NGS Conference – Final Day

by Carolyn L. Barkley

At approximately 3:00 this afternoon, the lights dimmed in the exhibit hall and the “pipe and drape” guys quickly – and noisily – began to dismantle the booths. Soon everything was packed safely into boxes and we were ready to leave the exhibit hall. For me, that is the moment which seems most like the last day of camp when we were kids. I may be glad to be headed home, but I hate to part with friends in the close-knit community of fellow exhibitors, speakers, and friends.

I will not be attending FGS in Birmingham (or cruising with TMG) this year because of the timing of my late-summer trip to Scotland, so it will be another year before some of our paths cross again. As I set in my hotel room this evening, savoring my Graeter’s (a Cincinnati favorite since 1870) black cherry chip (think chunk rather than chip) ice cream, I look back on a successful and enjoyable week.

Thanks to all of you who stopped by the booth to say hello and tell me that you enjoy reading the blog…you made my day each and every time this happened.

Please stay tuned for an interim post this coming Monday, and then we will be back on the normal Friday posting schedule on the 18th.

Put NGS Family History Conference 2013 (Las Vegas) on your calendars now. I will look forward to meeting you then.

NGS Conference – Day Three

by Carolyn L. Barkley

Conferences take on a life of their own, with an ebb and flow in the exhibit hall that is driven by the session schedule. Periods of intense activity alternate with quieter hours during sessions. On Friday, individuals who had been browsing all week, began to make their final selections. Some were more cautious as they were flying home (and genealogical books are notoriously heavy); others, who were driving home, were less concerned by size and weight.

I must admit that my fondest desire is to have speakers, when preparing their lectures, contact the publishers (or at least the booksellers who normally have booths at genealogical conferences) and share with them the specific titles that they will be recommending during a lecture. No book seller wants to disappoint potential buyers with “Sorry, we don’t have that title at the conference;” or “Sorry, that book is out of print;” or “Sorry, we’ve sold the one copy we brought with us.” Granted, book sellers can sometimes anticipate popular topics based on early views of the syllabus, but that direct contact between speaker and bookseller would be very helpful.

Several people played hooky from Friday’s 9:30 session to stop at the booth and talk with Elizabeth Shown Mills during a book-signing. If you have not seen her new web-site, be sure to (and I’ll be writing more about it soon).

I spent the day looking forward to the 100th anniversary of NGSQ reception, for which I had purchased a ticket. Afterwards, I was left wondering why it was not a more festive (meaning celebratory) event. To provide full disclosure, I arrived half-an-hour late (my conference bag was heavy and therefore I took it back to my hotel room). However, a full hour of the reception’s scheduled time remained when I did arrive. Yes, there were lots of people, but they must have been very hungry, as most of the buffet items were completely depleted (often never to be replenished). While I do understand the very human behavior of large groups at buffet tables, I was surprised by the lack of a celebratory atmosphere, almost as if we had forgotten how to throw a party – or at the very least how to congratulate ourselves.  While I’m not asking for clusters of balloons and noise-makers, I was surprised by the lack of formal remarks and introductions to mark the occasion (did I miss them due to my absence during the first half-hour?). The anniversary brochure was nicely done, but the small TV-sized monitors showing pictures of editors and early title pages were lost among the crowd. In this day of dwindling print journals of this stature and longevity, NGSQ’s significant achievements deserved more. In my humble opinion…

NGS Conference – Day Two

Day two in Cincinnati at the NGS Family History Conference. Some of the best opportunities at the conference are the various twenty-minute demonstrations held in the back of the hall. I attended one such presentation on the basic features of the genealogy-specific search engine, Mocavo, and another on the Flip-Pal‘s capability of scanning large documents in separate pieces which the software included with this handy scanner then “stitches together” to create one high-quality digital image of the original. While a twenty-minute session does not provide an opportunity for a comprehensive presentation, it can provide sufficient information to support a confident attempt to put into practice what was demonstrated in the short time available.

