Since studying genealogy of my Swedish immigrant family I have encountered more interest and chatter about US immigrant name change stories occurring at Ellis Island than most any other topic.
My 2020 book, My Maja A Grandson’s Tribute explores my journey to track my relatives coming from Sweden through Ellis Island eventually landing in Chicago. I encountered a name change mystery that eventually got resolved through some research sleuthing.
I have my own genealogy detective story to share surrounding a name change to add to the voluminous libraries of facts, fantasies, and legends. My Grandma Maja’s story of leaving Sollefteå Sweden in 1922 connects to yet another immigrant name change mystery solved.
First, some “authoritative experts” address the topic of name changes originating at Ellis Island immigrant reception station and beyond. From a quote from a Smithsonian Magazine authority:
Correcting Name Discrepancies at Ellis
Names Came From Ship Records
John Colletta, in his book They Came in Ships, describes the immigration process at Ellis Island in more detail: The Inspector [in the immigration receiving center] had in has hands a written record of the immigrant he was inspecting and, asking the same questions over again, could compare the oral statements with it. The inspectors therefore, read the names already written down on the lists, and they had at their service a large staff of translators who worked along side them in the Great Hall of the Ellis Island facility.
My Maja Swedish Family Story of Name Change but,—NOT at Ellis Island
When my grandma Maja’s Uncle came by ship from Gothenburg Sweden to New York’s Ellis Island his name was Albert Källgren.
When searching American and Swedish records for details of his life connected to my grandmother, I found that somehow,-his name had been changed to Albert Chalstrom
Thus began a search to solve the mysterious discrepancy.
Name Changing Options?
Authorities say that: “Someone might change their name in order to make it sound more American, to fit in with the local community, or simply because it was good for business. There is at least one instance of a small businessman arriving in the United States from Eastern Europe changing his name, at least his public name, to something that sounded Swedish, because he had settled in a Swedish neighborhood in New York City. Immigrants would sometimes officially record their name change, when naturalizing for instance.”
It took some research on my part, and obtaining help, but at last I found out how Grandma Maja’s paternal Uncle and the man who encouraged her to come to America had a family name different than hers.
Swedish historian and genealogist Prof Lars Lundstrom and American genealogist Ken Seifert worked on this mystery with me attempting to explain why Källgren had changed to Chalstrom.
First of all, “shellgren- (sounds like a sea shell), is the sound pronounced in Swedish for Källgren. One might make the case that in English, The Swedish pronunciation might sound like Charles storm,—At least that was a theory.)
But,-How Did the Name Change Take Place? And, Who Initiated the Change? Why?
Obtaining Historical Documents
Searching American Archives surfaced Albert Chalstrom’s application for an American passport from Chicago to Sweden.
More Careful Detective Work Needed
Application for Passport Document Found with Notes
Misunderstanding of Clerk?
Albert Källgren officially became Albert Chalstrom apparently because of a DOCUMENTED misunderstanding/ mispronunciation/ mishearing.—-that became (somehow) a name that stuck.
The name change remained and the family name discrepancy genealogy mystery solved.
Great fun and a good exercise in genealogy research success.
From my Swedish genealogist expert friend and consultant:
“Both Källgren and Källström were alternativ names used in your family at Källelid in Västergötland. Chalstrom sounds better and more soft in Swedish ears than Chalgren. I think Albert used Källstrom in US but it became Chalstrom in American ears.”
3 thoughts on “Swedes and Immigrant Name Change Stories: Facts, Myths, Mysteries, and Fun”
I have been working on my Swedish family as well and have run into the same problem. Only the name changes took place in Sweden . This was due to the fact that there were so many families with the last name of Petterson, also spelled will only one t that the government allowed people to change their last names. My great grandfather changed his last name from Petterson to Holmqvist, but when they came to America the spelling changed to Holmquist, but one family kept the Petterson name a d one family changed their name to Bolin as that family also came to America but I am having a very difficult time connecting my great grandfather’s siblings as I know that some never left Sweden. I am looks for any information or help figuring out how to find more information besides Ancestry.
Hi Ann: On matters like yours I defer to my expert consultors. I will send your probe out and see if I can receive a comment.
I spoke to Lars Lundstrom who said you should contact him. Perhaps leave your email here and I will forward your message?