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Swedish visitor returns to McKeesport roots

| Friday, April 26, 2013, 4:16 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Guje Maria Lindstrom, in her second trip from Sweden to research her ancestry in McKeesport, marvels at a welcome letter from Gov. Tom Corbett and proclamation from state Sen. James R. Brewster presented on Thursday morning by friend and fellow researcher Tony Lesniewski of Irwin.

Less than a year removed from her first trip to the United States, Guje Maria Lindström again has traveled from Linkoping, Sweden, to research her family's history in McKeesport.

Staying with friends Tony and Betty Lesniewski, who affectionately call themselves Lindström's adoptive American parents, she continues to track the Carlson and Sundström families' lives in the McKeesport and Greater Pittsburgh area.

Tony Lesniewski, a McKeesport native, has served as Lindström's unofficial guide to the city and its resources. Last year, he guided Lindström and city officials on a tour of her family's church, houses and gravesites. She was named an “honorary citizen” of McKeesport.

This year, Lesniewski arranged correspondence from state officials and planned a full agenda of sight-seeing and research for Lindström's stay.

“Without Tony, I couldn't enjoy these things,” Lindström said. “I'm so grateful.”

Lesniewski presented Lindström with letters and proclamations from Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett and Sen. James R. Brewster.

“As governor, I am pleased that you have another opportunity to visit our state,” Corbett wrote. “I hope you will have the chance to enjoy the many attributes and natural beauty of Pennsylvania.”

Lesniewski made sure that Lindström's visit included just that.

“I picked her up at 4:30 on Monday afternoon at Greater Pittsburgh International Airport, and she was exhausted after 16 hours of travel,” he said. “The next day, we picked up where we left off last year.”

On Tuesday, they visited McKeesport Regional History and Heritage Center to find obituaries for relatives. From there, they headed to McKeesport & Versailles Cemetery in search of an unmarked grave that a groundskeeper marked with a flag to assist them.

On Wednesday, Lesniewski surprised Lindström with a visit from her cousin Carolyn Collins of Minnesota.

The unexpected guest pleasantly crashed Lindström's plans to relax on the sofa with a glass of wine while watching television, and it brought tears to Lindström's eyes.

“We had spoken in an email, and she wished me luck in my trip to McKeesport,” Lindström said. “I'd never met her. I'd only seen a photo of when she was 4 years old. It was such an emotional meeting.”

They visited Wylie Farm in Elizabeth Township, where Carolyn had many childhood memories.

Thursday's plans were low key, with a visit to downtown McKeesport and Mt. Pleasant.

Over the weekend, planned travels include sight-seeing at a mountain outlook between Ohiopyle and Confluence, a boat tour of the Monongahela River and a trip to Aspinwall to acquire heirloom blankets at the former home of distant relatives.

Before returning to Sweden on Tuesday, Lindström plans to stop at the Carnegie Library of McKeesport to browse old telephone books and other catalogues.

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or jvertullo@tribweb.com.

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