18. Emma Olivia Wilhelmina Wiiger and an Unwanted Husband

Pastor Josef Nordlund looked across his desk at Emma Wiiger, the young mother who had come to see him. Emma was visibly upset and his role was to dissuade her from taking action against her husband. Why would a young woman like her, with three young children, even think about leaving her husband? Divorce! He had to convince her to, instead, be a better wife and mother.

“Listen,” he told Emma, “I would like to read something to you to make you understand that it is you, and only you, who can make your marriage work.”

Emma was quiet. She knew what was coming.

Pastor Nordlund picked up the bible on his desk and quickly found Peter 1:3.

“Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives.

“What Peter teaches us,” he continued, “is that it is women’s calling to step back and avoid confrontations. God’s word and nature direct you to different means of victory.  You will win by quietly rectify what has gone wrong, to faithfully guard against your own temperament, to interpret your husband’s actions in a positive light.”  He quickly added, “Of course, if this is difficult to do, then forgive rather than condemn.”

Emma was still quiet. Nothing that Pastor Nordlund was saying would make her change her mind. What did he know about her and her husband’s relationship? Nothing!

Pastor Nordlund was not quite done. He also wanted to give her hope.

“It is God’s will that you should be submissive. Put your quiet hope to God. Will you promise me that?”


Emma was walking home from her visit with Pastor Nordlund. He was a very nice and well-meaning pastor but probably didn’t know that all marriages were not as happy as his. And she knew that her decision would bring hardship. But she also knew she had to go through with the divorce. It would be best for everyone, including the children. And they were still so young, they would do fine.

Maria Magdalena church, where Pastor Nordlund had his office, was only a short walk from her home at Lilla Bastugatan 6. When she first met her husband, she was very impressed with his apartment and during the first years of their marriage, she thought about how fortunate she was to be living there.

Now, it was with heavy steps that she walked home. She had to tell her husband that she had visited Pastor Nordlund about getting a divorce. She had set her plan in motion.

Emma Olivia Wilhelmina Wiiger

For each girl who got confirmed in St Jacob Parish in May of 1844, there is an entry: her name, birth date, parish (if she lived in another parish than St Jacob), and the title of her father. The order that the pastor listed the girls was based on the girl’s father’s status in society. Emma was ranked as number 18. She belonged to Hedvig Eleonora Parish and her father was a “Prot. Secreterare”.

Who was Emma and what happened to her?

How do you search?

Census Records

I start with the digitized census records for 1835 and find the following. Emma Olivia Wilhelmina Wiiger was born in Stockholm on April 8, 1828. Her father, Ole Peder Wiiger (b. 1792) was Norwegian but worked in Stockholm as the Royal Secretary for Norwegian affairs. Her mother was Maria Fredrica Wilhelmina Nybohm (b. 1803).

Her father died (in 1837 or 1838) when Emma was around 10 years old and her mother remarried a Danish bookkeeper named Johan Albrecht Fredrik Wullff (b. 1809).

Digitized Newspapers

The next step is to search in digitized newspapers. Here I find a wedding announcement. On December 29, 1846, Emil Adolf Theodor Kihlberg married Emma Olivia Wilhelmina Wiiger.


So who was Theodor Kihlberg? He is easy to find because he became a postmaster and his bio was included in a book about Swedish postmasters. The interesting thing was that he took over the position from our great-great-grandmother Augusta’s daughter’s father-in-law, Johan Samuel Svinhufvud.

The bio stated that he married Emma Olivia Wiiger and, in 1856, married Emelie Maria Svenson in Gothenburg. It also stated that he had 1 child with Emma, Robert Theodor (b. 1848), and 7 children in his second marriage. To be sure, I check the church records, and there it is: the widower Emil Adolf Theodor Kihlberg had married Emelie Maria Svenson on May 2, 1856.

Church Records (Death Record)

So Emma had died? Between the birth of her son in 1848 and her husband’s marriage in 1856? There is no obituary in the papers and no record of an estate inventory (these are sometimes digitized). How could I find out when she died? I decide to spend a couple of hours reading all the death records for the parish I assume she had lived in (Maria Magdalena) for the years 1848-1856. That’s is tedious work! Visually scanning all the handwritten entries for a name.

