Sunday, 28 March 2021

Search for photos of your ancestors with FOTIS

The Estonian National Archives has released a new portal that enables users to find photos of their family using facial recognition. Over half a million photos are preserved in the archive featuring some three million faces. Photographs date back as far as 1840 in the archive and its a good way to see if any of your ancestors appear in the collection. To use, simply upload your photo, it will be compared to the database and results will be emailed to you within 24 hours. 

To commence your search, please click here: FOTIS photos

Sunday, 21 March 2021

An Estonian in Trieste

As parts of Europe prepare for another hard lockdown due to the third wave of coronavirus, I've come to the realisation that I won't be going on holiday again anytime soon. Last year I did manage a few brief getaways, I visited Cologne (Köln) in June, Warsaw in August and Trieste in September.  The city of Trieste has long been on my travel wish list as it was the place where my Estonian grandmother left Europe and set sail for Australia. Back in 1949 life was uncertain for Baltic refugees living in German DP camps. Emigrating to Australia provided an opportunity for a bright new future.

The Port of Trieste

Trieste is a lovely city with classic Italian architecture. 

Ancient structure 'Arco di Riccardo'. It's well over 2000 years old.

Trieste is surrounded by large hills.

I explored the Port of Trieste in search of clues from the past.
I came across this old train line and accomodation building.

My grandmother most likely travelled here from Hamburg by train. 

She might have stayed here until the ship was ready to board. 

My grandmother Hertha (right) with my Uncle Kuno.
They left Trieste in the spring of 1949 and sailed to Australia onboard the SS Dundalk Bay.

Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Outdoor exhibition on the streets of Kalamaja “Lost Fragments of Kalamaja. Pictures from family photo albums”

I was very happy to learn about this exhibition today as my family used to live in Kalamaja. For over twenty years, from 1918-1941 my grandfather's uncle, aunt, cousins and grandmother all lived at Köie 1a-1. A former neighbour, Riina, lived in the same building as my family and recounts her childhood there.

My grandfather Alexander with his parents outside Köie 1a in 1923.

Riina - Life at Köie 1a during the 1930s/40s

In 1918, Riina’s mother moved with her mother and father to one of the many Lender-type rental houses that belonged to businessman Wahl. The daughter of the family, who had studied to become a business servant, married a long-distance sea captain and they too settled in the same house. They had two daughters: Riina (born 1941) and Katrin (born 1947).

There were eight apartments with water closet and two with dry toilets in the basement in the Köie 1a building. It was said that Wahl had ordered the project designs of the buildings directly from the architecture bureau of mayor Lender and had the Suur-Laagri, Vana-Kalamaja and Köie street houses built in a square formation. The backyard of each house had a garden with flowerbeds and bushes. Later, the garden parts were removed and the area between the houses became one common courtyard where over 30 children of the area would play! There were also Russian families in the Köie 1a building, but all children talked to each other in Estonian. There was no fighting. Sometimes the girls would organise performances in the yard, they even sold tickets. The girls also played rotten egg, hide-and-seek, double dutch, hopscotch, ball and uka-uka.

The older children made the so-called slaube in the corner of the yard, where they would sit, smoke and listen to the Voice of America on the radio. Sometimes they played volleyball or basketball. Younger children had their own playground in the yard; the smallest ones had a sandbox. The children of the entire area were attracted to play here also because of the so-called Tarzan rope hanging on the big willow tree and which they used to swoosh down from the roof of the shed. They went to watch the Tarzan starring Johnny Weissmüller in the Lembitu cinema on Kopli street for all the pocket money they had earned and for many times. When they played spies, the bigger children would sometimes let the smaller ones in. Some would hide themselves and the others would look for them. They would play across half of Kalamaja, through cellars, over fences and it would take many hours. The bigger boys did shot put, trained with dumbbells, played chess, corona, table tennis and had fights with the hoodlums of Pelgulinn. One of the boys had a girlfriend there and when he sometimes walked her home, it would often end in with a fight.

