Above: My great-grandparents Nels and Anna Swang (seated) around 1925 with two of their
five children. Their daughter, my grandmother Helga, was not in this photo. Anna and Nels married near Webster, South
Dakota in 1896 then moved to Fessenden, North Dakota. Nels worked on the Soo Railroad before leaving Anna and moving to California.
Standing behind them are their children Betsy (left) and Albert (center) Swang.
Before I leave North Dakota, I hope to solve a mystery that's been nagging at me for
over a year. In 1899, my grandmother Helga moved from Webster, South
Dakota to the small town of Fessenden, North Dakota when she was about
a year old (see My
Mom's Ancestors: Map and Photo Essay). In the early 1930s, During the
Great Depression and now married, she later moved to
Bismarck, where my mother was born. My grandmother Helga died in 1964, so I didn't
think I had any relatives in North Dakota anymore.
After my mother passed away a few years ago, I learned that Helga's maiden name was Swang
(pronounced "Swong") and I learned on the Internet that there were
several Swang families living in North Dakota, including in Bismarck and in the
small town of Harvey which, as I learned, is just a few miles from Fessenden, where Helga had
grown up in the early 1900s. I was sure that these Swangs were my relatives, since
the Swang name is so unusual. In fact, there are fewer than 40 families in
the U.S. with the last name of Swang.
About a year ago, I sent letters of introduction to some of the Swang families in
North Dakota explaining my relation to Helga. However, I was surprised to
learn that these Swangs had never heard of Helga Swang or any of her siblings,
even though their ancestors had also come from Norway and had moved to central
North Dakota at about the same time as Helga, around 1900. I met recently with some of
these Swangs in Bismarck and we're now trying to figure out if we're related. Hopefully, as I do more
research in North Dakota over the next week, I'll figure out if there's any connection between the two Norwegian
Above left: My grandmother Helga Swang at the rural country school where she taught, about 30 miles north of Bismarck.
This was taken about 1922, a year before she married my grandfather.
Above center: The first photo of my mother, taken in 1925 when she was a few months old.
Above right: My parents in Florida in 1944 shortly after getting married, with Helga. My dad was
going through Navy SEALs training in Fort Pierce. Helga died in 1964 and I
only vaguely remember her, but she and my mom were very close.
More pages about my mother's ancestry: