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What Happened to Rosie Poraas?

My Finnish grandmother liked to gossip. Whenever she visited, we received the low-down on all the relatives, dead or alive. She even knew what kind of breakfast food everyone ate.

When she came to visit, I eagerly listened to all these family stories. I was probably a budding genealogist even then.

The story that always stuck in my mind was the tale of Grandma’s cousin, Rosie Poraas. “She froze to death in a snowbank!” my grandma would exclaim dramatically. Could this be true?

Last week I had a chance to find out when I visited the Minnesota Historical Society Library. They have Minnesota death certificates on microfilm.

I pulled up the record for Rose Poraas who died in Hibbing, Minnesota in February, 1941. She died of pneumonia. The record says she had been ill for nine days. She did not freeze to death in a snowbank.

Still, as for most family stories, I think there is a kernel of truth in what my grandmother said. Rosie probably became ill and collapsed into the snow during the Minnesota winter. After being found, she lived nine days before finally succumbing to her illness. The story had the same sad outcome, but Grandma had a few of the facts wrong.

Rosie’s story was not the only one we completed during our visit to the Library. This repository also holds historical Minnesota newspapers, many on microfilm. We spent an entire day there and fleshed out the family trees for several of our ancestors. But no one else’s fate could compare to Rosie’s. Now I can set her record straight.

A Lampinen Family Takes Shape

Finally, I have a family for my great-grandmother, Ada Alina Lampinen (1879-1948).

In May I wrote that I had embarked on a search for the names of her siblings. I began combing the Finnish church records for Juuka parish to find them.

The first two names, Henric (1857) and Anna Valborg (1859), came easily because I could use an online index. The next set of Juuka birth and baptism records (1860-1879) has no online index so I needed to browse these records.

After working through the summer, I have now finally finished this somewhat tedious work. It involves deciphering pen-and-ink lettering done in an old-style cursive. I read through the entries for every year looking for the names of Ada’s parents Matti Lampinen and Anna Miettinen as they presented another child to the parish pastor for baptism. I came up with quite a list:

  1. Henric (1857)
  2. Anna Valborg (1859)
  3. Eva Stiina (1861)
  4. Hendrika (1862)
  5. Matts (1864)
  6. Alexander (1866)
  7. Adam (1868)
  8. Alexis (1868)
  9. Mathias Alexander (1870)
  10. Lovisa (1873)
  11. Anders (1876)
  12. Ada Alina (1879)

If you look closely at this large family you will see that we have two children born in 1868, Adam and Alexis. Strangely, these boys were not twins. The record shows one born in April of that year and the other born just four months later in August. This seems very odd. I need to find some more records on these boys to see if I can find an explanation.

In fact, I need to find more records on all of these people. The list raises other interesting questions. Why do we have children with such similar sounding names as Henric and Hendrika? Could she have been named after him because he passed away? Similarly, the name Alexander appears twice. Did the older boy die young?

I plan to move on to the Juuka death records for more information. I need death dates for all these people anyway, and perhaps they can explain some of the curiosities in my list.

TMG—A Big Decision Looms

This week I learned that The Master Genealogist software program (commonly known as TMG) will be discontinued at the end of the year. Like most users of this program, I am stunned.

Still, I sort of saw the handwriting on the wall. Several fellow users at the Computer Interest Group of the Colorado Genealogical Society had predicted that the release of the latest version of TMG would be its last. They saw that the program has some strikes against its future. A very small company produced and maintained the software. The program’s reputation as difficult to learn was off-putting to prospective new users.

I can attest to that. I migrated my data from another program to TMG in 2008 because all the professional genealogists I know use this program. I experienced a steep learning curve even though I took a TMG training class from the creator of the program himself.

Still, I came to have a high regard for TMG. It has the capability for wonderful source citations. An array of other features allows for endless combinations of ways to record and report data. No other genealogy program does everything that TMG does.

Genealogy blogs this week are filled with speculation on the future for users of the program and advice on what to do next. Some people plan tol bail ship immediately and begin using another program. Some will stick with TMG as long as it works on their computers. Some hold out hope that someone will purchase the company and continue maintaining and updating the software.

As for me, I plan to continue with TMG for now. Because I have nearly a thousand sources entered in the program and have embedded all my cemetery marker photos there, moving to a new software would be an enormous project. I will see what new information comes out in the remaining weeks of the year before I make a decision for the long term. I hope something works out so I can continue using TMG for a long time. I dread having to migrate data again and taking time to learn a new program. But I will if I have to.

There would be a bright side to changing software. My long-term goal for my research is to put it forever in the cloud at Family Search. TMG does not allow me to do that easily because TMG and Family Search do not play well together. If I have to move my data to another program, I will find one that allows an easy transfer to the tree on Family Search. After all, documenting my family for posterity is the reason for using any genealogy software.

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, Stockmann’s, lay just across the street. I looked at the famous Iitala 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 the next morning, as in really early at 7:00 a.m.,  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 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.