Mending the Past 14: The Children


A child’s shoe from the 1800’s.

“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Everyday, I walk myself into a state of well-being & walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. But by sitting still, & the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill. Thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right.”― Søren Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher

I have been asked where I am going with Maja’s story. The answer is, I am not so much leading the way as following a story that has emerged like a path in the forest; I plan to keep going until I can go no further. I am enjoying a good ramble, but as I have chosen to write about it, I am also mindful that this should be presented in a way that is readable and cogent. These blog entries are the rough draft of a story I may re-organize in the future as well as the real journal of my pilgrimage on the paths of the family tree. There may be some backtracking and moments of being lost along the way but I hope in the end to map something that others may use for finding their way on similar journeys.

I have also been asked to write about Maja Lisa’s children. We know of three. The first was the gosse, the boy infant born in 1838 that Maja Lisa claimed was stillborn but she was convicted of murdering. That piece of her story alone is so distressing and raises so many questions. It would seem unlikely that she would have had more children, illegitimately, with the same man. And yet she did.

Screen Shot 2016-11-14 at 10.20.00 AM.pngMaja’s second child was my great, great grandmother Brita Kajsa (spelled various ways over time); she was born on May 12, 1841. The birth record (above) indicates, and underlines, that she was öakta, illegitimate. The number 12 is the day she was born and the number 13 is the day in May when she was baptized. Her father is listed as Nils Nilsson of Mörkhult farm, where he was working at the time. The abbreviated word after his name looks like Enkm. The only possibilty I can find for this word is enkeman, widower.

We know that Nilsson was divorced, a frånskild man, and that his ex-wife Kerstin Andersdotter continued to live in the parish for many years. Mikael wrote to us that Kerstin Andersdotter was born in 1875, making her 22 years older than Nils. It looks as if the attraction when they married included the fact that she was a hemmansegare, a property owner. They lived together on the farm estate called Vitared, next to the Riset estate. Mikael also wrote that eventually she died in 1869 at age 84, “then living in a cabin called Lyckås on Riset property.” So there is good evidence that Nils was not a widower. I don’t know why there is a notation that suggests it except that there may have been an error or a lie involved.

The daughter of Maja and Nils, Brita Kajsa, was baptized as usual and the birth record includes the names of her godparents. Her father was Nils Nilsson but she lived with her mother and maternal grandparents. According to traditional naming customs, the first daughter was often named after a paternal grandmother. Nils Nilsson’s mother was named Kjerstin (pronounced Sheer-stin). Perhaps Brita Kajsa was named after her maternal great grandmother Brita Jönsdotter or her aunt Britta Lisa Nilsdotter. Kajsa may have simply been a name that Maja liked. I can find no precedence for Kajsa on the family tree. I believe that her tilltalsnamn, name of address, was Kajsa.

c07eb5c7-2053-4c66-9b65-5c34969c9c94.jpgOn February 27 in 1845, Maja Lisa had one more child, a son named Nils Magnus. The record (above) also notes that he is öakta, illegitimate but the Fadr. (fader/father) is Dr. Nils Nilsson of RisadragDr. is an abbreviation for dräng, farmhand or single man living on the farm called Risadråg. The word Fadr. is followed by another word that I believe is uppgavs.” It means that Nils Nilsson is the “stated, declared or given” father. The child, Nils Magnus Nilsson, was probably named for his father’s father, also named Nils Nilsson (he is Nils Nilsson the III, if you will) and also for his other grandfather (mother’s father) Magnus. His last name makes it clear he is Nils’ son.

As I ponder what life may have been like for Maja Lisa during the decade she was in her 20’s, it paints a picture of a singular woman. For most of it, she was in a relationship with Nils Nilsson of Klämman. She raises their children, with the help of her parents, and Nils seems to be both present and not present. He works and lives on nearby farms but we have no idea if the ongoing relationship was tolerated and even supported or was completely illicit. Maja seems to care for Nils to the extent that the children are clearly named as his. I suspect it was considered outrageous behavior and that the family’s reputation in the parish suffered for it.

What was it like to be the children of a known hora (slut, whore or immoral woman)? I hope that young Brita Kajsa and her brother Nils Magnus were well loved and treated fairly. It is possible that Maja Lisa, for all her impulsive feelings for Nils Nilsson, ill prepared and a loser, ultimately, as a partner and father, was a very loving mother. She certainly had the loyalty of her children for the rest of her life.

The King James version of the Bible uses old fashioned language when quoting Jesus, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” I know the quaint word “suffer” means here “permit,” but as I grew up, such language suggested in my mind the idea that children were both a cause of suffering, as I understood the word, as well as role models for the kind of people that Jesus was most fond of welcoming to heaven. In other words, children could throw an adult life into chaos and yet this was somehow the divine order of things. Whatever I gleaned in church, I also learned along the way– “suffer” or put up with children because they are supremely lovable, absolute treasures and our ticket to heaven.

Maja Lisa’s great grandson, my grandfather Rudy, who knew her in his lifetime, was himself a quiet but congenial and soft touch of a grandfather. I believe that this is a legacy that may be traced to Maja’s generation. My grandfather loved to have us on his lap when we were young. He had a particular hug and chant that seemed ancient to me and recalled a heart beat. We would beg him to do it and so he would hold us close and rock us chanting, “Hmmm, mmm; hmmm, mmm;” and then whisper, “wow, wow. wow, wow.” In later years, when I had my first ultrasound as an expectant mother, the sound of my grandfather intoning, “wow, wow, wow, wow” came back to me as the Doppler relayed a similar sound.


One comment

  1. Charles Gustafson · · Reply


    A well-written episode! First reading reaction. Personal attitudes and emotions add life to the characters. Brita is becoming a heroic victim while Maja Lisa more despicable. The line between the two women is blurred. What did Brita Kajsa really think of her mother? Was her mother’s blindness God’s retribution in their eyes? I think your impression of my dad’s rhythmic lap-hug is very interesting. I remember the rocking side-to-side and soft humming followed by falsetto wows. I also remember the scratch of my dad’s whiskers. My mother never rocked me that way, only my dad. I carried the tradition on with all four of my daughters. How old a custom is it and is it only in our family? Did any of my daughters or their husbands continue the comforting embrace or was it a tradition that will end with me?


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