Where’s Otto? The Final Chapter

by , under Ancestry.com, Census, Ethnic Research, Google, How To, Immigration, My Family History

One year ago, I started on a journey to track down the family of my uncle by marriage, Frank Nikkari. When I started, I only had his obituary and his social security application card (I had purchased it back in the day, when it cost only $7).

But there was the Internet, and Ancestry.com, and FamilySearch.org, and other genealogy-specific websites, plus Google! So I set out to discover who his family was and their life stories. It was quite an experience, involving Internet “travel” to all corners of the U.S. and to Finland where the Nikkaris emigrated from in 1903 and 1904.

From Frank’s obituary (published 24 Oct 1966 in the Ashtabula Star Beacon), I learned that Frank had two surviving sisters named Hilda and Amelia and where they were living at the time. These names and locations, plus the info on his SS app card reporting that he came to America from Pori, Finland, were all I needed to reconstruct the story of a family that I never met, or even heard about.

Since early in 2013, I have presented various versions of “Where’s Otto? Using the Power of the Internet to Track Down Immigrant Relatives” to various groups, including WRHS, Cuyahoga Valley Genealogical Society, Northeast Ohio Computer Assisted Genealogy Society, Bohemian National Hall, OGS Librarians’ Seminar, and FinnFest USA 2013. This Sunday (20 Oct 2013) I will be presenting it to the Finnish-American Heritage Association of Ashtabula County.

So what did I learn in this research effort? The Nikkari family consisted of John, the father; Josephine, the mother; Frank; and seven siblings, including Otto, who was Frank’s twin brother.

As I noted above, they emigrated from Pori, Finland, heading for Kaleva, Manistee County, Michigan. They came in four separate passages in 1903 and 1904. The father and mother came separately in 1903 and the children came in two groups of four in 1904. The passenger manifests were very helpful in establishing family relationships.

Most of the family appeared in the 1910 federal census in Kaleva, Michigan. This census provided the additional information that the mother, Josephine, had 12 children, 8 of which were “now living.”

During my research, I found that family members had many occupations. They were farmers, miners, laundry service operators, loggers, and carpenters, among others. And I learned that they lived in 11 different states: Ohio, Michigan, New York, California, Arizona, Georgia, Montana, Virginia, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and Florida. Researching in some of these states was a new experience for me.

Otto proved to be something of a mystery man. He was listed in the 1910 census, but not in any later census. I did find his World War I draft registration, and he married twice in New York City (I discovered his marriage records on the free website, www.ItalianGen.org, believe it or not).

What happened to Otto? I finally did a Google search for “Otto Nikkari.” And I got a very surprising result: A hit on a website, www.nekropole.lv. Yes, that’s right–the website is based in Latvia, and the page mentioning Otto was written in Latvian–and Russian!

It turns out that Otto went to the Soviet Union as a believer in communism in the mid 1930s. The record on Nekropole stated that he worked as a carpenter for the All-Union Agricultural Exposition. I used Wikipedia to research this grandiose Soviet project and learned that it fell seriously behind schedule. What did the Soviets do when projects fell behind? Find scapegoats. Otto was one of these. He was arrested, tried, and executed for counterrevolutionary terrorism in 1938. It turns out that no family members knew what happened to him. I owe a big debt of thanks to the proprietors of Nekropole for putting this information on their website and allowing the webbots/spiders of Google to find and index the record of Otto Nikkari. And I am thankful for Google Translate which helped me understand was written in Otto’s record.

My brother, Walfrid, made a connection with email with a researcher in Finland, who provided us with details of the family found in church records, involving three different parishes. Amongst this additional information, we learned that three of the Nikkari offspring died in Finland as young childeren. A fourth was murdered when he was about 19 and about to testify in a criminal case in Pori. That may have been a motivating factor for the family to leave Finland.

Recently, I made contact with three granddaughters of Hilda and Amelia, and learned a great deal more about the Nikkari family. I was able to figure out who these people were and their contact information using Internet research resources.

In one year’s time, I learned about the lives of nine collateral relatives, along with additional information about my uncle Frank. All in all, the project was quite satisfying, and it couldn’t have been carried out in a year’s time without the power of the Internet.

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