So Far Away – One Mystery Solved Leads to Another! Richard Hendrickson, Alma’s Brother

This is week 22 of 52 Ancestors and the theme is “So Far Away”.  This stirred a memory from my childhood!  I remember going to the cemetery with my mother, Elma Lyons, and bringing flowers to the graves of my grandmother, Alma Tusa Knihtila and 2 other graves in the same plot.  (I wrote about my grandmother Alma 2 weeks ago.)  The other 2 gravestones at that time belonged to Arthur Knihtila , my grandfather’s brother, and Richard Hendrickson.  My mom told me that Richard was my grandmother’s brother but I knew her name before marriage was Tusa so how could this be her brother?  I also knew that they all came from Finland – how could they have come from “so far away” to this little town of Bessemer, Michigan where we lived?  As a child, it was always a mystery to me how someone could leave their family and go to a new country to live.

R Hendrickson grave 001

It wasn’t until a couple years ago that I was starting to unravel the stories of my Finnish ancestors buried in the little plot in Hillcrest Cemetery in Bessemer.  By this time, my grandfather, Richard Knihtila (see blog “Sisu” last week), and dear mother were also buried in the plot along with a veteran’s plaque for my father, LaFon Lyons.   I was trying to research Richard Hendrickson and I felt “so far away” from discovering his story but I was still intrigued by the name of “Richard Hendrickson” who didn’t seem to fit in the family.   But of course, he did!

I started my research with what I knew – the headstone.  Since it was a military headstone, I knew there had to be some record of the application for it.  Searching under “U. S., Headstone Applications for Military Veterans, 1925-1963” with his name, I found one for Richard Hendrickson!  And here was a bonus – the application was made by and signed by my grandmother Alma Knihtila.  Alma died when I was 6 years old and this was the first time I saw her actual signature!  Now I had more leads to discover Richard’s story.

Hendrickson, Richard, gravestone application 001

He was born Rickhard Tusa on December 2, 1988 in Alavus Vaasan Laani, Finland – just 2 years younger than my grandmother Alma.  Their parents, Heikki Tusa and Sanna Puirola, had seven children.  Victor was born in 1880, Edward in 1883, and Arne in 1884, and all three immigrated to America.  Alma was born in 1886 and immigrated with Arne in 1909.  Besides Richard, there were two older sisters, Hilja and Hulda (1878) who stayed in Finland.

So why was Richard’s surname “Hendrickson” instead of Tusa when he came to America?  I think I may have solved that mystery.  In Finland, children are given a middle name that identifies their biological father’s name followed by “poika” meaning “son of” or followed by “tytar” meaning “daughter of”.  Richard was the son of Heikki Tusa.  Heikki is also written as Hendric (both mean Henry in English)  and Richard’s middle name would have been Heikkinpoika or Hendripoika meaning “son of Hendric”.  When he arrived in America, he took the name Hendrickson (Hendric’s son) as the best translation into English!

To verify that Richard Hendrickson was really the brother of Alma, I was extremely lucky to be given a photo postcard from Finland around 1913 that was sent to my grandmother Alma.  My brother found the picture among others photos from our old house after my parents passed.  The back was written in Finnish and I had it translated, “Here is your brother Rickhard Tusa.”  The front was a picture of Richard, finally, a face to go with the grave marker – the face a young man!

Richard Hendrickson @1914 in Finland 001

So began the hunt to piece together Richard Hendrickson’s life.  It seems he came to America around 1913 which would have been before his mother sent his picture to his sister Alma around 1913.  Richard’s 1920 Census listed his arrival as 1911 but I have not verified his date of arrival.  He lived and worked for several years in Amasa, Iron County, Michigan as his brothers Victor and Arne lived there.  The next record I found for him was his WWI Draft Registration Card dated June 5, 1917.

R Hendrickson WWI Draft card 001

From examination of the information on the Draft card, Richard was 29 years old and living in Alvina, Minnesota working on a farm employed by Wm. Carlson.  Richard was single, no dependents and not yet naturalized.  He was classified as an alien and citizen of Finland.  His date of birth was listed as February 2, 1888 instead of December 2, 1888 as listed on his gravestone.  Richard was described as tall, medium build, light brown eyes and brown hair and having a disability of “one poor eye.”  Two things stood out to me on the card.  One was his signature where he used the Finnish spelling of his name, Rikhard.  The other important thing was that he claimed exemption from the draft as a “conscientious objector!”   Going back to the headstone application, I saw he was enlisted in the Army on April 26, 1918, just 10 months later.  Did he enlist voluntarily or was he drafted despite his claim to exemption?

