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Genealogy Fellowship

Genealogy can be a solitary pursuit. Yet as social beings, we all need to find other genealogists for mentorships, collaborations, and the exchange of ideas. Today’s social networking sites offer some opportunity for this interaction with other genealogists, but I find that nothing beats real face time.

Fortunately for me, I live on the Front Range in Colorado where several good genealogical societies thrive. I have belonged to the Colorado Genealogical Society in Denver for many years. Our club has regular meetings, sponsors good seminars, and organizes genealogical activities. All these events provide opportunities for me to meet like-minded people, but I particularly enjoy the monthly Lunch Bunch.

This group meets at various restaurants in the Denver Metro area for good food and conversation. We try to find places that have historical interest or where the menu resonates with a holiday.

Yesterday we gathered in a building that was originally a Carnegie Library. Over pots of fondue (re-living the 60′s!) we talked about our genealogy. Some of the topics:

  • A first-hand account of the most recent NGS Conference in the States.
  • The story of a family’s immigration from Barbados to New York City in the early 20th century.
  • Sharing Virginia research experiences as we anticipate the visit of Barbara Vines Little, a noted authority on Virginia research, to the Denver Public Library at the end of the month.

I must admit that I enjoyed the opportunity at lunch to describe my recent trip to Finland and Russia. These folks understand exactly why I wanted to take this trip because they want to take similar ones to their own countries of origin. They listened with genuine interest, just as I do when they describe their genealogical work or travels.

These genealogy events provide a welcome diversion from hours of working on my own. I already look forward to next month’s Lunch Bunch.

Lulu and Bubber

My mom grew up in Hibbing, Minnesota where her Finnish Mattila family surrounded her with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. She moved away from there when she grew up, but over the years she and my grandmother talked about these relatives a lot. Consequently their names became familiar to me although I never met most of them.

The other day I came across an undated photograph of a family gathering in Hibbing, probably from the 1940′s. I recognized a few of the people but could not identify all of them. Luckily, someone had thought to write names on the back of the picture. They included two children named Lulu and Bubber. Odd names that must have been nicknames. Who were they?

I vaguely recalled hearing these names before, but I could not remember these kids’ real names or how they were related to me. This week I figured it out.

When I visited the Minnesota Historical Society last month, I gathered several death certificates for my Finnish family. One of them was for my great-great aunt, Anna Mattila Anderson (abt. 1866-1947). As I pieced together her life, I looked at her household on the 1940 U.S. census.

This evidence solved my mystery. The record listed two grandchildren for Anna, Louise and Charles. Lulu and Bubber, my mom’s second cousins!

A Genealogy Summer

We filled our summer this year with several trips, and on each one we collected genealogical information. Now we must sort and analyze all of it. We keep copies of the documents and photos–paper for me and digital ones for my husband/tech advisor. We will put the data into our genealogical software, The Master Genealogist, over this month. Then we will upload the new information into the family trees on our website.

Here is where we went and what we brought home:

  1. Virginia. This was a sad trip for my 25-year-old nephew Tyler William Reed’s funeral. We brought home documentation of his death.
  2. Finland and Russia. The church records for my Finnish family are available online, so we did not visit any repositories to collect documents in country. Instead, we picked up Finnish history information at the National Museum (, and we took photos of all the places in Finland and Russia where we knew my family lived. We did not visit cemeteries because graves in Finland are reused after a generation. There are none for my family members, most of whom immigrated around 1905.
  3. Minnesota. We tracked my husband/tech advisor’s family across the state, taking photos at many cemeteries. In addition to putting this information on our website, we will create memorials on Find A Grave ( In Minnesota we also visited the Great River Regional Library in St. Cloud ( and the state’s Historical Society Library in St. Paul ( There we snagged death certificates and obituaries for both our families. Our big find, though, was the name of our Walz ancestors’ village in Bavaria (Ratzstadt, Underfranken). The information turned up in a Stearns County history, in a biographical sketch for a collateral relative.
  4. Wisconsin. This was another family occasion, and we returned with information on my niece’s marriage.

We had a productive summer of research. Processing and following up on all the information we gathered should keep us busy until our next trip—to Virginia again next summer for a wedding.

A Family for Rosie

Last week I wrote about the fate of my grandmother’s relative, Rosie Poraas. Grandma thought poor Rosie had frozen to death in a Hibbing snowbank, but I learned that she actually died from pneumonia.

Grandma often mentioned several of her relatives, including Rosie. As a youngster I never paid much attention to the relationships of these people to Grandma or to myself. When I began researching my family history in earnest, Grandma was gone, and my mom was vague on some of the details.

