Twenty-six-year-old Carl Albin Jacobsson left his home in Sweden for America 117 years ago. Albin chronicled the journey, starting when his train left Norberg (“my dear childhood home”) at 5:12 on that Sunday afternoon in April and ending when he found room and board with other Swedes in Brooklyn, New York. A new English translation of his travel account was just completed.
Some time following Albin’s death in 1958 my mother (his daughter-in-law), Dorothy Helen Phillips, took an interest in the account, written in a composition book. She did not read or speak Swedish, but knew the story of the manuscript and began looking to have it translated to English. As Mother said, she soon discovered it was hand-written in “old Swedish,” so she looked for an old Swede! Fortunately, my parents attended First Lutheran Church in West Haven, Connecticut, which had a long Swedish tradition. There she found 90-year-old Victor Arvidson.
Together they did their best to read Albin’s handwriting. Mr. Arvidson admitted to making some guesses in the translation. When they thought they had it right, in 1989, my mother typed it up.1 I am grateful for their effort. The notebook, the original that was translated, passed to me in 1997. I would not have understood and valued its contents without being able to read it in English! In 2015, I donated the Swedish hand-written account to Historic New England (HNE record 2015.129.3) and, at my request, they scanned it this year.
Private Swedish schooling had educated Albin well (e.g., he’s said to have spoken five languages, though not English in 1902). Last year I began wondering if there was nuance missing in Mr. Arvidson’s translation; other people had edited the English with a modern eye after he was done, too. Was there humor or a turn-of-phrase that had been overlooked in the 1902 manuscript?
I found a translator experienced with hand-written Swedish manuscripts, Cynthia Wentwood, through the Swedish Genealogical Society of Minnesota. Cynthia found Albin’s account quite charming and deserving of translation, so I contracted with her to begin. She soon found gaps in the earlier work, as well as inaccuracies, and advised that a completely new translation would best capture Grampa’s writing.
I’m excited to now offer the 2019 translation for download: Follow the “To America” link below to read Albin’s account. Historic New England will soon post both the translation and original 1902 manuscript, so check back for that link.
DOWNLOAD: "To America" - English (PDF, 425KB). Wentland, Cynthia, transl. “To America by Carl Albin Jacobsson: An Emigrant’s 1902 Journey from Norberg, Sweden.” Bruce Jacobson, ed. Privately held by Jacobson (Beacon Street, Boston). 2019.
"Till Amerika" - Swedish (PDF). Jacobsson, Carl Albin. "Till Amerika.” 1902. Held by Historic New England (Library and Archives, 141 Cambridge Street, Boston), record 2015.129.3. CHECK BACK FOR DOWNLOAD LINK.
This work by Bruce Jacobson is licensed under Creative Commons 4.0 International License—Attribution-ShareAlike.
Header image of Carl Albin Jacobsson’s manuscript title and image of 1902 composition notebook courtesy of Historic New England.