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Problems of Research in Finnish Re-emigration

Keijo Virtanen

The purpose of this paper is to explain the problems which arise when one studies those emigrants who returned to Finland from foreign countries, a subject which few people have carefully studied as yet. The conclusions I express are based on a preliminary study conducted last year.

Finnish overseas migration began rather late compared with many other European countries and has thus been considered a part of the "new" migration to America. Among the "new" emigrants were people who left Eastern and Southern Europe. The emigrants from Central Europe and Scandinavia are considered "old". New emigrants were regarded primarily .as labor for the destination country. It was assumed that most of these laborers would return to Europe as soon .as their employment goals had been reached.1

Analyzing Finnish re-emigration involves breaking much new ground because there are only a few studies dealing with the subject at all, and must involve the use of quantitative data to measure the moment of emigration as well as the moment of re-emigration. This is the only possible way to study the strength and the structure of re-emigration compared with emigration. But reliable statistics on which to base a quantitative study are difficult to find. Official statistics of Finnish re-emigration are, for example, far from complete. They are based on lists kept by the government clerks of provincial districts .and do not cover all returning emigrants completely. The keepers of these statistics themselves admitted the weakness of their records. In addition, the statistics throw light very superificially on some aspects of re-emigration. And finally, records were not kept at all .before 1894, even though there was re-emigration to Finland prior to that year.

To get as valid results as possible, therefore, we must take as the methodological ground of research an analysis based on comparatively small units. That means that we must pick a certain number of sample communes from different parts of Finland and make a card index containing information about every emigrant from those communes. To find all the persons who emigrated we can use Finnish passport lists and the church archives of the sample communes. In finding returning emigrants, the most important source materials are again the church archives, and the lists of returned emigrants kept by government clerks in provincial districts. These sources contain reasonably good personal data on every emigrant so that with their help we can create a reliable picture of the strength and composition of re-emigration. It is also possible to study whether the emigrants returned to their home commune or to some other place. In addition, with this material we can separate from each other those who returned permanently and those who returned just temporarily. Sample communes, however, must give reliably representative information about the character of the subject we are analyzing. The most important criterion in finding suitable sample communes is their geographical location. They ought to represent areas from which migration was light as well as heavy. Their places on the map of Finland must be in different areas both from the demographical and the geographical points of view. The present study is based on five rural communes and one urban commune because about ten per cent of the emigrants came from urban areas and because the demographical composition of cities and towns differs greatly from that of rural communes. The results obtained from the sample communes, can be compared with official statistics anal with the results .of other studies, even though they cannot give exact and exhaustive information. However, we can say that with the help of this material we are able to build a reliable picture of the strength and the composition of Finnish re-emigration.

When we try to analyze the importance of the destination country (for example, The United States, Canada, Australia or South America) or of the particular state; or of a still smaller area influencing possible re-emigration, we must rely on varied source material. We can use death certificates sent to Finnish parishes by Finnish-American congregations, passenger lists of steamship companies, interviews, historical accounts, and newspapers. Because of the nature of the source material, conclusions are very hard to draw. They have to be based most often on indirect factors which primarily explain the destination areas of departing emigration, but which at the same time are essentially central components in deciding the return of emigrants.

While analyzing the character of re-emigration we must also pay attention to research problems that are not measurable quantitatively. Thus, when we examine the motives that cause the decision of an individual emigrant to return to Europe, we can use different kinds of interviews and inquiries as the best possible source material. We have to remember, however, that as time passes fewer of the emigrants who returned to Finland remain alive, making it more and more difficult to collect material of this sort. A good collection of interview material is housed at the Institute of General History, University of Turku, as the result of a questionnaire inquiry in 1969. We have valuable information from about 1500 emigrants. We also use memoirs and letters sent from America.

