He drank himself to death

My great-great grandfather, Lars Larson Bergman, died  on June 23, 1887 in Gavle, Sweden – one short month before his sixth child (my great grandfather) was born.

He was only 39 when he died and he left behind a family that needed him.  I was very curious as to what his cause of death was.

Was it some work-related accident or perhaps an epidemic going through town? Nope.

I don’t speak Swedish, but between the help of some foreign friends and online translating, what I can came up with is this:

omöjligt (possible a different spelling since many of the spellings changed over the years) = impossible

förlamad, förlammat = paralyzed

starka drycker = strong drink

What does this mean when I put it all together?  I’m not exactly sure, but it looks like he became paralyzed from having drank too much.

Anyone have any different thoughts? Better yet, can you speak Swedish and correct me?:)

His death leaves a lot of questions for me.

He was a 39-year old man with 5 children and a pregnant wife.  What caused him to drink this much?

Was he sick?  Out of work?  Depressed? Did he have a nag for a wife?  Was he an alcoholic or was this a one-time episode of binge drinking?

I also wonder how his death changed the lives of those he left behind.  Did his wife have to find work?  His oldest son would have been 15 – did he have to support the family?

I have a lot of research to do on this branch of the family and I’m hoping that as I do that, I will be able to answer some of these questions.  The one thing holding me back right now is time.  I have to search page by page through the registers to find them in the household examinations and unlike many of my other Swedish ancestors, they actually lived in a city – and that means many more pages of searching.

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  • Debi Austen - September 29, 2011 - 9:31 am

    I just sent a link to this page to my friend in Sweden – maybe she can help :-)ReplyCancel

  • Charles Hansen - September 29, 2011 - 9:58 am

    Maybe he drank wood alcohol. While it looks and smells like regular alcohol it usually is fatal to drink it.ReplyCancel

    • Jen - September 29, 2011 - 11:27 am

      Thanks Charles – I hadn’t even considered that possibility. I will definitely keep that in mind.ReplyCancel

  • Debi Austen - September 29, 2011 - 11:22 am

    Here’s what my friend and her husband say:

    Mikael and I figure that he was paralyzed and so depressed that he drank until he died. It was a horrible time in Swedish history because of the potato famine. Many people during that time frame (2.5 million Swedes) left Sweden to make a better life for themselves and their families. I think this man became paralyzed before he drank himself to death and drank himself to death because he could not take care of his family. It was a horrible burden on a man during those days to not be able to take care of your family. Plus even today, alcohol is a huge problem in Sweden as is the 4.3 billion kronor they spend on depression. I am very sad about this story, but there are so many that are the same. I would be interested in how paralyzed he was, I guess not to much if he could make a child, but even so, it must have been horrible for him and even worse for this Wife and six kids he left behind.

    I hope this helps. The direct translation is as she says but most likely he drank because of depression until he died.ReplyCancel

    • Jen - September 29, 2011 - 11:33 am

      Thanks so much Debi (and thank your friend for me too!) I hadn’t thought of the possibility of that situation. That’s why I love getting other people’s thoughts. Perhaps he became paralyzed after his wife became pregnant. That would have been very depressing to know that he couldn’t support them or even take care of himself. I could see him drinking himself to death because of that.ReplyCancel

  • Shasta - October 3, 2011 - 2:43 pm

    I just watched Ken Burns documentary on the Prohibition. He said that people drank weak beer all the time, but when the distilleries were made, alcohol became much stronger – whiskey and rum, and alcoholism was much more prevalent.ReplyCancel

    • Jen - October 4, 2011 - 12:18 am

      I’ll have to watch that!!ReplyCancel

  • frida - January 8, 2012 - 5:54 pm

    Drinking was quite an epidemic in Sweden way back when your ancestors lived here. Life was tough and drinking was simply much more common. They didn’t know the physical damage that it causes and so forth. It was socially acceptable to drink much and all the time.
    the first word looks a bit like omåttligt… maybe with old spelling.. which translates to excessive.. which would make more since conscidering the content of the text.ReplyCancel

    • Jen - January 8, 2012 - 9:52 pm

      Thank you for your help – with the translation and the history! Some of these old parish records are very difficult to read for a non-native speaker. How sad that this was quite common.ReplyCancel

  • Fridahovemy@hotmail.com - January 8, 2012 - 5:59 pm

    I think it says ” omåttligt förtärande af starka drycker”

    “excessive consumption of stong drinks” look at the second word, it has an umlaut over one of the letters…:)ReplyCancel

  • Carl - September 5, 2013 - 4:58 am


    I guess you now understand what the text says, but I can confirm without any doubt that it says (modern Swedish):

    “Omåttligt förtärande av starka drycker”

    Sorry to say, he had to much to drink.

    Best regards

    Carl SammyReplyCancel

  • Carl - September 5, 2013 - 5:01 am

    By the way. Outside Gävle there is a beutiful beach called “Rullsand” and I would not be surprised if Lars visited this place with his children. i did _) this summer.

    Best regardsReplyCancel

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