Finnish Genealogy



Overview

Finns account for only a small portion of the immigrant community in America, but are well represented in certain areas of the country. The greatest number–an estimated 259,000 to the United States and Canada–arrived between the years 1900 and 1923, and a great number of these settled in areas already inhabited by Finnish pioneers of the previous century.

Many Finns settled in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and worked there in the copper mines. Other significant Finnish enclaves existed in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Maine, Oregon and Washington. Though many Finns chose to inhabit regions similar in climate to their homeland, the 1920 census shows Finnish heads of household in every state in the union, including the future states of Alaska and Hawaii.


Genealogical Sources

The most important source for Finnish genealogical data are the abundant records kept by the Lutheran church. These serve both as parish censuses and as repositories for vital records. Church records for most parishes may be found in the Family History Library Catalog, and ordered through your local Family History Center. The HisKi Project has brought indexes of many of these records to the Internet, while Finland's Family History Association provides digitized images from several parishes.

Other sources include land and tax records, military records, farm histories, and county accounts. Depending on one's familiarity with the Finnish language, some of these resources may prove inpenetrable.


Obstacles to Genealogical Research

The Nationality of Finns

After centuries of domination by Sweden and Russia, Finland declared its independence in 1917. The genealogist may need to possess a general understanding of Finnish history to place into context his ancestors' decision to migrate, and to determine under what nation's flag they were born.

The Finnish Language

The foremost obstacle to Finnish genealogical research is language. Finnish is perhaps the most difficult European language to master, and the spellings of many words bear no similarity to their English counterparts. Moreover, many early Finnish records were written in Swedish, include words of Swedish origin, or use the Swedish version of names elsewhere expressed in Finnish. Thus, you may find two records referring to same man by two different names, e.g. Anders Johansson and Antti Juhonpoika–both the equivalent of "Andrew, son of John."

Anyone attempting Finnish research is advised to learn a smattering of Finnish genealogical terms.

Patronymics

Patronymics were prevalent in western Finland through the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. Early records of an individual might refer to Antti Juhonpoika (Antti, son of Juho), while later documents–recorded after the adoption of a family name–refer to the same man as Antti Heikkinen.


Online Resources

The first stop for any researcher should be the website of the Genealogical Society of Finland. This is an extremely active site, aimed as much at foreign genealogists as native Finns. Here may be found articles on every aspect of Finnish life in America, cemetery records from Finland and the United States, and lists of Finnish genealogical, historical, and family societies. Most important is the HisKi Project–a transcription project that has brought thousands of Finnish parish records to the Internet. The search engine is very powerful, and the information indexed is invaluable to the remote user. Once an indexed record is found, a microfilmed original often can be located in the Family History Library Catalog, and ordered through the nearest Family History Center. Some parish records may be viewed online at the website of Finland's Family History Association.

A second stop should be to the Institute of Migration. For a nominal fee, visitors may search the Emigrant Register for "passport records (from the year 1890 up to 1950), passenger records of the Finnish Steamship Company (from the year 1892 up to 1910) and information on Finns deceased abroad (from 1918 up to 1950)." Used in conjunction with the Ellis Island website, these databases will greatly simplify the search for immigrant ancestors.