When I get to the fall of 1853, I realize that there were several members of each family who had died. The column for the cause of death is shocking – at the top of the page is written “cholera” and then an abbreviation for “ditto” for the rest of the entries on the page. And this continues page after page. It was the cholera epidemic of 1853!

But Emma didn’t die of cholera and didn’t die at all during these years, at least not in this parish.

I just don’t want to give up. How else could I find what happened to her? If I knew her exact address, I could then go into the parish’s house examination records. This is where the pastor, after making a yearly visit to each and all his parishioners, would write down how well they could read and understand the bible as well as other notes about them (and if they had had or been vaccinated against smallpox).

Church Records (Household Examination Records)

To find her address, I need to have the census records for these years, but there are only digitized census records for 1835 when she was a child and 1845, the year before she got married.

What if she actually moved in with her husband when she got married? I decide to look at his census record for 1845. He lived in south Stockholm, close to Slussen, in a block called Lappskon Större #6. Now I can look up the address in the Maria Magdalena Parish’s House Examination Records for 1845.

1870 Panorama by Heinrich Neuhaus

And there he is!

I then check each additional year. I find Emma moving in. Then on February 6, 1848, they have a son, Robert Theodor. That matches the information I had found in the book about Swedish postmasters. But then there are more children. On April 1, 1849, they have a daughter, Alfhild Emma. And on September 22, 1851, another daughter, Hilda Louisa.

Then comes the bombshell! Emma didn’t die. Theodor was not a widower when he remarried. Emma and Theodor had divorced!

Divorce in the 1800s

Divorce was uncommon in the mid-1800s. The most common reasons in the early 1800s were infidelity and abandonment. Abandonment was characterized by one of the spouses leaving Sweden with the aim of not returning. In 1810, the law had changed to include as a reason for divorce “wastefulness, drunkenness, and a violent temper, and when such a strife in the mood and mindset of both spouses, which manifested itself in perpetual outbursts, finally turned into disgust and hatred.”

The First Argument. Oil Painting by Paul Seignac (1826-1904)

Divorce proceedings started with the couple meeting with the pastor in their parish. The pastor and the church council were to counsel the couple and convince them to not go through with the divorce. If this failed, the case would be heard in court. Once the divorce was approved, the couple would apply for proof of divorce, a so-called divorce deed.

Emma and Theodor’s Divorce

The details of Emma’s and Theodor’s divorce was noted in the parish household examination records under the columns of marriage and permits. It is hard to decipher the handwritten notes. In the column of marriage, it seems like the divorce was granted on the 4th of May, 1852. There is also an earlier date listed as 14th or 18th of April, 1852.

Under the column of permits etc., the text is as follows:

For disagreement reported at the wife’s request and after previous fruitless warnings at the Stockholm City Consistory, 14 March 1851.

And there is one more column. There, the pastor has written:

The divorced wife to Storkyrkan 15 April 1853.

So Emma moved out a year after their divorce, on 15 April 1853, and would now live in the parish of Storkyrkoförsamlingen. Now I go to this parish and look at the record of new parishioners in 1853. And there she is. The church kept great records of the citizens of Sweden. Emma is listed with the comment “divorced wife”. This “title” will follow her for the rest of her life. Her sister also moves into this parish. Their mother, stepfather, and their siblings already lived in this parish and it is possible that Emma and her sister moved in with them.

One more person moved with Emma: her 1 ½-year-old daughter, Hilda.

Did Theodor get custody of the other two children, Robert and Alfhild? In the census records for 1855, they are listed as living with him. Six-year-old Alfhild dies on August 5, 1855. And soon after, Theodor moves to Gothenburg. Did he take Robert with him? Eight months later, he has remarried and in Gothenburg’s church records, he is listed as a widower. Is that what he reported or did the pastor decide that it sounded better than a divorced husband?

Emma, her Children, and her Mother

So what happened to Emma? She moved to Tavastgatan 11, a few blocks from where she had lived with her husband. She did not remarry. On June 4, 1863, she died from pneumonia at an age of 35.

