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A Journey Through Ancestral Lands in Finland and Russia

Every genealogist wants to walk the land of his ancestors. That’s why I went to Finland and Russia. There I did some walking, and my husband/tech advisor did a lot of driving. Our trip included three very different segments.

First Leg

Flying on Icelandair, we landed in the capital city of Helsinki and stayed a couple of days. This allowed us to get over any jet lag and learn a little about modern Finnish culture. By staying in a downtown hotel we could walk everywhere we wanted to go. The iconic Finnish department store, Stockman’s, lay just across the street. I looked at the famous Itala glassware there but did not purchase any.

The morning after our arrival we walked to see the famous Church of the Rock (Temppeliaukio) and then went on to the National Museum of Finland ( We viewed their exhibits of artifacts arranged in chronological order from prehistoric times until today. I found the 19th-century throne room just astounding. It includes a real red velvet and gilt throne and luminous portraits of every Russian czar and czarina who ruled over the Duchy of Finland (1809-1917). My grandmother’s family emigrated to America during the Duchy period.

Second Leg

Leaving Helsinki, we picked up a rental car for the next part of our trip. As we drove along modern highways through endless forests we soon learned that rural Finland is very sparsely populated. Northeast of Helsinki we traveled past the farms where my Mattila and Miettinen families had lived. At the end of the day we reached the Koli National Park ( in the North Karelia region of Finland. All I can say is, “Wow”. No wonder this beautiful area provided inspiration for great Finnish artists and composers.

The Koli resort has a commanding view of thick forests and the gorgeous Lake Pielinen, the fourth largest of the nearly 200,000 lakes in Finland. We stayed two nights, drinking in the view, eating authentic Karelian meals (my comfort food!), and visiting the sauna.

In the morning, we hiked through the forest over to the nearby restored Mattila barn (not my Mattila family). The trail has interpretive signs in Finnish and English telling about the historic settlements in the area. My Lampinen family lived on the farms surrounding Lake Pielinen, so I eagerly learned all about the slash and burn agriculture that probably provided the livelihood for my ancestors. Later we drove around the lake to see the various settlements where my people had lived. They all lie in the Juuka parish of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, and we stopped in to see this church.

Third Leg

From Koli we drove to the southeastern city of Lappeenranta on Lake Saimaa. Early, as in really early, the next morning we embarked on a river boat tour through the Saimaa Canal to the Baltic port city of Vyborg, Russia. I felt more than a little apprehensive. We were the only Americans on the boat.

My fears proved groundless, and these 5-hour boat rides to and from Vyborg became a highlight of my trip. I had wonderful conversations with my fellow passengers, and we enjoyed tasty lunches in the dining room. A Finnish singer provided entertainment using a songbook he distributed to everyone. Everyone knew all his songs, and with the words provided even I could participate a little.

In Vyborg, the tour company helped us through Customs and took us to our hotel. On the bus, we had our first glimpse of a Russian city. It seemed as if time had stopped in 1947. That year, in an agreement to settle the damages of World War II, Finland had ceded 12% of its territory to the Soviet Union. The cession included the ancient Finnish port city of Viipuri. The town became known as Vyborg, and nearly all the Finns walked out to be resettled in the Karelian area of Finland. Today, Vyborg is populated with Russians, not Finns. Virtually no one there speaks any English.

My great-grandparents, Alex Mattila and Ada Lampinen, married in Viipuri in 1904. I wanted to see the city even though few Finns remain there. Armed with an approximate address for where the couple had lived, we walked from our hotel to find the neighborhood. It is the same neighborhood where Vladimir Lenin lived a few years later to plot the Russian Revolution. On the way there, we passed small shops and parks; Vyborg is very pedestrian-friendly. I could imagine my great-grandparents walking these same streets. Unfortunately, we could not visit the church where they were married because it was destroyed in the war.

