Saturday, October 29, 2016

drunknad af vada

We have only one picture of him.
His "personal" page in my Family Tree Maker software has only three lines, listing three life events - he was born, he got married, and he died.
But the circumstances of his death not only make him one of the most interesting people on the family tree, but one of the most significant. I don't think I'm exaggerating too much if I say that the events of a single weekend 125 years ago changed everything.

He's Axel Lungberg (pronounced like "Young-berry," I think.) He is my Great Grandfather.


The above little newspaper blurb doesn't give details, but does sum it up in a nutshell. It is a good starting point for telling the rest of the story. A rough translation goes like this:

My dearly loved husband, bookkeeper, Axel Ljungberg, born on May 10, 1854, died by accident on October 9, 1892, will be deeply missed by me, 5 children, relatives and many friends. I tell you my sorry Levanten, November 2, 1892. 

So what happened? What are the details of this "accident?" What is the rest of the story? Over the years I have been told a number of things by my Gramma Dolan and my Dad, things like a carriage accident-found face down in a creek-foul play and suspicion of murder-alcohol related. No one seemed to know for sure what happened, and the little blurb has been the only piece of actual documentation in the family archives. Until now..

As it turns out, there is a little bit of truth in all of the stories that have been told in the past. There was an accident, although there is no mention of a carriage being involved. Drowning in a creek was likely the cause of death, but exactly how the body was found isn't mentioned. There was no foul play or murder, but there was suspicion and an investigation was made. Was it alcohol related? Yes. That is one thing that is clear.

So what are the facts as we know them? There is a death record that says the "bookkeeper (or inspector), Axel Ljungberg died in Liventen, Orgryte Parish. Cause of death: drunknad af vada, which means, drowned by accident. He was 38 years, 4 months, and 19 days old. Wow!

But the death notice also says, Attest fran Kronal,  which means that papers had been sent from the Kronolansman (an old word for police.) In other words, there was a police investigation of what appeared to be a suspicious death. 

Here what that investigation revealed in a rough translation (not mine, but a Swedish researcher) of the Official Report of the County Sheriff, November 7, 1892, along with a few brief comments by me:

To His majesty the King's Commander in Goteberg.
Returned to the county sheriff in Safvedals County with notification that there are no objections for the dead body to be buried.
Goteberg city council, November 5, 1892 

It does go on simply and to the point:

The book-keeper in Livanten in Orgryte, Johan (??) Ljungberg left his homestead Sunday the 9th last October and has after that not been heard from. Today before noon, after searches in the water, his body has been recovered in Molndals Creek near Bohusvik. In police investigations, kept October 11-12, has come forward, that Ljungberg, who on the 9th of October in the morning had come home from a wedding; had not been sober.

So we know how the weekend started - a wedding. Whose? That we don't know. 

He had, accompanied by the factory worker August Andersson from Wilhelmsdal, in the afternoon that same day, gone off to the city (of Goteberg) and visited five drinkinghouses where they both had malts and liqueur.  Ljungberg, who didn't carry any money, had been allowed to borrow 5 Kronor.  Around 11 at night, they separated near Lorensberg and Ljungberg who had been very intoxicated had headed homewards.  Andersson, who during the evening had become very drunk, had lost his memory and did not know how he got home.  Ljungberg had been seen at the Karlslunds road ( a road which leads from the old road in Galgkrogarna to Molndals creek and Bohus factory) around 11:30 at night. (One of these days I need to get a geography lesson on the places and parishes around Goteberg. I think it would add something to a proper understanding of the story.)

So the weekend continued. We can ask and wonder all we want, but we'll never know. Why didn't he just stay home Sunday - I mean, he did have a wife and 5 children to think about? Who was August? A friend from work? Why the "pub crawl?" No money? So much doesn't seem to make sense, but one thing is pretty certain, we know how he spent his last hours.

Here's a little detail of the report that struck me: In the deceased's pocket was found a pocket watch, which had stopped at 11:30. I wonder what happened to that watch!

But in the end, With notification hereby, I humbly state that Ljungberg most likely by accident fell into the creek and drowned.  There are no reason to believe that he died by other man's hand.  The dead body may without further investigation and obduction (which I think means keeping or withholding from the family) be buried."  Safvedals County sheriff's office. November 2, 1892.

So there you have it. Not exactly the kind of stuff you hope to find in your family history. But as the overworked saying goes, it is what it is. The story answers some questions, but brings up more, at least for me. What kind of man was my great grandfather? Was this just one regretful weekend  of bad decisions, or were there bigger issues? Don't know. Can't know. Anyone who might know is no longer alive to tell. 

Does anyone want to think about the "what if?" What if that October weekend so long ago had been different in one way  or another. What if Axel Ljungberg had lived a full life. Think about it. No marriage to William James Dolan. No Newmilns, Scotland. No Canada. No WW I war hospital and no nurse Elizabeth Yates. No Ernie and Harry. No me. No you. No Zion. At least not the way we know all of that today. It's all moot, of course. I know that. But can you see why Axel Lungberg and his story is pretty important to us and  how it really did change everything?


  1. Yeah. That's crazy. Sad story, but it did change everything. How did you get your hands on all the police report information?

    1. It is public record and was found for me by a Swedish researcher a number of years ago.