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


Sepia Saturday: Work on the Farm (ca 1911-1920)

“roll up your sleeves, put your overalls on and get working hard…”

My grandmother Sally, born 1900, grew up on a farm in south-west Sweden. After her father died in 1907, the family on the farm consisted basically of her mother Selma, one or two of her much older half-brothers from her father’s first marriage (Carl, and, after his return from the United States, Gustaf), her half-sister from her mother’s first marriage (Hildur, eight years older than Sally), and their younger brother (Nils, born 1902). They all remained living together on the farm until Carl died in 1928. In 1930 the farm was sold and Sally, Hildur and Nils all got married that same year. What Gustaf did after the farm was sold, I’m not sure.

Farm life_0002-1

Farm life_0002-2

Unfortunately there are very few dates and names in my grandmother’s old photo albums. When I first saw this photo, the hats they are wearing made me wonder if this was a photo that Gustaf sent back to his family while working on some farm in Pennsylvania. The boy’s hat especially makes me think “Amish”…

But then I learned that in 1910, Gustaf was not working as a farmhand but at a lumberyard; and in 1911 he was back in Sweden. So what I’m thinking now is that this photo is from the family farm in Sweden, after Gustaf came back, in 1911 or 1912. Perhaps he had the photo taken to send back to friends in the US? The boy must be his brother Nils, aged 9 or 10. Possibly the hat that Nils is wearing could have been a gift brought back by Gustaf. (Yes, I’m making this up, but it’s not too unlikely.)

There is also a possibility that the man in the photo is not Gustaf but Carl (who never left the farm). But Gustaf was the younger of the two and I think it’s probably him.



This next photo must be of later date, like around 1920, because the young man on the left is definitely Nils, and now he must be at least in his upper teens. Next to him is his mother Selma, then Hildur and Sally. And my guess is Carl to the right, and Gustaf up on the hay trailer. (The man I cut out in the enlarged photo must be some farmhand or neighbour helping out with the harvest.)


Someone on her way to milk the cows – probably my great-grandmother Selma.


In this photo I think it may be my grandmother Sally doing the milking.


There seems to be a fashion difference between generations in the way the women tied their headcloths. Selma tied hers under her chin. Her daughters tied theirs at the back. It’s the same way in other photos; and from my own childhood I remember my grandmother wearing her headscarves tied at the back too.


På svenska

I min farmor Sallys album finns inte många anteckningar om datum eller namn på personer som ledtråd.

När jag först såg det första fotot ovan med mannen och pojken i hatt, så gick mina tankar till bilder från Amish-kulturen. Pennsylvania, där Gustaf bodde under åren i USA, är ett Amish-område. Därför tänkte jag först att bilden kanske var från något arbete han hade under tiden där. Men när jag fann att han 1910 var anställd på sågverk och inte inom jordbruk, och att han 1911 tycks ha återvänt till Sverige, så tänkte jag om. Min gissning nu är istället att bilden är från Storegården 1911 eller 1912, och att pojken som kör hästen är Nils (född 1902). Kanske lät Gustaf ta bilden för att skicka till vänner i USA. Och kanske hade han med sig hatten till Nils därifrån? Eller så var det “mode” med halmhatt även i Sverige vid denna tid.

Nästa foto är av senare datum. Där känner jag igen Nils längst t.v. och han måste vara åtminstone i övre tonåren. Bredvid honom står Selma, Hildur och Sally, och antagligen Carl, och så Gustaf uppe på skrindan. Mannen längst t.h. på originalbilden är troligen någon granne eller inhyrd hjälp.

Nr 3 har anteckningen “inför kvällsmjölkningen” och Nr 4 “kon mjölkas”. Jag tror det är Selma på foto nr 3 och Sally på foto nr 4. Det verkar som det är en generationsskillnad i hur man knöt huvudduken. Selma bär den (på flera foton) knuten under hakan. De yngre kvinnorna har den knuten i nacken. Mitt eget minne från barndomen är också att farmor brukade ha sin sjalett knuten i nacken.



  1. Wow. What a marvellous collection - even if it's slightly frustrating for you not to have dates /identities for some of them.
    All our family ones tend to be of posed formal shots or leisure activities; not working shots. There is one exception - my grandfather and his men working on their leather case manufacturing. I love that photo so you must really treasure these.

  2. This indeed is a super collection of people at work. As far as composition is concerned, the first one is my favorite. Number 4, where your grandmother is milking the cow remembers me of a little joke. There was this lady during one of her first tries to milk a cow. And then the cow says: "Shall I do the jumping?" :)

  3. I'm a bit puzzled by the two people in the top photo wearing hats. To me they both look like mature men with moustaches rather than one being a youngster of 9 or 10. Am I misunderstanding something. They are a superb record though.

    1. Graham, it may be I who am missing something... From when I first laid eyes on this photo it just seemed to me that the one sitting down was a young boy. What you see as a mustache I saw just a reflection of light - I never saw the (possible) mustache until now that you mention it. Even using a magnifying glass on the original, or blowing the photo up on my screen, I'm still not sure... You may be right, though. In which case, I suppose the photo might be of Gustaf and Carl, before Gustaf went off to America. Or it might even be as I first thought, of Gustaf and Unknown, sent home while he was over in the States. (The picture is printed on postcard paper, but there is no writing on the back. So if it was posted, it was with a letter in a closed envelope.) Thanks for the comment. It's really hard with many of the old photos to determine who's who, especially since there are certain family features and the photos are not dated!

  4. I enjoyed looking at this collection of work photos. Are they winnowing hay?

  5. I always enjoy your old photographs so much. There is that recognition which transcends nations, but there is also the differences that reflect cultures and lifestyles. Fascinating.

  6. A wonderful collection of photographs showing what working on a farm was like. Great social history.

  7. Wonderful photos. I agree with GB, the seated man is older with a grey mustache. The hat style is not Amish as their straw hats have taller crowns and wider brims.