Richard’s place on enlistment was Alvina, MN, and he entered as a Private in Company M, 360th Infantry.  His obituary was found in family papers and describes his military service.  “During World War one he served in the European Theatre where he was wounded in Germany.  Since his discharge from military service, he had been confined for extended periods of time in the Veteran ‘s Hospital of Woods, Wisconsin and at Minneapolis where he received treatment for complications of war injuries.

Now that I knew he was in a Veteran’s hospital, I found some records of him in the U. S. National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers 1866-1938.  He received an Honorable Discharge from the Army on 14 January, 1919 at Camp Grant, Illinois.  His disabilities when admitted were “Cholecystitis not ruled out; Psycho-neurosis hysteria.”  I am guessing that the hysteria label at that time would be likened to the current diagnosis of PTSD.  The records further revealed that he was admitted and treated at least 2 more times to the Veteran’s Hospital in Woods, Wisconsin.  One stay was 14 July 1932 to 02 March 1933 and again from 19 April 1936 to 13 May 1936.   Despite being a conscientious objector, he did serve in the army and was seriously wounded which sorely affected the rest of his life!

I was able to piece together more of his life with Census records.  In 1920 United States Census for Perch Lake, Carlton County, Minnesota, Richard was listed as a lodger in the household of Jesse and Annie Kulenla.  He is single and his immigration year is listed as 1911.  Parents both born in Finland and his native tongue is Finnish but able to speak English.  Richard was naturalized in 1918, most likely in the Army, and can read and write.  He works as a laborer in a Lumber Camp.

After much searching, I was unable to find a 1930 Census for Richard but know he was in the VA hospital in Wisconsin in 1932 and 1936.  In 1932, Richard was 44 years old and in Milwaukee WI (Woods WI Veteran’s Hospital) for treatment.  His height was listed as 69 1/4 ” tall, gray eyes, brown hair and his religion was Lutheran.  His residence was Superior, Wisconsin.   On this record came a surprise – Richard was listed as married but his wife’s name is unreadable and she lived in Finland!  So sometime between 1920 and 1932, Richard married and his wife was in Finland.  Did he return to Finland to marry?  Did he marry here and his wife returned to Finland? So far I am unable to locate any records to solve this mystery.  If he was in Finland in 1930, that may account for a lack of a 1930 Census record.   I will continue to research this!

My next information on Richard came in the 1940 U.S. Census.  He was living in Superior Town, Douglas County, Wisconsin and was age 52 and married.  His wife and any children are not listed on the form.  He is head of household and born in Finland in 1988, which is correct.  His occupation is Janitor at a rural school.   In 1942, Richard , age 54, registered for the World War II Draft and he was living in Superior, Douglas, WI.  He was unemployed and gave his friend, John Nurmi, as a person who would always know his address.  He signed the Draft Card as Richard R. Hendrickson.

In January of 1948, Richard was in the Veteran’s Hospital in Minneapolis MN.  His sister Alma, my grandmother, and her daughter, Elma Lyons, were called because of the seriousness of his condition.  It was winter but Alma and Elma traveled to Minneapolis, arriving on Thursday, January 15th, to see Richard but as they were walking up to the hospital, Richard passed away.  They never got to say goodbye to him.  His remains were brought to Bessemer for burial in the Hillcrest Cemetery.  Richard was a member of the American Legion and of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.  Military and religious funeral rites were conducted at the J.J. Frick Funeral Home on a Tuesday following his death.  The Rev. Arnold Stadius of St. Paul’s Evangelical Church was in charge of the religious rites.

From his obituary, found among family papers, I found that Richard was survived by a wife, one son and one daughter, all who lived in Finland.  (His wife and children never got to say goodbye to Richard either.)  His wife and children were not named in the obituary so more research is needed.  Further survivors besides his sister, Alma, were two sisters in Finland, Mrs. Hulda Luhtala and Mrs. Hilja Ihalainen and two brothers Arne and Victor Tusa, both of Amasa, Michigan.  This obituary gave me some valuable clues to find other family members.  See below for updated information on his wife and children!

I was given another photo with Richard Hendrickson in it.  He is seated in the middle.  The picture postcard was sent to Alma Tusa from Finland when she lived in Amasa so it had to be taken between 1909 and 1912.  The back, translated, reads: “Greetings from here.  Here the brothers are with their girls.  Kivi ___ is the third girl.  There is a mark.”  I was not aware that there was another brother in Finland!  His known brothers were Victor, Arne and Edward and they all were already living in Michigan at this time.  So far I have not found records of the other brother.  There is no signature or date on the back of the photo.   Could this be his future wife to the left of him?  More questions!

Richard Hendrickson @1910, Finland 001

So I leave you with another mystery concerning Richard Hendrickson – perhaps a missing brother!  But at least I know that Richard Hendrickson was truly a part of our family and has a story that should be told and remembered!

