Family Found

The hint appeared as a leaf linked to Carolina Eugenia Oscaria Tillberg.

Before I reveal the hint, here is some background. Carolina was my great-grandmother. The story goes that Carolina was born in Stockholm, and at age 11, she traveled with neighbors to Chicago and settled in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.  She was supposed to return to her family in Stockholm, but she never went home.

1864 portrait of Carolina’s mother and brothers taken after she left for the US

Instead, Carolina at age 20 married a Norwegian man, Bernhardt Henrikson, who immigrated to Sheboygan as a two-year-old boy with his parents and siblings. They raised three children, including my grandfather, and moved to Chicago in 1894 for a job with the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad.

My dad spent a lot of time with his Scandinavian grandparents, who he called Little Grandma and Little Grandpa because they were short. As a young boy, he would eavesdrop on their conversations in the kitchen, where they spoke the mysterious languages of Swedish and Norwegian. Our family has several photos of them which were taken in the 1920s.

1927 photo of Carolina (far right) with my dad (on bicycle)

In June 1995, my immediate family visited Stockholm and watched the Summer Solstice celebration at Skansen, an open-air museum and garden. As we strolled through Gamla Stan (Old Town) the next day, my dad wistfully wondered if his grandmother’s birthplace was nearby and if any Tillberg descendants still lived there.

1995 photo of my dad at Skansen outdoor museum in Stockholm

Imagine my surprise after I clicked on the leaf and saw an 1880 professional portrait of my 27-year-old great-grandmother. The photo was posted by Anna-Klara Ostrom. Carolina looked strikingly like my uncle and other relatives. (We could not see the family resemblance when we looked at her photos from the 1920s.)

1880 portrait of Carolina in Swedish family photo album

I was shocked! Who was Anna-Klara Ostrom and why did she have a photo of my great-grandmother?

I sent a message to Anna-Klara through to find out about her connection.  Per Ostrom, her husband, replied with some astonishing news: “Oscaria [his family’s nickname for Carolina] is the sister of my great-great grandfather Johan Emil Tillberg…this means that you are third cousin with my mother… I found this picture in a photo album…”

I found my great-grandma’s entire Swedish family!

Fortunately, my great-grandmother’s niece placed her 1880 photo in a photo album. Per discovered it and his wife posted it on I am so thankful that Johan’s descendants were interested in genealogy. Their family always wondered why Carolina never returned to Stockholm. While none of us will ever know why she remained in Wisconsin, her Swedish descendants now know about five subsequent generations of Tillbergs who have resided in the United States.

We share each other’s family trees on to research family members who live on the other side of the Atlantic. Per and his family have invited us American cousins to Sweden and we have invited them to Chicago, where most of the Tillberg descendants reside.

You never know what one leaf hint will uncover. If you have trouble reaching me in the future, you’ll find me making plans to visit Stockholm as soon as the pandemic ends.

Diane RussellDiane Henrikson Russell joined OLLI in 2014.  She has taken over 70 OLLI courses on literature, writing, history, health and wellness, art, music, language, sociology, technology, theater and genealogy.   Diane volunteers as a proofreader for the OLLI class catalog and for OLLI Connects, and is a regular OLLI Connects contributor.


2 Replies to “Family Found”

  1. Diane, your enthusiasm shines through your words! So very happy for you 👏🏻. Carolina is likely happy, too.

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