interest.
Lately I’ve been focusing on my Dad’s great grandfather and grandmother John Beckstrom and Ida Johnson, who came from Sweden. This pair has proven most difficult! I’ve spent much of the past week trying to put together facts with help from my Dad, my aunt, the library, and a large number of websites.
After following a series of clues, I think I may have at least some answers. Specifically, I think I may know where in Sweden my family came from: Halland County, more specifically the town of Tvååker and a place called Bengtsgård (“Bengt’s Farm”).
That said, I don’t have a solid chain of facts to back up that hypothesis… The trail gets strange between Sweden and the U.S.
At the very least, I’m pretty sure my family came from the southeast part of Sweden. I’m currently working on getting the kinks out of that fact chain.
In an effort to document how I arrived at this hypothesis – and to share with anybody who might be interested – I’ll share each step of my efforts so far in cracking this mystery.
So far the best, and perhaps only approach, is to start with what I know and move on from there. Here are some facts* I knew at the beginning:
- My great grandfather was named Herman Walter Beckstrom
- His dad was named John Francis Beckstrom
- John Beckstrom was born in Sweden
- Herman Beckstrom was born in Minnesota and died in December of 1973
Ok! That’s a place to start.
* even things I’m sure are “facts” can sometimes turn out to be false. Even strongly-held beliefs can be incorrect. Go figure!
First I scoured census records. I found a scan of the 1900 U.S. Census, which very helpfully gave me a bunch of great details: names, dates, address, and occupations (John is listed as “day laborer”). Here’s the 1900 Beckstrom home, via Google Street view:
Isn’t that cool!? That’s where they lived! Probably. I haven’t looked into whether the original house was demolished but just going by looks, I bet that house was around in 1900. Of course the picture wasn’t taken in 1900 but I still think it’s rad.
The Marriage License
More searching led to the marriage license of John and Ida.
So far this hasn’t turned up any additional information other than the Beckstroms might have been Baptist, and a part of the congregation of the First Swedish Baptist Church in St. Paul. I learned that it was established in 1873 (just a few years before the wedding in 1887) and its first pastor was John Ongman– which could certainly be an anglicized version of the “Jon Angemann” (sp?) in the marriage certificate. The church has gone through many changes since the 1880s, and is now known as Life Point Church. Obviously I’ve emailed them to see if they might have some records.
Back to the Census
The first, second, and probably third time I saw the 1900 census I ignored a big clue. After coming up empty investigating other routes, I suddenly noticed that other person among the Beckstroms: Charles Bans. He is listed as “cousin.” Wait.. cousin? Perhaps if I could learn about his family, that would lead to mine. After all… if Charles is a cousin of my great great grandfather, then… well hey, he is part of my family.
Ok, who is this Charles Bans person?
I found him again in the 1880 U.S. Census, this time living in Pepin, Wisconsin, with a bunch of other folks with the same last name. Here he’s listed as “nephew.”
In the census, both times I found him, Charles is listed as “Charles Bans.” I couldn’t find any mention of a Charles Bans the right age in any other documents. I switched gears and started looking into the other Bans folks. After all, they would be my family too!
At this point, here’s what I knew about this family:
- August Bans was born in April of 1828, got married in 1850, and immigrated to the US from Sweden in 1868
- Christene Bans was born in May of 1830, got married in 1850, and immigrated to the US from Sweden in 1868
- Anna Bans was born in April of 1860, immigrated to the US from Sweden in 1868, and lived with her parents in 1900
- The Bans family lived in Pepin, Wisconsin from at least 1870 until 1900
- Looking at the birthplaces of the children, Gustave (b 1858) and Anna (b 1860) were born in Sweden, Lena (b 1870) was born in Wisconsin. This suggests that the family moved from Sweden to Wisconsin between 1860 and 1870. This seems to match up with August and Christene immigrating in 1868
Also, going back over the 1880 census, farther down on the page, I found another family: Banson. Louis, Louisa, Charles, and Clara. All born in Sweden. Charles’ birth year matches “Charles Bans'” birth year of around 1860. I know it wasn’t uncommon for related families to live close to one another, even if their last names were spelled differently.
This is when I descended a rabbit hole of phonetics. I got flashbacks from my Spanish linguistics class in college.
I found August Bance/Bonce/Bans/Banse a few times, but sometimes his name was recorded as “Angus.” Looking closely at the actual (scan) of the document, I can see how somebody transcribed it as “Angus.” I was still pretty sure I was looking at “August.” I collected facts about the family,
I tried every combination of letters I could think of. I searched for bans, bants, bance, bonce, bahen, bahens, bands, bansen, bengtsen, bengtson, bents, banse, bone, banee, bance, bång, bengt… christine, christina, christa, kristine, kristene, kristina, kris, chris… august, aug, angier, angus, ankus, aukus… gustaf, gustave, gustaf, gust, gost… john, johan, johannes, johns, jons, jon… charlie, karl, carl, karles, karle…
And then I found them.
The Bengtssons come to Amerika
I knew I was looking for an August /Bans/ born somewhere around 1826-1828, and the census helpfully gave me his birth month of November. When I finally found the right combination of letters, words, and search terms, I found a huge clue: a record of the family leaving Sweden and heading to America.
It doesn’t take too much creativity to imagine Johan becoming John, Kristina Sofia becoming Christene Sophia, or Bengt Gustaf becoming Gustaf Bengt Bans. The emigration year is right, the names are pretty dang close.
This could be it!
But if this was it, why was August’s birth year incorrect? Based on the censuses, he was born in April of 1828, not November of 1826. Was this a false lead, or was it simply a matter of human error in recording his birthday? Was it possible there was another family from Sweden with August and Kristina as heads of the household, with children Johan, Anna, and Gustaf, and a last name of Bengtsson/Bengtsdotter, whose birthdates mostly line up with the family I found in Wisconsin? And are they actually related to my great great grandfather?
I don’t know yet. The puzzle continues! Stay tuned.