Select Carlson Surname Genealogy

Karl or Carl is a Scandinavian first name that is derived from the German word karl meaning “man” or “free man.”  Karl/Carl as a patronymic surname became Karlsson/Carlsson in Sweden, less frequently Karlsen/Carlsen in Denmark and Norway.  Ingvar Carlsson was the Swedish Prime Minister in the 1990’s; while Magnus Carlsen from Norway is the current world chess champion.

Scandinavian surnames were rarely hereditary in the manner of German or British surnames until the 18th century at the earliest.  In fact the use of hereditary surnames that were passed down from father to son only became mandatory in
the mid-19th century.  Thus it was that Carl and Helga Erickson came to America in 1861 with their son Swan Carlson

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Karlsson is the third most common surname in Sweden.  Swedish immigration to America began in the 1850’s.  Many came from the province of Smaland in southern Sweden where there had been much social distress and poverty at that time. 

However, the Karlssons or Carlssons arriving in America invariably had their spelling changed to Carlson.  Thus Emil Karlsson who came through Elis Island in 1922 had his name changed from Karlsson to Carlson at that time. Carlsons today in America number around 60,000.

.  Swedes like the Carlsons generally made for the American Midwest.  The largest number then and still today are to be found in Minnesota.

.  Many came, like Gustaf Carlson in 1858, with little money and no English.

“Gustaf Carlson arrived in Winona county with only a few hundred dollars.  Neither he nor his family could speak a word of English and knew nothing of the customs of the land.  Yet he secured some land, owned a fine farm, and prospered.”

Carl Carlson made his home in Stockholm township in Wright county in 1867.  He cleared the land for his farm and helped in the building of the Lutheran church.  His son Carl moved
to Cokato in 1888 and ran the Western Hotel there for twenty-five years.

Lars Carlson meanwhile came with his family to Hibbing, Minnesota in 1893 in the early days of the mining boom town on the Mesabi iron range.  Lois Carlson Willand’s 2007 book The Carlson Family in Hibbing covered his family.

Charles Carlson arrived in the 1890’s and made his home in Minneapolis.  He went to work for a wholesale grocery firm and later started his own neighborhood grocery store.   His son Curt Carlson, born in 1914, started a retail trading stamp business during the Great Depression which, after the War, expanded into
one of the largest family-held corporations in America.

Leroy F. Carlson, born in 1892, opened the Main Motors car dealership in Anoka in 1919 and it has remained in family hands ever since.  A descendant Gretchen Carlson was crowned Miss America in 1989 and later became a TV commentator. 

Arne Carlson became Governor of Minnesota in 1990.  He had, however, been born to Swedish immigrant parents in New York and had first come to Minnesota as a graduate student in 1957.

Kansas.  Carlsons also made it to Kansas.  Swan Carlson came to farm in Saline county in 1869.  John August Carlson, just a boy at the time, came in the same year.  He worked as a cattle herder and farm hand and then in the packing business in Kansas City.  Eventually, in 1898, he was able to buy farming land in Wyandotte county.

Charles and Anna Carlson arrived in the 1890’s and made their home near Concordia in Cloud county.  Their son Frank Carlson was a farmer who accidentally became a politician.

“Frank Carlson served as Governor of Kansas, Kansas State Representative, US Representative, and US Senator for Kansas.  He is the only Kansan to have held all four offices.  His political career spanned forty years, beginning in November 1928 and ending in January 1969.”

.  John Carlson was early in California, first arriving in San Francisco by sea in the 1840’s and then starting a hotel up the coast in Mendocino county.

Among other Carlsons found West were:
  • Billy Carlson who came to San Francisco from Sweden in 1870.  He can be considered one of the founders of San Diego and served as its mayor during the 1890’s.  However, he was a land speculator of dubious practices and spent time in federal prison.
  • Eddie Carlson, born in Tacoma, Washington in 1911, who became a civic leader in Seattle and later ran United Airlines.  
  • and Paul Carlson, the son of Swedish immigrants Gustav and Ruth Carlson, who was born in Culver City in 1928.  He was a medical missionary in the Congo murdered by rebel insurgents in 1964.  He is commemorated by the Carlson Park in Culver City today.
Canada.  The Canadian West opened up later than the American West so that Carlsons arrived there later.

Nels Carlson came to Manitoba from Sweden in 1888.  After trying different things, he made his home in Whitewater in 1891 and brought his wife and children over from Sweden.  In 1932 Nels and Karna Carlson celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in Whitewater.

Sven and Huloa Carlson came to Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1911.  They homesteaded at Spearhill nearby.   Their story was covered in Dianne Olmstead's 1996 book Journey in the Footstps of Our Forefathers.

Some arrived from America.  Francis Emil Carlson came from Illinois to Melville, Saskatchewan in 1912; Anton Carlson from South Dakota to Preeceville, Saskatchewan around the year 1920; and Victor Carlson from Minnesota to Vancouver at a slightly later date

Select Carlson Miscellany

If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

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Frank Carlson served as Governor and as Senator of Kansas in a political career that lasted from 1928 to 1969.
Chester Carlson
was the inventor of the photocopying process which he patented in 1937 and which was later taken up by the Xerox Corporation.  
Curt Carlson
expanded his retail trading stamp business started in Minneapolis in 1938
into one of the largest family-held corporations in America.
Eddie Carlson
was a Seattle business executive who organized the 1962 World's Fair and later became the CEO of United Airlines

Select Carlsons Today
  • 1,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 60,000 in America (most numerous in Minnesota) 
  • 6,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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