I also attended a second lecture on the War of 1812, this time from the British army’s perspective. For anyone interested in both British and  military research, Paul Milner’s presentation was excellent.

The highlight of my day was touring the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. I have never toured the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., but I imagine that the impact might be similar. The museum’s mission of sharing “stories about Freedom’s heroes, from the era of the Underground Railroad to contemporary times, challenging and inspiring everyone to take courageous steps for freedom today” is well portrayed through informative exhibits housed in a spacious and well-designed building in a riverside setting. For me, one of the most moving exhibits was the 177-year-old slave pen building that was preserved by and discovered in a tobacco barn in Kentucky. Excavated and reassembled at the museum, its austere plainness is evokes its original use and time period.

My pile of additions to my home library is growing steadily higher in the corner of my hotel room and I imagine that day three will see a few more additions.

NGS Conference – Day One

Today was the first day of the 2012 NGS Family History Conference in Cincinnati. For those of us working in the exhibit hall, the day went from 0 to 60 in the blink of an eye. One minute we weren’t open yet; the next hundreds of people were streaming through the main exhibit entrance.

As always, early visitors to the booth came well-prepared, book lists in hands, intent on purchasing their books early. All the book vendors, however, were crowded, calling into question the often touted death of the printed word – it definitely is not among this group! That being said, several individuals asked about the availability of titles as e-books (the majority mentioning the weight of the title in question!).

For the several days of the conference, the exhibit hall is a small and tightly-knit community offering an amazing depth of knowledge of methodologies and resources. Individuals with questions that staff in one booth may not be able to answer are referred to other booths whose staff may have the specialized knowledge to assist. Networking and informal mentoring occur throughout the day. Today I was part of conversations on as disparate topics as Scots in Jamaica ( did have a book on the topic) and Irish immigrants who came to the United States via Trinidad in the early 1800s (which resulted in a referral to an Irish expert). A chance conversation in the lunch line may lead to a future client project and I enjoyed conversations with former library friends and colleagues, and meetings with genealogical friends whose company I enjoy, but regrettably see only a few times a year.

I was able to leave the booth long enough to attend a very informative (and enjoyable) lecture on the War of 1812 presented by Craig Roberts Scott, who offered me a significantly clearer understanding of how to determine if I might have a War of 1812 ancestor and how to proceed with research concerning this military period.

After a full day in the booth, I was happy to adjourn to Nicholson’s Gastropub, one of my favorite Cincinnati restaurants, in part because it looks almost exactly like The Mitre on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, and in part because of the great food. My pint of Strongbow cider, mussels in white wine and garlic sauce, and sticky toffee pudding put a fine point on the day.

Tomorrow will include more lectures and exhibit hall demonstrations, so stay tuned for tomorrow evening’s conference blog installment. If you are attending the conference, please stop by the (Genealogical Publishing Company/Clearfield) booth and say hi.

Är dina förfäder svenska? Swedish Research at the Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center

by Jill Seaholm

Jill Seaholm, this week’s guest blogger, was born in Moline, Illinois, to extreme 100% Swedish-American parents. At 14 she was lucky enough to go on a family trip to visit distant relatives in Sweden, and, while there, became hooked on all things Swedish. At Augustana College she majored in Scandinavian Studies, studying the Swedish language and attending the Augustana Summer School in Sweden, and worked as a student assistant at the Swenson Center, indexing and doing research. Jill has worked at the Swenson Center full time and helped Swedish-Americans find their way back across the Atlantic since 1992. She wears many hats at the Swenson Center, including writer of the occasional article in the Swenson Center’s quarterly journal Swedish American Genealogist and coordinator of the journal’s weeklong genealogy workshop in Salt Lake City every autumn.

The Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center, located at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, is “a national archives and research institute providing resources for the study of Swedish immigration to North America, the communities the immigrants established, and the role the immigrants and their descendants have played in American life.”


