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The Searching of Roots in America - A Fashion-Phenomenon


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When you say in Finland you have an inquiry from America about Finnish emigrant ancestors asking if there is a possibility there are some of their descendants here in Finland, you can get an answer "Well, that's the fashion there to day . . . "

As the matter of fact, the emigration is associated with strong feelings, and they are to be seen also in thoughts of the later generations, consciously or unconsciously. The great emigrant wave in the beginning of this century was a consequence of the economic and political situation in Finland. That made an impression on the generation staying here in Finland, because of the generation that moved away, only a few people from that time are surviving anymore. Now they are usually descendants of the second, third or fourth generation, who are searching each other. They have noticed they have lost their knowledge about the history of their family with the death of their parents or grandparents.

A person living here in Finland now usually knows his ancestors to the fourth or fifth generation; often one remembers them from childhood, knows their place of home, life-work, one lives relatively close to relatives. Cousins are close-by, because of the urbanization; grand cousins are not so nearby, but the most of them have met each other at some time and they are known to be of the same relationship.

At a stage of one's life, which unfortunately very often happens to be when the most productive archives of family history, the grandparents, are not living anymore, many people begin to be interested in finding more information of relatives and ancestors. Also then it's quite easy for a Finnish person to extend the knowledge of a Finnish family-tree many generations backwards and it does not take much to have a hand in the genealogy.

Emigrant branches of the family tree don't grow as much, because making searches of them takes more time and a spirit of investigation. It's possible to get notes containing hundreds of relatives living here. The notes of emigrant ancestors or other descendants have a comment "...emigrated to America in the beginning of 1900, descendants there at least three children, one of them having five children...". That was the text I also had for quite long time in my genealogical notes that refer to the uncle of my father-in-law, Arvo Flinkman, (b. 1885 Rymättylä, Finland).

Last summer one of the great persons of the Flinkman family died - the teacher Irene Sinisalo (maiden name Laaksonen former Flinkman, b.1910), who cared about and took an active part in keeping the Flinkman family data. It was from her that I received valuable information about members of the family tree and most of all, about phases of life of the Flinkman family.

In her letter to me in 1988 she tells about uncle Arvo's wife, Fiina (d.1972 Michigan) and about the cousin, Fiina's son Ernest (b. 1924 Michigan):

"... The mother of Ernest in America, born in East Bothnia in Finland, wrote me many letters when I was still working. In her last letter she said she was afraid she was losing her sight and can't write anymore. After that I don't know anything about them, because Ernest has not answered my letters. I told him in English, "we'll translate them here. . . ."

With the encouragement of Irene I contacted one of my cousins, Lauri Flinkman (b.1907). It appeared that he has received letters from Ernest, who had received Lauri's address from someone. I was very excited when examining the photos of Ernest's family and I made copies of them for my family photo album. The cousins in America had faces now! After my visit Lauri sent more information about Flinkmans to his cousin Ernest in Michigan. On Christmas Day 1988 Irene wrote to me:

"...I've received the letter from my cousin Ernest from America. I've never received any before...I was very touched because '...I can't remember being so happy receiving this information...'," that Ernest wrote to her. Enclosed there was also the copy of Ernest's letter, which was translated to Finnish by the wife of Irene's son
"...I know that mother used to correspond with relatives on the Flinkman side of the family, but I really did not know who until Lauri mentioned it in his letter and asked me to write..."

After all this I gathered up my courage and decided to get acquainted with Ernest. With my little skill of English, only learned at school, I never used it, and with many looks at a dictionary in January 1989 I wrote my first letter to Detroit. And the answer came in February. The long letter, where Ernest tells about his parents, himself and his family.

"... I seldom hear the Finnish language since the death of my parents. My wife Florence and I belong to the Finnish Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan, but when we attend the meetings, the members speak English so it does not help much. Without more exposure, I fear I may lose my knowledge of the language all together...I have never met any of our relatives on the Flinkman side of my family..."

