Fairport Harbor, Oh, 44077
Most people of Finnish descent in the United States are aware that Finns traveled to what is now the USA in the 17th century, specifically to the Delaware River Valley. For those that are not aware of this fact, and those who may have forgotten, we want to offer you all a reminder. On Monday, October 14, 2019, the Finnish Heritage Museum (FHM) in Fairport Harbor, Ohio, was privileged to present two librarians from Parma, Ohio, who told us about the Delaware Finns and their influence on life in the states.
When people started to research their family history, almost all the information came from books printed and published in England. Later, several other concerns, like Ancestry.com and 23AndMe, became involved. They recognized how many people were interested in finding out more about where they had come from and who their ancestors were.
The earliest settlers came to the Delaware River Valley between 1631 and 1681. Most of these settlers were from Sweden, but that is misleading. At the time, Finland was under the political control of Sweden, so, although they were listed, as Swedes, many were actually Finnish. From Delaware the Finns spread out to Maryland, Pennsylvania, and other areas. Even those immigrants of Finnish ancestry were not aware of this; thinking they were Swedish or German.
FHM Events Chair, Anne Pohto, introduced Art Grady and his wife Marsha, the librarians from Parma. They have studied their heritage and genealogy extensively, sending DNA samples to several companies who were able to decode these samples. Art has discovered that he is 3 percent Finn, which he never would have expected. Then he asked the audience if any of them knew any Delaware Finns. The unanimous answer was “No.” Was that answer correct?
Art had been surprised to learn he was part Finnish on his mother’s side. The only problem was that his mom had always believed she was German. Recently, Art discovered that his great-grandmother was a stepchild of the Civil War. Her father, who was Finnish, went to fight in that war but never made it back. She was born several months after he left to fight, and never knew her relatives on her father’s side of the family, always thinking they were German.
Art pointed out that six names from the original 23 Finnish settlers in Fairport Harbor bore the same names as his relatives. FHM members may be related to the original Delaware Valley Finns without even knowing it, because these Finns were listed as Swedes. But we have discovered that some of our relatives and families from Finland may have settled in the Delaware Valley. I’m sure the chairman of our Genealogy Committee, Donna Lesiacsek, will research this further.
Some of these immigrant Finns were farmers, growing rye to make bread. This Finnish type of rye must be grown separately from other rye, or it loses its special characterization. Art and Marsha were kind enough to bring small packets of ten rye seeds each, which were passed out to nine audience members. These people were challenged to grow the seeds so they could taste the difference between Finnish rye and other rye. These seeds are expected to grow to maturity in 200+ days. A lot of these rye seeds were used to distill rye whisky, which was easier to transport than the rye seeds or rye flour.
At the end of the presentation, Art showed a video of himself clearing, burning, and planting a small plot of land with Finnish rye seeds. We will all be eager to see how his farming effort turns out. Will he bring us bread or whiskey?
One of the most well-known facts about the Delaware Valley Finns is that they originated the log cabin in the United States. These cabins became the basis for forts and towns and homes all over this country. They were very instrumental in helping to expand the population to every area of the U.S.
The story behind the immigration of Finns into Delaware is much more complicated than can be presented in this article, but it is well worth the researching in order to find out the truth of the Delaware Finns.
After this presentation, the meeting broke for refreshments and the monthly business meeting. To keep up with what is happening at the Museum, please see our web site: finnishheritagemuseum.org. We hope you decide to come for a visit.
Text ©Sharon Ojanpa Mackey, photo © Jane Hiltunen 2020