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Finnish Genealogy: Finnish Genealogical Literature

Leif Mether

Genealogy is not only research done in archives. A skilful genealogist uses genealogical literature in his research, and he also knows what kind of literature is available. Today it is impossible to know all the literature published on a certain topic or family. But the genealogist should know how to find literature, and he also should know where the literature possibly could be found.

Finland is a small country with a well-developed system of bibliographies and public, as well as research, libraries. All books, magazines and daily papers are collected by the Helsinki University Library and five other university libraries in accordance with the Legal Deposit Law. This means that every single publication printed in Finland is found in these libraries. They are catalogued in Fennica, the National Bibliography of Finland. Only some small publications of a couple of pages are left out from the catalaogue, but they are of course included in the collections. Fennica is online on the Internet and open for everyone. All older publications are not yet in the database, but the cataloguing work is going on.

The Finnish Historical Bibliography lists books and articles on Finnish history. It is easy to find certain individuals, families, places and other topics in the systematic index. The bibliography is printed in several volumes covering Finnish history from 1544 to present times. The recent volume, 1981-1999, is also on CD. Unfortunately one can't find the bibliography on the Internet, but at least there will soon be a CD version of the whole bibliography. Regional bibliographies cover the whole country. They are important because they list almost everything written about the area: history, geography, companies, schools; social life, etc. Try to find out if there already is something written about the family of interest. Genealogy is extremely time-consuming and nothing should be researched twice.

The Genealogical Society of Finland published in 1992 a bibliography with family books and articles - the Family Index. A total of 3,426 books and articles are listed. In the surname index there are more than 25,000 references with surnames occuring in at least three generations in the books and articles. The Family Index is a good source to find out what has been written about Finnish families.

The first step in literature research is to find out the author and the name of the publication of interest. The next step is to find a library where the publication can be found. Your local public library can assist you in the search. Finnish libraries send interlibrary loans as well as photo copies - even to North America if needed. The library of the Genealogical Society of Finland in Helsinki will send you copies of a book or article on your personal request.

There is also general literature about Finland and its history. Fortunately some literature is printed in English. A good standard work is A History of Finland (1996) written by Eino Jutikkala and Kauko Pirinen. It is sold by stores carrying Finnish books and found in many libraries in North America.

One problem for people living outside Finland is the language of the publications. Most books in Finland are, of course, written in Finnish, and sometimes in Swedish. Books printed in English are rare. Academic publications usually have a short summary in English, but not the family books. The genealogist should, of course, have dictionaries of his own on his book shelf. At least one from Finnish to English is needed. Everyone should also have a good map of Finland. Usually it is possible to get a rough meaning of the text in a book using a dictionary.

There are hundreds of family books and articles published yearly in Finland. It is possible to find references to ancestors or relatives in the books. Sometimes one can even find several generations of ancestors ready to use in their own family book. Remember to check the information you get before putting it into your own research. Never trust printed works! Also be careful before you violate copyrights of someone else. A letter, or an e-mail message to the author of the publication usually solve the problems in advance.

One type of books rare outside Finland is the local histories written by professional historians. They are published by towns or parishes and generally cover the history of a certain town. Sometimes they cover an area which belonged to the same parish a couple of hundred years ago. Some towns have already published several generations of the local history books, the first one in the 1800s and a new version during the last couple of years. Local histories tell everything about the history of a town, from the stone age to present time. One can find information about the settling of the area, farms with lists of owners and information about the administration. One may not find ancestors listed in the index, but a general background is useful for everyone searching church books or other sources. There are also books telling about towns and villages written by amateur historians.

An important type of publications are the registers of certain professions, students in a certain school, soldiers in a certain regiment, etc. The publications listing all the pastors throughout the times are well known. One should always start to look at the registers before turning into archival research when such registers are available. The registers may not present one's ancestors, but they may be of great help when locating people from the 1900s.

Addresses to libraries and library catalogues include:

The National Bibliography of Finland with all books published in Finland during recent years. Older literature is added to the database continuously.

Public Libraries
All public libraries in Finland with their online catalogues.

The Genealogical Society of Finland
A lot of genealogical literature. Possible to order copies directly.

Published in the The Finnish American Reporter, November 2000.

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