The father of Ernest, Arvo Flinkman, left home in Rymättylä, Finland to sail as a merchant sailor at 17 years of age. He sailed until he jumped the ship in Boston, Massachusetts September 1910. He worked on a farm and as a carpenter until he moved to Detroit, Michigan. There he was married to Josephine (Fiina) born in Finland, too. In 1934 he became a United States Citizen. Arvo and Fiina never did visit in Finland after they left it. So the only grown-up child of the family, son Ernest, was almost entirely without any contact with his father's relatives. Ernest worked for Ford Motor Company as a Product Engineering Designer; in 1983 he retired. "Today I enjoy roller skate dancing. I go skating year-round twice a week. It is a very good form of exercise." In that letter Ernest tells also about his wife Florence and families of his children: Elaine, Betty, Eric, Denise and James. All are married and they have children almost grown-up.

This corresponding has continued regularly. During the first years we became acquainted through letters, cuts of newspapers, photos and Christmas presents. My knowledge of writing the English language improved. In the summer 1993 it was my turn to understand spoken English. Betty had a new video camera and she had made a film about the whole Flinkman family in Detroit. Through this film we made a visit to homes of their all six families. They really had a big job collecting this presentation video film of the Flinkman family in Detroit.

I don't remember when I extended my first invitation to Finland, but after this video film I impatiently wanted to meet Ernest and his family. During the next winter I received letters also from Betty and in the spring it was certain that we'll have the honor of having Ernest, his wife Florence and daughters Elaine and Betty as our guests here in Finland in August 1994!

How enthusiastic we, my husband Jorma and I, were when we planned what kind of program that would be rewarding for ten days. Our quests and we waited with excitement for our meeting all the summer. And a couple weeks before the journey Betty phoned to me: " Everything is in order, we'll meet you at the airport of Arlanda in Stockholm, Sweden; I hope we'll recognize each other!"

The only right way to reach Turku in Finland is, of course, by the ship cruising through our beautiful archipelago, where our ancestors have sailed from the ancient times. That's why we recommended to our quests to take a flight to Sweden, Stockholm, which is the former capital of Finland and suits very well as a starting point of their genealogical visit. And at last was the big day: We recognized each other right away when seeing our relatives at the first time in our lives. We spent that day in Stockholm, which was full of people because of the Big Water Festival. The best moment of the day was when The King of Sweden, Carl XIV Gustaf and The Queen Silvia winked to us (also to other citizens) when they passed us in the Royal Procession. "Oh, you have arranged the meeting of the King, that's wonderful! We haven't seen real royalty before. Very nice! Thank you so much!"

Already during this first day we had a feeling that were old friends for many years. Although the long flight had been a strain with a time difference, we woke early in the next morning on board the cruiser to look at the archipelago of Western Finland. It was introduced to us wearing its most beautiful celebration dress. On these poor islands our relatives have lived for centuries. A fishing boat passed by in the morning sun searching fish as our ancestors have done for a hundred years. That next never-to-be-forgotten week has been in our thoughts very often. We had the successful family meeting with over a hundred relatives in Rymättylä.

After that Ernest and his family had a chance to visit the Itätalo (West farm) house, where Ernie's father was born in Hämmärö. We can't thank enough the hostess of the house, Annikki Rauhala (not a member of Flinkmans) who, a half hour after Matti Rautsala's phone call, opened the doors of the house and introduced her home to us.

There on the table in the place of honor was the Old Bible:

"I, Johan Flinkman, the farmer of the house and the trusted man of the Church, and my beloved wife, Eva, the daughter of Jacob, now owners of West farm in Hämmärö, leave and give as a present to you and everyone who after me will live in this Itätalo in Hämmärö, this blessed and holy and so much inside keeping present and The Main Book, this Holy Bible, to you as a comfort in sorrows . . . since he is living in the house, but after his death or by other ways leaving the house, he must leave it (The Holy Bible) in the house; and he must remember that, " who has lived vigorously, will have the peace and rest in their sepulchers, Ef 57.2" 11.March Y. 1835...

You can only imagine what strong feelings Ernest and his family felt when seeing those places which his father had talked about. Also for daughters, Elaine and Betty, the stories of the grandfather became true, I believe. They told me how their father has longed for...

"I wish so deeply I could see Finland.
Oh, I should like to visit in Finland so much!"

