​Names & Relations

Uri (George) Tomingas, (father to Jaan) married ______ Andersen

Jaan (13-June-1882 Near Tallinn Estonia to 27-Sept-1951 Leslieville, Alberta Can. Emigrated to US Nov.12,1906, married Emma Kinna in 1908

Paula married Paul(?) Donner

Art married serenity & solitude

Ann married _____ Barone

Robert John (Bob)(11-June-1916) married Hallie Morrison

Sadie married Bob Gourley

Arnold married Margery

Henry (Chick) married Patsie

Donna married Ed Reznicek

​Our Story

John (Jaan) Tomingas came from Tallinn Estonia, the family name has been there a long time as it's part of the Estonian language which is similar to the Finnish language.  The family had a farm on the outskirts of town but during John's time, the land was in turmoil.  He finally had to flee and wound up in Red Deer, Canada where he met another Estonian immigrant, Emma Kinna.  They married started a farm in Red Deer then moved to Adom (near Gillette) Wyoming to start another farm and have their children.

Emma Kinna was Estonian but raised in Saint Petersburg Russia near the Hermitage by the Neva River until her teens. Her mother's maiden name was Tiina Kinna and she married another Estonian with the same last name Kinna. Emma told my mother that "Kinna" is a very common name in Estonia, like Smith or Johnson here in the states. Her father worked in the civil service and had a good paying job and position, unusual for an Estonian in Russia.

Both John and Emma had interesting and dangerous adventures that eventually led them to migrate to Canada where there was a large Estonian settlement, then to Wyoming with another group of Estonian such as the Torro's and Kinseepts. The raised all eight children and then moved back to their original farm near Edmonton Alberta where they remained for the rest of their days.

Emma had been taught music at school in Saint Petersburg, one of the songs that became wildly popular when she was just about into her teens was "Óči čjórnye" better know in this country as "Dark Eyes"  Here's the Red Army doing it: https://youtu.be/TQuy3FqVcYc   The song was based on an old Ukrainian instrumental Gypsy tune. A very popular Ukrainian poet and writer Yevhen Hrebinka put lyrics to it during Emma's time in St Petersburg where it became the most famous song of Russia.  Emma learned the song on keyboard, then many decades later, on moonlit nights out in the prairies of Wyoming, this song could be heard drifting from the farm house as she pumped the organ with her feet while playing and singing this wonderful, exciting song. 


There is another version about the origin of the song but not a single score can be found, only the story: "French composer Florian Hermann. In 1843 he met his future wife, fell in love, and dedicated a short poem and song called Ochi Chernie"

Four Sons & Four Daughters​

The Children grew up with many significant changes in their lives. When John & Emma arrived and for the first decade or so, the soil had only been growing sage brush for centuries, when they added water, "Anything would grow!" Emma brought her love of music and exceptional ability with botany. John was a master carpenter and built them a nice two story house on their farm near other Estonians, a tiny Estonian community. One rainy year the creek flooded and started floating the house away.  My dad (Rob) remembers handing the younger ones out the window to Art on the uphill side before the house was swept away.  Later would came the drought's Dust Bowl" and the Great Depression and everything became impossible.

When my dad was seven years old, their Mom and all the children went to the school in Gillette WY and discovered to their horror, they spoke the wrong language, were grubby munchkins with ragged hand-me-downs for clothes.  It seemed to have traumatized all of them as they all later spoke perfect English carefully pronouncing each vowell to the point it created a charming rhythmic  accent of it's own and they all dressed impeccably and would not utter a word of Estonian, they were born Americans and they spoke English, perfectly. They also never used any swear words except "Goddamn" and they pronounced it like "Got Damn" with the emphasis on that "Damn".  My dad bathed each day throughout his life, wore neat, clean cloths and hated being "grubby".  They were all smart, so they had excellent vocabularies, much better than average, skipped ahead several grade levels, terrific natural science ability and gifted with all things mechanical.  When they started having family reunions in their later years, they rediscovered their Estonian and many wonderful phrases and quotes of their parents such as John's "Vara ma pista" when things were real bad and it would be better to "go toes up" and be dead.  Anne told me that Rob remember far more of the language than any of the others and was always coming up with a new memory.

While very quiet and conservative in most things and dealings with people, the boys loved music and assembled themselves into a Barn Dance Band playing Turkey in the Straw, Redwing and such songs.  They would swap violin, mandolin, banjo and guitar amongst themselves for each tune, they had natural ability, supplemented with those brilliant minds that could figure things out.  When they got together and started making music, these quiet, capable, conservative guys would burst out laughing and shout "Shoot another tune!" or "Turkey in the straw!" It was an infectious joy to watch them come alive with their songs. 

Musical Descendants​

Later when my father grew up and found a bride of his own from Jackson WY Hallie Morrison, Hallie who was a spectacular soprano, Emma and Hallie would sing Oche Chyërnia together.  Then much later, when Hallie's son Byron (me) grew up and became a concert classic guitarist, he did an arrangement of his forever favorite song and she finally told him this wonderful background story.   My version has been one of my two most successful online videos: https://youtu.be/6r6AgxgjhWM  The video was made during my "return to the concert stage" I hadn't been performing for over a decade and found I had more fun than ever before. Whenever I play Dark Eyes, I tell the story of my grandmother Emma, singing this song on the lonely prairies of Wyoming. 


My daughter Persis Anne Tomingas is exceptionally gifted musically, perhaps some day she will do her own version of "Dark Eyes".

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This site is heavily slanted towards my father's, Rob Tomingas side of the family and his brothers for the simple reason that's who I knew while growing up and the majority of my photo collection is of them.  I  didn't get to know the sisters until they started having their reunions and I started going. I would love to include more stories and photos if you have them. Just take cell phone picture and email me Byron@Tomingas.com

Also, I found the spouses of John and Emma's children knew more about John and Emma's lives than the children!  Again, there's a simple explanation, John had a horrific experience and escape from Estonia's invaders and for decades he would hurry to the back door with his hand on the knob whenever some stranger came to the front door.  He felt he was hiding out from people pursuing him and he wouldn't talk about his past until many years later, about the time their children grew up and found spouses.


Emma had been raised in some level of luxury in St Petersburg despite the fact that Estonians were normally ostracized by Russians, the pending Russian Revolution was making that worse. Her mother's brothers came one night and actually kidnapped Emma and her sister and mother Tiina, Their father would not leave his job there. The Kinna brothers took the girls and their mother to England and then over to Canada to an Estonian farming community.  Again, a horrific experience best not dwelled upon.  The result was their children grew up without knowing much about their parents past.

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