Richard Hendrickson @1914 in Finland 001 (2)

Additional Research added 11 April 2020:  On 5 Nov 1911, he married Lempi Maria Knuuttila in Alavus, Finland.  Their first child, Heikki Aleksander Tusa, was born and died in 1911 in Alavus.  Their second child, Kaarlo Artturi Tusa was born 20 Nov 1912.  Kaarlo died 7 Jan 1966 in Valkea Koski, Finland.  He was married to Helly Kaarina Merikivi Lukander.  The third child of Richard and Lempi was a daughter, Alma Susanna Tusa, and she was born in 1913 in Alavus and was named after Richard’s sister Alma and mother Susanna.  Alma Susanna died in 1987 in Pirkkala, Finland


  • U. S., Headstone Applications for Military Veterans, 1925-1963, for Richard Hendrickson.
  • U. S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, for Richard Hendrickson. [database on-line] Provo, UT, USA, Operations, Inc.
  • United States National Homes for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, 1866-1938, index and images, FamilySearch, Richard Hendrickson, 1932: citing p. 41026, Milwaukee Wisconsin United States, NARA microfilm publication M1749, roll 185, NARA microfilm publication T1749, National Archives and Records Administration Washington D. C.; FHL microfilm 1577540.
  • Year: 1920, Census Place: Perch Lake, Carlton, Minnesota; Roll: T625_824; Page: 20B; Enumeration District 12; Image: 626; Also, FHL microfilm 1820824.
  • United States Census, 1940, index and images, FamilySearch, Superior Town, Douglas, Wisconsin, United States; citing enumeration district (ED) 16_45, sheet 5B, family 107, NARA digital publication T627, roll 4475.
  • U. S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942 for Richard R Hendrickson. [database on-line] Provo, UT, USA, Operations Inc.
  • Minnesota, Death Index, 1908-2002, index, FamilySearch, Richard R. Hendrickson, 15 Jan 1948; Ancestry; citing Hennepin, Minnesota, record 1056546, certificate number 005787, Minnesota Department of Health, Minneapolis, MN.
  • Information from family tree of Jyrki Rikhard Tusa,

A Memorial Day Parade of Ancestors


Our prompt this special week is “Military”.  I first tried to choose an ancestor who served our country but couldn’t choose just one without slighting others who served!  I decided this week to name the ancestors I discovered throughout the last few years who served in various wars.  By naming them, I feel I can honor their memory and acknowledge their service and sacrifices.  That is what Memorial Day is really about.   I realize that I am missing many ancestors who I have not yet found but hope to add them to the list as they are discovered.  We always had a big Memorial Day Parade in the little town where I grew up and I do miss the parades.  Without further ado, here is my “Parade of Military Ancestors.”


Col. James Lyon, Pvt, Capt. Robert Wade’s Company, Washington County, VA, 1758

Col. Nicholas Perkins,  Halifax County, VA Militia

Capt. John T “The Ranger” Taliaferro, (7th Great-Grandfather)



Col.  James Lyon, (5th Great-Grandfather) commissioned Lt. Col of Henry county VA Militia, fought in the Battle of Guilford Court House.  Listed as “distinguished officer of the Revolutionary War and trusted conferee of George Washington.”

Lt. Stephen Lyon, ( Son of Col. James Lyon, 5th Great-Uncle) First Lt. in Henry County, VA Militia; fought in the Battle of Guilford Court House under the command of his father, Lt. Col. James Lyon.

John James, (5th Great-grandfather),  Muster roll May 18, 1777: Capt. William Croghan’s Co. of the 8th Virginia Regiment commanded by Col. Abraham Bowman

William James (Son of above John James, 4th Great-Uncle), Pvt in Capt. John Camp’s unit of Virginia Militia under Col. John Peyloks.  Enlisted at age 16, in 1781, went to sea and captured by British, kept in confinement  in West Indies until 1782.

James Spencer James (Son of above John James, 4th Great-grandfather), served in Capt. William Love’s Militia in Montgomery County (now Smyth Co.), VA, 1781.

Catlett Spencer James,  (Son of Samuel James, 4th Great-Uncle) Pvt. in the First and Tenth Regiments of Virginia: Capt. John Willis’s Co; Col. Alexander Spotswood, Sullivan’s Life Guard; Capt. Richard Taylors Co.; Col. Daniel Morgan and Capt. Gabriel Long’s detached Co. of Riflemen; Capt. Callohill Minnis’  Co.

William James ( son of Sherrod James, 5th Great-Uncle), Pvt in Capt. William Love’s Co., Col. Cloyds’ Regiment.

