From Mexarp to Mayfield

This semester I’m elated to be taking a course in Genealogy and Library Services. As part of the class, I’ll be focusing my research on the Medine family in Illinois. An introduction to their story is below.

Our family has been researching our roots for over 15 years now, and most of our ancestral lines have been traced back to the immigrant ancestor. I’ve just started doing some research on our ancestors in the Old Country. Lately, I’ve been tracing the lives of my great-great grandfather, Gustaf Medine, his siblings, and his parents in Sweden and America. This has certainly been a puzzle!

Medine family photo at the Pleasant Hill farm
The only known photograph of the Gustaf Medine family, taken about 1911 at Gustaf’s Pleasant Hill farm in Mayfield, IL. Front row: Katharina (Schroder) Medine, Gustaf Medine, William Medine, Jesse Scott Bowen. Back row: Fred Medine, Julia Medine, Augusta (Medine) Bowen, Emma (Medine) Drake, Charles Drake. Source: Personal family photo

I love the family photo above. Gustaf’s sun-darkened, stern face shows the years of hard work behind him. He is leaning forward, as if eager to get back to work. His children look a lot like their mother, and have softer, more humorous looks. Fred, who will turn out to be the most mischievous character in years to come, looks especially devious. Katharina appears to have her hand behind her back, perhaps to hold onto his knee so he doesn’t fidget. The three sisters were very close, and opt to stand next to each other instead of close to their husbands. Overall, you can tell that there is a lot of love between all of them, and through any struggles that they had, they were there for each other. In their faces I see weariness from the toughness of life on the farm. However, I also see determination, strength and a resolve to survive.

Gustaf Medine was my grandfather’s grandfather, and he came to DeKalb County from Sweden in the 1880’s. He was married to Katharina Schroder, who was from Germany. They had met in Germany and married either there or in Sweden. They had six children, and they lived on a farm in Mayfield township in DeKalb County, Illinois. Gustaf eventually purchased a farm from the local abolitionist Ira Douglas. My grandfather knew Gustaf when he was very young, and spent a lot of time on that old farm. Even through troubled times, the Medine family was very close-knit. However, we didn’t know hardly anything about their time back in Sweden.

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Gustaf’s father was Andreas Danielsson, who died in Sycamore in December 1907. This is his obituary which appeared in the Sycamore True Republican on December 14, 1907. It lists Gustaf as one of his children. Source: Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection

Through Ancestry.com, I recently connected with a Medine cousin. After sharing stories and a couple photos, she mentioned that when the family came from Sweden, they changed their name from something else to Medine. Bingo! I had never been able to locate any immigration records under their Medine names. Now I had a lead! I combed through some old local DeKalb County newspapers and found Gustaf’s father’s obituary. His last name: Danielson!

So, where did Danielson come from? After some investigation, I discovered that it was Swedish surname custom to add “-son” or “-dottr” to your father’s first name to create your surname. So, Gustaf Medine’s original name was Gustaf Andreasson, and his father’s original name was Andreas Danielsson. When Gustaf and his siblings each arrived in DeKalb County, Illinois, they began using “Medine” as their surname.

I eventually located Andreas’s immigration records to the USA, giving me his hometown in Sweden, which lead me to church and household records from their hometown. Andreas Danielson was married to Lina Stina Svensdottr (women didn’t change their surname when they married) and they had eight children: Kristina (b. 1846), Johann Daniel (b. 1851), Gustaf (b. 1853), Ingrid Maria (b. 1856), Peter Sven (b. 1858), Johannes (b. 1861), Helena (b. 1863), and Otto (b. 1872). Sadly, Otto died on Christmas Day when he was just a few months old. (Source: Ancestry.com)

They lived near a tiny village called Mexarp, in Mistelås parish in Smöland, Sweden. That area of Sweden has rocky soil and forests of thin trees. The trees and rocks are cleared to make way for farmland or grazing. Andreas was a farmer, but when his children became of age, opportunities for work must have been difficult. The countryside was becoming more and more overpopulated, and there weren’t enough farming jobs to go around. In the late 1860’s severe weather caused several crop failures and famine was widespread in the area. The first mass emigration was between 1868 and 1873, exactly in the time frame of the Andreasson family dispersal (source). Most of the Andreasson children left when they were in their 20’s, moving to Germany and America.

Moheda
A view of a farm in Moheda, Kronoberg, Sweden, which is a parish next to Mistelås. Image source: Flickr

About 1871, Johann Daniel and Gustaf moved to Germany after spending some time in Denmark a few years before. Kristina briefly moved to Germany and had a son out of wedlock. Mary and Peter Sven both moved briefly to other towns in Sweden, then home again. Mary had a daughter as a single mother in 1882. Between 1881-1885, many of the siblings had moved to North America, most ending up in DeKalb County, Illinois. Peter Sven, Mary (with her daughter Amanda), Gustaf (and his new German wife Catherine and their new baby Amelia) and Helen all settled in Mayfield township in Illinois. Johannes and Kristina’s son Anders also apparently moved to North America, but I’m not sure where. Johann Daniel stayed in Germany.

Life was better for the family when they arrived in America. Gustaf and Peter eventually purchased their own farms. Helen and Mary got married and lived nearby. When their mother Lina Stina Svensdottr died in 1897, the children must have convinced their father to move to America with them. In 1899, Kristina traveled with her father Andreas to Mayfield township to live. They arrived in the USA with $5 in their pocket. He lived for a couple years with Gustaf, and later with Helen, where he passed away in 1907.

