A few weeks before Christmas, I received an email from a man named Ronney. He’s a genealogist-loving Swede who had read about my family roots in an online forum, where a friend of some relatives of an uncle’s ex-girlfriend (whew!) had shared the basics of the history I’d gone to Sweden to explore.
Ronney recognized my ancestor’s name as the younger sister of his wife’s great-grandmother, who was also from outside Visby. I had to read the email a few times to understand that he was giving not only me, but every member of my family: A living branch of the historical family tree.
I let the news soak in for a few days and concocted a plan. When we were visiting my family in Missouri after Christmas, I should surprise my family with a video chat with these new relatives.
Ronney and I set it up. 1 p.m.. December 28. Facebook. Be there or eat lutefisk.
When the day finally rolled around, I made sure my grandma, mom, dad, uncle Chris and his wife, Betsy, were in the room. I was showing them some Sweden pictures on my computer, with Facebook open in another window, and right at 1 p.m. our time (8 p.m. theirs), the video alert sounded.
No one in the room knew who was going to be greeting us on the other end of the video.
I switched the screen, and there they were: Birgitta and her three sisters, her daughter and Ronney, the ancestry-loving husband who connected us in the first place.
I explained to my family that these people were the descendants of Carolina Sofia Lundberg’s older sister, Anna Maria Lundberg, who stayed behind when Carolina emigrated to the U.S. in 1892.
They all spoke enough English to have a wonderful conversation with us. We learned that the generations that followed did so in step, but on opposite sides of the Atlantic. My mom and her siblings were born in the early 1950s, the same time as Birgitta, Ronney’s wife, and her sisters. Birgitta’s daughter and I were born the same year, and we both are moms. Nearly all of them are teachers of some kind, just the same as in my family.
The initial shock of the moment hit all of them, and then as the reality of what was happening set in, it became more emotional. On both sides of the chat were grateful, excited and curious relatives, who obviously share more than a family story.
We started pulling down photos from the walls and dragged out the prized possessions that Carolina brought with her from Sweden to Springfield, where she settled with her husband and growing family. The bread knife and rolling pin. The Jenny Lind painting on the wall. Some little pink teacups. We didn’t even get to Carolina’s quilt that I love so much.
When our Swedish relatives saw the pink china, their eyes lit up. They recognized the pattern from their grandmother, who had inherited them from her mother.
It was a most remarkable afternoon. A once-in-a-lifetime gift. Add the element of surprise? Unforgettable.