Every year I set a due date for myself—November 30. I write a genealogical report or character sketch on some ancestor and distribute it to relatives for Christmas. Seriously, I need to finish the writing by November 30. I need December for general Christmas craziness.
Did I meet this year’s deadline? With everything else that came up this fall, including a huge hailstorm that totaled our car, our roof, and so much more, I was not even close. Here it is, 10 days before Christmas, and I still have not finished. But I am making progress.
Last night I completed the draft of the narrative. Now I just need to polish it up a bit and add some graphics. Then I will assemble my story, some photos, and Christmas cards into manila envelopes and take a trip to the Post Office. I can hardly wait to go stand in line for two hours to get everything mailed.
I know, I know I could do all this electronically. Yet, I cannot help but think that people are more likely to keep and treasure hard copies of these stories and ancestral photos. Digital copies keep only so long as someone pays to store them—where? And what happens to everything when they die? I hope I am creating an heirloom, so I do it this way.
Only 15 days late, I am almost done with the 2014 installment of my family history.
Christmas baking season has arrived again. I plan to make some different types of cookies, but then everyone does that. For something different, my husband and I always try to make one traditional Scandinavian food.
The food we make most years, from Norway, is fattigmand bakkelse. More of a fried bread than a cookie, these resemble the Mexican sopapilla we find in Colorado.
Norwegians love to have fattigmand for Christmas. My Norwegian grandfather, Bjarne Bentsen (1906-1986) insisted that his Finnish wife Martha Mattila (1906-1977) learn to make these treats when they first married. My husband remembers his Norwegian grandmother Anna Nelson Hjelmstad (1890-1976) making them, too, but his own mom, a German, never tried it.
My mother and father used to work together to make fattigmand every year. We kids needed to do our part to help, too. It takes a lot of rolling and cutting the stiff dough. Then someone deep fries each piece. Some folks dust them with powdered sugar, but we never did.
To be honest, I never liked fattigmand all that much as I grew up. I usually gave my share to my brother. But my husband liked fattigmand, so early in our marriage I made the effort at Christmas to make some. Now I find that I like to eat them as much as he does.
One of these days before Christmas we will invite our grandchildren over to learn how to make fattigmand, too. Here is our recipe, brought from Norway by my great-grandmother Sofie Bentsen (1878-1966):
8 whole eggs + 4 egg yolks
12 level Tbsp. sugar
12 level Tbsp. sweet cream
4 Tbsp. brandy
½ tsp. baking powder
½ cup melted butter
1 rounded tsp. ground cardamom
1 level tsp. cinnamon
Mix in order given. Add enough flour (about 6 cups) to make a soft dough. Put in a cold place for 2-3 hours. Roll out very thin. Cut in diamond shapes, make a slit in center of each, and pull one end through slit. Fry in deep lard until golden brown. Use medium heat.
Last night I made some scones for today’s breakfast. I served them with a lesser-known topping, lingonberry jam. I enjoy eating lingonberries now and then because they are really good, and they remind me of my Norwegian heritage.
According to Wikipedia, lingonberry jam is a staple of Scandinavian cuisine. The berries grow abundantly in the inland forests there. People often gather them and prepare a fresh jam using just the berries, sugar, and a small amount of water. They put it on everything from pancakes to meatballs.
I used to have a hard time finding the jam here in the Denver area. Sometimes I made the long drive to the Sons of Norway lodge in Lakewood to buy it from their gift shop. When I did, we savored every bite of this rare treat.
In recent years, lingonberry jam has appeared more often on the shelves of my local supermarket. The IKEA stores sell it, too. Consequently, people are becoming more familiar with this Scandinavian delicacy.
We have begun keeping a jar of lingonberry jam on our pantry shelf. You never know when one of us will get a craving for it, just like I did this morning.
This week I am supposed to be writing the biographical sketch of my four Finnish great-great grandparents. Yet like many genealogists I know, I cannot resist doing that one little bit more of research.
Consequently, this week I have not written one word about these ancestors, but I have done more research on them. In the Finnish records I located and documented a birth family for my great-great grandfather Anders Abelson Mattila.
Earlier this year we found that his family came from the Lapinjärvi parish in southern Finland. They lived in the Mattila house in the Kimoböle village. From the parish register, I now know that his parents Abel Andersson and Greta Caspersdatter had at least five children:
- Eva, born 17 March 1824
- Anders, born 4 November 1826
- Abel, born 26 August 1829
- Anna, born 16 December 1832
- Johannes, born 8 February 1842
The large gap between the births of Anna and Johannes suggests to me that I am missing some children. Did the family live and register births in another parish for a while? Was there a string of miscarriages and stillbirths? Did Abel and Greta live apart for some reason?
