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Born in Finland, Deceased in Pelkie. The Story of Gustav Pirkola

Janna Ojala

Gustav Wilhiem Pirkola, my great-grandfather on my father's side of the family, came to this country from Finland in the late 1880s, leaving Hailuoto, Oulunlääni, the city where he was born in the year 1864. He was the father of my grandmother, Ethel.

As a young man he came to this country looking for a new life and an occupation, and to raise a family, as most immigrants did. He and his wife Brita Caisa Karhula, married on January 23, 1892, made their first home in Coburntown, just north of Hancock, Michigan. Brita was born in Norway in May, 1873. At this time he worked in the copper mines. Together they had six children: Walt, John, Oscar, Maria, Lempi, and Hulda. Brita died during childbirth with her seventh child, Kusta. Kusta died also. The date was November 26, 1902.

Soon after his wife's death Gustav was married to Amelia Ketola, a widow. During the course of her first marriage to Peter Suomela, who had died from pnemonia, she had six children. Their names were: Walt, Lotti, George, Rudolph, Lutvig, and William. Gust and Amelia moved to Mohawk, MI, a bit further north, for reasons concerning his work in the mines. At this time the Arcadian Mine had closed down.

During the mining strike Gust and Amelia decided that it would be in their best interest to move their family. They bought a small farm in Pelkie, Michigan in the year 1916. Here they raised dairy cows. At first, this large family lived in a small log cabin on their 63 acres. There were now five additional children born into the family of Gust and Amelia. Their names were: Adolph, Sylvia, Waino, Ethel and little Effie who died at seven months of age.

My great-grandfather was also very skilled at carpentry. During the year of 1922 he built a three-story home for his family. They now had older children from their first marriages that would help him build. The younger children' would stay in the new home while the older ones would stay in the old cabin. Gust also built a sauna in the lower field, near the West Branch of the Sturgeon River.

I never got the chance to meet my great-grandfather, nor did my father, Robert (Butch), who was born in 1947. Gust died in 1940 and is buried in the Pelkie cemetery beside his wife Amelia, who died only a short five years later. Three of their children, Adolph, Waino, and my grandmother Ethel are also lying there. Amelia's parents are buried in the Calumet cemetery. Gustav's mother, who died on October 15, 1922, is buried in the Hancock cemetery. She was born in Finland on February 1, 1838. She had come over from Finland with her youngest son, Charlie, after her husband passed away.

There has never been any sort of genealogy report done on the Pirkola side of my family. This has caused me some difficulties in finding any information regarding existing relatives in Finland today. My dad's oldest brother, Raymond, has passed most of what I have found onto me from stories that he has heard. I also found a few things in a book that has been kept at "the farm" for years. The name of it is "Pioneering in Pelkie". My great uncle Adolph submitted some of the facts for the publishing of the book.

There has been a genealogy report done on the Ojala family and what an excellent piece of work it is, but I found it to be of greater interest to find out about things that have never been yet stated in a written document, to my knowledge. Well, as you should know, today the Pirkola farm belongs to my father. He inherited it from his uncle Adolph in 1990, the last of Gustav's children to have lived. Adolph and his wife, Mary, had raised dairy cows on the farin for many years. They never had any children.

Had the farm been sold to someone else, I probably would have never had been able to get the actual feel of my roots. I get shivers down my spine when thinking about standing in that old barn, picturing my great-grandfather sitting there, on one of those old stools, milking a cow.

© Janna Ojala

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