Monday, December 21, 2009

Finnish surnames

In 1920 it became obligatory for all the Finnish citizens to have a surname. If one did not have a surname, it had to be invented or a priest ordered a surname.

There is no common base for all Finnish surnames. In eastern Finland real surnames were used already in the beginning 13th century. Some of the eastern names have basis in the very old finnish pagan names, some come from Greek-Catholic names and some are western based Catholic names. The surnames began to diversify when the number of persons with the same surname started grow. This generated a lot of names where the beginning of the name is the same, but the ending has changed.

In western Finland the common way was to use firstname + name of the house as an additional name. Especially in written sources the name of the house is often written after the first name, but this does not mean that this name would have been used as surnames are used nowadays. The patronymic form first name + father's name + (daughter/son) was commonly used.

In addition to this east-west separation of names there are names attached to the social class and professions. Notably soldiers and priests have their typical surnames. For example after 1690 when a man began his military service he was commonly given a Swedish, German or Latin based names which he used during his time in the military.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Obtaining an extract of parish register

It is possible to obtain extracts from parish registers for genealogical study directly from the local parishes in Finland. Parish register extracts are usually available from 1850 until nowadays, so they are a good place to start your genealogy research as it is sufficient to know your grandparents name, place of living and birthdate. Before 1850 the parish records are in church archives which can then be accessed through HisKi database online. See my previous posting about how to use Hiski.

So, the first thing to do is to find out the first name, surname and birthdate of the ancestor you are looking for. Then you need to look for the web pages of the parish. Luckily most of the parishes nowadays have some kind of web pages online. Best way is to google name of the place/city together with the word "seurakunta", which means parish in finnish, and then search for page for contacts ("yhteystiedot"). For example "Vaasa seurakunta". There you can look for an contact email address and send a request of an extract from the parish register by email.

Some parishes also have ready made web forms that you can just fill in to do the request (for example Turku and Helsinki). It is good also to request the receiver to forward the email to person responsible of parish register extracts in case you happen to contact the wrong person.

In your request you must also mention what do you want to have marked on the extract. This could be for example the names, birth dates and places of the parents of the person for whom you are requesting the extract for. You must also state that the reason for the request is family research.

Parish register extracts cost usually something between 5 and 25 euros, this varies depending on the parish and the work needed to find the requested information. Payment options for foreigners ofcourse vary also depending on the parish in question.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Court records

Oldest Finnish court records ("tuomiokirjat") date back to middle ages, they are mostly documents about land and property cases. Until 1623 only some court records have preserved but after 1623 they are more frequently available. The reason for this is that on 1623 the Court of Appeal was founded in Turku and it requested local courthouses to send all court records to the Court of Appeal to be checked.

1665 Criminal Justice - Winter session 2.3.1665

Monday, December 14, 2009

Census records

Census records ("henkikirjat") are the second most important documents for a genealogist after the church records. They help to fill in the gaps and missing documents in church records and they are especially important for those who do research on beginnings 17th and 18th century population in Finland because church records mainly begin from 1720's and 1730's. Census records were mostly tax records until 1925, the series of census records begin from 1634.

Page of a census record from Vaasa 1815

Census records are not equal to church records in recording personal history as they do not contain birth, marriage, death or relocation information. This is why census records must be followed year-by-year. Population is grouped by villages and by families within villages. In the cities grouping is goes by districts within the city, then by blocks.

Census records may be researched in provincial archives as microfilms until 1809 after which they are microfilmed every 5 years until 1920. Provincial archives also contain original documents until 1960 and for some places until 1989 when the last census records were made.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Finnish emigration to Canada and USA

Emigration from Finland to USA and Canada was on one hand due to attraction to wealth and possibilities USA and Canada had to offer, and on the other hand it was due to poverty in Finland at the time. Most of the emigrants were country-dwellers, and belonged to the poorer classes of the agricultural population, and the majority of them were young men.

Some Finns have emigrated to America as early as 17th century with emigrating Swedes and in the beginning of the 19th century with Russians, but by far the biggest wave of emigaration was at the end of 19th century and in the beginning of 20th century. The travel routes have mainly been through England or Central Europe.

The main wave of emigration happened during and after the American Civil War (1861-1865). The main driver for the emigration was the need for labour in Michigan's copper mines, Minnesota's iron mines and especially the need for timber and timber transport in Great Lakes. Also in Canada the building of Canadian Pacific Railway and mining industry needed labour.

In Finland the first regions affected by the emigration were at the western coast of Finland. More than 10 000 Finns working in the mines of Norther Sweden and Ostro-Botnia left between 1864 and 1873. After the first wave also regions regions of Turku-Pori and Vaasa, also in the west coast, were affected. In 1893 the number of Finns in America was estimated at 100 000. This is considerable amount as the total population was approximately 2,4 million at the time.

At the turn of 19th and 20th centuries the Russification policy affected also the emigration. This policy affected until the General Strike in 1905. At 1902 over 23 000 emigrants left the country. After the Russian oppression lessened the amount of homecoming emigrant also increased. According to official statistics during 1893-1913 270 000 Finns emigrated from Finland.

