Usona Esperantisto № 2012:4

Genealogy via Esperanto: a success story

Lasta ĝisdatigo: 2018-03-29
Soile in 2012.

“Finn-sveda esperantistino kun parencoj kiuj enmigris al Usono antaŭ 100 jaroj, deziras korespondi kun usona esperantisto interesata de genealogio …”

After almost two years of study, I recently had my first opportunity to use Esperanto for a practical purpose. It happened when the fall issue of Usona Esperantisto showed up in my mailbox and a notice in the column Korespondi deziras caught my eye. A Swedish Esperantist was seeking help with a genealogy matter. She didn’t feel that her command of English was strong enough to accomplish the research herself, and she was hoping to find an American Esperantist to help her navigate the available records.

I contacted Soile by email to volunteer my services. It turned out that she was now in her 70s, and most of her relatives — including her husband and only child — had already passed away. She was hungering for new family connections. Unfortunately, her grandmother was one of only two siblings who stayed behind in Finland when the family’s other five children departed for America in the very early days of the 20th century. She knew the names and birthdates of these five ancestors, and she knew that they had probably settled down in Minnesota initially. (No surprise there!) She was hoping to contact their descendants — her distant American cousins — and perhaps establish relationships with them. But she had no idea of the names or locations for the present generation. She wanted to know if, in a country as big as America, there was any way to track down her lost family. Did I think I could help?

What seemed like an insurmountable problem to Soile actually seemed pretty straightforward to me. In fact, if I couldn’t track down at least some of her family members, I wasn’t sure that I could continue to call myself even an amateur genealogist.

I assured Soile that I would give it my best shot. She provided me with the names and birthdates for the original generation and I began my research.

A week later I initiated an email exchange with a woman in San Diego who, it turned out, was the great-granddaughter of one of the brothers on Soile’s list. As you might expect, she was originally reluctant to share personal family information with me, a complete stranger. She asked for an explanation of who I was and why I was involved. I explained that Soile did not speak much English, but was a very fluent Esperantist and that, as both an Esperantist and genealogist, I had volunteered to help her make contact with her American relatives.

My new San Diego contact responded with a single word: “Fascinating.” I imagined her typing it with a skeptical Dr. Spock-type expression, complete with arched eyebrow.

Fortunately, she warmed up as we exchanged messages over the next few days. With her help, I was able to provide Soile with three email addresses for various American cousins. In addition to the woman in San Diego, we also found descendants in southern Oregon and Kansas. The whole exchange took about ten days.

Soile and her mother bid farewell in 1958 to her cousin Carl of Minneapolis, returning to the USA by ship from Gothenburg harbor.

As of today, Soile has “friended” several of her American relatives on Facebook. They use Google Translate to bridge the gap between her Swedish and their English. And I get the satisfaction of having accomplished something that, had it not been for Esperanto, might never have happened.