Dalarna County (Kopparberg County before 1997)
A Bit of Dalarna History and Culture, By Rosalie Sundin

 
Historical Overview
The name "Dalarna" means "the dales," and describes the low and highland areas surrounding the east and west branches of the Dalälven River. Dalarna can be divided into two halves: Upper Dalarna centring around Lake Siljan, and Lower Dalarna around the capital city (Falun) and the Great Copper Mountain (Stora Kopparberg.) The region of Dalarna ranges in description from mild farmlands, to foothills (of the Norwegian border mountain range on the northwest), to the lower lands following the river eastward toward the Gulf of Bothnia. In the northwest edge of Dalarna, great swamps are found that were once rich with bog iron. The southeast corner of Dalarna is known to have been populated at least 6,000 years ago. During early times, the region was a border between the northern hunting culture and the southern Scandinavian dimple ceramic culture.

Dalarna's climate is "continental" with hot summers and cold winters (much like Minnesota.) But it's latitude brings days that are 22 hours long at Midsommer holiday, and conversely, bitterly cold, short, and dark days at Christmas time.

When King Sverre of Norway marched through upper Dalarna in 1177, the area was still heathen, but less than 75 years later Christianity had already taken a firm hold in the region. During medieval times, Dalarna had its own set of laws, as did many other provinces. The legal tenets of the Kopparberget mine were documented in 1347 under King Magnus Eriksson. However, unlike other Swedish provinces, the feudal system of land ownership was never established in Dalarna. The strong sense of independence among the Dala folk probably played a role in the 1434 revolt (against King Eric of Pomerania) by the Dalecarlian mine-master Engelbrekt Engelbrektsson (of Norberg), who liberated all of the Swedish provinces from their Danish feudal overlords.

Through out Sweden's medieval and middle ages, its leaders and kings have turned to Dalarna for military support, including Gustav Eriksson Vasa (in 1520), during his struggle against King Christian II (the last Scandinavian Union ruler.) Gustav Vasa approached the Dala folk in Mora for assistance in his battles against the King, describing the atrocities committed against his soldiers by the King. When the citizens of Mora were hesitant to support Vasa without proof of the King's crimes, he left the area for battle near the Norwegian border. Two men from Mora set out on skis after Vasa, convinced his stories were true and determined to support him. Their cross country ski trek is still commemorated each year in Sweden with the annual Vasa ski race, and in Mora, Minnesota with the annual "Vasa Loppet race."

The Dalecarlians eventually supported Vasa's efforts against Christian II, and his success led to the formation of his own hereditary dynasty on the Swedish throne. But Gustav Eriksson Vasa did not forget the belated efforts of the Dala folk, and repeatedly made them pay for their lack of support by undermining their efforts to remain independent. In 1533 Vasa beheaded eight Dala men in the marketplace of Falun, ending once and for all the independent province of Dalarna.

Another tragedy in Dalarna's history occurred during the wave of witch hunting hysteria (especially during the reign of Charles XI, ca. 1672-1697.) Many accused witches were tried and burnt at the stake, particularly at Käringberget near the town of Leksand. Among the accused witches of Dalarna during the late 16th century was Margareta Nilsdotter, the 2nd wife of Olaus Laurentius (the vicar of Gagnef parish.) Margareta's accuser in 1598 was Sven Halvardson of Hojen, Ahl, Dalarna (a soldier.) According to the "Judgement book of 1598 for Gagnef parish," (per Elisabet Hemstrom of Falun Genealogy Society), the details of witchcraft accusation against Margareta stated that ... "Sven Halvardson of Hojen, Ahl, soldier, has summoned wife Margareta, Rev. Olof's wife, as a witch, for having conjured Olof into marriage, and could not prove himself without book to have lied." Margareta was lucky to have been found innocent and escape death by fire. (Note: Margareta Nilsdotter was born about 1550-70, married Olaus Laurentius after the death of his first wife (sometime around 1598), and died in 1632.
Industry and Mining
The Stora Kopparberget mine outside Falun has been proven to have existed back as early as 1080 AD Documentation of transactions exist from 1288, when it was a cooperatively owned mining enterprise. At its height during the 17th century, Stora Kopparberget produced 75% of Europe's copper exports. Besides the copper mining industry, silver and iron mining were also ongoing.

In spite of the mines of Dalarna, the region was still poor by comparison to other Swedish provinces. During the 1620's the Swedish government decided to develop the forest in the northeast reaches of Dalarna by importing Finnish farm laborers to the region, which became known as Orsa Finnmark. After 20 years of slash cutting and burning to create new agricultural lands, the practice was discontinued because of the increasing demand for timber by the mining industries.

