In the wake of my Grandma Lois’s death, I ended up spending almost ten days basically living at home with my parents helping them get prepped and ready for the funeral. My biggest role in all the folderol has always been helping my mom with the memorial photo-boards that my family displays at the wake and “after-party,” scanning in old photos, putting together a slideshow, and helping prepare the displays. This year, I ended up on Google somehow looking up the spelling of my great-grandmother’s maiden name: some derivation of “Clausen” that nobody seemed able to agree on. I ended up on Ancestry.com, and eventually found it… “Claeson,” a unique Swedish spelling. At that point, I ended up falling down the rabbit hole and pursuing a goal I’ve held for a long time…tracing my family tree.
Clearly we were born and shall remain forever really, really ridiculously good-looking.
My siblings and I are classic mutts, with a mixed-bag heritage combining Italian, Swedish, German, and French in near-equal parts. This made the adventure of digging back through the generations extra-fascinating, leading me all over the world in the process. Since Lois was at the forefront of all our minds last week, I started with her. Grandma Lo was an only child born and raised in Saint Paul, the daughter of two Swedes who were born and who died right in “Ward 1” of Saint Paul.
On her dad’s side, Lo’s heritage is actually Czechoslovakian…both her grandparents (my great-great grandparents) were born in Slovakia in the 1870’s. She’s pure Swedish on her mother’s side, with grandparents born in Vasterlovsta and Sodermanland, Sweden, respectively. I was able to trace her mother, my great-great-great- grandmother, up to her parents, but unfortunately hit a dead end there…every record at the “four-times-great-grandparent” level was in Swedish and, since my only working knowledge of the language centers around Ikea’s product offerings, there wasn’t much more I could decipher. Here's one of my faves: my grandma with my great-grandpa Clarence on her wedding day:
From there, I hopped from Sweden to Italy and started digging on my grandpa, Ledio “Leo” Mariani. I knew a bit more about his childhood…his sister, my great-aunt Claudia, was born in Ancona, Italy, and my great-uncle Mario, his brother, was born in Connecticut and died in active duty in World War II in Burma (now Myanmar) a day after his twenty-first birthday. My grandpa Leo also served in active duty in WWII…we’re lucky enough to have some of the photos taken on their aircraft carrier in the Pacific theater.
Fun fact: his Navy nickname was “Irish!” As a proud Domer, I love that.
His father, Ulderico Mariani, was married three times to native Italian women…Nadalina and Dusolina were his first two wives and the mothers of his children. Ulderico and Claudia, along with either Nadalina or Dusolina, emigrated from Italy around 1920 through Le Havre, France, Liverpool, England, and eventually Canada before boarding a ship to New York City…arriving on the ship “Dante Alighieri.” I found the actual passenger register he signed…what a cool discovery! Below, an old photo of Grandpa with his mother, my great-grandmother Dusolina:
Again, my ability to trace far back to Italy was near-impossible…the record-keeping was apparently subpar compared to our American approach to recording everything! All I was able to find was that my great-great grandfather's name was Antonio Mariani, and that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of Mariani relatives still living in Ancona, and a nearby town called Mariani, in northern Italy today. (Off the record, the real reason I can't trace us is totally because they were Godfather-style mobsters. Kidding? You’ll never know, but hopefully you’ll also never cross me!)
On my dad’s side, I started with his father, Wayne Schwegman, and tracked his family to Stearns County, MN. Wayne was one of at least six kids, and his father was a mechanic. Somewhere between my great- and great-great grandfather, the spelling of “Schwegman” was born from an amalgamation of “Schweggeman” and “Schwegmann,” both of which mean “a man from Schwegge” (a town in Germany). Knowing that, I was able to follow the Schwegmanns back through the ages. Here, I made possibly my favorite discovery of all. Every time I Google myself, I find one other Elizabeth Schwegman in the results…a woman who died over a hundred years ago. I’ve always wondered if there’s a connection there, and it turns out there is…she’s my three- or four-times great-aunt through my grandpa’s side. Kind of a fun link to have! Below: random, but one of my favorite photos of my dad's parents, with baby brother Jonny.
My other favorite find in the Schwegman branch has to be the draft cards for World War I filled out by my great-grandpa, John Benerd Schwegman, and my great-great grandpa, Bernard Schwegman. Both were of draft-eligible age for WWI, and I think it’s so crazy to think of a father and son going off to fight together. I wasn’t able to find out if either of them served…but how cool to discover these.
I followed Grandpa Wayne’s side all the way back to this fox on the left:
This is Heinrich Schwegman, my three-times great grandfather, and his wife, Carolina Macke. He was born in Dinklage, Nordhalen-Westphalen, Germany in the mid-1800s, and is pictured with his five sons and their wives. My great-great grandfather, Bernard, is pictured in the middle, and it’s crazy how he resembles my grandpa Wayne. Links like these are what made this research so much fun!
On my grandma Loretta “Marsh” Marchildon’s side, the wealth of information I uncovered was more than double my other three grandparents combined. Marsh was French-Canadian, with family roots dating back over three centuries outside Quebec. They emigrated to the Red Lake Falls around my great-great grandparents’ time, and Marsh trained as a nurse, eventually running the nurses’ ward in Kandiyohi County. Look at her gorgeous graduation photo!
My whole family agreed that my dad and I both look like Marchildons. See a resemblance?
I traced the Marchildons (her paternal line) back to the early 1800s, but through her mother, Mary-Blanche Baril, I was able to follow the family roots back to the 1500’s…an uninterrupted line of Barils that have called Batiscan, Quebec their home since 1709. My 9th-great grandfather, Jean Baril, was the one who made the leap from Saintonges, France to Quebec…married a pimpin’ three times and living to 77. Quite the feat back then! Before Jean, the Barils can trace back to Poitiers, France…a pivotal site in the Hundred Years’ War, in which the Barils played a part…and Champagne, where my mom, sister and I toured on our Paris trip in May! I’m secretly hoping there’s an ancestral champagne house that’s just waiting to be claimed by the two of us, its long-lost descendants. A girl can dream, right?! Here's the oldest photo I could find: Henri Baril and his family, which would mean this is my 5th-great grandfather, his wife Madeleine Doucet, and three of their eventual 13 (!!!) children.
As nerdy as it sounds, I absolutely loved playing with Ancestry.com and tracking my family back through the ages. It was a great source of closure and gave me a very peaceful sense of being part of a chain of family members linked through time. I found the whole process extra-special and sentimental, knowing that all four of my grandparents are gone now. Hopefully I’ll be able to continue research over the years and keep on learning more as time goes by.
To see the rest of my 101 in 1001, head here and follow along as I check off the list!