Unique Visitors
Total Page Views

"View Teri Hjelmstad's profile on LinkedIn">
Recent Comments

Author Archive

A Field Trip

I am planning a field trip–literally. Our Norwegian forebears raised wheat when they homesteaded on Montana and North Dakota in the early 20th century, and the sites remain as farmed fields. The nearest towns are Plentywood, Redstone, and Homestead, Montana and Palermo, North Dakota. We are heading there soon to visit the homesteads and cemeteries, and to see the land our families knew so well.

Not many people still live in these areas. I found Palermo, with just 74 people, on a list of North Dakota ghost towns. At one time, these places thrived, but the Dust Bowl years began a long period of slow decline. Neither of us has any family left on the MonDak border, although mine still owns farmland near Redstone.

Preparation for this trip began ages ago. First I looked for the homestead files for these ancestors, and they proved difficult to find. Norwegian immigrants came to America with no surnames, and they often tried on several, with various spellings, before settling on one as the new country required. Ultimately, I collected all their land records, and I identified the cemeteries I should visit.

So we will drive and drive through farm country until we come close to the Canadian border. Then we will walk through farmland and fields of eternal rest, remembering the hardy Norwegian homesteaders who lived and died there. If we have extra time, we may drive a little further to visit Mohall, ND, too. An entrepreneur in my husband’s family, M. O. Hall, founded the town and named it after himself. As far as I know, he never farmed anything, and he did not stay in North Dakota. Like so many others, he moved on. Like us, who will leave the fields after a brief visit and return to our busy suburban lives.

Don’t Give Up On The Message Boards Just Yet

After observing recently that the genealogy message boards no longer seemed to result in many new connections, I must confess that I had not entirely given up on them. Now I am very glad that I kept on posting.

I had come to the end of the line with my Finnish great-grandmother, Ada Alina Lampinen. No one in the family knew anything about her origins except that “they all stayed in Finland.” No names, no places.

My earliest record for her was the 1904 Viipuri marriage to my great-grandfather when she was nearly 25 years old. I hypothesized that she and Alex married there because her family lived there. Still, I found nothing further about her or any connection to family members in the Viipuri records.

I chalked up my lack of success to my frustrating unfamiliarity with Finnish records, so I turned to the Finland message boards for help. Very quickly I received a GenForum reply. My Ada came from Juuka parish in then-Kuopio province just north of Viipuri province. The reply included a link to her baptismal record and the names and birthdates for her parents. What a gift!

I now have so much more information to use in my search. The message boards my be less busy these days, but they are still worth a try. Thanks to all who take time to lend a hand via these boards.

So Who Drowned?

So who drowned? I posed this question a couple of weeks ago as I pondered finding the truth hidden in family lore. My grandmother had told me that her paternal grandfather Antti Mattila had drowned/died at sea long ago in Finland. Yet when I located his burial record, I found that he died of tuberculosis. If not the grandfather, someone else must have suffered the fate of drowning. The drowning of a relative is a dramatic event that people tend to remember.

I kept searching the burial records for a drowning, looking for all the Mattila sisters, their husbands, and their children. I finally found the likely candidate. Kalle Ville Ripatti, husband of Antti’s daughter, Sofia Mattila, drowned at age 23 in 1899. This must have been the story my grandmother heard.

Sofia and Kalle Ripatti were her aunt and uncle. She never met them because he died before she was born, and Sofia remained in Finland. It would have been easy for Grandma to confuse the identity of the victim when she had never met the numerous relatives who stayed behind in the old country. Of course this story stuck in the minds of those who immigrated to America, and they probably talked about the tragedy.

Even aside from the drowning of her husband, poor Sofia led a very hard life. Her father died of tuberculosis when she was just 12, and her next-older sister Helena passed away from the same disease two years later. Sofia became an unwed mother to her daughter Rosa before marrying Kalle Ripatti in 1896. Then he drowned less than three years later, leaving her with 3-year-old Rosa and two younger children. How did Sofia ever survive all this? In her own way, she must have felt like she was drowning, too.

To Tweet or Not To Tweet

How do you locate other genealogists searching for the same surnames you do? Trading information with them can really push along your results.

For many years I have used a couple of online genealogy message boards for this purpose. I have been delighted to discover Reed cousins in New York and Florida; Riddle cousins in Montana, Canada, and Germany.

But increasingly, the posts on the message boards have dwindled. Often they are not queries and answers at all but rather just people looking to test DNA or posting links to recent obituaries. Although I still check them every week, I am finding the message boards have become less and less helpful. So where did all the family researchers go?

I suspect I might find them on Facebook or Twitter. Neither of these has interested me much. They seem time-consuming, and I worry about privacy, so I have been dragging my feet on joining.

This week, however, I listened to a RootsTech presentation by Thomas MacEntee of Geneabloggers on using Twitter. He made a good case for establishing a Twitter account and using it solely for genealogy. One can follow surnames, other genealogists, or genealogical organizations to connect with like-minded researchers.

I am thinking of giving it a try. I just need to think of a clever Twitter name first.


Finnish Research Plans and the Science of Permutations and Combinations

I cannot remember exactly what my Finnish grandmother told me about her father’s birth family. She said he was the only boy, but was he the youngest of nine, or did he have nine sisters? I do not recall.

