Monday, April 11, 2016

A Tale of Two Traveling Books, Mystery Monday

Two books. One is off traveling and the other is safe in my genealogy office.

Dad’s book:
Earl Johnson, about 1944
Sometime in the early 90’s, I was digging through a box of old books that had just been purged from the library of the school in which I taught. As a book lover I was distressed by the quantity of books that had been slated for removal and destruction, in order to make room for more current reading material. I understand the need for updating school libraries but still felt the need to rummage through the outcasts. 

Among my finds was an old gray book about the US Merchant Marines. It was in my stack because my dad had been in the Merchant Marines during WWII. My thought was that it might make a nice gift for him as it had some nice old pictures of ships and men doing their jobs aboard them.

Around Father’s Day that year, I visited my parents in Missouri and casually presented the book to Dad. What I thought might be something interesting for him to look through on a rainy day got a greater response from him than I had expected. 

Inside, were pictures of the actual ship, off the coast of New York City, that he had trained on as a young man. He held on to that book for the rest of his life and once in a while, I overheard him showing it to someone or telling about that book and how I had found it.

About 2014, the book was lost during the clean out and selling of Dad’s condo a few months before he died. Likely, it was donated along with many of his other books.
I like to think someone has since picked it up at a used book store and it has continued its life somewhere else. Who knows? Maybe someday it will come back to me!

Mom’s book:
A few months ago, my dad’s sister, Helen, left a message asking me to call her when I had a minute. She sounded excited and said she had something interesting to share.

Vera Johnson, about 1951
When I returned her call, she told me about a Wichita neighbor who was moving and had given her some old books she couldn’t take with her. As Aunt Helen looked through them, she noticed something remarkable.

Opening the cover of author Helen MacInnes’ book, Rest and Be Thankful, she found the name of a previous owner, Miss Vera Dibbens, dated August 27, 1949. The name had been crossed out and updated with Mrs. Vera Johnson. This book had belonged to my mother when she was living in Kansas and before she married my dad!

I have no way of knowing how long ago the book left my mother’s possession. My parents moved away from Kansas for good in 1989 and she died in Branson, Missouri in 2004. 

Needless to say, the book is in my custody for now.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

John August Johnson - Part 5 - Epilogue - The Wish Fulfilled

John spoke often about his younger brother, Anders, back in Sweden. He wished for a day when his family could see the home and farm he had built. I don’t know when communication stopped between John and his family in Sweden but I do know he never got his wish. By the time we began looking for family, 100 years after John said goodbye to them in Sweden, too much time had gone by and the delicate threads we all know hold our family history together were broken.

Uncle Don (one of my dad's brothers) and I have looked for relatives in Sweden for years with no luck. I put everything we knew in my public tree on Ancestry and there it sat for many years. As I learned how to search Arkivdigital, the Swedish online database of old records, I added what I found. My tree was online for years and although it has been instrumental in finding many cousins on my mom's side, we never made any progress on the Swedish branches.

Meanwhile, in Jönköping, Sweden, an 86 year-old woman named Gunnel, often wondered what happened to the part of the family that had gone to America. Her grandfather, Anders Gustaf Johannesson told of a brother, Johan and a sister, Britta who had emigrated from Sweden to America in the 1869. She even had, in her home, Britta’s trunk which she had left behind when she emigrated.

Then, for Christmas 2012, Gunnel received an iPad as a gift from her children. As she learned how to use it, she decided she would try to find her family in America through
Anders and his wife, Amanda, (seated) at their home in Sweden. Gunnel’s mother, Svea, is in the background (center).

In April 2013, I received a message on from a woman in Jönköping saying that she thought we were related. I was very excited but also afraid of being disappointed, if I found out that it wasn't a match. After MUCH checking and matching of our information, I finally allowed myself to believe I was communicating with the granddaughter of my great grandpa's younger brother, Anders. I just about reached hero status for a while among my aunts and uncles and of course my own dad who has since died, just for having put the family tree on ancestry where it was found.                                    
Gunnel with the iPad she used to find me!
Once I knew I had relatives in Sweden, I had a great desire to go and meet them. Gunnel sent me pictures of the part of our family who had stayed in Sweden during the 2 years after we found each other. She also sent many pictures of their homes. My sister, Kris, and I began to plan a trip to Sweden last fall and it seemed to be the perfect retirement celebration for me, as I retired in the spring from 35 years of teaching. I emailed my cousin, Gunnel, with our plans and learned that she was very excited to meet us also.
It was the first visit to Sweden for Kris and I and we immediately felt as if we were home. We grew up in a very Swedish-American culture, so actually being in Sweden validated so much of our lives and childhoods in ways nothing else could. On our way to Jönköping, we visited the western and southern cities of Gothenburg, Ängelholm (to meet a Facebook friend) and Malmö. Then we were on to Jönköping and our family!

