Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Reader's Diary #459- Mark Fremmerlid: What Became of Sigvald, Anyway?

When I first dabbled in genealogy, I was pleasantly surprised to find that a relative had already done much of the research. I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. Finally I did.

I was able to identify a few mistakes here or there, but I was still appreciative of all the hard work he'd put into the project. What bothered me more was his insistence on trying to connect the Mutfords to someone famous or of reputation. I understand the appeal it must have for someone working on their family tree to suddenly see Attila the Hun or Louis Pasteur pop up. In our case it was former mayor of St. John's (and power-mongering loony) Andy Wells, and a member of the mutinous HMS Bounty crew. Neither of these theories amounted to much except for frustration for some (and relief for others).

With this background, you can understand my skepticism as I began Mark Fremmerlid's theory that the Mad Trapper was really his great uncle Sigvald from Norway.

The Mad Trapper, though his murderous exploits are now close to 80 years old, still manages to capture headlines in Canada. Most recently, a DNA test on the man who called himself Albert Johnson, revealed that he was probably of American or Scandanavian descent. On May 21st, Discovery Channel Canada will air a documentary about the exhuming and analyzing of the trapper's remains.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story of the Mad Trapper, Fremmerlid's book provides a great synopsis of the tale. Furthermore, his enthusiasm might help explain why the mystery surrounding Johnson's true identity is still a topic of conversation.

What Became of Sigvald, Anyway? is a short book at only 30 pages (67 including appendix and postscript), but manages to educate about the Mad Trapper's story as well as present Fremmerlid's case that Albert Johnson was really his great uncle. It helps that it's also well-written.

In the end, I'm not convinced that Sigvald and Johnson were the same man. Much of what Fremmerlid presents is circumstantial evidence. However, everything he says does seem entirely plausible. Combined with the DNA support of the recent research, Fremmerlid's thesis is even stronger. I'm not convinced that Sigvald and Johnson weren't the same man, either.


Allison said...

Ever since I found out about my dad and his adoption I've been fascinated by genealogy. Its proved to be a hard project to tackle though. Everyone remembers history differently. ;)

John Mutford said...

Allison: I imagine adoptions would make genealogy all the more difficult. We've been somewhat lucky that Mutford isn't a common surname at all. It makes this a heck of a lot easier than if it was Smith, to say the least.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I have to admit to being a little disappointed that you are not related to Attila the Hun. Think of the bragging rights you could have given your kids.

John Mutford said...

Barbara: Ah, what the heck, I'll tell them that anyway. They'll never check up on it.