Virginia Catley, a Sussex County Genealogical Society member, recently visited Sweden, the country her ancestors emigrated from, including her grandmother Anna Katherine Peterson, whom she never met.
Catley began researching her family history in 2013, when she and husband Glenn retired and moved to the Delaware beaches. She was particularly interested in her mother’s side, as much of that family history faded when her grandmother died unexpectedly at age 39, leaving behind a husband and six children. Virginia’s mother was only 18 months old at the time. This tragedy meant that soon there was no one who could remember the details of Anna Katherine’s journey to the U.S. in 1908. There would also be no one to read and understand the few written notes in Swedish that she left behind. Yet these notes were carefully preserved by her descendants as reminders of a place once called home.
After taking classes in genealogy, joining the genealogy society and building a family tree, Catley got her DNA tested and was surprised to discover thousands of cousins. After sorting through a mountain of data, she found a fifth cousin in Sweden, Gunilla Bolin, with whom she shared a number of common ancestors.
Catley emailed Bolin and was excited to receive a response. As luck would have it, Gunilla was an English teacher and translator who grew up near Jamtland, Sweden, where Anna Katherine had lived. She still had a vacation home in that area, and offered to have Virginia and Glenn visit her. The Catleys flew to Sweden in fall 2018. They spent their first night in Torsby, Sweden, in a lodge that was a stagecoach stop in the 1800s. Gunilla told Virginia that this area was where her great-grandmother, Maritt Jonsdotter Thorberg, had lived before coming to Jamtland.
Gunilla taught the Catleys much about Swedish culture, family, genealogy and local foods including Swedish meatballs, brown cheese, lingonberries and moose steaks. She also arranged for them to see two historic churches and Anna Katherine’s family farmland near Jamtland. Agnetta Johansson and her mother Astrid Olsson, who had lived on the neighboring farm years ago, were kind enough to guide them around where the two farms once were located. Virginia was able to walk the ground and think of the life her grandmother and family lived there. She said it was an emotional moment, very spiritual and profound.
The next stop was the Salvation Army building, where they met local historian Bo Grinde. He showed them old maps, photos and genealogy records. Grinde provided copies of family photos and new family information, including a history written about a Minnesota branch of Anna Katherine’s family. Grinde also gave Virginia a contact email for this branch of the family. She has since been in touch with some of them.
Virginia had a great Swedish adventure finding out new things about her family. Most of all, she learned what a beautiful country her grandmother came from and how lucky she is to be in contact with her relatives there today.