Saturday, September 25, 2010

Helia Justine Reini (1907-1925)

Helia Reini c.1917, Seattle, WA
Courtesy Viola Petersen 
My entry for Sepia Saturday #42 is this photo of my grandmother Aune's beloved sister Helia Justine Reini. She was born Jan 29, 1907. I am guessing that she is about ten in this photo, so that would make it c.1917. The photographer's imprint says, "Aiko Studio, Seattle, Wash".  The Library of Congress has photos from this studio dated 1911 and I found others online from 1912 to 1918. My family has always remarked that Helia looked a bit Asian in this photo and, coincidentally, every single photo I found online from Aiko Studios was of Japanese Americans (which Helia was not, although she likely did have Saami ancestry).
My grandmother used to tell a story of how one day Helia took it upon herself to get dressed up, carefully curling her hair, and went down to the local photographer to get her picture taken. I wonder if this is that day. They were a very poor immigrant Finnish family, so I wonder how she got the money together for the photo. (She probably even made this dress for herself since she was a talented seamstress from a young age.)
[Update - Aiko Studios operated in Seattle at 613 1/2 Jackson from 1911-1925. Helia and her family were living at 108 Broadway in January 1918 according to her father's naturalization application. This is less than 1/2 mile away! Judging from this new information, it very well may be the photo taken the day of the story above. The family had moved away by September 1918.]
Helia was said to have possessed psychic ability. From what I am told (surprisingly, by family members who don't believe in such things), before she could read, Helia would pretend to read the newspaper to her parents, making up news stories about neighbors and local events. Strangely, on several occasions the events she described were reported to occur AFTER she "read" them. I have no way of knowing if this is true, but she does look like an "old soul" in this photo.
She did extremely well in school, making straight A's, sewed beautiful clothes for her family and played a large part in raising her four younger siblings. From all accounts, she was a very talented, kind and well loved girl.
Tragically, Helia passed away at the age of 18 on Oct 10, 1925. Her death certificate lists the cause of death as "diabetic coma". At this time she was the wife of George G Hawke. Her family was understandably brokenhearted to lose this very special girl. Aune thought so highly of her sister Helia that she spoke of her with deep love and in the most glowing of terms, almost on a daily basis, for the rest of her long life (96 years). Because of this, I grew up feeling like I knew her, so I am pleased to be able to share this memory of her with you.


  1. Such a wonderful photo and an amazing story about this very special person, how sad she died so young. I love family oral history, I have found that there is always some truth in these old tales.

  2. And we are also pleased to share the memory, especially as you always share memories in such an expert, interesting and delightful way.

  3. some grief never come to pass. my grandma often spoke of her last born that died young, and she always choked up speaking about him, even 80 years after the fact.
    she seemed a lovely girl with a lot of potential...

  4. It is such a wonderful photo that the photographer made of a wonderful subject. I really enjoyed hearing about and am interested in viewing the rest of your blog.

  5. Thank you all for your very kind comments. You have made my Sunday!

  6. I was anticipating reading that she grew to old age, had 8 children, 38 grandchildren, etc. How sad that she passed away at such a young age and in such a way. She sounds like a wonderful person. The photograph is precious!

  7. CeCe,
    What a great story. Do you know what happened to her husband at the time?
    And you are right. Grandmother only had good things to say about her.....her beauty, her kindness, and her many talents.
    You are a good guardian of the family photos and history.
    Thank you.

  8. Thank you. :-)
    I do not know what happened to George. I have searched for him a number of times in the 1930 Census and military records on, with no luck. I still hope one day to find out if we went on and had a family.

  9. Helia was a beautiful, clever girl. So sad that she died at such an early age. It looks like she has got a little bit of Asia in her. Might there have been some Mongolian ancestors? As Suomi has a border with Russia and Russia with Mongolia. Ancestors roots reach far and wide.

  10. She is beautiful, my Mothers speaks the same way about her brother who died when he was nineteen..they as sibling as so effected by that death the rest of their lives.

    Helia has some unique and wonderful stories about her that can be passed to future generations in your family. Something about the stories to go with a face makes them unforgettable:)