Riina’s grandmother (born 1887) who was extremely caring towards all people and animals sometimes called the children from the yard to eat in the kitchen or sent pies or sprat sandwiches out to the yard. Grandmother would flavour the sprats with the famous spice mixture of Tallinn sprats that she brought from work at the fish factory. In addition to the kick sleds and heating materials, they held two barrels in the basement – one for sauerkraut and the other for salted mushrooms. The basement also housed the common laundry with a big cast iron pot and laundry roll. At home, it was Riina’s job to clean the copper door handles and curtain holders, take out ashes from under the stove. When grandmother would make ice cream with the ice cream machine, Riina had to crank. Grandmother, who was called áma, was able to make delicious food out of nothing. Riina’s favourites were minced meat sauce with boiled potatoes, cabbage pie, snowball soup and Napoleon cake without jam. Grandmother bough a beautiful celluloid doll for Riina and made an entire wardrobe for the toy. From pants to coats – grandmother also sewed clothes for the entire family. From his voyages at sea, father brought back crayons, books and other nice things for his daughters.

Riina’s mother had a diploma in business service. She was employed in a fabric store in the city centre, later in a flower shop and was always tastefully dressed, hairdo with water curls, lipstick, painted nails and even pedicure done. Following her mother, Riina also started to go to the same hairdresser and manicure ladies to pretty up. During the summers, Riina stayed in the family summer house in Nõmme. In winter, the first thing to do after school was to take out the kick sled and start racing along Köie street. The slope was steeper, and the curve was sharper than today. Once a week, a farmer with horse carriage would sell milk and vegetables in the yard. Horse manure on the street was picked up to fertilise flowers and berry bushes. In Riina’s childhood Kalamaja, everyone had their belly full and something exciting was always happening and she still tells the stories with great pleasure to everyone.

More stories from the area can be found here: Lost Fragments of Kalamaja. Pictures from family photo albums.

Sunday, 14 March 2021

Ilusat emakeelepäeva! Happy Mother Tongue Day!

Mother Tongue Day is celebrated in Estonia today. March 14 also marks the birthday of poet Kristjan Jaak Peterson who is considered the founder of modern Estonian poetry. Peterson was the son of an Estonian church assistant who was working in Riga at the time of his birth in 1801. It has been recorded that Peterson was so poor that he once walked all the way from Riga to Tartu. Peterson had a tragically short life, he died of  tuberculosis at age 21. Despite this, his works have left a deep impression on Estonian literature and are remembered to this day.

Cannot the tongue of this land,

In the wind of incantation,

Rising up to the heavens,

Seek eternity?

- Kristian Jaak Peterson - 

Statue of Kristian Jaak Peterson on Toome Hill, Tartu.

One of Kristjan Jaak Peterson's most noted works is Kuu. An ode to the moon.

Monday, 8 March 2021

The beauty of south Estonia

The coronavirus has kept many people away from Estonia during the past year.  International travel plans came to an abrupt halt with lockdown but hopefully we can visit our favourite destinations again soon. Estonia is at the top of my list of course and watching videos like this one, inspires me greatly. This video by Priidu Saart was filmed in Võrumaa, Valgamaa and Põlvamaa in 2020.

Thursday, 4 March 2021

Estonia struggles with the coronavirus

It's extremely disappointing to see the latest figures regarding the coronavirus in Estonia.  The daily infection rate is the second highest in Europe and even higher than in the US or UK at its worst during the pandemic. The UK's sharp drop coincides with a very strict lockdown (which is still ongoing) and a very good vaccine rollout. Israel has vaccinated almost its entire population. Last week Estonia ran out of vaccine and people are still walking around without masks. This should be compulsory. 

New daily coronavirus cases per million.

In Germany, the situation is quite different. Although the vaccination process has been slow, there has been a decline in the rate of new infections due to the wide use of masks. The country has been in lockdown since mid December and it is compulsory to wear FFP2 masks on all public transport, in shops and any enclosed areas. Fines apply for non-compliance. Cinemas have bene closed for months and restaurants are only permitted to sell take-away.

Clearly not enough has been done to combat the coronavirus in Estonia. With over 1000 new cases each day, Estonia is slowly losing its citizens. As of today, 623 people have died of the coronavirus in Estonia. Today the Estonian government released a list of new measures coming into effect on March 6 but still it's not enough. People can still visit eateries and obviously they won't be wearing a mask when they sit down to eat in public. Therefore it's likely the virus will continue to spread. Estonia has a small population and it must be protected at all costs. Wearing a mask is essential, not only to protect yourself but others.  The sooner people adhere to this, the sooner the infection rate is likely to fall.

Details of the new restrictions can be found here: New coronavirus restrictions starting on March 

Monday, 1 March 2021

Film: To Make a Storm / Et Teha Tormi

The Estonian Song and Dance Festival is such a joyous event. This films reminds us of the national pride that swells our hearts. Elagu Eesti!