Samuel James, Served as a drummer in the 4th Virginia regiment in Capt. Walls Co. Listed on “Deceased Officers and Soldiers of the 4th Virginia Regiment”

Joseph Cloud Jr., (4th Great-Grandfather, son of Joseph Cloud Sr. and Nancy Moore), Pvt with John Fields “The Cherokee Expedition” Regiment of Lt. Col. Joseph Williams and  Capt. William Dobson.  They joined the Virginia troops of Col. William Christian at the Long Island of the Holston River and proceeded to the Indian Nation.  He was appointed Capt. in 1778 or 1779.

William Cloud  (younger brother of Joseph Cloud Jr and 4th Great-Uncle). Pvt and Lieutenant in the Virginia Militia under Capt James Lyon and was in the “Cherokee Expedition” for 4 months.  Also served under Capt. John Allen and Capt. Eliphaz Shelton.

Benjamin Taliaferro (Taliaferro lineage). Second Lt. in 6th Virginia Regiment; Was Lt in rifle corps commanded by General Daniel Morgan, promoted to Capt.;  captured by the British at Charleston; served in the Battle of Princeton.

Thomas Porter Jr. (married Lucy Baker Ashlin, widow of Christopher Ashlin) Pvt in Capt. Wm Taylor’s 2nd Virginia Regiment; Cpl. in Same regiment and Capt. Francis Taylor’s Co and Capt. James Upshaw’s Co, 2nd VA Regiment.

William Porter (brother to Thomas Porter Jr.) Taylor’s Company, 2nd Virginia Regiment under Christian Ferbiger in 1778.

Charles Dudley (5th Great-Grandfather, son of Thomas Dudley and Hannah Keeling)

Lt. Humberson Lyon Jr. (5th Great-Uncle), Killed in the Battle of Kings Mountain at age 19-20.

Philip Taliaferro, Capt. in the 1st Regiment of the Virginia State Line.

James Davis (5th Great-Grandfather)  3rd Lt. of Marines and Officer in Capt. Wallace’s Co. in the 3rd Virginia Continental Regiment.  Promoted to Capt.

Sherrod or Sherwood James (5th Great-Grandfather), Pvt in the New York Continental Troops.

William Taliaferro, Capt., Virginia Service 2nd Regiment.

Thomas Catlett, Ensign, 2nd Regiment, Virginia.

Robert Dudley, First Lieutenant, 5th Regiment, Virginia.

Stephen I. K. Smith, Orange County Militia served under Col. James Madison (father of President James Madison).

Charles Smith, 6th Regiment of South Carolina, 1779-1780.

WAR OF 1812

War 1812 001

Wiley James (grandson of Sherrod James and Nancy Walker), Pvt. in Capt. Lynn West’s Co., 1st Regiment of Kentucky Volunteers.

William Lewis Anderson (Taliaferro Lineage). Capt. John Coles Co of the VA Militia; 1st Sgt. in Capt. Key’s Co. VA Militia.

Capt. Benjamin Phillips (3rd Great-Grandfather), Virginia Militia.

Simeon Burch (3rd Great-Uncle), Pvt. in Capt. Cornelius Sale’s Co., VA Militia.

Jonathan Burch, Pvt. Capt. McMahon’s Co, New York Militia.

Robert Dudley Foster, (Taliaferro Lineage)  Pvt. in Capt. Smith’s Co., VA Militia

John Conway, Pvt. in Capt. Hoomes’ Co, VA Militia.

Isaac Cloud, Pvt. 4th Regiment VA Militia; 1st Sgt. in Bunch’s Regiment, mounted East Tennessee Volunteers.

CIVIL WAR 1861-1865 (Confederacy)

civil war 001

Joseph Cloud Lyons (2nd Great-Grandfather), CSA,  Cpl., Co. C, 86 Virginia Militia; 198th Regiment VA Militia; Also, 166th, 188th, and 190th  VA Militias; Promoted to 2nd Lt.

John A B Swanson (2nd Great-Grandfather), CSA, Pvt. 2nd Col. C, 10th Virginia Infantry; 10th Regiment, VA Infantry Co. C and 2nd Co. C; Co. B Marion County Battalion

William Porter James, (1st cousin 3X removed), CSA, Sgt.,  Co. A, 8th Virginia Cavalry. Was in Prisoner of War Camp.

William Swanson, CSA, Pvt. Co. H of A Militia, Listed as missing.

Edmond Pendleton Lyon, CSA, (3rd Great-Uncle), Pvt. in Douthat’s Co., VA Light Artillery (Botetourt Artillery).

James L Lyon, CSA, (3rd Great-Uncle), Pvt. 63rd Regiment VA Infantry (McMahon’s); 3rd Regiment North Carolina Artillery Co. G; Cpl. North Carolina, 13th Battalion and N. C. Light Artillery Co. E.

