TERJÄRV EMIGRATION

A search of the church archives reveals that 1,800 Terjärv residents emigrated to the United States, Canada and Australia. This is according to biographer Hilding Widjeskog, age 85, who has written the greater part of the narrative about emigrants for a book which is in preparation.

 

For the past thirty years Hilding Widjeskog has done a lot of research about emigrants from Finland, especially concentrating on Ostrobothnia and the significance it has on Terjärv. Hilding and his wife Ebba emigrated to the US at the beginning of the 1950s and returned to their home in Terjärv at the beginning of the 1970s.

Terjärv didn’t have any natural qualities to be a large agricultural district, and the splitting of homesteads had a negative effect on the means of support. So Terjärv residents moved to cities in the south, while others ended up in Russia. After the famine years of the 1860s there was a great movement to Parikkala and Kronoborg. The Swedish colony in Sorjos is an example of that.

Earlier research revealed that 1,467 people emigrated from Terjärv during the years 1870-1914. Later research shows that 1,800 Terjärv residents moved to the US, Canada and Australia during 1860-1960. Emigration from Terjärv to America began in the 1870s. In 1872 there were 12 residents who went to the great land in the west. The years 1880-1910 were the period of greatest emigration for Terjärv with 650 residents leaving the country during 1890-1901. Many of them were young men seeking to avoid a summons to military service. Church books indicate that 164 Terjärv residents did not appear for military service.

Emigration meant a breaking away from geographic and socially known environments, as well as learning new cultural patterns, standards and customs. Most emigrants probably thought the large harbor cities in England were grand in comparison with their Ostrobothnian home villages.

Some emigrants returned to Finland and others stayed in their new homeland. Those who returned to Terjärv had much to talk about. The trip to America had offered many adventures and gave them a new perspective of life. Some stories were genuinely true, while others were adorned with fantasy to make an impression on the listeners.

Most of the stories and their history have been forgotten. Therefore that is the reason to write about them, to preserve them for posterity according to Widjeskog. Assisting are a handful of writers and among them is Ingvar Dahlbacka, professor of practical theology at Åbo Akademi.

In the coming book Hilding writes about Abrams-Fridolf and Haga-Teodor who left Storbacka on a beautiful summer day. Their parents and neighbors stood with tear-filled eyes to bid them farewell. Teodor came back 30 years later, but nothing was heard from Fridolf. Some emigrants planned their trip well in advance while others didn’t need much time for consideration. Oskar was courting. He was hoping to make an impression when he left, and come back with a newly purchased ball-bearing bicycle for his girl friend. But she is not in the best humor and said there will be nothing between them.

Oskar is discouraged when he returns, and sees no future in Finland. He bicycled past Dahlbacka and saw Joel standing barefooted behind the corner of the cottage. "Shall we go to America?" he said jokingly. Joel does not bite at the invitation. Not much more was said between the two, but it wasn’t long after that the two young men were on a boat in Helsingfors. The trip to the dollar country had begun.

Another story comes from Maseisos. It is about Anders Carl Gustafsson Fors, b. 3 Aug 1841, d. 6 Apr 1907, son of Maria Jacobsdotter Sunabacka and Carl Gustav Carlsson Fors. He married 12 Nov 1866 to Maria Jacobsdotter Byskata, b. 29 Aug 1842, d. 12 Jan 1899. They had the following children:

- Anders Gustaf, b. 28 Oct 1867, d. 3 Apr 1868

- Anders, b. 6 May 1869, d. 27 Oct 1883

- Leander, b. 21 Aug 1871

- Gustaf Alfred, b. 4 Aug 1874

- Johan Oskar, b. 20 Sep 1876

But death took his wife and the mother of his children. It is with great agony and sorrow that Anders decides to go to America. In this current age I don’t think we can understand what Anders was going through. We have to go far back in time to understand something that we haven’t seen nor lived. With a heavy heart Anders went to Rymbacka and talked to his sister Maja Greta and brother-in-law Anders Hansson Ahlsved. He appealed to them to take his four sons while he traveled to America to earn some money.

We can attempt to follow Anders during his emigration period by reading the letters we found. We think he had been a juryman. We have heard of people who left home with their wife and children and went to America, but couldn’t manage such a life there with the problems and temptations. But Anders is strong. He has his faith in God and his children to carry him through life.

He wrote to his relatives: "The work is hard and strenuous. My body aches at night and sleep escapes my eyes. My home looks like a barn in Finland. Grass grows between the planks. During the sleepless nights my thoughts and prayers are of my dear children."

On 2 Dec 1883 Anders received a letter that said his oldest son Anders had drowned and he wrote: "With tear-filled eyes and trembling hand, I must now answer the sad news that reached me 28 Nov (that his 13-year-old son had drowned on 27 Oct.). A letter that I received with pleasure, but when I read it I was struck with sorrow and a heavy burden is on my heart. The oldest of my children who should be my support in old age is gone." Anders summed up his deep sorrow with the words: "The Lord gives, the Lord takes — Blessed is the Lord." He closed the letter with thanks to his sister and brother-in-law Anders Rymbacka. "If I live a while longer, I will return to my own country."

Anders Fors had a constant yearning that all emigrants experience. But the hand that held them in America was stronger and conditions there bid of a richer future. In Anders’ case it was the children who were the determining factor. It was with warmth and sorrow that he wrote from his barn. "My dear children, don’t forget your evening prayers. I yearn for the church and someone to preach God’s word."

Anders Fors wrote that he met Frände-Leander and Byskata-Matt who lived in Muskegon where Manderbacka-August also traveled in 1880. The warm stockings that he received from Finland made him warm and happy. "I miss and always think of the children. Thanks for your writing which I received. I work and saw logs with Hakkas-Leander." It is clear that Anders is ready to travel home. But he probably has written other letters than those I saw. His sons are grown young men and Anders has seen his best days.

In 1893 Anders was home for Christmas, and son Leander has left home and sailed between Ireland and Florida. Anders didn’t approve of the venture and Leander wrote a Christmas letter containing a great deal that revived a longing for home.

In letters Anders sent from America earlier, he was more tactful, but now he talks freely from the heart about the Christmas joy of singing at the school Christmas party — of his old mother’s father whose days are soon to be counted. But the main message is that the thoughtful father wants his son home from his seaman’s life as soon as possible.

By Ole Granholm, Österbottningen newspaper, 2 Feb 2003

Translated by June Pelo

 

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