So my question became “How was Rosie related to Grandma and to me?” I began with this information:

  1. Grandma’s parents, Ada and Alex Mattila, emigrated from Vyborg, Finland. Grandma told me that none of Ada’s family came over to the U.S., so I reasoned Rosie must have been a Mattila relative.
  2. Three of Alex’s seven or eight sisters, Anna Anderson, Olga Silberg, and a third who lived in Biwabik, MN emigrated to the United States.
  3. Poraas was Rosie’s married name.

Perhaps Rosie was a sister or niece of Alex. Research in Finland parish records did not locate any sister named Rose. Her birth years on U.S. census records indicated that she was more likely a niece. So was one of Alex’s sisters the mother of Rosie?

I could eliminate both Anna and Olga as candidates. My mom knew these women, and she knew their children, her mother’s cousins. Rosie was not one of them.

So what about the aunt in Biwabik? After much research, I learned that her name was Ida Marie Mattila Mattson Parks, and she died in 1917. Did she have a daughter named Rosie?

The Mattson family’s ship passenger list states that Ida traveled to America with children Elsa, Yrgo, and Martha. The record also has a tantalizing note about an unnamed 17-year-old daughter. Rosie?

U.S. census records reveal that the older daughter was named Alice, not Rosie. Furthermore, the Finnish parish records list only Alice, Elsa, Yrgo, and Martha as children for Ida Marie. If she was not Rosie’s mother, who was?

Still hypothesizing that Rose was Alex’s niece, I returned to the Finland parish records to identify the children of Alex’s surviving sisters remaining in Finland—Karolina Mattila, Eva Emilia Mattila, and Sophia Mattila (Mrs. Karl Ripatti. This time I found a birth record for a daughter, Rosa Wilhelmina, born to Sophia Mattila in Vyborg on 30 Aug 1896. Perhaps this Rosa Wilhelmina was Rosie Poraas.

The proof came when I searched for Rosie’s death certificate at the Minnesota Historical Society Library earlier this month. It listed her parents as Sophia Mattila and Carl Ripotti of Vyborg, Finland. At last, a family for Rosie. She and Grandma were first cousins; their parents were sister and brother.

What Happened to Rosie Poraas?

My Finnish grandmother liked to gossip. Whenever she visited, we received the low-down on all the relatives, dead or alive. She even knew what kind of breakfast food everyone ate.

When she came to visit, I eagerly listened to all these family stories. I was probably a budding genealogist even then.

The story that always stuck in my mind was the tale of Grandma’s cousin, Rosie Poraas. “She froze to death in a snowbank!” my grandma would exclaim dramatically. Could this be true?

Last week I had a chance to find out when I visited the Minnesota Historical Society Library. They have Minnesota death certificates on microfilm.

I pulled up the record for Rose Poraas who died in Hibbing, Minnesota in February, 1941. She died of pneumonia. The record says she had been ill for nine days. She did not freeze to death in a snowbank.

Still, as for most family stories, I think there is a kernel of truth in what my grandmother said. Rosie probably became ill and collapsed into the snow during the Minnesota winter. After being found, she lived nine days before finally succumbing to her illness. The story had the same sad outcome, but Grandma had a few of the facts wrong.

Rosie’s story was not the only one we completed during our visit to the Library. This repository also holds historical Minnesota newspapers, many on microfilm. We spent an entire day there and fleshed out the family trees for several of our ancestors. But no one else’s fate could compare to Rosie’s. Now I can set her record straight.

A Lampinen Family Takes Shape

Finally, I have a family for my great-grandmother, Ada Alina Lampinen (1879-1948).

In May I wrote that I had embarked on a search for the names of her siblings. I began combing the Finnish church records for Juuka parish to find them.

The first two names, Henric (1857) and Anna Valborg (1859), came easily because I could use an online index. The next set of Juuka birth and baptism records (1860-1879) has no online index so I needed to browse these records.

After working through the summer, I have now finally finished this somewhat tedious work. It involves deciphering pen-and-ink lettering done in an old-style cursive. I read through the entries for every year looking for the names of Ada’s parents Matti Lampinen and Anna Miettinen as they presented another child to the parish pastor for baptism. I came up with quite a list:

  1. Henric (1857)
  2. Anna Valborg (1859)
  3. Eva Stiina (1861)
  4. Hendrika (1862)
  5. Matts (1864)
  6. Alexander (1866)
  7. Adam (1868)
  8. Alexis (1868)
  9. Mathias Alexander (1870)
  10. Lovisa (1873)
  11. Anders (1876)
  12. Ada Alina (1879)

If you look closely at this large family you will see that we have two children born in 1868, Adam and Alexis. Strangely, these boys were not twins. The record shows one born in April of that year and the other born just four months later in August. This seems very odd. I need to find some more records on these boys to see if I can find an explanation.

