February theme: Branching Out
I wrote about my grandmother, Emma, who immigrated from Sweden, in my Week 1 post. She followed her older sister, Beda, to America in 1913. Seven years later, she returned to Sweden for a visit. The story is a little fuzzy, but my grandfather also returned to Sweden at this time. He had immigrated in 1915. One version is that he went to go get her and bring her back. Another is that they went together to introduce the other to their families. At any rate, they returned to the US in March of 1920, on the same ship, and married in November of the same year.
On the same ship list is Emma’s younger sister.
Ida Karolina Nilsson was born 10 Jan 1902, so she was just 18 when she left her parents and her country behind. As mentioned, her two older sisters, Beda and Emma, had already immigrated. She had an older brother, Per, who remained in Sweden. Her parents had two other sons who had died young. She also had an older half-brother who emigrated to the western US before she was even born – I don’t think they ever even met – and a half-sister who remained in Sweden, both from her father’s first marriage.
The Nilsson family lived in a small, rural town about 250 km north of Stockholm. I don’t know what her life was like, but it was apparently hard. Her sister Emma convinced her that life would be better in the USA. I know this because Ida wrote this amazing essay. The page has no heading and no date. I don’t know if I have the complete piece, or if there was more that has been lost. Based on what she wrote, it appears she wrote this just a year after arriving, perhaps for an English class.
I’ve transcribed it here, complete with her spelling errors. Considering she’s only been in the country for a year, I think her command of the language is amazing. [I lived in Germany for 3 years and am not anywhere close to this level of competency. On the other hand, my daughter, who spent the same three years there, is fluent. So it might just be me.]
I was born in Sweden, January 12, 1902. My birthplace is in about the central part of the country, and this part is mostly farm and woods where they get lumber, pulp, wood and charcoal from. My parents were born there and are still living. It was there I spent my childhood, going to school and working on the farm.
It was when my sister who was in this country come home for a visit and told me that I would have it much easier over here, that I thought of coming to America so when she returned I came with her.
I started from Goterborg with a smile but it didn’t take long before it left me for something did not agree with me. I don’t know wheter it was the seabreeze or the water, for food I did not touch. But the day we reached New York I got up with that same old smile and I am glad to be on something solid again.
We landed on Ellis Island Marsh 16, 1920, about ten o’clock in the morning and all they did was to take a good look at me, and the goods I had with me, and then they sent me over on a ferry to New York. From there I started on my trip to Erie. So I left New York for Erie, the City of good health and with plenty of opportunities.
Here I am trying to learn the English languge. I went to Night School last winter, the first winter I was in this country and I think I learned a great deal, I thought at first when I heard people talk that I never should learn to understand and talk, but now it seems to me that I learn a little more every day
Ida returned to Sweden to visit a few years later. The ship list of 1926 shows a few differences. She is still returning to Erie, PA, going to the same address as in 1920, but this time she lists her sister Beda Anderson, rather than Beda’s husband Axel. Also, her next of kin in 1920 is her father. In 1926 it is her mother, as her father died in 1924. It is also noted that she can read in both Swedish and English!
Although Ida came to Erie where her sisters lived, she didn’t remain there long. Swedish women were in high demand as domestics, known for their industriousness and cleanliness. Swedish newspapers of the time carried ads from people looking for such servants. Ida answered an ad that moved her to New York City. There she met a fellow Swede, Hans Seagren (born Sjögren). The family story is that they met at the Salvation Army.
Hans immigrated about 1924. I haven’t found his ship list yet, but it looks like he came to the US at least once before, working as “mess boy” on a ship, as his brother had done previously. Along the way, someone taught him about “apple pie.” After immigrating, the story goes that he ordered apple pie exclusively for a time, until he learned words for other foods. (In my opinion, there are worse things to be stuck eating.) Hans and Ida married in 1928 and raised their family in Brooklyn, making regular trips to visit her family in Erie.