I am humbled by my ancestors.

I was taught that strong people are respected….that strong people accomplish more in life….and that strong people are the one’s that others tend to follow.  I guess my parents were right all along.  I highly respect my ancestors…they accomplished more in their lives than I have so far…and I follow their every move thru documents and records.  They were beyond STRONG!

Think about your own ancestors.  Where did they come from?  Where did they go?  Who did they travel with? Did they all come here together?  Did they suffer thru an epidemic?  Bury children very young? Bury a spouse (or 2) and raise their children on their own?  Think about their stories…then think about your own.  Could you have survived the circumstances they lived thru?  I’m not sure I could….and I’m not a whimp!

Anyone that knows me will understand that last statement.  I was a single mom for 20 years.  I packed up my daughter and moved away from my family and friends to start a better life for us…but it wasn’t across an ocean…it was a short 300 miles away.  I did survive…and so did my daughter.  But I’m not sure I could’ve survived what my great grandparents lived thru.  Let me explain….

My maternal Great Grandparents, Kaarle Sigvard Lehtinen and Ida Josefina Sundman married in Lovo, Vårdö, Finland in the late 1800’s and had 3 children, Carl, Hilda, and Anna (my grandmother).  My Great Grandmother Ida had to be one of the strongest female ancestors I have gotten to know thru documents.  They lived on a very remote island off the coast of Finland….her husband boarded a boat for the US leaving her with their 3 children until he could earn enough money to “send for them”. I have not found Kaarle’s immigration information or confirmed the date he landed in the US, but I know that my Great Grandma Ida and their 3 children came here thru Canada in 1911.  Then made their way to Chicago where her husband had set up a residence for them and had been working hard to bring them all to this “land of opportunity”.   I know that Kaarle changed his name to Charles (probably to sound more “American”), they changed the family name from Lehtinen to Lee…and they lived on the South Side of Chicago.  Charles and Ida expanded their family in the US with the birth of a son, Leo, in 1914…only to lose him during the 1916 Diphtheria Epidemic in Chicago.  He was sick for only 4 days before he died.  And the family would lose Charles to a work related accident on January 12, 1917…leaving the family without their main source of income and stability.   My grandmother was 16 years old, her brother Carl was 19, and her sister Hilda was 12, at the time.  But…the family didn’t crumble…they didn’t curl up and say “what are we going to do now?”.  Nope…this family of strength pulled together…and three years later, the 1920 Census showed the family still lived in the same house…so I know they survived! But they also had added 2 new members to the family…my grandmother had a husband and son.

According to the 1930 census, my Grandma Anna worked as a waitress in a soda parlor (where she met my Grandfather), and her brother, Carl, worked as a newspaper salesman.  Ida didn’t work outside the home but helped raise her grandson (Anna’s son by her first husband who died in 1920).  Ida also, according to family stories, never spoke English….only Swedish.  At least at home…I’m not positive if she ever learned English.

When I think about what this small, immigrant family endured in their first 20 years in the US, I wonder if I could’ve survived those same circumstances.  My great grandmother had to be a ROCK!  Think about it…Separation from her husband (a fisherman in Finland and most likely the sole financial support for the family) as he travels to the US to find new work and make a new life for his family; finding work at home to help the family survive in his absence; helping care for her parents and saying goodbye to them when she leaves for the US with her children, knowing she will never see them again; crossing an ocean with 3 children; reuniting with her husband after a couple years absence in a strange country where you can’t communicate properly; add another child to your family and then lose them to an epidemic (and probably worrying about losing others in your family, too); having your financial supporter violently killed in a work related accident; birth of your first grandchild; death of your son-in-law (the newest financial supporter of the family); the disability of your son (who by the late 1930’s or early 1940’s was wheelchair bound); and, of course, don’t forget the economic state of the country as they enter the Depression.

My Grandma Anna and her mother, my Great Grandma Ida.  Approximately 1903 in Finland.

My Grandma Anna and her mother, my Great Grandma Ida. Approximately 1903 in Finland.

Ida was approximately 55 years old when she died on April 15, 1930.  Unfortunately I never got to meet her…she died 37 years before I was born…that seems like a lifetime.  But by looking thru the various documents and photos I have, I feel like I know her now.  I have seen her strength over and over again.  I can feel the anguish in her life story. But I also have a tremendous amount of respect for her.  Of all the possible traits I could inherit from her, I truly hope that her strength and courage are two things that have been passed down thru her DNA to me.  I am extremely proud to call Ida Josefina Sundman Lehtinen Lee my Great Grandmother.

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