Compton Township, Minnesota, Ohman homestead


Old Swedish Bible
Old Swedish Bible

The Johnson twins, Swan and Pete, did not take advantage of being confirmed with their fifteen year old sister Emma in 1880 when the first Lutheran confirmation occurred  in Compton Township, Minnesota. They didn’t budge the next year either when Swan’s future wife, Beda at age fourteen, was confirmed.

Now one might think these two had been confirmed at an earlier date. The custom in pioneer Swedish communities was to confirm around the age of fourteen or so.  But in 1880 Swan and Pete were twenty years of age—men by the standards of their day.

In 1874 when the twins were of the confirming age, the family was farming in Dakota County near Rosemount, Minnesota.  In 1875 they show up in the Minnesota Census as a part of a small group of forty-four Swedes mixed in among a lot of Irish immigrants, a few Germans, and maybe a couple of Norwegians.

Bible Book Binding
Bible Book Binding

Now there wasn’t a Lutheran church in sight of Rosemount at the time. One popped up in Hastings in 1871. But Hasting was about fifteen to twenty miles from their whereabouts in Dakota County and not a trip to make very often on poor roads and in certain types of weather.

Sweden at the time only allowed one Christian denomination by law. You were either Lutheran or risking incarceration. The twins’ parents, Peter Johnson and Johanna Anderson, were both confirmed Lutheran Christians. Their confirmations were duly noted in the Swedish household examination records of the time along with other particulars such as birth dates and small pox vaccinations.

Once in the new land many Swedish immigrants chartered new Lutheran congregations or joined existing ones. Others however went in search of something novel and now legal. Swedes seeking spiritual change account for the Swedish Baptist, Swedish Methodist, and Swedish Covenant churches throughout Minnesota. Still some Swedes sought some spiritual peace opting to leave faith matters of any kind behind them in the hills of their homeland.

There was a Methodist Church near the family in Dakota County. It was incorporated in 1868 and the building was being built in 1874. The church is on the 1879 plat map of Rosemount way over in the Western corner of section 30. I’m not sure the family had pietistic leanings though. There’s no mention in the family legend of anything of this sort. And being it was a German Methodist congregation (and not a Swedish Methodist congregation) makes me think the family may have shied away from it.

Swan and Pete however as well as their older brother Johan Gustaf and their younger sister Betsey all came of confirming age while living in Dakota County. With few choices, what did the family do? Travel to Hastings? Confirm in the Methodist Church? Or chose to do nothing?

Born February 15th, 1860 in Carver County, Minnesota,  Andrew Peter and Svante would have had plenty of opportunity to be baptized. Carver County was an active Swedish community boasting two Swedish Lutheran churches within five miles of each other and within the area the Johnson family was living at the time with another family from home.  The twins were born twenty months after their parents landed in Boston, Massachusetts and nineteen months after their brother, Johan Gustaf, was born. Surrounded by family and friends from home, life in Carver County was most likely full of past traditions.

Church records for the East Union Lutheran Church in Carver County are messy and difficult to decipher. However, while not stellar, the church records of the Compton Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church prove legible. The records note the twins were baptized in 1860 in Carver County. Reading on, a small and somewhat messy notation in Swenglish written in these same church records indicate that 1909 was a big year for the twins. At forty-nine years of age Swan, Pete, and Swan’s son Fredie (age fourteen or so) where all confirmed in the Compton Church.




We may never know what prompted this late confirmation. One thought is that their mother’s death the year prior caused the twins to do some thinking on spiritual matters. Perhaps they knew Johanna regretted not finding a way to have her children confirmed in Dakota County. Maybe the twins’ confirmation was fulfillment of their mother’s final wish.

Well that is one thought. My other thought lies within the power of Beda Anderson Johnson.

Beda, according to legend, spoke her mind. She could have nagged Swan at precisely the most aggravating yet effective moment about this confirmation thing. The couple already had one child confirmed in 1907 and now another one was ready to go. Yet here was the father still unconfirmed and living just down the road from the church!

Slowly over time, Swan could have weakened. Can’t a man get any peace in his own home? Maybe not.  So Swan could have trudged across the fields over to Pete’s house one evening seeking some brotherly solace. As was their custom, the twins could settled into shooting the breeze around the table at twilight. Eventually after a few Swedish silences, Swan could have raised  the topic of confirmation. A few silences later Pete could have nodded and said, “Yah. I tink I vill be yoining you, Svaney.”