Col. Waddy Thompson James, CSA, (1st cousin, 4X removed), Lt. Col., 57th Virginia Infantry, Co. B, Franklin Sharpshooters,  wounded in Battle of Malvern Hill, 1862.

George A. W. Lyon, CSA,  (3rd Great-Uncle), 4th Infantry VA Militia

Ransome Dudley, CSA, Pvt. 4th Regiment VA Infantry; Enlisted 1861 as 3rd Cpl. ; elected Sgt.; elected 2nd Lt, Hale’s Ford Franklin Guard.; wounded at Gaines Mill in 1862, fractured left arm..

Dr. Ezekial Martin James, CSA (Great Uncle, 2x removed), Assistant surgeon in 4th Regiment, VA Infantry.

German Baker Ashlin, (3rd Great-Uncle), CSA, Co. A 8th VA Cavalry, wounded at Woodstock, VA.


WW I 001

Richard Hendrickson (Great-Uncle), Pvt. US Army Infantry, 360 Infantry 90 Div., Co. H.

Lewis Evert Ashlin, (Cousin), Gassed during the war and suffered rest of life.  Died in 1946 of Pulmonary Tuberculosis in Hayes, North Carolina.


WW II 001

LaFon Camlyn Lyons (Father), S-Sgt U. S. Army, Tec 3 CAC Battery B, 701st AAA Gun Battalion. 1941-1945.

Charles Daniel Pawlak (Father-in-law), Cpl. 2nd Battalion Headquarters Co., 3rd Armored Division ETO.; 36th Armored Infantry Regiment. 1941-1945.

Arthur Richard Knihtila (Uncle), 3rd Armored Division, ETO; Military Police 677. 1942-1945.

Henry G. Tusa, (Cousin), Hq Btry 582 and AAA A.W. Battalion, U. S. Army. 1943-44..

William T. Lyon, (cousin, son of great uncle), Enlisted 1942, U. S. Army, Pvt. Warrant Officers.

Joseph J Lubinsky,  U. S. Army Air Corps, enlisted 1942.

Francis Edward Lubinsky, U. S. Navy, Ships: USS Arthur L Bristol and USS Daniel, 1945.

Edmund J Lubinsky, U. S. Army Air Corps. , enlisted 1943.

Roland S Gilley, (cousin to father), U. S. Navy: Ships, USS Vulcan., enlisted 1940.

Nicholas Homick, Pvt. U. S. Army, Medical Administrative Corps., Air Corps, Regular Army.

Charlie Ross Ashlin, (cousin), enlisted 1942, Abingdon VA, U. S. Army.

Bert C. Ashlin, (cousin), enlisted 1942, Camp Lee, VA, U. S. Army.


A big THANK YOU AND GOD BLESS YOU to all who served.















Week 20 of 52 Ancestors is about “another language”  .”  It immediately reminded me of my maternal grandparents, both who immigrated from Finland and had to learn English in their new country.   Last week I wrote my “Mother’s Day”  blog on my Finnish grandmother who came to America in 1909.  She met and married my grandfather, Richard Knihtila, in Michigan.  This week, I would like to share a bit of his history in coming to America, which was quite different than my grandmother’s story.  My grandfather had “Sisu”!  Read on and see what I mean!

Grampa Richard Knihtila 001
Richard Knihtila  Circa 1906

Johan Olli Rikkard Knihtila, or in English, John Olli Richard, was born on the 26th of February, 1886 in Simo, Lappi, Finland.  He was the first son of Johan Augusti Knihtila and Maria Kaisa Paakkari.  His mother’s name is listed as “Kestola” in another source and she was possibly from a town near Simo called Kuivaniemi.  The family appeared to be quite well-to-do and lived on a huge farm with many buildings and just up the hill from a prominent fishing harbor and marina in Simo.   It was located on upper tip of the Bay of Bothnia which divides Finland and Sweden about 79 miles from the Arctic Circle.  You could look across the bay and see Sweden.  The Knihtila home was built by Richard’s grandfather or great-grandfather. It seems, Richard (as he chose to be called) had a good home and childhood, but that was to change.


Knihtila home in Finland 001
The big red Knihtila Home in Simo, Finland on the Bay of Bothnia.  The harbor and Marina are down the hill from the home.  The Knihtila’s owned many acres and had tenant farmers. 


