Musical family in Finland (1915)

This postcard was sent from Helsinki (Swedish: Helsingfors), the capital of Finland, to the Finnish port town of Hanko (Hangö) on February 16, 1915.  At that time Finland was a Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire.  Because Russia was engaged in the First World War, the card had to be cleared by a wartime government censor, as evidenced by a stamp with the words “Пропустить. г. Гельсингфорсъ” (“Pass. City of Helsingfors”):

Musical family in Finland 4

The card was sent to a Mr. Rickhard Engberg.  At upper right is the word Tullvaktmästaren, which translates to Customs guard master.  That sounds like a combination of customs officer and coast guardsman.  (See a large scan of the back here.)

Update: when I first published this post, I couldn’t read the message in Swedish on the postcard.  A kind reader in Sweden, Michael Fored, quickly provided a translation in a comment under the post.  I also had not yet managed to identify the family.  A subsequent effort was successful, after I searched for the name “Sigfrid Engberg.”  The rest of this post has been updated to include all the additional information.

First, Michael’s translation of Sigfrid’s message:

Dear Brother, [Doesn’t have to be a true brother. It’s also an old-fashioned greeting phrase.] A thousand thanks for the letter, I’m glad you thought of me too. It would be a big surprise to me if you came by Borgå sometime when you are in Helsinki. Many greetings to you all. Sigfrid.
I ask for my greetings to Hagström.

The salutation “Dear Brother” was the key to finding Sigfrid’s family tree online.  It had actually occurred to me to search for the name Sigfrid Engberg, but I had focused on Rickhard instead and had forgotten to search for Sigfrid.  I’ve never managed to find any information about Rickhard.  He doesn’t appear in Sigfrid’s family tree.

In the photo are Sigfrid Johannes Engberg (1876-1940) and his two children, Harry Sigfrid Engberg (1899-1926) and Astrid Judith Engberg (1901-1988).  Astrid would later marry Mikko Silfvenius (1878-1943) and have three children.

In the photo, Astrid is demonstrating how she plays her cittra (sitra, цитра, zither):

Musical family in Finland 2


Harry Engberg would go on to work as an assistant to the famous Finnish painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela.  A page in English on the website of the Gallen-Kallela Museum mentions him:

In 1923, Gallen-Kallela travelled to the United States with his assistant Harry Engberg. […]  In 1926, Akseli, Mary and Kirsti returned to Finland. They settled in Tarvaspää.

Tragically, Harry didn’t return from the United States.  He died in 1926, in Chicago, from tuberculosis.  He was only 26 years old.

Below, you can see portraits of the children’s parents hanging on the wall.  Their mother was Elin Johanna Lönnfors Engberg (1881-1904).  She also died very young, at just 23 years old.

The postcard was mailed in February 1915, but the photo must have been taken a couple of years earlier.  In February 1915 Harry would be 15 and Astrid would be 14, but they look younger.  Harry seems to be trying hard not to laugh:

Musical family in Finland 3


Updated February 4, 2020.


41 thoughts on “Musical family in Finland (1915)

Add yours

    1. I was immediately struck by the pictures hung at an angle as well. I’ve seen other photos from the time period showing pictures hung that way. I wonder if it was to may them easier to see, since they were so far above people’s eye level.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, amateur photography took off in the years before the war, but interior shots are rare, mostly because of the challenge of lighting. The camera used for this photo was a very good one. I wish my parents had photos from the homes of their grandparents. I don’t think we have a single one.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. The text at the back says:
    “Dear Brother, (Doesn’t have to be a true brother. It’s also an old-fashioned greeting phrase.) A thousand thanks for the letter, I’m glad you thought of me too. It would be a big surprise to me if you came by Borgå sometime when you are in Helsinki. Many greetings to you all. Sigfrid.
    I ask for my greetings to Hagström.”


    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s terrific, Michael, thank you so much! I just looked online to see if I could find a Sigfrid Engberg, and I think I found him (1876-1940) ( His wife was Elin Johanna Lönnfors (1881-1904). I don’t know why she died so young. Their daughter was Astrid Judith Engberg Silfvenius (1901-1988). Astrid had a son who became a neurosurgeon, Herbert Karl Johannes Silfvenius (

      Liked by 5 people

  2. While I have some very old family photos (including some that were made into post cards) it’s true that they were taken either outdoors or in a studio. It never had occurred to me that lighting would be the reason. I suppose I always had assumed the houses were so small it would have been impossible to gather the whole family in that space.

    I’m always quite taken with the details in photos like this — like the candle holder in front of the sheet music, so it could be read at night. We often don’t realize just how different things were a century ago until we see such things.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That little candle holder hardly seems big enough to light up the music, but it must have been. Another detail I like is the tool used to tune the zither, still attached to one of the tuning pegs.

      Lighting is probably just one of the reasons people didn’t often photograph their homes, but it was certainly a major one. In photos of groups of people taken indoors in this period (the 1910s), the sitters are usually looking away from the camera, because the flashes were so explosively bright. I think most amateur photographers didn’t use them yet.


    1. I wondered about those pictures, too! The three smaller ones on the left wall are too small to see clearly. They just look like groups of people. The larger photo on the right wall, just left of the guitar, does look like it could contain a group of musicians:


    2. In this picture with my grandmother Astrid Silfvenius is also her brother Harry Engberg. Harry fought in Finnish independence war 1918 first in Saxby Ordningsfana, later in Nylands Dragonregemente 2.skvadronen. After the war Harry Engberg worked as a assistant for finnish painter Axel Gallen-Kallela and died in Chicago 1926 during Gallen-Kallela’s three-year visit in USA.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you very much, Sam! I received a message from Paul this morning. I’m going to see if I can learn anything about Harry’s time in America. It’s so sad that he died from consumption at just 26 years old.


    1. Hi Elizabeth! It’s nice to hear from you! I didn’t know that you live in Porvoo. I’ve seen a few pictures of the town online and it looks really charming. Assuming the tourists don’t drive you crazy. 😉

      I need to update this post with the information provided by the Silfvenius family, along with the translation of the postcard provided by reader Michael Fored. I haven’t made changes yet because I wanted the family to see it the way it was originally published. I’ll update it soon.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I moved to Porvoo a year and a half ago from Amsterdam. The old town is indeed charming and a popular day trip destination, but the tourists in Amsterdam are more annoying 😉
        If you find the address of the Silfvenius family, I’d be happy to see if the house is still there and take a photo for you.

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: