Delawareans’ Genealogical Links to Sweden

Delaware’s importance to Swedish colonization isn’t just apparent in sites and celebrations, but to its residents as well, many of whom have family trees with branches in Sweden.

The publication of Alex Haley’s “Roots: The Saga of an American Family” in 1976 launched a national interest in genealogy. Frances Allmond was bitten by the bug. She’s been a member of the Daughters of the American Revolutionary War since 1975.

Yet when she continued to shake her family tree, she turned up some surprises. “I kept going back generation by generation, and finally, I realized a search was going into a Swedish line,” says the Brandywine Hundred resident. Allmond is related to Tymen Stidham, a barber-surgeon, who came to New Sweden aboard the Kalmar Nyckel in 1638. She’s also related to Olof Stille, who arrived here in 1641. And she discovered that her husband, Charles, a Wilmington native, is a descendent of Swedish settlers who arrived in the 17th century.

Like Allmond, Aleasa Hogate was astounded to learn she was of Swedish descent. Growing up in Penns Grove, N.J., she assumed her ancestors were Italian. One day, she and her girlfriends were chatting about their heritage on the front porch, when her mother overheard them. “She said:

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‘You’re not Italian! Your grandpop was called the Big Swede,’” Hogate recalls. “It was the first I’d heard of it.”

She’s traced her family back to Anders Dalbo, who arrived here aboard the Kalmar Nyckel in 1640. Hogate has become “obsessed” with her Swedish heritage, she says. She’s in charge of education for the New Sweden Centre and she’s the recording secretary for the Delaware Swedish Colonial Society.

Mary McCoy, born Mary Wetterholm, has more recent ties to her Swedish ancestors. Her grandparents came to America from Sweden. “My father spoke Swedish, but I never learned,” says the Brandywine Hundred resident with some regret. But every Christmas, the family enjoyed a smorgasbord, a buffet of cold foods.

McCoy, who grew up in Illinois, was unaware of Delaware’s importance to Swedish colonization until she moved here more than 50 years ago and joined Sister Cities International. (One of Wilmington’s sister cities is Kalmar, Sweden.) She and husband Gene have been to Sweden more than 15 times, and she’s met King Carl XVI Gustaf twice in the past.

One Delawarean with Swedish roots will be meeting the king for the first time. First lady Carla Markell’s grandmother was 6 in 1912, when she arrived in the United States from Sweden. “She was supposed to take the Titanic, but she took the Lusitania instead,” Markell says.

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Because her grandmother lived in California, Markell didn’t witness many traditions. But her grandmother did talk about affixing candles to the Christmas tree as a child. “My DuPont safety-trained father would never have gone for that,” says Markell, who once made her grandmother a Swedish smorgasbord.

She’s looking forward to the royal visit. “I feel incredibly honored to be able to personally welcome the king and queen of Sweden and the Finnish speaker of the parliament to Delaware,” she says. “My grandmother was very proud of her Swedish heritage, and their visit here connects me with my family roots as well as my own native state of Delaware.” 

â–º For more about the Royal Family, click here.

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