Wigstrom Family History

Wigstrom Family Reunion

July 4th at 10 o'clock at the EMC building in Summerdale

For more information, please contact Lisa Mann
at 205-613-2119 or carltonandlisamann@gmail.com

Wigstrom Family History

Wigstrom family and friends on a Sunday picnic about 1928.

         Oskar Ludwig Wigström was born June 3, 1867 in the Parish of Fole on the Swedish island of Gotland, off the east coast of the mainland. His mother was 18 year-old Elisabet Anna Wigström (born March 5, 1849, died October 10, 1919) who came from a well-to-do family at Ringvide farm in Fole, Gotland. Oskar’s father was Olof Johan Ludwig Boberg (born September 29, 1846) who lived at the Barsage farm in Gotland, employed as a farm hand. It is unclear whether Oskar’s parents were ever married, but what is clear is that Anna’s domineering family disapproved of the union and took measures to dissolve their relationship.
Elisabeth Anna Wigström Karlsson in 1888 - Mother of Oskar Ludwig Wigström.

Ringvide farm in Fole, Gotland, Sweden in May 1999.
Ringvide farm drive. Ringvide house. Built 1855.

Ringvide farm. Ringvide farm. Ringvide farm.

A little over a mile from Ringvide is the
Fole Church, where Anna's mother is buried.
Fole Church. Grave marker of
Anna's mother.
Grave marker of
Anna's mother.

         Anna’s family was pleased when, on October 23, 1874, Lars Emanuel Karlsson, the son of a prosperous family, married their daughter and welcomed her to their large family farm (Stora) in Gotland, named Bläsnungs. Oskar was 8 when Anna married Lars, who also had a child, a one year-old daughter.

Stora Bläsnungs in Gotland,
the Karlsson family farm before 1900.
The Karlsson children.

         At Stora Bläsnungs, Oskar grew up working on the family farm with his half brothers and sisters. He would not realize how much he loved that work until he had been separated from it years later, in a place far away from his homeland of Sweden.

         Not far from Gotland, on the east coast of Sweden, Wilhelma Adele Svensdotter was born November 20, 1879 in Sarfkullen (now Sarvkullen), near Kristdala. Adele was the daughter of mother, Brita Lisa Olsdotter (born October 15, 1838, died September 29, 1901) married in 1858 to father, Sven Peter Nilsson (born March 02, 1835, died September 27, 1916).

Map of the east coast of Sweden including Kristdala and the island of Gotland. Back row, left to right, Axel, Ellen, Sophia. Adele is standing in front between her parents. Sisters, Ellen and Adele.

         The children in the family, from oldest to youngest, were Johan, Olof, Ida, Axel, Sophia, Ellen, and Adele. Some of the children would later adopt the last name of Soderberg. Four of them would eventually move to the United States. Adele was the last to go in 1899.

The solid silver Sabelskjöld wedding crown still used by family members at weddings. Click on crown to see more pictures.

         Their mother Brita Lisa was descended from the noble family Sabelskjöld. Click here to see the Sabelskjöld Family Society Homepage.

         For a while, Oskar lived with his natural father, Olof Johan Ludwig Boberg, and possibly worked with him on a farm. At the age of 21, Oskar joined the King’s service as one of the royal guards in Stockholm. He served as a guard until 1892, when he came to America to live in Chicago for seven years. When Oskar was 31 years old, he returned to Sweden to visit.

Oskar Ludwig Wigström
in Sweden, Guardsman
to the King.
Oskar's discharge papers
showing his birth date and
place, and the date he
became a guard.
Oskar's discharge papers
showing the date he
was discharged as a guard.

         On his return trip to America, Oscar boarded a Swedish ship to Liverpool, England. From there he left on a ship from the White Star Line, the S.S. Majestic, landing at Ellis Island, New York on September 8, 1898. He had to make this transfer because there were no Swedish ships that traveled all the way to America. He returned to Chicago where he was employed as a mounted policeman. He enjoyed the work on horseback, but he wanted to return to the land to his first love, farming.

Oscar Wigstrom's Naturalization papers
dated October 25, 1898, declaring him to be a citizen of the United States.

         In 1899, Adele boarded a Swedish ship in Stockholm to Liverpool, England where she transferred to a ship from the Cunard Line, the S.S. Lucania. The ship arrived at Ellis Island on September 17, 1899. Both Adele and Oscar later told the family that the 8-day trip over by ship was cramped with no light and little food. It was a rough ride over. The ships had steam engines that were noisy and filthy.