When we study the adaptation of the returned emigrants to their old homeland and their influence in their home commune, we can also use interview information. But we must remember that adaptation was influenced also by public opinion and official government policy towards migration and towards returned emigrants. These factors can be studied through old newspapers and through measures taken by the government. To analyze the influents of the returned emigrants, we are at the moment conducting a questionnaire inquiry by which we will try ho measure the intellectual and material influence that re-emigration has had in Finland, especially in strong migration areas.

I will now treat briefly some central phenomena of re-emigration. At the same time I will present some tentative results which, as I mentioned earlier, are preliminary. I define as returned emigrants persons who have permanently returned to Finland as well as persons who returned only temporarily and emigrated one or more times again. We must keep these two groups separate so that we can compare them with each other. The natural starting point for such a study as this is the beginning of Finnish overseas migration in the 1860's. A natural closing point is 1930. This was the year when Canada established a quota system which the United States had set in the previous decade. Also, universal economic depression reduced migration. As a consequence, emigration from Finland shrank very sharply after 1930.

Anna-Leena Toivonen estimated the number of returned emigrants as "approximately one third of those who emigrated".2 Many other scholars have reached similar conclusions. My studies have produced different conclusions, however. The results of the earlier studies were based either on estimates or unreliable official statistics. In addition, it is not possible to separate permanent or only temporary returnees without an analysis of individual oases in the sample communes. Taking these factors into consideration, it appears that only about one fifth of Finnish emigrants returned permanently. Some differences in percentages cam be found in different parts of Finland and can be explained by the differences in the demographical and the occupational composition of the areas.

If we compare the strength of re-emigration to Finland with some other European countries we can find same interesting results. The figures presented below are not altogether reliable but they suggest a pattern. According to the official statistics of some countries for the thirty to fifty years preceding 1924, the percentage of each year's emigrants who returned was as follows: Spain 90 %, England 50 %, Italy 45 %, Sweden 20 %, and Finland 15 %.3 The Finnish figures are based on lists kept by government clerks from 1894 to 1924 and they are quite insufficient, as mentioned earlier. However, it seems obvious that the distinction made between "new" and "old" emigrant countries is very questionable even though the greater part of migration from Spain and Italy, for example, seems to have been temporary. On the other hand, Finnish re-emigration was small, while in the case of England, usually considered as typical of the "old" migration, re-emigration was rather high.

As with emigration, the strength of re-emigration seems to have been clearly cyclical: in some years many returned, while in others only a few did. We can say hat these cycles were connected with economic developments and that there were three kinds of cycles of change: seasonal fluctuations that were repeated every year; short-term economic trends whose phases usually lasted from three to seven years, and long-term trends that lasted decades.

Regarding seasonal fluctuations, the passenger lists of the steamship companies show that the annual peak in re-emigration regularly happened between May and August.4 The reason for this was probably that it was easier to make the voyage in he summer.

When we study re-emigration and its relationship to short-term economic trends, it seems obvious .that emigration followed the economic cycles of the destination country much more precisely than re-emigration. One reason for this could be the hypothesis that the heavy emigration of a few preceding years was probably reflected .as big return figures some years later unrelated to economic fluctuations. Yet the annual return figures sometimes quite clearly reflect good and bad times in the United States. For example, the rate of emigration and re-emigration of Italians, who very often made "working trips" across the ocean, was particularly sensitive to economic fluctuations.5 The situation of the Jews was different. One study shows that their migration to the United States was usually permanent, and that re-emigration did not depend at all on economic fluctuations.6 Of the Finnish emigrants we can conclude that re-emigration was not a mass movement to such an extent as emigration. Therefore individual motives in the decision to return played a considerable role, and these did not always depend on economic fluctuations.

