Letters in Swedish . . . author unknown

After taking a break to ponder the delights of gibberish, I’m back to pulling skeletons out of the family dirty laundry hamper.  Perhaps I’ll find an even more illustrious ancestor than Deacon Samuel Chapin!  What do you think?Letter_0004

This is one of fourteen letters which were written in the late 1800s to my great grandmother, Nellie Nelson, from someone in Sweden (supposedly . . . we do not have the envelopes to prove this fact).  Nellie died after many years of ill health when her daughter (my gram) was only fifteen years old. After her mother’s death, Gram’s father, who must have been a dour old poop, refused to translate them for her.  He refused to even tell her who they were from.  His stance was “good riddance to old rubbish” and apparently Sweden and every thing Swedish and every one of their Swedish family and friends were old rubbish. Letter_0011

The only clues I have are the notes in my grandmother’s handwriting on the top of a couple of the letters, conjuring up the heartbreaking image of a young girl kneeling beside her mother’s deathbed hoping to learn something about her heritage. Probably while her father was out of earshot.   Letter_0007

Although she had little idea what was in them, Gram cherished these letters her entire life as my mother does now. Today they are very brittle, falling apart in my fingers as I put them on the scanner.  Paper that old should probably be handled by an expert and not someone as klutzy as me but time is of the essence, at any point they could be lost or turn to dust.  


The one above seems to be in a different hand, meaning that more than one person sent Nellie Nelson a birthday wish or wrote to tell her of family events.  However, the only thing I can glean from these fossils is that Nellie’s real name was Pettrunella Johansson (no wonder she went by “Nellie”). What will happen when I do find someone to translate them?  Do I really want to know the secrets they contain or do I want to assume they were filled with cherished stories from the old country?

22 thoughts on “Letters in Swedish . . . author unknown

  1. Beautiful handwriting–it’s like artwork, Jan. And how marvelous that you have these precious relics.
    I agree with some of your other readers, I’d have to find out and get them translated.
    You could always ask Rob to take a peek at them. He might be able to give you a glimpse. (although he’s English, he does live in Sweden and speaks the language)
    Might be worth a shot.

  2. Thanks Shelley – I’ve been told they’re written in an archaic version of Swedish so I’ll probably have to contact the embassy or go over to the university. But we’ll see!

  3. That will be exciting if and when you can get the letters translated. I have my grandpa’s diary that he kept when he was a prisoner of war in Germany during WWII. It was in English and I transcribed it for a research methods course. I really should send it in to a veteran’s magazine.

      1. The experience definitely impacted him in many ways, most negative, but he was still always a great storyteller. When he passed away, I was honored he wanted me to keep the diary.

  4. I speak Swedish but can’t really make out the writing that well, plus it’s old language. The first line is “Dear children and grandchildren, stay well” (or “I hope you are well”)… Did you get them translated already? Old letters are fascinating. I can see your poor mother trying to decipher it before it’s too late…

  5. (Or: “Dear child and grandchild”, it could be singular or plural. My grandmother, as a little girl, used to receive clothes by mail to Finland from relatives in the States and so she was dressed differently from everyone else and they thought she was a bit posh, hahah. At some point in your letters, the author seems to be thanking the recipient for something they sent in a previous letter.)

    1. Wow – thanks! I sent scanned images of these letters to the University of California’s Nordic Language Department and they couldn’t translate them. They suggested I send them to an institute in Stockholm that studies old languages and they couldn’t translate them (they said it was the handwriting) They did tell me that language was most likely Sami. So you did a lot better than all those experts! Made my day.

      1. Sami!!! How odd. The first letter is definitely Swedish. Maybe there was a Sami one amongst them? Sami is nothing like Swedish. But I agree, the handwriting is very difficult, along with the fact that it’s a bit faded.

      2. Also: “You, Nelli, can believe me, I am so sad about our beloved mother, for I miss her, she was always so kind but now she is gone (something here I can’t read). Johanna, she is very kind towards me” (the punctuation is actually missing)

      3. The last letter in your post begins with something religious about God and grieving and it ends with her asking how the recipient is living, renting or owning the house… (This is fun, I’m a nerd, I know!)

      4. If you want to send the scans to me, I can try and see if I can piece some parts together, just for fun (if there is nothing secret there and you don’t mind showing them). It’s like a language riddle!

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