Ellen on left, and Adele in
Chicago with their friends.
Adele. Adele Svenson Soderberg
on the right.

         Adele was only 19 years old when she arrived in America. On the ship's manifest, Adele gave her last name as Svenson and stated that she intended to go to the home of her brother-in-law, J. Anderson, in Pueblo, Colorado. Ultimately, she worked her way to Chicago where she became employed as a private cook and nanny. There she met an industrial worker, Emil, and became engaged. Things were going well with her engagement until she met a dashing man in uniform, Oscar Wigstrom.

Adele's watch
front view.
Adele's watch
back view with
initials A.S.

         Adele regretted having to leave such a nice man as Emil, but since Oscar had been reading the brochures about Silverhill from the Svea Land Office of Chicago, he had convinced her that having a farm of their very own would be much more appealing than working in the city for others. She explained to Emil that she wanted to try a better life, one on her own farm.

         Adele accepted Oscar's offer of marriage and they were wed in Chicago on March 4, 1906. Adele’s 18 karat gold wedding ring bore the inscription, “O.W. to A.S. March 4th 1906.” He was 39 and she was 27.

Oscar Wigstrom marked with an X on a train trip to Silverhill from Chicago.

         Oscar had traveled to Silverhill ahead of Adele to take care of the land purchase, temporary living arrangements, and began their house construction. He used his savings to cover the down payment for 80 acres of land. When they arrived in Silverhill on March 7th, they stayed in the large hotel in town until they could finish building their house. He paid installments on the land and had it paid off by 1916.

         The land was one mile north of the center of Silverhill. Today that is the northwest corner of Woodpecker Lane and County Road 55. The land was sandy loam and, they discovered later, not very good for farming. Oscar had cut trees on his property to build the two-story farmhouse and a large barn. He took his trees to the sawmill where everyone who built would take their timber to be cut into lumber for building.

Signature of Oscar Ludwig Wigstrom.

         On May 27, 1906, Adele writes in Swedish in her little notebook (where she also writes poetry and recipes), that they are living in their new home in Silverhill, doing very well, having good health and many friends.

         The 1910 Federal Census for Baldwin County, Alabama shows the small family living in the Loxley Precinct with their three-year old son Ernest.

Adele with her newborn son Ernest in 1907 at their Silverhill farm. Oscar with his first child Ernest
about 1910.

         Their property had a swamp on it that drained into Tiger Pond. This pond is still on the left side of highway 55 on the way north out of town. There were large alligators in the swamp. Once, when one attacked him, Oscar pulled a fence post out of the ground and beat the alligator with it. He said he was very happy to have gotten out of that with no injuries.

The Wigstrom farm in Silverhill about 1911. Oscar and Adele with children Ernest and Adolf.

         Oscar and Adele farmed the land for years as they raised four children, Ernest, Adolf, Martha, and Oliver who were all born at the farmhouse with the assistance of a mid-wife. Oscar and Adele were both tall and large boned people with striking features. Their eyes were clear blue and their hair light. Their children were the same. Oliver was the tallest at 6' 4".

Adolf showing off his gun, Pa, Ma, Martha and Oliver. Martha, Oliver and Mr. Henning Anderson on Wigstrom's front porch. Martha and Oliver with family friends.

         At first Oscar began raising satsumas, but the trees did not thrive in the farm’s sandy soil. His next farming venture proved successful. Oscar started a herd of dairy cattle and sold the milk to the Berglin Ice Company in Fairhope for distribution to families.

Oscar's dairy herd. Harvesting corn for cattle feed.

         The little Swedish community worked together to take care of its own. In the early days before refrigeration, the farmers would take turns butchering a cow and sharing in the meat.

         The Wigstroms also raised chickens, grew tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, and some sugarcane. Adele and Martha ground hamburger meat to make Swedish meatballs and canned them to have handy when needed. Adele always made her own home made Swedish bread, and loved to make sponge cake and many other cakes. She carried her cookbook - poem book with her from Sweden and wrote down special recipes she wanted to have with her all the time.

         A rhyming Swedish poem written 1934 by Adele reads as translated:

If you sat on the moon's unreachable edge,
And waved with your snow white hand,
How impossible it seems to be,
I should try to reach you up there.

Recipes from Adele's notebook.
Sponge Cake. Gingersnaps. Graham Crackers.

         Adele’s hands were always busy working to make something. She crocheted beautiful bedspreads, tablecloths, and doilies.

