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Lapp researcher wins Swedish prize

Native northlander documents nomadic and settler generations

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STOCKHOLM, Sweden — A Latter-day Saint has been awarded the prestigious Victor Ornberg prize, Sweden's finest distinction for genealogy researchers.

Thea Halleberg, Stockholm Ward, on Aug. 23 received the award, which carries with it 10,000 Swedish crowns for her work Lap and Settler Generations in Sorsele from Modern Time to the 17th Century. The demographic work is based on 40 years of well-documented genealogical research.

The multi-volume work is regarded as a gold mine for family history researchers with ties to Sorsele, the city in the very north of Sweden where Sister Halleberg was born 85 years ago. The books contain a complete compilation of Lapp and settler families in Sorsele and vicinity.

So far, the books have been published in two parts with unique graphics consisting of old photos, photo montages and stories from the settler and nomad life, together with detailed registers of persons. Both published volumes can now be found as reference copies in the main libraries in Sweden.

"The heart on the book covers shows that it is love that has been the driving force and strength in the compiling of this work to make the Lapps in Sorsele be seen," said Sister Halleberg, who is working on a third volume. She has material for another four books. "If God gives me health, Book 3 will be finished towards the end of 2004," she said.

"I was born of God-fearing parents who joined the Pentecostal movement at the time of my birth," Sister Halleberg said. "Ever since my early childhood I have had contact with a spiritual dimension that has given strength and help throughout all the phases of my life. My ideal has been to live for the benefit of my fellow men."

Sister Halleberg worked on two occasions as a missionary for a Protestant faith in Africa, 1947-51 and 1953-59. During her first period, she helped start an elementary school at the Kishia Mission Station in Burundi, then in the Belgian Congo, (Now Democratic Republic of Congo) and then continued for two years at the Kiremba Station in Burundi during her second period. After that she took over the teaching in Protestant Christianity at the Belgian state school in the then capital of Bujumbura, where all teaching was in French.

"The school board was atheistic, and the students were, except for Catholics and Protestants, Moslems, Buddhists and Hindus. This compelled me to learn how others look upon spiritual and moral issues and study and pray a lot for spiritual guidance, which was important for my preparation in order to be ready to convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."

After a period of rest after her homecoming in 1959, Sister Halleberg was prepared for a third period in Africa. A new and important task was waiting for her there. But the Lord had other plans. Sister Halleberg, who had always been searching, wondered during her second period in Africa among other things why there were no prophets in modern time. Her students — who came from eight or nine different churches and communions — and their parents all had fundamental beliefs in the Bible, but still their teachings were so different. Why had God left humanity without prophets who, as in Old Testament times, came forward and said, "Thus saith the Lord"?

Sister Halleberg contacted the Church and got answers to some of her questions, but still it took 2 1/2 years of intensive struggle with prayers and studies before she she could be baptized, an event that occurred on Christmas Day in 1961. "It was clear to me what the Lord wanted with my life from then on — a new mission just as important as my missions in Africa — genealogy!" she exclaimed.

Sister Halleberg said that one of the most important things she has ever done has been to collect photos of people from the Sorsele community, copy and register them and have the persons identified. She remembers an occasion when she visited a 93-year-old woman who had many photos and could tell her the names of the people on the photos. Three weeks later the woman suddenly died. "If I had not met her, her knowledge would have been lost," she mused.

Since 1959, Sister Halleberg has spent two to three months of every summer except one in Sorsele. "Due to the great difficulties that the Lap research caused me I have been prepared to give up three times," she said. One summer, while at the mountain lake, she sensed the presence of thousands of people. She felt impressed that they were speaking to her: " 'Thea, go on, don't give up!' This became a strong reason for me to go on in spite of all the setbacks."

She remarked: "That this part of Sweden is honored through the work I have been able to do is important to me. But it is not my honor, but God's, my mother's and my ancestors.'"