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An Exchange of Health Histories

Look at your family tree and you will see many of the health problems that will affect you someday. We all have heard this common wisdom.

I had a rare opportunity to do so last month when my Baltic cruise included a one-day stop in Helsinki. My relatives in Finland were eager to get together.

We spent the morning in a conference room at the new Oodi Central Library. There we compared family photos and swapped stories. One of my cousins also thought to bring up the idea of illnesses that might run through our Lampinen heritage.

None of us carries the Lampinen surname today, but we all descend from Matti Lampinen (1835-1894) and Anna Miettinen (ca. 1832-?). This couple was of Karelian stock and lived in eastern Finland.

Karelians have well-documented histories of heart disease. The cousins reported that many in their families suffered from this. The same is true among my Finnish relatives in the United States.

The cousins also told me that members of the small Karelian population tended to marry one another, and this in-breeding resulted in the prevalence of allergies and asthma among these people. I also see this tendency toward allergies in descendants of my Finnish great-grandparents.

Looking at my extended family tree confirmed some of the health predispositions I had already observed in my small group of Finnish-American relatives. I added the information about heart disease and allergies to my family health history when I returned home. I also sent it around to my American cousins.

Not everyone has the good fortune to compare health notes with distant relatives. I am glad one of the cousins I visited that day wanted to trade this type of information. All of us now know more about what lies in our genes.

The Trip—Part 4

Our recent Baltic cruise ended with two stops in one of my favorite countries, Germany. Both locations had genealogical significance for my husband/tech advisor. He was eager to see the ports of Rostock and Kiel and the surrounding countryside.

His mother’s German family originated in various areas of Germany including the coastal states of Mecklenburg and Schleswig-Holstein. He continues to work to locate precise information about his ancestors who probably lived there several hundred years ago.

In Mecklenburg, we docked in the old Hanseatic port city of Rostock. There we toured Schwerin Castle. It sits alongside a beautiful lake, and we had the opportunity to view the building from the water. Inside, we saw only part of the interior because the remainder had suffered water damage from rain the day before. Not only does this building serve as a museum for historic Mecklenburg, but it also houses the local parliament. We found it to be a busy place.

After our tour, we took an open-air tram to a restaurant. Later, we enjoyed some free time for shopping and ice cream. As we walked around the old city center, we wondered whether any ancestors had ever visited Rostock.

Our ship docked the next day in Kiel, the capital of Schleswig-Holstein. The city had close ties with the Vikings and the Kingdom of Denmark from the Middle Ages until the nineteenth century. Although it was heavily bombed in World War II, it has now been completely rebuilt.

We visited the Kiel area on a sunny Sunday, traveling by bus and by ferry. This gave my husband/tech advisor a great opportunity to view the lands of his ancestors. Most places in Germany close on Sundays, and we found that the Kiel area follows this practice. We were glad we had done our German souvenir shopping the previous day.

This region provided us with some of the great German food that we love. We stopped for lunch at a modern-looking, family-owned place where we had beer, wine, and schnitzel. No one will forget this meal after a young waitress spilled an entire tray of beers on one unfortunate woman’s head. The good-natured victim was very gracious, saying that she had always wanted to try a beer shampoo. After we got her cleaned up and had eaten our meal, we all enjoyed some schnapps. To our delight, the proprietors gave us additional bottles of schnapps to take home.

Later in the afternoon, after our ferry ride, we had the opportunity to stop for coffee and German pastry in a small shop. Boarding the bus again, I began to eye the clock. Our all-aboard time for the ship was 3:30. To my relief, the bus rolled up to the terminal at 3:26.

I needn’t have worried. Eco-terrorists had our ship hemmed into the harbor. It took the German police 6 hours to clear them out. Our waiter at dinner said this had never happened before, but I wonder whether it will become a regular occurrence at the German ports. It would be a shame if the ships had to stop visiting there.

Stops in Mecklenburg and Schleswig-Holstein provided us with the opportunity to see the lovely, lake-filled area of northern Germany. We wondered, as we always do, how our ancestors could bear to leave such a place. We know that economics or war always gave people the reason to leave, but still it must have been a hard thing for them to do.

The Trip—Part 3

Our third genealogy stop during our recent Nordic vacation put us in Helsinki, Finland. We had no idea we would do anything but go sightseeing there when we booked the trip. That famous genealogy serendipity stepped in to change our plans.

A Finnish finder of lost relatives contacted me last fall and put me in touch with a couple of third cousins in Finland. I mentioned to them that I would be in Helsinki in June. “We must meet you!” they responded. And so we made a plan.

Our ship, the Zuiderdam of the Holland America line, docked in Helsinki about 7:00 a.m. the day of our visit. My husband/tech advisor had done some advance planning for us, and he knew of a bus stop in the docking area. We left the ship, boarded the bus, and headed into Helsinki.

