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Genealogy Corner

Last month we printed the first part of a lecture delivered at a genealogical conference in Vasa, Finland, in September 1992 by the genealogist, Ragnar Mannil, and printed in the Finnish magazine Sukutieto, published by the Computerized Genealogical Society of Finland, in January 1993. We had planned to conclude the article in this issue, but because of its length we are dividing it into three parts. This month we are reprinting the second part. The remainder will be printed next month. It has been translated from the Swedish by Syrene Forsman and is published with the permission of Mr. Mannil and the Computerized Genealogical Society of Finland.
by Sue Alskog

Ragnar Mannil

Genealogy's Golden Age in Finland

The first decades of the twentieth century marked a strong upswing in our Swedish Finnish genealogical research. The decades can be designated as a golden age for our genealogy. Three great works were published, standard works still today. They were Axel Bergholm's Sukukirja, Suomen aatelittomia sukuja (Family Book, Finland's Non-Noble Families), released in two volumes in 1901; Jully Ramsay's Frälsesläkter i Finland (Noble Families of Finland, 1909-16; and Atle Wilskman's Släktbok (Book of Families), 1912-20, this also in two thick volumes. Of the nearly 80 families in Wilskman's genealogy, one quarter can be designated as Ostrobothnian. Bergholm's Family Book builds on a source which ever since 1879 had been collected through the Finska Forminnesföreningen (Finnish Antiquity Society), and here too the Ostrobothnian families are numerous. Analyses of over some thirty other families with connections to Ostrobothnian culture and economic life are recorded from that time period.

Finland's newly-won independence 75 years ago of course also stimulated interest in genealogy. It was now that The Genealogical Society of Finland was founded. Over 1,000 genealogical essays and publications were reported between 1925-50 for the whole country, and now begins a new era in Ostrobothnian genealogical research as well. Knowledgeable scientists appear and discover new subjects for research.

Our society had been completely changed after the development of industrialization during the latter half of the 1800's. The cities had gotten a healthy increase in population from the countryside. In the new environment the desire to learn about one's roots awakened, and farm families also became interested. The cities' bourgeoisie and craftsmen became subjects for genealogists' curiosity at a stage when class distinctions and the guild system amounted to merely memory. This new emphasis is especially prominent in the Ostrobothnian genealogy.

Distinguished Ostrobothnians

Some of the representatives of the new directions deserve to be mentioned. Karl Hedman (1854-1931), a medical doctor in Vasa, is certainly best known as a collector of antiques and art and as the person who built up Ostrobothnia's Museum. As a collector, he is legendary, renowned over the whole country and even beyond its borders. It is noteworthy that this man, side by side with his career as a doctor, and his museum activities, also found the time to make a comprehensive contribution within genealogy and the documentation of personal histories. He had systematically examined archives belonging to the city of Vasa and the mother church of Mustasaari-Korsholm, and he had established a card file of all the people, yes not only of Vasa residents but also persons from several of the adjacent parishes.

Generously he shared his knowledge with all who needed information about individuals and relations. A number of the works and essays from his hand have been designated as so important that no-researcher in this line can ignore them. Besides several genealogical monographs, he published analyses and lists of Vasa stads borgmästere och rådmän 1610-1925 (The City of Vasa's Bourgeoisie and Magistrates), and the craftsmen in the city 1611 until the Introduction of Freedom of Trade in 1869, about the field surgeons in Vasa in the 1600's and 1700's, as well as (in Finnish) the city's merchants from 1611-1880. Osmo Durchman who gave the memorial speech Karl Hedman before the Genealogical Society of Finland, noted, as a mark of how strong his genealogical interest had become, that Hedman's medical articles halted when his research into the history of persons began.

Another Ostrobothnian genealogist with a comprehensive output is also a doctor by profession: Professor Woldemar Backman (1870-1945). He was active as a doctor in Jakobstad, Vasa and Nykarleby. Approximately 40 genealogical, biographical and regional historical publications are the result of his research work. In them he records some 20 families. His population studies are interesting as to method. One concerns the Swedish nationals' impact on the population in Nykarleby, another the emigration from Munsala. The biographical essays are rewarding too. One example is the one about Fredrika Juvelius Frigga, Runeberg's first love. Examples of name studies are one concerning Christian names in Nykarleby over 250 years and another about the origin of family names. A large part of Backman's research is focused on the farming families in Nykarleby's rural district. As a doctor he was also interested in hereditary characteristics and diseases. He published a special investigation in Finska Läkaresällskapets Handlingar (The Journal of the Medical Association) on one of these families whose genealogy he had recorded earlier, an analysis of the Lassila family. Nevertheless, he came to no noteworthy conclusions. His final verdict is in its, formulation fairly laconic: "...that the Lassila line ought to be considered in physical and psychological respects a relatively sound line". Backman is a trailblazer within the medical research which has taken genealogy into its service.

In Jakobstad, the genealogical and biographical interest has always been high, and many genealogical researchers here have been diligent visitors to the church archives. One of them was Hjalmar Björkman (1882-1933), a prominent engineer with several patented inventions. His interest was focused early on the local social and economic evolution, and in a comprehensive study in three volumes, Contributions to Jakobstad's History (1918-24) he gives a broad picture of the seaport Jakobstad. Side by side with the chronologically-edited description he also gives, in a series of family tables, a picture of the leading families. Björkman's work has been seen as so important that in the 1980's it was released in a new edition. Björkman also found time to be interested in other Ostrobothnian cities: Nykarleby, Gamlakarleby, and Kristinestad (the latter in conjunction with Karl Hedman). A separate work in the larger format is his investigation of the old burgher class in his hometown of Gamlakarleby (published 1914-16), originally a series of articles in the local newspaper Österbottningen, later published as reprints in two parts for a total of 184 pages.

In this connection it can be mentioned that many genealogical and biographical publications have come about as reprints from newspaper articles. Here the newspaper publishers made a great contribution to genealogical research, worth keeping in mind. One could even in the 40's in the printers' warehouses find whole series of offsets. I remember a visit to Österbottniska Posten in Nykarleby when a typesetter told how wearying it was to work with Woldemar Backman's endless reprints in small print. First the item had to be saved from number to number; then it was a matter of breaking it up into the correct sequence. It was difficult perhaps, but thanks to that service much of our genealogical history has been more accessible to other researchers and for the public than the present products which often are distributed within a very limited circle. I'm talking about the genealogical societies' publications in particular.

To be concluded.

Published by Leading Star, December 1994

© Ragnar Mannil

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