From left are Lasse Koskelainen, Liisa Raitinpaa, Bonnie Johannes (Grays Harbor Genealogical Society), and Marja Salmiluoto. The four met at the Breakwater to discuss Raitinpaa family history in Grays Harbor County. (Courtesy photo).

Making local connections from across the globe

I came from Finland to Grays Harbor for a short visit at the end of September with my brother Lasse and cousin Marja to see the places where our grandfather had lived and worked as a faller in the logging industry from mid-1920s till his death in 1940. We also wanted to visit his gravesite at Fern Hill Cemetery.

Our grandfather Kustaa Vainio left Finland in 1913 and arrived first in Minnesota. He left a wife and three children in Finland, and after some years they lost contact with him. It was a mystery to the family what happened to their father. They made inquiries but got no results. Now his wife and all their children are dead, but four grandchildren live in Finland.

In 2005 I wanted to try again, thanks to the Internet. Very soon I received surprising news from a genealogist in Minnesota, Sharon Sterle. She had found an obituary that seemed to be for my grandfather. His first name had changed from Kustaa to Gust, but surname and age matched. He was living half a country away from Minnesota, in Washington state. In a few days I had received his death certificate and a photo of the headstone at cemetery. Now I was sure that this person really was my grandfather.

Sharon continued her work, but also asked Grays Harbor Genealogical Society if they could find more local information. Cathy Cook from the society did comprehensive research, and we learned that Gust had worked as a faller for the Clemons Logging Company, had lived first in Aberdeen, and later in Hoquiam. He had lived with a widower, but did not get married and had no children.

From this point on, I imagined that I could see the places where my grandfather lived 20 years of his life, and visiting his gravesite at Fern Hill Cemetery. This year my dream was finally made possible, so I planned a tour with my brother and cousin.

I sent an email to Grays Harbor Genealogical Society to ask for some facts and got a very quick and friendly reply from Bonnie Johannes. She had found some new information and asked us to meet her at the Aberdeen Museum. We were very excited, and after a few minutes, we felt like old friends.

The collections at the museum and in the research center were very impressive, giving a good image of the life of the loggers. In the evening we had an opportunity to have dinner with Bonnie at Breakwater Seafood. There we also met Roy Vataja, whose parents had immigrated in 1957 and who just happened to speak excellent Finnish. We had good conversations, but the evening was far too short.

It was lovely to meet new friends in Aberdeen. The next day we traveled to the Olympic National Park to see big trees and enjoy the wonderful nature. We want to say thanks to all who have helped us in our family research!