I have returned from an incredible trip abroad. Part of our trip was to Finland for my husband to attend a conference and the family to visit the homeland. The hubby, kids, and I met up with my in-laws for this portion of our trip.
After a few days relaxing in the Åland Islands between Sweden and Finland, we took the ferry into Turku, Finland. We drove north towards the area around Vasa, Finland. To break up the drive, we spent the night in Kristinestad, Finland. This is where I learned something new about research methodology.
Let me back up and give you some information important to this story. My husband has 2nd great grandparents who immigrated from the area outside Vaasa, Finland. Grandma Shirley (hubby’s grandmother) was the granddaughter of Wendla Båtmäster and Charles O. Mattson. Forty years ago Grandma Shirley and Grandpa John visited the family that still remained in Finland.
Grandma Shirley passed away in 2003. She was the main contact from our branch of the family to the family from Finland. Before our trip, Grandpa John was able to put together a list of names and addresses he still had. We were unsuccessful with the phone numbers before our trip began.
While on the trip, we decided to focus on finding one person from the list who we knew was young enough to still be alive. I will call her Anna Lena for privacy. Anna Lena came and stayed with my in-laws during the 80’s when she was about 16 years old. My husband was about 9 or 10 years old during this visit.
We had tried phone numbers and Facebook but our biggest problem seemed to be marriage. We did not know what Anna Lena’s married name was.
Plan B, if we could not find Anna Lena, was to drive to the addresses we had and cross our fingers that the current occupants would have information about my husband’s ancestors.
Back to Kristinestad. Kristinestad is a town in the southern area of Ostrobothinia. Ostrobothinia is the equivalent of a state in the United States. Vasa is a little more than an hours drive north of Kristinestad.
The owner of our hotel in Kristinestad checked us in. He was incredibly welcoming and nice (a theme we found with every person we met in Finland). We spoke for a few minutes about the area and how we, as Americans, came to visit. My father-in-law (will be referred to as J) used the opportunity to say we were trying to visit family from Sundom and Malax (just south of Vasa). He explained we had a list of names and addresses that was old and were having a hard time contacting family.
The hotel owner offered the phone book because it included towns south of Vasa. J was unable to find Anna Lena in the book. The hotel owner told us to wait a minute because he was going to try to look up something online. He returned from his office with a slip of paper which had a phone number for a woman named Anna Lena. Her last name was very close to the information we had.
J made the phone call. The woman who answered the phone was not our Anna Lena. But she knew of our Anna Lena! She promised to call Anna Lena’s mom for us. A half hour later we had a text from the woman we called. She informed us she had spoken with Anna Lena’s mom and had learned Anna Lena was married and living in Norway.
We were so excited to have found the information we were looking for but bummed we would not be able to visit Anna Lena. During dinner, my husband received a text from Anna Lena herself! Quickly the conversation moved to a telephone call. Anna Lena was happy to speak with us. Apparently she had tried to reconnect with our family too but did not remember enough information to find us in California. She said most of the people on our list of family had passed in the last several years but she would make some phone calls to see if anyone else could see us.
With Anna Lena’s help, we spent the next day in Sundom and Solf visiting with J’s 3rd cousin and his family. We also got to meet a couple of people in the prior generation who showed us where some of the “old” family lived. It was an incredible moment when Henrik brought out a framed picture of his and J’s common ancestors, Jonas Båtmäster and Britia Maria Marander. We have seen copies of the photo from Grandma Shirley’s trip but the original was amazing. The other highlight was watching my kids play with their 4th cousins even with a language barrier. They had so much fun together.
So lesson learned. Don’t be scared to be the person who asks questions! Although the hotel owner lived more than an hour south of Sundom, he got us started in the right direction. If J had not spoken up, we would not have gotten to enjoy the best day of our vacation.
If you want to have solid research skills, they need to include talking to anyone who will listen. You never know who has the missing piece.