Thursday, May 2, 2013

Taking Stock of Stockholm

by Jeanne Rollberg

Greta Garbo. Ingrid Bergman. Alfred Nobel. August Strindberg.  If you know these names, then you may already know a little something about historic Stockholm, Sweden.
Stockholm and Swedish-American immigration and culture have always been intertwined closely because so many Swedes emigrated to America from places like Gothenburg and Stockholm, the Swedish capital.
By about the 1900 era from which SweAme seeks to document American Swedish families, beautiful Stockholm was the only place in the world that had more Swedish inhabitants than Chicago, America’s largest-population Swedish City. 
Stockholm connections for your family?
Chances are that some of your Swedish relatives, even those who grew up in rural areas of Sweden, lived there at one time before leaving for the United States.  Have you checked Stockholm's Roteman database  that features population records from 1878 to 1926? You can at least get some background and a start here, putting in as much information as you know about your Swedish ancestors.
Stockholm cultural highlights
Since Stockholm has served as the capital of Sweden since 1436, the island city that still houses Swedish royalty has influenced all of Swedish culture in various ways. That means that it affected Swedish-American folkways of our ancestors, too. It is a highly walkable and clean city, and is noted for the venue of the ceremonies connected to prizes established by Alfred Nobel in 1901. You can visit the Nobel Museum.
Here, in steep Old Town (Gamla Stan), by walking in the footsteps of generations of Swedes back to the 13th century, you can begin to feel the essence of Swedishness. There is much beauty in the well-preserved churches, and many of the buildings are originals from hundreds of years ago when our ancestors lived in Sweden.   
It was to Stockholm that many of our ancestors fled when times got hard in the countryside. There they learned dressmaking, tailoring, railroading, glass making, and some of them even became indentured servants as they left Sweden to pursue farming in the citrus industry in Florida. Because of similarities between Stockholm and San Francisco and New York City, many Swedes emigrated to California and New York in addition to Chicago, enriching our cities.
Our Swedish history for urban and rural Swedes in Stockholm
If you’re interested in Swedish culture and art, you will be able to see the art and culture enjoyed by your ancestors at close to 100 museums in Stockholm.  And if your ancestors were seagoing Swedes, as many were, you can see the Vasa Museum there in particular. It is described as the museum with the most visitors in all of Scandinavia.
If your family’s Swedes hailed from the rambling countryside, though, you can see the kinds of homes they lived in and what their daily life was like by visiting Skansen – the oldest open-air museum in the world.
As we expand and enhance the family trees at SweAme,  we may remember with pride that it was only 18 years after the Mayflower arrived that the first documented Swedes came from Stockholm to set up a Swedish colony in Delaware. In many ways right from the beginning, Stockholm and America have always been one.  As Swedish statesman Dag Hammarskjold said about the importance of taking chances, “Never look down to test the ground before taking your next step; only he who keeps his eye fixed on the far horizon will find the right road.
Jeanne Rollberg (


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