Shaking the Branches of the Family Tree

Does everyone have a family folk-story they are fascinated by, or is it just me? And if they do, how do they shake the truth out of the branches of the family tree? I’ve been shaking my family’s branches for years, and I still can’t find the real story.

The common folk-lore tells of a (very) young man who stowed away on a ship from Sweden and travelled the world. But when he landed in Australia, many years later, he met the love of his life and settled down.

When his feet touched Australian soil he was intent on making his fortune by finding gold, and returning to Sweden to take care of his widowed mother and younger brother and sister.

A postcard sent to my Grandfather – from his brother Axel (Bergman)

A fortune to be made?

The Gold Rush of our early days may have made some millionaires, but this young man from Sweden wasn’t one of them.

Instead, he drifted from the goldfields of Western Australia to Wellington in New South Wales, where he made the decision to become an Australian Citizen. And instead of digging for gold, he became a Railway employee. No more sailing ships and distant ports – the young man chose a more settled lifestyle.

And somewhere amid thoughts of settling down, he met an Australian girl.

He proposed.

She accepted.

And a new Family Tree was created

That young Swede was my Grandfather, and the young girl was my grandmother.

The difference in age meant nothing to them. She was nineteen – he was thirty-five. Over the many years they were together, my grandmother gave birth to ten children, including my father.

I remember Grandfather…

I remember him as an old man, sitting on a rocking chair on the front porch of their home on Valencia Street.

What I don’t remember, but I wish I did, was hearing him speak. He didn’t say much – but I wish I could remember his accent.

If only I could go back in time…. I have so many questions – and I would love hearing his accent.

I would ask:

  • Why did he leave Sweden?
  • How old was he when he left?
  • Did he really stow away on a sailing ship to leave his homeland?
  • What countries did he visit before coming to Australia?
  • Did he have children somewhere else – before starting his Australian family?
  • Did he stay in touch with his mother and siblings?
  • Who were his grandparents, uncles, aunties?

I remember my grandmother telling me about letters from Grandfather’s family back home in Sweden. But nobody knows anything about them. And I was much too young to appreciate the significance of it back then.

All I can do now is to continue shaking the branches of the Family Tree. Maybe one day the answer to some, or all of these questions will be answered.

The Genetic Link

I remember the day Grandfather died.

I might have been only nine years old – but I remember. And on that day, the link to the Swedish family we know nothing about, died too.

I submitted my DNA through Ancestry a few years ago, and that has been invaluable in finding cousins all over the world – but only a few in Sweden. And there are no clues about any common ancestors.

Somewhere in Sweden is another family with their own folk-lore about the brother who sailed away and never returned.

One day I hope to find that family and connect the stories that will shake the truth out of both our family trees.

I’ll keep searching…


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This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Love your story. Sadly, I don’t know much about my ancestry. My parents didn’t have large families, and they didn’t talk about their grandparents and lineage. Mom and Dad grew up on a small island in the North Sea off the coast of Germany. I doubt they kept records of family history. My daughter did a search on, but didn’t get very far at all. It’s sad….hopefully I can change that.

    1. Interestingly, when I told my dad I was interested in our Family Tree he asked why I would want to go messing around with that stuff. What might have been ‘skeletons in the closet’ in the old days, is vital information now. Mind you, I haven’t found any of the skeletons yet. But I wonder if that’s why our older generations never talked about their ancestors?
      Taking the DNA test made a big difference in my search. I didn’t know that my great-great-grandfather and his siblings had migrated from Ireland to Australia, Canada and the USA. Finding a cousin in Tennessee and one in Toronto, all of us with a shared ancestor, has opened up a whole new world for me.
      Actually, the funniest thing is – through Ancestry I found a long-lost first cousin who lives about twenty-five minutes away from me. We have both been nomads all our lives but ended up living in the same general area.
      I hope your search brings you closer to knowing where your Family Tree was planted and where all the branches are.

  2. Ancestry is so interesting, Maureen. I have no way of tracing mine way back or I don’t know of a way to do it easily. I have stories from my mother passed on to her by our relatives. I know that my paternal grandfather had 2 sisters that married men that immigrated to San Francisco. But that’s all I know. My grandfather had no contact with them since I’ve been alive that I know of. It does drive a person crazy thinking about all those relatives out there, but not know where or who they are. 🙂

    1. Ancestry is something I can spend hours on without even noticing the time. When I submitted my DNA I started finding matches to people around the world. Through them I’ve been able to piece together some of my grandmother’s side of the family.
      I hope you find your relatives, Lily. It would be interesting to see where their paths took them.

I’ll get back to you as soon as I finish my coffee...

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