Estonian Archivists Set the Records Straight in Minnesota

June 2, 2013

Aet Tran-Tõnissoo and Peeter Väljas from the National Archives of Estonia formed the fifth team in the past five years to tackle the Estonian archival material at the Immigration History Research Center (IHRC), University of Minnesota. Their mission, funded by the IHRC, Estonian National Archives and the Compatriot’s Program was to process some of the vast holdings during a month long sojourn. From the end of April until the end of May Tran-Tõnissoo and Väljas sorted out 15 linear feet of material from 19 collections, among them well-known journalist Harald Raudsepp’s papers that contain valuable documentation on many exile Estonian individuals and organizations, but also various trivia, such as a four page manual on how to behave in a proper Finnish sauna – part of materials from Finnair’s first transatlantic flight which Raudsepp happened to be a part of.

For Tran-Tõnissoo – working with IHRC holdings for the first time – it was fascinating to experience the intensity of the correspondence she found in collections like that of former Hoover Institution librarian Hilja Kukk. Another aspect that caught her eye was that even though the archival holdings of the IHRC are very substantial, just a few people do the work involved in maintaining them. For Väljas it was the second time in the US and he also emphasized the significance of the input that the IHRC staff is able to provide on a day-to-day basis, as well as the worthwhile efforts of research archivist Daniel Necas who is responsible for the Estonian collection.

Tran-Tõnissoo and Väljas shared their knowledge and experience at the American-Estonian symposium held on May 15th (for more information, read XXX) and got to enjoy the company of local Estonians on a number of occasions. There were helpful compatriots who showed Tran-Tõnissoo and Väljas what the Twin Cities had to offer, as well as those who opened up their home and organized social gatherings to the benefit of the visitors. Both archivists found this to have been very pleasant on a personal level, but also illuminating on a professional one. According to Väljas, this gave their archival mission a new dimension and a human face to the papers they were working with.

Maarja Merivoo-Parro