part of me comes from this island off the coast of sweden

I had dinner a few days ago with three people from Sweden. One of them had the last name Jakobsson. As that was the surname of my Swedish ancestors, we began chatting. All I know of my people was that they had been farmers in a coastal region, that they left for America in the late 1800’s, and that they had a fondness for eating eels. (According to my grandmother and her sister, a man would make his way through Galesburg, Il, where they lived, every year at holiday time, with a sack full of eels, selling them to the Swedish folks.) I, of course, shared all of this, and later called my grandmother, determined to find out more. And here’s what she told me.

Her grandfather, Johann August Jakobsson, was born 11/23/1870 in Ovra Wannborga Oland Sweden. The farm he lived on is apparently still in the family. Or at least it was in 1992, when she corresponded with Leif Jakobsson, the relative then living on the property. Johann left Sweden for Galesburg, Il in April, 1897. His wife Anna Gustafa Nilsson (my great great grandmother) was born in Dahlsland Sweden on 5/19/1871, and had immigrated to Galesburg on 5/18/1891. The Jakobssons had been on the island of Oland, as I understand it, from before when records of such things were kept.

Well, I told this to the fellow the following day, and he showed me where Oland was on a map, right off the eastern coast of Sweden. He said it was the most sunny place in Sweden. He said there weren’t many trees. He said the King of Sweden had a home there. And he showed me the path of the migrating eels. They apparently go right around the island. (Most folks in Sweden apparently don’t have a hankering for eel, but apparently it was something my people subsisted on, and had a fondness for.)

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time tonight, staring at the little island, wondering what my life might have been like had Johann stayed there, and not traveled off to America in search of a better life… Who knows, if the election had gone the other way, and McCain had won, I might be packing my bags right now.

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9 Comments

  1. mark
    Posted November 27, 2008 at 12:10 am | Permalink

    And maybe

    And why my handwriting is so fucked up.

  2. mark
    Posted November 30, 2008 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    What, no offers of boiled Swedish eel? I thought for sure one of my countrymen would come forward with, if not a free eel, at least a recipe or something.

  3. stella
    Posted November 30, 2008 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

    I considered mentioning earlier that my kith are from the other side and up, Eskilstuna. But I thought that would be sycophantic and cloying. Not to mention I haven’t touched eel since seeing “The Tin Drum”. Someone snuck it on me at a sushi place once but I stopped eating when I was informed. It hasn’t been too big of a loss to my life frankly.

    Anyway, it would seem that our folk were on the same immigration wave as mine came in ’96, but they were my grandparents not great greats. How old are you anyway? Like 12 or something? And they started off in Jamestown before heading to the greater Buffalo area.

    My niece just did four years in Galesburg for college. Is that sycophantic enough?

  4. mark
    Posted December 1, 2008 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    Where did you get the impression that I didn’t like sycophantic cloying?

    And, I would tell you my age, but I promised my grandmother many years ago that I wouldn’t talk to people from Eskilstuna.

  5. jan murray
    Posted December 3, 2008 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Hi Mark,
    what a fascinating anecdote I stumbled across from the Metafilter music page. I’ve had a summer house on that island since the 70’s. They still catch eels there – they are exported to Germany (Tin Drumland)
    In Wannborga there is now a vinyard/restaurant – Lamb & Wine, They even distill spirits there.
    Next time I go I’ll ask them about your folks.

    Eel is good tho.
    Dont let them foreigners tell you otherwise.
    /j

  6. Robert
    Posted December 4, 2008 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    I’ve always suspected you of being a member of a Swedish sleeper cell…and have in fact reported you to Homeland Security several times as such.

  7. Barry Swanson
    Posted June 12, 2015 at 12:17 am | Permalink

    Interesting. I found out a few years ago that my great grandfather Lars Peter Svensson was born at farm number 2 near Aby Village, Sandby Parish in Kalmar County, Ă–land Island, Sweden. He and his brothers were sailors and all eventually left the Island. Family records were available for several generations at Gardsby Parish.

  8. Barry Swanson
    Posted March 12, 2018 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

    My Great Grandfather Lars Peter Svensson (Swanson) came from Aby Village, south of Gardby. Immigrated to U.S. in 1872. He was born 1849.

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