Swedish Roots


John Olson and Mathilda Bredberg

Two family lines converged when these two young Swedish Southern Sweden immigrants met and married in Chicago. Although John and Mathilda came from very different places, they shared a common language, nation, and culture; perhaps, too, their reasons for emigrating were typical of their generation. Öland, the birthplace of John Olson, is shown off the coast on this map of Southern Sweden. Mathilda Bredberg's Västergötland spreads from the West coast up to the two great lakes.

JOHN OLSON was born Johann August Ossian Olausson (Olson) in 1871, on the island of Öland, off the southeast coast of mainland Sweden. The fifth child of Ole Magnusson and Stina Marie, he was a younger son of an extended family that had worked land in Öland for generations.

John Olson's - and our own Swedish family history -- springs from the land - particularly the piece of farmland known as Askelunda #3, in Alböke Parish of the North Mittlands. Ownership of the farm can be traced from generation to generation as far back as the 17th Century. Starting with one Jens Persson, the farm passed to his son, Lars Jensson, and then to Lars' daughter, whose husband Olaf Nilsson took it over. Their son Per Olafsson owned the property, but when he drowned in 1829, the land passed to Kjirsten Persdotter's husband Magnus Johansson, and another dynasty began. Askelunda 3, Oland  

Magnus Johansson was murdered, beaten with a rock, in 1840 (a crime unsolved for years until a neighbor's death-bed confession.) His death left a family of 3 daughters and 4 sons, but only one would inherit the land. Askelunda #3 passed to Johann Peter Magnusson, whose descendants still live and work on the land.

But what of the sons who didn't inherit? Our own family line comes down from Magnus's son Olagus, (Olaus, or "Ole") born at Askelunda in 1839, the year before his father's death by violence. Marrying Christina Nilsdotter, from Mönsterås across the sound, Ole raised a large family while working around the region, probably as a tenant farmer. From year to year they moved about, working mostly in the nearby Öland towns such as Föra, and Persnäs, where the first 3 children were born: Nels Alfred in 1862, Emma Christine in 1865, and Anna in 1866. ( Alice Ecklund Smith had an old photograph of the thatch-roofed farm cottage in Persnäs where her mother Emma Christine was born.) The rest of the family, like Alma born in 1868, was raised around the west coast fishing village of Äleklinta, including our own great-grand father, Johann August Ossian, born in 1871. In the succeeding years at least 5 other children were born and died in their infancy, until Olaus himself passed on in 1878.

Christina NILSDOTTER with Olaf Peter JOHANSSON, her 2nd husband, in Stockholm Within the year, in 1879, mother Christina had remarried to a cousin, Olaf Peter Johansson (a son of the aforementioned Johann Peter Magnusson), but conditions did not much improve for the family. As soon as they were able, the children found their own, often separate, ways. Anna married Nels Johannsson. (She would have four children and ultimately die , still a young woman, in childbirth.) Alma also married a man named Johnson and moved away. Emma Christine was typical of young unmarried girls as she worked for other farmers in the area. Throughout the country there was little opportunity for landless workers; population on the island far exceeded its resources, and emigration to America was seen by many as the best solution. In 1883, Nels Alfred, the oldest son of Olaus, was the first to leave, seeking his fortune in Minnesota. He was followed by Emma Christine the following year. Once they had established themselves in the United States, sixteen-year old Johann August Ossian, too, made his voyage to the New Land in 1887. His mother, the widowed and remarried Christina Nilsdotter, died in 1894, in Stockholm; she is buried along with her 2nd husband in Alböke Church cemetery. (Thanks to Kjell Oscarson and Mildred Gröndin for the original photos of Great-Great-Grandma Christina!)