Dalarna's farms were never able to support the high population that resided there during the 18th century. Following medieval traditions, the Dala peasant farmers subdivided their lands into strip farms among their descendants, until the size of the average farm was too small to support its residents. The lack of agriculturally viable land resulted in a strong move toward handicraft industries by the people of Dalarna.** The town of Malung was known for its tanning and leatherwork industry, while Orsa was known for their production of whetstones. In time, the men began to hire themselves out as labourers outside of Dalarna to supplement their incomes. Troops of male labourers from Dalarna would march toward Stockholm, led by musicians with their Swedish fiddles, where they hired themselves out as gentlemen labourers at the large estates in the capitol, and as day labourers to commercial industries. While the men were absent from home, the women of Dalarna herded their animals out to pasture in the hillsides of Dalarna.

** Per Elisabet Hemstrom of Falun Genealogical Society: Gagnef parish was not as poor as most parishes in Dalarna, and the farm sizes remained more intact compared to other towns within the region. Dalarna During the 18th Century
The poverty among the peasant farmers around Lake Siljan probably exacerbated the tension between them and the Falun co-op miners. A longstanding conflict of interest is said to have always existed between the two groups. In 1743 the antagonism between them rose to a head, with a protest march on the town of Falun by the peasant farmers (where they took the provincial governor prisoner, and marched on to Stockholm.) At the capitol city, they settled in and staged a protest, demanding the arrest and trial of a general in the Swedish military, whom they blamed for the incompetence that led to the annihilation of the Dala Regiment. Unfortunately for the farmers, they were eventually overpowered by the Swedish military and imprisoned, where many were executed, and hundreds died of disease and maltreatment.
Dalarna's Folk Arts
The lack of farming resources in Dalarna also spurred the growth of a highly developed cottage industry of provincial folk artists painting in the technique now called "Dalamälning" (which is recognized now as a national folk art style of Sweden.) Two distinct schools of decorative Dalamälning artists arose from Dalarna, the Rättvik style and the Leksand style, led by early artists such as Winter Carl Hansson and Back Olof Andersson.

These Dalarna styles of folk art painting evolved from a simple desire to decorate the rather austere and poorly lit homes of the townspeople (prior to the development of gas and electric lightening.) The early folk artists painted scenes on large, draped canvas sheetings, which were displayed on special occasions and feast days (to hide the soot damaged walls of their homes.) In time the rolled canvases were replaced with permanently mounted wall and ceiling boards that could be used for insulation during winter and decoration during holidays. Later they began painting on the walls and furniture itself. As the school of folk art painting developed, the Dalarna artists hired themselves out in Stockholm and eventually throughout Sweden, to the wealthy and upper class citizens that wanted their homes adorned in the popular and highly decorative fashion.

The compositions painted by the Dalamälning artists were typically of a religious motif, focusing on the Old Testament biblical passages, and the New Testament stories of Jesus and his miracles. However, since the artists of Dalarna had no concept of what the Middle East and Jerusalem were like, the characters were dressed in 17th and 18th century Swedish dress, and rode colorful prancing horses rather than camels or donkeys. Besides being noted for their rather whimsical representations of the bible verses, the Dalamälning paintings were famous for their use of the "kurbit" leaf. The term kurbit means cucumber leaf, and is believed (by Swedish art historians) to represent the gourd vine God provided which sheltered Jonah in the desert outside Nineveh. (Jonah IV.) Each Dalamälning painting has huge kurbit and floral arrays as an integral part of the composition, growing up out of rooftops, over horses? saddles, in the hands of the people in the painting, and sometimes simply sprouting up out of nowhere. In time the word "kurbits" came to mean not only the large cucumber leaves, but also the floral spray containing the kurbits themselves.

Another art form that became famous from Dalarna was the colorful Dala (or Mora) horse. Like most simple handicraft arts, the early Dala horses were probably the work of peasant wood carvers who made the small animals as gifts for their children and grandchildren. The earliest horses made specifically for sale were typically created by poor, disabled artists such as Stikå Erik Hansson (who was not considered a "serious artist" like his Dalamälning peers, probably because of a lack of formal training.) Following in Stikå Erik?s footsteps, later a family of Vattnäs carvers and artists specialized in carving and painting the Dala horses for resale (which were then distributed through out Sweden by migrant peddlers as barter, and even displayed at the New York World's Fair in 1939.) An enterprising Stockholm merchant and investor named Sven Markelius took an interest in the horses of Dalarna, and began marketing them in the shops and specialty stores in the capitol city. In time, the Dala horses were recognized as a national folk art symbol of Sweden. The horses are still handmade in Dalarna today, the most common being bright red in color with blue, white, green, yellow and black decorative designwork. While they are painted in other colors including blue, the most rare are the black painted horses of Dalarna.
Social and Cultural Snippets
Another interesting fact about Dalarna is that it was the last province in Sweden to preserve the traditional of wearing regionally styled folk dress on special occasions and formal events (a tradition that was maintained well into the 19th century.) Even today the province of Dalarna is one of the most cultural and historical centers of ?peasant? folk art in Sweden. The Dala woman?s traditional dress includes a black skirt (except in Rättvik where it is blue), and a white blouse with hand embroidered trim. The apron might be white or multicolored stripes with decorative embroidery work. Leksand?s style for young women was uniquely different; there the dresses for maidens are bright yellow costumes, with flowered neck scarves, caps and pinafores. Throughout Dalarna, the men dressed in late-18th century breeches (often light yellow or cream colored and tied off about the knees), with bright red garters, elaborately embroidered frock (morning) coats and tall hats.

