Mending the Past 12: Double Cousins & farfarsmormorsmor


This beautiful photo is by Ariko Inaoka from her series ‘Erna and Hrefna,’ identical twins in Iceland. More of Inaoka’s work is on her website aarriikkoo,com.

Studying the family tree is such an interesting exercise in kinship math. For example, I have focused much of my story on my great, great, great grandmother Maja Lisa Magnusdotter, the wonderfully named farfarsmormorsmor (father’s father’s mother’s mother’s mother). She is only one of 32 third great grandmothers I have. Each generation effectively doubles. If you go back to your 18th great grandparent, there are over a million. If all of my ancestors were Swedish (they are not) that would be pretty much the entire population of Sweden in the 17th century.

One of the interesting twists in Maja’s story came to light last summer when we were contacted by another relation in Sweden who has done quite a bit of genealogy research. Mikael Johansson e-mailed us when he spotted the photo of Maja we had posted on He wrote to us that, since childhood, one of his favorite hobbies has been the study of family history. He provided a treasure load of information about Maja Lisa’s farm, history and family connections. He also pointed out something that we had not really noticed before: Maja Lisa’s one and only sibling, Johannes, married the sister of Nils Nilsson, the notorious father of Maja’s children. The result was that Maja’s two illegitimate children had more than a half dozen cousins who were “double cousins.” Mikael explained.

You are correct that we are 5th cousins but looking at it genetically we are in fact related as if we were 4th cousins. The mother (Maja Lisa Magnusdotter) of your [great great grandmother] Britta Kajsa was the only sibling of the father (Johannes Magnusson) of my great-grandfather Gustaf Alexander Johansson. But furthermore Gustaf Alexander and Britta Kajsa were double first cousins (making them as genetically related as siblings) since Britta Kajsa´s father was the brother of Gustaf Alexander’s mother.
It is like tracking the number of threads and colors, warp and woof, in a complex weaving. But it helped me see things in broader perspective. Maja Lisa’s children and the cousins (below) all shared the same set of four grandparents. Mikael provided brief biographies for each. It is interesting to see that they all stayed in Sweden while Maja and her children emigrated. Few stayed in the parish. Mikael himself now lives in Karlskoga, a city in Värmland, north and west of Västergötland. Had the cousins grown up together like siblings, playing and working together or was there a break in relations over disapproval of Maja and Nils’s relationship?
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Brita Kajsa Magnusdotter photographed in Wisconsin toward the end of her life. She looks tired, possibly ill. Her double cousin Gustaf Alexander Johansson.

•Anna Lisa was born the same year and six months later than Maja’s daughter Brita Kajsa. One could say they were practically fraternal twins. Anna Lisa became a crofter’s wife in Västergötland.
•Maria Helena married a tailor Silvander in Stockholm,
•Kristina married steam shipper Henriksson in Stockholm
•Augusta Charlotta married banker Arthur Oscar Fredrik Ahlström in Stockholm,
•Anders Oscar became a workman and died young and childless
•Carl Johan Alfred became a workman and died young, childless and poor in Stockholm (he spent a short time in prison in his youth for stealing)
•Gustaf Alexander Johansson (1856-1929) moved to the town of Mariestad and became a butcher and merchant before losing his home and business in the fire of Mariestad in 1895. Gustaf was 11 years younger than his cousin Nils Magnus Nilsson and his cousin Brita Kajsa Nilsdotter was a teenager when he was born. Mikael is a descendant of this man.
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A scene of the women’s pews in church from The Emigrants, a 1972 film by Jan Troell based on the well known books by Vilhelm Moberg. What do you think of the young woman in a white head klut? Perhaps a quiet reference to the mundane presence of different women, hora, in the congregation.

 With this new information from Mikael, I realized that a good chunk of Maja’s community consisted of nära släktar (near relatives), avlägson släktar (far relatives) and släkt i släkten and relatives of relatives. What did they make of their kinswoman. Were they supportive or judgmental, close or did they keep their distance?
Most intriguing of all, Mikael was able to corroborate the story of Nils Nilsson of Klämman farm in Daretorp Parish. It occurred to me that our relationship to Nils Nilsson was ultimately by word of mouth. Either he was named by another as the father of Maja’s children or he himself came forward and his name was written down in the parish records. Not to mention the potential confusion of the fact that there were hundreds if not thousands of Nils Nilssons in Sweden at the time. So was Nils Nilsson of Klämman indeed the father? If there was any doubt, there exists now one way to confirm and it was Mikael that proposed it: DNA testing. If Mikael’s DNA matched our father’s, that would be the definitive proof that Nils Nilsson of Klämman was the father of Maja Lisa’s children.

My parents had done an DNA analysis through in 2015. There are several ways to do DNA testing these days. Combining DNA and genealogy is a developing industry and an imperfect science. Still, it yields interesting results not least of which is confirming or revealing connections to others who have used the test and are in the data bases. My dad received an estimate of his geographic ancestry which looks like this:

71% Scandinavian ancestry
20% ancestry from Great Britain
5% Ireland
3%, Finland (NW Russia)
1% Europe West
The results can be compared to’s profile of a typical native of Sweden. My dad’s parents, grandparents and ancestors as far back as we know are all from Sweden. A typical Swede has 84 percent Scandinavian ancestry. So my dad’s percentage of purely Scandinavian roots is slightly lower than most. Also he falls into minority categories for the following:
Only 13 percent of Scandinavians have Irish ancestry.
But almost half (45 percent) of Scandinavians have British ancestry.
It looks like nearly a quarter of his ancestry is associated with the British Isles. I have a theory that since his roots are clearly deep in western Sweden, near Norway, his forebears were perhaps Vikings who spent time marauding in Britain. Only 25 to 27 percent of Scandinavians have Finnish ancestry. The dash of spice, 1 percent, from Western Europe is a real wild card. I’m not sure what it means. It could mean more ancestry from continental Europe as far south as the Iberian Peninsula.
Mikael had tested his DNA with a different site, 23andMe. He suggested that we register my dad’s results with, a site that would accept raw data from both 23andMe and He described it as a free ancestry tool that helps people find family relationships by identifying what part of respective genomes people have in common.
It didn’t take long before Mikael reported back to us saying that the test confirmed our relationship. The results showed that my dad and Mikael’s most recent common ancestral connection was 4 and 5 generations ago. He wrote, “Our most recent common ancestors were Magnus Svensson and Lena Nilsdotter of Risatorp (parents of Maja Lisa and Johannes) and Nils Nilsson and Kerstin Larsdotter of Klämman (parents of Nils and Anna Stina). Magnus, Lena, Nils and Kerstin are 6 generations back for me and 5 generations back for your father, but because of the double cousinship we can remove one generation counting genetically, so 5 generations from me and 4 generations for your father.”
Here was the proof, that as I write– I realize I have hesitated to accept. Nils Nilsson of Klämman is my farfars mormors far, my great, great, great grandfather. If there is a true criminal in the family, he is the one I had been shunning.


  1. Charles Gustafson · · Reply

    Hi Lisa~

    A very technical episode which must be read carefully and more than once to be fully understood. Is this chapter not numbered for a reason?


  2. I may need to do a major re-write. It is a tangled web but a very interesting part of the story. Comments welcome.

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