Sven Nilsson was born to a wealthy family in Kristianstad, in the Skåne province of Sweden.  The Nilssons had been in the trade business since the early 19th century, and had been land owners in Nösdala for at least two centuries.  However, Sven's father, the youngest brother, lost all his money and even his house.  He died of typhus at the age of 46, and ten months later, his widow succombed to pneumonia.  It is likely that pneumonia was the final stage of another disease, and that she was further weakened by caring for her ailing husband and their four children.  The children were left penniless and homeless.  Sven, 14, went to work at a mill near the family farm in Brönnestad.  His two younger brothers went to apprentice with a goldsmith, a highly respectable trade.  His only sister, Elna, died ten years later in a cholera epidemic.
For the next ten years Sven worked as a day-laborer in Tyringe.  It was probably there that he met Petranilla (Nellie) whose father was a night-watchman for Sven's employer.  He was 43 and she was 22.  Petranilla's father gave them a farm tenancy in Hörja, and they had two daughters, Hulda (Abesina) and Gerda Ämmi (Emily).  Unfortunately, the quality of the land was poor.  It was covered with huge boulders left over from the glaciers of the Ice Age, a few trees and a thin layer of soil.  We can speculate that the tenancy could not support the family, for Petranilla's older brother gave up his share and moved with his family to America.
In 1882 Sven and his family followed.  They arrived in Malmö where they boarded a ship for Copenhagen.  According to the ship's log, they were traveling with an 11 year-old boy named Magnus Nilsson.  His relationship to the family remains a mystery, for he was clearly not their child.  From Copenhagen they made their way to Hull, England and thence to Castle Garden, New York.  They arrived in the United States on May 5, 1882.
Sven and Nellie settled near Gothenburg in Custer County, Nebraska, an area which attracted many Swedes.  He applied for a homestead, and sold 14 acres of it for $14 which paid for the homestead fee.  With shovelfuls of sod, he built a house which is commonly known as a "soddie".  With few trees on the prairie to protect the settlers from freezing winters and intense summer heat, the sod provided excellent insulation.  The soddie is now gone, but an abandoned clap-board house still stands on the hill where Sven and Nellie's three youngest daughters were born. The town, Etha (the Swedish spelling of Etta) is long gone.  The only remainder is the Etna Road (misspelled) which leads to other desolate, unihabited and long-forgotten places.

In northern Custer County is the Tallin Table which is a small mesa named for the Tallin family, also Swedish immigrants.  John Tallin was a witness for Sven when he filed his naturalization papers  in Broken Bow, the regional capital. Since a homestead could only be granted to an American citizen, it was important that Sven became one, and in order to "claim" his homestead, he had five years in which to build his house and begin farming the land.  Sven applied for his citizenship in November, 1888 and died a year later at the age of 55.  He is buried in the Tallin Church Cemetery about half a mile down the country road from his homestead.  A friend, Ole Olsson, made a Swedish cross grave marker.  This final act of kindness has been the only memory of Sven and his place in the history of the plains settlers.



Hi Gail,

Another couple of days spend in the dungeons of the Morman version of Google. 

So far, I have uncovered the whole of Sven's and Petronella's families.  The "story" gets farther and farther removed from the reality. 

I will show you the extent of Sven's family.  His father was not a home-owner in Kristianstad, but two of his brothers were.  I have not figured out about the others, but after Sven's parents died, two of Nils Mårtenson's (Sven's father) brothers assumed the guardianship of the four children. 

Sven's father died of Typhoid fever in early 1847.  He died in debt.  His widow died later that year of "lung disease."  There were smallpox epidemics and cholera raging in southern Sweden at that time, but those are usually children's diseases.  The four children appear to have been healthy.   

I am going to work on the 10 years right after the parents' death.  I've found Sven in 1857-1868 being an itinerant farm-worker.   Sven had been moving around various farms in the neighborhood of Brönnesdad and Finja.  He moved to Hörja upon his marriage. 

When Sven married Petronella, he inherited a "inheritable tenancy" on a farm in Horja from his father-in-law.  Petronella had an older brother, Pår (Peter) who left for America two years after Nils and Petronella did.  The farm tenancy could not have been worth muXh A f it had been able to support the family,  I don't know why Sven  would have immigrated.  The farm was in Hörja, and may have been a share of the farm that the oldest son, Johannes, would inherit; perhaps Pår also could not make it on the small portion. 

