Autumn is in full swing already, and school is well underway. I recently re-discovered this old class photo amongst my scanned family photos. My 2nd great-grandmother, Louise Marie Nahrstaedt, was born in Sandau, Germany, in 1879. As far as I know, her family lived there until 1891 when they emigrated to the United States, settling in Chicago, Illinois. This image is a class photo from 1885, when Louise was in first grade. She is the girl circled in the front row. She seems to be very good friends with the other three girls in the front row, because they are all sitting close to each other, holding hands or linking arms. I wonder if she was still friends with them when she was 12, leaving for the United States, and if they were, did they ever have a chance to write to each other and remain friends? Would she find close school friends here in the United States? Only time will tell!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!