The advertising teaser told us that Molly Ringwald would follow her ancestors back to Sweden and learn the truth about their harrowing lives. She would discover generations who suffered unspeakable tragedies and a brave relative who forever changed the family's fate. (A little more melodramatic than usual, perhaps?)
In the introduction to the episode itself, the narrator says that Ringwald is a celebrated actress who started at an early age. Her breakout role was as Samantha Baker in Sixteen Candles, which made her a Hollywood icon. She has had success on stage and screen and recently on television also, in The Secret Life of the American Teenager. She has authored two bestselling books and is an accomplished jazz singer. She lives in New York with her husband and their three children.
Ringwald says that was born in Roseville, California, a suburb of Sacramento. She always knew she wanted to be creative. According to her parents, when she was 6 she announced to the family she would be a famous movie star or "something like that." Now that she is, however, she has learned that being a performer gives you a false sense of self. So family is very important to her, and she doesn't know how she could survive without it. Her family is close; she grew up with big family dinners, and holidays were a big deal. She realizes she was dealt a good hand.
Ringwald's mother, Adele, was a stay-at-home mom. She is personable and a storyteller. Her father, Bob, is a blind musician. He inspires respect, and people love him. She and her father complement each other. Ringwald's relationship with her father is a precious gift to her. She would love to know more about his side of the family and share that with him. In the family, he is the most excited about her genealogy journey. She knows she's German on both sides, except for her father's maernal grandfather, who was Swedish. She's never felt connected to her Swedish side and is curious to learn anything about it. She doesn't know her ancestor's name, only that her father said he was called "the Swede." She figures her father must know his name, but all she knows is "the Swede."
To begin her journey to learn about her Swedish great-grandfather, Ringwald visits her father in Brooklyn Heights. When she walks in, her father is playing piano. She gets him up, saying, "C'mon, let's go" (that camera crew can't wait forever, dad!). After sitting down with him on the couch, she says, "I'm on this journey to discover more about our family," and asks what the Swede's name was. Her father does know and tells her it was Edwin Gustav Jenson. Bob's grandmother told him Edwin had come from Sweden when he was 3 years old. He later worked as a bricklayer in California.
Bob's knowledge only goes so far, however. He doesn't know where in Sweden Edwin came from. He was probably told by his grandmother but doesn't remember. Both of Bob's grandparents died before Molly was born, Emma about 1958 or so and Edwin at the end of the 1960's. He never asked any questions so doesn't know why the family came to the United States. Bob says that Edwin had a sense of humor and was full of BS; you never knew if the stories he was telling were true. One story was that if he had stayed in Sweden, he would have to become the king. Bob believed that story for years.
That's the extent of Ringwald's visit with her father. She hugs him and says, "Good to see you." Outside, she says to learn that little was both exciting and frustrating. She wants to know where her great-grandfather came from and why the family moved to America.
|index entry on Ancestry.com|
for Edwin Jenson's death
Ringwald tells Schellenberg that Edwin immigrated to the United States when he was about 3 years old. He suggests they look for him in the census, which is conducted every ten years. She says that probably the first census he would be in was 1890 (she knows the years of the census?), but Schellenberg tells her it was completely destroyed by fire (no, it wasn't; about 25% of it was, but the bulk of it was left to rot in the water used to put out the fire, and the moldy mess it became was tossed out more than ten years later). He says, "Let's go on Ancestry" (9 minutes into the episode) and look at the 1900 census, the next one available.
They do find Edwin, living with his family in Washington County, Nebraska, listed with the last name of Jensen. The census says he was born in July 1885 in Sweden. His parents are Gustav (indexed by Ancestry as George), a farmer born in April 1855, and Carolina, born July 1757, both in Sweden. They lived on a farm that was rented. Schellenberg discusses the 1862 Homestead Act, which allowed settlers to go west, claim land, prove that they had developed it for five years, and then gain the title for free. This brought many Swedes and other Europeans to the United States for the opportunity to own land. Some speculators bought multiple lots and rented them to others, which was probably the case with Gustav. (Did only homestead speculators rent land? What about the family two up on the census page: Peter Johnson, born in 1847 in Sweden, arrived in the U.S. 1870; he could be Gustav's brother. Maybe it's his land Gustav is renting.) The camera zooms in for a close-up of the birthplaces on the census page, and Ringwald says, "Sweden, Sweden, Sweden", but only the parents and Edwin were born there; the other children were born in Nebraska. (A curious piece of information to be gleaned from the census is that Gustav said he had immigrated in 1877, while Carolina arrived in 1887. So I'm wondering how Gustav, if he had been in the U.S. since 1877, could have fathered Edwin, who was born in 1885 in Sweden. Just a thought.)