We had arranged to meet my cousins at the new Oodi Central library in the heart of the city’s cultural district. Completed in 2018, Oodi serves as Helsinki’s living room. This peaceful, open-plan space has new facilities not formerly seen in libraries. Only about one third of the building contains books. A café, restaurant, public balcony, movie theater, AV recording studios, and a makerspace (complete with 3D printers and sewing machines) occupy the rest of the building.

The library was completed with the climate in mind, using local materials. The façade consists of Finnish spruce planks. The glass-enclosed upper floor offers a panoramic view of the city, including Kansalaistori square and the Finnish parliament. Already one upper corner has become known as the best spot in Helsinki for taking selfies.

My cousins could not have been more welcoming. One had reserved a study room. She promptly unpacked tea and cookies for us to enjoy while we talked genealogy. Another unrolled the massive family tree she had created. I brought along all the unidentified Finnish family photos I had recently received from a cousin in Minnesota. We talked and talked about our Finnish forbears.

At lunchtime we walked through a city park on our way to a restaurant. The cousins wanted to show me a statue there. My grandma’s cousin, Ida Andelin, had served as the model. The subject of the statue, the Weeping Woman, comes from a character in Finland’s epic poem, the Kalevala.

When we reached the Kuu restaurant, we enjoyed a traditional Finnish meal. My husband had venison stew, and I had perch. Being from a landlocked state, I order as much seafood as I can when I am near the water. Afterwards, my cousin handed me a few pieces of Fazer Pihlaja candy, the oldest candy produced in Finland. It’s good, and I have since learned that I can order some more. I plan to do so and share it with the rest of my family.

The day in Helsinki could not have gone better. I learned a great deal about my family. I had an insider’s view of Finnish life and experienced warm Finnish hospitality. My cousins urged me to return someday and promised that next time we would go to the sauna. We’ll see.

 

 

The Trip—Part 2

Copenhagen, Denmark. Our next stop after Norway, this Scandinavian capital city began over a thousand years ago as a Viking fishing village. Today it houses Danish royal palaces, the world-famous Tivoli Gardens, and an historic 17th century waterfront. We spent two days in this amazing city, visiting these places and again searching for our ancestral roots.

My husband/tech advisor had a particular reason for visiting Copenhagen. He descends from Jørgen Rasch, a renowned lute player in the Danish court in the early 1600’s. My husband has spent hours researching this man.

He learned that Rasch likely was born in the late 1500’s in Dessau, in the Principality of Anhalt, now part of the German state of Saxony-Anhalt. This city lies along the Elbe River and today is home to the famous Bauhaus college of architecture.

Jørgen, initially known by the German variation of his name, Georg, made his way from Dessau with his musical talent to the court of the famous Danish King Christian IV. During this reign (1588-1648), Jørgen became well-known as a musician. The king seemed to hold him in high regard.

To honor Jørgen Rasch and his other musicians, he had their likenesses painted on the ceiling of one of the rooms in Rosenborg Castle. Christian IV pursued many ambitious building projects including Rosenborg, originally a large country house, erected in 1606. This castle now serves as a museum and houses the Danish crown jewels. It is open to the public.

My husband and his brother eagerly walked over to Rosenborg to see the painting shortly after we arrived in Copenhagen. We spent a long time gazing up at the likeness of their ancestor. Surrounding tourists chuckled at their less-than-successful attempts to take selfies with a ceiling image. They said my husband resembled his curly-haired ancestor.

Like him, my husband trained as a musician on a stringed instrument, the violin. One of Jørgen’s descendants migrated to Norway, and my husband’s Norwegian grandmother belonged to that line. Many in that family play the violin, and my husband likes to think they inherited their talent from Jørgen Rasch.

This second leg of our trip allowed him to fulfill his long-time wish to see his distinguished ancestor’s portrait on the ceiling of a Danish castle.

 

Preserving the Work

We genealogists spend a lifetime compiling family histories. How can we preserve this information for posterity?

Our descendants often are not as interested in our family trees as we are. Notebooks and folders of information can end up in the trash when children do not want to house them. Digital files disappear when a computer becomes outdated or subscriptions lapse.

