Context is King

Since I have been looking into my family history and reading letters from the past, I have become increasingly interested in the context my relatives lived in. They were born in the 19th century and passed  into the 20th, with everything that happened and was invented at the time.

Just as I find it hard to see the full scope of the digital revolution our generation is undergoing, it must have been difficult for those 19th century people to understand the big picture when it came to cars, planes, television and what not that they all saw coming during their life time.

Thus, finding authentic material from the early days of the new century is very interesting. It helps put their lives and accomplishments in a context.

Not that long ago, I happened to pass by an antique store. It’s on my way from work and though I’ve seen it many times before, I’ve never ventured inside.

Half a flight of stairs down in an apartment house from the early 20th century, this store has the look of a place that completely lost touch with society and whatever possible clientel it was trying to reach out to with the flourescent sign up front, inviting passers-by to come in.

The light that finds its way through the dusty cellar windows is bleak and things are just stacked all over the place. My first impression was one of dissappointment. I felt like leaving straight away. On my way out, carefully treading and climbing over things laying about on the floor, something very green caught my attention.

It was a row of small green books, sitting in an old bookshelf. I pulled one out and saw that it was an old calendar. You know, the kind where they put in all the information one could need, when there was no Internet around. There were calendars from the late 1800s to the middle of the 1900s. Well, here was some context to dive into!


I purchased quite a few – the earliest one from the year 1899 and randomly up until 1946. The year of the break-up of the Swedish union with Norway – 1905 – is one of them. That must certainly have been discussed amongst my relatives – as one of my great grandmothers was a Norweigan who married a Swede, after having met him at a missionary training centre in London before going out to China.

Dagny and Robert didn’t know if they were ever going to see each other again, after having been placed in different locations in China, but Robert managed to write a letter to ask Dagny to marry him. When he didn’t get an answer for a very long time, he thought his feelings were not answered.

Dagny on her end, was going about her work, not knowing anything about his intentions until one day, when the house help put her hand in her apron pocket and remembered that she had a letter for Dagny in there!

When Dagny opened the letter and saw the proposal she was happy and devastated at the same time. She wanted to marry Robert, but his letter was sent a long time ago and he must have concluded that she was not interested…
But, she got going and sent off a letter which, this time, was well received and thus their journey together started.

In this post – you can see their marriage photo. They were married in 1895, and the union between Sweden and Norway was broken off ten years later. 1905 is also the same year my other great grandmother – Olga – arrives in China, and gets stationed with Dagny and Robert, where she helps with the delivery of Dagnys fourth son. What I would give to have heard their conversations!

I am looking forward to discovering more through these old calendars. And if not – I can always just enjoy the beautiful drawings and “old style” language 🙂

Sweden has always been a major coffee consuming nation. In second place in 1899. Today, Swedes drink about 8 kg coffee per person and year, and it seems the leading nation in coffee drinking is still the Netherlands 🙂

16 thoughts on “Context is King

  1. Tokens of Companionship says:

    I remember seeing almanacs when I was growing up in the 1980s, and occasionally (but less often) in the 1990s. I remember thinking they weren’t very interesting because they were about the years I had lived through. Why would I need to read about those years if I had lived them myself? A few years ago I was at our local recycling center, which has a “book swap” area where you can leave books that you don’t want, or take books that other people have left. I noticed an almanac from the year 1991, and thought, “A lot happened in the world that year, I might want to read about it.” So I took the book home and put it on a shelf. It seemed like a good idea at the time…. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

      • Tokens of Companionship says:

        Maybe the Internet won’t exist in 100 years, and people will be using an entirely different system to communicate and share information. I used to think that everything on the Internet was stored permanently, but now I think just the opposite. Websites come and go, companies rise quickly and then go out of business. It all feels much more temporary now than it used to.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Thérèse Amnéus says:

        Oh, yes! I believe so, too. Who has the time and patience to go through thousands of digital photos spread over several different hard drives, USB:s and the like?! I only look at the photos that I had developed and put in an album. And when one finally has time to perhaps go through the digital ones, I bet the USB:s won’t work, or the system is not going to be relevant any longer – like with the good old CD-ROMS or CD:s for that matter…
        Do you ever sit and go through your digital photos?

        Liked by 2 people

    • Thérèse Amnéus says:

      Yes, so much in our lives is just a matter of coincindences, right?! When looking back, there are plenty of moments – good and bad – leading up to the place one is in, and so many choices… All of them somehow affecting generations to come as well – it’s kind of aweinspiring and a bit scary when you really think about it 😅

      Liked by 2 people

      • Tokens of Companionship says:

        Yes, scary is the word I was going to use, and then I changed it to sobering. Dagny and Robert’s story made me stop and wonder if I might have made a similarly wrong assumption at some point in my life. Fortunately I couldn’t think of one. 😄

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Thérèse Amnéus says:

    Good for you! I certainly have crossroads where I could have gone either way, but somehow I think one manages to see the good in the choices made, and it’s hard to imagine another reality… But it sure makes you think about it!

    Liked by 2 people

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