|United States 1900 Census, Fontenelle Township, Washington County, Nebraska,
June 8, 1900, Enumeration District 130, Sheet 4A, lines 12–19
Curiosity appropriately piqued, Ringwald says that she wants to learn more. Of course, Schellenberg says the best place to do that is to go to Sweden, because the Swedish are amazing record keepers. (One point to Janice: Yes, they send her to Sweden.)
Leaving the library, Ringwald says that yesterday she felt no connection to her Swedish ancestors, but now that has changed. Just having their names has made a difference. Knowing that her great-great-grandparents were Gustav and Carolina has made them more real. Next she wants to learn where they lived in Sweden and what they did.
Ringwald goes to southern Sweden, apparently to the Regional State Archives in Lund. As she goes through the city she is curious whether her relatives walked the streets of a city like this or if they lived in a rural area. She also wonders about her great-great-grandmother Carolina's family.
In the archives, Ringwald meets with archivist Petra Nyberg (who has no on-screen credit, the first time I've seen that), who explains that a law was passed in 1686 requiring that annual household surveys be conducted by the clergy. They collected information about births, marriages, and more. The first book Nyberg brings out has Lysnings och Vigselbok ("Banns and Marriages") 1880–1893 on the spine. The records are for Helsingborgs parish. Nyberg has Ringwald put on conservator gloves, and she puts on a pair herself. The relevant pages in the book are marked, so they're not just flipping through everything. Nyberg suggests Ringwald look for the marriage of Gustav and Carolina before 1885, because Edwin was born in 1885 (for which they have shown no proof, of course, so as far as we've seen they're taking the census' word on it). Ringwald asks whether the record is in Swedish, which of course it is. That notwithstanding, she somehow manages to find the marriage record: Gustaf Jönsson (pronounced "Yenson") and Carolina Grip were married on May 3, 1884.
|Helsingborgs Banns and Marriages 1880–1893, page 55 (edited image)|
The marriage record lists Gustav's occupation as a mine laborer from Höganäs. The record also includes both of their birthdates: Gustav was born April 23, 1855, and Carolina was born July 18, 1857. (Second point to Janice: I got this record online here in the U.S.) The record doesn't include much information, but Nyberg says that Höganäs had been a coal mining town since about 1800.
The next book brought out is Höganäs Kyrkobok, which has births from 1854–1861. Carolina's birth is confirmed as July 18, 1857:
|Höganäs Births 1854–1861, page 37|
Nyberg provides a translation of this record:
July 18 born deceased mine-laborer No. 303 Carl Grip and his surviving widow Kjersti Johnson's daughter, baptized 26 July - Carolina. Saddle maker Lars Johnson's wife Johanna Hörstidz of Gr carried the child; Miss Bothilda Gustafsdr of the mine and Miss Christina Grip of No. 13 Väsby were witnesses.
The record says that Carolina's parents were Carl Grip and Kjersti (pronounced "sher-stee") Johnssonsdotter, that she was baptized on July 26 — and that her father was deceased. Ringwald asks if he died in a coal mine, but the record doesn't give that information. (Third point to Janice: This record is online also.) Something Nyberg does not mention is that normally in Sweden, if the father died before the child was born, the child was considered illegitimate. Carolina's birth record does not indicate she is illegitimate, however.