In fact, I need to find more records on all of these people. The list raises other interesting questions. Why do we have children with such similar sounding names as Henric and Hendrika? Could she have been named after him because he passed away? Similarly, the name Alexander appears twice. Did the older boy die young?

I plan to move on to the Juuka death records for more information. I need death dates for all these people anyway, and perhaps they can explain some of the curiosities in my list.

TMG—A Big Decision Looms

This week I learned that The Master Genealogist software program (commonly known as TMG) will be discontinued at the end of the year. Like most users of this program, I am stunned.

Still, I sort of saw the handwriting on the wall. Several fellow users at the Computer Interest Group of the Colorado Genealogical Society had predicted that the release of the latest version of TMG would be its last. They saw that the program has some strikes against its future. A very small company produced and maintained the software. The program’s reputation as difficult to learn was off-putting to prospective new users.

I can attest to that. I migrated my data from another program to TMG in 2008 because all the professional genealogists I know use this program. I experienced a steep learning curve even though I took a TMG training class from the creator of the program himself.

Still, I came to have a high regard for TMG. It has the capability for wonderful source citations. An array of other features allows for endless combinations of ways to record and report data. No other genealogy program does everything that TMG does.

Genealogy blogs this week are filled with speculation on the future for users of the program and advice on what to do next. Some people plan tol bail ship immediately and begin using another program. Some will stick with TMG as long as it works on their computers. Some hold out hope that someone will purchase the company and continue maintaining and updating the software.

As for me, I plan to continue with TMG for now. Because I have nearly a thousand sources entered in the program and have embedded all my cemetery marker photos there, moving to a new software would be an enormous project. I will see what new information comes out in the remaining weeks of the year before I make a decision for the long term. I hope something works out so I can continue using TMG for a long time. I dread having to migrate data again and taking time to learn a new program. But I will if I have to.

There would be a bright side to changing software. My long-term goal for my research is to put it forever in the cloud at Family Search. TMG does not allow me to do that easily because TMG and Family Search do not play well together. If I have to move my data to another program, I will find one that allows an easy transfer to the tree on Family Search. After all, documenting my family for posterity is the reason for using any genealogy software.

A Journey Through Ancestral Lands in Finland and Russia

Every genealogist wants to walk the land of his ancestors. That’s why I went to Finland and Russia. There I did some walking, and my husband/tech advisor did a lot of driving. Our trip included three very different segments.

First Leg

Flying on Icelandair, we landed in the capital city of Helsinki and stayed a couple of days. This allowed us to get over any jet lag and learn a little about modern Finnish culture. By staying in a downtown hotel we could walk everywhere we wanted to go. The iconic Finnish department store, Stockmann’s, lay just across the street. I looked at the famous Iitala glassware there but did not purchase any.

The morning after our arrival we walked to see the famous Church of the Rock (Temppeliaukio) and then went on to the National Museum of Finland ( We viewed their exhibits of artifacts arranged in chronological order from prehistoric times until today. I found the 19th-century throne room just astounding. It includes a real red velvet and gilt throne and luminous portraits of every Russian czar and czarina who ruled over the Duchy of Finland (1809-1917). My grandmother’s family emigrated to America during the Duchy period.

Second Leg

Leaving Helsinki, we picked up a rental car for the next part of our trip. As we drove along modern highways through endless forests we soon learned that rural Finland is very sparsely populated. Northeast of Helsinki we traveled past the farms where my Mattila and Miettinen families had lived. At the end of the day we reached the Koli National Park ( in the North Karelia region of Finland. All I can say is, “Wow”. No wonder this beautiful area provided inspiration for great Finnish artists and composers.

The Koli resort has a commanding view of thick forests and the gorgeous Lake Pielinen, the fourth largest of the nearly 200,000 lakes in Finland. We stayed two nights, drinking in the view, eating authentic Karelian meals (my comfort food!), and visiting the sauna.

In the morning, we hiked through the forest over to the nearby restored Mattila barn (not my Mattila family). The trail has interpretive signs in Finnish and English telling about the historic settlements in the area. My Lampinen family lived on the farms surrounding Lake Pielinen, so I eagerly learned all about the slash and burn agriculture that probably provided the livelihood for my ancestors. Later we drove around the lake to see the various settlements where my people had lived. They all lie in the Juuka parish of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, and we stopped in to see this church.

Third Leg

From Koli we drove to the southeastern city of Lappeenranta on Lake Saimaa. Early the next morning, as in really early at 7:00 a.m.,  we embarked on a river boat tour through the Saimaa Canal to the Baltic port city of Vyborg, Russia. I felt more than a little apprehensive. We were the only Americans on the boat.

