Family Memories
by Everett Arthur Niemela
the story of three Finnish siblings separated by immigration and war


The one event that started my research into family history was the discovery of a letter in Alberta, Canada. Cousin Ina gave it to me on one of my visits there. In the letter, Grandfather describes the death of Grandmother. It was very satisfying to find a man who was very literate, one who spoke with compassion and religious feeling. I was finally introduced to my grandfather.

It is my duty to preserve the history of my family. If I did not, the story of their struggles and triumphs would be lost forever. It gives a person a feeling of well-being to know his heritage. We must remember and honor the past. This research is dedicated to family members who have passed away. If they were here I know they would encourage me to do it. I will continue this research in the future. It is a fascinating journey on which they accompany me still.

Chapter 1 - The Bastubackas

This is the story of a family that became divided by distance and circumstances. Once they were separated they were never to see each other again. Their only communication was an occasional letter. This is the story of Victor, Edvard, and Ida Bastubacka. Victor and Edvard were my uncles, and Ida was my mother. Each one faced a different challenge in life.

Victor's challenge was the hardship of a pioneer and homesteader in Alberta, Canada. Edvard faced the horror of revolution in Finland. Ida's burden was the hard work of an immigrant wife and mother of a large family in the coal mine villages and on a small farm in western Pennsylvania. They all faced these challenges with sisu. Sisu is a word used by the Finnish people that means perseverance.

Perhaps the reason they were able to face life's struggles so well was the perspective given to them by loving parents. One clue to this courageous attitude is a letter written to Victor by their father, Antti Bastubacka in 1891 on the death of their mother, Lisa. The following is a translation of the letter:

March 23, 1891

Dear son and your wife,
With sorrowful mind I'll take hold of a pen this time. We were visited by an unexpected guest - the merciless scythe of Death was on its way on the fields of life executing his tasks, and so it happened that he was to work in our family. With sorrow and sadness in mind to us the greatly alarming and sorrowful instance must be told, that your Dear Mother departed from here, the valley of sorrow, into a new homeland leaving on the 11th day of this March, which day was Wednesday, after six in the afternoon.

Your late mother had been ailing all winter since before Christmas. She had suffered such low inner pain, but was not forced into bed earlier than about three days before the death, namely, on Sunday the 8th day. She then, when the illness had taken a stronger hold, had to lie down being three days greatly overtaken by the illness and so she then sank quietly and peacefully into the sleep of death in the above mentioned evening. Then on the following Sunday, the 15th day of this month, her earthly remains were buried in the Tampere cemetery.

What sort of illness it was we haven't mentioned here yet, but, by the way, we can inform about that too. As I mentioned earlier her having suffered from an unknown inner pain and finally, a little before her death, the symptoms of the illness started to show also on the outside. First her feet started to swell, which swelling endlessly little by little started to rise higher, finally reaching the area under the heart, which was followed by great difficulties in breathing, which, as the last mentioned symptom, quickly began to hasten her departure, setting her free out from the storms of the world, with hope to a new and quiet home and into the harbor of peace, where we all once quite surely will have gone when our wandering here ends. If we then would be in the position where we could with joy bravely sing, "All in peace I now leave from here." N.E. There she has gone, there we are going day by day; it is a reminder to us again, this, her departing from us. Here we are allowed to bring in our mind that which the hymn writer says in the first verse of the hymn 498 in the new hymn book. "That I am leaving from here, that I see as my victory, because an everlasting joy, you, Jesus, will give to my soul, also the body, which as a seed in the soil is buried for decaying, rises again as bright." The third verse, "I'll arrive to a still shore from the storms which roar, from the temptations of the world I will obtain a peace forever." N.E. Now we have tried to tell you briefly the incident which happened with us, so, we ask your mind to lead and to put on your heart the weight of this event and the meaning of it.

Now Mother has gone from you, she who so carefully and with great mother's love has taken care of you during the innocent days of your childhood when you were free from the worries of the world, surrounded with tenderness in the arms of your favouring and comforting mother.

Into thinking of these I will leave you again, this time, under the secure protection of the wings of the Highest.
Remembering you always.
Your own father.

When this letter was written, my mother, Ida, was only fourteen years old; Edvard was a teenager; and Victor had already been in America for three years. The love of family and religious training present in their upbringing are all expressed in this letter.

In the nineteenth century, the Lutheran Church was the dominant force in each Finnish community. Young people were required to be able to read from the Bible before they could marry. This helped to establish Finland as one of the most literate countries in the world at that time.

Finland had been part of Sweden from early times. Although many Swedes lived there, the Finnish people kept their own language. Finland absorbed the brunt of the many wars between Sweden and Russia. Finally, in 1808, Russia took Finland away from Sweden. The Czar, fortunately, kept a "hands-off" policy toward Finland. The Finns maintained their own government, schools, and courts.

Late in the nineteenth century, however, the attitude of Czar Nicholas II began to change. There were attempts at the Russiafication of Finland. The Czar wanted the Finns to be guided by Russian law and their young men to serve in the Russian military. Less than half of the young men drafted by the Russians reported for service. Because of this resistance to the Russian military, a slightly modified system was established. Because of poor economic conditions and the change in attitude of the Russian leadership, it is estimated that 200,000 Finns left Finland between 1890 and 1915. Grandfather Antti Bastubacka worked for the Finnish railroads and often made trips into Russia. He told of the poor Russian peasants he saw along the way.

In 1920 there was a letter from Edvard reporting his father's death. Edvard lived in Turku at this time and was unable to attend the funeral that was held in the Tampere area. Communication and travel were complicated in those days, and Edvard had physical problems. My research in the church records of Tampere indicates that my grandfather died on February 27, 1918 of old age and heart problems. Thus the life of Grandfather, Antti Jacob Bastubacka, came to an end twenty-seven years after Grandmother, Lisa Kanganpaa Bastubacka had passed away.

Continue on to
• Chapter 2 - Edvard Bastubacka
• Chapter 3 - Victor Bastubacka
• Chapter 4 - Ida Maria Bastubacka Niemela, My Mother

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