Talle Svenska?  Ney…..

bookMany of my blogging buddies have hung up  “Gone Fishing” signs and closed comments until September which means they had the good sense to shut down for the month and either work on a novel that’s been suffering from terminal bloggerhea, or maybe, just maybe, they’re actually on vacation.

I wish I’d done the same but alas my head got stuck on another planet. I decided since I’d spent three whole years studying German, which shares its roots with Swedish, it would be no sweat to translate The Letters from Sweden, sender unknown that I talked about in a post a few weeks back.  All I needed was a Swedish/English dictionary! Easy Peasy, hey? 


Inte satsa på det ! (Don’t bet on it)

At the library I was disappointed to learn there aren’t many people in my small town with the urge to learn Swedish. There was only one Swedish/English dictionary. One! However there were books on Amharic, Gujarati, and Slovene – languages I’ve never heard of, have you?

Undaunted I checked out the one book and hurried home, confident that the secrets of the letters were about to be revealed.   


Lovely lettering but what does it say?

Lovely lettering but what does it say?

The problem, as you can probably tell, is deciphering the handwriting. The letters were probably written by three different people – all of whom undoubtedly received straight A’s in penmanship two hundred years ago – but I couldn’t tell their a’s from their e’s  which meant I had to guess.  And I’m not very good at guessing.

After several word by word attempts I realized you can’t translate word by word because the meaning of so many words changes depending on how they’re being used.  So I decided to attempt an entire passage and see if Google could make any sense out of it.  This method is rather like speaking in tongues but I was getting desperate. 

The letter below had the clearest handwriting and so I selected the second sentence, the one that begins “Du skribner,” for my little experiment.  I chose this one because I knew the word “skrib” meant “write” so at least I had some idea what the sentence was about.  Letter_0003

Here’s the result of my effort:

Du skribner att ni amnar att visa fron den platoon fom vi ar men vi tysken att mikar gerna blifrader mi an ack inte olag ga negra . . . 

Here’s what Google came up with:

You write that you intend to display from 
Pluto we are but we German to pickups 
willingly and not illegally.

“What does it say?”  My mother (who’d been waiting anxiously for proof of her oldest child’s brilliance) asked. 

“Well, I think your grandfather asked his in-laws to do something illegal so that he could display evidence that the family was from Pluto.  Apparently it is illegal in Sweden to reveal that you’re a Plutonian.”  

“Don’t you go writing anything nasty about the family!” 

“Who me?  Nah!”

My next brilliant idea was to “read” through the other letters looking for proper nouns that might reveal at least where they were from. A couple of the letters contained the word “Herran,” so I googled “Herran Sweden.” 

“Do you mean Herrang?” was the response. 

WTF I thought.  Maybe I meant Herrang. 

According to Wikipedia Herrang is a town with a history of industry and mining located on the northern coast of the county of Stockholm. Although the population is only in the 400s, it does have one claim to fame.  It’s the site of the largest Lindy Hop dance camp in the world.  The Herrang Dance Camp.

I must confess I had no idea what Lindy Hop was so I hopped back to Wiki and asked.  Here goes:


Pretty wild, hey?  Apparently this dance is a cousin of the breakaway, the Charleston and the Texas Tommy and got its start in Harlem, New York in the late 1920s or early 1930s. It was apparently named after Lucky Lindy (Charles Lindberg). I must admit it looks like fun.LIndyHop

So what have I learned?  Well, at least my ancestors knew how to read and write although what they had to say, I may never know!


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?