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"Gamble Leutinanten och Hans Släkt"

Nils Björklund

I bought Ingeborg Dyhr Sylvin's book immediately after hearing about it. I had had the impression that the book was a genealogy "with a difference", a real exception among the large number of genealogies. I was not disappointed. The book has a lot to offer even to those who are not interested in the Dyhr family as such, which is the topic of the book. It is a significant work in the field of cultural history.

The value of the book derives from the author's almost maniacal love for her topic and from the long-term work this love has enabled her to do. Ingeborg Dyhr Sylvin has lived with a writer's intensity the life of the characters she describes. The reader experiences Corporal Michil Michilsson's participation in the wars of Gustavus II Adolphus and his being promoted directly to a lieutenant. The author has tried to find evidence for the family tradition that the name of Dyhr derives from a heroic deed by the first ancestor Michil Michilsson in the village of Düringen in Germany. According to tradition, the king was riding by himself, and Michil Michilsson rescued him from a dangerous situation, due to which deed he was given the name Dyyr. After careful research, the author has been able to state that the company of Piteå from Norrland in which Michil Michilsson served, was situated in May 1628 and likewise in May 1629 near Königsberg in the immediate vicinity of the king's headquarters. There is also a place called Düringswalde near Königsberg. It is quite possible that Michil Michilsson got his surname from it.

After this, Ingeborg Dyhr Sylvin acquaints her readers with Michil Michilsson Dyhr's native region of Öjeby and with the domestic life of the "old lieutenant". We are allowed to watch the family grow, to follow the vicissitudes of the sons and the division of the family into several branches. At the end of the 17th century we meet Michil Michilsson's grandson Michel Johansson Dyyr as a government sheriff, who also had the duties and priviledges of a postman. The book acquires a particularly exquisite flavor of cultural history when Ingeborg Dyhr Sylvin describes life in Öjeby and the activities of the sheriff. Interesting illustrations give the right local coloring to the description.

One of the author's childhood memories is the story of the ancestor"from Gustavus' day" with a powdered wig, who was said to have contacts with the court. The author has thoroughly researched this piece of information, too. Whilst she has identified this man as Michael Dyhr, born in the old sheriff 's house at Öjeby, she has had to strip him of a great deal of that glamor which she had bestowed on him in her childhood. There exists a portrait of him in oils, the oldest picture of any member of the family. It was probably painted in Stockholm around 1780, when Michil Dyhr is mentioned as accountant of the Kira sugar factory. He was married in the spring or early summer of 1785 in Stockholm with Magdalena Christina, daughter of the vicar of Ii, Daniel Idman. The bride's grandfather was also a priest and at the same time a member of parliament, who participated in Charles XlI's disastrous military expedition to Norway in 1718.

Ingeborg Dyhr desribes in detail the education and life of the bride's family. After her father's death, the girl had had to spend her childhood at Öjeby in the home of her maternal grandmother, the widow of Dean Solander. This was where the young couple first met. The cultural level of the family can be seen e.g. in the fact that the bride's maternal uncle was a famous botanist, who moved to London to the service of the Royal Linnean Society and died as curator of the British Museum.

Michael Dyhr seems to have had a capricious temperament. In 1790 he incurred a debt by buying a house in Kuopio, moved there with his family, and became a shopkeeper. At this point there were already four children in the family. However, business did not run as he had expected. The first threat of bankruptcy was avoided with a settlement of 30%, but the situation did not improve. In 1797 his wife, Magdalena Christina, applied for a separation of property as her husband "with various unsuccessful business transactions has without my knowledge become so indebted that I have reason to fear that the whole household will go under, which would mean extreme distress for myself and my eight children". At the same time Mrs. Dyhr asked for a guardian to look after the interests of her children. During the long court case Michael Dyhr fled from Kuopio, actually from the kingdom. Only in 1808, after the court case was over and Magdalena Christina had returned with her daughters back to Norrland, is there a sign of the man in Northern Norway, where he seems to have earned his livelihood in various businesses. He died in Norway at the age of 83.

Ingeborg Dyhr Sylvin's book follows the various fortunes of the family hereafter with the same exactitude as the above mentioned events. The book does not follow the usual division of a family account into tables with forward and backward reference. It resembles rather a family saga, even though there are many footnotes with source references. To give the reader an overall picture, there is an appendix with a separate graphic family tree from which the reader can check the connections of each branch with others in case of uncertainty. I shall not enter here into more description of the various branches of the family. The author describes them in a lively manner, and the many quotations from letters give added depth to events. When the author comes to her own parents, the description is further expanded. The reader is given an insider's view of the love story and wedding in Kokkola of the parents, Berndt Dyhr, clerk to the provincial governor from Oulu and Aina Charlotta Ingman, postmistress of Haapavesi. Even the wedding menu at Town Hotel on 11 August 1891 is printed in facsimile.

Ingeborg Dyhr Sylvin ends her book with the chapter "Gamble Leutinantens spår" (In the footsteps of the old lieutenant). Here she returns to a military subject as she describes the life of her brother, Col.Lieut. Ragnar Dyhr. We follow the young man's adventurous departure to be trained in Germany, his participation in the Liberation War in 1918, his military career in the army of independent Finland, and his role in World War II. There is a dramatic description of Ragnar Dyhr's military funeral, where a military band was expected. For an unknown reason, the band was not present when the funeral was to begin. When it finally arrived late, the reason became clear; the Soviet embassy had announced that morning that Porkkala would be returned to Finland, and the military band had been commanded to play at the ceremony of this historical announcement. It was the year 1955.

Published by Sukutieto, 1992, Special issue for Family Fair in Turku, Finland

© Nils Björklund

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