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A fairytale comes true

By Ruth Håkansson

Translated by Elizabeth Nilsson

The discovery
When I was little and we lived in Murtorpet in the parish of Bo, a cottage under the Boo estate, my father used to tell us that he had two uncles who had emigrated to America when he was a child. Their names were August and Axel. His grandfather had also traveled to this huge country to live there with his sons, but he was unhappy there and returned to Murtorpet, did up a room in the small cottage and lived there until his death in 1911.
   I sometimes went in there, looked at the room where my father now had his carpenter’s bench and forestry tools. There were some ox yokes hanging on the wall, as well as my father’s ice-skates. This is where his father’s father spent his last days. I imagined how happy he was to be back at home in Murtorpet, how he would have gone over the yard and caressed it with his feet, happy to live where he had been born, to exchange thoughts with the son who now worked Murtorpet. Back in America he couldn’t learn the language.
   It is Midsummer weekend in 2005 and Gunnar and I are on an excursion in the car. We take the road towards Breven and Regna church. We visit the cemetery there. My maternal grandmother’s memorial stone has eroded so the text is difficult to read. We eat our picnic by Regnaren lake and the sun shines on the water, which is completely calm.
   On the way home we drive via Bo and stop off at Bo community centre to drink afternoon coffee. I order two cups of coffee and buns and then go into the hall, which used to be a schoolroom, to see all of the craftwork set out on tables along the walls. Gunnar is a few steps after me. I hear his voice behind me

— I’m not from around here, but Rut comes from Murtorpet.

— Murtorpet, the woman behind the counter says, but then I have some questions to ask.

I cast a hasty glance at the fine crafts that are being offered for sale and am suddenly in a hurry to hear what Birgitta wants to ask. She takes the coffee tray to a table outside that I have chosen and all three of us sit down. She turns to me.

— Have you heard of Lilla Murtorpet?

— Never, I shake my head.

— I have received an order for food one day in July. The tourist office in Töreboda has coordinated a tourist trip for some Americans descended from Swedes who emigrated from Lilla Murtorpet in Bo. They are coming to see the parish that one of their grandmothers emigrated from. Her name was, well I’ve almost forgotten, but I think it was Kristina.

It doesn’t mean anything to me, but I tell her that my paternal grandfather had two brothers who emigrated to America and my father’s family in Sweden lost contact with them around the time of the First World War.
   Lilla Murtorpet, I think about the name as we make our way home, search in my memory but can’t come up with anything. I ring my brother when I get home, but he has never heard the name. We talk about childhood memories of Murtorpet, we have the same memories as we are so close in age. Like me, he is very interested in the visit from America, in case it would provide answers to old questions. I myself have often wondered what happened to those who emigrated. Did they find work, did they have families? My father said he had cousins in America, as far as I remember.
   I ring a cousin, who I know has done some research on the relations who emigrated and has visited the emigrant museum in Växjö, but I don’t get any further. And he has never heard of any Lilla Murtorpet. At present he has other things to think of and hasn’t time to meet up with descendants who may or may not be related to us.
   Signild has a holiday at the end of the week. She is interested in following up on the information. She visits the city library in Örebro and studies the parish registers for Bo in the 1870s to gain an idea of who belonged to the family at Murtorpet then. She finds out that Murtorpet was also known as Djurshult and that there was a daughter called Frida Kristina and four brothers, as well as the parents Johan and Johanna. Now we had reason to go further, to Örebro city archives, to look in the register of emigrants. And bingo! After Karl August emigrated in 1880 and his brother Johan Axel in 1886, Frida Kristina and her father and younger brother went to North America in 1890. And just at that point in time, their emigration region was listed as Lilla Murtorpet in the emigration documents. We were right. At last, a sign of life from the part of the family no one had heard from for eighty-five years.
   Through the tourist office in Töreboda Signild and I get in touch with the man who organized the Americans’ trip to Sweden. He has put a lot of effort into researching their, and thereby our, family tree going back in time. It was more difficult for him to find descendants of Gustav Adolf, my paternal grandfather, who was the only one of the children who stayed in Sweden and in the parental home of Murtorpet
   Rolf Andersson, as the man in the tourist office is called, was very grateful for the contact with us. Signild received an email address for Charlie in the American family and they have now emailed each other a few times. His wife Lori is my second cousin.
   The visit is planned for Thursday July 21. The assembly point will be Bo community centre. A visit is also planned to Murtorpet. I decide that I will show them landmarks and areas where I have played as a child, the same places where Frida Kristina played once upon a time and from which she at the age of 22, in the year 1890 emigrated to America.