Her son Robert did well. He studied theology at the university in Uppsala and became a pastor in Söderhamn. He married and had two children, Leif Teodor Kihlberg, Ph.D., and Liv Karin Maria Duplessis-Kergomard.

Hilda married Carl Otterström. They had one daughter, Emma Gustafva Otterström, born on January 27, 1879. Hilda died 24 days later, at an age of 28. The daughter, Emma Gustafva, married Anders Theodor Chrysander. She contracted typhoid while pregnant and both she and her prematurely born daughter Ingrid died on January 29, 1899. She was 20 years old.

And Emma’s mother, Wilhelmina, survived two husbands and some of her children and grandchildren. She was born in 1803 and died in 1890.

This genre painting is about going home or staying. It could depict Emma and her children after the divorce. The young mother in the green bonnet is moving out and taking the youngest daughter with her while the older daughter is staying. The maid is helping the little girl with her cape.

Home Thoughts. Oil painting by Emily Mary Osborn (1828-1925)   

8. Christina Mathilda Georgina af Trolle (Lindqvist) and an Unplanned Pregnancy

It was early fall when Christina Mathilda Georgina af Trolle suspected that she was pregnant. She was 19 years old and unmarried. What would she do? To have a child out of wedlock was in 1848 actually a crime, although few mothers were prosecuted. But worse was the shame.

She had three choices. She could tell the baby’s father, bookkeeper Lars Johan Lindqvist, and if he agreed, they could get married as soon as possible. Or she could leave Stockholm and give birth somewhere else and give up the child. Both options meant that she had to tell her parents, and she didn’t know how she would be able to face them. Her father was an army officer and her family belonged to the aristocracy. That was the reason that Pastor Petterson had ranked her has girl number 8 of the 92 girls who got confirmed in St Jacob’s church in May of 1844. Having a child out of wedlock would definitely be a family scandal.

Or she could have an abortion. Then she wouldn’t have to tell anyone and nobody would ever know. But having an abortion scared her. It could go wrong, and she could die. And, abortions were illegal and punishable by death. But how would anyone find out? On the other hand, giving birth was also dangerous.

In the end, she decided to face her parents and Lars Johan. Getting married was her best option.

But maybe that was not the story at all. Maybe she was in love and excited about being pregnant. Without diaries or letters, one can only speculate. The outcome was in any way the same. Georgina would get married and have her baby.

My watercolor of a mother and child (inspired by a sculpture by Bessie Potter Vonnoh, called The Young Mother, 1896)

Christina Mathilda Georgina af Trolle

Christina Mathilda Georgina was born in Stockholm on January 21, 1829. Her father was Carl Georg af Trolle, born in 1791, and a captain in Svea Artillery Regiment. He retired the year before Georgina was born. Her mother was Eva Christina Magdelo, born in 1810. Georgina had 9 siblings, but 4 died at an early age. In 1844, when Georgina was confirmed, the family consisted of 2 older half-brothers, a 9-year-old brother, and 2 sisters, 5 and 1 years old.  In 1846, her father bought Lännersta, a farm in Boo parish on an island east of Stockholm. The family moved from the city out to the country.

So how did Georgina’s life turn out? Sometimes, the easiest way is to start from the end. That is, to search for an obituary in the digitized newspapers. The obituary would list the grieving family members and where the family lived. With this information, the next step would be to dive into the church records.

The church records would include wedding dates and birth dates of children. In Georgina’s case, her first child was born 5 months after her wedding. So what happened and who did she marry?

Lars Johan Lindqvist – the husband

Lars Johan Lindqvist was born on January 9, 1816, in Fägre parish close to Göta Canal and Lake Viken. His father was a bricklayer. On June 1, 1837, at the age of 22, he married the 26-year-old Margareta Björkqvist in Nyköping. He now had the title of materials manager (Swedish: materialsförvaltare). On June 4, 1839, they had a son, Ernst Johan Lindqvist. And in 1846, Margareta died and Lars Johan and his son moved to Gustavsberg, a small community in Värmdö parish outside Stockholm.

