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.
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.
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!
So began the hunt to piece together Richard Hendrickson’s life. It seems he came to America around 1911 or 1912 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.
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 Thalainen and two brothers Arne and Victor Tusa, both of Amasa, Michigan. This obituary gave me some valuable clues to find other family members.
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!
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!
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, Ancestry.com 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, Ancestry.com 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.