By Matthew Walsh
My family’s immigration story starts with Emma Callstrom, the first in my family to immigrate to America and start a new life. Her family worked in agriculture in the southern farmlands of Sweden in a town called Jönköping.
Emma was born on Nov. 2, 1862, to Andrew and Marie Callstrom.
At the time, women weren’t allowed to work on the farms so Emma found work as teenager as a servant for a wealthier family in Jönköping; she helped take care of the children, serve food and attend to the daily household chores.
In the late 1880s, the Callstrom family began to run out of land to split up between the family and fell into hard times soon after.
The brothers — Alfred, Gustav, Claus and Frank — were all promised sections of the family acreage to own and farm on, but it was not nearly enough to make a living on.
The land wasn’t doing as well as the seasons before and the available land was becoming scarce because of a population growth in the nearby town.
Emma learned that the family she worked for was relocating to America with the promise of free land offered by the U.S. government through the Homestead Act. The family offered Emma a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: Travel with them to America and serve the family for a contract of seven years.
Moving to America
Emma was just a teenager when she took the offer and said goodbye to her family before departing to America. The families’ final destination was in Vasa Township, Minnesota, a small Swedish homestead community founded the 1850s and named after King Gustav I.
There, Emma worked for the seven years. With food, shelter and clothing all paid for, Emma saved most of her money for the trip back home. Once back in Sweden, she convinced the rest of her family that coming to America would present them with new opportunities.
The family agreed to come back with her, and in the mid-1890s, the four brothers sold the farmland and moved to the areas around Vasa Township and Goodhue County, starting families of their own.
The move to America had little impact on my family’s culture and religion. Because the town of Vasa was newly established and populated by immigrants from Sweden, the language, religion and culture were well preserved. They continued to practice and grow Lutheranism, one the most popular religions in Sweden at the time.
In 1890, roughly five years after she arrived in America, Emma married Lars Rundquist, another Swedish immigrant who came to America a few years before.
Soon after, Emma and Lars started to have children. The five of them named Esther, Eunice, Elmer, Edith and Minnie. All lived well into the 1960s and 70s.
After years of growing the family, the Rundquist family had spread out all over southern Minnesota to places like Cannon Falls, Red Wing and Goodhue, continuing to work hard in agriculture.
Life In the city
Around the turn of the century, when technology started to make its way out west across the Mississippi, my family started the shift from agriculture into blue collar work.
On Oct. 21, 1907, Lars died at the young age of 45 and was buried in Vasa.
The family soon decided that agriculture was becoming too labor intensive and decided to move into the city.
Around the mid-1910s, most of the family, including Emma, moved into the town of Red Wing, which at the time had a population of around 9,000. Emma was aging and depended on the four brothers for support.
They got jobs in manufacturing and textiles. The business boomed in Red Wing during the turn of their century because of its location on the banks of the Mississippi a big part of trade in the northern rural parts of a growing America.
Life continued like this for nearly 40 years with the four brothers growing their own families and moving around the area until Emma’s death on December 9, 1944. She lived to the age of 82. Emma was buried next to her husband at the Vasa Lutheran Church in Goodhue County.
The next generations
Looking past the 1940s, the family started to branch off and move to different parts of the country including Arizona, Vermont, Illinois and Wisconsin.
My grandmother, Florence Pearson, was born in Red Wing, Minnesota, on April 27, 1920 to Minnie Rundquist, one of the four daughters of Emma and Lars. She ended up moving to Pierce, Wisconsin, and became a teacher in a one-room school house for rural communities.
She taught every subject and most every age group; her largest class was about a dozen students.
In her 20s, she moved to Tucson, Arizona, where she met her future husband, Raymond Howe, five years later.
They married in 1952 and had two children in 1960: Melissa, who would become my mother, and Becky, who would become my aunt.
My family’s immigration story might seem very similar to others. The stories of self-sacrifice and bravery like those of young Emma Callstrom crossing the Pacific Ocean alone for to a new country is special and deserves to be passed down to every generation.