When they saw the longing of their beloved father and with the help of our corresponding, they started to encourage their parents to make this journey. They succeeded in convincing their father, who would have his 70th birthday in the next autumn, about this possibility and now this dream had come true. Although the reason for the daughters to travel was more as a need to support their parents during the journey, during it they could find a new insight in themselves. Finland changed from a distant strange land to the real thing to them. In this country grandparents were born and lived; this country and relatives had a special place in their thoughts. I believe they left Finland as different persons from what they were before the journey. The interest of Finland and relatives here was perhaps more extensive than they could have expected.

The most beautiful summer weather spoiled us during the whole week. At the boat tour to the Nötö island we made acquaintance with new relatives. The West farm is the name of the farm where our ancestors have had a home from the 1600s. In the yard of this house we examined old genealogical notes with the old hostess of the farm. Also I got an address of a genealogical searcher from Sweden, with whom I have now made interesting comparisons of our researches. In Kustavi we spent a typical Finnish summer home day as guests of Matti Laaksonen, the cousin of Ernest. The house is originally the home of Matti's wife Irma's grandfather, who worked as a merchant sailor. In the evening, of course, we went to the Finnish Sauna and swam in the sea. Elaine was surprised at the relaxing effect of the sauna; I think she liked it!

Of the many historical museums of Turku we had time only for the Cathedral from the 1200s and the Castle of Turku from the same time. We could not imagine how interesting those buildings would be to our guests. Afterwards they had told us there no medieval historical buildings of this kind in America. It's so self-evident here we have those very old churches and other buildings, I've never thought of the matter from this point. Also I noticed how much I've forgotten my knowledge of history, so I felt I had to have a lesson about the facts of my local town history.

Too soon came the day when the luggage was packed and we must escort our quests to the bus that would take them to Finland's capital, Helsinki, to meet grandmother Fiina's relations gathering there. We all wanted believe strongly that this first meeting would not be the last. We missed their natural, positive and charitable company that had given us so much during the week we spent together. I had lost my fear of speaking English; it didn't matter if I had no correct words or they were disordered. I felt great pleasure that I had not given up with my genealogical researches concerning uncle Arvo " . . . emigrated to America . . . ".

Florence and Ernie's
Fiftieth Anniversary
The children of Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Arvo Flinkman request the pleasure of your company at a reception in honor of their parents' Fiftieth Wedding Anniversary on Sunday, the twentieth of August nineteen hundred and ninety-five at one o'clock in the afternoon.
The Biddle Hall, 3239 Biddle Avenue, Wyandotte, Michigan

Last August my husband Jorma and I really became participants in Detroit, USA, honoring the Golden Wedding of Ernie and Florence as the only relatives from Ernie's father's side. The atmosphere was very hearty and warm; we met new interested acquaintances there. I can't stop wondering at the way American people can make even a strange person feel good. You are very quickly taking part in conversation without feeling like an outsider.

Before arriving in Detroit we visited in New Jersey, where Ernie's cousin Hilma Porkka and her daughter Ellen Luthin live. Hilma celebrated her 102nd birthday in April 1995. We have not met before. Ellen was left a widow and after all her seven children moved away from home, she is living now with her mother in their beautiful house in River Vale. (*Hilma died 1997 at the age of 104 years) We talk about Finnish relatives and other things; Ellen can speak Finnish quite well. She has visited in Finland several times with her children and grandchildren.

When we looked at the photo album, Hilma recognized Finnish relatives better than we did! She is in very good condition. She was with us all the day, when we were at lunch in West Point and after that we visited Ellen's daughter Marion.There we were charmed by a little girl Amber; her pet name is Ämpäri; it's a Finnish word sounding to us like Amber in English, but the meaning of the word in Finnish is the same as a pail or bucket. Anyway, Amber is a very slender and cute child.

When we were invited to have a cup of coffee, Marion had a cake with candles and "Happy birthday to you." It surprised me. It was my birthday today and I have not remembered it at all. Thank you so much! After our short visit Ellen took us safely through New York City to the Kennedy Airport from where we took a flight to Detroit.

When arriving in Detroit the joy of seeing Ernest with his family was so touching. In the evening Ernest, Florence and their five children with wives and husbands held a welcome party for us in a Wild West style restaurant. Because they love parties and surprises, my birthday was not forgotten. Suddenly waitresses came and sang "Happy birthday, Dear Tarja...". Again they had proved how to make you feel happy. We are not so used to compliments and we are shy to receive them. I think I am very lucky because my American friends have taught me in this matter. I wondered that I could fall asleep so soon after this exiting day; I think the comfortable bed in Ernie's and Florence's guestroom made it possible.

