In 1876, my great-grandfather Gustav Fryxell and his brother John sailed from Sweden to a new life in America. They left behind a farm so poor that once when they were children the family’s only cow starved to death. Though they thought they were going to a land of milk and honey, they found only more hardship. Yet could they ever have dared imagine that their descendants would become college professors, famous geologists, symphony musicians — and a magazine editor?
Two years ago, my third cousin, Eric Fryxell, reversed our ancestors’ journey. He and another cousin, Dan Anderson, retraced their path to Goteborg, Sweden, where our ancestors set sail, through the province of Vaster-gotland. They found the ex-barracks where, when John served in the military, the family name became the hard-to-spell “Fryxell.”
Next it was north to the town of Vät-tlösa — “and there was John’s family church, gleaming white in the sun,” Eric recalls. After another kilometer, “we stopped where a road branched right across a freshly plowed field. On the other side, in the underbrush under tall pines, is where John lived. Wow!”
After stopping at a library for more genealogical clues, they drove farther north, arriving before dark in Forshem, birthplace of our great-grandfather’s grandfather, Sven An-dersson, in 1782. “Then the southern tip of vast Lake Vänern, where we realized our ancestors would have seen similar sunsets.”
Eric shared his memories and photos of his trip with me last fall, after we realized quite by accident that we both lived in Cincinnati. The saga of our ancestors — and the desire to walk in their footsteps and see similar sunsets — was in my mind as I wrote this issue’s guide to discovering your own Scandinavian ancestors (page 28). Whether you share my Swedish roots or have ancestors from Norway, Finland, Denmark or Iceland, “True North” can help point you toward your own ancestral sunsets.
Whatever your ancestry, this issue is packed with family history help. Jim and Paula Warren take you on a tour of Salt Lake City, the “family history capital” (page 44). In our cover story, Maureen Taylor explains how to identify mysterious old family photos (page 14). Rick Crume reveals how to find and download whole branches of your family tree (page 22). And there’s much more, from the truth about coats of arms (page 54) to goodies that will make your next family reunion a hit (page 38).