It all started with a postmark.
I remember asking my Swedish grandfather from where in Sweden he came. I seem to remember that he said Gothenburg. At the time, that seemed good enough.
Johan Emmanuel Hanson died in 1964 in Iowa. His World War I draft registration said he was of medium build, but I remember him being on the slender side. He fit my stereotype of Swedish, with blue eyes and "light" (tending toward blond) hair. I don't know what possessed me (I was at most 13 years old) to ask him where he came from, but beyond his answer to that question, I don't remember him talking at all of Sweden or his family back home.
However, I had a packet of letters addressed to my grandfather in Iowa. Written mostly between 1910 and 1912, they were stamped and postmarked in Sweden and, of course, written in Swedish -- a language that was Greek to me. But, I did understand postmarks. At some point as a child, I had actually collected postmarks -- I'm not sure where I got the idea or what happened to the piles I collected. These letters were boldly postmarked "Hyssna."
Hyssna was not obvious on any small-scale maps of Sweden. In 1992-93, one couldn't just Google "Hyssna" or type "Hyssna" into Google Maps or the Geonet Name Server (http://geonames.nga.mil/namesgaz/). Instead, I phoned the American Swedish Institute across the river in Minneapolis and asked for help. They gave me the postal code and told me that Hyssna was a small town of about 700 people about 25 miles southwest of Gothenburg.
I knew no Swedish, but could make out that at couple of later letters from the late 1950s came from Hildur Edberg. So, I did the obvious thing: I addressed a letter to "Family Edberg" in Hyssna, 55102 Sweden. (Wouldn't you know, my current U.S. Zip Code is 55113?). I had no idea if any Edbergs were still in Hyssna, but figured it's a small town, so maybe.
This was, perhaps, January. A few months later, about March or April, a letter postmarked Hyssna came back in the mail. It was from Hildur's son, Åke. Yes, he remembered his mother saying that she had a cousin (my mother) in America. I wrote back, "Can we visit you in Sweden this summer?" Of course, he answered.
In August we drove up to an ordinary, commonplace red frame house on the edge of Hyssna. Åke and his brother Rolf where there to greet us. Dinner was on the table almost immediately. I have no idea what we had, but I'm sure it was good. (Sandwich cake came later).
After dinner, Åke went upstairs and brought down his mother's photo album. He turned to the first page and asked, "Do you know who these little boys are?" "Of course," I answered. "That's my brother and me."
We had already figured out the genealogy -- Åke and Rolf were my second cousins -- but, the proof was in the picture. Somehow, a picture of my brother and me had found its way to Hyssna. My mother had sent a picture of her two young boys to her cousin whom she had never met.
Oh, yes... here's the photo. At least, I think this is the one that was in
Åke's mother's album. This was 23 years ago, and I didn't think to take a photo of the album page. This photo is from the right time-frame, and it is what I picture in my mind's eye when I think about that evening in Hyssna.