My grandfather’s grandfather was said to be a seaman from Sweden who settled in Forbes NSW, married a local widow in 1875, and had 5 children including my grandfather’s mother. The NSW Registry of Births Deaths & Marriages (NSW BDM) records many of the significant details of his life once he was living in New South Wales. I say New South Wales because it is important to remember that at that time Australia did not exist as a nation and the continent was made up of separate British colonies such as Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales.
Here are some details of his life once Nels had arrived in Forbes
|1875||Nels (29) marries Rebecca (30) in Forbes. Rebecca’s partner, John Higgins (42), had died a year earlier. She and her 5 young children were living on a farm on the Lachlan River 5km below Forbes.|
|Rebecca has 5 more children with Nels, including my Great Grandmother Christina in 1879.|
|1905||Christina marries in Forbes|
|1905||My grandfather, Kenneth Glauder Ferguson, is born in Forbes|
|1920||Nels and Rebecca sell the farm and move in to town to live with Christina and family.|
|1922||Rebecca dies in Forbes aged 77. The extended family move from Forbes to Sydney later that year.|
|1936||My great great grandfather Nels dies in Sydney just before his 90th birthday.|
|1961||My great grandmother Christina dies in Sydney aged 82|
|1989||My grandfather Ken dies in Sydney aged 84|
There are many other interesting details available concerning Rebecca’s first partner, John Higgins, their 5 children and the provenance of the farm they owned, so-called Esrom Farm. Sources are plentiful. As well as the NSW BDM there are newspapers available through the National Library of Australia’s Trove and the work of conscientious family researchers. But the story of Nels before he arrived in Forbes was more difficult to uncover.
Nels was born in Sweden so presumably 19th century Swedish historical records would be a challenge for me to understand. Also if he really was a seaman that would present further challenges. I have many ancestors who came to Australia as convicts or free settlers. Their migratory movements are well-documented – especially the convicts! But sailor ancestors can be difficult to track.
I did have one solid piece of evidence about Nels’ life in Sweden. In October 1880 Nels paid an immigration deposit for ‘Christina Glauder’, aged 28, domestic servant at an address in Sweden. The deposit was refunded in November 1881 so it seemed that Nels’ younger sister never emigrated to Australia. The address given is located in the Swedish province of Blekinge and this gave me a new direction for research.
To effectively research Nels and his origins I needed to understand two important issues:
- Swedish traditional naming conventions
- the importance of the Swedish navy and military service in the lives of the people of Blekinge
Traditionally Swedes used a patronymic naming system. A child would be given a surname made up of the father’s first name plus ‘son’ for a boy or ‘dotter’ for a girl. The FamilySearch wiki has a good article explaining it further. So, for example, if Sven Anderson had a son, the son’s surname would be Svensson. If he had a daughter her surname would be Svensdotter. So a nuclear family would have divers surnames. Note also that a woman did not usually take the surname of her husband. For example:
|Parents:||Sven Andersson||Bengta Persdotter|
|Children:||Nils Svensson||Kristina Svensdotter|
As a corollary you can also see that Sven’s father’s first name would have been Anders, while Bengta’s father’s would have been Per.
Initially this can be confusing because in English-speaking countries we are used to seeing all the members of a household with the same surname – usually the father’s. It is also relatively easy to follow surnames across multiple generations. Additionally, some Swedish first names are very common and so, therefore, are the surnames of their children. So if a village contains a few men named Sven there will be many children with the surname Svensson and Svensdotter but they may not be related. Some might be but you cannot rely on their surnames to indicate this.
During the 1860s and 1870s this patronymic naming system began to fall out of fashion. At this time many Swedes were migrating to larger cities or to other countries like Germany and the USA and chose to use a new non-patronymic name. This may have been an Anglicised version of their name, or a place name or their father’s ‘military name’ or something just made-up.
Which brings me to the subject of Swedish military service. It seems that Nels’ ancestors had lived in the province of Blekinge for many generations. It is located in the far south of Sweden not far from Denmark. In fact Blekinge was part of the Kingdom of Denmark from about 1026. During the 17th Century Sweden rose as a ‘great power’ and took control of Blekinge in 1658. Sweden needed men for its army and navy and used compulsory military service. Coastal provinces such as Blekinge generally provided men for naval service. In 1680 the city of Karlskrona was constructed as Sweden’s principle naval base. It has been suggested that Blekinge was chosen for such a large military presence because it had only recently become part of the Swedish Empire and so the loyalty of its inhabitants was suspect. Blekinge is much closer to Copenhagen than it is to Stockholm.