As far as I can find out, no-one in America knew that Petronella's brother Pår was also in Nebraska.  Did you ever hear anything about Pår?  He came in 1884, and moved to Madison County, Nebraska.  The other of Petronella's siblings stayed in Sweden, Johannes, Nils, and Cilla.  Oddly enough, a lady here who was helping me has a best friend who is a descendant of one of them.  And, there is a man who knows the family, the farm, etc., but he doesn't share his work on-line, so I am going to try and see him next month. 

Anyway, at this point, here's my guess at what actually happened: 

When Sven died, Petronella kind of "reinvented" herself, making out that she was the only daughter of a judge.  In fact, she was very poor.  I have been pretty thorough and I do not believe that Petronella was married before Sven.  I think she made that up to explain why she was 25 and not married.  There is an Overberg in Hörja, but he died in his early twenties, and was never married.  I have looked exhaustively at all children born in Hörja in the years before Petronella's marriage to Sven, and there are NO children (within or outside marriage) born in that parish during those years who are possible children of Teodor Öfverberg and Petronilla, and certainly no marriage. Again, I think it was part of the New Petronella.  By saying she was an only child, she was able to protect her story, or, she may not have known that her brother came in 1884 (to Nebraska!), who knows? 

At any rate, there are a bunch of Petronella's nephews and nieces and their families in Nebraska, and one in Omaha.  Peter is much better at finding living people than I, so may be he can take this from here... the reunion is growing!! 

Much love, Sandy 

Well, I just returned from Salt Lake City.  The week was incredibly intense, and I hope I don't have to go back.  I met some good researchers (who have the advantage of speaking Swedish and living over there).  In one of those "It's a small world" moments, the lady who was helping me is very good friends with a direct descendent of CILLA BENGTSDOTTER, Petronillas sister... 

I'm just about at the end of the Nilsson oddessy, but there are a few holes yet. 

Things that are simply not true:  

Sven (and his TWO brothers and ONE sister) were never in an orphanage. 

They were (all) orphaned in 1847 when Nils Mårtensen and his wife, Jönsdotter died in January 1847 and October 1847, respectively.  It is clear that Sven's father died of Typhoid Fever.  Elna died of "lung sickness," which was likely pnuemonia.  There had been a series of cholera and smallpox epidemics in the Nineteenth Century, and as Kristianstad was a busy port, the southern part of Sweden had wave after after wave of epidemics.  Typhus requires a direct bite, and I suspect that Elna was either worn out caring for Mårten, or possibly had TB.  I doubt the latter as the children appear to all have lived, and lived for at least another 20 years. 

In 1847 at the time of Mårten's decease, he was significantly in debt.  He had been a home-owner at the time of his marriage, but had lost it at some point during the next fifteen years.  I can go back and look in the court records and maybe find something.  Two of Mårten's older brothers, Anders and Jöns, were appointed as guardians of the children.  At that time, Sven Nilsson was 14 years old and working in a mill.  His mother had 3Kr at her death, i.e., she had paid Sven's father's debts and had nothing.  She owed 3 months back-rent and other debts. 

Besides Sven, she had three surviving younger children in 1847: Magnus who was 11, Elna was 9, and the youngest, Karl was 6.  I have found Sven again in 1857 as an itinerant farm laborer.  It was very common for men to go from village to village, living in a common bunk-house for the harvest year.  He went through the parishes of Brönnestad, Finja, and finally Hörja where me most likely met Nellie, who lived there with her family, and at 25 was unmarried. 

Nellie was NOT an only child.   

She had an older brother, Johannes, who died a few months after birth.  A second daughter, Nellie, again lived only a few years.  Then, finally, another Johannes who lived a long life until 1918, and married Bengta Nilsdotter (1843-1915).  They had two children.  I am looking for them, but they do not appear to have emigrated. 

Another brother, Pår Magnus (1849-1912) married Assarina Nilsdotter and had 9 children; the youngest 5 were born in the US after their family emigrated, and lived in Saunders County, Nebraska.  At least two are buried in OMAHA. 

Nellie (1953-1932), also had a youngest brother, Nils (1856-1902), who married 

Hanna Nilsdotter (1853-1850!) and had 6 children.  They are all buried in Sweden. 