Ringwald is happy to learn the names of her 3x-great-grandparents and wants to know if Carl Grip chose to work in the mines or if it was simply the type of work his family did. Nyberg says no one would choose to do that work, as it was very hard. It could be that he was from a family where his father worked in the mines, so he did the same work because he had no other option. If his parents didn't own land or a farm, it was difficult to find agricultural work. Mining was dangerous industrial work. Nyberg ends by suggesting that Ringwald go to Höganäs if she wants to know more about the family. It is north of Lund.
Leaving the archives, Ringwald is intrigued by what she has learned so far and wants to know how Carolina's father died. She is close to her father, so she feels sorry that Carolina didn't have a father. She wonders what happened and how the family survived.
In Höganäs, Ringwald notes that it's cold and dark, without much daylight for the time of year (I guess she was there in late fall or winter). She finds it beautiful but thinks it would be hard to live there. She is meeting historian Erik Thomson (from the University of Manitoba; we saw him in the Tom Bergeron episode; his Web page says his special interests are French and Swedish history, an interesting combination) at an address he gave her. It turns out to be the entrance to a mine. It is the last open mine in Höganäs; there used to be 50. It's still dangerous enough that they both put on helmets with lights, before they even go past the fence. Ringwald comments that her ancestors worked in mines like these because they had no other opportunities. Thomson explains that Sweden had primarily an agrarian society until the 1870's to 1880's. Ringwald adds that her ancestors probably did not wear hats like they're wearing; Thomson agrees and adds, "If they even had hats."
The narrator tells us that late in the 18th century Sweden began mining coal because it was cut off from its previous coal suppliers, who were in a war with France. The mines in Höganäs at first used Russian prisoners of war and children from orphanages because it was difficult to find locals who would do the work. Later, when young men were more desperate for work, they finally went to the mines. The narrator, by the way, makes no attempt to pronounce Höganäs correctly, whereas Ringwald does a pretty good job.
Thomson points out the limestone and coal to Ringwald and tells her that the coal usually lay within a narrow band between two to three feet wide. The miners often crouched on their sides in standing water, hacking away at the wall of the shaft to get at the coal. He then goes to the entrance of the mine, and Ringwald says, "And I'm supposed to go in there?" in a slighty panicked voice that made me think she might be claustrophobic. She eventually does go in, of course.
The two discuss how the work was fairly dangerous, and Ringwald wonders how her great-great-grandfather died. Conveniently, Thomson has a translation of Carl's death record with him. (All this window dressing just to show a translation of a death record? Sheesh.) Ringwald reads the entire short translation.
Died in 1857
January 26 - Died coal-cutter No. 303 Carl Grip as a result of being hit in the head by a fock fall in the Royal Shaft, buried 1 February.
Ringwald is quiet and contemplative for a moment, then notices that the rock is soft and asks if it was always like that. Thomson says it was and that rock falls were common; people died regularly in the mines. He points out the water dripping nearby and says that in mines close to the coast sometimes shafts flooded to waist level. The men used candles for light and kept up their morale by drinking alcohol provided by the mine company. The two agree that the drinking could have made for less-than-clear minds, which would not improve the danger inherent in the work.
Thomson comments about Carl being only 26 years old when he died. Ringwald adds that Kjersti had a baby on the way. It was unbelievable that people worked under these horrible conditions, and it must have been hellish. She takes a small chunk of rock, apparently as a souvenir, and admits to Thomson, "I'm a little claustrophobic." They then head for the exit.
Outside of the mine, Ringwald looks happier to be in the open air. She thinks more about her 3x-great-grandfather dying at 26, when his life was just beginning. He didn't get to see his daughter, which is very sad. It also must have been frightening for Kjersti, who was pregnant and then a widow. How would she support herself and the baby?
The next day Ringwald meets with Thomson again, this time in the Höganäs parish church. He had said they would find out what happened after Carl died in the mine. He tells her that this is her ancestors' church. She says it's beautiful and then asks, "You have some documents for me?" They move to a round card table which looks horribly tacky in the church sanctuary.
First Thomson has the household exam from 1857. It shows Carl, Kjersti, and Ida, who was Carolina's older sister, but they have been crossed out. Being crossed out means that the person died or moved. Carl was deleted because he was dead, but Kjersti and Ida were deleted because household #303 was designated as a miner's family residence. As Kjersti was a widow, she had to move out of the miner housing. Thomson says that the G.E. before the 42 on the record is "Gruva Enka" (or something like that; I have no idea how badly I've spelled it), or "mine widow." Ringwald thinks it's dehumanizing that everyone is designated by residence numbers, but Thomson points out it was a useful way to identify people when they were underground, with rocks falling on their heads. (Does that mean the men carried their household numbers somewhere on them? From a modern perspective, those numbers are also incredibly helpful when you're doing Swedish research, because you can follow the family from one residence to the next.)
|Höganäs Household Exams 1854–1861, Household 303, page 164|
The record for household #303 shows that Carl Grip was born July 19, 1830 and that Kjersti Johnsson was born January 17, 1834. It also shows the child in the household, Ida, was born February 20, 1855. (Another point to Janice for another online record.)
Ringwald wonders how old Kjersti was. Thomson points out the record shows she was born in 1834, so when Carl died in 1857 she was 23 years old. Ringwald is struck by the fact that she was a widow with one child and another on the way. She then is hit by a sobering thought: "I was moving to Paris when I was 23." She has "definitely [had] a different life." Returning to Kjersti, she asks where she would have moved. There was housing set aside for widows.
The narrator elaborates. Kjersti and Ida would have moved into widows' housing, probably owned by the Höganäs coal company. From the early 1800's to the 20th century, widows and children of deceased miners lived in this type of housing if they had no other options. Some spent the rest of their lives there.
Ringwald wonders if her ancestor Carolina was born in the widows' home. Thomson says she was and hands her a translation of an oral history recorded in the 1940's about what the widows' housing was like. Ringwald reads portions of the text.
South of Brorsbacke-farm, toward Tivoli Bowl, lay a long wooden building called the Widows' House. It was just one meter wide, which separated it from Brorsbacke-farm. In the Widows' House resided the Höganäs Company's poorest widows, 8–10 of them (According to Albin Hamberg's depiction of his childhood, there lived 20 widows there along with children). The widows each had their own little room with a floor space of 2 x 3 meters. Through the whole building went a long hall or corridor, in which two fireplaces were placed. They consisted of a large brick stove with iron slabs, shared by all the widows. There the widows could cook their food and boil their chicory coffee. Moreover, these fireplaces were for heating all the rooms. One would just open the door to their room so that the heat would penetrate it. During the winter it was kept going day and night, which the widows had to provide for themselves, although the mining company provided free tinder which comprised of coal No. 3, so-called coal chips.
There were no head mistresses or nurses available other than the widows helping themselves the best they could if they became ill or bedridden. They had 2–3 crowns [a denomination of money] a month poor-relief, but it did not reach far. Local neighbors often brought them food or a treat. But this had to be done in secret, otherwise there would be jealousy from those without means. Most of them were fed and mobile and therefore went to the country to beg.
Ringwald stops reading and asks whether the widows had any money or insurance. Thomson says that they had something but not much. He doesn't mention the housing but says if the widow had children, the same allowance (a section which Ringwald did not read aloud, so it was a non sequitur when he said it) simply had to stretch further. (Personally, I was struck by the irony of the widows having to heat their rooms with coal, the mining of which caused their husbands' deaths.) Ringwald then picks up reading the translation again.
It was the worst for the widows during the winter when it was cold. Albin Hamberg tells us about an event in the beginning of the 1880's. One of the widows, "Hultin's Ingrid," was found one morning frozen to death beside a fence in Längaröd. But as the weather was bad, she did not have the strength enough to reach all the way home, though she was quite close.
It was all quite poor and miserable in the widow house.
Ringwald is somewhat angry that the mining company didn't take care of the widows and that they were forgotten and forsaken. (That was the way of the industrial revolution, unfortunately.) She asks if Kjersti stayed in the widow's home. Thomson says they can look at the widow's home records (which is the household exam for those residences). He has a record showing Kjersti, Ida, Carolina, and another daughter, Johanna, crossed out from another household.
|Höganäs Household Exams, Household 42, 1854–1861, page 282|
This is the residence to which Kjersti moved after Carl Grip died. On Kjersti's line (the second name), it has 303 in the fifth column and 57 in the sixth column, indicating she moved to this residence from #303 in 1857. The seventh column shows that she moved to residence #207, and the eighth column shows it was in 1861, which is why the four names have been crossed out. (One more point to me for a record found online.)
