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From Finland to America: The Life of an Immigrant

Carl Kauppila

Conditions on board the ship back to Finland from America were probably harsh. Being that Matti was leaving America when most were coming to America, it probably wasn't too crowded, but bad nonetheless. His voyage was like that of many other immigrants; cramped sleeping space, seasickness and a very long wait.

Matti Riutta was a big man, noted for his huge hands. He had red hair and a big red beard. He was returning home to Finland where his wife and child were. They had stayed in Finland when Matti left for America. He had gone to America on April 11, 1884, in search of work and a better life for himself and his family. Matti was away for about three months. In Finland, the Riutta family lived as tenant farmers. Tenant farmers had a rough life. They farmed another man's land. People who were tenant farmers usually stayed as tenant farmers their entire lives. It was difficult for them to rise for them to rise out of the low social class that they were in. This is the reason that many Finns emigrated to America. The farm that the Riutaa's lived on was in the village of Valiviirre, in the community Lohtaja near the town Kokkola. Originially, the family name was Riuttaniemi, but over time it changed to Riutta.

While her husband was away, Anna probably had a tough time surviving. Matti left during early spring, and came back in early to mid summer. During this time, the farm fields should have been plowed, and the crops should have been planted. Also, she had a child that was only a year old. Anna may not have stayed at the farm while he was away. She may have gone to live with her family. However, if she did stay, it would have been difficult for her.

Matti and his wife Anna Sofia (Pottala) were married on March 18, 1883. They had three children together. Their names were Alfred, Ida, and Alina. Alfred was their only child when Matti was in America. He was born on July 8, 1883. Ida was the second oldest, she was born April 8, 1885. Aliina was their youngest child; she was born on August 15, 1888.

Five years after Matti returned from America, he left again. The year was 1889. This time Matti stayed in America for good. His wife stayed in Finland. She either did not want to move to America, or Matti left her. Women who were left in Finland when their husbands came to America were given the title "ruoholeski", which means "grass widow" in English.

Matti's son Alfred came with him to America. His two daughters stayed in Finland with their mother. This was Matti's third and final trip across the Atlantic Ocean. By now, he was probably accustomed to the conditions that he would face. However, his son Alfred was only six years old was with him and Matti was the only parent to take care of him. This definitely would be a change from his previous two passages. His was not used to being on a ship, or anywhere away from the farm for that matter. Experiencing the conditions for the first time, and being away from his mother, was probably both exciting and hard for him.

In America, Matti and Alfred moved to Stanton, Houghton County, Michigan. Matti married again, to a woman named Sarafina. Like Matti, she had been married before. Sarafina had two children with her first husband. Their names were Eino and Nanni. Together, Matti and Sarafina had three children. Their names were Waino, Wilhard and Leonard. They lived on a farm. This time, however, he wasn't working as a tenant farmer. He owned the farm. Matti was also a logger. He ran the farm during the summer and logged during the winter. He owned a team of horses that he used while logging. Matti's life was much better now in America, than it was in Finland.

Around the year 1920, the Riutta's farmhouse caught fire and burnt to the point that it couldn't be repaired. My grandfather Leonard, Matti's youngest son, was about fourteen at the time. He told me about the building of the new house. He said that his father carried the beams used in the floor of the house on his shoulder. This gave me an idea of how big of a man Matti was. The house they built has been added to and it is much bigger today. When Matti and Sarafina grew old and were unable to run the farm, Leonard bought it from him and continued to run it. Matti and Sarafina still lived there though.

Throughout his life, Matti had accomplished a lot. Through hard work and determination, he emigrated from a life of poverty in Finland, to America where he owned his own farm and 120 acres of land. His descendants have spread all over the country, from Arizona to Florida, and of course Michigan. His legacy of hard work has also been passed on to them. May of them own their own businesses and they are all hard workers. His red hair, as well, has been passed to me.

Carl Kauppila, 2001

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