There was also a little sister, Cilla.  I am struggling for dates on the latter, but this week I miraculously met a woman who is good friends with one of her direct descendants.  This same woman who knows Cilla's descendant may be willing to help me fill in the remaining gaps.  There is a man near her village who has researched Nellie's family, news about Hulda Abesina (Hilda Hyde) and her family. 

Nellie was married before and had two boys who died. 

I can find NO record of any marriage or children.  I have been pretty thorough 

I can find NO record of any marriage or children.  I have been pretty thorough and I simply don't believe she was married before. 

The next installment is in 1877 when one of the guardians, Anders 

Mårtensson dies.  This is 20 years after the deaths of Sven's parents.  Although Sven's father (Ander's youngest brother) died in poverty and left his widow destitute, Anders died with one of the largest fortunes in Kristanstadt, almost 100,000 Kr.  He did not leave Mårten's children anything, but named them as successor beneficiaries after his own children.  The important thing about his probate is that it names all 3 male children.  The daughter, Elna, does not rate a mention, but Sven is described as a mill-worker, Magnus is a GOLDSMITH, and the youngest brother, Karl is an apprentice goldsmith.  Unfortunately, the whereabouts of the two boys (and, by omission, Elna) is described in the will as "unknown." 

At the moment, I think I have found Elna married and emigrating to the US, but this is not confirmed to the point of certainty.  I can find NO record of either Magnus or Karl, but the lady from Sweden I met says that she has found a Magnus Nilsson in Gothenburg who is listed as a goldsmith.  There is no record (yet) of Karl. 

Do you know of Nellie's brother Jöns' family?  I am going to start working on finding them next.  I hope that the lady I met this past week will help me with the relatives living in Sweden. 

And, on the Krüger side, I have met two more cousins!  If you want some dirt, it turns out that the family patriarch, Wilhelm Freimann Koren Christie Krüger, was told to leave Bergen after fathering *SEVEN* illegitimate children!  I am promised more of the story... 

The website for the reunion is going up, and Piek Krüger in Norway is helping with the facebook page!!  

Does any of this ring any bells?? 

Much love, Sandy 


Hi Gail (and Peter), 

I've just returned from Sweden and have unearthed more of the Nilsson family story.  There are more answers, and more questions, but it is beginning to take some shape. 

It is very odd that Sven's father was so poor, when his two brothers were very wealthy.  Sven's father initially seems to have owned a house, and then lost it. As I said before, when he died, it was in debt, and when his widow died a few months later (both in 1847), she had 3Kr left in her "estate." 

On the good news side, I have found Sven's brother, Magnus, who was a goldsmith (true) in Götheborg.  Initially, his other, youngest brother, Karl, seems to have been his apprentice, but we are still looking for Karl.  In 1877, both Magnus and Karl were listed in their uncle Anders' probate as "whereabouts unknown."   More good news: Magnus was married, and had children.  I am looking for their descendants, and will surely find them.  Magnus died in Göteborg, but there is no mention of Karl.  I have to go to Göteborg to look at the probate records to see if Karl is mentioned. 

As to the mysterious "Magnus Nilsson" born in 1871 who travelled with Sven, Nellie, Hulda, and Ämmi (Emily) to Copenhagen and thence to New York, I have made NO progress.  I will work on that when and if I can find out who he is.  The only possible explanation at this point is that he was Nellie's illegitimate son, but that doesn't fit for several reasons.  There may be other clues in the tree information I have not had time to look at.  Oh, and Ingrid had a friend, Gert, to whom we are ALSO related, and he gave me 450 ancestors/relatives.  I have not had time to piece that all together.  And, it is very easy in Sweden to find living people, and that's my first priority given the reunion date.  I have found all of Cecilia's (Cilla) descendants who are living, and it's quite a bunch.   

The brother, Jöns, that emigrated to Omaha had 8 children, and I am still tracking those down.  Again, I'm trying to get the Swedes first as they need more time to plan; people in Omaha can decide about the reunion later... 

On the bad news side, it is very likely that Nils' problems were alcohol-related. My friend, Ingrid, says that it all looks very much like that kind of situation. It's not for sure, but there is certainly alcoholism later in the family, and there are really no other reasonable explanations for his situation. 

Also on the bad news side, the daughter, Else, died of cholera, likely in the 1857 epidemic.  That explains why she is not listed in Anders' probate, and why I can find no record.  The epidemic in Kristianstad was so horrible that many deaths were not properly recorded, and children were (as always) hit the hardest, and were the least likely to be recorded when too many people died at once to record the deaths properly. 

