Aug 26, 2022

Famous Relatives – Maybe Not

August 26, 2022

One of my favorite genealogical sayings is “I used to be related to . . .” followed by the name of some famous musician, actor, Politian or the like. It’s usually followed by an explanation of how the genealogist had debunked a family myth about being related to the famous person.


Back in the 1930s, my great grandmother’s family tried to figure out exactly how they were related to the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh. They couldn’t figure out the connection, but they were sure there must be one since my great grandmother’s maiden name was Lindberg, and both she and Charles were from Sweden.


Decades later when I became a genealogist, my father told me about the supposed Lindberg/Lindbergh connection. I determined to find out exactly how my family was related to Charles Lindbergh. Charles Lindbergh’s family tree was easily found online as was my great grandmother’s. With the aid of online Swedish church records at the website Arkiv Digital, I reviewed both trees. I couldn’t find a point of intersection between the two as far back as I could go.


Then there was the Lindberg/Lindbergh name. In Sweden, most people used patronymic surnames until at least the middle of the 19th century. These are the common “son” names that everyone associates with Scandinavians. The “son” is attached to the father’s first name resulting in names like Persson, for the son of a man named Per. Lots of men were named Per (Peter) and lots of them had sons. This means there were lots of Persson’s in Sweden – most of them not related to each other at all. Their fathers just happened to have the same first name.


The Lindberg/Lindbergh families, of course, weren’t using a Patronymic surname when Charles and my great grandmother were born. Instead, both families had taken the name of the farm where they lived. Lindberg is Swedish for “linden mountain” and was a very common surname in Sweden. Again, most of them weren’t related at all.


It all added up to no relationship between the aviator and my family. Giving up Charles Lindbergh as a cousin didn’t bother me much. His reputation had lost some of its cachet over the decades.


However, I think that some of my cousins probably still mourn the loss of our cousinship to Charles Lindbergh. I’ve even heard one or two of them say, “We used to be related to Charles Lindbergh but now Carol says we aren’t.” Maybe one of these days I’ll find another famous person for our family to claim to make up for the loss of Charles Lindbergh!


Carol Stetser