By Lee Silvi, FHM member
Lee and Carol Silvi jointly presented a program discussing Lee’s search for Finnish relatives, and their trip to Finland to meet these cousins in the summer of 2013.
Lee opened the program by dedicating his presentation to cousin Jouku Juola, who unknowingly accelerated his search and ultimate visit to Lee’s homeland. (Unfortunately Jouku died before their visit.)
Most of Lee’s paternal grandparents were early Finnish settlers to Fairport Harbor, Ohio but all along he knew he had relatives in Finland. Unfortunately as the years wore on his grandparents had not kept in contact with their relatives, so the search started by Carol finding some of the Finnish family relatives in America using public library and LDS Church resources. About a decade or so ago Lee wrote to two cousins in Finland using an old family address book, not knowing if they were even still alive. Quickly cousin Jouku Juola (via his wife Liisa) replied to his letter by sending an email. This, coupled with contacting new-found relatives in Finland via Facebook played a huge role in planning their trip. In fact, thanks to cousin Anitta Liinamaa they did not need to plan much, other than getting to Helsinki, as she translated our wishes into a fully guided twelve day tour of Finland.
They arrived in Finland in late June 2013, on what turned out to be one of the hottest days in a very long time. It was close to 90 degrees and their Best Western Hotel room did not have air conditioning, as they found was quite common in Finland. The next morning they were met by cousin Anitta Liinamaa, and her daughter Iiris. From there they were off on twelve days of adventures that took them from Helsinki to Tallinn, back to Helsinki, then on to Hollola, northwest to Kalajoki, Oulu, and on to Rovaniemi, Luosto, and Pyha. After a couple nights in the Luosto area they returned to Kalajoki and Vasankari, and ultimately flew home via an overnight stay in Stockholm. Lee points out some of his adventures on the map.
In twelve days of traveling they were able to visit dozens of very welcoming cousins, countless scenic and historic sites, the hometown of Lee’s great-great-grandparents, their family church, and even the home site of his ancestors (shown in the picture to the left), although the house has since been demolished. But while at the home site the local historian told them a small tree on the site had sprung from the ground, and that sapling was from a tree originally planted by Erick Silvi before Erick came to America. (Erick, known in Finland as Erkki, was the brother of Lee’s great-grandfather.) Lee and Carol took digital photos everywhere they went, totaling over 2,200 images between them. One of the relatives they met along the way was now 96 year old “Ruhkala” family matriarch Maria [Karlsberg] Minkanen, who is the same generation as Lee’s deceased grandfather. While in Roavaniemi they visited Santa Claus Village, and had their photograph taken with Joulupukki. Thanks to modern technology, While there, Carol “texted” our neighbor back home to have their two young children go to the live video feed, and they saw us live at Santa Claus Village!
The grand finale near the end the trip was a “family reunion” of 50 cousins and their significant others. Many of these cousins had never met each other, but upon hearing of our visit they all came out to meet us. This reunion was in addition to the countless other relatives they met along the way, some of whom could not make the actual “reunion”. A large number of cousins are pictured here in photo below. To the right, the very popular picture of the actual Arctic Circle makes for a great picture and wonderful memories for Liisa, Carol, Lee, and Anitta, who took this photo.
Lee and Carol noted some of the common questions they were asked everywhere included: Do we get tornadoes?. How bad are our lightning storms?, How much snow do we get?, How hot/cold does it get? And what do we think of Edward Snowden.
Some of Lee and Carol’s general observations were: (a) how clean it was everywhere, (b) lack of litter on the highways, (c) no chewing gum left in public places or sidewalks, (d) speed enforcement cameras on roads everywhere and (e) very few traffic lights and stop signs – everyone is expected to be courteous and know it’s their turn to go!
Lee and Carol said the trip was emotionally overwhelming, but incredible. They could not thank Anitta enough for she did to make us part of the family, and all she did to drive us everywhere and make arrangements to meet countless family members. Likewise they could not thank the many cousins they met along the way, and the incredibly warm welcome they received. It was a journey we will never forget, and often talk about to others.
Pictured here is the inside of a house at the Seurasaari Open-Air Museum.
Carol Silvi captured this dramatic picture of an island in the Bothnian Sea, off Vasankari.
Editor's NOTE: Silvi was born and raised in Fairport Harbor, and lived in FH for 36 years,and most of his paternal ancestors were early Finn settlers to Fairport Harbor. He served as Fairport Harbor firefighter for 13 years, 5.5 of those years as fire chief, and was further employed by the Mentor Fire Department for 26.5 years. Currently , Silvi is a Professor and Program Director for the Fire Science Technology and Emergency Management programs at Lakeland.
Lee’s wife is Carol Ondercin Silvi, who is related to many of the early Hungarians and Slovaks who came to Fairport Harbor and Northeast Ohio. Unknown to them when they started dating, Carol’s father and Lee’s father attended elementary school in Fairport Harbor together. Together, Lee and Carol purchased Doc Hafner’s house out of the Hafner family estate, and worked on restoring it for almost 8 years. This is the house at 402 Third Street, “in the end zone” of the FHS football field.
Lee and Carol have been interested in family genealogy much of their lives, and in time this ultimately led to their trip to visit Finland for twelve days in the summer of 2013.
Refreshments were also presented by Faith Susanna Hinkelman, who brought a birthday cake to celebrate her father’s birthday (116 if he were still alive) and any others who have a birthday close to this date. Paula Kangas Hern presented the second half of the refreshment table with home made pumpkin dip, vanilla wafers, and pineapple.
Text: ©Lee Silvi and FHM, pictures © Lee Silvi (Finland) and Lasse Hiltunen (at FHM)