A 'Swenglish' journey through family photos, notes and postcards from the early 20th century.


Sepia Saturday: An Excellent Traveller and Packer


This week’s prompt for Sepia Saturday 213, a neatly packed suitcase, brings me once more back to my great-aunt Gerda (born 1881). I’m not sure exactly when or where this photo was taken, but the French Riviera seems likely. Whereever this particular photo is from, though, what I’m quite certain of is that Gerda packed a lot of suitcases in her life, and became very good at it!

At the age of 21, she emigrated to Chicago in America, where she lived for about ten years, working her way up as a maid. Then she returned to Sweden; but continued a career as lady’s maid and travelling companion to various noblewomen.

Last year I received a summary of her “CV” from a relative (the grandson of one of Gerda’s older sisters – while I am the granddaughter of their much younger half-sister). As documents kept by his side of the family include letters of recommendation from some of the positions she held, he has been able to fill in some “gaps” in her history for me.* (Thank you, Bengt!)

Among other things, Gerda is described (already in 1912, as well as subsequently in the late 1920s) as “an excellent traveller, packer and hairdresser, and a neat needlewoman”, fluent in English, and also good at French.

From 1928, or not very long after, she was employed in the household of the Swedish diplomat Count Folke Bernadotte (of the Swedish royal family), and his American wife Estelle (born Manville) – who of course also both travelled a lot. [Cf. my previous post from 26 January 2014.] Folke Bernadotte was tragically assassinated on duty for the UN in Jerusalem in 1948; but Gerda (who lived to be nearly 92 years old) remained working for / living with the Countess Bernadotte long past normal retirement age.

*På svenska, utdrag från Bengts mail:

Gerdas yrkesbeteckning i hennes flerspråkiga arbetsbetyg 1912-1928 var kammarjungfru, Lady´s Maid, femme de chambre.

1/10-1912 till 15/4 1913 i Sörby Ringstorp (Östergötland) kammarjungfru hos Adele de la Gardie (f Jacquier Frankrike gift 1911). Anställningen upphör när Adele reser utomlands. Gerda är skicklig i sömnad, hårskötsel, servering, talar engelska fullkomligt o har ”some knowledge of dressmaking”.

Nästa betyg är utfärdat i Lyon, France 28/9 1919. Gerda har arbetat som Lady´s Maid o är en ”excellent packer” o hairdresser o a neat needlewoman, her french is good.

20/5 1921 på brevpapper Oakhill Kungl.Djurgården (som varit prins Wilhelms) av oläsligt namn som skall återvända till USA.

21/7 1922 på brevpapper Sturefors  slott, Linköping  på franska av comtesse Sparre. Enligt Gerdas pass var hon i Frankrike under juli 1922. Sparres o Gerdas vägar skiljs för en tid  o under två år reser Gerda genom exotiska länder med en Lady Henry som

22/2 1924 anser Gerda vara en ”excellent traveller and packer and a neat needlewoman (vilket nog behövdes)”

7/3 1924 till 21/8 1928 på Sturefors slott hos Greta Bielke f Sparre. Comtessen återvände o gifte sig med slottsherren. Gerda är nu mycket skicklig i att sy kläder.

1928 var det år makarna Bernadotte gifte sig. Nästa dokument bland Gerdas papper är dock ett sorts identitetsbevis på franska utfärdat 9 mars 1932 om att hon är anställd i Paris på Square Lamartine no 3 som ”domestique au service du comte Bernadotte de Wisborg, neveu du Roi de Suéde”.

Ett annat dokument är ett intyg för inresa i USA om att grevinnan Bernadotte behöver Gerda som hjälp i hushållet när hon skall tillbringa julen 1948 med sönerna i sin våning på 885 Park Avenue, New York. Den julen var tre månader efter att maken Folke Bernadotte mördats i Palestina.

Gerda bodde länge på Dragongården. 1963 ringde jag henne där ---

En av kransarna på Gerdas begravning 1973 var från makarna Ekstrand. Grevinnan hade gift om sig samma år som Gerda dog.


‘The Secret Garden’ in Pleasantville N.Y.

Follow-up of the serendipitous story mentioned in yesterday’s post (Sepia Saturday 25 Jan 2014).

A few months ago, in September 2013, I received an unexpected email with some photos attached, in response to a blog post I had written about a year earlier (4 Sept 2012 - Summer in Pleasantville, 1933).

The sender of the email was a young woman of Swedish descent herself, now living in Pleasantville, N.Y. The reason she wrote was that she was able to provide some evidence to support my guess about the location of two photos I believed must be from the Manville estate Hi-Esmaro in Pleasantville. (Which in turn also confirms that the boys in one of those photos from 1933 – see below – must be Gustaf and Folke Bernadotte, sons of Swedish diplomat Count Folke Bernadotte and his wife Estelle Manville-Bernadotte. Gerda was working for the Bernadotte family at that point in time, either as housekeeper or lady’s maid, or some position like that.)

