I’ve just finished complying the various genealogies, ancient documents and photos I inherited into one document and all I can say is: Don’t do it! Let some other poor relative take on the task of making sense of family history. It’s like opening a Pandora’s box. So hard to close.
It wasn’t so bad when I was writing about folks who lived hundreds of years ago but as I drew closer the present and began writing about people I’d met, no matter how briefly, it got painful. When I got to my parents, I just couldn’t do it. They lived, got married and died, the end.
I wish I could say I discovered many fascinating tidbits about my ancestors but alas, I didn’t. Probably the most amusing “find” was the official reason why my most famous ancestor, Deacon Samuel Chapin, was important to the colonial settlement that became Springfield Mass.
Yes, the appropriate seating of the “Goodwifes” on the Sabbath was apparently the only thing that kept law and order in the colonies! Heavens, you simply can’t have Goodwife Chapin “sitt in the Seate” alongside any other lady than Mrs. Glover, the minister’s wife. (Don’t ask me why some ladies are referred to as “good wifes” and others as “Mrs” because I do not know!)
Thanks to a wonderful blogger from Finland, The Snow Melts Somewhere , I did solve one mystery: What was in the Swedish Letters that my great-grandfather didn’t want to reveal to his daughter. From what Snow was able to decipher, Great Grandfather Nelson wasn’t trying to be cruel. He was trying to shield his daughter. She was only sixteen when her mother died. He probably felt she did not need to know the heartbreaking side of immigration.
2b. But before I write more, we would like to let you know that we have received the money that you sent us, 17 kronor and 65 öre, for which we now present you our heartfelt gratitude. And we think it is nice since it is in any case of an assistance to us old people. We always think it is fun to receive your letters but even more fun when you think of us with donations. But we can’t send you anything except for our loving thankfulness and we shall pray for you and for all our children, for you are all equally dear to Him. May He give you good health and blessings and may He keep you from sin, for sin is an abomination to God. Instead, God loves (us) and offers (us) everything and we will hope for Him to give you everything.
4a. And I cannot be alone. (…) It isn’t nice for me (…) but I must ask the Lord for good health. (…)
Johanna, she won’t be home with me more than yesterday, she can’t come home with me, she gets nothing from it. She can ask the master (?) to make a little bit more but she is young.
Now (.…) is having (…)+ (…) and growing, but we are having bad times here, I don’t ponder it much but I’ll take what I can++ 344 and death halves the hearth, my friend by my side, out of grief (…) I ask God (…), I am weak, save me from (…)+++
…parents, children gone away… so empty, watch out for the soul’s wellbeing…
To families left behind in the mother country, hearing from children who have traveled thousands of miles from home to achieve a better life must have been bittersweet indeed. I’m sure they were proud to know that their children had found communities to be a part of and did well enough to send money home. But the cost, from these letters, was very high.
Thanks again to Snow for helping me solve the mystery and giving me more appreciation for my great grandfather’s struggles.