Some options exist for preventing the loss of genealogical work:

  1. Write a book. When I began working as a genealogist, many of the people I met had this ambition. A book offers a place to gather family trees, family photos, and family stories. The writer can distribute copies to relatives and hope some of the books survive. The odds get better if one donates a book to a genealogical library near where the family lived. Although I still see some people working on ancestry books today, the time and expense required for this option deter many people from choosing to write them.
  2. Contribute to online family trees. I have posted my father’s family, so far as I know it, to the online tree at Family Search (www.FamilySearch.org). A cousin in Finland has put much of my mom’s family on the collaborative site, WikiTree (www.wikitree.com). The LDS church runs Family Search, and they vow to preserve information in perpetuity. I do not know the long-term plans for WikiTree. Downsides to this option include the time necessary to input or clean up data and the danger that someone else will edit in bad information.
  3. Apply for membership in heritage societies. Only recently did I become aware of this as an option for preserving one’s family history, but it makes sense. These societies require detailed, sourced applications tracing family trees back multiple generations. They preserve the submissions. You can use this method to place your family tree with groups like the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America, or the Mayflower Society. Many such organizations exist, and often people can qualify for one or more. One woman I know belongs to nine heritage societies, and she joined in part to preserve her own family tree work. Some of the societies offer assistance in preparing an application.

I have already used a couple of these options. I documented my grandmother Grace Riddle Reed’s heritage back to her colonial ancestors and distributed the book to family members about twenty years ago. After that, I began annually writing ancestor character sketches and sending them around as Christmas gifts. I have completed these as far back as my second great-grandparents, except for the one line I do not know yet, Grandma Grace’s father.

We all need to find ways to preserve the family history we collect. Doing the research may offer the biggest satisfaction in genealogy, but we owe ourselves the knowledge that someone, somewhere will save what we collect.

Old Photos

A woman sitting next me at a genealogy meeting earlier this week told me about a family photo album she acquired recently. It had been for sale on eBay.

She recognized it because she had seen it in person, years ago. Its owners no longer wanted it but did not make the effort to offer it to other family members. Instead, they posted it for sale online. Genealogists cringe at this behavior.

I had my own experience this month with family photos belonging to another. My mother’s cousin on her Finnish side inherited their grandmother’s photo album.

It contained many images of relatives in Finland, all taken a hundred years ago and more. None had labels.

A few years ago, this cousin visited me and brought along the album. She had no idea who the photo subjects could be, and she asked me for help in identifying them. It saddened both of us that I recognized no one although I could see a strong family resemblance to my Finnish grandmother.

The cousin took her album home again, and that was that. She died a couple of years later. I assumed the album passed down to her son. I did not pursue the idea of acquiring a copy of the unfamiliar contents.

Last fall a couple of our more distant cousins in Finland contacted me. We began exchanging family information, and they asked about family photos. I mentioned the cousin’s album.

They wondered whether I could get my hands on it. Perhaps they could identify some of the people.

Their interest encouraged me. I contacted the cousin’s widower and explained that I may have discovered a way to add some value to her album. I asked for scanned copies of the photos to share with our Finnish cousins.

He replied that he had no interest in keeping these pictures. Nor did his son. He would send me the originals.

The photos arrived in the mail a few days later. My husband/tech advisor has scanned them all.

I will e-mail them to my Finnish cousins to see if they recognize anyone. When I visit them next time I am in Helsinki, I will take hard copies of those and some other family papers. We plan to meet at the new Oodi library in Helsinki to discuss our family history.

Without their encouragement, I may not have acted to preserve these photos. They, too, might have ended up on eBay or in the trash. Instead, I now have digital copies that I can share with all my Finnish-American cousins. With some luck, I may be able to tell them who some of the people are. I just wish my mom’s cousin was still around for this exciting opportunity.

Unwed Mothers

We continue our research on our Nordic ancestors. We are trying to accomplish as much as we can before our upcoming trip to Norway and the Baltic. My husband/tech advisor, an accomplished Norwegian genealogist, has worked his way far back on several of my Norwegian lines.

He has identified an interesting phenomenon in Norway. German researchers mention the same curiosity. These societies had numerous unwed mothers.

I do not know why this occurred so often in Norway. In Germany, the laws of the time encouraged illegitimacy in a couple of ways:

  1. The German states issued marriage licenses only to those men who owned property. They thought they could eliminate poor families with this policy. They found out that people would pair up, married or not. Many illegitimate births occurred during this time.
  2. German inheritance laws made it important to have a family. One did not want to marry a barren wife. Better to verify that she could produce at least one healthy child before marrying her.

Perhaps Norwegian couples had similar reasons for the birth of so many out-of-wedlock children. We have not yet investigated the applicable Norwegian laws.

If social policies did not encourage this behavior, I can think of only one other reason for it, an immoral society. This seems implausible. Why would Norwegians be less moral than their neighbors?

We need to find the true explanation for all those uægte children.

A Place for a Family Tree

Have you ever used WikiTree? This website (https://www.wikitree.com/) offers social networking to build a world-wide family tree. Speakers at genealogy events often mention it.

I had never made time to visit this site until recently. Then one of my newly-discovered cousins in Finland told me she was posting our shared family tree on this site. I decided to take a look.

This week I set up an account and located her tree. She has done a tremendous amount of work, tracing our shared Lampinen family line back many generations. I found that this site provides a great place for us to collaborate.