I would love to dive into these questions, but I really, really need to get started with my writing so I can send it out for Christmas. As a wise genealogist told me once, at some point you just need to get busy with the story and tell yourself, “NO MORE RESEARCH.” For me the time has arrived for me to write. Now.
Last weekend we went to the fall seminar put on by our local Palatines to America (PalAm) group. They host these twice a year, and I have regularly attended these learning opportunities.
I began going several years ago when the Palatines leadership made the decision to bring in nationally-known speakers for these seminars. They put on great, fun events with good attendance. They would meet in a local hotel, sell German research materials, serve a German lunch, and once a year would stay late for a German dinner. We all learned a lot from these wonderful speakers as we enjoyed our ethnic food and fellowship.
Things started to change a couple of years ago. The group could not find a hotel to take their business. Apparently a bunch of sober Germans does not provide the bar revenue a hotel can get for a wedding reception on a Saturday. The PalAm events moved to the Denver Public Library.
Of course we could not enjoy all our German cuisine at the library, so meals turned into an on-you-own affair. The library does not provide tables for attendees to use. We also have to pay to park while visiting the library. I have not enjoyed these events as much as I used to.
Now this year, the group engaged a little-known speaker. I signed up anyway because the seminar topics looked good. I am sorry to say, I came away disappointed. I prefer to have seminar topics discussed in some depth. This time around, everything sounded pretty dumbed down and repetitive to me. I have been at this genealogy game for a long time, and I wish this seminar had been advertised as appropriate primarily for beginners.
Will I go to the PalAm seminer next time? It depends. I still like the opportunity to see my genealogy friends, and the PalAm group always has an awesome book table at their seminars. But the fun is gone from this event, and there is no reason for me to go if the speaker gives just an entry-level presentation.
I have attended a lot of genealogy seminars over the years. I usually attend most of them in the Denver area in an effort to learn more and to support the local genealogy community. But I cannot afford to waste my time sitting through a presentation on things I already know. When the next seminar rolls around, I plan to be more discriminating in my decision on whether to attend. One size cannot fit all.
Over the years I have spent a great deal of time digging into my roots in what my family referred to as the “old country”—Finland and Norway. As I researched the lives of these ancestors, I became curious about how they lived and what they did for entertainment. Maybe they engaged in artistic pursuits. My curiosity led me to learn a little about Finnish and Norwegian folk art forms.
Eventually I felt the urge to try these art forms myself. At some point I acquired a Finnish kantele, a plucked string instrument that resembles a zither. I still have not found the time to learn to play it.
I had more success when I discovered Norwegian Hardanger embroidery, a counted and drawn type of whitework worked on even weave fabric. I already had learned some basic embroidery skills from my mother, and I found it enjoyable.
As an adult, I took a class on Hardanger embroidery, and I finished my first piece. Then I did another one, and yet another until I found myself stitching an entire window valance. It took me two years to complete, and it hangs in my office today.
When my husband/tech advisor and I joined our local Sons of Norway lodge (http://www.fjelldalen.com/) earlier this year, we learned that they place a great emphasis on learning Norwegian cultural skills. One is genealogy and another is Hardanger embroidery. Right up my alley!
A new friend of mine in the Lodge has created many beautiful Hardanger pieces. She wins first or second place every time she enters her stitchery in a Sons of Norway (http://www.sofn.com/home/index.jsp) competition. I am thrilled she has offered to coach me in earning my Hardanger profiency pins from the organization. As I work through the skills hierarchy, perhaps I too can create something good enough to enter in competition.
I hope I am continuing a family tradition. My Norwegian great-grandmother Sofie Bentsen purportedly was adept at Hardanger. Although I never met her, I can picture her now as she stitched away in a little fishing village on a Norwegian fjord. I hope she is proud that I am trying to preserve this beautiful art form.
This month I am in the final push to complete the Finnish research I need to do on my great-great grandparents. I plan to write about them next month and then present my findings to my extended family as Christmas gifts.
How do I find information on these people who lived in faraway Finland in the 19th century? I use the online Church of Finland parish records found at the Genealogical Society of Finland (http://hiski.genealogia.fi/historia/indexe.htm) or at Finland’s Family History Association (http://www.sukuhistoria.fi/sshy/index_eng.htm).
I have spent the year looking at records from two regions: Juuka parish in Kuopio for Matti Lampinen and Anna Miettinen, and Viipuri parish for Antti Mattila and Liisa Myllynen. When I first started Finnish research, I discovered a new and exciting record called the Rippikirja or Communion Book.