On March 23, 1901, when Richard was only 13 years old, his mother, Maria Kaisa Knihtila, died.   His father remarried somewhere between 1902 and 1904 to Maria Evaliina Hepola, 18,  who was 22 years younger than himself!   She was only 5 years older than Richard!  There had to be conflict between Richard and his new step-mother as he sometimes spoke of it in later years.  Could she have been one of the reasons that he decided to immigrant to America?  If his mother had not died, would he have stayed in Finland where he would have been fairly well off and inherited a rich property as the first born son?  Of course, we will never know.  But lucky for me, he did emigrate and become my grandfather.   His father and new wife had 7 more children, half brothers and sisters to Richard,  three died young and the rest remained in Finland.

Richard didn’t stick around long after his father remarried, and at age 19, he and a friend, whose name I haven’t yet discovered, made their plan to get to America in 1905.  First they had to travel from Simo which was near the Arctic Circle to Hanko, the southernmost port in Finland.  This entailed a trip of about 495 miles.  From Hanko, they boarded a ship named Polaris on Feb. 22, 1905 to get to Liverpool, England.  A few days later, on March 2nd, they  were on their way across the Atlantic Ocean on a ship named “Canada” bound for Portland, Maine, a trip of over 3,000 nautical miles!  It was challenging to find this information as Richard’s name was so misspelled on the passenger list and came up as “Kucktela”.    My grandfather often told the story of how his father bought him a pair of brand new boots for his journey and the boots were stolen along the way on the ship.

SS Canada 001

After landing in Portland they had to travel to Hancock in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, around 1300 miles, where they heard of jobs.  I am not sure how they got to Michigan as it could have been by train or boat on the St. Lawrence Seaway or both.  From Hancock they went 12 miles to Calumet, Michigan where they got jobs in the mines in the area.  However, they worked in different mines.  Richard’s friend had some bad luck as the mine he was at had a fire and all the timbers were burned and the mine had to close.  Four miners from Australia were killed in that mining disaster.  It was winter and his friend heard of work in the iron ore mines in Bessemer, Michigan.  Not having any other transportation, his friend skied all the way from Calumet to Bessemer, about 120 miles, to get a job!  Hardy Finnlanders!

Richard’s friend later sent Richard a letter telling him to come to Bessemer as there were lots of jobs in the mines and in the woods.  The next summer, Richard moved to Bessemer and stayed in the same boarding house as his friend and got a job in the Colby Mine in Bessemer.  My grandmother, Alma worked as a cook in this boarding house and that is how they met!  They married in 1913.  While working in the mines, Richards learned some English and the mining company helped with his naturalization.  Although they lived among other Finnish immigrants, they had to learn their new language in order to get along in the new country.

Conditions in the mines were dangerous and unsafe with no electricity.  They wore candles on their hats for lights. My grandfather Richard told stories of how mules were used for hauling the ore cars underground.  The mules were born, lived and died underground and eventually became blind never seeing the light of day.  Once, Richard had an accident in the mine and broke his leg.  He had to stay underground and wait until the end of the shift to be hauled up on top of a load of ore on the ore skip.  The skip was a cage to haul ore to the surface.  After they got Richard home, Dr. Pinkerton, the mining company doctor, came and set his leg at home.  Actually, Richard was never in a hospital his whole life until a few weeks before his death in 1979 at age 93!

Colby Mine 001

One of Richard’s brothers, Kalle Arthur, also immigrated to America in  March of 1906 and went by the name of Arthur.  Kalle Arthur traveled to New York with 2 of his friends when he was 18 years old.


Arthur K - Granpa's brother 001
Arthur Knihtila Circa 1908

The records state Arthur had $12.00 when he arrived and he was traveling to Republic, Michigan to meet his brother, Richard.  I am sure Richard was happy to have one of his family with him.  Arthur lived in Ironwood, MI, near Bessemer, and worked in the mines in  1910 and later worked at the Colby Mine in Bessemer.  Before 1919, Arthur had moved to Duluth, Minnesota to work in a mine there.  Then, sadly, Arthur needed an appendix operation in Duluth but died during the operation at age 31 in May of 1919. .  Richard had his body brought to Bessemer for burial in the Hillcrest Cemetery in the Knihtila plot.  Richard kept his brother’s appendix in a jar in his cupboard for years and would bring it out to show us at times.   Richard and Alma named their son Arthur and eventually, his grandson and a great-grandson bore the name of Arthur.   Richard’s other brother, Emil Arvid , stayed in Finland, married Fanni Katariina Siira and raised a family of 6 children.

Emil Arvid Knihtila 001
Emil Arvid Knihtila at about age 20

Recently, I came into a photo postcard that my grandfather Richard sent to his brother Arthur on July 8, 1909.  It was from Bismarck, North Dakota and the photo is of Richard and Antry Kauppi, a friend.  The message on the back is in Finnish but translates to “Greetings from Dakotas.  We are now in Bismarck but we will be going somewhere else and I don’t have time to write an address but I will when we meet.  Best wishes, Richard.”  Evidentally, my grandfather did travel around!  Maybe lookin for work?

