DISCOVERING OUR SWEDE-FINN HERITAGE
by EUGENE H. HALVERSON
One day they quit coming, probably the boarding house closed. They did leave me with the idea that I was a "Swede" and proud of it. My Mother told me things about Finland, about how our family lived on the boarder of Finland and Sweden, and the house on a large farm but I remember little of what she told me. If it wasn't for her writings nothing could have been done now. It is up to me to make a more permanent record of Mother's family.
It took a long time to find someone who even knew our family, none of my cousins knew them and they lived there. One day I walked into the Bank asking if their were any Holmes that they knew in Eureka, "Sure", they said, "Mary Holmes Newman, she works here and she is 92 years old". The first time she wouldn't let me in, so went home and got my Mother's Lutheran Church Baptizism Papers and held it in front of me, she knew then that I was a Swede and let me in. In time we became good friends. She helped me with many things but her greatest contribution was when she identified many of the pictures in my Grandmother's album. It was fun to watch the twinkle in her eye when she found some one she knew, she would then tell me what she knew about them. I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity know and love her. Audine Gunderson a friend of the family was also a great help.
I recently received the most wonderful book from Johannes Dalkarl of Vora that he has compiled. 53 pages long, thousands of names, the descendants of "ERIK STAFFANSON HAGGLOF-KNECK, 1788-1845". Son's "JOHAN ERIK, MATTS HERMAN, ADOLF FREDRIK, AND CARL GUSTAF". Matts Herman was my Great Grandmother's Father. Her name was Brita Hermansdotter Murkais until the book was sent to me I didn't know she was a Hagglof-Kneck, not the easiest family genealogy to follow.
There were brief stories about most family members besides the genealogy that makes this book is valuable. We can hardly thank Johannes Dalkarl enough for the work it took him to compile this Book for the family. Many Hagglof Families came here as Holms.
This year, 2002, we found a part of the Hagglof family who came to America as Holms. We also found the Kock-Holms family when Kent Holmes went back to Vora to visit Holms relatives still living there. He sent the book “Swedish Homesteaders in Idaho”. I knew they were in Burley, Idaho because in the old days Holmes’s were always going there. I was up there looking for them once. This book was written by Alvin Holmes who died this year in Burley.
Goran Holms sent genealogy by e-mail from Finland. The Johan Simonsson Kock family has grow from the nine children we knew of to 16 children. I knew we were related to all the Holmes in Eureka but didn’t know how. Now we do, the family almost doubled.
The search for my mother's kinfolk has been one of the hardest and most frustrating quests in my life. I was very hard to get started but much has been accomplished now and the puzzle is slowly being solved. I have found our ancestors came from a very enigmatic (puzzling) race of people with a great propensity for silence. They lived very private lives and passed little information down to the children.
Our immigrating family have kept the Holms name, but it was anglicized to Holmes after arriving here in America. To work for better pay and better conditions, they spent the time necessary to learn the language here.
We have always been told, "We are Swede's in a Swedish part of Finland", but when I went to have Raili Fuller translate a letter from Gunnar Norrgard, she said "Your Grandfather looks like a Pohjalla to me and I know a Pohjalla when I see one." "I am from the Karelian tribe". She said, Pohjallan's are a rather hot headed people, quick with a knife, rather stiff, bashful and very dignified. Others have said, "Your Grandfather looks like a Swede to me", and I can't tell the difference. Both are tall, blond and Nordic. Our family like many in Vora are dark skinned, blue eyes and not so tall.
Aunt Edith said, "We are Swede's, we are not peasants", All of the descendants of all the Holmes are very quick to point this out to me.
Our Family and the people in Vora speak only Swedish while the rest of the country speaks only Finnish. It has been said that, "Finns don't like us very much and wish our language would disappear, and that the Finns are unable to learn Swedish. Eleanor's Grandmother didn't like the Finns speaking Finnish, she couldn't understand what they were saying and it bothered her.
At the time Grandpa left Finland the Czar had made it difficult to leave the county, passports were hard to obtain so as one Swede-Finn would immigrate, the passport would be mailed home to bring another here. As I scanned the passenger lists coming to America it seemed like there was a John Holms on every ship, some to Canada as well as United States. As I talked to, grandpa’s cousin, John Holmes (Johannes Verner Hojier) in Richfield he got quite nervous about what he said. I have seen grandpa’s naturalization papers to become a citizen but I still don’t know if he came here legally.
We are finding old Scandinavian traditions and customs that go back many centuries in time. Christmas was a time for family and remembrance. It wasn't a commercial shopping spree as it is becoming today. On Christmas Eve the family would dress up in their Sunday best. They visited the cemetery to pay their respects to the dearly departed. These Swede-Finns were very proud of their heritage and their ancestors. A wreath or some pine boughs would was placed on the gravesite. Then they would then go home to have their traditional Christmas dinner, usually Lutefisk. Lutefisk is a white, rather strong tasting fish. The fish was accompanied by small red potatoes, with the skins on, and a white cream sauce over all. This was covered with fresh ground pepper. Eleanor Wheelock, granddaughter of Aunt Lovisa told us her grandmother said, "The way to separate the Swedes from the rest of the world is a lutefisk dinner." After the dinner the family would have a program or ceremony.