The third type of change in examining Finnish emigration and re-emigration is the longer wave. The first wave of re-emigration began in the late 19th century and reached its peak in the 1890's when the United States suffered a severe depression. The panic of 1893 marked a major turning point in re-emigration to Sweden, for example, when the numbers returning rose very sharply.7 Re-emigration to Denmark8 and Norway9 rose rapidly in that decade. In Finland the Finnish Steamship Company in 1891 instituted regular schedules between Hanko and Hull, England, just for emigrants.10 This made it easier for emigrants to leave Finland, but at the same time simplified the travel of those returning to their homeland. The second wave extended to the beginning of the First World War, which stopped migration for several years almost completely. The third wave - the period from the end of the war until 1930 - was, in Finnish migration, just an "after-roll". However, it deserves to be analyzed because Canada .and Australia became the main destinations for Finnish emigrants after 1930, which probably also influenced re-emigration.

In both emigration and re-emigration the second wave - the period from the late 1890's to the First World War - is the most important one. This was the time when.emigration from Finland reached its maximum and became a phenomenon that covered almost the whole country. In the first wave migration was small and the crest of re-emigration came late in the period and was also small compared to the second wave. In the third wave, from the 1920's on, re-emigration was relatively high compared with emigration because the United States introduced a quota system and because improved steamship service made the return to Finland of those who wanted to do so even easier than before.

Another question that should be asked is what was the significance for re-emigration of the social and economic milieu of the destination country? The main part of the Finnish overseas emigration went to the United States and Canada. Only in the 1920's did Australia begin to get its share of Finnish emigrants. And it seems that re-emigration from Australia was, relatively speaking, much stronger than from the United States even though the voyage to Australia and back was very long. Probably just the length of the voyage made the re-emigration permanent; there was not much back-and-forth mobility. Perhaps also the possibilities of finding good jobs and achieving a high standard of living in Australia in the 1920's were not so good as in the United States and Canada. And we can also conclude that there was much less associative life among the immigrant Finns. They organized fewer societies in Australia than in North America. The reason far this was naturally the smaller number of emigrants. This factor could, to some extent, add to the adaptation difficulties of emigrants which finally forced many persons back to Finland.

When we examine Finnish enclaves in the United States it seems obvious that the place of residence had a certain connection with the eagerness of immigrants to return to Finland. At the same time we have to analyze another factor; that is, the structure of re-emigration from the point of view of the destination country was partly the same as that of emigration. This means that most of the emigrants returned to Finland from the states most heavily populated by Finns; that is, from Michigan and Minnesota. However, there seem to be some relative differences. We can generalize that re-emigration from big cities was larger than from other places. The emigrants worked there mostly in industrial and service occupations, and it was quite easy to withdraw from them if necessary. We can also conclude that persons working in the Midwestern mines in many cases changed their occupation because the work of miners was very heavy and dangerous. Changed occupations did not always result in re-emigration. Very often, for example, the ex-miner cleared a farm for himself in some forest area of Minnesota. The immigrant then became attached to his own land. Generally this made re-emigration to Finland improbable.

When we study the importance of the destination area in re-emigration we still have to pay attention to geographical factors. It is clear that at the end of the 19th century and in the beginning of the 20th century it was much easier for an emigrant to carry out his plans to return from New York than, say, from Astoria, Oregon. In addition to the purely geographical factor, we must also present a hypothesis which is based on the fact the Finnish emigrants did not always live in one place but quite often changed their place of residence. According to our hypothesis, the emigrant who had moved from a mining district in Michigan's Upper Peninsula to the western part of the United States did not intend to return, but searched for as good a life as possible in his new country.

In summary we could say that those most susceptible to return were those emigrants who worked in construction, harbor or service occupations in some big city of the East Coast. The other extreme is represented by those emigrants who had a farm in the Midwest or West.

The composition of re-emigration is a central research problem from the Finnish point of view. From the point of view of the destination country it is not as important. That is why I will point out different factors of the composition and some conclusions. I said earlier that we can find differences in the relative strength of re-emigration in the different areas of Finland. The reasons for this are the obvious differences in the social pattern of the population in different parts of Finland. It seems that farmers and crofters returned more often than their children, who in turn came back more often than the landless population of the rural areas. According to this we can conclude that re-emigration was strongest in those areas where farmers and crofters predominated among emigrants.

