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Vörå Descendant Finds His Roots


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Most Finlanders have some relatives in the US. While some have had contact with their relatives throughout the years, others have had contact only through the things sent to them by relatives in America. In the US there is a newly awakened interest in restoring contact with relatives in the Nordic countries. Genealogy was the method used by Harald Faber of Minnetonka, Minnesota to contact his relatives in Vörå. In the summer of 1996 he visited Finland for the first time. Two years later he returned with several of his family members.

According to ship passenger lists, over 1.3 million people emigrated from harbors in Sweden between 1859-1893. The emigrants came from all the Nordic countries, and later many of them came to work in the places shown as the destination in passenger lists.

A Million Emigrated

Over a million Finlanders have emigrated during the last 100 years, with most of them from Lappland, Österbotten and Åland. Without emigration, Finland would today have an estimated 6-7 million inhabitants. One can study this on the CD disk “Emigrants” that is found in the Genealogical Society library in Finland. The stream of emigrants from Finland went in waves. The first wave in the 1600s went to middle Sweden’s uninhabited wooded areas.

The US emigration began around the 1860s and went on until the 1930s when the US began to introduce restrictions on immigration. In the 1850s and 1860s Sweden did not tempt any Finlander to pack his suitcase. About a fifth of all who left from Finland to the US had Swedish as a mother tongue, or in other words, 73,000 of Finlands Swedes emigrated during 1870-1929.

New Interest in Genealogy

It is a well-known fact that many Finlanders landed in Minnesota. During later years Swedish Americans had a newly awakened interest for the “Old Country” and vice versa. Films such as Fargo and Titanic described aspects and the consequences of the life and country to which most Nordic people came. A musical has also been made based on Moberg’s book “Utvandrarna” (The Emigrants).

Contact Ceased

Here in Finland some still wonder what has happened since the last letter arrived. Many have lost contact because the first emigrant’s children and grandchildren did not write or have moved without giving a new address.

Through genealogy Harald Faber, with roots in Rejpelt village in Vörå, found several new friends in Vörå. His mother’s mother’s mother was Lovisa Fredson and she emigrated at the turn of the century to reunite with her husband Johan West, who had emigrated two years earlier. Their destination was Two Harbors, Minnesota which is on Lake Superior. The customary jobs for the male emigrants were working on the ore ships and harbor work. Johan also worked for a mining company in the harbor of Two Harbors. His great grandson visited Vörå for the first time in 1996. On that trip he had a pedigree chart of names of people unknown to him, whose names he found through a genealogical organization in the US.

Rapid Integration in the New Land

In Vörå it was known that several Vörå residents had traveled to Two Harbors. But that was all. Letter contact had slacked off rather quickly. Perhaps it was because of events in the family of the people who emigrated. Several children died at a young age and perhaps the people did not realize it was important to keep in contact with the Old Country. Finlands Swedes in the US were quickly integrated into the new land.

Many Took a New Name

To adapt to the change, many people changed to a more English-sounding name. So did Johan and Lovisa. They took the names John and Louisa Westrom. In the beginning they spoke Swedish in the home, but after a while the children began to answer their parents in English, so gradually they began to speak only English.

In the summer of 1998 when Harald Faber visited Vörå together with his mother Helen, his mother’s brother Jim Hall and his wife Jean, as well as three of the family’s children, Helen began with greetings in Swedish but thereafter she spoke in English. One of the grandchildren, Anna Marinos, had a summer job at a bakery and she said that she worked with several Finlanders whose father’s and mother’s parents spoke Finnish when they came to the US. They still speak Finnish among themselves and Anna wondered if it is because Finnish grammar is more different from English than Swedish is.

Contact Through Associations and Internet

Today in the US there are organizations whose purpose is to facilitate genealogy and preserve the Swedish cultural heritage. The International Order of Runeberg is located in several places. Among them: Worcester, Massachusetts; Tacoma, Washington; Dollar Bay, Michigan; Eureka, California; Coos Bay, Oregon; New Haven, Connecticut. The Order maintains an archive and assists with information about Swedish descendants and their activities in the US.

The Swedish Finn Historical Society is a rather new society that was established in 1991. They work to preserve the Finland Swedish cultural heritage in the US. The Society maintains a public archive for researchers and has members in the US, the Nordic countries and Canada. In addition to these two organizations, there are other Finnish American organizations and clubs in the US that work to maintain contact and information between both countries. More about them can also be found on the Internet under the address http://www.genealogia.fi

Finland and Vasa in Minnesota

Minnesota resembles Scandinavia. It is no wonder so many emigrants quickly adjusted to the new country. As a joke or to alleviate homesickness, cities were named after places in the Old Country. “Finland” is a little place not far from Ilgen City near Lake Superior. “Vasa” also is supposed to be somewhere in Minnesota. Both towns are in places with agriculture as the largest source of income, related Anna and Harald during their visit to Vörå.

It was most interesting for the families from Minnesota to see the place from which their mother’s mother’s mother emigrated. The house no longer stands, but the place today is near Storberget’s dance hall and summer theater. The red loft and family estate that were used to establish a fund for the theater plays is a good example of how an Ostrobothnian farmer cottage looked at the time when Lovisa decided to follow her Johan to the US.

Fifteen-year-old Rachel had a chance to find out how it was to sleep in the “girl’s loft” during a warm summer night at the close of the previous century. Her brother Dennis was more interested in Finland’s rock music and had a list of purchases to take to Vasa the next day.

Work in the Mines, in the Woods or as a Home Servant

Finlands Swedes often chose their residence in the new country according to the work they did in their homeland. Tailors and craftsmen worked in New York, Boston, Cleveland or Chicago. Seamen often became construction workers in harbor cities, while quarries in Maine drew hundreds of workers from Finland. Lumberjacks of Finnish stock were usually in the northern states and in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Detroit and Chicago offered jobs to industrial workers. One of the largest employers was the mining industry. Women were coveted as servants in well-to-do families and they also worked in the textile industry. It was typical that people gathered in the US in “settlements” together with people from the same parish or village. Many of Finlands Swedish Österbottningars lived in Worcester, Massachusetts while Ålanders settled in Norwood, Massachusetts. Nykarleby residents are found in Coos Bay, Oregon and many Ålander, Terjärv and Närpes residents chose to live in New York.

Picky Eaters

As an example, in the publication issued by the Swedish Finn Historical Society (Newsletter April 1, 1997) is a narration by Arthur Mattson who emigrated from Terjärv. He worked as a “logger” in the area of Rochester, Washington in the 1910s.

“Loggers worked from daylight to dark. They usually had to live in bunkhouses out in the woods and there was nothing nice about them. There were about 10 to 20 loggers in each bunkhouse. The logging camps had to provide good food in order to keep the good loggers. If the food was not good, the good logger would move to another camp that was reputed to have good food.”

In the publication there is also an account of the Swedish Österbotten communities and their sights, also tips about new books about emigrants.

The address of the publication Swedish Finn Historical Society Quarterly whose present editor is Dr. Thomas DuBois, is: PO Box 17264, Seattle, Washington, 98107-0964. Membership in SFHS is $18, retirees $15. Syrene Forsman is president of the Society while Don Forsman handles genealogy.

Forsman’s e-mail address: [Don|mailto:ForsmanDon@msn.com]

By Maria Holmström, Helsingfors
Norden, 2 March 2000

June Pelo

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