Fred & Anna
Fred Hedenburg (1857-1945) and Anna Svenson (1859-1942) left the land of their birth, Sweden, in their twenties. They found each other in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Fred and Anna’s seven children and nephew, summarized below, were this first generation of the author’s Swedish ancestors to be born in America.
SWEDISH ROOTS: 1790s – 1880s
The Hedenberg lineage can definitively be traced back to the Tunhem Parish in the 1803, when Anders Hedenberg was born to Pal and Beata (Gronvall) Hedenberg.[i]
During this time in Sweden, most children inherited a patronymic surname based on their father’s name. A child assigned male at birth to a father named Anders would bear the last named “Andersson”; if the child was assigned female at birth, they would bear the last name “Andersdotter.” This would result in siblings having different surnames from each other and their parents. This practice was common until the 19th Century, so it is notable that Anders and his father bore the surname “Hedenberg.”
Patronymics made it difficult to differentiate between men who enlisted in the military, so unique last names began to be adopted. These new last names often were based on characteristics or relevant objects, such as “helmet” or “steel” for a soldier, as well as nature in “ornamental surnames.”[ii] Hedenberg is considered an ornamental surname: “hed” meaning heath or moor in Old Norse, and “berg” meaning mountain. Ornamental surnames typically had no literal meaning and were adopted for poetic value.
According to a family story, Pal was born into a “well-to-do” family and afforded the opportunity to study at a veterinary school in Norway. He was skillful at caring for animals, which gave him “the right to change his name.” Why he selected “Hedenberg” is unknown, though the including of “en” (rather than Hedberg) is considered to be an indicator of nobility.
Later, Oscar Hedenburg (1883 - 1978) claimed that he changed the spelling from “Hedenborg” (pronounced “Hedenbory”) to “Hedenburg” when he was 14.[iii] While Swedish examination recorded show that the name was spelled with an “E” in Sweden – not an “O” - it is likely that Oscar solidified the “U” spelling and “burg” pronunciation for his family.
In 1828, Pal’s son Anders married Anna Catherina Jansdotter in Gestad Parish, which is about 20 km north of the city of Vänersborg.[iv] What brought Anders 40 miles north of his birthplace is currently unknown. We do know that Anders was also a veterinarian.
Anna Catherina gave birth to a daughter, Maja Beata[v] and died in 1830.[vi] Anders remained in Gestad and married Maja Lisa Svensdotter on July 22, 1831.[vii] They had 12 children, at least 6 of whom reached adulthood.[viii]
Anders continued to benefit from his family’s privilege and operated a farm. The farm was successful and, during many winters, Maja Lisa would distribute excess food to feed the hungry throughout the region. The farm also had a distillery.
Anders was known as a “powerful and colorful man.” His youngest son, Fred (1857-1945), told a story of how Anders was asked to “take care of” a drunken man at a public auction. Another time, he saved a horse by shoving his arm down a horse’s throat to salve an infected wound.
Later in his life, Fred shared fond memories of Sweden, including sledding from the roof of the barn across the frozen snow or sailing on Lake Vänern. Fred’s formal education ended around age 14 and he then became an apprentice to a sailmaker, and later became a bricklayer.
Anders passed away when Fred was 15. Anders was not a saving man and there was little left to inherit. When Fred was 23, he signed his share over to his mother and left for America to join his sisters. Despite attempts to reconnect with his mother, Fred was never able to receive word of her wellbeing.[ix]
The Swenson lineage can be traced back definitively to Sven Andersson (1796-1876), born to Anders Johansson (~1771-1816) and Margareta Magnusdotter (~1767-1833) in Nydala, outside of Jönköping. He married Maja Greta Ericsdotter on February 12, 1826.[x]
Eric and Maja raised their family in Barnarp. At least 4 of their 10 children reached adulthood.
The second eldest daughter, Johanna (1833-1920) marred Johannes Svenson (1826 - >1881) on October 24, 1856 when she was 23.[xi] Johanna gave birth to 9 children, at least 3 of whom reached adulthood. In adulthood, some children adopted the surname “Svenson” or “Swenson,” while others kept with patronymic tradition and adopted “Johansson” or “Johnson,” making genealogical research difficult.
Johanna and Johannes moved around Jönköping with their family. Daughters Anna (1859-1842), Johanna Matilda (1862-1903), and Emma Christine (1865-1953) all worked in various households as maids. It is assumed that their father also performed itinerant labor, explainging the consistent moving throughout their childhoods.[xii]
The Swensons were non-conformists in Sweden at a time when not being Lutheran, the national church of Sweden, was a serious offense. Little is known of how this directly affected the Svensons, though it is noted that Anna never attended church as an adult, but “had apparently her own method of satisfying her religious needs in her own way that were never obvious.”
According to family records, Johannes left for Denmark in 1865 to pursue a stonecutting job and was never heard from again.[xiii] However, the last household examination record of Johannes is actually on November 11, 1881.[xiv] No immigration or death records can be found after this point; Johanna and daughters all can be traced after this point with no mention of Johannes. The family recollection and the missing death/immigration information for Johannes is still to be reconciled.
All three daughters and their mother found their way to America between 1881 and 1889.[xv] Anna was set to marry a man she knew from Sweden who had settled in Worcester. However, when she arrived in her new home, she learned more about his alcohol use and turned him down (unclear whether he was an alcoholic or simply use was the fault).
FRED & ANNA IN AMERICA: 1880s – 1940s
In 1880, Fred Hedenberg joined his older sister, Matilda, and her husband, Charles Peterson, in Webster, Massachusetts. Fred focused on honing his weaving skills and attending class to learn to read and write English. He was able to converse and understand both Swedish and English throughout his adulthood.
