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A journey up the family tree

"A journey up the family tree" Continued...

Issue: "Ethiopia's new flower," May 31, 2008

Ryan Emis, an Arkansas native who has moved with his young family to a suburb outside Stockholm as a Young Life missionary to high-school students, says that many young Swedes he encounters want answers about life and are more questioning than their parents are of what can be a conformist and complacent culture. Gang violence, shootings, murder, and other social problems also spark questions. "You often hear people say it's nice and safe here in Sweden," he says. "But every day there are things like that going on here."

Although 75 percent of Sweden's 9 million people belong to the state church, very few worship regularly. The evangelical churches in the country have only 31,000 members but worship regularly and are slowly growing. These churches, however, represent a competitive threat to the monopolist state churches.

Heavy taxation rates, generous welfare policies, and an open policy toward immigration have brought a wave of immigration that has started to weigh on Sweden's economy. Some of my relatives, raised on the socialist theories, are now more skeptical of the political economic structure and want to see political reform. Christian leaders in the country say these reforms bleed over into religion as many people want to embrace real faith in the midst of change.

Back in Stockholm, I have dinner with five blood relatives who have never met one another. It's gratifying to be the reason they are meeting. Now cousins in Sweden and the United States have joined a Facebook group to stay in touch. Several of us plan to visit each other in the future. The older generation sent me home with several books in Swedish and English to deliver to my grandmother. I wonder if this is similar to the way it feels for someone who has been adopted to finally meet his or her birth parents.

On the plane back to New York, I remember my grandmother's words: "When you are on your way home, you will be trying to figure out a way to go back there."

Starting points for heritage tours

For Swedish-Americans and others the trip can begin here

Several businesses connect Swedes in America to Swedes in Sweden: Anderson Scandinavian Tours (toursweden.com) of Lindsborg, Kan., (Little Sweden, USA) and Scandinavian Seminar (scandinavianseminar.org) in Amherst, Mass., offer a variety of travel and study abroad options for people of all ages who want to experience Sweden and other Scandinavian countries.

Internet sites offer to do genealogical research for you, with many specializing in Scotland, Ireland, or Sweden. Genline (genline.com) specializes in Sweden. ScandGen (scandgen.com) offers genealogical research and custom-made tours.

Other nations, from Scotland and Ireland to Antigua, China, Israel, and South Africa, promote roots tourism, and the internet has made it easier to find relatives and to arrange visits. Scotland's tourism authorities have designed special websites with links to genealogical offices.

Ireland in recent years has relaxed some of its citizenship rules, in part to maintain the interest of Irish descendants abroad. The Irish consulate says anyone born outside Ireland who had a parent born inside Ireland is an Irish citizen. Rule changes to the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act in 2001 also create several new ways to become Irish-including a way for those who marry an Irish citizen not living in Ireland to become Irish.

A Scottish roots website (scottishroots.com) offers genealogical research probes ranging from $185 (95 pounds) for an "exploratory probe" into records post-1855 up to just over $1,000 for a search that includes old parish registers, census returns, and ordnance survey maps.

Genetrack Biolabs Inc. offers research surveys into surnames and DNA ancestry (DNAancestryproject.com) that is particularly helpful for Americans tracing their roots in Africa. The company offers DNA tests ranging from $119 for a standard paternal ancestry line test to a $319 advanced combo package that employs a swab method to use DNA to trace one's ancestry through both the paternal and maternal lines.

During my trip, I realized that social networking websites such as Facebook and MySpace are a new area for global family tree networking. The Glader cousins in America created a Facebook group to help us stay in touch. To my surprise, some of our second and third cousins in Sweden also are members of Facebook. While I was in Sweden, others decided to open Facebook accounts and we have since linked to one another. Several other social networking websites-amiglia.com, myheritage.com, and geni.com-are attempting to carve out niches across the genealogical divides.

Paul David Glader
Paul David Glader

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