The monthly meeting of the Finnish Heritage Museum on July 11, 2016, in Fairport Harbor, Ohio, disclosed the answer to a mystery, and made the world a bit smaller for a family in Switzerland and one here in Ohio. This story is so interwoven that, if it weren’t true, no one would ever believe it.
On May 18, 2016, the Genealogy Committee (our Genies) of the Finnish Heritage Museum received an email from Maria Rannila of Switzerland, saying her family would be coming to Fairport Harbor in June. They had discovered that Maria’s husband’s great-grandmother, Lempi Walli, had been born in Fairport in 1894. Some of the questions the Rannilas had were how they could get birth and death certificates online, and if they could visit the gravesites of their ancestors. They also asked for specific information about some of these ancestors.
Donna Lesiacsek, Chair of the Genie Committee, asked Ron Toivonen and Anne Pohto to investigate this request. Hopes were not high, as there were only a couple of weeks to look into this. However, Loretta Schmucker of Lake County, is an expert on genealogy research, and also a friend of Ron’s. Together, she and Ron found 51 documents relating to Maria Walli.
Maria’s full name was Lempi Maria Walli, and she was born on February 27, 1894, to Jaakko Oskari Walli and Brita Johanna Plusisaari. A year-and-a-half later, on November 15, her younger brother, Johan Alfred, was born. Six months later, tragedy struck, and Johan Alfred died. Two years later, on September 5, 1898, Lempi Maria’s mother was killed by consumption (probably TB). Lempi Maria’s father, Jaakko Oskari died on November 27, 1898, only two-and-a-half months after his wife. What would become of four-year-old Lempi Maria?
Before we answer that question, let’s take a side trip to the cemetery to see the graves of Lempi’s parents. Two days before the Rannilas arrived from Switzerland, Anne Pohto took a ride to Evergreen Cemetery in Painesville, Ohio. Not knowing the office she found there was the maintenance office, and not the one she should have visited, she asked the official there if he could help her. The man she spoke to happened to be head of maintenance at the cemetery, and found everything she needed. He even took her to the spot where the unmarked gravesites of the Wallis were, measuring out the plots precisely. When the Rannilas wanted to visit the gravesite, Anne knew just where to go. It had been 117 years since these graves were last visited.
On June 10, 2016, the Rannila family arrived at FHM. Maria Rannila; her husband Jyrki; Jyrki’s parents, Aulis and Marketta; and Maria and Jyrki’s children, six-year-old Leo and two-year-old Ella, toured the museum and visited the Finnish Monument in Fairport Harbor’s park. They then headed to Evergreen Cemetery and Anne showed them the gravesites of Jaakko and Brita Johanna. Anne also provided roses for the sites, and Leo placed one on each gravesite. While the tears flowed freely, the family said that that moment alone was worth the trip from Europe.
But what had happened to Lempi? She was a four-year-old child, alone. Where could she go? Who would care for her?
Living in Fairport Harbor when Lempi became orphaned, was the Koski family. It seems they soon migrated south to Jacksonville, Ohio, where many Finns had already found employment in the coal mines. This is where we next find Lempi (Mary) Walli, who in 1900, was living as a charity boarder in the household of Jacob and Anna Koski of Jacksonville, Ohio. According to the 1910 census, Lempi was listed as the 16-year-old daughter of Jacob and Anna, still in Jacksonville.
Ron Toivonen, on looking through his Aunt Augusta’s photo album, happened across a postcard picture of Lempi Maria at age 16. Why was her picture in his album? Ron knew he had some Walli ancestors, but it couldn’t be the same ones as Lempi. Or could it?
Next our Genies uncovered a 1911 marriage certificate for 17-year-old Lempi and Victor Ulvos, 25. The marriage had taken place at Suomi Zion Lutheran Church in Fairport Harbor, Ohio. But the 1910 census had shown that Victor Ulvos, Lempi Maria’s future husband, was living in Jacksonville, Ohio, in the home of Matti and Anna Maria Riihimäki. These were Ron’s maternal great-grandparents. Coincidence? Probably not. Both Victor Ulvos and Ron’s maternal grandfather were born in Soini, Finland, so the families most likely knew each other well.
Lempi and Victor had three sons: Sulo, born in 1912; Edvin Eugen, born in 1915; and Ilmari, born in 1918. (Three days after the Rannila family left Fairport Harbor, Ron found a photo in his album of Lempi with Sulo and Edvin. He later got a copy to Aulis, who confirmed that it was his mother, but he had never seen the picture before. He was delighted to receive it.)
Lempi Walli Koski Ulvos died at the age of 25, on February 14, 1919. We don’t know what happened, or why. She is buried in the Russell Cemetery in Jacksonville, Ohio. Victor and his sons stayed in Jacksonville until at least 1920, when they returned to Finland. At that point, Victor changed his name from Ulvos back to Rannila (the name of the farm where Victor had lived in prior years). Sulo died before he was 10 years old, and Ilmari drowned in scalding hot water. Edvin is the father of Aulis Rannila, who was our visitor at FHM.
While the Rannilas were here, they also visited Jacksonville, Ohio. They were met by the mayor, Tony McNickle, and the Trimble Township Commissioner, Smoke Barrett, who were both eager to help.
In Jacksonville is a big old house that Victor lived in, and in which Ron’s mother was born in 1909. Ron also remembers visiting the two-room cottage that still stands behind the house. The coincidences between Ron’s family and the Rannilas were just too much. Ron had to find out what was going on. He was able to trace his family back to his 4-times great-grandmother Liisa Antintytär Hernesmaa. Aulis’s 4-times great-grandmother was Marketta Antintytär Hernesmaa. These two ladies were sisters! Ron had found a cousin.
Visiting Russell Cemetery in Jacksonville, the Rannilas hoped to find Lempi’s grave. After an extensive search, they were just about to give up when Aulis saw a stone that had been tipped over. He turned it over, and it was the stone of Lempi Maria Ulvos, Aulis’s grandmother. Roses were happily placed on this gravesite.
What are the odds that an email from Switzerland would reach the people in the United States (population 319 million) who were best able to answer that email, and that the person responding would be someone related to you?
Pictured above, left to right: Leo, Maria, Jyrki and Ella Rannila, Aulis and Marketta Rannila, Arlene and Ron Toivonen.
When the presentation ended and, all questions had been asked and answered, the meeting broke for refreshments. These were provided by Suzanne Jokela, Barb Ollila, and Janine and Larry LaBounty. Lasse Hiltunen, FHM President, then called the business meeting to order.
Text© Sharon Ojanpa Mackey & FHM 2016 Pictures © FHM 2016