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Early New Jersey Immigrant Hilding Widjeskog Becomes Author


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Farm group in Småbönders and emigrant destiny in debut book

The toil for existence of past generations and of ancient times, also an emigrant's destiny and simple childhood pleasures are found in the book that Hilding Widjeskog of Terjärv published in the autumn.

The material is found in several books, but Hilding is uncertain if he will continue with his writing. "I first began to write after I became 70 years old and it is my brother's son Jan-Erik Widjeskog who was a driving force behind the book," says 80-year old Hilding. Without a doubt he has a rich memory to dig out and research beyond the usual interest.

"When I traveled in eastern Finland, I saw many Terjärv names on gravestones," related Hilding about how it all began 12 years ago. "They were Terjärv residents who moved to Parikkala and Kronoborg, a total of 90 people." It required more research about the families who lived in the farm groups of Storbacka and Manderbacka in Småbönders who moved away. He was born near the Storbacka farm group.

Research extended only back to the beginning of the 1700's when Storbacka was populated and to 1755 when Manderbacka received its first settler.

The new book treats only the farm groups of Storbacka and Manderbacka and Hilding included facts about the families and relationships, along with narrative from his own childhood and youth. "It is what I remember and some of what I heard", related Hilding and he added that the stories cover all of Småbönders.

The small farmers' weekday, work in the woods and floating logs are part of what Hilding includes and brings to life in his book. "I wrote about how people began to prepare the felling in the autumn and how it closed when men loaded wood on the boat in the springtime," said Hilding who also floated logs for two seasons. "If the weather was good, people could work long days starting as soon as the ice had left in the spring. In the meantime we transported the wood on the ice." Some years after the war the floating ended, and many Småbönder residents have no memory of the important industry from earlier times.

Hilding Widjeskog also touched upon the emigration from Terjärv. Among others, 16 young men emigrated to Australia in 1924. There were many who also emigrated from Terjärv to America and Hilding has an extensive register of those emigrants. The register includes the entire 1800 emigrants who moved from Terjärv to America between 1870 and 1960! He also has gathered 600 emigrant letters, the oldest from 1883. But he said the work is only half-finished, and the Emigrant Institute in Åbo is very interested in his material.

Hilding and his wife Ebba moved to the US in 1957. He supported himself as a carpenter and construction worker. "We first lived in New York five years and then 15 years in Millville, New Jersey, outside Atlantic City." Three brothers and a sister also emigrated to America.

In the new book about Storbacka and Manderbacka, there is no narrative about the American time. "I shall probably write about America, but it will not be published." Wife Ebba said that at first it was difficult in America because they could not speak the language. Gradually they began to get on well in the new land and it was to the point that they might stay for good. In 1976 they returned and built a house at Heimsjöstrand in Terjärv. "If the old woman had been total master, we would have stayed in the US," said Hilding, and Ebba acknowledged that it was difficult to leave the country after 20 years. But she thought it was peaceful to grow old in Terjärv.

Hilding has allowed 150 copies of the book "Storbacka and Manderbacka" to be printed and already half are gone. The book can be purchased at the banks in the city of Terjärv and Småbönders. It sounds like a good Christmas book for Terjärv residents in the US. The material, which also includes both old and recent photos, has been adapted to be acceptable and easy to read by Cecelia Udd and Jan-Erik Widjeskog.

JT-text and picture by Pia Andtbacka-Norden 30 October 1997

Translated by June Pelo

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