These records began in the 1600’s and provide the backbone for research in Finland. They provide more personal information on an ancestor than you can find anywhere else in the world.
The Communion Books originated when the Bishop implemented his goal of a literate populace who could read the Word of God and who took Holy Communion regularly. He required every parish pastor to keep track in ten-year increments of when Finns took communion and whether they could read and write. They kept these records by household group and included birthdates, so they serve well as a census substitute.
This week I looked at Anna Miettinen’s Rippikirja record for Juuka parish in the 1850’s. She lived on Halivaara farm no. 2. The record tells me she was born in 1832 although it does not give the exact date. She came to Halivaara from Kaava. She had received a smallpox vaccination at some point. She had also received instruction and demonstrated understanding of the ABC book, the Bible, Luther’s Catechism, and David’s Psalms. She could explain how people of different ranks should behave toward one another. She regularly took Holy Communion during her time at Halivaara.
Anna Miettinen lived at Halivaara with her mother Anna Toivain and several other Miettinens. The final entry for her in this Communion Book says she left this farm in 1856. She married Matti Lampinen that year and moved on to the Kuhnusta farm.
I know so much now about her life from just this one record. Where else can you find such detailed information about every person in a nation? The Finns have a fabulous resource in the Rippikirja.
This week I found another one, another husband and father who died too soon.
My family tree seems sprinkled with men who died in their prime, leaving behind wives and children. Imagine the struggle these survivors faced without their breadwinners.
I have found these sad records wherever I have done research, from America to Norway and Finland. These stories will tug at your heart:
- Henric Miettin (abt. 1804-1836). He lived in Halivaara, Kuopio, Finland and passed away at age 32 due to a fever. His widow Anna Toivain, left with at least four children who were not yet teenagers, soon remarried.
- Anders Bentsen (1823-1857). Anders died at age 33 in Bø, Nordland, Norway, also from a fever. His wife, Anne Larsdatter, seemed unable to raise their two small children because both lived with other families after their father’s death. Anne eventually remarried.
- Antti Abelson Mattila (1826-1882). Although perhaps not-so-young at 55 when he died in Viipuri, Finland from tuberculosis, Antti still had six children under 18 at the time. At least one daughter already suffered from tuberculosis, too, and the youngest child was just four years old. Antti’s widow Elisabeth Myllynen made her living by laying out the dead, taking her young son along with her on these jobs.
- Owen Herbert Reed (1896-1935). At age 38, Herb died during the Depression in a vehicle accident near Brighton, Colorado. His 18-year-old daughter promptly left home to get married. His widow Grace and their five sons were forced to leave their family home in Wyoming and relocate to Colorado where a brother-in-law set them up in a house. All the boys immediately had to go to work, including my then-8-year-old father who helped deliver milk.
Since I descend from all these unfortunate men, I also descend from the widows facing the need to make a living, and from children who grew up without a parent. How did they ever keep going despite broken homes and hard times? It makes me sad every time I read of another ancestral family enduring this fate.
I feel so fortunate that it did not happen to me. I am able to visit my 87-year-old father regularly; I live happily with my husband; my children are grown. Life turned out better for me than it did for some of my ancestors.
Every year for Christmas I write a bit about some ancestor I have studied over the year. Of course this year I will choose Finns because I have worked on that line this year, even traveling to Finland.
I have in mind to write biographical sketches of my four Finnish great-great grandparents, but I am facing a problem with this. I cannot complete their stories.
As far as l know, these people, Antti Mattila, Elisabeth Myllynen, Matti Lampinen, and Anna Miettinen, remained in Finland throughout their lives. I must use the Finnish records to do the research on them.
For reasons unknown to me, the available online records end with the 1880’s. Only Anders Mattila had died by then, in 1882. The others passed away after that, but those records remain closed to me. I hate this loose end, but what can I do?
No family records kept this information, and no one else’s online family tree provides a clue.
I do have one other less-than-ideal option. The LDS library does have rarely-used microfiche copies of the Finnish Communion books. These books listed Finnish families and tracked which confirmed Lutherans took communion over the course of several years. A death during the time period was so noted. I could look there.
The LDS digitization project has not gone this far, so I must look at the actual microfiche to see if I can find the information I need. To do this, I could either rent the fiche for viewing at my local Family History Library or travel to Salt Lake to view them there.
I cannot take a trip to Salt Lake this fall. For now, I will add this source to my white board list of records to search. I will have to do some additional research before I can identify just which parish microfiche to order.
Christmas is coming, and I would like to finish my stories.
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.