From Family Photos to Thor’s Hammer

Finding a new family photo is always the best feeling, especially when it’s a photo of an ancestor who is so far back in your family tree that you didn’t expect a photo to even exist of them. And I did find one such photo this weekend: it’s a grainy, black-and-white image of a married couple that is probably a copy of an original taken long ago. The man is wearing a three-piece suit, and his hair is so white that it’s barely visible; the woman is dressed in a patterned skirt, a buttoned-up coat and a scarf that’s traditionally worn by married women. She’s smiling and he looks grim; the subjects? My 4th great-grandparents, Magnus Larsson and Kjerstin Andersdotter–and you’ll never guess where I ended up.

Larsson, Magnus
Magnus Larsson & Kjerstin Andersdotter

Magnus Larsson, the son of Lars Månsson and Kajsa Lena Christoffersdotter, was born on October 10, 1822 in Bredsättra, Sweden. He married Kjerstin Andersdotter, the daughter of Anders Persson and Brita Nilsdotter, who was three years his senior, and the couple had at least seven children, all born in Bredsättra: Brita Kajsa (b. 1844); Anna Lisa (b. 1847); Anders Per (b. 1853); Nils Johan (b. 1856); Lars Wilhelm (b. 1859); Emma Lovisa (b. 1862); and Karl Alfred (b. 1864). The family lived in Bredsättra–a small village on the island of Öland in the Baltic Sea–all their lives, and they worked as farmers and fishermen for generations.

I don’t know much else about Magnus and Kjerstin, though; I know Kjerstin died in 1905 at the age of 86, and Magnus died a few months later at the age of 83. I know that while they never left the island of Öland, their daughter–my 3rd great-grandmother, Brita Kajsa Magnusdotter–left Sweden for the town of Pomfret, New York in 1886. I have a photo of their daughter, Anna Lisa Magnusdotter (she looks a lot like Magnus, I think), but that’s it–and I wanted to know more. With the newly-found photo as motivation, I started researching again–and I ended up finding a strong connection to the local Lutheran church, a lighthouse and Thor’s hammer.

Bredsättra Church in my ancestors’ hometown dates to the thirteenth century, and it was originally designed as a defensive tower. The church itself was heavily reconstructed in the nineteenth century–at the time that Magnus, Kjerstin and their children would have been attending church services there–and it houses several medieval furnishings. There are other influences, too: the baptismal font is Romanesque, the triumphal cross is Gothic and the altarpiece and pulpit date to the eighteenth century. Each of Magnus and Kjerstin’s children was baptized in this church, and it’s incredible that this thirteenth-century church stands today–almost impossible to conceive of. 

Thor's Hammer
Drawing of Thor’s Hammer from Bredsättra

The weekend wasn’t over, so I kept researching. I found an oddly-shaped red lighthouse on the coast that was built and lit in 1871–also known as Kapelluden Lighthouse–and then I hit the jackpot: the Hammer of Thor. The hammer is a 4.5-centimeter, gold-plated artifact dating to the eighth century that was unearthed in Bredsättra and currently resides in the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm. It is a depiction of what the creator imagined Thor’s hammer to look like, and while these objects were often buried with individuals or carried by warriors, this hammer’s detail and complexity indicates that it was probably a symbolic or religious icon.

There’s no guarantee that my ancestors were living in Bredsättra in the eighth century–and there’s no way to know if they would have made these icons themselves–but it’s pretty cool that the hammer was found in their hometown. It’s been the perfect weekend: I found a photo of my 4th great-grandparents, traced the family back to an island in the Baltic Sea, discovered that their village church still stands today, took a detour to research an odd-looking lighthouse and ended the evening with a connection to the Hammer of Thor. You can never really predict where one source will take you, and that’s why I love researching my family tree. All the best in your own research–

16 thoughts on “From Family Photos to Thor’s Hammer

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