After visiting that area, we walked to the famous Vyborg Castle, first built by the Swedes in the 1200′s. We climbed to the top where I could look out the narrow windows to look into the distance to where my Mattila and Myllynen families had lived in the rural around Viipuri. The price of admission to the castle included a visit to the museum filled with photos of Viipuri from the time my family lived there.

Home Again

From Vyborg we boarded the canal boat and returned to Lappeenranta to pick up our rental car. On the way back to Helsinki, we took the route through Kotka. After my great-great grandfather Anders Mattila died, my widowed great-great grandmother Elizabeth Myllynen relocated there from the Viipuri area. We drove past the property where she had lived.

Then we were off to Helsinki to board our plane home. I hated to leave this beautiful country of lakes and forests. But even as I left, I knew that now I have pictures of where my ancestors lived in my head. I have a better knowledge of the geography of their surroundings and of their way of life. I am so glad I went.



What a Trip!

We just returned from our summer research trip to Finland and Russia.

I admit I felt a little apprehensive before I traveled there. I know nothing of the languages spoken in those countries and we did not go over with a tour group. Because neither Finnish nor Russian comes from Germanic roots, and Russians even use a different alphabet, I knew I would have no hope of deciphering signs, menus, etc.

Turns out we had no problem. Nearly everyone in Finland speaks some English, and in Russia they had menus with photos of each dish. Usually we could point at what we needed. Aside from my husband’s hilarious attempt to locate a water closet at Vyborg Castle, everything went very smoothly.

My direct maternal line comes from Finland, and I felt right at home there. These people are my people. I recognized the foods, the faces, the ways of doing things. I felt their sadness at the loss of their beautiful city, Viipuri (now Vyborg, Russia). I really found my roots on this trip.

We Say Good-bye to Genealogy Message Boards

Recently announced some changes to their services. These include the discontinuation of their active message boards. As I understand their announcement, they plan to archive these and convert them to a read-only format.

I sure hate to hear this news. Oh, I know that fewer people use the message boards. In a class I attended recently, the speaker asked how many attendees “still” use them and only a few hands went up. People have migrated to Facebook to find their cousins.

Nevertheless, I will miss the message boards. Over the years, they have made so many connections possible for me. Some important ones:

  • A post on the Reed surname board elicited a response from my dad’s cousin, Leslie Reed. We had never met, but we discovered a common passion for genealogy via the message board. Years of collaboration ensued, and he gave me all his work shortly before he died.
  • On the same Reed message board I found a query from an unknown-to-me second cousin. She was looking for any information on her father’s family. Her parents were divorced when she was a baby, and her father had disappeared from her life. I had her entire paternal family tree. Not only did she now have a lineage, but I was also able to connect her to a half-sister she did not know she had.
  • After searching the Viipuri, Finland parish records in vain for any record beyond a marriage announcement for my great-grandmother Ada Alina Lampinen, I posted a query on a message board. Shortly the answer came back from a kind Finnish genealogist. Ada was not from Viipuri at all, but rather from Kuopio. My correspondent sent me the link to the digitized baptism record. This opened up an entire line of research for me, and I will visit Kuopio this summer.

I owe so much to the message boards. When they began, they offered a simple and quick way for people to post and answer queries, and the speed of our research leaped forward. For years I have faithfully searched my surname and location boards. I have posted queries and contributed comments where I could. They had become a part of my weekly routine.

With their retirement, I am reminded that the genealogy world keeps changing as new technologies emerge. I must change with it and learn to do things in new ways. Still, I liked the message boards, and I am sorry to see them go.

Volunteering for Genealogy

Today I received yet another helpful e-mail reminder about upcoming genealogy events in the Denver area. When viewing this message, I am reminded that volunteerism plays a huge role in the genealogy world. People step up to run local societies, transcribe records, and post information about genealogy online.

