Genealogy Challenge: Who Is Your Most Recent Unknown Ancestor?

Unknown ancestors are perhaps the most frustrating part of genealogical research. Of course, no ancestry will ever be 100% complete. Nevertheless, recent unknown ancestors always leave me (and I’m certain this is a shared feeling) particularly frustrated. In May, Genea-Musings posted one of his SNGF (Saturday Night Genealogy Fun) challenges focusing on the “most recent unknown ancestor” (or MRUA) in our ahnentafel. Having my share of these, I was naturally drawn to this challenge.

My most recent unknown ancestor is number 44 on my ahnentafel, who is one of my still unknown 3rd Great Grandparents. This ancestor was the biological father of my 2nd Great Grandfather, Wilhelm Percy Wellin (1895-1977). Wilhelm was born Per Vilhelm Ture Stålberg in Sweden the illegitimate son of Anna Elizabeth Stålberg (1869-1918) and an unidentified man. Wilhelm’s birth record in Sweden provides no clues as to the potential identity of his father, as it simply states that Wilhelm (then Per) was born of illegitimate (oäkta) birth to a mother that was unmarried (ogift) and a father that was unknown (okänd).

Wilhelm Wellin’s Swedish Birth Record, 1895

Because Wilhelm was born of illegitimate birth, the identity of his father, and my MRUA, will most likely remain a mystery. Some of the common methods for finding an unknown father in Swedish records have proven fruitless so far. Court records or clerical surveys (household examinations or censuses) that could have indicated Wilhelm was “legalized” or “legitimized” (legaliserad) by his biological father have not been discovered, if they exist at all. Additionally, the church and legal practice of punishment for fornication (lönskaläge) and having children out of wedlock ended by Wilhelm’s birth, leaving only court cases relating to suits for child support available which have not turned up in this case.

Another common method of tracking down an unknown father (or a potential unknown father) in Swedish records is something called the “name game,” in which you take the first name or a patronymic surname (e.g., Larsson)  and attempt to search out likely candidates in the same geographic location. This method has so far also proven fruitless, as no suitable candidate with the names Per, Vilhelm, or Ture have been found. Additionally, Wilhelm received his mother’s maiden name at birth, not a patronymic name.

There have been only two clues as to the identity, or possible identity, of Wilhelm’s biological father. One of these clues is the surname Wilhelm used from about 1914 until his death in 1977, that of Wellin. The choice of this surname has been a source of confusion, as there is no evidence in records (so far) linking Wilhelm to this surname. Apart from Stålberg, records show only one other surname used by Wilhelm in his life prior to about 1914, that of Lowenburg (Lövenberg or Löwenborg) which is the surname of Wilhelm’s step-father Emil Conrad Lowenburg (1875-1930). When Wilhelm (then Per) immigrated to the United States in 1906 with his mother, step-father, and step-siblings, he did so under the Lowenburg surname. He was also enumerated on the 1910 U.S. Census with this surname. At some point between 1910 and his marriage in 1914, Wilhelm assumed the Wellin surname. Oral family history on this issue states that Wilhelm assumed this name because his mother had been married to a man named Wellin (possibly Anders Wellin, Welin, or some other variation) at some point back in Sweden who adopted him before his death. To date, however, no records have been found in Sweden to prove this; nor have any records been found showing a person with the Wellin surname (or any variation of it) living in close proximity to Anna, though there are numerous people with this surname living in Göteborg och Bohus (now Västra Götaland) County, which is where Wilhelm was born.

1906 Immigration Record showing Wilhelm as Per Wilhelm T. Lowenburg

The only other clue regarding the identity, or possible identity, of Wilhelm’s biological father is a rather dubious claim in oral family history. According to this claim, Wilhelm was born the “illegitimate son of the King of Sweden.” This oral tradition, like most of this sort, adds that Wilhelm’s mother, Anna, was employed as a maid or chambermaid in Göteborg when she had this alleged royal encounter. Looking at available Swedish records for Anna, I did discover that she was enumerated on household examinations (censuses) as being employed as a maid (piga) in Göteborg at the time of Wilhelm’s birth, so that part of the story is true. Could the other parts be true as well?

Exploring the history and lives of the Swedish Royal Family at this time revealed that King Oscar II (1829-1907), the King of Sweden at the time of Wilhelm’s birth, had several affairs and allegedly several illegitimate children, including a daughter and also two sons by a Swedish opera singer, among others. Additionally, many other members of the Swedish Royal Family had affairs and are alleged to have fathered children from these relationships. Oral tradition is not specific as to whom “King of Sweden” refers, but if true it either refers to Oscar II, who would have been 66 at the time of Wilhelm’s birth, or his heir Gustav V, who came to the throne about a year after Wilhelm, his mother, step-father, and step-siblings left Sweden for America. Gustav V is alleged to have had affairs, and there are claims of illegitimate children, though the more notable of his extramarital activities is the infamous Hajiby Affair. In addition to Anna’s occupation and the prevalence of affairs and claims of illegitimate offspring, my research also revealed that the Royal Family frequently vacationed in Göteborg at this time.

Although some of the elements of this claim of oral history have turned out to be true, claims of illegitimate descent from royals tend to be more romantic inventions than fact. It seems more likely that Wilhelm’s biological father was the Mr. Wellin (or Welin) who is alleged to have been Anna’s husband at some point between Wilhelm’s birth and her marriage to Emil. However, it is worth noting that Wilhelm did have a slight resemblance to Gustav V, as may be seen in the following photos.

Wilhelm Wellin (left) and Gustav V (right)
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9 thoughts on “Genealogy Challenge: Who Is Your Most Recent Unknown Ancestor?

  1. My great grandparents on my mother’s fathers side are a mystery to me, I know her name, but it is such a common Irish name that I stand a slim chance at present at tracing her down, no matter how advanced my skills become I still am stuck with this one line and it stops in 1914! One day I will get there (I hope!). A great post 🙂

  2. We recently learned of the existence of my grandfather’s sister who died when she was 8. We were able to confirm her existence through handwritten records handed down by my grandfather’s older sister and an obituary. It seems only she knew of the sister while the other three siblings never mentioned/knew of her.

    I’m having a terrible time trying to get beyond many of (x amount of greats) grandparents.

    1. I have a instance of that in my own family. My grandfather told me that his mother’s father had a sister. As it turns out, he had three sisters and a brother. For some reason, their existence didn’t get passed on.

      As this post suggests, I am also have great difficulty tracking down other ancestors. I remain hopeful, though. In fact, just recently, while looking through Swedish records on Ancestry.com, I found the birth record of one of my ancestors and the identities of his parents, which I didn’t have before. 🙂

  3. Great story! I’d have to try to compare Y-DNA of other male illegitimate descendents of the King! Whether you have royal ancestry or the elusive Mr Wellin is your 3rd great-grandfather, I hope you find the answer somehow, someday.

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