Mihkel and Ida Otsanen

I found this wedding photo in Estonia. Mihkel Otsanen dedicated this photo to his friend Johannes, so I assumed Mihkel Otsanen might have been the groom.

Mihkel was a handsome groom, don’t you think? He might be looking a bit uncomfortable in his suit, he probably wasn’t used to wearing it very often. The detachable collar looks freshly starched, but his suit might have been borrowed for the occasion. It looks very heavy and of warm woolish material for a spring wedding.

His bride rocks the early 1920s wedding style. She didn’t wear any jewelry. Instead, she has decorated her dress with mistletoe for good luck and fertility, as was common back in the day.

Estonians love their genealogy and many build their family trees on Geni.com. So that was where I looked first and I found a match!

According to the public family tree, our groom, Mihkel Otsanen, had been born on November 21, 1896. His bride, Ida Pauline Leetsmann, was 9 years older than Mihkel, born on February 28, 1887, to parents Kustav and Anno Leetsmann. The couple got married on May 16, 1921, in Rägavere, Estonia. So they were 27 and 36 when this photo was taken. On February 6, 1922, their daughter Anna Otsanen was born.

While the Leetsmann family has been pretty thoroughly researched, there was not an awful lot of information on Mihkel Otsanen. His father’s name was Kusta or Gustav, but nothing more about his parents or possible siblings, or place of birth.

Estonian archives are for the most part digitised, it is soooo much fun to do genealogy in Estonia! You have access to church books and census lists online (for free!), there are also search engines for surnames, etc. But strangely, nothing came up on Otsanen. Otsanen is a common Finnish surname, I wondered if there was a connection to Finland I was missing.

And then I hit the genealogy jackpot! I came across an application for Estonian citizenship by Mikkeli Otsanen from June 1921, including a photo of him!

Link: Saaga

Mikkeli Mattinen Otsanen had been born on November 21, 1896 in Soikkala in the region of Ingria which lies between Finland (at the time of his birth an autonomous part of the Russian Empire) and today’s Russia. He changed his first name to Mihkel to sound more Estonian; in documents in Russian his name was Mihhail Matvejev. Mihkel mentioned in his application that he had been serving in the Estonian Independence War as a member of the Estonian Army for two years. His father-in-law Kustav Leetsmann supported his application and added that since Mihkel had married his daughter Ida Pauline, he was going to bequeth his farm to Ida and Mihkel and with that Mihkel had financial security to support his family and remain in Estonia as a loyal citizen. The application was approved and in December 1921, Mihkel Otsanen was naturalised as an Estonian citizen.

Mihkel died in August 1941. Ida Pauline outlived her husband by more than 30 years. She passed away in 1976. And now I was curious what happened to Mihkel at just 45 years of age. I suspected the worst… 1941 was the year of severe Soviet repressions and torturings as well as deportations to Siberia. I wondered if as a farm owner, a naturalised citizen and an Independence War veteran he might have been at risk for all of the above. Sadly, that was the case. Mihkel was murdered in his home village by the occupants in 1941, as I found on page 593 of the Memento Book no. 3 (These are Estonian books of lists of citizens who were imprisoned, deported or executed by Soviet occupants).

Mihkel and Ida’s daughter Anna, barely 20 years old at the time fled from Estonia in the same year. She and her daughter Eha ended up in a refugee camp in Munich, Germany, before emigrating to the United States as displaced persons after WWII. She unfortunately already passed away as Anna Holmes in 2003. I hope to make contact with Anna’s descendants.

And here we are, history repeating itself at its worst. Innocent men, women, children are being executed in their home villages by the same guns in Eastern Europe as I write these lines. Families separated, forever changed. Same methods are used by the occupant – brutality, torture and deportations. Every Estonian family can relate. Rest in peace, Finnish man who died for Estonia.

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