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Enter Arcadia with Jake Peterson

In 2022, I had the pleasure of working with Jake on the text of his book, Arcadia: Peterson Family History and the Secrets of a Swedish Nobleman. It was a transformative project; I realised that I enjoy family history and storytelling just as much even if it isn't my own ancestors that I'm researching, and it inspired me to offer this as one of my core services.

Jake was the ideal client – from the first messages we exchanged to brainstorming ideas over Zoom and collaborating on drafts on Google Docs. It was easy to see that he was organised, responsive, encouraging and driven, with a clear vision about what he had set out to do, yet always inviting ideas. Arcadia was published in December 2022, and I caught up with Jake recently to find out more about his process while bringing this book to life.

Those of us who are interested in genealogy and family history have probably, at some point, dreamed of writing a book about our research. You made it happen! How and when did you decide that you wanted to share the story of your ancestors as a beautifully designed coffee table book? Was there one moment or story during your research that made it all click?

I always get a hollow feeling in my stomach when I look back on the project as a whole – maybe it’s a lack of anecdote – but all I remember is being delighted. I remember feeling like a kid on Christmas morning, unwrapping each new discovery. I was truly beguiled.

I’m choosing to start there because, although there is no denying that writing a family history book is hard work, it is also rewarding beyond measure. But the delight is in the details, so I appreciate these questions.

Let’s start about 25 years ago when my grandma gave everyone in the family a thick binder of family history – photocopies of letters, photographs, newspaper clippings, and pedigrees. I remember pouring over every page as a boy and getting lost in the stories. There was a story about one of my direct paternal ancestors, Frederick William Peterson, who immigrated from Norway to America. I don’t know why he fascinated me so much. But much like a child who never stops asking questions, I was curious about him. Why did he decide to move the family from Norway? How did he come to choose America? What was happening in his hometown of Stavanger at the time?

Then there was the name. It was a family legend that our original family name was different from Peterson and that Frederick made the name change, like so many other immigrants had. I was determined to find that name. I searched for years but never found it. I feared either the name never changed, or it was lost to time. Not much else happened for a while.

When Melbourne was placed in strict lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, I took advantage of being stuck at home. I reached out to Laila Normann Christiansen, a Norwegian genealogist who specialises in this type of research. She found Frederick’s father in Norway with a peculiar name I had never seen before: Peter Cederstrøm. Upon arrival in the US, his son Frederick decided to take the patronymic name Peterson, probably because it was easier to pronounce and spell. Curiously, all of Frederick’s siblings later moved to America too and kept the surname Cederstrøm.

That was the moment where everything clicked. I knew I wanted to write a book about the evolution of the family name and wanted it to pay homage to my grandma’s original binder – hence the coffee table book.

Read the full interview here.