         It was always a special time when Adele and Martha went to Peoples Supply store to buy groceries. The flour came in sacks made of cloth in different beautiful colors. Using her Singer sewing machine, Adele would magically tranform the flour sacks into shirts and dresses. No one ever knew, by looking at how well the family was dressed, that they were so very poor.

Adele sitting,
tree cutting.
Workers tapping pine trees for sap. Adele serving coffee to the workers.

         Most of the pine trees on their farm had been “faced” to collect pinesap for making turpentine. Today some of those same trees show the scarring where part of the bark was cut away on one side about two feet high and one foot wide. A bucket was hung on a nail just below the cut to collect the pinesap. When a better way to make turpentine was discovered the need for pinesap diminished. The trees were no longer tapped.

         Adele said they could hear wild animals running through the cornfields at night. Black bear, wild pigs, black panthers, and wild dogs were some of the larger kinds of animals that were very common. They tried not to grow any crops close to the house and barn to keep them away. When the crops were ready, the family gathered and put them in the horse driven wagons. They were taken to Robertsdale where the buyers would then put them on trains to the north.

Oscar and his truck. Adolf working on the farm. A family friend with
Ernie, and son Billy.

         Farming in the hot southern climate was very hard on people with fair skin who were use to the coldest of climates. Much of what they were promised in the brochures about Silverhill was a disappointment. They tried to make the best of everything. They enjoyed the friendship of neighbors and helping new people coming to the town.

         The Wigstroms were members of the Zion Lutheran Church in Silverhill. The children were baptized and comfirmed there. In 1922 they dropped their membership and began attending the Silverhill Covenant Church. Adele really enjoyed being a working member of the Ladies Aid association. Oscar often helped repair the church with the wood he cut from his land. One year he provided wood shingles from his trees. He and other men put the shingles on the roof. Today part of the church has been relocated to the Blakeley Park on Mobile Bay where it is now the top to a gazebo. A helicopter picked it up the top part of the steeple and took it there in 1977.

Mrs. Lundberg's Third Grade Class: Adolf Wigstrom, Haddan, Milan, Louese, Emma, May 9th, 1921. Silverhill School, May 9th, 1921.

         The Wigstrom children walked to Silverhill School and all of them had Mrs. Lundberg as their teacher. Later, many of their children had her for their teacher, too.

         After school, on their walk back home, the children would stop in Peoples Supply. Occasionally they would buy a special snack of Coke and anchovies from a barrel, an extraordinary blending of American and Swedish tastes in an unusual southern atmosphere.

         The family looked forward to every Sunday. After church they would meet friends on their large porch. It became a family tradition to serve pastries and coffee to anyone who would visit. That was also the day Oscar would enjoy a cigar.

Sundays on the front porch.
Adele sitting on far right about 1928. The Vaughn family. Aleda Johnson, Ruth Walendorf, the Vaughns and Mrs. Alden.

         Many Sundays they would go on picnics. Getting in their sporty car and heading off to Fairhope or Gulf Shores was grand. The best seat was the rumble seat in the back. They had to take turns unless it was one of their birthdays. Then it was their seat coming and going that day.

Those wonderful Sunday picnics in Fairhope.
Martha and friend talk with Oscar on
a Sunday picnic about 1934.
L to R, Oscar, Ernie,
Adele, Adolf, Oliver,
and Martha center
front about 1932.
L to R, back, Mr. Aldene,
Adolf; middle, Oscar,
Adele, Mrs. Aldene,
George Aldene;
front, Martha and
Oliver about 1932.

         The Fairhope pier was the hub of activity. Many of the Silverhill residents enjoyed the large ferry that crossed the bay, the swimming, and the social events. Adele and Oscar felt they had made a good decision moving to Silverhill if not just for these Sundays.

Melvin Kalb, Eddie Lyrene, and Ernest Sivan at Gulf Shores about 1931. Wigstrom family and friends
at the gulf about 1931.
Mrs. Norman Ohson, her daughter Ella, and Martha Wigstrom about 1935 at Fairhope pier.

         When Adele came to the United States in 1899, three of her siblings had already arrived ahead of her. Adele's brother, Sven Axel Svensson (born May 20, 1872) changed his name to Soderberg, lived in Chicago with his wife, Alma, and children.

Standing, L-R, Axel Soderberg
and wife Alma, Adele Wigstrom
with Axel's family.
Uncle Axel Soderberg seated
LtoR, Tom, Jim, (LeRoy's sons)
and LeRoy Ohlson, photo taken
by LeRoy's wife Grace, 1961.

