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November 18, 1997

When the great wave of European immigrants was at its peak in the U.S. around the close of the 19th century, many family names underwent drastic changes because the Americans who received them at ports of entry had trouble with the spelling and-or pronunciation. Many of the new arrivals with multisyllabic slavic names, for instance, spoke no English, so U.S. immigration officials oftentimes had no choice but to spell them phonetically and thus forever changed them. Sometimes the new names were not even close to the original, but once their passports were stamped and other papers were processed, the families began their new life in the New World with brand new monikers. It was not uncommon for members of a family arriving in this country at different times to wind up with totally dissimilar names, and this sometimes meant that they were unable to find their relatives once they reached the U.S.

That's a story all by itself, but this column is concerned with just one such instance today. We have in hand a letter from Britt Holmstrom, R O. Box 584, Sun City, CA 92586, telephone 909-940-9045, searching for information about a relative, Henry Pierson, who was born in 1854 in Sweden. Mr. Pierson was the cousin of Holmstrom's father. But I will let Holmstrom tell the rest of this. The letter from Holmstrom follows, with the writer's own comments or questions in parentheses:

"My father's cousin, Henry Pierson (whose name actually was Henrik Pehrsson in Sweden) purchased land close to Perry (in a place called 'Red Sail' or 'Red '?). He had one oil well only, but since it pumped less than 40 barrels of oil (per day?) it was kept capped off (by rule or law?). Henry most likely bought it around 1893. (He never married and had no children.) When his brother, Jacob died in Redrield, SD, in 1921, Henry decided to sell his property and arrived in Redfield a few years before he died there in 1932."

The letter continues: "I would like to find the records of Henry's 'farm' and home, and do hope you can help me do so. I would also like to know how long he stayed in Oklahoma. Would I also please be able to get some historical and nature information about Perry city and the area around where Henry lived. Were there many Swedes or Scandinavians, perhaps? Any Swedish/Scandinavian church and social/cultural groups? Perhaps you know of anyone interested in the local history that I may contact. You may give my name, address, and telephone number to such persons. I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you!" Britt Holstrom is joined in signing the letter by Ernst Holmstrom.

This letter was received at the Perry City Hall and Nellie Berger, deputy clerk there, is hoping to find someone who can answer some of the questions contained in the Holmstrom letter. I can provide this much: According to the first federal census taken in Noble county after the 1893 Cherokee Strip land run, 13 native-born Swedes were living here at that time and presumably made the run. In addition, there were 40 first-generation Swedes in Noble county. We also had 11 native-born and 67 first generation Swiss; 11 native-born and 72 first-generation Danes; and six native-born and 30 first-generation Norwegians. I know of no Swedish/Scandinavian churches or social/cultural groups, but perhaps I am overlooking something.

If you can help these folks with some of the other information, they obviously would appreciate hearing from you.