In the Halverson home, my mother Signe would dress her grandchildren as Joseph and Mary and the three Wise men. They would read from the book of Luke in the New Testament of the birth of Christ.
There were always songs to sing. Cousin Eleanor said Aunt Lovisa ended the day with a Yule Log, spelled Jul log. Each one would write his name on a piece of paper and place it in a crack on the log with a good wish for tomorrow, they would put the log in the fire and watch it burn. Some families didn't put the tree up until Christmas Eve. Aunt Lovisa had some small candle holders that clipped on the tree, and had small white candles in them. Following the decorating, the candles were lit, and the family danced around the tree. This was the time for Aunt Lovisa to sing her special little Swedish song, all by herself. It was the one time in her life that she was not so private and shared with her family the spirit of her Swedish heritage. This was followed by a small glass of wine and the fruitcake that had been made after Thanksgiving and saved for this special time. These good women were excellent cooks and very proud of the things they made. Gifts were usually very simple and very few, but there was a spirit of love that made the holiday very special.
New Years was also celebrated my Grandfather, John Holms would gather his family around him, and then he would then melt solder and let it fall. It would fall forming many shapes and symbols, he would read these symbols to predict the future.
After this we would all have to tell the resolutions we were going to try to live up too for the coming year. This was very important for my mother and very confusing to my father who as a child never ever had a Christmas Tree, but he wasn't a Swede-Finn.
There were many outings and parties when all the Swede-Finns in Eureka would roll out of the mountains to the valley below. Dressed in their Sunday best and driving in their new tin-lizzy automobiles, they would head for Geneva, Saratoga, or a place along the Provo River. They were very important occasions, and were always well-planned. There was always much preparation of good food, to last for two days. Remember these ladies were wonderful cooks and prepared food with a Swedish flair. We have a photograph of one such outing at Saratoga, of Mary Holms Newman when she was about twelve years old, a very lovely young lady.
All of the ladies were wearing white dresses, high button shoes and bouffant hats, holding flowers. Charlie and Mary Holms with their daughters, Ila and Hilve, are in the right side of the picture. The little girls, like their mother, have the hats and flowers.
The men were dressed in suits and hats. Interesting enough, most of the men had a pocket watch with a chain, with a watch being in the pocket of their vest. These were people proud of who they were and dressed up for the occasion.
The first thing, upon their arrival was to make a big fire and get the water boiling for coffee. This was made in number three washtubs, with the coffee grounds tied in a big bag. (This was the same size tub that we took our Saturday night baths in.) These outings were full of good times, games, and an opportunity to be with the people who had the same ideals and beliefs, and who were so proud of their heritage..
Perhaps the most characteristic feature of Scandinavian life is the sauna. They had public bath houses in all of the mining camps. There is still one or what's left of it in Scofield. Water was thrown on rocks that had been heated so they were red hot, thus creating some steam along with the dry heat. Then they beat their skin gently with switches, and this was followed by a jump in a cold shower.
When I was in Finland I found three Saunas, the two on the lakes were absolutely wonderful Ralf took us to his cabin and sauna. While the women were in the cabin (stuga) we bared ourselves and sat in the sauna, when we were well fried we jumped into the lake. It seemed hot enough before the water was poured on the hot rocks and then it really got hot. I can not even begin to describe how wonderful it was there is a feeling that comes but it is beyond my words to tell about it. The other sauna is the “smoke sauna” where a fire is built in a cabin with no windows and one door and no chimney. Water on the rocks is used also. It is so hot you could boil an egg in your hand. This is also next to the lake I wonder if you get the sensations from the heat or the smoke. The ritual was followed by a run into the lake. Nakedness is ignored between sexes. The ritual cures most illnesses and makes our people clean and healthy.
I was raised on home remedies for colds and coughs. I never go to a doctor for a cold or cough. The onion was my mother's favorite cure-all. There is nothing like an onion sandwich to cure whatever ails you.
They were fiercely proud of being Swedish-Finns and they didn't think it was a bit funny when an Irishman called Car Fork "Fish Town" because it had Finns on both sides of the street.
The men were very strong and proud of their physical strength and they seldom looked for trouble like some of the other nationalities. The Irish on the other hand were always trying to test us out. Once a huge Irishman in Eureka began putting bumps and bruises on the local Finns heads. An old Irish customs was, if you would drink with him you were his friend. If you didn't, you would have to fight him. A champion was soon brought in from Bingham, who drank the whiskey, chewed up the glass and then beat up the Irishman.
They came from Finland healthy and strong but when they breathed the metal laden dust of the mines, they died like so many flies. All five of Great Great Grandfather's sons died from the effects of the mines or simply killed. All of his daughters except Maria who stayed in New York, lost their husbands to the mines. Two were widowed more than once. Most were buried in Eureka, Bingham or Park City.
While studying the Zion Lutheran Church record book of 1905-06, I found page after page of miners who died of miners consumption, many from the Vora area. Hundreds of miners died or were killed in the mines each year. Protests from foreign governments never seemed to bother our Utah officials. All of the mining laws that we had in 1890 are there and they still favor the mine owners over the people.