Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Looking forward to my next trip to Eesti!

Tomorrow morning I'll be flying back to Tallinn for a short break. I have much on the agenda including a visit to the archives to further my family history research, a trip to Albu county to see the Tammsaare museum and most importantly back to Kadrina cemetery. It was only last year I discovered we have a family plot there; the final resting place of many of my relatives including my great, great grandparents. Now that I know so much more about my family, I feel it is my duty to lovingly restore their graves.

Inside the State Archives in Madara Street, Tallinn

The Lesthal family plot

One thing I am yet to discover and eager to know, is what the national costume looks like for people from Nõo. As this is the area where my family originally came from, I would like to soon purchase my own dress in the appropiate design/colours. 

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

65 years ago today my Estonian grandmother and uncle arrived in Australia

After the Second World War millions of people were left displaced in Europe. Several members of my family were among the Estonians living in displaced persons camps in Germany (Zoo Camp and Pinneberg in Hamburg) until they were granted permission to immigrate to Australia.

Australia was the first country to take in European refugees after WWII. A total of 182,159 refugees made a new home in Australia, mainly Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians.  Other countries who extended a welcoming hand and accepted refugees were:
Venezuela - 17,000
Brazil - 29,000
France - 38,000
Argentine - 33,000
Great Britain - 86,000
Canada- 157,687
The United States was the last country to take in refugees. They accepted 400,000 people in total during two separate immigration programs. 137,450 of whom were European Jews.

My grandmother Hertha Pralitz (nee Lindser) and her young son Kuno from her first marriage left Europe from a port in Trieste, Italy. They sailed onboard "SS Dundalk Bay" and arrived in Australia on the 16th April 1949.  On the passenger list they were numbers 699 and 700.

My grandfather Alexander Lestal had left Germany five months earlier and sailed to Australia onboard the "The Protea". It departed from Genoa, Italy and contained 1028 passengers. Prior to WWII my grandparents didn't know each other. They met in the camps and married shortly after arriving in Australia.

My great grandmother Margarethe Lestal was the last to arrive in Australia. My grandfather had to lodge a special application to the Australia government in order for her to join him. She too departed from a port in Italy and sailed onboard the chartered miltary vessel "Marine Jumper." Margarethe arrived in Australia on the 7th September 1949. There were 844 passengers onboard. 

Outside the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney is the "Welcome Wall". The wall comprises a list of names of people from all over the world who decided to start a new life in Australia. For a modest fee, people can add a name and commemorate their families' arrival in Australia that can be viewed for generations to come. In 2004, as a gift to my father, I arranged for my grandfather's name to be added to the wall.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Estonia's Greatest Writer - Anton Hansen Tammsaare

Anton Hansen Tammsaare (1878-1940) is widely regarded as Estonia's greatest writer. The son of a farmer, Tammsaare's education at the University of Tartu was cut short when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, which led to a stay in the Caucasus. Following Estonian independence in 1918 he moved to Tallinn, where he lived for the rest of his life. His early literary works reflected a poetic rural realism, although he also wrote several urban novels and collections of short stories: the contrast between urban middle class and hard working peasantry would prove to be one of the enduring themes of his writing.

His epic five volume sequence of novels Truth and Justice (Tõde ja õigus 1926-1933) tracing the development of Estonia from Tzarist province to independent state is considered the great masterpiece of twentieth-century Estonian literature. According to Tammsaare himself, the first volume depicts man's struggle with the earth, the second with God, the third with society, the fourth with himself - while the fifth ends with resignation. The early volumes are partly autobiographical, and the work is deeply rooted in Estonian history, but it deals with many of the same literary and philosophical issues that concerned his contemporaries.

Although a realist at heart, Tammsaare used allegorical fantasy in his stories, mostly notably in his final novel Devil with a False Passport (Põrgupõhja uus Vanapagan) . Here he combines a satire on the inequalities of rural life and the absurdities of rigid social attitudes with biblical themes, mythology, and bawdy folklore. Tammsaare's works have been translated into several languages including German, Finnish, French, Czech, Latvian, Hungarian and Polish. Very few of his books have been translated into English.

Several museums have been established in Estonia honouring the life and work of Tammsaare.

The birth place of A.H.Tammsaare in Albu Parish. 
Photo by Arthur Lestal

Tammsaare has had many statues erected in his honour and streets named after him. 

Tammsaare featured on the 25 kroon Estonian banknote.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Russian Border Town Seeks to Rejoin Estonia

Residents living in the Russian border town of Ivangorod have signed a petition to rejoin Estonia. Ivangorod, formerly known as Jaanilinn was part of Estonia 70 years ago prior to the Soviet occupation. Estonia lost 5% of its territory after independence was restored in 1991. Petseri / Pechory is another former Estonian town that now lies on the other side of the border.

More information can be found at:

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Estonian Russian Speakers Petition Against Separatism | News | ERR

I was very happy to read this today.

Estonian Russian Speakers Petition Against Separatism | News | ERR

Here's the statement in full.

''We, signatories and Estonian residents - citizens of Estonia as well as other countries, and also permanent residents without citizenship - watch the events in Ukraine with pain and concern.

We would like to say with all responsibility that our wish is to solve all the problems of Estonian society with the legal authorities of the Republic of Estonia. We do not need protecting from the outside, we think intervening with Estonian politics by third countries is unacceptable.

We do not support separatist feeling and statements made on the behalf of the Russian speaking community of Estonia. All issues regarding the development of our society, including education, language and citizenship policies, must be solved according to the principles of the sovereignty of the state.

Regardless of mother tongue and nationality, the majority of people living here consider Estonia their homeland. We think it is valuable that although we stand on separate sides of the ideological barrier, we consider it our duty to say collectively, our home is an independent and free Estonia!''

