As I started work on this blog, my mother handed to me a volume of books my father had been trying to collect. In my father’s small book collection these were his prized volumes. The three volumes are called “Amerikan Suomalaisten Historiaa”. Searching for the authors name returns pages upon pages of bibliographical references but little on the author. So I thought I’d share what I had learned.
Salomon Ilmonen was born in 1871 in Ilmajoki. Ilmajoki is in Southern Ostrobothnia which was the immigration point in Finland in the late 1880’s. In fact Ilmonen was one of them emigrating himself in 1891.
On his arrival he worked as a painter and then as a writer the Finnish-American newspaper the Siirtolainen (The Immigrant). 1897 Ilmonen enrolled as a student at the Suomi College, in Hancock, Michigan, and graduated in 1904. He then went on into the seminary at Suomi College graduating in 1906.
Ilmonen became a preacher in the Suomi Synod and presided over church though the US.
- 1906 to 1907 – Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church in Brooklyn, New York
- 1909 to 1910 – Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Hibbing, Minnesota
- 1910 10 1911 – St Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church New York Mills, Minnesota
- 1912 to 1913 – Trinity Lutheran Church in New Castle, Pennsylvania
- 1916 to 1922 – Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church in Brooklyn, New York
- 1922 to 1926 – St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Detroit, Michigan
- 1927 to retirement – Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Fort Bragg, California
In addition to his work in ministry, Ilmonen was an amateur historian. Most of Ilmonen’s migration was the result of documenting observations and family trees along his journey. This is not considered a scientific approach. In this way, I think many of us Finns are amateur historians.
For instance from a visit to Sitka, Alaska in 1896 he claims 500 people with Finnish ancestry. According to a paper, noted historians disagreed with his claim. The 1910 US Census recorded 976.
Ilmonen published his first book in 1912, “Suomalainen Kansallis-Raittius-Veljeysseura” (The Finnish National Temperance Brotherhood). But with his second book he would move to historical studies. “Amerikan Ensimäiset Suomalaiset eli Delawaren Siirtokunnan Historia” (“America’s First Finnish: Delaware’s Emigrant History”) was published in 1916. A copy of which is kept at the Library of Congress.
Next came two series of books. The three-volumes of “Amerikan Suomalaisten Historiaa” were written in 1919, 1923, and 1926. Next came the two-volumes of “Amerikan suomalaisten sivistyshistoria (Cultural History of the Finns in America)” written in 1930 and 1931.
Ilmonen passed away in 1940 in Fort Bragg, California.
In my very humble opinion, the volume of his work is incredible and impressive for showing the value of documenting word of mouth. While he missed the story of Charles Linn he did have write of Gideon Laine who founded Kreole, Mississippi.
A much deeper review of Ilmonen’s work can be found Siirtolaisuusinstituutti (Institute of Migration) newsletter from 1999 volume 4.