I went to Tyringe where Sven went before he met Nellie in Hörja and married, and it was likely that he was working in a lumber mill.  I asked Ingrid why his uncle, Anders, had not supported Sven in an apprenticeship as he had the two younger brothers, and she had no explanation, other than perhaps Sven was unwilling to take the help.  Unfortunately, that, too, fits with the pattern of an alcoholic parent. 

Sven's family comes from Brönnestad, which is very close to Hörja, Tyringe, Matteröd, and the other places we know of.  There are still a few details to try and ferret out, such as how Sven was a homeowner in 1880 in Hörja, and why they emigrated if he had an inherited tenancy from Nellie's father.  I think that the area around there is very difficult to farm (it seems to be the terminal moraine of a glacier--the place where the glacier stopped and melted, dropping the load of huge boulders it had accumulated in its path); that area is covered in large, large stones and little soil.  The walls are all out of these huge stones that have been cleared from the tiny fields... after seeing this, I can see why they thought the plains were heaven... no trees, no rocks... 

As for Nellie's having been the daughter of a judge, as with the rest of it--not. Her father was a local constable and employed as the watchman of something (there was a large lumber mill nearby, so maybe he worked there, which is maybe where Nellie met Sven?), but her father's father was a significant (Nösdala) landowner.  This is evident as he was responsible for the usual one-quarter of the support of the soldier and horse that was required of every parish, something Ingrid explains as indicating that he was well-respected, and sufficiently well-off to afford the charge levied on the area land-owners.  Now, again, what happened to that money, and the farm, I have yet to find out.  I haven't looked at the probate records yet, but it is likely that the two older brothers kept the farm and Jöns had nothing, and so emigrated. 

However, as Sven seems to have been given (Nellie's?) inherited tenancy, there must have been something left, but apparently not enough to support a family on, as both
Jöns and Nellie left for America.  Again, looking at that topography, I can't see how it would support a goat, let alone a large family. but the farm in Nösdala (a quite unprepossessing place) must have been substantial.

So, at present I have the luxury of too much data, and not enough time to process it all as quickly as I'd like.  I hope you are enjoying these letters half as much as I enjoyed your letters.  This is all a huge puzzle, but I love puzzles. It's very strange how many of the stories seem to repeat into their future family. It all seems to point to more "nature" than "nurture"...  but, I'm still piecing things together.  There's very little gospel at this point, but at least the conjecture is getting a little less wobbly. 

Much love, Sandy 

Hi Gail, 

I hope you had a nice holiday.  I was going back to California to see Doris, but Jane and I (her son Ron's wife) decided that it would be better to make it after the holidays as she gets very tired.  That way, we can have a nice, easy, quiet visit without all of the fuss and confusion of everyone else being there. 

I will go down towards the end of January.  My brother's ex-wife (I kept her in the divorce) is going to take Doris to Stockton to visit her son (my nephew) at UOP, as Doris went there in her 20s (I think she was studying nursing, for as long as that lasted).  I may time my visit to drive down with them. 

Anyway, I'm at the end of the proverbial line here.  I enclose the family tree charts as they exist, back to the 1550s-1650s, depending on the person.  The summary is that Sven's family was much better off than Nellie's, all the way back.  Most of the people were land-owners (which is huge--as late as the middle of the 19th Century, only about 3% of the Swedish people owned anything).  Sven's family moved into the city (Kristianstad) where they were successful merchants, and I can't find that Nellie's family had other than a small farm tenancy.  Suffice to say that there are no dark secrets, exciting scandals, illegitimacy, or other "news" (that sort of thing is all on the Krüger side--and there's plenty there...) 

They are all pretty much respectable family people generation after generation, marrying within their social strata, etc.  Then something happens.  And, it happens to Sven's father.  As I wrote before, the best guess is that Nils Mårtenson had a drinking problem.  Sven's father died impoverished, and the children were scattered when his wife died a few months later.   

