Week 5 of #52Ancestors The prompt this week “at the library. ”
Immediately this prompt brought me back a couple years when I had the great fortune to go to Salt Lake City, Utah and research at THE LIBRARY! Of course I am talking about the Family History Library which has became my most favorite library of all time! I traveled there with my daughter, a dear cousin and a friend for an adventure that sparked my genealogical journey. We left Chicago on a flight to Salt Lake City for a week of intense research. We were in awe of this immense five story library and all the resources – just overwhelming! If you have even been there, you know what I mean! If you haven’t been there, you really should go!
My daughter and I arrived knowing very little about our roots, especially my father’s ancestry. I knew he was born in Lynchburg, Virginia which was quite far from where he finally settled and raised his family – the western end of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where my mother grew up! I spent my married life in southeast Wisconsin- still far away from Virginia. I wasn’t even sure of the name of my father’s father – my grandfather who died, as I later found out, in 1939 of tuberculosis in Detroit where he had moved his family in the 1920s. Both my parents had passed and I had no one to ask!
But all that was about to change as we immersed ourselves in our family history with the help of so many volunteers. We learned how to search and find microfilm numbers and to use the microfisch machines. We did this for a couple days then decided we needed more – we needed to find stories to go with the names of ancestors we discovered! We spent the rest of our time there doing just that by searching periodicals and books and more books. We had discovered more and more surnames we had never known – it was eye-opening! There were surnames of James, Swanson, Dudley, Lyon, Smith, Ashlin, Cloud, Porter, Campbell, Catlett, Taliaferro, Madison, Mason, Underwood, Phillips and many more! AND – we found stories and family histories! What an awesome library – we really needed more like a month that just a mere week but we gathered as much as we could and delighted in our finds!
One very amazing and memorable experience happened to me while there. First I must tell you that my maternal grandmother, Alma Tusa Knihtila, died when I was but six years old. My mother’s parents lived “just across the alley” from us and I remember a few things about her. She had immigrated from Finland in the early 1900s. I had one picture of her when she was older, probably about age 60 as she was 65 when she passed. My mom told me once that she lived in a little tiny town of Amasa, Michigan when she came from Finland because she had relatives there. We spent a lot of time in the “stacks” where the books are shelved by states and then by counties in the state. Each row of stacks seemed a half mile long!
Of course we spent a lot of time in the Virginia stacks. One day, I wandered to the Michigan row of stacks and perused the counties, finally finding Iron County, Michigan books – the county where Amasa is. I really didn’t expect to find anything about this tiny town but, to my complete surprise, there it was – a book on Amasa!
The book was titled simply, “Amasa, Michigan” and was published by the Amasa-Hematite Centennial Corporation printed in 1992. I glanced through the thin bound book hoping to find some clues about my grandmother’s past. What I did find was so unexpected – a picture of my very own grandmother, Mrs. Richard Knihtila, in the early years of her marriage – about 1914 or 1915! Granted it was a small picture as she was with a group of people but there it was and she looked so beautiful! A young woman with her long hair braided and woven around her head just as I remember how she wore her hair when she was my grandmother!
Here I was 1500 miles away from my home and almost on the other side of United States and I open this book and there is a picture of my grandmother that I had never seen – a grandmother who died when I was six! I would have never dreamed that I would find a book on little Amasa, Michigan in Salt Lake City, Utah! It was so exciting and in that little book were more surprises! I found pictures of two of her brothers who lived in Amasa and stories about their lives! They stayed in Amasa and were a part of the community. Now I knew their names and their children’s names and their stories. So this is why my grandmother went to Amasa upon arriving in America – her brothers had gone before her and settled there. Of course I copied the stories and pictures – pictures that I treasure. It was an amazing find!
Later, my brother found some old family pictures of my grandmother with her mother and two sisters when she was a young girl in Finland before she came to America and gave them to me. More pictures to treasure! You can find the story of her coming to America in the blog “Mother’s Day” published May 2018.
This is just one of the very many reasons that the Family History Library is so special for me. It was an experience like no other. If you are lucky enough to go, absolutely prepare your research plans ahead of time as it is easy to be overwhelmed by the massive amounts of information and resources. We were happy to have so much assistance by staff members that we were able to focus our research to areas we wanted to cover. We can’t wait to go back!