After Finland became independent in 1917 emigration continued in steady pace, average being 4-5000 per year, but when USA began to restrict immigration the wave turned to Canada. In total at the end of the 1930's it was estimated that approximately 450 000 lived in USA and 50 000 in Canada.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Genealogy Ebooks

Getting a fast start in genealogical research is something that most of us never get. There are many guides and books available, in fact so many that it's hard to know which ones to use. To avoid spending money in the beginning on books or courses that may not suit your needs a good way to start is to look for a an eBook that you can download immediately and read it on your computer. Ebooks have some advantages over traditional books: they are cheaper, usually very hands-on and for genealogy they cover the possibilities of Internet in genealogical research.

One such eBook is Chris Clegg's Step-by-Step Genealogy Guide. The book advices you how to get started with your family research and where not to spend money. It also gives answers to questions frequently asked by genealogists. With the 21$ dollar offer and money back guarantee it will probably make you gain the price back quickly.

Old maps of Finland online

A couple of days ago a new service was launched to bring old Finnish maps available online. The project is named after researcher Heikki Rantatupa who has worked with the maps for years. Thanks to his efforts the service covers about 5400 maps in 6350 pictures. Most of the maps in the service are from the years 1600-1800 but some maps exist until 1950's.

The map service is hosted by University of Jyväskylä and it is unfortunately currently available only in Finnish, but it is easy to use if you know the name of the place you are looking for. Just look for the upper corner of the search page where there is the search field witht the finnish text "Karttahaku". Type the name of the location you are searching for and you will get listing of maps relevant to your search. Link to the Heikki Rantatupa historical maps portal.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Finnish parish records online

I thought some of you might be interested in some tips on how to search for Finnish parish records in the online HisKi database mentioned in my previous post "Finnish genealogy database on the web". Here's some step by step instructions to help you out.

1. Go to the HisKi site in

2. Let's say we are looking for birth records of an ancestor who we suscpect to have born in some of the parishes of "Uusimaa" region. So we click the number 1 on the map.

3. The parishes of "Uusimaa" region are shown on the lefside listing. As we don't know exactly in which parish the person was born we click the "All" button.

4. We are looking for a birth record so we select the "Christened" link

5. We know the surname of the person that is "Koivu" so we fill that in into the father section in the surname field.

6. If we know which range of years we are approximately looking for we can set year limits in the Years field. In this case we set the lower limit to 1800.

7. Click "Submit"

8. Results are displayed but if we scroll at the bottom of the page we notice that 28 records total was found and only 23 is shown on the page because in Mäntsälä region there was more than 15 records which was the maximum number of results for one parish on a single page.

9. We go back to the top of the page and click Continue button below Mäntsälä's results.

10. We notice our person at the second last row, the column Child contains the names of the person we are actually looking for: Hjalmar Valentin. We can see from the record that his father's and mother's names and names of the village and farm where he was born. Also his mothers age, 25, has been recorded and the abbreviation of his father's title "Muon." (farmhand, farm labourer).

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Provincial archives

Provincial archives ("maakunta-arkisto") in Finland are state's regional archives and research centers. They work under the supervision of the National Archive. Provincial archives mission is to receive and preserve documents and facilitate their use in research. There are seven provincial archives in Finland in the following cities: Hämeenlinna, Joensuu, Jyväskylä, Mikkeli, Oulu, Vaasa and Turku.

Provincial archives preserve documents produced by regional state offices, in addition they preserve church archives, private archives and copies of various documents are available as microfilms.

Especially archives of the former Finnish Karelia which is now part of Russia are preserved in the provincial archive of Mikkeli. A visit to Mikkeli will most probably be ahead for those genealogists having ancestors in Karelia. It is also possible to order copies and statements from the archive. When going to the archive one must have the following information in order to be able to make a search: name, exact birthdate and place of birth.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Finnish genealogy database on the web

The genealogical society of Finland has an ongoing project called "Hiski" which aims to make Finnish parish records available on the Internet. The project has it roots in an earlier project of the society where parish records before the year 1820 were copied from original documents to "black books". This copying was done during 1924-1948. The earlies records in the "black books" are from 17th century but most parishes have records only after 1730's.

HisKi project started in the 1980's and will still continue for years. In the project volunteers are copying records from the "black books" to HisKi database. HisKi has also started to record the rest of the 19th century.

The great thing about HisKi is that it's database is already publicly available on the web and anyone is able to do searches in the database. HisKi database can be accessed throug this link: Hiski database.

Friday, December 4, 2009

National Archive

Finland's National Archive contains around fourty shelf kilometer of documents. The oldest document are from the middle-ages. The oldest document from 1316 is King Birger's protection letter to the women of Karelia. Oldest whole document series are tax records which date back to the end of 1530's.

Documents from the Swedish reign are accounting records, court records and land maps. Most important sources from the autonomy era are senate archives, state secretary archives and general governor chamber's large archives.

National archive receives all the documents to be saved permanently for 40 years state from government and local institutions. Approximately 15-20% of the official documents are permanently stored.

National archive also receives private archives as donations or savings. Private archives contain archives of statesmen, politicians, culture persons as well as archives of various communities.

Most used archives be genealogist are general achive of population ("asutuksen yleisluettelo") and copies of parish records. In addition National Archive contains microfilm copies of documents stored in provincial archives, church archives and foreign archives.

Archives of Finnish evangelist-lutheran parishes which are older than 100 years are saved in National Archives as microfilms and they can be used by genealogists.

In addition National archive contains a large amount of maps and drawings, oldest dating back to seventeenth century.
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