It’s cool to be Swedish. We drive Volvos; we read Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson crime books; we eat hard, dry bread; we sit on IKEA furniture; and we’re lucky enough to have access to some very good record books.


In Sweden, authorities kept track of many things about the citizens over the centuries and, while the people may not have appreciated it at the time, there is a wealth of information available to people of Swedish descent. Sometimes the trick is getting Swedes back across the ocean to learn where they came from, as you must know the name of a birth parish or residence in order to proceed in Swedish parish records.


At the Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center, people look to us for answers, but sometimes we need more information than they possess in order to separate accurately the multitudes of immigrants with the same names. It seems as if most immigrants had the names John, Anders, Peter, Carl, Lars, Sven, Johanna, Christina, or Ingrid, etc., with surnames that look like the above, but with the addition of the suffix “–son” or –“dotter.” We use our Research Request Form as a guide both for people who hire us to do research and for people coming to the Swenson Center to experience their own research.


We ask people to start with the usual United States sources and to collect as much information as possible before contacting us for research or a visit. You should begin by asking your older relatives about the places in which the Swedes settled and whether they know if or where the immigrants went to church. If they don’t think they went to church, perhaps they know where the immigrant’s children were baptized or confirmed. That information can lead to finding the parents in church records. A baptism or marriage certificate in the family’s possession might provide the name of the officiating pastor. Obituaries and cemetery records can also lead to the name of the church where the funeral was held. At the Center, we use Swedish-American newspapers to look for obituaries, and in them we’ll occasionally find the Swedish parish of origin, year of immigration, or occasionally even parents’ names, although an obituary in an American newspaper may also yield the same data.


When researching in big cities, like Chicago and Minneapolis, where there were many Swedish churches, we may need to know specifically where the Swedes lived. That information can often be found in United States censuses and listings in city directories. We can then consult a street map to see which church was located nearest the residence.


We stress church records because one of our key research collections contains microfilmed records of churches –principally Lutheran, Covenant, Methodist, and Baptist — founded by Swedish immigrants in the United States and Canada. Swedish-American churches tended to continue their previous good recordkeeping in this country and, if Swedes joined these churches (and we hope they did even briefly), the membership records should provide dates and places. All too often immigrants used churches only for baptisms, confirmations, weddings, and funerals, without ever joining..


For the many Swedes who did not join churches, we can try fraternal lodge records. Our record collections primarily cover emigrants and groups from the mass migration period, roughly 1850-1930.


We really appreciate knowing ahead of time when Swedes were born and immigrated, particularly if they had very common names like John Johnson or Christina Peterson. The 1900 United States census shows people’s approximate month and year of birth and year of immigration. I say approximate because the information supplied to the census taker was not always accurate. It is, however, a helpful guideline, particularly the month of birth. If previously you knew only that your John Johnson was born between 1857 and 1859, the knowledge that he was born in April can help weed hundreds of people from your list of possibilities in databases.


In emigration records from Sweden, we try to match emigrants’ names to their destinations in the United States. The main Swedish port of Göteborg did not start to keep records until 1869, so that strategy will not work for everyone.


Looking for immigrants in emigration and immigration records can be challenging given the Swedish patronymic naming system and the fact that they were phasing that system out at the time of the mass migration period. Couple those issues with the Swedes’ practice of Americanizing their names after arriving in the United States, and searches become far more problematic. At the Swenson Center we are accustomed to keeping our eyes open for many possibilities. Take this extreme example – let’s say your ancestor was named John C. Swanson in the United States. Considering the patronymic system, we would expect to find him as Johan (or Johannes, Jan, Jon, John, Jaen, Jonas, etc.) C. Swensson or Svensson in Swedish records. But if that fails, we have to branch out and be ready to find him under as different a name as Karl J. Petersson. It was actually quite common for a Swede to be known by his or her middle name and either drop the real first name completely, or swap it with the middle name. Thus he may have been born Karl Johan. If his father’s name was Sven Petersson and, instead of traveling under his patronymic, Karl Johan traveled under his father’s last name, we could see him traveling as Karl J. Petersson – completely different from his American name John C. Swanson. This example illustrates another reason why it is necessary to start with more information about the immigrant than just his/her name. (Additional tips on Swedish names can be found in an article by Nils William Olsson, Ph.D, F.A.S.G.)