Lately, I have scoured 19th-century Finnish baptismal records in an effort to find out. I am finding this task infinitely more difficult than the same search would be in American records. Aside from the difficult-to-read Gothic script used in the records, Finnish names during the period varied between Finnish and Swedish renderings, and patronymics or surnames. Thus, the father’s name in the records I am reviewing could be either Antti or Anders, Mattila or Abelsson (and I did find a Paulsson, too, but I am not positive this is the same guy).

To do a thorough search, I must look for all these names in any order. So how many permutations and combinations can you make out of these names? At least eight by my count–Antti Mattila, Antti Abelsson, Anders Mattila, Anders Abelsson, Mattila Antti, Mattila Anders, Abelsson Antti, and Abelsson Anders. I should probably look for more records on this Anders Paulsson as well to determine whether I have the right person. Oh, and I must not to forget to search for initials instead of full names. And would he have had a nickname?

Every Finnish name is like this. Comprehensive research takes forever, but searching for every possibility is the only way to make sure I compile an accurate family tree. So far, I have located baptism records for seven, maybe eight children of Antti Mattila. I know I am searching for at least nine. If they do not all turn up with searches for the father’s name, I will try the mother’s with all her possible combinations. It gets overwhelming unless you apply the science of permutations and combinations.

Family Lore

Every genealogist hears family tales but knows they are not always true. Over the years, I have heard my share of family stories from earlier generations. I try to research each one, looking for that nugget of truth beneath the embellishments, exaggerations, and confused details.

Here is an example. My Finnish grandmother told me that her paternal grandfather was a fisherman who had drowned when his only son was a small boy. True?

Not completely. From Finnish parish records, I have learned that the paternal grandfather was named Antti Mattila, and he lived in the village of Alasommee, near Vyborg. He did die when his son was just 4 years old, but not from drowning. His 1882 death record states that he died from tuberculosis.

This makes sense, too. Tuberculosis struck everywhere in Karelian Finland in those days. Just a couple of years later, Antti Mattila’s eldest daughter Helena died from the same disease.

So who drowned?



Some time ago, I wrote about my search for the roots of my grandmother’s cousin, Rosie Porras. She came from Finland, and I theorized that she was the daughter of Ida Mattila of Biwabik, MN. Today I came across some new information that makes me think otherwise.

As I went through Finnish baptism records for Ida’s children, I never found a child with a name anything like “Rose”. Then I turned to searching for a marriage and children for another Mattila sister, Sofia. There I found a record for the birth of a daughter, Rosa Wilhelmina, in 1896, prior to Sofia’s marriage to Kalle Ripatti. Could she be the Rosie who came to America separately from Ida in 1913? In Finland, was she always known as Rosa Mattila or was she Rosa Ripatti?

I have a new clue to search in the emgration/immigration records! Rosie, I am on the way to getting you figured out.

Am I Karelian?

As I chase down my Finns, I have pinpointed them to the city of Viipuri/Viborg/Vyborg and the surrounding area. Many of the people in this area claim a Karelian heritage, a sub-group of Finnish ethnicity. They purport to be the “purest” Finns, not contaminated from interaction with Swedes. Today’s Karelians live in the vicinity of Europe’s largest lake, Lake Ladoga. The people are distributed across eastern Finland,  Russia’s Leningrad Oblast, and the Republic of Karelia (which is part of Russia). Viipuri and its environs lie in the Leningrad Oblast.

But not everyone there is Karelian. Was my family? I never heard that word as I grew up, so I do not know.

How will I find out? I have been reading every book and article on Karelia that I can find, but there are not many. Very few have been translated into English. With the limited resources I can find, I am learning about such obscure topics as Karelian mushroom hunting and 19th-century childbirth rituals. This is not much to go on, but I do know that my Finnish great-grandmother was an avid mushroom hunter. Yet it would be a stretch to conclude a Karelian heritage from this single fact.

I will keep educating myself about Karelia and Karelians. With enough background information, perhaps I will be able to make a case either for or against Karelian roots.


A church on the Karelian coast

So Many Lines

“I am researching Finns this year,” I keep telling myself. And so I must if I hope to maintain focus and steady progress. Jumping from family line to family line creates confusion and slows you down.

But the temptation this week has been strong to take a long-postponed look at my Revolutionary War ancestors. Not only did we celebrate Independence Day yesterday, but I also attended a class last weekend that stole my attention away from the Finns.

Four times a year, on a 5th Saturday of the month, the Denver Public Library hosts a class on some topic of specialized genealogical interest. This month they discussed Virginia research. Well, who has 4 family members who served in the Revolution from the colony of Virginia? I do–Joshua Reed, Robert Kirkham, and John Day (Senior and Junior). I attended the class, learned a bunch, and now I would love to dive into the records to learn more about those patriots.

But I have a research plan. Everything Finnish lies spread across my desk, and I need to finish (ha! ha!) this before I move on to something else. Those Revolutionary ancestors will wait for me, and when their time comes, they will get my full attention.

The Website Comes Through For Me Again

One of the reasons I maintain a family website is to provide a way for distant relatives to find me. I have learned so much family history from second, third, and even fourth cousins I never knew until we found each other on message boards or via the website.

It happened again this week, but with a twist. The person who contacted me was not a relative, but rather someone wanting to write about a relative. She is with the Broomfield, CO genealogical society, and they are doing a project on the men who served as station agents for the railroad depot there.

My great-uncle, Robert Morton Reed, was one of those men. Everyone in the family looked up to him, so I am thrilled he is being recognized for his work. Next time I want a nearby genealogy field trip, you can bet I will be going to the Broomfield Depot Museum!