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Swedish-American genealogy becomes Augie staffer's life
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Photo: Paul Colletti
Jill Seaholm sits with a photo of her great-grandfather, Anders Peter Lindstrom -- one of her Swedish ancestors.


Jill Seaholm's Swedish heritage is more than a study in genealogy; it's her life.

"Being 100 percent Swedish-American is not that common anymore, and it's all I know," said Ms. Seaholm, head of Genealogical Services at Augustana College's Swenson Center.

"I always say that I was raised by 'extreme' Swedish-American parents. They did genealogy when I was too young to be interested, and they found living Swedish relatives. Our parents took my brother and me on a family trip to Sweden when I was 14, and that broadened my horizons forever."

Ms. Seaholm's family honored Swedish and Swedish-American traditions in the foods they ate at Christmas, Christmas ornaments and knickknacks they had around the house. Her mother listened to a lot of Swedish choral music, and the family attended a local church founded by Swedish immigrants.

"They left me with the strong tie that they re-established with relatives in Sweden, many of whom I now see daily on Facebook."

Her heritage led her to study Swedish at Augustana and become a Scandinavian studies major. She studied Swedish a bit in Sweden and had a work internship at a Stockholm hotel. She has traveled back several times to visit relatives and friends.

It was her mother's volunteer work at the Swenson Center that led her to work there as a student and eventually led her to her present job, where she can help connect Americans to living Swedish relatives.

"My Swedish heritage has become the background music of my life, as I seek out Swedish music on the Internet, watch Swedish mysteries and other movies online, etc.," she said. "When my husband and I started dating, I learned that he was 1/8 Swedish, and I immediately ran with that and tracked down living relatives for him."

Through her work at Augustana, colleagues and people she's met, including Swedish foreign ministers, ambassadors and the King and Queen of Sweden, she has been able to see the more academic side of Swedish immigration and imagine how her ancestors fit into the theories and statistics.

Ancestors on both sides of her family came to the United States in the mid-1800s. Like the majority of Swedish immigrants, they were poor and looking for a better life.

"Tired of this payless job (if work could be obtained), as well as the dark outlook for the future, my father and grandfather decided, together with their families, to emigrate to the much talked about America," Ms. Seaholm's great-grandfather, the Rev. Andrew Peter Lindstrom, wrote in his memoirs, which were translated by his daughter, A.L. Lindorff.

The 11-week voyage to the "land of plenty" landed the family of 10 in New York on Sept. 16, 1852.

"Both food and money were gone, and with empty hands and stomachs we had to watch the inhabitants brag of the land's plenty," Rev. Lindstrom wrote. "The needs of our bodies were not therewith provided, although occasionally someone would feel sorry for us and give us a little temporary help. This was our only means of existing until we got further inland."

The family received a free ride in a freight car to Chicago where they lived for free in the old Fort Dearborn. Eventually, they moved to St. Charles where his father found work and was paid 37.5 cents per day.

Rev. Lindstrom's memoirs are rich in family history, as well as the economic and sociological growth of his family's new homeland.

Throughout his journal, Rev. Lindstrom writes of establishing new churches and the trials endured, as well as life's joys and accomplishments. During his lifetime, he left his mark in Muskegon, Mich., Chandlers Valley, Penn., and New Windsor and served on the board of the Children's Home in Andover.

It was likely in Andover where his family became acquainted with the Gustaf Fair family, Ms. Seaholm's great-great-grandfather on her father's side of the family. The Fairs were active members of the Lutheran church there, attending what now is the Jenny Lind Chapel.

When the congregation outgrew the small chapel, plans were made for a new church.

In a letter to family in Sweden, Mr. Fair wrote, "It will cost at least $20,000, and everything has to come as free-will gifts within the congregation."

Just as they did when they built the chapel, they decided to use their own materials, and each person was required to donate one day of brick making to prepare for building the church.

"Two hundred thousand bricks have been formed this summer, but another 300,000 will be needed and will be made next summer," Mr. Fair wrote.

The 125-by-60 feet church was completed in 1870 and still stands today. The chapel and church are not only a part of her history but a significant part the history of the Swedish-American church and the area.

For more information, visit augustana.edu.

Sweden
-- Location: Northern Europe, bordering the Baltic Sea, Gulf of Bothnia, Kattegat and Skagerrak, between Finland and Norway.

-- Population: 9,103,788 (July 2012 estimate). No. 92 in the world.

-- Languages: Swedish (official), small Sami- and Finnish-speaking minorities.

Source: CIA World Factbook.




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