Johan Erik Eriksson

I’ve been re-researching my primary ancestry for a few months. I hadn’t realized that had the Swedish church books until this fall. The husförhör, or household examination, books are amazing treasure troves of information. Every year the clergy would record the residents of every household in their parish, their birthdates, their marriages, their deaths, and their catechism. It’s better than a census, because people were recorded every year.

I’ve known my Swedish family tree since I started. My starting documents were pages of pedigree charts documenting the family back to the 1400s and even the 1300s in some cases. But these aren’t primary documents, obviously, but they do provide a good outline that makes it easy to find people in the church books, which are primary documents. I’ve also had the use of an index to the church documents that was made by the Piteå genealogical society. It only covers the Piteå river valley, but it’s not like my forebears were moving a lot like their American descendants.

Today I was looking at my third great grandfather, Peter Anton Nordvall. He was born 5 Aug 1841 in Håkansön to Jonas Persson Nordvall and Christina Isaksdotter. I easily found him in the birth register, the death register, and the marriage register. And I’d previously found his brother Per Magnus Nordvall, born 7 years before him. Per only lived about 8 months.

Husförhör for Jonas Pehrsson Nordvall and Christina Isaksdotter

But the husförhör showed something I didn’t know. Peter had an older half-brother named Johan Erik. He never showed up in my searches of the index because he didn’t have the Nordvall last name. I’d searched for children of Jonas Nordvall and Christina Isaksdotter using various spellings of their names. But since his father wasn’t Jonas, I never found him under any combination.

The husförhör has a Johan Erik in the household, and it gives his date of birth. From that, it was easy to find his birth record. He was born in 1830 to Christina Isacsdotter, three years before Christina married Jonas. He went by the name Johan Erik Eriksson in later records, which probably means his father was named Erik. The birth record doesn’t name the father though, which means I am going to have a much harder time figuring out who he is.

And now I have a whole new branch to research.

The benefits of web-based genealogy

Last summer after I decided against using Geni or as primary storage for my genealogical data, I had to figure out what I was going to use. There’s a number of desktop applications, some free or shareware, and some paid. I looked at a couple, and decided against them. They might have been good, but I wanted a web solution so my data would be in the cloud so to speak.

My main reasoning for that was simply for crash protection reasons. Making sure my local hard drive is backed up has always been a pain in the ass, and with every crash I invariably don’t have something backed up. The secondary reason is that I could work on my genealogy from any computer, rather than having to bring my laptop with me, or having to bring data back to a desktop.

I eventually settled on PhpGedView as the software I’d use on the web site. It’s open source, I can fix broken things if I want. I doubt I would ever do a major overhaul, but little changes here and there I can do. PhpGedView is pretty mature, but hasn’t had any major developers pushing new features for a couple of years. Unless someone takes it up, that does mean I’ll probably eventually switch to something else.

I’ve figured out an additional benefit in the last couple of months though: Google Analytics. I’ve used Google Analytics for years to track visitors and pageviews on my blogs. I added a profile for the genealogy site and started tracking there too. I can see the keywords that bring people to the site. I can see what people and families in my tree people are looking at.

The thing is, if you are looking for someone in my tree, you are probably related. That’s not a guarantee, because my tree includes in-laws as well. But I can filter those out.

A couple of examples: Last month, I started seeing a lot of hits on the Troeller branch of the tree from computers in Alaska. I had a good guess as to who they were because I’d entered in that branch just a few weeks earlier. A couple of days later, I got email from them asking if I would give them full access (information about living people is blocked unless the viewer has an account), which I did. They’ve since fleshed out a few of the details I didn’t have for that branch.

Yesterday, I noticed a big spike in traffic to the Nordvall portion of the tree, starting with my great-grandmother’s brother Fritz Arvid Nord (he shortened the name from Nordvall). That traffic is coming from Marysville. I’m willing to bet that whoever is doing the looking is a grandchild or great-grandchild of Fritz’. I’m really hoping they contact me as well, because I don’t actually have a lot of information on Fritz’ kids.

But the thing is, now I know that someone out there is descended from him, and is local. That’s actually a pretty big help.

It also means I really should make a point of calling my grandmother’s cousin in Shoreline to pump her for information. For all I know, she may continue to be in contact with that branch of the family.

Genealogy starting point number 1

I have a few starting points for my genealogy. This isn’t actually the first starting point, but it’s the first I’m going to write about.

Last year, Gram and Gramps handed a package of papers to me. They wanted to make copies or scan them into the computer. It was a bunch of stuff related to Gram’s family in Sweden. It’s really a mixed bag. Some of it was Gram’s own notes. Some of it was some pedigree trees and family group sheets for the Nordvalls (her mother’s side of the family). One was a poster sized pedigree tree for the Omans (both her mother and father’s side of the family). They gave me some other stuff later on, but that was the start.

This is one of the Nordvall pedigree trees. The other trees continue people from the top of this one. It’s for Johan Anton Nordvall, who was Gram’s uncle. I assume this was prepared for one of his kids or grandkids. These sheets are 1960s or 1970s era photocopies. The paper clip holding them was rusted even. The form is in Swedish, which is not surprising. Gram’s family is from Piteå, in northern Sweden.

The earliest in time these sheets go is around 1460, with Oluff Birkarl. That actually predates the history I have on the Hathaway side of my family, which I already knew about and which goes back to the late 1500s.

But here’s the rub, it may not be correct. How many people claim to be part Indian these days? Many of them aren’t making it up, even if it’s not true. It’s what their parents told them and their grandparents told their parents. Oral history has a way of getting munged. The same could easily be true for all this information, despite the precision of the dates.

In fact, one of these sheets has information I know is incorrect.

This portion of the tree, 10 generations back from me, has Elsa Jonsdotter-Rehn married to Hans Hansson and having a child named Johan Jönsson.

A quick history of Swedish names. Until the 1800s, most Swedes did not have a family surname. A surname in Sweden was a version of your father’s name. If you were the son of Erik, your last name was Eriksson. If you were the daughter of Lars, your last name was Larsdotter. Surnames did not pass multiple generations.

Like English, old Swedish spellings were flexible. I’ve seen Olof spelled multiple different ways. But while spellings were flexible, Johan Jönsson is probably not likely the son of Hans Hansson. Later sources I’ve found indicate that Johan Jönsson was the son of Elsa Jonsdotter Rehn and Jöns Tomasson. The rest of the tree could have similar errors.

In this case, I’m pretty sure this isn’t a case of family legend passed down badly. Rather, it’s probably a problem with someone trying to match children with parents in the records. With the Swedish naming system, there could be a lot of people with the same name, and Hans looked close enough. Or it was a transcription error. When genealogy is done by hand, it can run into many problems similar to family stories getting changed as they pass down.

But I didn’t know all this at the time. Nevertheless, it was a good starting point for what I was doing.