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Inside Sweden: Swedish ancestors, history and citizenship

Emma Löfgren
Emma Löfgren - [email protected]
Inside Sweden: Swedish ancestors, history and citizenship
A photo of Swedes in Minnesota in the late 19th century. Photo: PrB/TT

The Local's editor Emma Löfgren writes about the biggest stories of the week in our Inside Sweden newsletter – and also this week, readers share the stories of their Swedish roots.



On August 13th 1894, my great great grandfather, Israel Gustafsson, left his family and northern Swedish home to board a ship to Australia.

A month later he arrived, but what happened next, no one knows. He was supposed to have returned back home, but never did.

Did he board the ship back to Europe, but died at sea? Did he simply decide to stay?

He was in any case not alone. More than a million Swedes like him left the country around this time, to escape poverty, starvation or religious persecution, or even just to find work and improve their prospects.

Most of them emigrated to North America, a lot of them famously settling in Minnesota.

Three of The Local's reader David Curle’s eight great grandparents were among them.

They moved from the region of Småland in the 19th century, just like Karl-Oskar and Kristina in Swedish author Vilhelm Moberg’s novel The Emigrants.

Elof and Betty Swanson (or Svensson as he was born) were born in different parts of Småland in 1865 and 1873 and met in Worthington, Minnesota, in the 1890s, David tells me in an email.


Three of Elof’s siblings, and some of his nephews, also emigrated, but three of his brothers stayed in Sweden. Betty emigrated as a child with her entire family – her parents and eight siblings.

“Elof’s and Betty’s parents have several hundred descendants in the US and Sweden. I have managed to track down many of them but are still working on it. Most people in the US (but not all) have completely lost contact with Sweden over the years,” writes David.

He has however stayed in touch with his Swedish heritage, including living in Sweden between 1987 and 1992 after meeting a Swedish woman whom he later married. Today they live in Minnesota, but travel to Sweden at least once year, where their 25-year-old son now lives.

Betty and Elof Swanson, David Curle's great grandparents. Photo: Private

David is one of several members of The Local who emailed me when I asked readers with Swedish ancestors to share their stories, following our editorial team’s chat on the Sweden in Focus podcast about Allt för Sverige, an entertainment TV show by public broadcaster SVT in which a group of Americans travel to Sweden to track down their Swedish roots.


Steven Jordan, who now lives in Sweden himself, is another one.

“I’m from the US, and until moving to Sweden, I never really thought much about my Swedish ancestry. I only knew from my father that there was someone Swedish back a few generations,” he writes.

He got help from his grandmother, a former genealogy researcher, to find out more, and discovered that his closest “full” Swedish ancestor was Sven Duner, who was born outside Chicago in 1892. He was the child of Johan Duner and Selma Hansdotter who emigrated from Örebro in 1890, and like many at the time changed their names to the more American-sounding John Duner and Selma Hanson.


Steven’s family tree can, maybe, be traced back to the 11th century King Canute IV of Denmark.

“Is it possible that either a genealogy centre worker, or a Swedish bureaucrat 500 years ago made a mistake? Of course. But just in case it is true, I’ll continue working on a plan to reclaim my rightful lands of Denmark and southern Sweden,” he jokes.

Sven Duner, on the University of Illinois basketball team. Photo: Private

Another reader, Paul Nelson, has been learning Swedish via the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis to stay in touch with his Swedish roots.

He writes that he grew up with many Swedish traditions and foods, and his sons are trying to pass on the traditions to their children, too.

“My grandparents (mormor and morfar) emigrated to the US in 1898 and 1904 from Kristvalla in Småland. My father’s family goes back another generation. My great grandfathers emigrated from Broby and Glimåkra in Skåne in 1869 and 1880,” he reveals.

“Because of time and cessation of contact I do not know any relatives in Sweden although Ancestry notes many 3rd and 4th cousins living there.”

One of Paul Nelson's granddaughters dressed up as a Swedish Lucia. Photo: Private

Many thanks to everyone who shared their stories, and I hoped you all enjoyed reading them.

I also recommend this essay by Anita G Gorman, another reader of The Local, about what it was like for her Swedish ancestors to grow up in what was at the time a relatively poor Sweden.


In other news

Swedish broadcaster SVT recently aired the first episode of its high-profile new series on Swedish history and racists aren't happy about it, The Local's Paul O'Mahony discovered this week.

Sweden’s parliament approved the government’s bid to slightly tighten the immigration requirements for some family members of foreign residents, which will now come into force on December 1st.

Applicants for Swedish citizenship need to have been living in Sweden for a certain amount of time in order to qualify. We answered a reader’s question about when your time spent in Sweden start to count towards citizenship (when you arrive, when you get a job, or when you get residency?).

The city authorities in Luleå in the far north of Sweden have launched a campaign to encourage its citizens to say hello to one another a little more often. I’m pretty sure we were the first to cover this story, at least I haven’t seen any mention of it in the Swedish press – but am I the only one to think it is a little bit amusing and odd that an official campaign is needed just to get people to say hi?

As excitement mounts for Eurovision in Malmö next year, many are thinking about where they should stay, how much they should budget, and how to avoid scams. Here's The Local's guide for visitors to the southern Swedish city.

This heartwarming story from Gothenburg was one of my favourite stories this week.

Thanks for reading and Happy Novent,

Emma Löfgren

Editor, The Local Sweden 

Inside Sweden is our weekly newsletter for members that gives you news, analysis and, sometimes, takes you behind the scenes at The Local. It’s published each Saturday and members can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to your newsletter preferences.


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