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Seminars, Anyone?

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.

Learning the Culture

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.

Rippikirja

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.

Lives Cut Short

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.

A Story Without an End

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 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 (http://www.nba.fi/en/nationalmuseum), 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 (http://www.findagrave.com/). In Minnesota we also visited the Great River Regional Library in St. Cloud (http://www.griver.org/) and the state’s Historical Society Library in St. Paul (http://sites.mnhs.org/library/). 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.