In addition, names and spellings were not standardized at first. You may see a name spelled a variety of ways from one record to the next. Your ancestors were not the ones filling out the record books, and record keepers had their own ways of spelling things. It pays to know the different versions of names. A list that might surprise you contains all of names that are considered the same: Karna, Karina, Kajsa/Kaisa, Katarina, and Karin – and look for them starting with C or K. (A comprehensive list of Swedish given names is available on the Nordic Names website.)


At the end of the Swedish alphabet there are three additional vowels, in this order: x, y, z, å, ä, ö. If your parish or immigrant’s surname contains an å, ä, or ö, it is important to include that special vowel or your search will likely miss your goal. In Typing Swedish Vowels I show different methods for typing the Swedish vowels.


We also ask people to look for United States marriage certificates, because some states asked for the bride and groom’s parents’ names, but because the patronymic system was not used in the United States, we have to be aware that the parents’ names can also be Americanized in United States documents, even if the parents never left Sweden. When it comes to Swedish names, we have a lot to consider!


Sometimes people already have the parish name and don’t realize it. They will say that their ancestors were from, for example, Misterhult in Kalmar County, and wonder how to find the name of the parish. Misterhult is the name of the parish. A parish consisted of the church and the geographical area for which that church’s records were kept. There were sometimes many dozens of villages and farms within a parish’s boundary, but it was most often the parish that the immigrant spoke of and which was recorded in documents.


Once the Swedish parish of origin is known, we use Swedish subscription web sites to access Swedish birth records and some census databases. People who schedule a morning with our parish record volunteer can have one-on-one assistance. One can often trace the family back as far as records were kept in each parish, sometimes to about 1700, or one can try to trace forward the siblings who stayed in Sweden and see if they perhaps have living descendants in Sweden today. Some of the subscription databases available at the Center include Genline (now part of; SVAR (Swedish national archives information; database is in Swedish, so click on the “In English” button); ArkivDigital (digitized Swedish records including church records).
The Swenson Center’s hours are by appointment. We have a small reading room and a staff of two, so we absolutely need to know when people are coming. When people contact us to schedule an appointment, we go to great lengths to find out what they want to know, or what types of records they want to use, so we know whether to reserve space on a computer or microfilm reader, or time with our parish record volunteer. Over the years we have saved many people a long drive to see something only to find we did not have it.


Please see our web site for more details about our genealogical records and services, visitor information, translation services, on-site fees, our quarterly journal Swedish American Genealogist, as well as our annual genealogy research group in Salt Lake City, and search our extensive online archival and library catalogs.


Welcome to the Swenson Center!


For further information on Swedish genealogy:


  • Online:

Cyndi’s List

Sweden Genealogical Gate

Swedish Center News

Swedish Roots

Tracing Your Swedish Ancestry by James E. Erickson and Nils William Olsson


  • In print:


Cradled in Sweden by Carl-Erik Johansson (Everton, 2002).


Letters from the Promised Land: Swedes in America 1840-1914 b7 H. Arnold Barton (Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2000)


Roos af Hjelmsäter: A Swedish Noble Family, with Allied Families and Emigrants by Lillie Rollins Crawford and Robert J. Crawford (Genealogical Publishing Company, 1996).


Scandinavian-American Genealogical Resources by Charles Dickson (Heritage Books, 2004)


Your Swedish Roots: A Step-by-Step Handbook by Per Clemensson (Ancestry 2004)