  • OLSON FAMILY of CHICAGO: Descendants of John Olson and Mathilda Bredberg
  • OLSONS IN COLORADO: Nels Alfred Olson and Descendants
  • ECKLUNDS FROM MICHIGAN TO CHICAGO: Emma Christine Olson and Descendants

    ASKELUNDA #3 was also undergoing some changes. Sometime during Ole's lifetime, the actual buildings of old Hällen   Askelunda #3 were moved west a number of miles to their present location. This farm is known as Hällen. After Johann Peter Magnusson, the farm passed to his son Oscar Johannsson, who gave his name to the succeeding generations: His sons and grandchildren continued to use Oscarsson as the family surname. Although second-born Sven did not farm at Askelunda, his son Kjell Oscarson was able to buy the land and keep it in the family. Kjell's oldest son Peter also farms near the original Askelunda, keeping the tradition alive. Our Swedish relatives enjoy their bond with the land, taking pride in the ancestral buildings, (Kjell pointed out that the windmill at Hällen had burned and been rebuilt three times.) The scattered 21st-century family members can feel some sense of that connection to our Swedish past, knowing that our blood relatives continue to lead the cattle to pasture as our ancestors have done for many generations.


    THE ISLE of ÖLAND dangles off the southeast coast of Sweden, connnected since the 1970's to the mainland by a 7 km-long bridge. For all the millennia before - all through the time of our ancestors - the rocky isle stood isolated in the Baltic, 87 miles long, 10 miles narrow -- a land with few resources, at the mercy of the elements, and vulnerable to marauders from abroad. To the east was the open sea and foreign lands; to the west was an often equally disinterested and sometimes hostile Sweden.

    Oland Map Evidence has been found of occupation by stone-age and bronze-age people farming on Öland as early as 2500 B.C. Iron-age residents also eked out an existence, leaving remains of rocky villages, ship-shaped tumuli, and other grave sites. Circular stone fortresses were built to defend against invaders from elsewhere in Scandinavia, even after the island became part of the Swedish realm in the 9th Century. Viking-era runestones still punctuate the landscape.

    Öland was christianized in the 11th Century, and some of the medievel stone churches still stand. (As in the rest of Sweden, service in the old church of Alböke today is Lutheran.) During the Middle Ages the population suffered from the Black Plague among other scourges. Invaded by Denmark in 1361, ruled for a time by the Hanseatic League, Öland was ultimately wasted by Swedish rulers who from 1569 - 1801 exploited the entire island as an exclusive hunting preserve of the aristocracy. Abusive laws severely retarded development of the island's meager resources and residents suffered under the burden. Drastic changes were to come, but with unexpected results.

    In 1805 the population was about 20,000, but by the 1860's improved farming practices, with the help of government reforms, had increased the population to 37,000 - much more than the island could support. Crop failures in 1867-1868 had a devastating effect. (No wonder Great-great grandpa Ole was struggling from one farm village to another!) Part of the solution had to be emigration. Our great-grandparents' generation joined what was to become a flood of emigrants - more than 13,000 who left Öland over a 30-year period.

    The present-day Swedes who call Öland home must today tolerate a reverse-flow of that tide every summer, when two and a half million vacationers flock to the sunny beaches some 400 km. south of Stockholm. Tourism is the second-biggest industry, after agriculture. (Dairy farms like our cousin Kjell's Hällen are typical, but crops include strawberries, onions, potatoes and sugar beets.) In addition to a zoo and amusement park with water slides, there are other special attractions for the tourist: Borgholm Castle, a formidable royal fortress near the city of the same name; Solliden, the Royal Family's villa with its beautiful grounds; Eketorp, a reconstructed iron-age fort and village; and the Great Alvar, a thin-soiled, limestone plain of stark beauty, which like the Ottenby nature preserve attracts a multitude of migratory birds. The entire island abounds with unique flora and fauna, from the rocky promontories at land's end to the Mittland Forests. Of course nothing stirs the blood of a genealogist like seeing the gravestones of ancestors lovingly tended in a churchyard -- although the simple charm of Öland's windmills is quite a gratifying sight.


    MATHILDA BREDBERG   came from the land between the two great lakes of the Västergotland region. Her father Karl OLAFSSON had been born in 1827 in the village of Varv. Church at Varv, Karl Bredberg's Birthplace As a young man he must have taken the surname BREDBERG. (Men were encouraged to adopt these "soldier names" when they performed their compulsory military service, as the "patronymic" surname custom - e.g. Olaf's son or Ole's son - was becoming increasingly impractical for modern bureaucratic systems like the army.) Karl was thirty years old when he married Anna Stina JOHANNSDOTTER, who in 1830 had been born in the farm village of Acklinga. The new BREDBERG family grew as Karl worked year to year as a tenant farmer on several of the large estates near the city of Tidaholm.

