Swedish girl visits Cambridge to research family’s heritage

By Elizabeth Sias

Nanna Gothe never imagined she’d find herself in Minnesota.

A group of people with connections to Sweden and Isanti County met at Herman’s Bakery for lunch. Nanna Gothe, left, looks at a family history chart created by Allen Gerdin. Carol Wicklund Wendel looks on. Gerdin’s wife Shirley (not pictured) is related to Gothe. Photo by V.S. Arrowsmith

But just three years after starting research into her family’s genealogy, the 21-year-old Swedish girl traveled to the Cambridge area recently to visit long-lost relatives.

It took her a year to find Shirley Gabrielson Gerdin, who, it turns out, is her grandmother’s third cousin. Gerdin also happened to know a lot more about the family history than Gothe could have hoped.

After a couple years of communication, Gerdin and her husband Al arranged for Gothe to stay with them for two weeks to meet distant relatives and visit areas notable to the Gothe family history.

“It’s amazing that after two years, here I am,” she said.

It was difficult to find people who are alive in the registers, Gothe said. The only thing her grandma knew was that people had emigrated, but she didn’t know who they were.

Once she discovered the Gerdins, she began to learn about other relatives in the States.

“I started thinking about going where they emigrated and learn more about the history of my family,” she said. “They traveled far over the sea to fight for their religious beliefs, and I wondered ‘who are these people that are so brave to cross the ocean, and restart their lives?’ I wanted to find out how they lived.”

With the help of the Gerdins, Gothe learned that her ancestors first arrived in Harris, Minn., in 1883, then started a life in Stanchfield. They helped build the church and played an important role in starting the Stanchfield Baptist Church.

Nanna Gothe found a grave marker in the Stanchfield Baptist Church cemetery of the Jonssons, significant family members that connected her to family in Isanti County. Photo by V.S. Arrowsmith

“They were all great people and they stood up for their beliefs, and I think that’s really impressive that they fought for their rights,” Gothe said. “I’m proud to be part of these folks that made such a journey to fight for their right to believe whatever they want.”

Gothe visited the Stanchfield church and cemetery, along with a church in Cambridge and Braham to see where her relatives lived over 100 years ago after emigrating from Sweden.

She also has entertainment and tourist stops planned, including visiting the state capitol building, the zoo and Minnehaha Falls and watching a baseball game.

“I’m having a great time, and I’m really glad to be here and to see Minnesota,” she said. “It’s beautiful.”

When she returns to Sweden, Gothe plans to tell her great aunt — who wonders if those distant relatives ever made it — all about her trip and everything she learned.

“I love learning how people were, who they were and all the changes they made and how hard they worked,” Gothe said. “Getting in contact with people and getting to know all of them and see how they’re doing has been great.”