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Going back to your roots

Updated: Feb 10, 2022

The 10th season of the Swedish reality TV show "Allt för Sverige" (Great Swedish Adventure) has started. Americans with Swedish ancestors can apply to participate on the show, and the ten lucky ones who are selected get to travel through Sweden, to discover their Swedish roots and learn about Swedish culture and customs. The TV show has become extremely popular in Sweden. We seem to love seeing these very enthusiastic Americans try out Swedish food like matjesill (pickled herring), visit a Swedish school and take part in a medieval festival, among other things.

Each episode also presents them with challenges, and the participant who loses is sent home. The reward for the winner, the last person standing in the season's last episode, is to meet their Swedish family in a big festive family gathering.

Throughout the show the participants are presented with their ancestors stories, and this is, in my opinion, the best part of the program. The American who has ancestors from the region they are visiting in that episode is taken to the village and sometimes even the house where their relatives lived centuries before. These are very special moments, when they read about the lives of their ancestors, the hardships and the joys, generation by generation, leading up to their grandparents, parents and finally themselves. There are lots of tears as they learn about their family roots, and some of them also end up learning things about themselves, many of them recognizing struggles of their forefathers as struggles they have encountered in their own lives, and they are naturally very touched by this.

They feel very connected to their family from the past, as they walk on the same ground as their ancestors, sit under the same tree, and some of them have even been able to enter the houses where the family lived, touching the walls, and looking out the same window as their great-great-great grandfather did so many years ago. Many of them say that it is as if their ancestors come to life.


A yellow house across a field in autumn
My mother's family home in Northern Finland

This reminds me of my first visit to my mother's family home in a very small village in Northern Finland. The yellow wooden house had not been lived in for many decades, it was abandoned but intact and tidy, with furniture, some clothes and shoes as well as a few objects from their daily life still in cupboards and drawers.

I sat down at my grandfather's large desk, looking out the window. I never met him, he died long before I was born, but I had learnt about him from my mother. As I sat at his desk, which was unusually large for being a farmer's desk, I wondered if he might have had dreams about another life, as a writer or a teacher perhaps?

My mother had told me that he used to be called in to the little village school as a substitute teacher, when needed, and every year he wrote an annual recount of life in the village. In a desk drawer I found school books from my mother and her brothers, their hand writing very neat.

Across a field where cows were resting in the grass, I could see the neighboring farm, which belongs to my 4th cousin. We share the same great-great-great grandfather, five generations back. Our ancestor's name was Elias and he was born in 1792.

When I look at our family tree later, sitting by an oil lamp in a small rustic cottage by the nearby lake, I discover that my great-great-great grandfather Elias was the 4th generation on that farm, which makes my fourth cousin, who lives there now, the 9th generation. My family has lived in this village since 1680, and this makes it a very special place for me. Also, I am very happy I don't have to compete on SUP's or memorize maps and solve puzzles to win an opportunity to visit this place and meet my relatives. But I'm sure I would if I had to!


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