For the last few months, with the invaluable help of Teresa Hukari, I have devoted some time to researching the history of Finnish settlers in the Hood River Valley. At first there seemed to be a dearth of information, except for the History of Hood River County book 1852-1982. But when I took a deeper dive, a wealth of information was uncovered from newspapers, photographs, books, maps and homestead plots. Exploring the endless trail of information from Ostrobothnia Finland to Ellis Island, Boston, Michigan, Wyoming, Montana, the Dakota territory and on to Hood River has led me through a maze of new intersections, connections and dead ends.
There is a reason they call it the web. It catches you up in its insidious threads leading everywhere and nowhere, but leaving intriguing clues that implore you to investigate further. At each geographical point, I found archives to explore from family collections to doctoral thesis, with a wealth of documents and photographs gleaned from local, state and national museums.
This could turn into an endless research project if I let it, but my belief that the value of the historical research lies in the way you use it has provided me with some parameters.
I am eternally grateful to Raija Huusari, a long-lost cousin from Finland, who researched her family history in Finland from the 1700s through current times, documenting it in a lovely little book she published in 2012 for family on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. This was a journey she began almost 20 years ago and continues to this day as she reconnects with the Annala and Seppa branches of her family across Europe and the North American continent.
I was introduced to Raija as a pen pal at the encouragement of my Aunt Evi Jakku who, had visited Finland in the late ‘50s to reconnect with her Finnish roots. Raija and I were close to the same age, had recently lost our mothers, and Evi believed we could support one another in some small way. We wrote back and forth at least twice and then we lost contact, my letter returned as undeliverable. Fifty years later, my sister Ginny discovered Raija through a message she had posted on a Facebook page. The mystery of the returned letter was answered, and many new chapters of the family story were unveiled.
Raija (now Huusari) spent 10 years following the web of the family roots of her Finnish grandmother Hilda Seppa and her sister Selma Seppa, my father’s mother.
It is a fascinating story of two sisters, one who stayed in Finland to face extreme hardships in her native land while the other was swept from her homeland to the desolate plains of South Dakota in order to survive. Both sisters ultimately raising families that have thrived across the generations and continents.
Raija encapsulated much of the social, political and cultural environment in Finland prior to and during the immigration of Finnish families to America in the late 1800s. This snapshot provided important background information that helped me better understand from where Sisu, the Finnish strength of will, perseverance and determination came from. Sisu is what allowed the Finnish people to survive and ultimately thrive in the face of great adversity. The Seppa sisters, their ancestors and predecessors exemplified the spirit of Sisu, sustaining courage across the generations, surviving centuries of war on both continents, plague, fire, disease and abject poverty, all the time relying on family, faith, laughter and music to persevere. In many ways, the Finnish immigrant story is the story of most immigrant families in one form or another. Although the focus is on my father’s family’s story that I am exploring, with its many intersections with the Hukari and Jakku families, I hope it has relevance to your family as well.
There have been times in my research when I have become extremely confused. The name changes that occur in tracing back historical information can lead you down a thousand rabbit holes. Surnames in Finland changed as often as bunnies have babies. For hundreds of years when Finnish families moved from town to town, even farm to farm, their surname changed to the name of the town, farm or home in which they lived. If you were the son of a father named Jacob, you too were named Jacob and given the name Jacobsson. If you were born into the Jacobsson family, but the family moved into the Huntus house, you took the name of Huntus.
Multiple children in a family may have been given the same name. If a child passed away, the family would give the next same sex child born after their passing the same name. In the 1700s and throughout the 1800s, Finnish families were large and there was a very high child mortality rate.
For Raija to follow the lineage, she had to decipher the movements of her maternal and paternal family. Fortunately, they were diligently recorded in the Federation of Evangelical Lutheran Parishes and local parish offices in the communities in which they were born or resided. I had enough difficulty tracing the family names on this side of the Atlantic. Changes occurred at point of entrance into this country, either Ellis Island or Boston for my ancestors. Although the Finnish immigrant was highly literate, officials did not understand the Finnish language, spelling or pronunciation as well as interpreting the handwriting. Additional changes occurred with the recording of homestead lands, census documentation and in newspaper articles.
My father’s paternal great grandfather, Jacob Danielsson Huntus married a woman named Maria (Eliadotter) of Jokela. Their son Jacob Jacobsson Huntus also married a woman named Maria (Eriksdotter Greus) of Jokela. When Jacob and Maria moved to the Ahiholm farm, they became Jacob Jacobsson Ahiholm. After the death of three of their children during a smallpox epidemic, they escaped to the Annala farm. They lost another infant but Maria, Jacob and their three surviving sons, Jacob, Johannes and Zacharias, all took the surname Annala.
Jacob Jacobsson Annala and Maria Annala were my father’s paternal grandmother and grandfather. Their son, Jacob Jacobsson Annala, was my father’s father. Thank goodness he married a woman named Selma Sofia Seppa rather than another Maria.
In October 1879, 20-year-old Jacob Annala left Kokkola, Finland, for America to seek his fortune and that of his family. Two months, later he arrived in Boston, where he was recruited to work in the gold and copper mines in Michigan and later the iron mines in Ironwood. As a child in the ‘50s, I was fascinated by a meticulously carved root that sat on the sideboard shelf at my Uncle Alva’s home, the Annala homestead in Oak Grove. The root was silken to the touch, twisted like an ancient pine on the windswept coast, one root ending in a horse’s hoof, another a cow’s hoof, a third a high heel shoe, all crested with a salamander. A vial was embedded in the center holding a thread of copper and nugget of gold. It had been carved by Jacob Annala, as a memento of his months in the bowels of the mines in Michigan and Wyoming, a series of incredibly dangerous, backbreaking jobs that nonetheless proved to be extremely lucrative. A symbol of success in reuniting his family in America.
In less than two years, he was able to send for his brother, Johan, in 1882 and, shortly thereafter, their mother, father and younger brother, Zacharias, to America. At the suggestion of members of the Hukari and Jampsa families, the entire Annala family reunited in the Dakota territory to homestead in the Finnish settlement of Savo Township, near Frederick, S.D. It would be 27 more years before the Annala families would come to the Hood River Valley and homestead in the Oak Grove area.
Weather permitting, the saga of the Annala families and their intersection with the Hukari and Jakku families will continue tonight, Wednesday, Jan. 15 at 7 p.m. at Columbia Center for the Arts. I hope you will join us.