         Adele's sister, Ida Carolina Maria Svensdotter (born August 25, 1866), came to America in 1886. In Chicago she met and married (marriage date March 22, 1887) William Gustuv Fredgrick Kietzman, a German, and moved to Hobart, Indiana. They had twelve children. Ten children lived into adulthood, Alfred, Adele, William, Minnie, Herman, Ellen, Elmer, Jenny, Rudolph and Carey.

Ida Marie and
William Kietzman
m. 3-22-1887.
Ida Marie and William Kietzman. Ida Kietzman, 1958,
celebrates her
92nd birthday.

Sofia Almgren, 1955,
Adele's sister that
stayed in Sweden.
Ida Kietzman and family. Ellen Ohlson
and children
in Chicago.

         Another sister, Ellen Elisabet Svensson (July 9, 1878 - January 29, 1960), who had come to America one year before Adele, lived in Chicago and on July 2, 1903 married August Emil Ohlson. They had six children. From oldest to youngest they were Ruth, Judith, Evar, Alvin, Clarence and LeRoy.

Siblings Ida, Axel, Ellen, Adele. Siblings Axel, Ida,
Ellen, Adele.
Sisters Adele, Ida, Ellen.

         During the summer of 1931, Adele's sisters, Ida and Ellen, brought their children from Chicago to visit their southern cousins in Silverhill. They drove their cars to Silverhill and back on mostly dirt roads. LeRoy Ohlson was 14 on that trip. His most memorable time was swimming with his Wigstrom cousins. He swam in salt water for the first time ever at Gulf Shores. But it was at Martha and Oliver's secret swimming hole that LeRoy had an experience he would never forget. He nearly dove in the creek on top of a water moccasin.

Cousin Judith and Aunt Ida taking a food break
as they travel to Silverhill from Chicago to visit
Cousin Judith
at Perone creek.
A day at the secret
swimming hole,
Adolph on right.

         Every now and then, the Wigstrom family would go back to Chicago to visit. Oscar and Adele never once thought of returning there to stay. When they brought their children to Chicago, it was like the story about the “country mouse” meeting the “city mouse”. Their daughter, Martha, said she even had to learn how to cross the streets in Chicago.

L to R, back, Alvin, Adele;
front, Ellen and Judith.

         In 1939, Oscar became very ill with artery heart problems and died in November at the age of 72. Adele was completely heart broken as the family gathered for the funeral.

Wigstrom Front Porch,
Oscar's funeral.

         The 80 acres was divided between the four children. An agreement was made among the family that if Martha would be in charge of providing for Adele, she would received the part of the land with the house on it. For a while, the brothers farmed their share of the land. Then a terrible fire in the family barn burned it completely to the ground. Eventually, the area used for planting became smaller and smaller, and the brothers' lives took them in other directions besides farming.

L-R; Ernie Wigstrom holding son
Billy, beside wife Evelyn (Skelton)
holding son Buddy; Martha (Ohlson)
and husband Adolf Wigstrom;
Amon Gates and wife Martha.
Front, Adele Wigstrom (widow),
Ellen Ohlson (Adele's sister) of
Chicago, Oliver Wigstrom,
and Melvin Kalb.

         Ernest (February 3, 1907 - February 6, 1988), the oldest Wigstrom child, lived most of his life in Silverhill. He served in the U.S. Marines in the mid 1920s then returned to Silverhill to marry Evelyn Skelton of Mississippi. Ernest sold his land and moved into Silverhill. He worked as a prison guard, plumber, and store owner. He operated United Appliance Co. Plumbing & Supplies in Robertsdale which also sold mowers. He and Evelyn had six children, William “Bill”, Oliver “Buddy”, Leon, Adele, Donald “Donnie”, and Connie. Leon died at a young age.

Ernest Wigstrom, U.S. Marines, 1926. Ernest Wigstrom and Evelyn Skelton. Ernest owned United Appliance Co. Plumbing & Supplies in Robertsdale which also sold mowers.

         The next oldest, Adolf (June 30, 1911 - June 29, 1975) farmed his land for some years. He married Martha Ohlsson of Silverhill. They had six children, Janice, Christofer “Kres”, Helen, Grace, Gloria, and Irene. The two oldest childen died young. Adolf and Martha divorced. He moved to Texarkana, Arkansas, worked as a barber, remarried and had a son Gary.

Adolf (left) playing the fiddle with friends.