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Russian extremists try to stir up trouble in Tallinn but locals have no interest in separatist movements

Two pro-Kremlin demonstrations are due to take place in Tallinn this month. The first took place outside the Russian embassy in Tallinn today and the second is scheduled for next Sunday. The attempts to sow tensions in Estonia will prove to be unsuccessful as locals perceive the organisers of these events simply as troublemakers.  Such demonstrations have failed to rattle, impress or surprise ordinary Estonians.

No-one with with a functioning intellect living in Estonia has any desire to join Russia for one very obvious reason - life is far better in Estonia. The higher standard of living, ability to move freely within the EU, economic and political freedom and lower level of corruption in Estonia is what will always make settled ethnic Russians loyal to Estonia. To them, Estonia is home and Russia is the land of their ancestors. Even if you cross the border at the easternmost point into Russia, it's plain to see the dramatic drop in road and building conditions and you're immediately confronted with an oppressive vibe. Who would choose to be a part of that? Russia is still a country very much stuck in its totalitarian past and is yet to catch up with the modern world. The mere fact they still use rent-a-crowds at rallies pretending to be locals and stirring up trouble is a relic from the Soviet era and Estonians (whatever their ethnic background) are not fooled.

ERR news reports more on the demonstrations in Tallinn -

Sunday, 6 April 2014

The Origin of Estonian Surnames

The use of surnames in Estonia is a relatively new phenomenon compared to other European countries such as France where surnames were first introduced in the 11th century.  Germany and England began using surnames in the 12th and 13th centuries respectively.  However, the first country in Europe to use fixed surnames passed down from generation to generation was Ireland.  That family name was Ó Cleirigh, first recorded in the year 916. Iceland is the only country in Europe which has never adopted the custom of establishing or passing down family names. Icelanders are known formally by their first name followed by the name of their father with the suffix "son" or "dottir".

In Estonia, only a small minority of people had surnames at the beginning of the 19th century. Mainly those belonging to nobility and the clergy had an offiicial surname. The use of surnames came into effect mainly for administrative purposes, to distinguish between individuals with the same given names.

Surnames were first introduced in Livonia. Under the 1819 Peasantry Law, all church records had to be complete containing the surnames of all men and women by the 1st of August 1826. In northern Estonia however, surnames came into effect during the years 1830-1835. In Livonia, surnames were issued by parishes whilst in Estonia, names were given within the boundaries of a manor.

Most Estonians can trace their roots as far back as the 1700s which is quite extraordinary when you think about it.  If your family managed to survive The Great Northern War (1700-1721) and then the plague that followed which wiped out up to 75% of Estonia's population, they were quite fortunate.

Prior to the introduction of surnames Estonians were known by the manor and farm with which they were associated. For example, my great, great, great great grandfather Hans was known as "Karroma Hans" as he was the master of Karroma farm. His father Juri was master of Lesta farm and so he was known as "Lesta Juri". It is from this farm Lesta, which was part of Luke Manor in Nõo County, that my surname originated.

My surname evolved from Lesta to Lestal due to the nature of the Estonian language. In Estonian there isn't a word for "of ", instead, "L" is added on the end of words to denote ownership or possession. So my surname Lestal literally means "of Lesta".

There are many online resources available to help people find the origin of their Estonian surnames. A good one to start with is the Rahvusarhiiv. The database contains 72,563 entries dating back to the 19th century when serfdom was abolished.

For example, when I type in my surname, the origin is given as -
Livonian province / Tartu county / Nõo Parish / Luke Manor. 
And for my cousins who belong to the Pralitz family, the origin of their surname is -
Livonian province / Viljandi county / Põltsamaa parish / Lustivere Manor.

It should also be noted that after Estonia won its independence, many people with German surnames underwent the process to Estonianize their names. This issue became topical in 1934, the 100th anniversary of giving Estonian family names. As a result, nearly 210,00 people changed their names in the mid 1930s to assimilate into Estonian society.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Support "Austonia" - the new documentary currently being filmed in Australia

Independent documentary filmmaker Silvi Vann-Wall is currently filming her new documentary Austonia in Melbourne. Austonia explores ideas of being Estonian in modern Australia by interviewing many Estonian-Australians from all walks of life.

Austonia aims to be the first full-length documentary about Estonian-Australians.

This is a completely independent project that requires further funding to help take the ambitious film to completion. Even by giving the smallest amount you can help Silvi and her team to afford better equipment, better editing software, and fund their travels to Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth, so that Estonians living elsewhere in Australia can have theit story told!

This is a great new project exploring Estonian culture in Australia. Please support this worthy cause.

A funding campaign has been set up on Indiegogo and in return for your contribution, various perks are on offer! Further information can be found at -

Have I made a contribution to the fundraising campaign? Yes, of course! I was the first!

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Marie Under's last poem - "A Wish"

I recieved a very nice letter in the post today from Sirje Kiin, the woman behind the English translation of Marie Under's work.  Sirje wrote to say that the translation is coming along nicely, thanks to the 73 supports from the USA, Canada, Sweden, Finland, England, Australia, Estonia, Germany and Switzerland who all made financial contributions to the project.

Enclosed with her letter, Sirje sent a copy of Marie Under's last poem written in the summer of 1972 when she was 89 years old. The poem is entitled "A Wish".

Et eales elu poole suuga
Ei teeniks ma. Kui oma teed
Ma käin, et tunneks maa mu sammu,
Juur mullas, ülespoole püüda ühes puuga.
Ja kõik mu teod, et saaksid need
Ka kogu minu rammu.

English translation
Let me never serve
with half a mouth. When I go my way,
let earth feel my footstep.
Root in the soil, to reach up together with the tree.
And all my deeds, also let them
have all my strength.