Through his other sister, Sarah, Fred met Anna Swenson, and the two were married on July 15, 1882. The couple relocated from Webster to West Fitchburg, Massachusetts, where Fred took a job as a weaver at the Beoli Mill. He later became a bricklayer, utilizing skills he had developed in Sweden.
A Man of Strength
Fred was only 5 foot, 5 inches, a stature he attributed to poor nutrition during his apprenticeship. However, his strength was often commented on. For example, when it came to moving the grand piano at church, Fred could handle one corner alone, a task that typically took two.[xvi]
This strength may have gotten the better of him on March 23, 1898, which Fred assaulted a coworker, Wesley W. Thompson. Fred claimed that he was provoked by Wesley in the pattern weaving room at the Beoli Mill. Fred retaliated by striking Wesley on the shoulder.
“If you do that again,” Wesley said, “I will tell Mr. Parkhurst.” Fred stormed off, only to return with a steel shock bit. Fred struck Wesley in the mouth, knocking out some of his teeth.
“You’ll be sorry for this,” Wesley exclaimed.
Fred replied, “If you do not shut up, I will give you another.”[xvii]
Other coworkers served as witnesses to this account during the court proceedings in November 1898. One co-worker claimed that Fred was sorry for his actions and had laid awake on many nights in regret. His co-workers regarded the act as “mean” and “cowardly.”[xviii]
Character witnesses spoke of Fred’s good nature, assuring that they were not aware of other violent action and that the sentence should be light. Fred was fined $20 (the equivalent of $680 in 2022 dollars) for the altercation.[xix]
He also served as a sexton at the West Fitchburg Methodist Church. This included holding Sunday morning religious meetings, prayer, and Bible readings in the Hedenberg home.
A Woman of Order
Anna and Fred had seven children. Fred’s profession left little time to spend with the family. However, his son, Oscar, recalled fond memories with his father, playing games at home and fishing.
Anna, on the other hand, was a “serious, religious woman with a puritanical streak.” She appeared to condone Fred’s more humorous spirit, but never cracked a smile. Anna was a dedicated homemaker, supporting her large family on a modest income from her husband’s labor. She was known to bake eleven loaves of bread, two times a week. She would also care for older women in the community, as well as provide advice for young women.
A fond memory of Anna was her hosting Sunday afternoon coffee at the home. She would serve excellent based goods, which were dipped in coffee. She brought her Swedish tradition of kaffee med dopp, placing a sugar cube in the mouth and then taking a sip of coffee, rather than adding sugar to a cup.[xx] Coffee hour was always important to Swedes and preserved by immigrants like Anna when they arrived in America. It was a time to gather and catch up on local affairs or gossip, remaining connected in a new land.[xxi]
A Family of Support
When Fred’s sister, Matilda, passed away during childbirth in 1883, her son Charles John Peterson, 4 years old at the time, came to live in Fitchburg and daughter Clara went to live with Aunt Sarah in Worcester. When Charles was 14, he ran away from his uncle’s home. Uncle Fred knew where his nephew was, but did not pressure the young boy to return him, understanding that he needed to return on his own his own terms. When Charles returned home two weeks later, Fred welcomed him home without condition, remarking, “He has been punished enough.” Uncle Fred and Aunt Anna were supportive of their nephew throughout young adulthood, helping him with tuition to Wilbraham Academy where he began studies to become a minister. Charles switched paths to become a teacher, leading to a successful career in education.[xxii]
Born: May 6, 1883 in Webster, MA
Marriage: March 21, 1914 Lena Raye Potter in Fitchburg, MA & Henrietta Kornhauser
Died: January 24, 1978
MAJOR LIFE EVENTS
1909 - Graduated from Wesleyan University (Bachelor's Degree)
1911 - Graduated from Wesleyan University (Master's Degree)
1914 - Married Lena Raye Potter in Fitchburg, MA
1915 - Graduated from University of Chicago (PhD)
1916 - Began Insecticide Fellowship at Carnegie Mellon University
1951 - Business partnership with Emerson Venable
Born: January 13, 1885
Died: February 4, 1963
Born: June 28, 1886 in West Fitchburg, MA
Born: August 16, 1889
Marriage: XX to Daniel Grant Head
Born: April 7, 1892 in Fitchburg, MA
Died: December 12, 1970
MAJOR LIFE EVENTS
June 1912 - received $20,000 from Mrs. Hannah Dwight Greene, who remembered his kindness in her will from his time as a bellboy at a hotel in the White Mountains
Born: August 28, 1894 in Fitchburg, MA
Marriage: September 11, 1920 to Gertrude Young in Worcester, MA
Died: October 26, 1989
Burial: Hope Cemetery, Worcester, MA
MAJOR LIFE EVENTS
about 1917 - employed at Wyman-Gordon Company
Born: November 23, 1896
Died: December 24, 1958
Born: January 24, 1878 in Webster, MA to Matilda Hedenberg and Charles A. Peterson
Marriage: August 1, 1907 to Clara Louise Brooks in Fitchburg, MA
MAJOR LIFE EVENTS
1883 - mothers passes away and goes to live with Uncle Fred Hedenberg
1893 - he ran away from his uncle’s home. Uncle Fred knew where his nephew was, but did not pressure the young boy to return him, understanding that he needed to return on his own his own terms. When Charles returned home two weeks later, Fred welcomed him home without condition, remarking, “He has been punished enough.”
1908 - makes a home in Brookfield, MA