(What Thomson does not discuss is that the mark to the left of Johanna'a name indicates she was illegitimate. The page shows that Johanna was born June 18, 1861. What you can't see on this page is that Kjersti did not marry Johanna's father until after her birth. Johanna's baptismal record lists only her mother's name as a parent and identifies her as a widow. Since Ringwald's first child was born before she and her husband married, you'd think they might have brought up the subject, because she could identify with it. By the way, I found the baptismal and marriage records online also.)
Kjersti married another miner (Johannes Andersson) in 1861 (on December 11), so she was able to move back into a miner residence. These were larger, and the family had more income. So Kjersti spent four long years in the widows' house with her children. Thomson tells Ringwald to imagine being in a 2 x 3 meter room with children all winter. Ringwald responds that she has three children, and she can't imagine spending even one day with them in a room that small.
Thomson then lets Ringwald know that Kjersti's second husband also died, so she had to return to the widows' house. (No details about that were discussed on screen, but yes, I found those records online. Johannes Andersson died March 20, 1864, and Kjersti and three children — she had another child with Johannes, a son, in 1863, but Ida died in 1862 — moved to household #46 the same day. Maybe that was too much harshness for Ringwald. Oh, and I think I'm up to 9 points.)
Ringwald says that Carolina left and had moved to Nebraska by 1900. (Thomson does not bring up the fact that the date of Carolina's departure from Sweden should be documented in the household exams also. I did not follow Carolina past 1866, when she was living with her mother and siblings in household #46 in the widows' house, but I easily could have done so.) Ringwald asks if she can keep the documents before she leaves the church.
Ringwald is still angry that more was not done for the widows, whom she feels were badly mistreated. Carolina knew only poverty growing up and couldn't have had much hope for more. Ringwald doesn't know how she found the strength to go on, but she obviously did. Now Ringwald is leaving Sweden to head to Washington County, Nebraska, where Carolina went when she left.
In Washington County Ringwald drives to the courthouse (which is in Blair). She knows from the census that Gustav and Carolina had been renting land. Now she wants to find out what kind of life they had and whether they were happy. She has contacted someone and asked that person to look for any records about Carolina (Gustav has obviously been totally forgotten by this point).
At the courthouse Ringwald meets Tonia Compton, an assistant professor of the history of women and the American West at Columbia College (and a specialist in women's property rights in the west). The first item she hands Ringwald is a warranty deed for property dated March 13, 1905. Carolina Jenson had paid $200 to purchase two lots in the city of Arlington from Herbert and Helene Jayne. The lots were 7 and 8 in block 22. Surprisingly, Gustav's name does not appear on the deed, which prompts a question from Ringwald. Compton admits it was unusual for a married woman to own property in her own name at the time but has found no clear reason in the property records for why it happened in Carolina's case. Ringwald is happy to see that after the poverty and the widows' home, Carolina got a piece of land. She tells Compton, "I think she was tough."
Ringwald asks if there's any way to find out exactly where the lots are that Carolina purchased. Of course there is! Compton takes out a 1908 book of plat maps (perhaps this book, digitized by the Library of Congress) and goes to the page with a map of Arlington. Ringwald easily finds block 22 and lots 7 and 8.
|1908 plat map of Arlington, Washington County, Nebraska, showing Block 22 at top|
The next question, of course, is whether it's still there. Compton says it is and that it is only about 15 miles from the courthouse, but she has one more document. Ringwald immediately recognizes it as an obituary. Compton states the date it was published, February 21, 1935, but does not mention the newspaper name. (Luckily, the Washington County Genealogy Society transcribed it in 2015 and put it online; it appeared in the Arlington Review Herald. Before finding it online I went back and forth rewatching the scenes to get the text.) Ringwald is tearing up by the time she is at the end of the obituary.
