Another Brick Wall Bites the Dust

John Peterson
John & Celestia (Merrill) Peterson with grandsons Robert Peterson (left) & Thomas Kuznicki (right)

I’ve been searching for clues into my great-great-grandfather’s past since I began researching my genealogy seven years ago. According to my grandfather, John Peterson was born in Sweden, and he married an American woman, Celestia Merrill, around the turn-of-the-century. Gramps and his parents lived with John and Celestia when they were first starting out as a family, and they cared for the pair in their old age. Even though my grandfather lived with John for four years, he was only four years old at the time of John’s passing; Gramps never had the opportunity to ask him questions about his past, and his story continues to be a brick wall in my research.

That is, until this weekend, when another brick wall bit the dust. I’ve finally found him, and all of the details and dates (thankfully) match up. Family Search has indexed a series of Swedish “Household Examination Books,” and between 1871 and 1880, John Peterson was living at home with his parents and eleven siblings. According to the record, my great-great-grandfather was born Johan Arvid Persson on July 1, 1878 in Föra, Sweden, a northern town on the island of Öland in the Baltic Sea. His parents, Olof Persson and Brita Kajsa Magnusdotter, were from the small town of Bredsättra, and they were nine years apart in age. 

John–or Johan–was the ninth child in the family, and he had four brothers and seven sisters: August Edvard (b. 1865), Tilda Kristina (b. 1867), Emanuel Emil Theodor (b. 1869), Anders Uno (b. 1870), Anna Ottilia (b. 1872), Frida Wilhelmina (b. 1873), Emeli Charlotta (b. 1875), Olivia Karolina (b. 1876), Betty Syster (b. 1880), Bror Elfving (b. 1880) and Hildur Wiktoria (b. 1884). (Great names, right?) The family moved over the years from Bredsättra to Föra to Persnäs, and their names were crossed out in the books as they emigrated, one-by-one, to the United States. 

Olef Peterson
Olef Peterson & Breta Monderson’s tombstone in Pioneer Cemetery, Fredonia, New York // Ron Kinney

My great-great-grandfather left Sweden from the port at Gamleby on October 13, 1886 with his parents and sisters–Anna, Olivia, Betty and Hildur–for the small town of Pomfret, New York. His older brothers had arrived in Pomfret two years before, and they had arranged for jobs and a home for the family. John was eight years old when he and his family arrived in the United States; by 1900, both of his parents had passed away, and the siblings began to move across the country and lose contact with each other. John and Celestia were married on August 20, 1901, and they eventually had eight children of their own; he seemingly moved on from his past, and he never discussed his siblings or parents with his family.

I’m slowly piecing together his siblings’ stories in the United States: Emeli married John Swanson and moved to Bradford, Pennsylvania; Emil has dozens of descendants in and around Jamestown, New York; and Olivia raised two children, Walter and Esther, with her husband, John. You know that feeling of joy when you’ve finally knocked out the first few bricks in a wall that’s been decades in the making? While I’m beginning to hit a few more brick walls as I’m researching John’s siblings and parents, I’ve finally found my great-great-grandfather, and that’s a feat worth celebrating.


35 thoughts on “Another Brick Wall Bites the Dust

  1. I have a brickwall I can’t break. My father’s paternal grandfather is an unknown. I have a name of the man who paid the Bastardy Bond, but he denied being the father of the unborn child who was my grandmother.

    If that’s not bad enough, he later married a cousin of my great-grandmother so DNA probably won’t help prove he is or isn’t the father.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh wow–I’ve been sorting through my own DNA mystery this month, and I’m not sure my great-grandfather is biologically my great-grandfather anyone. I hope you’re eventually able to sort some of the story out–it sounds like a difficult one, and I’m sorry it’s so challenging. I understand that right now too!

      Liked by 2 people

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