As I said before, it looks as though Nils' brother, Magnus, paid for Sven's younger brother, Magnus, to apprentice as a silversmith.  Magnus Nilsson went back and forth between Göteborg and Kristanstad from about 1870-1890.  He married at about 50, a well-off woman from near Göteborg, and they had a daughter, Karolina.  A sad story: Karolina married a sea-captain in 1916, his boat is torpedoed (WWI), and he never meets his son, who is born in 1917.  That son just died in 2009, having never married.  My friend (and our relative Ingrid) is going to check on the probate record to see if there were any relatives named in the probate, but I'm not hopeful.  Magnus was fairly well-off when he died (but not in the same league as his uncles), and his wife was, as far as I can tell, an only child and an heiress.  Her father was a photographer (!), and there must have been zillions of photos...  Sigh.  I hope to learn more about his grandson from Ingrid and Gert, our relatives in Sweden.  (Gosh, I just *love* saying that!!) 

The two problems remain problems.  Magnus' and Sven's youngest brother, Karl, is apparently alive in 1877 when Nils' brother Magnus died.  There is no record of him in Göteborg with Magnus, nor does he travel to Kristanstad (and back) with Magnus' family when they move.  I have checked EVERYTHING. Magnus died in 1909, and Karl is not mentioned in that probate.  Either he was dead, gone, or they had a disagreement--I have no idea.  My theory is that Karl emigrated.  There is no death record in either Göteborg or Kristianstad that fits, and nothing else, either.  There is one emigration record out of Malmö, and Ingrid is checking on that for me.  Lots of people emigrated "under the radar" in that the parish church was not notified of their leaving.  I can't find a Magnus Nilsson on this side of the pond, either, but he may well have gone to Canada.  I continue to look, as the family tree on that side is, at present, JUST SVEN and his family.   

I am working hard on the reunion, which is to be the week of July 4th.  I have ordered a headstone for Sven (as the Swedish cross is completely inscrutable and says nothing), and plan to have a nice, simple picnic either at the Tallin Table Cemetery, the church, or nearby.  I've been in touch with the man who now owns Sven's homestead, and he did not want to sell it to me.  He has 9 kids (!!), and I'm not sure what they are going to do with it, but he was kind enough to say that we could picnic there if we like.  The sod house where Ida, Anna, and Esther were born is gone, but there is a clap-board house on the same site.  I haven't been on the property to check closely, but it seems in about the right place.   

We have all kinds of other stuff planned for that week, including a Bygdedans that Saturday.  I hope Doris can come out.  If she can make it at all, she will.  She's one determined girl--always has been.  I credit her with giving me a monster dose of tenacity.  I have also inherited her pathological hatred of waste, but I try and control my impulse to recycle everything.  I think that's how people go bonkers when they get older--all of their "habits" become pathological...  

At any rate, I hope YOU will come to the reunion.  And, I can use any and all help in finding the McKees, Robbs, Bitzens, and Hydes.  I have kept track of the Krügers, which isn't saying much-there are a very few of those, but all seem up for coming to the reunion.  Bill Sätterberg, Nellie's step grandson (great-grandson?) visited Doris and Earl in the 1990s at my house in the Bay Area, so I'm hopeful I can find the Sätterburg/Sederburg/Cederburg group.  I think only one of the 3 

so I'm hopeful I can find the Sätterburg/Sederburg/Cederburg group.  I think only one of the 3 children married and had children.  Do you know anything about two children that Nellie and John gave away to some people in Canada?? I have found them in Lake Lillian, Minnesota, and no extra children... 

We're putting together (on-line) a family recipe book, photos, etc.  I thought you had a photo of Sven...?  I didn't end up with a copy.  May I have one?  I had never seen it before I saw yours.  And, I should tell you my "Sven and Nellie" theory, as they seem so ill-suited.  I think they both just wanted out of Sweden and it was a marriage of convenience.  That certainly goes some way to explaining her very strange behavior with John Sätterburg, the headstone and all.  There was 22 years' difference in age, and she had remarried within a couple of months, etc.  And, she seems to have had no attachment to the homestead in Nebraska, that's for sure. 

I got a lovely card from Peter's mom, Marilyn.  I will write back to her this week.  Our tree is below. Anyway, much love, 


The farm belonged to Lena's parents and part to her brother.  The farm that her parents owned was lost to delinquent taxes in 1883, at which point they moved to South Dakta.  The brother kept is part of the farm until 1911.  Lena and Hans may have been married there.
The farm was owned by Lena's parents and her brother.  The part that was owned by her parents was lost in 1883 due to delinquent taxes.  Her brother held on to his part until 1911.  Lena and Hans may have been married there.