Pneumonia was fatal Wednesday morning when it claimed Mrs. Gust Jenson, 78, a resident of Arlington for thirty years.
Caroline Griep was born in Sweden, July 16, 1857. She was united in marriage to Gust Jenson on May 3, 1883 in Sweden and to this union was born seven children, all living and as follows: Edwin G. of Roseville, California, John G. of Herman, Fred W. of Loveland, Ohio, Mrs. Jess Laughlin of Tekamah, Carl G. of Arlington, Mrs. Oscar Anderson of Arlington, and Albert J. of Oakland. Twenty grandchildren also survive the deceased. Her husband passed away on August 18, 1930.
She was confirmed in the Swedish Lutheran Church at the age of 16 years. Mrs. Jenson came with her husband to Washington County, Nebraska, on July 25, 1888, and engaged in farming until in March, 1904, when they moved to Arlington and made their home til the end.
Mrs. Jenson had always stood for the right and taught her family the meaning of truth, justice and mercy. A kind and loving wife and mother who will be greatly missed and mourned by her children.
Some day, when fades the golden sun
Beneath the rosy tinted west
My blessed Lord will say, Well done!
And I shall enter into rest. — Fanny Crosby
Funeral services will be held at the Methodist Church Friday afternoon at 2 o’clock. Rev. Rasmussen will be in charge assisted by Rev. McClannahan of Tekamah Union Church. Pall bearers chosen are J. A. Peterson, Roy R. Peterson, W. E. Autrim, Wm. Kruger, Louis Sorensen and Chet Menking. Mrs. Cora Hammang, Mrs. Chet Menking and Josephine Swihart in charge of the flowers. Mrs. Alvin Anderson and Miss Lucy Lawson will sing a duet. A quartette composed of W. A. Reckmeyer, J. Q. Wallingford, Mrs. Alvin Anderson and Miss Lucy Lawson will sing “Saved by Grace,” and “In the Sweet Bye and Bye.”
I suspect that the spelling of "Griep" is due to the pronunciation of "Grip" in Swedish, which would be "greep." Carolina's birth is off by two days, and her marriage is off by one year. This is a great example of how information in obituaries is great as clues, but original records should always be sought.
Ringwald is happy to see the property deed in Carolina's name and thinks it must have felt like a miracle to her. Being born in the widows' house, not knowing her father, and growing up in such poverty, she couldn't have imagined that one day she would own land. It must have been very meaningful to her. Now Ringwald is curious to see where Carolina (not Gustav!) lived and raised her family.
As she drives to the location of the two lots, she mentions that she has been updating her father by e-mail, but she's going to try calling him to tell him the final pieces of the story. She thinks he has been curious also.
The last few minutes of the episode go back and forth between Ringwald walking around the property and talking to her father on the phone, and her talking to the camera about her impressions. She walks around a small white house. Neither the address nor the street name is shown, but the location is easy to determine based on the plat map, because the street names in Arlington have not changed since 1908. This is another occasion when the producers either did not seek or did not receive permission to see the interior of the home.
|The two lots at the corner of 1st Street and Elm Street, Arlington, Nebraska, facing on Elm Street.|
Neither house really looks like the one around which Ringwald walked.
Ringwald tells her father that she is in Arlington standing on the land his great-grandmother bought with her own money, and that the deed was in her name. He asks whether the house is still standing. She responds that it is but that it looks like it's had additions put on it and probably looks different from when Carolina lived in it, but that an old shed might be from the right period. (Carolina bought two lots, and both have houses on them now, so someone must have told Ringwald which one to visit.) She says that Carolina got out of the mines and owned land, which was remarkable. Her father asks, "So there was no royalty in our family, huh?" Ringwald tells him that the family couldn't be further away from royalty, but that they came for the American dream and succeeded.
To the camera, Ringwald says she is grateful for her life because her ancestor persevered and didn't give up. She feels as though she inherited fortitude from her great-great-grandparents. Now that she has walked in the same places her ancestors lived, she feels a real connection to them. Carolina changed the family narrative (what about Gustav?!). With her final look around the property, she says, "Well done, Carolina."