A folk tradition that our Swedish ancestors brought with them to Lake Lillian was the annual midsummer (Midsommer) festival. The event is now celebrated in Sweden on Midsummer eve, on the third Friday in June, but different villages and towns in Dalarna raise their maypole on different days and times near Midsummer eve. No matter when the maypole is erected, the events celebrated are otherwise similar throughout Sweden. The Dala maypole is decorated with wreathes and garlands of flowers and leaves, in the shape of crossed arrows (to symbolize the Dalarna province.) Besides dancing the Swedish "polska" around the maypole, the villagers enjoy huge feasts, parties and speeches, and bonfires near the lakeshore in the late evening. The pole would be left standing until the next year's celebration ... in fact if it were to fall, it was considered a sign of bad luck. Historians believe the maypole is actually a pre-Christian fertility symbol used to celebrate the end of winter and early summer harvests.

In Lake Lillian the annual Midsummer picnic was held at the farm of Ole and Anna (Andersson) Erickson well into the early 1920's, and was always well attended by the Lake Lillian townspeople and visiting dignitaries (including ministers and political figures such as the Governor.) My grandmother remembered attending many of the Midsummer picnics at Ole and Anna's farm when she was young. (A photograph of the annual Lake Lillian Midsummer picnic of 1912 is included on the ?Photos From Home? Gallery pages.)
Selected Bibliography
"Holiday Guide to Dalarna: A Handbook for the Tourist"
by Paul Britten Austin & Greta Håkanson, publ. in Stockholm
Sweden, by Almqvist & Wiksell Publishers.)

"The First One Hundred Years: 1864-1964", edited by
Clarence A. Lund, Lake Lillian Crier (newspaper) publishers, 1964,
Lake Lillian, MN.

"The Swedish Wooden Horse" by Anne Marie Rådström,
from Sweden & America (magazine), Summer 1993 edition,
Published by the Swedish Council of America, Minneapolis, MN

"Swedish Folk Painting of Dalarna" by Pat Virch

"The Decorative Arts of Sweden" by Iona Plath

A Primer On Farm Names & Numbering in Parish Records,
By Elisabet Hemstrom, Falun Genealogist, Dalarna, Sweden
Edited by Rosalie Sundin, May 1999.

"People can be confused about the numbering system used in the church books. It is very common that the households or farms have numbers in the household examination rolls, but it seems to have been each priest´s own numbering and can be totally different in different rolls. Probably it was just a way of counting the farms, to see how many farms there were in each village and who lived on the same farms at the same time.

But, let´s say that someone built a new house between "number 10" and "number 11". Then the whole numbering was often displaced so that the former number 11 was number 12 and so on. This means that the numbering does not correspond to any other numbering, in tax records or anywhere else.

But when a child is born and it says in the birth book that the parents lived at "Lindan 6", you can also expect to find them on this number in the household examination for the same period. This can be a great help when there are 30-40 households in a village. Quite often it is also the same number in the next examination roll, but, as said above, it does not have to be. If there is a new priest, he might very well "turn the whole list upside down" and start counting from the other end of the village.

When it comes to the owning of farms, I can say that the church hardly owned any farms in Dalarna. There might be one or two vicarage tenants ("prästgårdsarrendator"), but it is not very common. Every farm was owned by the farmer who lived there. When he got old, one of his sons or a son-in-law took over the running of the farm as master ("husbonde"), but the old farmer and his wife usually stayed there, often in a house of their own. When the old farmer died, the farm was divided between his heirs.

This of course led to very small farms in the end. That is why people often tried to marry someone from a nearby farm (so they could unite two small farms), or exchange some allotments with other farmers.

Gagnef was and still is a decided farm area. I do not think the farms there were so very poor, compared to other areas in Dalarna. The map might be a little misleading, as the name "Gagnef" there indicates only the main place and not the whole area."

Editors Note: In order to distinguish between one "Lars Larsson" and another "Lars Larsson" in the same parish, people often used the name of their farm as a "pre" name in front of their given name. Hence, Larsved Olof Larsson would be Olof, the son of Lars, from Larsved farm.