I grew up in a small family - just my parents, an older sister and myself. Since both my parents were only children, there were no aunts, uncles and cousins to spend time with, and nobody to tell us the old family stories.
We did have grandparents - a grandmother and step-grandfather on my mother's side that we were very close to, and my dad's parents, whom we only saw occasionally. Neither my sister or myself can recall our parents ever speaking much about their families - little mention was made of their childhood, or any memories of their grandparents. On a few occasions my mother would speak of her grandmother, and the stories she told left me with the impression of a very strict woman. My mother's parents were divorced when she was quite young, and she was basically raised by her grandmother. Her father moved to California, and she seldom saw him, and we never knew him as a grandfather.
My parents, Stanley Valentine Johnson and Marjorie Louise Blackburn, on their 60th anniversary, June, 1994
Around 1992 my mother started doing and saying things that were completely out-of-character for her, and was subsequently diagnosed with
Alzheimer's Disease. She lived 600 miles away from me, but whenever I saw her I would try to get her to speak of her past. Years before she had written limited information about both her ancestors and those of my father, so I would encourage her to speak of those people and places. With the few scraps of information I had, I was able to find quite a bit, and even connected with some distant cousins in the process.
Left, my mother's grandfather, Arthur Dettmann and right, her grandmother, Emma Grossmann - both c. 1885-1890
My mother's family was made up Germans on her maternal side - the HERBST and the DETTMANN families from the Mecklenburg-Schwerin area in Germany, and the GROSSMANN family from the Baden area. Surnames on her father's side were BLACKBURN, originating in County Armagh, Ireland, and the SWAN and MC CANN families. I have only uncovered limited information on the Swan and McCann connection, but it is believed the McCann family came from Ireland, possibly County Cork, and the Swan family originated in England.
There were certainly fewer surnames in my father's family tree, but both his parents were first-generation Americans, with the extremely common Swedish names of JOHNSON(Johansson, Jonsson, and Jonasson) and ANDERSON(Andersson). Rather like looking for "Smith" and "Jones" here in the United States. I was able to get death certificates for my grandparents, and from there found their parents names. I contacted The Swenson Center, Augustana College, in Rock Island, Illinois, and they were able to provide me with some basic information from Chicago church records, and immigration records.
I then started checking out some various sources of Swedish records on my own, with much difficulty. Not knowing a word of Swedish made the going very slow. I was able to access some Swedish church records, on-line, and with the help of various mailing lists and message boards was able to get additional information. Going to various websites of towns, cities and counties in Sweden proved to be very beneficial. Several times I emailed either a contact name on the site, or the webmaster, and asked if they could direct me to somebody who would be able to assist me in my research.
I got extremely lucky and was able to find a lot more information. One of the people I ended up making contact with was so helpful, and made several trips to the Archives and provided me with lots of information, going back several generations. When we made our trip to Sweden he met us and drove us around for a whole day, showing us places that my ancestors had lived, worked and worshiped.
For more pictures of my family click on the photo below:
My Family, Past and Present
Rhio Gillis Graphics