Between 1820 and 1930, a million and a quarter people emigrated from Sweden, mostly to America. By 1930, there were 3 million Swedes in the US and only 6 million in Sweden. They left because Sweden was then very poor (as hard as that is to believe now), and had been caught in the typical vise of decreasing infant/child mortality and continuing fecundity and hadn’t had any wars for a century. Added to this was the practice of dividing farmland between the heirs, which meant that many families didn’t have enough land to support themselves and the pieces were only getting smaller, not to mention some crop failures. At the same time the trip was getting easier and there were a lot of exciting opportunities and available land in America and all the earlier immigrants were sending back exciting letters. So people left. (Interestingly, a commission was set up in Sweden in 1907 to address why people were leaving, and they resolved to “bring the best of America to Sweden” – oh how the tables have turned.)
One of the leavers was my great-great uncle Olaf, who went to America and started a business. When he came back to Sweden for a visit in 1906 he took his youngest brother, my great grandfather Helmer, back with him.
Even though it was an easier journey than it had been in the past, it was still a long voyage by sea and land that Helmer never repeated.
They moved to Spokane, in Eastern Washington State. Eventually Helmer married Agnes, also from Sweden, and they had my grandfather and his brother. In due time, my grandfather married my grandmother, had my mother, aunt and uncles, and this of course led eventually to me and my kids (and my siblings and niblings, and my cousins, etc, etc).
But Helmer and Olaf had 8 other brothers and sisters who stayed in Sweden (two died in infancy). And all of those siblings had their own dynasties going, which means that we have an awful lot of relatives in Sweden (and we probably have even more elsewhere in the country – we don’t know where Agnes came from). Many of those are still clustered around the lake where Helmer was born, near Umeå, but some of these have moved to other parts of Sweden.
Some of my American family has been back to visit before – my great uncle went once and my grandfather took a trip in 1982 with my aunt and an uncle – so some contact has been maintained. But when I went there in 2004, my grandfather had recently passed away, and all I had were two email addresses from my great-uncle.
One of the email addresses I had gotten from my great uncle was that of Jens, in Stockholm, who was away when I was there in 2004 but whose family I stayed with on that trip. This trip we got to spend some quality time with him in Stockholm, starting with him very kindly picking us up at the train station and taking us back to his spacious house in the suburbs and then walking with us to a local park by the lake.
That evening, we were joined by my mother and aunt. This whole trip to Sweden actually came about because my mother is doing a Baltic cruise, beginning in Stockholm. It seemed a shame for her to be so close and not meet her family, so we originally planned to meet her there with the camper van and go up north. My aunt decided come along as well to see the family. When we decided to do the world trip this year, we left the Sweden trip in, but changed our mode of travel. My aunt also decided to join us until Moscow after my mum took off on her cruise.
Anyway, we spent a few days seeing the sights of Stockholm – the first day, the jet-lagged ones took it slow and we just did a boat tour.
We then walked through Gamla Stan (the old centre) and had dinner (naturally at an Irish pub, where I made the mistake of ordering a beer out of habit, forgetting that it would be very expensive in Sweden – oops!).
The next day we headed downtown again and saw this view and this biodiesel bus.
We then saw a Swedish history museum with Viking displays and the kids did all sorts of Viking activities.
We then went to the open air museum – which was interesting, although I hadn’t realized the houses would close at six so we didn’t see as much as we’d have liked. Then back home for dinner.
The next day, all six of us took the train north to Umeå, arriving at midnight. It was a very nice train, super modern, even with a lift for wheelchairs and strollers in the entrance, and we enjoyed our trip – it was probably more relaxing than my previous trip on Barney and took less time (especially since I stopped and saw stuff on the way in 2004). But like that trip, in Umeå we were welcomed into the arms of our extended family.
Practical tips: Book Swedish trains well ahead of time – prices go up significantly as the date draws nearer. The three day Stockholm transit passes are a good deal, but kids are free on transit on the weekend (from noon on Friday) so that was an even better deal – kids under seven are always free with an adult. The Swedish History Museum, where the Viking exhibit was, is now free, which isn’t in guidebooks yet. Tours still cost money. The open air museum is cool, but some things cost even more to go in and the buildings close at six, though the grounds are still open – this was in the guidebook but I hadn’t noticed it. Don’t buy beer at a restaurant unless you’re willing to pay €8 a glass.