Passenger Manifest for Andreas and Kristina Danielsson
Passenger List of the S.S. New England, arrived from Liverpool, England to Boston, Massachusetts in July 1899. Andreas Danielsson and his daughter Kristina were on the ship, heading to Peter Medine’s farm near Sycamore, IL. Source: Ancestry.com

Life must have been difficult for Gustaf and his family. Both in America and Sweden, they lived in a very rural community where they were dependent on the land for survival. They certainly lived in poverty in Sweden, and were forced by crop failures to leave their homeland in search of a better life. Gustaf moved to Germany to start a new life, then about 10 years later, started over again in Mayfield township. Gustaf spoke Swedish, and his wife spoke German, and when they moved to America, they had to learn English. They were poor in America too, but eventually saved enough to buy their own farm. Life wasn’t easy for others in his family, either. His sisters Kristina and Maria were single mothers, and were likely supported by others in the family. While her siblings were able to venture off to other countries, Kristina had to stay in Sweden to take care of her aging parents. Andreas likely had to sell the farm when the crops failed, and by the time he moved to the USA, he was a pensioner still living on the farm.

This semester I hope to learn even more about this family. What was their life like in Sweden? Is there more family in Sweden that I haven’t found yet? When exactly did Gustaf and the others come to America? Why did they decide to settle in Mayfield? Where did the rest of the family go? Why did they change their name when they arrived in Mayfield, Illinois? Why did they choose Medine as their new last name? Stay tuned for more stories from the Old Country!


Sources:

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C.D.C. Johnson 1954-2017

Johnson_Claurence_portrait.jpgA short time ago, the world lost a great man and my husband lost his father. My words can’t do justice to his legacy. He was a man who loved his children more than anything in the world, and did everything he could to give them a better life. He believed in hard work, perseverance, family ties and the value of education. He taught his children these values as well. He sacrificed so much to raise four children on his own.

He was born in Guyana, where he lost his father at an early age. He educated himself and became a teacher at the age of 16. Like all young men, he served in the military, and eventually served in the office of the President of Guyana. He married in his late 20’s and had four children. He moved the family to St. Lucia for better opportunities, then later moved to the Bahamas. He raised four young children on his own. He bought a run-down house, and worked hard to make it the best house on the block. He taught his children how to paint, put in flooring and tile. He taught them that if you don’t know something, the answer can be found at the library. He was a teacher and inspired countless other young people to work hard for their dreams. He found time to write poetry, leaving an impressive collection of sonnets, ballads and narratives. He even published one young adult novel. In 2008, he relocated to the United States, where his children had or were attending college. He wore many hats during his lifetime, but his most rewarding job was that of a father.

He also believed in strong family ties and connecting with family. He helped organize large family reunions in Guyana and was one of the founders of the “Gillis/McCammon Family Reunion Organization.” Because of his efforts, much of the family is in contact with each other through the annual family reunions in Hopetown. He kept the rich family stories alive. I hope to do my part to keep them going to his future grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

An essential part of family history is remembering the family stories and legacies of those who have gone before you, and who are now part of you. Family values, just like family heirlooms, are passed down carefully to each generation. My husband is a great man because he had a great role model in his father. I feel honored that he was a part of my life for the past 8.5 years. He’ll be missed dearly.

 

His obituary is posted here.

 

 

A genealogical brick wall… torn down in a few days

As I promised in my previous post, I’m excited to share what I uncovered during my trip to Salt Lake City last month. I was thrilled to finally break down this “genealogical brick wall” after so many years. Let’s start at the beginning…

My great-grandfather, George Weil, was born in 1889 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Conrad and Louisa (nee Metz) Weil. He had several siblings close to his age. His mother, Louisa, died when he was 9 years old. At this point, he and three of his siblings were sent to an orphan’s home where they were educated and grew up. When he was an adult, George and his sister Marie searched for their parents, trying to find out what happened to their father and discover more about their German heritage. Through the years, his son and grandson searched occasionally for information about Conrad and Louisa, and recently I also took up the search.

I had pieced together Conrad and Louisa’s life in America, and I knew that they came from Germany and married in Pittsburgh, but I didn’t have any idea where in Germany they came from. My major breakthrough was finding their names together on a ship’s passenger list. I was able to find this record only because it was recently digitized, indexed, and made searchable through Ancestry… my great-grandfather and father wouldn’t have been able to find this record, even a few years ago. The passenger list (below) gave all kinds of wonderful tidbits, but most importantly, it named their previous residence… Maulbach, Germany! Bingo! 

Weil_Conrad_Louisa_passengerlist_blog_color
Louisa Metz and Conrad Weihl arrived in New York in Nov 1884, immigrating through Castle Garden. They traveled on a ship called the General Werder. I still don’t know who their travel companion is. Image source: Ancestry.com

I researched which records were available in Maulbach. It’s a very small town (even today!) in Hesse near central Germany. Luckily, the Family History Library had their church records on microfilm in Salt Lake City. I hoped that Louisa and Conrad were born and raised in Maulbach. During my trip to SLC, I started to look through these church records. Within minutes I found what I was looking for… Louisa’s baptism record (below), complete with her father’s signature!

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The baptism record for my great-grandmother, Louisa Metz, where I discovered her parents’ names! Image scanned from: Family History Library microfilm
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This was my view for three of the days of my trip. I found so many long-lost relatives here!

The baptism record lists her parents, Johannes Metz and Anna Margaretha Friedrich. Over the next few days, I found her siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, great-grandparents and more! I’ve added 41 names and three generations to her family tree. I am still translating records that I copied there, and adding information to the family tree. With the help of research done by my father and great-grandfather, combined with modern technology, and then some old-fashioned hard work in front of a microfilm machine… one brick wall was completely demolished!

Unfortunately, I am still a little stuck on Conrad’s origins. I was not able to find Conrad Weihl in any of the church records in Maulbach. There are Weihls that live in the town, so it’s possible he was staying with relatives when he met Louisa and they decided to move to America together. The search for his family continues!