Richard K with friend 001


It must have been difficult for my grandfather to leave Finland, family and a comfortable life behind to face a new life, learn a new language, and have to work so hard for a living.  It took a lot of stamina and courage to do so.  My grandfather had a word in his language for it – SISU – pronounced See-Sue, which means “guts” or courage!  Grandpa Richard had Sisu!


Alma and Richard grave 001
 Hillcrest Cemetery, Bessemer, Gogebic County, Michigan



Stories from conversation with Arthur L Lyons as told to him by Richard Knihtila. 12/23/2016.

Information from heir list of Juho August Knihtila as transcribed by Elma Knihtila Lyons

Finland, Select Baptisms, 1657-1890,, Provo UT. FHL 55,686.

Passenger Records of Finland Steamship Co., Book 39, page 20, Library of Ebo Akademi, Turku, Finland. UK, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960., New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957.



Mother’s Day: My grandmother Alma

For the upcoming Mother’s Day and our week 19 of 52 Ancestors, I am choosing to tell the story of my extraordinary maternal grandmother, Alma Elsabeth Tusa.  Alma married my grandfather,  John Olli Richard Knihtila, in 1913 and they lived in Bessemer, Michigan, near my family.  52ancestors-sidebar-1

Alma died when I was but 6 years old and so I knew her only briefly.  I always wanted to know more and through family stories, personal experiences and extensive genealogical research, I found out how very extraordinary she was!

Alma was born in Alavus, Vaasan Laani, Finland on August 22, 1886, one of seven known children.  She was the daughter of Heikki Erkinpoika Tusa and Susanna (Sanna) Catharina Juhontytar Puirola.   It seems her family may have been fairly well off as they had portraits taken, not a common thing in those days, and the headstones of the parents in the graveyard are quite ornate.  I do know they lived on a lake but their home no longer exists and another home is built on the land.   When Alma was 22 years old in 1909, she chose to go to America and start a new life – a life much different than that in her homeland, a very brave decision!  She must have known that there was a slim chance she would ever see her parents and two sister, Hulda and Hilja, again.  Alma already had 2 brothers who immigrated to a little town in Upper Michigan called Amasa.  Family stories have it that her two brothers in Michigan, Victor and Edward, sent her money to come to America.

Below is a picture taken in Finland in about 1908 before Alma left for America.  Seated on the left is her mother, Sanna Tusa and on the right seated is Alma.  Standing are Alma’s two sisters both who stayed in Finland – Hilja on the left and Hulda on the right.  It must have been difficult for Alma to leave her parents and sisters!

Grandma K with mother an 2 sisters 001


Alma and her brother, Arne Tusa who was 24, first traveled about 255 miles from Alavus to the southernmost point in Finland, a city called Hanko.  Hanko was the port of choice for emigrants leaving Finland for America.  From Hanko, they sailed to Liverpool, England on a ship named Polaris on 17 July 1909.  They left Liverpool on a ship Mauretania to cross the Atlantic on the 24th of July.   After 6 days at sea, they arrived at Ellis Island in New York on 30th of July.  Arriving at Ellis Island, they had to be registered as aliens and inspected for physical and mental health, waiting in long lines sometimes for days before they could be cleared.   They somehow found their way to Amasa, Michigan perhaps by train and must have had a joyful reunion with the two brothers after a long, hard journey!  The price of each ticket to come to America was 70 U. S. Dollars, which would be about $1880.00 dollars today!


Arne Tusa 001
Arne Tusa, brother of Alma


Alma and Arne got jobs in Amasa and although they lived among finnish-speaking people, they had to learn English, too.   Alma worked in a rooming house and Arne got a job in the mine.  Sometime around 1912, Alma moved from Amasa to Bessemer, Michigan  and worked as a cook in a rooming house.  Most of the roomers were iron ore miners and one roomer caught her eye – Richard Knihtila.   They married on August 18th of 1913 and on their marriage license, Alma was listed as a domestic and Richard as a miner.  They were married at St. Paul’s Finnish Lutheran Church in nearby Ironwood, Michigan.  They were both 27 years old.  My grandfather’s real name was Johan Olli Rikkard Knihtila but he used the name Richard.  He was born in Simo, Lappi, Finland and had immigrated in 1905.  His story is also interesting but I will save that story for later!