Like music I can hear a roll of Compton chuckles spill out over the table, the children listening and Emma smiling as she finishes up the dishes. Then I imagine Swan and Pete sighing in surrender to the matrimonial fates conceding without words that the power of two women in cahoots is not to be reckoned with.

And I think I’ll just leave it at that—a few interesting facts about the cloud of witnesses who came before me rolled into a whole lot of conjecture about another time and another place that makes for somewhat of a passable story to tell.

The Swedish language of the Minnesota pioneers.



Federal Census of 1860 for Carver County, Minnesota.

Minnesota State Census of 1875 for Rosemount in Dakota County, Minnesota.

Records for the bark, Minona, accessed at the the Swenson Swedish Immigration Center at Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

Rosemount Plat Map of 1879. Courtesy of the Dakota County Historical Society. Accessed 9/28/2012.

Rosemount United Methodist Church at Accessed on April 15, 2015.

Swedes in Minnesota by Anne Gillespie Lewis. Published by Minnesota Historical Society Press. 2004.

Swedish-American Church Records: Swenson Swedish Immigration Center at Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois. Accessed on April 17, 2015.

Swedish Household Record for Petter Johansson and Johanna Andreasdottor. Algutstorp B: 2 (1851-1971) Image 95 (Source: Arkiv Digital AD AB)

Swedish New Testament Bible found in the Ohman homestead.
Swedish New Testament Bible found in the Ohman homestead.
Ohman homestead

An Old Ugly Rocker


It’s an old ugly rocker sitting low to the ground for people with short legs. The head board sports some fancy filigree reminding me of old cowboy movies. It’s brown and easily shrugged off as useless. Most people would think of it as storage room material or perhaps kindling for a summer bonfire.

We think the thing came from the John Ohman farm in Compton Township of Otter Tail County, Minnesota. John Ohman, formally known in Sweden as Johan Johannson, emigrated in 1882 to Carver County, Minnesota and moved to the farm by 1883. My guess (and this is just a guess) is that the rocker was acquired up there in Compton to rock my grandfather, Carl Johan, when he was a baby. Grandpa Carl was the last child of nine to be born to Johan and Johanna Johannson and the only child to be born in Amerika. Carl was born August 10, 1883.

On this 1912 plat map of the area (courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society) the farm of eighty acres is in the Southeast corner of section 20.

Grandma Emma Johnson’s family farmed just south of the Ohman farm. The story goes Emma came home from teaching in the Iron Range to nurse her dying mother. Carl was now farming the land and Emma ended up marrying him and moving across the road to the Ohman farm in March of 1920.

According to my Dad, Grandma liked to repaint the Ohman kitchen now and again.  I guess after a cold Minnesota winter cooped up in about 600 square feet with little children, in-laws, and farm hands about, everything got painted as a form of emotional survival.

Layer upon layer of paint came off other items from the farm. The rocker had just as many layers. Except for some reason, the paint just didn’t want to let loose. Dad tried to strip it like he had the old kitchen table. But he gave up, overwhelmed by its stubbornness. Instead he painted the rocker a glossy and ugly brown.

I discovered the rocker when I was a teenager. Finding the thing “retro” and cooler than my parents, I moved it to my bedroom. It’s been with me on and off ever since.

Grandma Emma’s DNA must have been coursing through my veins this past winter. One day I looked at that rocker and the next day I was painting it with some sort of post-Christmas, January, winter fervor, writer’s agony.

Worn paint on the underside showed the rocker to be made of cheap pine. Cheap or not, my brush dripping in linen white chalk paint, unmasked curves and crevices and curly-cues previously hidden under the ugly brown paint. Waxes and sand paper scrapes added highlights and even more interest.


Images of the rocker’s life up north in that old cabin flashed in my mind’s eye. I saw women running their fingers across the carved wood and young children learning to rock themselves in it before their feet could touch the floor. I imagined Johanna darning socks and mending trousers as the kerosene lamp burned its wick down or nursing a fussy baby Carl at midnight. And I imagined Grandma Emma as a new bride possibly thinking the rocker as old and ugly even then.

I don’t know if I will ever view the old ugly rocker as beautiful. But it is wearing its new coat of paint well. And I, its keeper, am tossing possible repainting plans about for the next time I am struck with a DNA fit. I’m thinking this time of a Swedish peasant green in honor of all the peasants who came before me with furniture left about to be discovered.