As a native Finn, she has advantages in pursuing Finnish research that I do not have. Sites like Ancestry or Family Search hold all the records from Finland that I can reach. I have trouble determining the methodology the record keepers used, and I find it difficult to decipher the words.

My cousin knows the Finnish language. Plus, she can visit the repositories where the records are kept if she needs to. She, rather than I, suits the role of Finnish researcher for our extended family.

On WikiTree, I can add the particulars from my American Finns to supplement her work. Together, we can add an entire family to the world-wide family tree.

Living on the Land the Vikings Trod

My amazing husband/tech advisor remains diligent in searching for my Norwegian ancestors before we embark on our trip to Norway this year. He continues to seek information on my third great-grandparents, Anders Bentsen (1823-1857) and Anne Larsdatter. They lived in Nordland, the cod fishing area of Norway that lies north of the Arctic Circle. They married there, but independently they had each moved there from someplace else.

Earlier this year, my researcher tracked Anders’ birthplace to the Sognefjord north of Bergen. He suspected Anne may have come from there, too.

Recently, he learned that she did, but from much closer to the mouth of the fjord than Anders’ family lived. Her family resided in the Gulen municipality of Nordre Bergenhus which lies around the Gulafjord, a southern offshoot of the Sognefjord.

In the online Norwegian national archives, he located the church records for young Anne Larsdatter who lived on the Floli farm near the village of Eivindvik.

Eivindvik? Wow!

The western Vikings used to meet there for their Gulating, an annual assembly to discuss political matters and taxation. They also used these gatherings to resolve civil and criminal complaints.

Two ancient stone crosses found near the village of Eivindvik are believed to be about 1000 years old, erected there after the Vikings who met at the Gulating gathering embraced Christianity. The worshippers probably gathered around these crosses until they could build a church.

We now know that Anne Larsdatter came from this historic place. She was born at Floli in 1819 and was baptized in the old Gulen church in Eivindvik, one of the oldest church sites in Norway. Floli, just east of Eivindvik, is now a national historic area.

Anne was confirmed there, too, in 1835. The pastor noted that her religious knowledge was mediocre, but her behavior was immaculate.

Why would Anders and Anne leave their families and this well-settled area to move far north? They needed to make a living. The Norwegian population grew rapidly in the 19th century, and existing farms could not accommodate everyone. Many people moved to northern Norway where the fishing industry prospered.

Anders and Anne followed the crowd. They met, married, and started a family. Sadly, Anders contracted a fever when he was just 34 years old, and Anne was widowed with two small children in 1857.

The hunt for her fate after Anders’ death continues.

 

Adventures in DNA

Every week I log in to a couple of DNA testing websites to see whether I have any new matches. Recently, a few relatives on my dad’s side of the family have tested at these sites as well. Comparing their match lists with mine allows me to speculate on how my unfamiliar matches might be related to me.

I find this particularly interesting because several of my closest matches were adopted. I would like to know how we are related. Three people come to mind:

  1. A man in Florida matches my dad at the second cousin level. This man’s mother was adopted. As far as I know, no one in previous generations of Dad’s family lived in Florida, so I have no idea where this match fits into my family tree. He does not seem too interested in helping me puzzle this out.
  2. The same goes for a match in Montana. Again, this adopted woman does not want to correspond much although I have more to offer here. My dad had several family members who settled in Montana. Perhaps this woman is related through them. But without more information from her to go on, I cannot fit her into my tree, either.
  3. The final match, the closest one, is to a woman who was adopted from a foundling home near Lincoln, Nebraska in 1930. The third match and I have corresponded several times hoping to discover her parentage and how she is related to us.

She and I have made a little progress. When my second cousin on my father’s paternal side did a DNA test, she did not match my third match. This means the Nebraska baby does not belong to the Reed side of my dad’s family. Instead, she belongs to my grandmother’s family.

The third match’s family lived in the same area around McCook that my grandmother’s family did from 1885-1954. Only problem in placing the adopted baby into my family is that we do not know who Grandma’s father was. Without this information we do not know whether the baby is related through our known Riddle line or through my unknown great-grandfather’s line.

The match’s birth certificate provides the clue of a surname, probably her mother’s. I do not recognize this name as anyone related to me.

Two possibilities, then, come to mind. One of the baby’s parents may have been related to my unknown Nebraska great-grandfather. In that case, of course I do not recognize the surname on the baby’s birth record. Or perhaps the baby’s father was one of my known Riddle relatives.

Without more DNA testing, I think I will not find an answer. It would help to locate a Riddle descendant to see whether my third match also matches them. Doing this will be difficult because so many of us are double cousins, and their DNA would not help in sorting this out. We need a Riddle cousin whose family did not intermarry with the Reeds.

In the meantime, I will stay in touch with my DNA cousin in Nebraska. She would really like to identify her birth family, and I am her best evidence.