On a beautiful June morning we stopped the car in front of Gunnel’s home. Her youngest daughter, Marianne stood on the balcony waving to us. We were welcomed in for a formal fika (a special coffee break in Sweden) set on the dining room table. Gunnel, her daughters, Marianne and Ninni and their husbands, and Marianne’s son, Johan were there to greet us. It was a powerful feeling just to be there in Sweden with them.
Ninni, Gunnel, and Marianne at our welcome Fika.
Altogether, we met 14 relatives! Our cousins welcomed us with open arms and we felt very comfortable in their homes!  We stayed with Gunnel in her home and celebrated Midsommar with them in Gunnel’s son, Anders', home in Jönköping and again later in Dalarna. 

Christina, Gunnel, Christer and Shari looking at genealogy.

My Cousin Christina’s husband, Christer, is also a genealogist. He presented me with a large notebook containing his work on the history of the family; complete with color pictures of family groups and the inside of some of the homes!

Kris and Shari celebrating Midsommar’s Day in Jönköping.
They took us south of Jönköping to the town of Vaggeryd in Byarum Parish. We visited Plätt Farm where my great grandpa John August Johnson, and his younger brother, Gunnel's grandpa Anders, were born and raised. 

Before my trip I did some thinking about the gift I would bring Gunnel. She sent me many pictures of family homes and I wanted to bring her something that she would think was special. Then I remembered what my Uncles and Dad had told me many times. John’s wish for his family to see his Kansas home had gone unfulfilled. 

Gunnel unwrapping her gift.

With the help of my kids, I retrieved a piece of wood from the abandoned home John and Ida built on the homestead now hidden from view behind barbed wire, brush and trees. I framed the wood with a photo of the house at its peak about 1915. 
That is what I brought to Gunnel. 

Anders may not have gotten to see John’s home but his granddaughter now has a piece of it hanging on her family history wall in her home in Sweden.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

John August Johnson - Part 4 - Alamo and a Spider

John and Ida raised their family on the homestead in Delmore Township. John farmed the land; planting wheat and oats on some of the sections and raising cattle and hogs. He was instrumental in bringing the farmer's union to McPherson County and his name can be found in many McPherson newspaper articles as he helped to unite his fellow farmers to consider their situation.
His grandchildren remember John as an interesting man to be around and listen to. He enjoyed talking to his neighbors and had many friends throughout the county. He never drove a car and walked miles around the area visiting farms and getting to know the farmers in his township. There were so many John Johnsons in the county that people began to give them each nicknames to keep them straight in conversations. John August gained the name, "By-Gosh Johnson" as that was one of his favorite phrases. People who knew him say they remember him wearing a white and blue pinstriped suit and straw hat with a black band when he went calling. He always carried a cane on his walks and he was seen jauntily walking the county roads swinging that cane many times.
As their children reached adulthood, John and Ida began to think about moving. Some of the farmland they had bought years back was now producing crops and oil. They decided to move to Texas and bought a fruit and vegetable farm seven miles North of Alamo; near the Mexican border. In about 1919, they left their Kansas farm in the hands of Arthur and his new wife, Ida, and moved to their second farm. Although they never lived in Kansas again, they made trips back to the homestead to visit and help with decisions involving the farm and land holdings. Emil and Edith never married. Edith stayed with her parents and helped them in Texas. Emil spent time on both farms, helping out as he could.
Both John and Ida suffered from arthritis as they aged. The Texas farm never truly flourished as they had hoped as the area went through several dry spells. There are stories of a fire that burned down most of the Texas farmhouse. It was rebuilt the next year. Sometime during these years, John was bitten by a black widow spider. After recovering from the bite, he discovered his arthritis was much improved. His son, Arthur, recalled in an interview that John never wore glasses after the bite healed as he found his vision was nearly perfect.   
John died 7 Feb 1940 at the age of 92 in the city of Alamo, Hidalgo County, Texas after a short battle with Bronchial Pneumonia. He is buried in Roselawn Cemetery in the town of McAllen, Hidalgo County, Texas. Ida sold the farm in Texas and she and Edith moved to a smaller home nearby. Ida died in 1952 at the age of 86. Carl Emil signed the death certificates for both John and Ida.

 This is an old family photograph of John and Ida with four of their children and families. They sit in the middle of their descendants. My Grandpa, Arthur Johnson, sits first from the right with his hat in his lap. John, dressed in a straw hat, dress shirt, tie and suit vest; seemingly clothed as everyone remembers. He has a baby grandson on his knees and another one leaning on him. His arms are wrapped around both of them and his eyes stare straight into the camera. The photographer captured the genuine Johan August Johannesson that day.