Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Are Johan and Juha different people?

All official documents in Finland were written in Swedish until late 1800's. The language of record applied also to names. A person called Matti would be recorded as Matts and a Liisa as Lisa or Elisabeth. And the same applied also to place names and family names.

How to record the names to your genealogy?

So there are 2 different schools who continue to disagree
1) those who record names as they are, in Swedish, but having to do some normalisation as the names are usually spelled several ways. So for example, unless you want to save space you could write the patronym in the full for Johansdotter even though in many records it is shortened.
2) those who feel it is more correct to record names in a Finnish form. If they read Pardain or Pardanen they record Partanen as that is the name today. First name Staffan can be recoded as Tahvo or Tapani based on what was the most common Finnish form of the first names based on the saint name Stephan in the area.

My personal preference is for the first in terms of first names because I can't claim telephatic skills to choose one of the many forms of for example Johan or Catharina in Finnish to be the "right" one. I feel more comfortable in normalizing the family names or farm names to the "modern" forms, as there is less/no guessing involved.

By the way, we still celebrate name days based on the old Catholic Saint calendar in Finland. (Additions have been made, though) So on Saint John's day in June men named Johannes, Juhani, Juha, Jukka, Janne, Juho, Jani, Jussi or Juhana are all honored. If they would have been born 200 years ago they would all be known in written documents as Johan. On November 25th, the day of Saint Catharine of Alexandria, among the name sakes are Katri, Kati, Kaisa, Kaarina, Kaisu, Riina, Katriina, all of whom could have been recorded as Catharina/Karin/Kaisa in church records, no matter what their families actually called them.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

What is Lääni? Do I need to care?

Genealogists from USA are used to thinking about entities like counties and states. Which makes transitions to Finland some times difficult.

"Naturally" Finnish towns (or parishes) have been grouped by our government. But

a) that grouping has been done and redone over centuries, the latest change was this year
b) there are different groupings for different things, for example tax records vs. court records

For basic genealogy, using church records, you only need to pay attention to
- Parish (~town)
- Village
- Farm

In the countryside everyone is noted as living on farm. Occasionally there can be a separate page or two for per village for those people who did not live strictly speaking on any farm. But sometimes these people have also be noted on the farm page.

Number and size of villages can vary a lot by geographic area. An easy way to locate a list of villages is via Hiski : Choose a parish from the list and click "selected". On the next page click the link at the bottom of the page "More information about this parish". And the next page contains the names of the villages. Among other useful information but more about that later.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

How do I use Hiski?

Blog Genealogy in Finland contained one set of instructions, this is my version:

In Hiski searches it is usually helpful to
1) Check what is the time period of the data available.
2) Fill in as little as possible and add if there are too many results

Starting from click Search program for history books.

Then scroll down in the alphabetical list to the relevant parish, click the name and then the "Selected" button below.

Next page shows the dates. As per (1) above, look at them before doing anything else. Once you have the impression that you can find something useful, click the document type Christened / Married / Buried

Let's say Christened, to search for birth record. As per (2) you can start with limiting the years to a sensible window. Either one year or a couple if you are less certain. And then put the first name to the Child/first name field. Click submit and review results. If the list is really too long to go through, click "to the search form" and try to come up with additional search criteria that is not too strict.

But commonly you are able to find the right row either by matching the date you have and/or finding the surname used in USA as either father's name or farm name.

The result page is showing all the information that has been included to the Hiski index of history books. Which is not the full extent of Finnish church records.

Friday, March 19, 2010

What is a common name in Finland?

Finnish names might seem weird and uncommon abroad, but some of them are really common in Finland and it makes no sense to send a query like "anyone with name Peltola"?

Should you ever have a need to understand commonness of a surname in Finland the place to go is
Finnish population register which has the link Name service on the front page. After clicking that click surname search at left and then simply write the name to the search field and click "Search".

You need to have the right spelling of the name, of course. Which means having ä and ö if necessary. More about those later.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

How is Finnish genealogy different from American?

Let me count the ways. The language is different, the records are different and the ways to access them is different. Name structure is different, culture is different...

I have no plans to rewrite basics of Finnish genealogy to this blog. There are plenty of places you can find them already on the internet. The one I like the most is the LDS pdf, but alternatives are available via your preferred search engine.

One thing to start with. Finnish genealogical research is not based on grave stones. Many of us find Americans asking after grave locations rather peculiar. To the extent that my friend did not reply to a letter from an American relative. She thought there might be some weird religious reason for the question and did not want to be involved...

Which is not to say that Finns wouldn't have graveyards and would not visit them. Generally each parish has a graveyard next to the church and possibly a later addition further a way. Asking the parish office can tell you details of the locations, but they do not necessarily have maps or lists of the burials.

Often there is no grave to find, because the plot that has been reused. Depending on your background you may find this shocking or callous. But that is the way Finnish graveyards have been managed for centuries.

You are not in Kansas anymore.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


I was writing yet another Discussion forum reply with way more information than was asked for, so I thought I might as well start a blog to publize my great wisdom in Finnish genealogical research. While trying out for addresses it turned out there was already a promising blog called Genealogy in Finland, but the more the merrier?