Sunday, February 11, 2018

She Died Far From Home: 52 Ancestors

When a birth, death or marriage occurs in an unexpected location, it adds challenges for the researcher. In the family of my Swedish Great-grandmother, Agnes Fors Ekstrom, there were two such events. A younger brother, Eric Anton Fors, was born in a parish where their parents never lived. And Agnes' young daughter, Edna Ekstrom, died far from her Chicago home.

Edna's name came up in all my family interviews. Everyone knew that she was my grandfather's sister and that she had died as a child. She appears, as a baby, in the 1900 Chicago census, living with her parents and siblings at 1353 Belmont Avenue, in the Lakeview area.  Her birth month is listed as May of 1899.

Edna's death record eluded me. She wasn't buried in the same cemetery as her parents. The only possible death certificate did not match their address nor did it name any parents. I was unable to locate the records from the Swedish Methodist Church that they likely attended, as the supposed archives claimed to not have them. Edna's story was unfinished for many years.

Recently, I decided to spend the time to follow Edna's grandfather as he moved from parish to parish, thanks to his job on the Swedish railway. There, in the Swedish church records, I unexpectedly found the rest of Edna's story.

By 1904, Agnes and Gustaf were well settled in Chicago after 13 years. They had added one more child to their family -- my grandfather, Alvar (Oliver). Gustaf's brother, Ernst, had been in Chicago for 16 years. Their tailor business must have been doing well, as their wives went traveling that summer.

Agnes and her two youngest children and Lottie, Ernst's wife, and her two children sailed to Sweden. Edna and Alvar got to meet their maternal grandparents, who were living in Kullerstad, Östergötland. While in Sweden, or on the voyage, 5-year-old Edna became ill. She died at the home of her grandparents, with the cause recorded as croup. She was buried in Linköping, most likely with her two older siblings and her father's first wife.

The records baffled me at first. Why would a little girl from Chicago have her death recorded in Sweden? However, with the thoroughness of the church records, it all finally made sense. The death of one small visitor generated a half-dozen records.

The first record that I found was the church book (församlingsböcker) that showed her grandparents' household. Edna was listed, not directly in the household, but a couple of lines down. Why was a five year old from Chicago by herself with her grandparents? Her birth (född) was recorded as being in Chicago on May 18, 1899. She both died (död) and entered (inflyttad) the Kullerstad parish on June 25, 1904. At first I thought maybe this was a courtesy entry for her grandfather.

But no, it was real. Her death was in the parish death book, with the notation that she was visiting (på besök).

Additional records showed that Edna was registered as entering the parish, probably because the records would be unclear without that information. More likely the family had been there longer, but the minister had no need to record their entry as they were merely visiting. Her death also appears in the Linköping death abstract for 1904, as the minister recorded the burial (begrafning), noting that the death had been in Kullerstad.

Having sorted out Edna's death, the next question was who was traveling along with her. Searching ship lists, I discovered that her mother and younger brother entered the port of Boston on the White Star Line's RMS Republic on September 30, 1904. I can only imagine that having lost Edna to illness, Agnes must have been terrified that little Alvar would also get sick. No doubt she was grateful to return to Chicago.

I found Agnes' sister-in-law, Lottie, and her daughters on a different ship, sailing into Boston a few days after Agnes and Alvar. It does seem strange that they would sail on different ships. Perhaps it is similar to families today who won't all fly on the same plane due to risk of accident. Finding Lottie's ship record was a bonus that shed additional light on the financial success of the family business.

With this serendipitous discovery, I can finally lay to rest the puzzle of what happened to Edna Ekstrom. Her story is now complete.

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