The next day was a lesson in American History. The Museum of Henry Ford and Greenfield Village were very interesting places. I could have been there the whole week; the weather was very hot, and I thought I could not make it. The most interesting place to me was the laboratory of Thomas Alva Edison, because I work in the clinical laboratory. Do you know how the first lot of Heinz Tomato Sauce was made? If you don't, you must to go to Greenfield Village in Detroit!

Elaine and I had already found a common hobby last summer. We used to collect old things, Elaine is interested also in antiques. Here in Finland we don't have "Garage Sales"; we have flea markets but we have to take our things we want to sell to special marketing areas. So we spent a few morning hours by going to Garage Sales. We had a lunch at Denise's home and we also admired Eric's fine woodwork at his and Loretta's home. And then we went to see little Matthew and his parents James and Olga in their home. Matthew is a real sunshine! Late in the evening we drove to Elaine and Ray's home; there we could admire Elaine's antiques and Ray's arms collection; how many guns he had!

Then it was the great Celebration Day of Ernie and Florence. The program was a secret; they had only told the Golden Wedding couple that it was a party for them. Everything else was a surprise. Ernest and Florence used to go to church every Sunday, so it was also on this special day. When it was time to go to the church, a very long white limousine came to the house and picked up the wedding couple with other guests; we had the honor of joining them.

Elaine had taken part in a competition of local radio. "How nice it would be if...". She won the prize and made it possible for her parents to use that luxurious limousine on their Special Anniversary Day. The children of Ernie and Florence had done a great job planning and arranging for The Special Day of their beloved parents. There were over a hundred guests, relatives and friends from long distances in USA and Canada, and we from Europe, Finland among them all!

It surely was a difficult task to find out addresses of Ernie and Florence's friends from many years ago without them knowing about it. The importance of a family, the warmth and respect between parents and their children could be seen in a very touching way. It is the great thanks and gift from children to their parents to bring them happiness.

After the celebration day it was a time to relax for all of us. We spent the night in Betty's home and then we went with Betty, her husband Ron, Elaine and her husband Ray on a trip through the whole of Michigan. This state is a little smaller than our country (Finland is really bigger than Michigan, Ron!), during the first day we drove straight to the north to Ron and Betty's summer home. The nature and climate are very similar to Finland's. Just in this week the temperature was unusually hot in Detroit, but it was much more comfortable in northern parts of the state. In the evening it was very dark and so many stars in the sky; we had a fire and hotdogs. It was rest that we really needed. We also succeeded in seeing wild turkeys and reindeers where they waited for the hunting season.

The next day we went further and visited on the small Mackinac Island, which is Florence's home island. It is situated in Lake Huron, which seemed to us to be a sea. There have never been cars on the island. All transportation on the island is made by horses. Now there are many summer homes and many boats are carrying tourists all the time to the island. For transportation of tourists they need many horses; you can feel it before you have not seen the first one of a hundred horses. We visited at Elaine and Betty's aunts in their beautiful house quite near the beach and after that we had very delicious and plentiful lunch at the very fine and large hotel.

On the continent we drove to the border of Canada and we could try our luck in the Indian Casino. We were not so lucky, but I think we already had so much luck all the time we didn't need more. Our cousins had already taken care to see that we had a great time all the way. Only sad thing was, this fairytale is going to end soon. I didn't want to think about it at all. But it did not help. In the morning we started back to Detroit, because our flight to Finland was tomorrow. So many things we saw and so many fine experiences we had. This is only a little part of them. When we said goodbye, I had already decided there will came the third and the fourth time when we'll meet again.

Jorma and I had thought some years ago, that in the distant future the aim of a holiday journey could be USA. This became true earlier and in a very different way than we could have imagined. Only a few years later we had found American cousins who made our holiday journey seem like a dream. They offered us such kind hospitality and love that we are grateful forever for this experience for us and our relatives in the USA.

From the Internet, by Willmari - Tarja Laaksonen, Finland, Turku 20.4.1996

See the original article here

June Pelo

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