Molly Ringwald – Who Do You Think You Are – “The Swede”

Molly Ringwald wearing a white sweater while sitting in her dad's house.

If you have Swedish ancestors, you’ll enjoy this episode immensely. There is a great deal of historical content in addition to lots of records available in Sweden.

Additionally, I learned something about the Homestead Act of 1862 here in the US I didn’t know before as well, so this episode might be helpful if you’ve ever wondered how the heck your ancestors picked some location west of the Mississippi to settle.

Film star Molly Ringwald was born in Roseville, California to Robert “Bob” Ringwald and Adele Fremd. She knows a considerable amount about her Ringwald line, but knows next to nothing about her father’s maternal family. Molly thinks she has Swedish origins because of rumors her father’s grandfather was called “The Swede.”

Extremely close to her family, Molly is interested in learning about her paternal grandparents’ ancestors and sharing the information with her parents and children. Molly thinks her dad, Bob, might have additional information about The Swede, so she meets with him in Brooklyn. Bob recalls that “The Swede’s” real name was Edwin Jenson and believes he came to the US when he was about three years old, but that’s about all knows.

Molly heads to a local library to meet with genealogist Brian Schellenberg to learn more about her great-grandfather Edwin Jenson. Molly reviews Edwin’s death record which shows that he was indeed born in Sweden – in 1885. Molly continues to scan the record and sees that Edwin’s parents, Gustaf Jenson and Carolina Grip, were also born in Sweden.

This is the first time Molly hears the names of her two-times great-grandparents and wants to know more about them. She searches for clues on a 1900 US census and finds an entry showing Gustaf and Carolina Jenson living in Nebraska with their six children, including their son Edwin. She wonders where the family came from in Sweden and why they would have left for America. Brian suggests Molly visit an archive in Sweden to dig deeper into her family.

Molly travels to the regional archive in Lund, southern Sweden, where she meets with archivist Petra Nyberg. There, Molly discovers that her two-times great-grandparents Carolina and Gustaf were from a nearby coal-mining town called Höganäs, and that Gustaf was a laborer in the mines.

Reaching farther back, she uncovers the names of Carolina’s parents and Molly’s three-times great grandparents: Carl and Kjersti. Molly heads to Höganäs to visit with a historian well versed in mining communities.

Together with historian Erik Thomson, Molly experiences a coal mine first hand, encountering the narrow, dark, and dangerous conditions both her ancestors endured. I have to tell you, it was all I could do to watch this – even though my own family worked the mines – just not in Sweden.  (Yes, I’m a bit claustrophobic.  So it Molly, but she perseveres anyway.)

But that’s not all, there is more to this story. But I can’t tell you without ruining the story line.  I have to say, I don’t know how this woman endured…but she did…and her daughter Caroline succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

Molly marvels at how Kjersti’s daughter Carolina – Molly’s great-great-grandmother – escaped with her miner husband Gustaf and wonders what life was like for them in Nebraska.

Molly heads back to America and meets with historian Tonia Compton in Nebraska. Molly reads a warranty deed and discovers that Carolina personally purchased land for her family in 1905, an incredible feat for a married, immigrant woman! Molly locates the land on a 1908 Plat Map, which shows that the acreage is only about 15 miles from where she stands. Before Molly leaves to visit the land, Tonia hands her an obituary notice, which highlights Carolina’s incredible reputation in the community and the love felt for her by her family.

Molly arrives at the property and takes in the landscape as she walks in her ancestors’ footsteps. She regards with deference the life that Carolina made for herself and marvels that her 2x great-grandmother changed the narrative of her family.

6 thoughts on “Molly Ringwald – Who Do You Think You Are – “The Swede”

  1. I am looking forward to this episode. My paternal ancestors were 1st and 2nd generation immigrant Swedes in Minnesota. I know almost nothing about them. I cannot speak or read Swedish and their surnames, Peterson or Coleman and Olson, are common. I found some possible kin at Ancestry but they do not answer my messages. I may never learn more about my Father’s family but will enjoy watching Molly learn about her Swedish ancestors. I may learn something useful.

  2. This was interesting to me, I love ancestry stories, but especially because my husband’s father was born in Hoganas Sweden and we were able to visit there about 20 years ago.

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