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Journey to America

Valerie Tuomi

About one hundred and twenty years ago my great; great grandparents, Niilo and Anna Juntunen, immigrated to the United States. They were just two of the many Scandinavian people who came to America during the 1800's. Niilo was a very kind and hard-working man who proudly started the Juntunen lineage in the United States. However, the Juntunen family name was not carried on because Niilo and Anna were blessed with eleven girls but no boys. Today Juntunen descendants can be found all over the United States, a majority living in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Niilo was born on November 30, 1860, in Puolanka, Finland. He, as well as his parents, Solomon Juntunen and Valpuri Tervo-Juntunen, was a member of the talolliset class, or the lords. He lived in Puolanka for about twenty or so years. During that time he met, became acquainted with, and married Anna Liisa Moilanen, who was born on October 30, 1859 in Puolanka. Anna Moilanen and her parents, Jorma Moilanen and Brita Oikarinen-Moilanen, were members of the torpalaiset class, or the serfs. Niilo and Anna were married on February 7, 1880. The class difference of the Juntunen and Moilanen families made the marriage unacceptable to Niilo's family as well as to Anna's family. This "mismatch" is probably the reason for their migration to the United States. Another cause of their migration may have been the fact that they could not buy farmland in Finland. At that time, Czar Alexander II had control of Finland. With the czar in control it may have been hard to buy farmland, also Niilo and Anna may not have been able to afford land. Whatever the reason, Niilo and Anna packed as many possessions as they could carry and traveled thousands of miles, by foot, train, and boat, to get to America. They were risking everything and starting over in a new land.

The exact year of their immigration to America is not certain. One source, a newspaper article about Niilo and Anna written in 1988, says they reached America together, in 1880. A second source, a census record from the year 1910, states that Niilo reached the United States in 1882, followed by Anna in 1883. I cannot say which date is correct, but I tend to believe the census. During the 1800's, the men of most Finnish families often came to America first, to find and secure a place for their families. The women and children would follow later. The information from the census suggests this happened in the Juntunen family. The census has one interesting problem though. It lists one of Niilo and Anna's eleven daughters, Briita Saima, as a son, not a daughter. Nobody is sure why Briita was recorded as a boy. Most likely the census taker was an ignorant English clerk who didn't know Finnish names. The census agrees with The 1988 Juntunen Family Tree book which was published for the 1988 Juntunen Family Reunion. The book was put together by the third generation of the Juntunen family. The book says that the first daughter of Niilo and Anna, Anna Liisa, was born in Puolanka, Finland on December 9, 1881. If Anna Liisa was born in Finland in 1881, Niilo and Anna must have come to America after 1881. Niilo came to America in 1882 and was soon followed by Anna and their baby, Anna Liisa, in 1883. They found their way to Michigan and settled on Arcadian Hill, in Hancock, Michigan. On August 18, 1890, Niilo signed a Declaration of Intention saying he wanted to become a citizen of the United States. On February 4, 1895, Niilo's Naturalization records were signed and he became a citizen of the United States. Anna and Anna Liisa became citizens too. Wives and children became citizens at the same time as the head of the family was granted citizenship.

While living on Arcadian Hill, Niilo worked at the Quincy Mine, in Hancock, until he had saved enough money to buy land. Around 1893, he bought some farmland along Portage Lake in Oskar and then Niilo, Anna, and Anna Liisa, moved to where they would spend the rest of their lives.

Niilo and Anna had eleven daughters. Anna Liisa was the only one to be born in Finland. The rest were born in Michigan. Valpuri and Amanda, the second and third children, were born in the Hancock area. Sadly, the fourth daughter, Ida Alina, the first of the children born on the new farm in Oskar, died when she was two. Emma Maria, Hannah Lempi (my great grandmother), Briita Saima, Helmi Hilturi, Sophia, Hilia, and Aliida Aleksandra were all born in Oskar. All the girls worked hard helping their father with the farm, milking cows, making hay, harvesting and with many other chores.

Niilo supported his family in many ways. He was a farmer and a commercial fisherman. He made cross-country skis and snowshoes for the canal area farmers and trapped animals and sold their skins. Sometimes during the summer months Niilo would also bring passengers to White City with his boat.

On the farm, Anna and Amanda had some chickens but Niilo, being a true Finn, didn't like them. If he ever saw them in the barn or stable, he made sure to tell Anna or Amanda that the chickens had made a mess again. The last of the Juntunen family chickens were donated to Suomi College. Niilo had one horse he was especially proud of. The horse's name was Billy, as all of Niilo's other horses had been called Billy. When Niilo took Billy into town (Houghton) with a group of other farmers he did his best to make sure they were leading the pack. Niilo also had a boat he was quite proud of. It was about a 25 footer, an open boat with no cabin. He called it the Joutsen, which in Finnish means swan. He took his boat out on Lake Superior in all weather, many times fishing with his several son-in-laws. The first nets Niilo had were made of cotton or linen. Niilo was often repairing them as fish, stormy weather, or driftwood could easily tear holes in them. The nets also had to be boiled in a big water tank, filled with balsam bark water, to get the slime off of them. Then the nets were rolled onto a large wooden reel about six to seven feet high and eight to nine feet long. They would dry out in the sun and then could be repaired. Keeping the nets in good condition was one huge job in itself. This job was made easier around 1945, when nylon nets came into use. They didn't tear as easily and didn't have to be boiled.

After a day of fishing on Lake Superior, Niilo had to get ice from the ice house to pack the fish in. During the winter months, when the ice was about eighteen to twenty inches thick, Niilo cut it into blocks and stored it in the ice house, covered with sawdust for insulation. In the summer the ice was used to pack fish or sold to other farmers and fishermen. After a day of fishing Niilo went to the ice house and got some ice blocks. He chopped them up, and with the crushed ice, pack the fish into boxes. Then he brought the boxes of fish to the railroad depot to be shipped to Milwaukee or Chicago. He used his Model T Ford Sedan to bring them there.

The Juntunen family attended church services often. Most of the services were held right in Niilo and Anna's home, with all of the daughter's families attending. Of course, coffee and cake was served afterwards. Niilo was a talented organist and singer, and he would often entertain the guests with beautiful singing and hymns. He taught his daughters how to read music but his organ was very precious to him and he forbid all the children not to touch it. When Niilo saw his wife, Anna, slipping away in 1933, he played a beautiful hymn for her as she lived her last moments peacefully in their home in Oskar. Anna died of cerebral apoplexy, on May 20, 1933. She was 73 years old.

Almost one year later, Niilo died of prosthetic nephritis. On May 9, 1934 he died at the age of 73. Niilo left many members of the Juntunen family behind. As of the Juntunen Family Reunion in1988, Niilo and Anna had 502 descendants. 11 children, 67 grandchildren, 146 great-grandchildren, 245 great-great-grandchildren, and 33 great-great-great-grandchildren. The number has risen quite a bit since then, in my family alone we have had four new additions to the family. Niilo and Anna started a wonderful family in the United States which continues to grow bigger every year. I'm very proud to be a descendant of Niilo Juntunen.

Valerie Tuomi

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