This is an image of my great grand father, Johannes Ojala (seated in the middle), his wife, Maria (my great grandmother), their son Adolph, and Johannes' brother, Kustaa (standing).
For as long as I can remember my mother has had a strong passion for her Finnish ancestry. She learned to make nisu and baklava from her Aunt Alice, frequently said (or perhaps butchered) a Finnish blessing before meals, and dreamed of visiting the small town of Isokyrö, where her grandmother was born.
In 2006, this dream came true. On a sunny afternoon in August, my mother, father, and I found ourselves in Helsinki, waiting on the east side of statue in the main square for distant relatives to find us. We spent the trip learning the ins and outs of Finnish customs, straining to understand one another, and trying to figure out exactly how we were related. I also came home with an amazing story about sharing a sauna with my long lost great uncle, Antti, but that's for another post. . .
A few weeks ago, I found myself in Ohio for a conference, so I extended my trip by a day to visit Fairport Harbor. I met with the Finnish Heritage Museum with the hopes of learning more about my family and what my great grandfather's life would have been like in 1900. The discoveries of that trip unraveled in an amazing series of coincidences that warrant much more attention than I have time for in this particular post. A spark has been re-lit and my desire to create a theater performance based on my ancestry has moved to the top of my artistic "to-do" list.
Ever since the visit in 2006, my family has talked about returning for a family meeting that occurs every five years. This is the year and while the date has been on my calendar, the reality of the visit has arrived much quicker than expected! I'm looking forward to hearing more about the two brothers and their choice to move or not move away from the place they called home.
Wish me luck!