Over the years, I have done some genealogy volunteer work, mostly through the Colorado Genealogical Society:

  • I served on the Extractions Committee of that group to create a Bride’s index to Colorado marriages and a transcription of records of the Rogers Mortuary in Denver,
  • I held the offices of Recording Secretary and Vice-President of the Society,
  • I worked with a group from the National Genealogical Society to index the 1940 U.S. census, focusing on Minnesota records (I figured I could read all those Norwegian names).

In recent years I have stepped back from Society work. Attending Board meetings has become prohibitive because it requires a 45-minute drive through rush hour traffic and then paying to park. Instead, I now contribute money to the Society for acquiring materials for the Denver Public Library and the Denver branch of the National Archives.

I could do more transcribing for Family Search. When my life with grandchildren settles down a bit, I probably will devote some time each week to transcribing a few records. After all, I know that the genealogy world runs because of volunteers.

How are you helping?

Oh, For a Finnish Gazeteer

Sometimes I wonder why I even try to do genealogical research in foreign records when I do not have the proper tools. Well, the answer is that I cannot find the proper tools. I want to find my ancestors, though, so I continue anyway.

This year I ran into the same problem with Finnish research that I had last year with Norwegian research. Both countries have fabulous church records available online, but of course they are all kept by parish. So how do you find the parish boundaries? And how do you know the name of the political jurisdiction associated with the parish at any given time?

None of the maps I have located show both parish outlines and political boundaries. It seems you can have just one or the other. I know these lines changed over time. How am I supposed to even fill in a Family Group Sheet when I cannot figure out the municipality or sub-region associated with a particular church? I find it maddening.

I have searched the local libraries and the internet in vain for any help. So I slog on, but I know my location entries are riddled with errors. This week I needed the correct political jurisdiction for Finland’s Juuka parish for 1860-1879. Karelia? If so, was it East, North, or South? So far I have been unable to discern this information. I sure envy those German researchers with their wonderful gazetteers that tell all.

A Sad End to the Line

This past week I traveled to Virginia on a sad journey to attend the memorial service for my nephew Tyler William Reed (1988-2014). He died at too young an age, just twenty-five. He had no children.

With him, the line of male Reeds descending from my grandfather, Owen Herbert Reed (1896-1935), has “daughtered out”. I have two Reed brothers, but one has never married and the other is left with two adult daughters. We have no Reed first cousins.

Nevertheless, we can find other more distantly-related male Reeds out there. The line continues through a couple of my grandfather’s brothers. Our Reed name will live on despite the terrible tragedy of Tyler’s death.

We have survived such losses before. Previous generations in Coles County, IL also felt the sting of the unexpected death of a promising young man. Like me, the aunts of these Reeds mourned their untimely passing:

  • Albert M. Reed (1866-1890) the youngest son of my great-great grandfather Caleb Reed, died at age 23 after an illness,
  • Daniel T. Reed (1836-1859) and William Fred Reed (1844-1875), Caleb Reed’s nephews, died at ages 23 and 28, respectively, and
  • William Reed (1822-1845), Caleb Reed’s younger brother, died of unknown causes at age twenty-three.

Those left behind sadly wonder why we had to lose all these men before they had the chance to live their adult lives. It seems so unfair. We search for answers. Perhaps my sorrowful brother, speaking this week at his only son’s memorial service, offered some explanation when he said, “Father Knows Best”.


Farewell, Tyler

Our world upended last weekend. My 25-year-old nephew Tyler William Reed drowned. I feel like the fabric of our family has ripped apart with my heart torn out.

Tyler went missing after a night out with friends at the Washington Nationals game on May 5. He left a restaurant to take the Metro home to Alexandria, Virginia. No one ever saw him again.

Our family searched frantically for him for the rest of the week. Then on Saturday we received the terrible news. The police had recovered his body from the Anacostia River, near the Nationals’ field and the Navy Yard metro stop. He had suffered no trauma and still had his wallet and cell phone.

Tyler, what happened to you?