         The next child was Martha (October 10, 1918 - June 6, 1999). Martha had married Amon Gates who moved to Silverhill from Cullman, Alabama. After their marriage, they moved to Miami where Amon found construction work. When Oscar died, they came back and saw it was best to move back into the farmhouse and help Adele with the farm.

         Oliver (November 28, 1921 - August 8, 1950) was the youngest of Oscar and Adele's children. Oliver farmed his land for a few years after Oscar died, then he sold it to Martha and Amon. He joined the U.S. Army and was sent to Germany during World War II as a member of a chemical maintenance company. After the war had ended, Oliver married Ella Gruner of Silverhill. Harry Linden hired Oliver as a builder in his construction company. Shortly after his son, Jimmy, was born, Oliver died of kidney failure, possibly caused by his involvement with chemicals during the war. Ella later married Victor Kubina and he adopted Jimmy.

Martha and Amon worked hard fixing up the old farmhouse. They had only been married five months when Martha's father died. Amon had been working in Miami building houses with his brothers when they moved back to Silverhill. He did carpentry work and raised chickens while Martha and Adele helped run the farm. Nearly two years after Oscar's death, Martha and Amon's first child, Robert, was born.

Amon Gates in front of
their home in Miami, 1939.
Grandma takes care
of Robert.
Robert takes care
of Grandma's hair.
Martha, Karin and
Robert at the
farmhouse, ca 1947.

         During the war, Amon worked in Mobile as a ship builder, helping the war effort. After the war, their second child, Karin, was born. Amon did not wish to farm any longer, so they sold 10 acres and the house for $5,000. Amon went back to building, enlarged a small house in Silverhill and moved his family and Adele into it in 1947. He then built a larger house (torn down in 2002) behind the First Baptist Church and moved the family and Adele there. The Sturmas lived across the street from them. There the family added another son, Arvid Michael.

         Adele was still active in the Church, helping with the kids, and taking care of elderly friends. Mrs. Anna Norman was one of Adele's best friends. Adele loved to walk and would walk to Mrs. Norman's house every day for a visit and to help out. Her house is still there on the main street in Silverhill. It is one of the first ones coming in to town from Fairhope on the right side of highway 104.

         Silverhill was a great place for Adele's grandkids to play and ride bikes. It was also easy for the kids to get to school since it was only a block away from the house. Adele liked to take the kids to the school's playground and spend time with them. While she pushed their swings she would sing songs in Swedish. She knew many songs and loved to joke around and make people smile.

         In 1952, Amon moved the family to Fairhope to a house he built on Ann Street (now torn down). Adele was doing so well and wished to move back to Silverhill, so in 1956 Amon built her a house two doors south of the Silverhill Library. Adele had her own garden, her own friends, and her independence. She loved it there.

         In Fairhope, Martha and Amon's family grew one last time when Lisa joined the family. Adele loved being around her grandchildren. She was a happy person. She was 86 when she died on September 16, 1965, after a short illness. She would say she knew how well someone's life went by the amount of cars around the church at a funeral. There were very many cars around the church for her funeral.

         Adele was buried next to her beloved Oscar at the Silverhill Cemetery located on highway 49 northwest of Silverhill. Their graves are in back of the sign. To get there enter the cemetery, take the first lane to the right, and look on the right side of the pavement. There are other Wigstrom graves there, too.

Silverhill Cemetery. Wigstrom graves. Wigstrom graves. Grave of Oscar Wigstrom. Grave of Adele Wigstrom.

Grave of Oliver Wigstrom. Grave of Ernest Wigstrom. Grave of Leon Wigstrom. Grave of Janice Wigstrom. Grave of Kres Wigstrom.

         The old farm has long been replaced by newer homes. The area where the farm was is easy to find. Travel north at the main intersection in town, highway 55. Go about one mile to Woodpecker Road and turn left. The land was on the northwest corner to your right. When you reach Wigstrom Lane that was about the end of the property.

         Many of the trees are still there. The sycamore tree was a tree Martha and Oliver loved to climb. The sandy land and the swampy areas are still there. The memories of one family in Silverhill are still there. There are quite a few of their children still in the Silverhill area. When talking to someone around there, ask and you might be talking to one of them.

This Family History was contributed December 2003 by siblings
Robert Gates, Karin Gates Hutchins, and Lisa Gates Mann.
Every effort has been made to have accurate information on this page.
There is no guarantee that all the information is correct.
Lisa can be contacted at 205-613-2119 and carltonandlisamann@gmail.com

Edited by Debbie Owen

The Swedish folk music, Seglora Joskvarns Leken,
playing in the background came from the Swedish MP3 Archive.