In 1825, the owners of Gustavsberg had started a porcelain factory which is still in operation. Lars Johan now had the title of bookkeeper at Gustavsberg. In the church records, he was listed as a widower and living with his 7-year old son.

Gustavsberg 1846. Lithography by J. F. Meyer

Georgina and Lars Johan

How did Georgina, belonging to the upper class – affluent and aristocratic – meet Lars Johan, the son of a bricklayer? He was also a widower with a young son and was 13 years older than Georgina.

Georgina and Lars Johan both lived in the countryside east of Stockholm, in neighboring parishes but by no means close to each other. Without any saved diaries or letters, we would never know how they met or the circumstances that lead to them getting married, except for the fact that Georgina had gotten pregnant.

All we know is that on November 19, 1848, they married in Boo church. And 5 months later, on April 20, 1849, Agnes Johanna Georgina Lindqvist was born. Two years later, on May 7, 1851, their second daughter, Lovisa Anna Maria, was born in Värmdö parish.

In 1852, the small family moved to Örebro where Lars Johan had been hired as an accountant (Swedish: kamrer) for the newly formed Royal Swedish Company for the Railroad Örebro-Hult. The Örebro-Hult Railroad was to be Sweden’s first railroad where trains were pulled by locomotives.

Timetable for the Köping-Hult Railroad in 1857

The family grew. Georgina gave birth to Jenny Mathilda Augusta on March 26, 1853, and Emma Christina Laurentia in 1854. Little Emma died in May of 1856 at 1 year of age.

Two years later, in May of 1858, Georgina’s obituary appeared in the paper. It stated that she had died at an age of 29 after a long, consuming illness. Although the church records did not state the cause of death, one can assume that she died from tuberculosis like so many other young women. The obituary also listed the family members as her husband, 3 daughters, a stepson, parents, and siblings.

What happened to children?

All three daughters stayed in Örebro and married.

Agnes Johanna Georgina married her 14-year-older neighbor, Oscar Alfort in 1872.  They had no children. Agnes died in 1919.

Lovisa Anna Maria (Louise) married the postmaster Fredrik Oskar Klemens Lindh in 1882. He had a daughter, Helfrid, born in 1879.

Jenny Mathilda Augusta married Johan Otto Mauritz Serrander in 1874. They had 8 children. Jenny died in 1940. At the link above, and then scrolling to the top, there is a large family photo of Jenny and Johan getting married. They are the couple sitting in the middle of the photograph.

The featured image is The Young Mother by Charles West Cope (1811-1890) painted in 1846.


15. Johanna Maria Wennberg (Sievers) visits Skeppsbron 30

It is a beautiful fall day and I am walking along Skeppsbron, a street with stately old houses that line the waterfront of the Old Town in Stockholm. For hundreds of years, these houses have belonged to rich merchants and traders.

The Old Town of Stockholm with the row of houses along Skeppsbron (Watercolor by Carl Fredrik August Cantzler, 1843)

Skeppsbron should really be seen from the waters, but this day, I was wondering what the view would have been from one of these houses in 1845. And particularly one, Skeppsbron No. 30.

I also wanted to step into the world of 18-year-old Johanna Wennberg as she was walking along Skeppsbron. I know how it feels to walk in a Victorian dress with layers of starched petticoats that rustle when you walk, and with a fashionable shawl to protect you from the wind. The bonnet would protect your hair and signal your class in society. So it is easy to imagine Johanna as she would be walking to visit her husband at his office in the impressive house at Skeppsbron 30!

The Customs House at Skeppsbron 38 (Ferdinand Tollin, 1841). Skeppsbron 30 would be a few houses to the right.

The house at Skeppsholmen 30 is still standing, although the façade and the roof of this house have changed since 1845. So with the more modern look, you have to try harder to imagine that this was where a young German wholesale merchant, Ferdinand Sievers, was building wealth for his growing family.

What would he have seen when he looked out the windows? The bay would be full of sailing ships with cargo to be unloaded. And some of that cargo would be his!

The view from Skeppsbron (Johan Fredrik Julin, 1840-1849)

Johanna Maria Wennberg

Johanna Maria Wennberg was listed as number 15 of the girls who got confirmed in St Jacob’s church in May of 1844. Johanna was born on January 2, 1827. She was the first child of Johan Anders Wennberg and Maria Elisabeth Sjölander.

