Finding the Finnish Connection

I agreed to help a friend of a friend look for her Finnish routes.  I started with her family group sheet.  She knew her parents, their birth dates and birth places in Finland, but nothing about her grandparents. 

I was able to find her parents arriving in different years, listed on the ship manifests.  Both ships had images and information on Ancestry.  The mother came 15 May 1912 on the Olympic, sister ship of the Titanic.  She had originally planned to sail on the Titanic, which sank 15 April 1912 but changed her plans.  This is where a person might wonder who they would have turned out to be, if one of their parents had never met, and married someone else…Anna was a servant, and would probably have been in one of the lower decks and less likely to have survived, even with the “women and children first” protocol. 

The ship manifests are great sources of information.  They are similar to a census record, in that the family groups are usually listed together.  They list ages, and occupations.  The records, at least in this era, listed the birth place, and the closest relative back at home – in this case the fathers were listed for both Anna and Hjalmar.  The records also listed the address where the traveler was going, and a contact person in the US.  Both Anna and Hjalmer named sisters who had immigrated before them, and were now living in the US.  Gathering siblings into family groups helps identify parents.  Anna travelled back years later with one of her daughters.  When she returned, she listed her mother as her closest relative in the country she was leaving (Finland).  Perhaps her father had died by then, but this was the only clue I had for Anna’s mother’s name.

I did find a website that listed birth and marriage records in the area and time of Hjalmar’s birth, so found his mother as well.  Working back and forth between immigration and birth records, I was able to find that Hjalmar had at least six sisters, several of whom also immigrated.

I learned that the Finnish folks used patronymic naming similar to the Swedes, so for example, John Isakson would be John, son of Isak, and William, John’s son would be William Johnson, on down the generations.  However, they also used their locations as last names.  The men would commonly use the farm name (or the landowner’s name) for their own last name.  If they moved, they would change names.  This would seem to make them a hard group to trace, but it is my understanding that they had good church and community records, including tracking people who move from farm to farm or community to community. 

Myra has a Family History Center within a mile or two of her house.  I suggested that she check with them and see if they might have someone more familiar with Finnish genealogy, records, and language. 

Just for fun, I checked out the locations on Google Earth.  I was able to find street views of the family homes as listed in the ship manifests and census records.  Anna was from a city, and I found an old photograph of the city taken at the time she lived there.  Hjalmar was from a very small fishing and ship building community, and I found modern photos from that area of Finland – popular with hikers and campers – it looks like a beautiful place to visit. 

I was able to give Myra my best guesses about the identity of her grandparents, but she will have some homework to do.  Her parents’ marriage record is likely to name the parents of the bride and groom.  Their death records also should have that information.  Hopefully Myra can confirm whether my information was accurate, and if so, we can try for another generation back.

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