Here is an abridged version of her email + my translation:

Jag bor i Foxwood, Pleasantville, New York. Jag och min 6-åriga dotter brukar promenera mycket i trakten och vi har ett favoritställe. Det är en gräsmatta med gamla murar runt. Det känns som en hemlig trädgård och man kan liksom känna att det måste varit en fin plats för länge sen. Jag har frågat grannar osv om de vet om det legat ett hus där förr, och den gröna ytan varit en trädgård, men ingen har vetat någonting. Jag har kollat i gamla böcker om Pleasantville och så fann jag Din blogg och de fantastiska fotona på din släkting. Jag tror att "vår" hemliga trädgård kan vara den som är på dina foton!

Hi, I live in Foxwood, Pleasantville, New York. My 6-year-old daughter and I have a favourite place that we often walk by. It’s a big lawn surrounded by old walls. It feels a bit like a secret garden and you can sense that it must have been a beautiful place a long time ago. I have asked people about it but no one seemed to know anything about it. So I looked in old books about Pleasantville, and then I also found your blog and the photos of your relative. I think our secret garden is the one in your photos!

image (2)
“The entrance to the garden from the bottom of the hill.”


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▲ “The lighter rectangle in the lawn may show the remnants of an old pond.” ▼

1933 Gerda    boys_0002-002

1933 Gerda    boys_0002-003

▲ Enlarged detail of the right-hand corner of the wall, compare Sofia’s photo below ▼

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The wall surrounding the whole estate is still there as well:

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▲Sofias’s photo above; below an old photo found online (also included in my Summer in Pleasantville 1933 post)▼


I still don’t know when exactly Gerda started working for Estelle Manville-Bernadotte – if it was after her marriage to Folke Bernadotte (Dec 1, 1928), or before. The only piece of fragile evidence I have that it might have been even before, is an old (American) newspaper/magazine clip about the Manville-Bernadotte wedding, kept by Gerda through the years.

Bernadotte marriage_0001-001Bernadotte marriage_0002-001

The wedding between Estelle Romaine Manville and Folke Bernadotte, Count of Wisborg, took place on Dec 1, 1928, in the rather small Episcopal Church of St. John in Pleasantville. Only 250 guests attended the wedding service, but more than 1500 people were invited to the reception held at the Manville estate, Hi-Esmaro. This was the first time in history a member of a European royal family married on U.S. soil. The wedding expenses totaled $ 1.5 million.

Folke Bernadotte was assassinated on duty in Jerusalem for the United Nations mediating team in 1948, 53 years old.

Estelle, only 44 years old when her husband died, became a leading figure in the International Red Cross, and in the Swedish Girl Scouts movement. She did not get remarried until 1973 (to Carl-Eric Ekstrand); which was the same year that my great-aunt Gerda died. (Gerda lived to be nearly 92 years old, and she remained with Estelle Bernadotte long past normal retirement age.)


Sepia Saturday: Snow


This photo is from my grandmother Sally’s photo album.
I don’t know who the people are, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen that kind of man-drawn sled anywhere else!


This is from grandma Sally’s photo album, too. I recognise Sally on the right in the trio, and I’m pretty sure it’s her half-sister Hildur on the left, but I don’t know who the girl in the middle is. The man walking towards them could be Sally’s brother Nils, there’s something slightly familiar about the shape of him. My guess is the photo is from the late 1920s. The road is probably in the neighbourhood of the family farm where they lived until 1930.


Here we have Nils to the right; I don’t know who the man on the left is. The photo is from my grandfather Gustaf’s album and he dates it to 1923, when both he and Nils were in military service.

Gerdas 29.1 Oakhill Feb 1921-002

The last two photos are from Gerda’s album (my grandmother’s older half-sister). The photo above is one of the few in her album that has any place and/or date attached. I don’t know which Oakhill, though (does anyone recognise the building in the background?) or what exactly she was doing there.  Correction (26.1.2014): I just found the answer in an email from last year from my relative Bengt who has been filling in some details in Gerda’s history for me. This Oakhill is not in the United States at all (as I assumed, knowing that Gerda travelled a lot) but in Stockholm, Sweden! It was built in 1910 for Prince Wilhelm and his wife Maria Pavlovna. However, they got divorced in 1914 (big scandal), so who lived there in 1921, I don’t know. Since 1926 it’s been the Italian Embassy in Sweden. (There’s no end to the things one learns by blogging!) But according to my relative, there is a document with illegible signature among Gerda’s papers, indicating that she did work for someone at Oakhill in Stockholm in 1921.

Browsing through her album again today, looking for more winter pictures, I also found this one, which had pretty much escaped my notice before:


There is no note of time or place attached to this one – but I now feel pretty confident that it’s from the Manville estate in Pleasantville, New York, in the early 1930s. The link will take you to a previous post of mine from September 2012, where I discuss the possibility of that stone wall belonging to that estate – and why.

Moreover: Between that post and this one, in September 2013, I received an unexpected email from a Swedish woman now living in Pleasantville, who came across my blog post when she was trying to find out something about the history of this very estate. (How extraordinary is that?!) She was able to confirm that while the house itself is no longer there, the stone wall surrounding the property still is:

image (2)

I’ve been meaning to do a separate blog post about Sofia’s  email and photos, but as I have been taking a bit of a break from the family history research lately, I haven’t got round to it. Finding yet another photo including the wall today reminded me! I’ll get back to it, I promise. For now I just include one of her pictures, for comparison. There is no doubt in my mind now that it is the same wall.

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