 

The meeting

Bo church school, which is now a community centre, is high up on a hill, seen from the main highway. The house looks very impressive, with pillars at the entrance. It is a few hundred yards before Bo church and Bo castle, going from Hjortkvarn.
   The date is July 21 2005 and the weather is changeable, from sunny to cloudy and it even looks as though a rain shower or two might be possible. I am the first person to arrive at the meeting point. Half an hour before the agreed time. In the hall, the tables are already set with coffee cups and sandwiches. I feel gratitude towards the staff.
   We gather in the yard outside the building. My brothers’ families, some cousins and their children. All in all around 20 of our family. Everyone is expectant and excited.
   Then it comes. Only six minutes after the agreed time. Crawling along the road, not rattling like buses often do, but quietly creeping along. However, not a fairytale bus but a bus from a real company in Västergötland.
   It stops and out come Frida Kristina Hallberg’s descendants. Not creeping quietly like the bus, but with lively and happy exclamations. Soon we hear the buzz of English all around us and it feels like being in another country, far from Bo. The American family consists of the older couple, their four children plus spouses and five grandchildren; a total of fifteen persons. They are all as happy to meet their Swedish relations as we are to meet them.
   After a good while of English-Swedish conversation, we enter the hall, where we are met by the text Welcome to Bo on the blackboard. I sit next to Lori, Frida’s granddaughter, my second cousin. Tore is close by to translate. Signild takes care of the introductions. Swaps from English to Swedish as required. There is considerable interest from the Americans in learning about Swedish relations’ lives and we are interested in theirs.

Almost an hour late, we go off to look at Bo church and Carl-Johan Hamilton, nephew of the current baron Carl-Hugo Hamilton gives us the detailed history of the church and also of the current activities there. Margareta Hamilton, the current baron’s aunt, also provides some valuable information. This is all very much appreciated by our American relations.
   Outside of the church door Rolf Andersson hands me a loose-leaf binder. It contains information about Frida’s family tree, and thereby our own, going back to the beginning of the 18th century. I am overwhelmed to receive it and hold it tightly to me. I am going to have answers to so many of the questions I have wondered over. And have a lot to base my ideas on.
   From Bo church we take the bus to Murtorpet. We pass Lindhult, Trollhult, Slätmo and Djursnäs before reaching Murtorpet after just over four miles. Murtorpet is now privately-owned since the baron’s estate sold the house and plot of land in the early 1970s. The bus glides slowly past. There isn’t any cultivated farmland left, forest has been planted and half-grown or fully-grown woods have taken its place, but all the houses excepting one stand where they used to be. It is the small cottage that has gone. The one where my father had his carpentry bench when I was little, and where his grandfather spent his final years after coming home from America. The bus slows down and stops to turn around on a broad forest road that goes towards a slope. Then I hear a collective shout from the bus passengers – Moose – and I see the moose walking over the slope that they have detected before I did. Murtorpet is just the same, I think and remember that moose were an everyday part of my childhood.
 - Where are the children? When we heard that, Stig and I knew that there were moose in the oat field and that we should scare them away.
   Slowly the bus leaves Murtorpet. Everyone gazes wonderingly at the childhood home that Frida left more than a century ago. I don’t know whether they thought of this place as being where they com from originally. As though the land here is the actual beginning. The land that Olof Andersson, our common ancestor, began farming in 1794.
   After the return to Bo church school we all line up for a group photo. We stand between the pillars on the grand staircase, a crowd of relations who have had some amazing experiences together today. We all say goodbye and we watch the bus roll away, wondering what will come next.