elna georgina became mrs. elma larson

New York State Census, 1905.

For a long time I’ve been looking for Elna Georgina Nilsson Kratz, my grandfather’s younger sister. Elna emigrated from Sweden to the United States, by herself, in the summer of 1896.

It turned out that Elna married Hugo Larsson from Hammarby, Sweden, in 1898. They had three boys: Hugo in 1899, Eric in 1902, and Henry in 1904. Elna’s husband passed away sometime before 1916. I haven’t been able to determine how, or when, but in the 1916 New York City phonebook Elna is listed as Elma, widow of Hugo.

In 1900, after they were married, Elna and her husband Hugo lived on 135th street in the Bronx among immigrants from Sweden, Ireland, Italy, and Germany. In 1905 they lived on 246, East 125th street in Harlem on a block with immigrants from northern and eastern Europe; Finland, Norway, Russia, Germany. Hugo is listed as a carpenter, and their neighbors are housewives, laborers, dock builders, seamen, and book keepers. One woman is listed as having a profession, a dressmaker. Later the Larsons moved to #305 on the same street.

Elna’s oldest son Hugo stayed with her until his early 30s, when he married Anna Curtis. Anna and Hugo never had children of their own, but they took in their niece Frances when Henry’s wife, also named Frances, died in the late 1930s.

Eric married Alice Youngson, and had two children, George and Alice, born in 1927 and 1929.

In 1940 Elna lived by herself on 182, East 122nd street. Everyone on her block was white. Many were born in the United States, but there were also many European immigrants. Among her closest neighbors were people from Germany, Finland, and Canada.

In 1940 Elna was 65 years old, and listed as a laundress. It seems she started working, at least officially, when her oldest son Hugo got married in 1933.

Elna lived her whole life, as a wife, widow, and mother, on East 122nd and 125th streets in East Harlem. 125th street is now Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. The buildings where Elna lived are not there anymore.

when ‘maja christina’ became ‘mary c.’

I’m working on a large project that involves a good deal of family research. I’m spending time on genealogy sites and in Facebook groups. I’m discovering a side of my extended family that no one knew existed.

As a child I was told that no one in our family ever emigrated. Why? “Because we were never poor.”

But we were poor. Some stayed poor in Sweden. Others improved their lives through education. And it turns out that three women related to my grandfather (his aunt, his cousin, and his sister) emigrated from Sweden to the US.

One of my grandfather’s aunts, Maja Christina, emigrated with her family in 1870. They became farmers in Iowa. My grandfather’s cousin Alice emigrated, by herself, in 1915. She worked at a notorious institution for the physically and mentally disabled in upstate New York. Then she married an American man and moved with him across the industrial north. He worked for car manufacturers and the rail road. Alice died in Chicago in 1970.

My grandfather’s sister Elna left Sweden in 1896, when she was 21 years old. She had listed “New York” as her destination, and I’ve seen a document confirming that she arrived there. But that’s the end of her story.

Many immigrant Swedish women share her first and last names. One was a nurse in San Francisco, another a bookmaker in New York. There are dressmakers, home makers, and many, many, ‘domestics’. I don’t think it really matters which one of them is our relative. They were poor, they crossed an ocean, and they continued to work.

elna georgina nilsson kratz, b. 1875

This is the ship manifest listing the names of those traveling from Göteborg to New York on June 23, 1896 on the S/S Island. One of the passengers was Elna Nilson, my grandfather’s younger sister. They reached New York on July 13, but after that I have no idea what happened to Elna. Unlike her brother she didn’t use their stepfather’s last name (Kratz). Elna Nilson is a very common name, making it impossible to trace her. Family history aside, tho, look how young these emigrants were: 16, 23, 17, 18. Elna was 21.

finding vivian maier, and making money from her work


When I first heard about Vivian Maier I was super excited. She’s a woman who photographed obsessively all of her adult life, without any recognition, and without ever developing most of her film. After her death her considerable talent was discovered. Her work is amazing in many different ways. It’s documentary, striking, and produced by a very particular mind. Here is a New York Times story and slide show to give you an idea if you haven’t seen her work before.

There are (at least) two movies about Vivian Maier’s life. One was produced by John Maloof, the man who owns the bulk of her negatives. John Maloof has worked hard at promoting Vivian Maier and her work, and he was behind the news stories that surfaced about three years ago. John Maloof’s movie is in theaters right now, and as excited as I’ve been about it, I’ve decided not to see it. It feels like a commercial venture, and it strikes me as odd that a woman who protected her privacy all of her life, shall be making money for someone else. This Boston Globe review of the film is generally positive, but interesting.

The second movie, The Vivian Maier Mystery (available on Amazon and Google Play, and also, at least for the time being, here) was produced by BCC Scotland. This film tells a slightly different story. It puts John Maloof and his actions into perspective, and it asks interesting questions about ownership, fame, and money.

(The image above comes from a story in The New Yorker.)

you rest in peace, lou reed

Lou Reed died today, and it is sad. I tried to pick a song to play, and kept coming back to this one. It’s Lou Reed, and John Cale, in a tribute to Andy Warhol.

I get homesick for the 1970s sometimes. And I get homesick for the 1960s too, even tho I was only a child. Inspiring, and creative, times.

Rolling Stone quotes Reed in its obituary“One chord is fine,” he once said, alluding to his bare-bones guitar style. “Two chords are pushing it. Three chords and you’re into jazz.”