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The Finns in the United States: The Project on Finnish Immigration of the Michigan Historical Collections

Keijo Virtanen

I. The Finns in the United States
II. Selected America Letters
III. Resources on Finnish Immigration at the Michigan Historical Collections

III. Resources on Finnish Immigration at the Michigan Historical Collections

Lumber Camp in Northern Michigan

Lumber Camp in Northern Michigan

1. America Letters

In 1964 and 1966 the Institute of General History at the University of Turku, Finland collected letters that the Finnish immigrants had sent to their relatives and friends in Finland. The letters were collected from two provinces in Finland, Satakunta and Varsinais-Suomi. Afterwards the letters were microfilmed and the Michigan Historical Collections purchased copies (41 reels) of them in 1974. Keijo Virtanen, a doctoral candidate at the University of Turku, and a research assistant at the Michigan Historical Collections in 1974-75, has made a detailed finding aid for users of the microfilms.

There are approximately 12,000 letters in this collection running from the 1870s until the 1960s. The letters are from all over the world (Europe, North America, South America, Asia, Africa and Australia), but most are from the United States. Some 10-15 % of them were sent from Michigan, where the Finnish population was and still is especially important. The letters give information concerning the personal feelings of the immigrants, their thoughts of the new land, and their plans for possible return. As the old immigrant generation disappears, the letters become increasingly valuable as one of the few extant sources providing individual data on the life of the Finnish settlers.

2. Finnish-American Newspapers

The newspapers Finnish immigrants published were one of the most important ways to keep in touch with each other and with events in the mother country. Over the years the Finns published hundreds of newspapers and periodicals.

In 1975 the Michigan Historical Collections was able to acquire from the Helsinki University Library copies of three Finnish-American newspapers that were published in Michigan. There were many other newspapers issued by the Finns in Michigan, but so far they have not been microfilmed

The three Finnish newspapers in the collection so far (91 reels of microfilm) are Amerikan Suornalainen lehti (the Arnerican Finnish Journal) from 1879 to 1891; Päivälehti (the Finnish-American Daily) from 1908 to 1914; and Amerikan Suometar (the American-Finn) from 1901 to 1962. All these papers are in Finnish. American Suomalainen Lehti and Päivälehti were published in Calumet and Amerikan Suometar in Hancock. Amerikan Suomalainen Lehti is one of the oldest Finnish-American newspapers. The oldest of all the Finnish papers in the United States was also called Amerikan Suomalainen Lehti; it began publication in 1876 but died after only a couple of numbers. It was published in Hancock. All the papers in this collection can he called nonsocialist or commercial. Amerikan Suometar had a religious orientation; it was published by the Finnish-American church organization, the Suomi Synod.

3. The Suomi Collection

Suomi College in Hancock, Michigan has an extensive archives of Finnish-American manuscript and printed materials. The Michigan Historical Collections and the Institute of General History at the University of Turku have microfilmed as a joint project a portion of these archives. Included are the following:

church materials

62 record groups
(32 from Michigan)

labor organizations

9 record groups
(none from Michigan)

temperance societies

61 record groups
(26 from Michigan)

other materials
(educational, relief, music, athletic, national, historical societies, publishing companies, personal items)

19 record groups
(10 from Michigan)

Practically all of this material is in Finnish. It affords a comprehensive picture of the activities of various Finnish- American groups. A detailed index to this collection is available at the Michigan Historical Collections.

4. Printed Materials

In addition to the newspaper collections, the Michigan Historical Collections has about 400 other items of Finnish-American printed material, including studies, novels, periodicals, calendars, and pamphlets. This material is both in Finnish and in English. From Michigan's viewpoint one of the most important works is Armas K.E. Holmio's Michiganin suomalaisten historia [The History of the Finns in Michigan], 639 pages.

5. Small Collections and Miscellaneous Items

a. Questionnaires
There are about 30 questionnaires that Michigan Finns have filled out. They include information on the immigrant's background, his work and residences, his activities in American society, and his personal feelings.

b. John Bennett Papers
This collection includes information pertaining to Finnish-Americans in Upper Michigan in the election of 1946.

c. Roy Holmes Papers
This collection consists of studies on rural communities in Michigan. They were undertaken by the students of University of Michigan, Professor Roy Holmes.

d. Emil Edward Hurja Papers
Emil Edward Hurja was a Finn who held a high position in the Democratic Party in the 1930s. This collection (one reel of microfilm) includes his correspondence relating to Michigan politics and the role of the Finns in Michigan. It covers the years 1932-1939. The originals are in the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library at Hyde Park, New York.

e. Kaisa Nelson Papers
One letter of Kaisa Nelson (Crystal Falls, Mich.) to her family in Finland (1905).

f. Norse Civic Association Papers
These papers cover the years 1934 to 1964. The Norse Civic Association is a society of Scandinavian-Americans.

g. Riento Young People's Club Papers
This was a Finnish-American youth organization in Verona, Michigan. The materials are for the years 1907-08 and 1921-24.

h. Clippings
While holding a research assistantship at the Michigan Historical Collections, Keijo Virtanen clipped all the news on President Gerald Ford from a Finnish newspaper, Turun Sanomat [the News of Turku] one of the largest newspapers in Finland. The clippings cover the time from August, 1974 to May, 1975.

*With the cooperation of the Institute of History (general history) at the University of Turku, the Michigan Historical Collections has been able to add significantly to the quantity and quality of its materials on Finnish immigration. There are now three large groups of these materials, some 232 reels of microfilm altogether, in the collection, namely the America Letters, Finnish newspapers published in Michigan, and the Suomi Collection. In addition there are several smaller manuscript collections and a large number of published works among the library's holdings on the Finns. During the next few years the Michigan Historical Collections will continue to add to its materials on Finnish immigrants while turning its attention to other ethnic groups as well.

Published in Michigan Historical Collections. Bulletin No. 26, June 1976, 25 p.

© Keijo Virtanen

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