My fears proved groundless, and these 5-hour boat rides to and from Vyborg became a highlight of my trip. I had wonderful conversations with my fellow passengers, and we enjoyed tasty lunches in the dining room. A Finnish singer provided entertainment using a songbook he distributed to everyone. Everyone knew all his songs, and with the words provided even I could participate a little.

In Vyborg, the tour company helped us through Customs and took us to our hotel. On the bus, we had our first glimpse of a Russian city. It seemed as if time had stopped in 1947. That year, in an agreement to settle the damages of World War II, Finland had ceded 12% of its territory to the Soviet Union. The cession included the ancient Finnish port city of Viipuri. The town became known as Vyborg, and nearly all the Finns walked out to be resettled in the Karelian area of Finland. Today, Vyborg is populated with Russians, not Finns. Virtually no one there speaks any English.

My great-grandparents, Alex Mattila and Ada Lampinen, married in Viipuri in 1904. I wanted to see the city even though few Finns remain there. Armed with an approximate address for where the couple had lived, we walked from our hotel to find the neighborhood. It is the same neighborhood where Vladimir Lenin lived a few years later to plot the Russian Revolution. On the way there, we passed small shops and parks; Vyborg is very pedestrian-friendly. I could imagine my great-grandparents walking these same streets. Unfortunately, we could not visit the church where they were married because it was destroyed in the war.

After visiting that area, we walked to the famous Vyborg Castle, first built by the Swedes in the 1200′s. We climbed to the top where I could look out the narrow windows into the distance to where my Mattila and Myllynen families had lived in the rural around Viipuri. The price of admission to the castle included a visit to the museum filled with photos of Viipuri from the time my family lived there.

Home Again

From Vyborg we boarded the canal boat and returned to Lappeenranta to pick up our rental car. On the way back to Helsinki, we took the route through Kotka. After my great-great grandfather Anders Mattila died, my widowed great-great grandmother Elizabeth Myllynen relocated there from the Viipuri area. We drove past the property where she had lived.

Then we were off to Helsinki to board our plane home. I hated to leave this beautiful country of lakes and forests. But even as I left, I knew that now I have pictures of where my ancestors lived in my head. I have a better knowledge of the geography of their surroundings and of their way of life. I am so glad I went.



What a Trip!

We just returned from our summer research trip to Finland and Russia.

I admit I felt a little apprehensive before I traveled there. I know nothing of the languages spoken in those countries and we did not go over with a tour group. Because neither Finnish nor Russian comes from Germanic roots, and Russians even use a different alphabet, I knew I would have no hope of deciphering signs, menus, etc.

Turns out we had no problem. Nearly everyone in Finland speaks some English, and in Russia they had menus with photos of each dish. Usually we could point at what we needed. Aside from my husband’s hilarious attempt to locate a water closet at Vyborg Castle, everything went very smoothly.

My direct maternal line comes from Finland, and I felt right at home there. These people are my people. I recognized the foods, the faces, the ways of doing things. I felt their sadness at the loss of their beautiful city, Viipuri (now Vyborg, Russia). I really found my roots on this trip.

We Say Good-bye to Genealogy Message Boards

Recently announced some changes to their services. These include the discontinuation of their active message boards. As I understand their announcement, they plan to archive these and convert them to a read-only format.

I sure hate to hear this news. Oh, I know that fewer people use the message boards. In a class I attended recently, the speaker asked how many attendees “still” use them and only a few hands went up. People have migrated to Facebook to find their cousins.

Nevertheless, I will miss the message boards. Over the years, they have made so many connections possible for me. Some important ones:

  • A post on the Reed surname board elicited a response from my dad’s cousin, Leslie Reed. We had never met, but we discovered a common passion for genealogy via the message board. Years of collaboration ensued, and he gave me all his work shortly before he died.
  • On the same Reed message board I found a query from an unknown-to-me second cousin. She was looking for any information on her father’s family. Her parents were divorced when she was a baby, and her father had disappeared from her life. I had her entire paternal family tree. Not only did she now have a lineage, but I was also able to connect her to a half-sister she did not know she had.
  • After searching the Viipuri, Finland parish records in vain for any record beyond a marriage announcement for my great-grandmother Ada Alina Lampinen, I posted a query on a message board. Shortly the answer came back from a kind Finnish genealogist. Ada was not from Viipuri at all, but rather from Kuopio. My correspondent sent me the link to the digitized baptism record. This opened up an entire line of research for me, and I will visit Kuopio this summer.

I owe so much to the message boards. When they began, they offered a simple and quick way for people to post and answer queries, and the speed of our research leaped forward. For years I have faithfully searched my surname and location boards. I have posted queries and contributed comments where I could. They had become a part of my weekly routine.

With their retirement, I am reminded that the genealogy world keeps changing as new technologies emerge. I must change with it and learn to do things in new ways. Still, I liked the message boards, and I am sorry to see them go.