We probably will never know for sure how my nephew landed in that river. He was a happy guy with many friends. He worked two jobs that he liked, and he had recently re-enrolled in college to complete his degree in sociology. He had a passion for music, playing both piano and guitar, and he wrote many songs.

I ache for my brother whose only son’s life ended too soon. Like all fathers and sons, they had their little frictions, but they shared so much. They even had the same birthdate. How will my brother celebrate his birthday now when his son can no longer join in the celebration?

I hardly know how to say good-bye to this young man who was on the brink of adulthood. We should be congratulating him on his college graduation, not attending his memorial service. Tyler, I am so sad to see you go.

Visiting Mom

Mother’s Day arrives this weekend, and many of us will visit our moms. We buy cards for them and take them out to brunch or dinner. In our family we also use this as an opportunity to do genealogy.

On Mother’s Day we will honor my mother-in-law, known universally as “Grandma”. She is 83 years old and has a lot of family history stored in her house and in her head.

Grandma came from Minnesota where she was raised in a German Catholic family of 11 children. Her father was one of sixteen. Consequently this presents a large family for us to research.

On Mother’s Day we will encourage her to reminisce once again about her family. Invariably she will dig family treasures out of the basement. She has kept baptism records, funeral cards, and other memorabilia. I am eager to see what else she has.

All of us will have a great time with Grandma this Sunday.

A Family for Ada Lampinen

“We knew nothing of our mother’s family. They all stayed in Finland.” This was the only information my grandmother could offer when I asked her about my great-grandmother Ada Alina Lampinen’s family. How do you build a birth family with so little to go on?

In genealogy we work backwards in time, so I began looking for data on Ada herself. My mother told me she had died in Hibbing, Minnesota on the twelfth of May, 1948. Mom also knew she had been 27 years old when my grandmother was born in Minnesota in 1906, suggesting that Ada was born in 1879. Lastly, Mom also recalled her grandfather saying the family was from Viipuri. Another daughter kindly visited the genealogy library at Iron World in Chisholm, Minnesota and found the family’s 1905 immigration papers.

Thus armed with a time frame and an approximate location, we began our search for the Lampinens in the Finnish records. Here is where my husband/tech advisor came in handy.

He located Finnish newspapers online ( and found a 1904 marriage announcement for Alex and Ada (Lampinen) Mattila in Viipuri. This confirmed our location, and began our dive into Finnish parish records.

These records can be found online, too, at Finland’s Family History Association ( Luckily, the index offers a country-wide search, because we found no birth record for Ada in Viipuri parish. Using the broader search, we finally located an 1879 birth and baptism record for Ada in Juuka parish. We learned that her parents were Matti Lampinen and Anna Miettinen who married in 1856. So what about the rest of her family?

The Juuka parish registers for many of the years in which the Lampinen children would have been born have not been indexed. Now I am searching the Juuka images page by page to find them. In addition to Henric (b. 1857) and Anna Valborg (b.1859), this week I located the birth and baptism record for Eva Stiina (b. 1861). I still have 18 years of records to search before reaching Ada’s own birth record in 1879.

Although this is a slow process, I am eager to learn how many sibilings Ada had. Soon we will no longer be saying that we know nothing of her family.

Learn Your Place

A cardinal rule in genealogy is to learn all you can about the places your ancestors resided. Normally I have not had trouble doing this, and I readily have found information on many places over the years of my research.

This year, however, I have encountered difficulty as I have tried to trace my Finnish heritage. Their history is so complicated, and so much depends on geography. I have yet to find a Finnish gazeteer or a good map.

I never feel comfortable adding new ancestor names to my database until I am reasonably sure they are actually my ancestors. If a purported husband and wife came from different villages, I want to know how close they were. Or in the words of genealogist Pat Hatcher, were they in “kissing distance”? I need a good tool for identifying place names and locations.

So far, I have struggled along with little snippets of maps from various Finnish websites. The Family Search wiki ( has helped with place names in church parishes. Still, I wish I had the right tools to find my place.