In 1987, the Regional Archives in Östersund, Sweden, received an unexpected gift from a Swedish-American man in Oregon. The gift consisted of a collection of diaries by the donor’s father, Anton Swanson (1883 – 1955), emigrant from Hackås, Jämtland, who had emigrated to the Pacific NW in 1906 and had become a life-long resident of Oregon. The diaries spanned a period of almost fifty years, by itself a unique accomplishment of journal writing. It also quickly became apparent that these diaries, especially those written during the early years, were of such quality that they deserved to be published. In 1989 a selection from the diaries were published as AMERIKAFÄLLAN: Anton Swansons dagböcker 1906 – 1914 [Trapped in America: Anton Swanson’s diaries 1906 – 1914].

        So what is it that makes these diaries worth publishing? First of all, they contain interesting information on the Swedish immigrant experience in the urban environment of the Far West at that time, a subject that is not particularly well known. Anton Swanson’s detailed observations take the reader along the never-ending minutiae of his daily life – looking for work, moving from place to place, worrying, documenting how much things cost and what the wages were – in his ongoing attempts to gain a foothold in American society. In addition, we also discover the importance of the Swedish-American newspapers, Anton’s hunger for news from home, his homesickness and regrets, the importance of relatives and friends in the area, many of his thoughts and feelings, his persistent interest in the weather, as well as many charming and humorous comments. Finally, the diaries also record important personal events, such as his marriage in 1908 to Hulda Reinholdsdotter from Småland, the birth of their only child, George Swanson in 1909, as well as the event that was to change his life forever. A few weeks before Christmas in 1909, at age 26, Anton Swanson contracted polio, and even though a long convalescence eventually made it possible for him to walk again, he would never be able to do normal manual labor again. This made it even more difficult for Anton Swanson to find work, and pushed the responsibility of supporting the family onto his wife, a situation that reinforced his sense of helplessness, pessimism and feelings of entrapment. Due to these unfortunate circumstances, we also catch a glimpse of the situation of women in the work force. The Swedish publication of Anton Swanson’s diaries is a “scholarly edition” in the sense that it carefully records the author’s original text, which is far removed from standard Swedish orthography, and provides a glossary and extensive commentary. We have to remember that Anton Swanson was not a well-educated man, did not know how to spell correctly, and was at this point in his life not fully fluent in English. But he was an avid newspaper reader, and he developed a fairly good vocabulary, the only problem being that he regularly made up “Swenglish” words when he could not think of the correct Swedish words. He mostly approached spelling phonetically, which at times makes reading the diaries a challenge. This gives the text a charm obvious to any bilingual Swedish-American reader, but presents a dilemma to the translator: Should one somehow try to preserve and recreate the unique style of the original, or focus on conveying the content of the text? The translator of the diaries, Mary Jean Olsson, has – correctly in my opinion – chosen the latter. For this reason, the American translation has been very lightly edited to reflect, as closely as possible, the meaning and textually concentrated style of the original diary, but has been brought close to standard American English grammar and spelling for the sake of readability.

        Anton Swanson left his native Hackås at the end of April, 1906. With six male friends he used the route often preferred by emigrants from Jämtland – a westbound train to Trondheim, then by steamer down the Norwegian coast and across to Hull. From there they followed the route of so many emigrants before them: train to Liverpool, and then an Atlantic crossing on the Caronia, one of the largest ships of the Cunard Line. After clearing immigration in New York, the travelers immediately continued by train toward their final destination, Greenwood, British Columbia. A mining town, Greenwood did not seem to offer the group steady employment, and the friends eventually scattered (one even died). The following spring Anton Swanson moved to Spokane, Washington, where he remained for a year. The diary records the comings and going of his friends, the search for work, and also the name of a Swedish woman named Hulda Reinholds. Anton underlined her name in his journal. In July he decided to look up Hulda’s sister and husband who lived outside Portland, Oregon, and maybe to visit someone else as well ...