    In January 1858 Johann August BREDBERG was born in Dimbo. The year 1859 found the family in Åsle , where Carl Frederic was born in November, followed by Augusta Vilhelmina in September 1862. By 1865, they had moved up to Thorsö, which in June was the birthplace of Axel Adolf. The next daughter, however, Anna Sofia, was born back in Åsle in September of 1868. They were still in Åsle in February of 1871 for the birth of our great-grandmother, Mathilda Eulalia Christine BREDBERG.

    That same year thirteen-year old Johann August died in Åsle. Throughout this time, we see Karl and his family farming portions of larger properties with names such as Svartorps Rote and Murtorps. For some years they leased a small farm known as "Backen" (The Hill - there are several of these in the area.) As the children grew older, they probably were "farmed out" to other households to help support the family. We know that Mathilda, for instance, worked as a house maid, or "piga" for a time at one of several "Nolgårdens", possibly the farm in Ekedalen. Mathilda also worked at the match factory in Tidaholm at a young age.

    Many Swedes chose not to endure the perilous factory work of that time. Throughout Sweden, economic conditions were harsh, agriculture barely supporting the population. The three oldest Bredberg children emigrated each in turn, Axel and Anne leading the way to Chicago, followed by Mathilda in 1893.

    Augusta BREDBERG stayed in the area, marrying Per Ecksted, and some of their descendants still live around Västergotland and other places in Sweden. One of their children, Edith, came to Chicago, married, and raised an American family. Karl Frederick was rumored to have a son in Stockholm in the 1980's.

    VÄSTERGÖTLAND   --   West Goth Land -- stretches from the coast, where Gothenburg is Sweden's second city, to the land between the lakes Vänern and Vättern (Europe's 3rd- and 5th-largest lakes). Karl BREDBERG and his family, however, confined their movements to a relatively small area west of the city of Tidaholm. Västergotland between the Lakes The exception is Thorsö, where Axel BREDBERG was born on a large island in Lake Vänern. Most of the villages of our ancestors are tiny farm communities at crossroads, separated from each other by wooded hills, rolling pastures, and green fields. In each place the old church has been restored and stands as a reminder of an ancient heritage as well as a place of worship. Karl BREDBERG's birthplace Varv, witness to ancient battles, lies peacefully below the lofty Varvsberget, the hilltop where hikers and bicyclists climb for the view. The churchyard in Åsle is lined with old tombstones, some of them carved with runic inscriptions, and tourists pay admission to visit restored 19th century cottages. Behind the church at Dimbo lies a bronze-age burial ground, overgrown with greenery, but criss-crossed with the footpaths of the townspeople.

    TIDAHOLM   was a hub of activity for some of our Bredberg ancestors, and has played a prominent role in the region's history. Built along the mostly-placid Tidan River, the Tidaholm smallholding in 1799 was granted railway operation rights and expanded its forge to take on four new blacksmiths. Soon, the town had become a flourishing industrial center with its own narrow-gauge railway. In 1868 the town's first matchstick factory started operating, and by the 1900's, Swedish Match had become the world's foremost matchstick producer. The town had grown from a few hundred souls to a population of about 5,000.

    The old forge , Tidaholms Bruk, produced not only all of the machinery used in the match factory; it also produced a world-renowned Tidaholm Special carriage with adjustable leaf springs for comfort. In 1903 production began of the Tor I automobile, the first of a long line of trucks, buses, fire-engines and other vehicles. Although auto manufacture did not survive the 1930's Depression, Tidaholm's industrial base remains vital; auto components and kitchen ranges are among the better-known products. And Vulcan/Swedish Match still operates as the only surviving matchstick factory in Sweden.

    Some of the city's history has been preserved on Vulcanön Island on the Tidan at the Tidaholm Museum, along with a school of lithography. Also nearby is the Turbinhusön art gallery, coffeeshop, and Sweden's only Lithography Museum. Sports, especially cycling, are popular local pastimes . A favorite recreational destination nearby is the Hökensås , a glacial mountain ridge along the western shore of Lake Vättern, where more than twenty lakes provide excellent sport fishing, and the trails lure summer hikers as well as winter ski trekkers.



    Further research into the Olson and Bredberg Families may take us further back in time, but I would like to locate and contact relatives from contemporary branches as well.




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