Johanna’s father was a wholesale merchant but came from a long line of bakers. Johanna’s grandfather, Anders Wennberg, was a master baker and owned the house at the corner of Regeringsgatan and Jakobsbergsgatan in Stockholm. The house was next to the home of the Preumayr family whose daughter, Sophia Augusta, I wrote about in a previous blog post. When Anders Wennberg died in 1827, his four sons and their stepmother inherited the house. One of the sons carried on with the family bakery, one became a brewer, and two became wholesale merchants.

In the mid-1800s, many wholesale merchants lived in the southern part of Stockholm, Södermalm. It was close enough to the Old Town and the famous Skeppsbron with its trading houses. Johanna’s family was no exception. She grew up with lots of brothers and sisters in a house at Södermalmstorg No. 8.

View of Stockholm. Johanna and her family lived in one of the houses in the left corner, at Södermalmstorg No. 8. The bridges and walkways in the foreground are what is now Slussen (Watercolor by Carl Fredrik August Cantzler, 1843)

According to the 1844 census records for the Wennberg family, there were also 3 other wholesale merchants living in the house, and one of those was Ferdinand Sievers.

Did Johanna fall in love with Ferdinand Sievers, the young wholesale merchant from Lübeck, or did her father think that Ferdinand would be a good son-in-law, a very suitable young man with a bright future?

All we know is that Johanna and Ferdinand got married in Maria Magdalena Church on August 2, 1845. She was 18 and he was 27.

Married Life and Business

Life was good. Ferdinand and Johanna moved to Wollmar Yxkullsgatan 22, still at Södermalm and not too far from where Johanna had grown up. And Ferdinand had an office at Skeppsbron 30, where he could keep an eye on the tall ships arriving with his cargo, like bales of coffee that came from Rio de Janeiro and Java, and barrels of sugar from Pernambuco – products that were in high demand. He would advertise these products in the paper:

Sievers, Skeppsbron No. 30
For Sale:

Batavia Arrack
Java Coffee
Port wine
White Pernambuco sugar in small boxes and barrels
Wooden boards and spires
Chloride of Lime
Campeche wood
Hemp from Riga and Petersburg
Hides from Rio Grande and Bahia
Sailcloth made by William Gibsons in Gothenburg.

Other advertisements listed fresh lemons, coal, an assortment of chemicals, and lumber products.

Johanna was also busy, and the children kept coming. First, it was Johan Ferdinand, who was born on January 9, 1847. A year and a half later there was another son, Axel Theodor, born on October 7, 1848. And finally, they got a daughter, Maria Louise Mathilda, on February 1, 1850.

Then tragedy struck. A note in the newspaper announced that Ferdinand had died after a short illness. He died on April 22, 1851, only 34 years old.

Life as a widow

When Ferdinand died, his children were 4, 2 ½, and 1 year old. And, Johanna was 6 months pregnant. On July 26th, 1851, she gave birth to a daughter, Johanna Augusta Elisabeth.

So what happened to her family and the business?

The business continued under the name Ferd. Sievers & Komp. At some time, the family moved to another address, Stora Badhusgatan 8, close to her childhood home. But the business address was still the same.

Johanna didn’t remarry. Her children grew up and all but her youngest daughter married. I could not find that the sons had any children.

Johanna’s Daughter, Mathilda Bagge

The oldest daughter, Mathilda, married Jacob Bagge, who was the director for banknote printing at Sweden’s Central Bank. Her life mirrored her mother’s. Mathilda and Jacob lived with their 6 young children at Skeppsbron 40, close to where her father Ferdinand had had his business. And, just like her father had died young, Jacob Bagge died suddenly in 1892, at 44 years of age, from a heart attack.

Johanna’s Daughter, Johanna Augusta Elisabeth

Johanna’s youngest daughter never married but instead took care of her mother. They lived together at Blasieholmen 44. Johanna died on December 13, 1902, at 75 years of age from a stroke. The obituary listed children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

I wonder if I someday will run into any of her descendants.