Alma Richard Marriage cert 001
Marriage license of Richard Knihtila and Alma Tusa, Aug. 23, 1



Alma and Richard Wed Pic 001
Alma and Richards Wedding picture


Around 1912, Alma’s younger brother, Richard Tusa Hendrickson, also came to America and stayed in Amasa for a few years before moving to Superior, Wisconsin.  He chose to use the surname Hendrickson instead of Tusa as he was the “son of Hendric”.  Hendric was another form of Heikki, their father’s name.  On the last day of 1913, my mother, Elma Marie Knihtila, was born and in 1917, her brother, Arthur Richard Knihtila, was born.  Alma and Richard purchased a small house in Bessemer, MI. and raised their family.  Alma worked at one time as a seamstress (Is this where I got my love of sewing from?) and Richard worked in the mines and in the woods hauling logs with his horse.  Alma went to night school to become a citizen and in 1939, she became naturalized!

Alma naturalization cert 001

I remember my grandmother taking my brother and I when we were little to the sauna each week and scrubbing us down Finnish style and then buying us an orange soda.  She made sure we went to the Finnish Church in Bessemer, too!  She had a large room-sized weaving loom in her barn on which she would spend hours laboring over making “rag rugs”.  I would sit on the floor and have to wind the strips of rags into balls to be fed into the loom.  The loom was noisy and hard work to operate.

Grandma had soft brown eyes and very long hair that she would braid and wind around her head.  She also had type 1 diabetes and had to give herself insulin shots everyday.   She was always so happy to see us and would laugh and smile when we came.   In June of 1952, she passed away in a diabetic coma and I missed her so much.  She had a very strong faith and told my mom that “Jesus was in the doorway” just before she  passed away.

I think my grandmother was extraordinary because she was so brave to journey to a far off land and start a new life without knowing what was ahead.   She adapted to her new country and was so proud to become a citizen!  She worked hard and loved her family and had many friends.   There is so much more I could write about her, but I just wanted to honor her memory on this Mother’s Day of 2018.


Can a Cemetery be Awesome? This one is!

Last week’s prompt was “cemetery”  and although I am a week behind, I will catch up on the weekly prompts.  Life sometimes gets way too busy and the research into the past has to wait a bit!   The prompt immediately reminded me of the cemetery in Virginia that  I would like to visit sometime although it would be quite a trip!   It is named the Ashlin-Wilkinson Cemetery.

Ashlin-Wilkinson Cemetery 1 001

This cemetery is important to me because it is located on part of Chesley Ashlin’s old farm and Chesley Harrison Ashlin and his wife, Phoebe Byrd James were my 3rd Great-grandparents.  Just to see part of the farm where they once lived would be exciting!   In addition, Chesley’s parents, Christopher Ashlin and Lucy Baker Ashlin, my fourth great-grandparents, are also buried there.  To make it more endearing, Chesley’s son, Columbus Perry Ashlin and Mary Ann James, my second great-grandparents, are also buried in this little cemetery.  So here lie three generations of my ancestors and a few other relatives – all in one place on land once owned by the family.  I find that pretty awesome!

I found pictures of the Ashlin-Wilkinson Cemetery on Find A and was able to see a bit of what my third great-grandfather’s farm looked like.  The cemetery is on the top of a hill and in the background are rolling hills and a line of trees indicating a wooded area.  The Blue Ridge mountains are in a distance.

Ashlin-Wilkinson Cemetery 3 001

I know from the 1860 Census that this must have been a huge farm at one time as it was valued at $3000 which would have been about $80,000 today.  Chesley Ashlin’s personal estate in 1860 included the value of 16 slaves and was valued at $11,000 which would be around $350-400,000 today.  Of course all that changed after the Civil War and his real estate dropped to $2000 and his personal estate dropped to $550 (about $9,000 today) by 1870.  Truly a life changing event for the family.  They must have loved their farm enough to dedicate part of it to be their final resting place.

There are just about 13 graves in this little cemetery and the pictures below show how some of the stone markers are deteriorating.   It is located in the southeastern corner of Smyth County, Virginia and is ENE of the town of Sugar Grove, VA.  It is much closer to Sugar Grove than to Rural Retreat.  My father’s family and many relatives lived in the Sugar Grove area in the 1800’s and early 1900’s.   If one wanted to visit, from Sugar Grove, take Route 614, which is Cedar Springs Road, 2.2 miles to a well fenced large area on the left and the cemetery is on the hill behind a house.  There is supposed to be a path to the cemetery.

Ashlin-Wilkinson Cemetery 4 001

The GPS view I discovered shows the cemetery in the middle of a farm field.

Ashlin-Wilkinson Cemetery GPS 001


Chesley & Phoebe grave 001
Grave marker of my Third Great-grandparents/ Ashlin-Wilkinson Cemetery



Columbus and Mary ann grave 001
Grave marker of my Second Great-grandparents/ Ashlin-Wilkinson Cemetery


Ashlin-Wilkinson Cemetery 2 001
Here is where I want to go!