Thursday, October 3, 2013

Blacksmiths going west, part 1: Life in Sweden

This two-part article was first written (in Swedish) for a Swedish family history journal. In this first installment, we will follow the lives of Gustaf Elg and Maria Sofia Bork in Sweden, leading to their decision to emigrate.


The 19th century´s industrial revolution was made possible by new and more efficient methods of producing iron and steel, and demand for these products skyrocketed. But the new technology also came to mean the end of the wood-fired furnaces and forges that for 200 years had provided the world with iron from Sweden.

The Industrial Revolution also laid the foundation for the mass emigration to the United States, and many blacksmiths chose to emigrate, rather than to seek work in the modern industrial mills.

This was also the case for my Elg family, with roots in Säfsnäs / Gravendal (and going back to Finnish slash and burn farmers who first settled in the area around 1600). At least 20 Elgs emigrated to the United States, and I have contact with about 40 descendants, from Maine to Seattle and Los Angeles

In the early 1800s, a number of blacksmiths from our Elg family moved a few miles west, to Liljendal in Rämmen parish. This is also where most emigrants have roots. In this story, we will follow one of these emigrant blacksmith families. The family's life in Sweden is traced from parish records and other historical sources. The family's fortunes in America is partly based on American archives, but mainly on material from the family historian Todd Lindahl, grandson of Franz Gustav "Gust" Elg.

Liljendal abt 1860.
Gustaf and Maria Sofia brought this photo to Minnesota.
Todd Lindahl collection

Gustaf Elg, blacksmith

Gustaf Elg was born in 1834 in Gravendal, the youngest son of my great-great-grandfather Lars Elg (1789-1853) and Lisa Gråberg (1792-1873). Lars Elg was a master blacksmith, and introduced what was known as the German method of forging at Gravendal. An older sister of Gustaf, Christina Elg (1820-1902) also came to emigrate, but that's a different (and interesting) story.

At the age of fifteen, Gustaf moves to Liljendal in 1849, where he begins to learn the blacksmith profession as a helper to his older brother, Johan Elg (1817-1896). In 1852 Gustaf moves again, this time to Gustavsström, Gåsborn, to continue his training with another brother, master hammersmith Peter Elg (1814-1890).

Gustaf Elg and Maria Sofia Bork
Todd Lindahl collection

Two years later, Gustav moves back to Rämmen, to work as an assistant to master blacksmith Jan Bork at Heden, an annex to the Liljendal mill. In 1856, at age 22, his apprenticeship is over, and Gustaf marries Maria Sofia Bork (b. 1838 in Liljendal). Maria Sofia is the daughter of Jan Bork's deceased brother Petter Bork (1812-1851) and Lisa Stålberg. (While there were a number of Elg-smiths in Rämmen parish the Bork family was even more numerous, and I have found several marriages between the two families).

Gustav is now an assistant master, the master blacksmith´s number two man, and leads the crew when the master is not in place. At least in the early years, the couple lives with Maria Sofia's family, where her mother has remarried the 15 years younger assistant master Olof Jonsson Roth. Marrying a blacksmith's widow, and taking responsibility for supporting the family, was not an unusual way for a blacksmith apprentice to obtain the resources needed to advance to assistant master and master blacksmith.

In 1864, after fifteen years of training, Gustaf could finally call himself a master blacksmith. In Liljendal Maria Sofia also gave birth to six of the couple's total of 14 children: Emma Elizabeth (b.1857), Carl Gustaf (b. 1859), Aaron (b. 1860), Johanna (b. 1862), Francis Edward (b. 1865), and John William (b. 1866). Francis Edward died only 17 months old.

Rönneshytta, Lerbäck

In 1867, after three years as a master blacksmith, Gustaf moves with his growing family to Rönneshytta in Lerbäck parish in Närke. The move also includes helper Erik Johan Elg, a son of Gustaf´s brother Johan who once trained Gustaf in Liljendal. Rönneshytta delivers pig iron to the nearby Skyllberg mill where the iron is processed in a newly built rolling mill.

At the Skyllberg mill, Maria Sofia's brother Olaus Bork is master mechanic since two years, and is responsible for an ambitious expansion program. He will eventually build the narrow gauge railroad connecting Skyllberg to the outside world, and is a master mechanic for 32 years (see ).

In Rönneshytta three children are born, Adolf Fredrik (1868), Alma Justina (1870) and Lambert (1875).

Emigration begins

In 1876 it is time for the family to move again, this time to Fagersta Mill, Västanfors. The oungest son, Lambert, dies shortly afterwards, just 17 months old. Three years later, the first step on the way to America is taken, as the eldest son Carl Gustaf Elg emigrates, 20 years old, in July 1879. Two years later, his brother Aaron moves to Eskilstuna as an apprentice at Bolinder Munktell, but soon he follows his brother's trail, and emigrates to the U.S. in August, 1882. Both brothers find work in railroad workshops in Minnesota.

In 1884 daughter Emma Elizabeth leaves the nest. She travels to Gävle to become kitchen maid to Colonel Carl Bror Munck. Munck is not only commander of the Helsinglands Regiment, he also belongs to King Oscar II's staff, and his wife is lady in waiting to Queen Victoria.

Aaron is visits Sweden in 1885, presumably to discuss further emigration plans. Next year brothers Johan Wilhelm and Adolf Fredrik also emigrate.

Two of Olaus Bork's sons, Carl Gustaf and Leonard Bork, also emigrate to Minnesota, in April 1887. I have written about Carl Gustaf´s tragic death in a previous article ( ) Leonard returns to Sweden and Skyllberg after his brother's death. Adolf stays a year in Montana before moving back to Minnesota. Possibly he brought with him the remains of Carl Gustaf Bork, as he is buried in Barnesville, Minnesota.

Hannah and Adolph Elg, at Carl Gustaf Bork´s grave in Barnesville, 1939
Todd Lindahl Collection

The family is not yet ready for the big leap. While Johan Wilhelm and Adolf Fredrik emigrate to Minnesota Gustaf Elg moves his family one last time in 1886, now to Ferna Mill, Gunnilsbo, Västmanland. While at Ferna a decision is reached, and sometime 1891 - 1892 Gustaf writes to an emigration agent to inquire about the cost of moving the family to Minnesota.

The blacksmith shop at Ferna, abt 1880


In a following article, we will follow the family across the Atlantic, and their life in the new country.

1 comment:

Mikael Nygren said...

Trevligt släktsida. Har precis köpt fritidshus i Liljendal efter att ha varit där i sjutton år. Letar lite bilder och du har ju en på gamla sågen. En bild som är i din släkts ägo. Naturen tar över mer och mer och i vintras rasade södra delen troligtvis mest pga tungt skiffertak. Tror du hade lite nyare bilder på annan plats.
Forskar till min kompis och hans föräldrar som är från Liljendal. De har Bork i släkten så där finns säkert koppling.