View Full Version : Work in North America

02-02-04, 01:38
When my grandmother arrived in the USA she first found work with her sister in a hospital in California. She later did housekeeping in homes of the well-to-do. My grandfather found work in the forest industry. He later bought a parcel of land and built a house and barn. When I was a little girl my grandparents lived on their small farm. They had a horse (no tractor!) and a couple of cows and many chickens. They grew enough to feed the animals all year round (grass,hay,grain). The horse pulled the plough, the harrow and the mower. My grandfather milked every day and my grandmother made butter.
I'm wondering if this was typical of many Swede-Finns who arrived in North America. If not, what other kinds of work did they do?

Karen Norwillo
02-02-04, 21:27
Claire, My grandparents, too, emigrated from Finland in the 1890's. They went to Upper Michigan where my grandpa worked in the mines, the lumber camps and for the railroad before becoming a farmer. My grandma did domestic work and also cooked in the lumber camps. Karen

04-02-04, 17:08
My father's parents immigrated in 1906 & 1909. My grandfather worked in the mines in Wisconsin outside of Ironwood, Michigan. Then he worked in a lumber camp, contracted TB, then ultimately became a farmer. I don't believe my grandmother worked outside the farm/house.

My mother's grandparents settled in Northern Minnesota and were both farmers. Even some of their children and grandchildren continued in this line.

My parents became "city folk" after marriage. I always enjoyed visiting my mom's brothers who had working farms. Cows, pigs, chickens, horses, etc.....what an adventure for a young city boy! :)

June Pelo
04-02-04, 18:48
All of my grandparents emigrated in the late 1800s and ended up in Michigan. My grandmothers scrubbed floors and washed dishes for various businesses. My grandfathers worked for logging companies - I think my maternal grandfather was recruited in Finland by an American lumber company and he and his friends ended up in AuSable, MI.

One of my uncles worked for a while as a bartender at a logging camp. He didn't drink at all, but said the lumberjacks were hard drinkers and had to have their liquor every day. Even on Sunday he had to serve drinks. He got tired of that kind of life and became a farmer. And wouldn't you know he ended up on a farm in Alabaster, MI on land where the mineral rights were owned by US Gypsum Company. He found out that there was no water on the land and he had to go to town every day and bring back water for his family and his animals. So he sold his farm and moved to East Tawas and bought a large house on Lake Huron where he and my aunt operated a rooming house. I can still picture my aunt in the kitchen standing by the big black wood stove making flapjacks (pancakes).


04-02-04, 23:36
My uncle John emigrated 1925 when he was 21 years of age. When he visited Finland in 1972 for the first and last time, he told us that he was a taylor when he left Finland.
First he arrived in Canada where he got work as a farm hand. After that he was a lumberjack for a while.
Later he was in New York and worked as a taylor. He said he had some of the finest families as his customers. That must have been after the depression.
During the war when USA was allied to the Sovyet Union he suddenly found himself out of work. He was told that was because he was a Finn, and Finland was an enemy to USA's ally.
So he applied for citizenship and got it, after which he had work again.
Later on, I do not know exactly when, he worked as a carpenter until he was retired. He lived in New Jersey in, (if I remember correctly) Glendale.
He married a Carelian woman he had met in the USA.
When they visited us he had almost forgotten his Swedish (it came back after a couple of weeks). But he spoke a faultless English and very good Finnish which he couldn't speak when he emigrated. He had learned Finnish from his wife Aino, who spoke very little English with a strong accent after a liftime in America.

I suppose this is a fairly common immigrant "CV".


Tracy Boeldt
05-02-04, 06:07
My great grandmother came to the US from Finland as an indentured servant (she was recruited at a dance by a man that offered her a ticket for $50.00 and my grandmother's friends were very worried about her taking this). She came through Ellis Island and she was given a bag of food--she wouldn't eat the tomato (since she had never seen one before--she thought it was poisonous). She worked at a boarding house for men in Rock Island, ILL and met my great grandfather at a Salvation Army dance. I don't think that she worked out of the house after she married. My great grandfather worked several jobs: Herman Nelson Division & American Air Filter Co in Rock Island--are the only ones I can remember.

William Durbin
05-02-04, 17:26
I live in Northeastern Minnesota, and most of my Finnish-American neighbors had similar hopes when they emigrated here. Many of the early immigrants worked in the iron mines or in the logging industry, but the majority of them dreamed of owning their own farms. Though the homesteads were rocky and stump ridden and cold through northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, and upper Michigan, the Finns didn't mind working very hard on lean ground if it gave them independence. They could make more money in the mines, but the dangerous working conditions and the Finns' refusal to participate in a bribery system that was common on the Mesabi Iron Range--foreman were commonly given money under the table so workers could get put in desirable areas in the mine--made most Finns long for the farm life. They were also the leaders of our first strike on the Mesabi Range, and for standing up to U.S. Steel many were blacklisted.

Bill Durbin

Margaret Rader
05-02-04, 21:38
My grandfather John Israel Holm (Granholm) came to the US through Canada (Halifax) and went directly to South Bend, Washington. He had a relative there, William West, whom I have not been able to identify. For two years, he worked as a fisherman on the Columbia River. He noted how really difficult and dangerous a job that was, and changed to working in lumber mills in South Bend. At one time he had one or two cows and sold milk around town.
In the 20's he managed to buy some farm land near Rochester, Washington (Gate). He and wife Anna and ever-growing family went back and forth between the farm and South Bend, depending on where work could be found. Many times Anna stayed at the farm and did the farm work, milking cows and other farm tasks, while John worked at the shingle mill in South Bend. Finally in the 30's they moved permanently to the 90 acres farm on the Black River and had a small dairy herd.
I believe Anna may have worked in "rich" people's houses until she was married not too long after she arrived in the US. Her life actually was very hard, with ten children in all and often responsible for a lot of the farm work.

Margaret Holm Rader

21-10-04, 20:01
Until four years ago I lived in Coos Bay, Oregon as I have taken a job down that way. As a budding genealogist I was pleasantly suprised that my ggrandfather Otto Gustafsson had lived and worked in the Reedsport-Coos Bay-Coquille region for many years. His emigration was conventional to the east coast but when he boarded a train bound for the west coast he soon found out that he had not enough money. (Apparently he failed to get complete information from the emigration office). The train crews took pity on him though and gave him enough food to survive on the frieght train he finally made it to San Francisco on. He then boarded a lumber vessel as crewman , but when the ship arrived in Coos Bay to take on lumber, he jumped ship and took up work as a timber feller. I have more details if you have any interest.