lördag 3 maj 2014

Surname Saturday - Winter from Gotland

My great grandmother Jenny's maiden name was Winter. Growing up I always thought that it was a soldier's name like Hjelte (hero) or Björn (Bear). Grandfather also claimed that there were vallonians on the Winter side of the family. Naturally, I wanted to find out if this was true when I started my genealogy research many years later.

Jenny was born in 1891 in the province of Södermanland, just south of Stockholm. She was the eighth child out of twelve, nineth counting her oldest half brother. Her father was Johan Winter and I knew that he worked as an overseer on a famous estate in Södermanland but I had no idea that he was from Gotland. When I find Johan's birth in the church records it turns out that he was born outside of wedlock but his mother, Hedvig Elisabeth Westberg, moves in with Johan Henrik Winter soon after her son is born. Hedvig Elisabeth and Johan Henrik never marry but their four children all get the surname Winter and so does Hedvig Elisabeth's oldest son.

The Winters on Gotland can trace their roots back to the beginning of the 17th century. Back then there were three men with the surname Winter and two of them are believed to be brothers, Jöns and Mickel Jönsson Winter. Mickel was some sort of craftsman with the title master and Jöns kept records of what the poor people earned from a piece of land next to one of the churches. The third man, Mads or Mauritz, was a tax collector.

But where does the name come from? My theory is that it is German in origin. At the end of the 12th and first half of the 13th century there was a huge number of immigrants in Visby, mostly merchants from Germany. It was they who took the initative to build the ring wall that is still standing around the town of Visby. Of course there were other immigrants to the island as well, especially from Denmark when the island was Danish from 1361 to 1679, but there are several other German immigrants with the name Winter to Sweden later through history. There are no evidence that Winter would be a Vallonian name since they never came to the island, not in any great numbers at least.

Sources: http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:199413/FULLTEXT01.pdf

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