The age distribution of emigrants was very similar in different parts of Finland; more than half of the emigrants were under twenty-five years old. Speaking of the returned emigrants we can say that - in general -the older the emigrant who left for overseas, the larger was the probability that he would come back later. Of course, those old people who went to be with their children have to be excluded. Also, women, had in the United States occupations where it was easier to learn new habits and a new language than did men. In addition, married men quite often returned back to their families after a couple of years in America. Wives did not usually emigrate without their husbands, and if they went with their entire families or after their husbands, the probability of their returning diminished considerably. However, most emigrants were single when they left Finland. Yet they made up more than half of those returning to the mother country even though we know that people who were married at the time of emigrating returned to Finland more often than single emigrants.

Most emigrants went overseas for economic reasons; their purpose was to earn as much as possible and return. Probably there were not many who intended to leave their home country for good. Nevertheless, we have seen earlier that, taking the motives for emigrating into consideration, re-emigration was very small. The strength of re-emigration varied a great deal among the different social groups who migrated, but in addition to these economic factors we should not forget the various personal reasons for the decisions to return.

While the reason for emigrating often was just to get rich as quickly as possible, we can expect that the persons who actually returned succeeded in it fairly quickly. According to the preliminary results, it seems that more than half of the returned emigrants came back to Finland by the fifth year, at the latest, after emigrating. We can say that the longer an emigrant stayed in his new country the more unlikely it was that he would later return. Judging from our interview questionnaire collection, the most usual reason for returning was homesickness. Also the difficulty of finding work, especially during economic depressions, was a common reason for re-emigration. Some people just intended to visit Finland, but for some reason did not return to America. Quite usual reasons were also sickness or accidents, family in Finland, and the desire to retire in Finland. Generally speaking, however, we can say that ability to adapt to American conditions very often was the decisive factor in determining whether the emigrant stayed in America or returned to Finland. In many of the reasons the ex-immigrants gave for their return to Finland we can see indirectly, at least, that they had not been able to adjust well emotionally and socially to the new situation they faced. Also, many emigrants who had trouble adjusting did not return to Finland, but remained rootless on the new continent for the rest of their lives.

A study dealing with the migration of Italians today has concluded that the emigrant has four different periods of adaptation. In every phase he either remains in America or returns to Italy. The first phase is right after entering the new country when the emigrant faces a new culture and new habits. If he now decides to come back we can speak of return as failure. But if he does not return, he finds himself a job and acquires property which binds him to the new country. After awhile he faces a choice again: either he continuously invests his savings for life as an immigrant or he decides to return to Italy to use his savings for social advancement there. In the former case the immigrant carries on his adaptation to his new home country. But according to this Italian typology a perfect .adaptation is difficult. And in many cases, he feels just "an immigrant who has obtained rights of citizenship." So he may think that the best solution for him is to return and to take along the skills and values he has learned in America. This is return of innovation. The last kind of re-emigration is return for retirement them the old immigrant has nostalgic memories of the old home which he wants to see once more.11

This typology is interesting and perhaps could be applied to Finnish immigrants. However, we have to be aware of its weaknesses. The Italians differ from the Finns in many respects. Also their migration has different kinds of characteristics. This is so complex a problem that it is impossible to try to fit it to a certain model or pattern. The analysis of the time spent in America by those Finnish emigrants who returned to Finland indicates that most returned according to the first two groups of the Italian typology. We can say, however, that there could have been re-emigration because of economic failure later than in the first phase of return.

Which was then the cause of re-emigrating, success or failure? The individual motives of return presented above already seem to show that there could have been one or the other reason; so we have to bear in mind both of these. When the immigrant reached .his economic goal he could return, but on the other hand he also could come back without success. We can also say that remaining in America could terminate in success or failure. When the immigrant began to earn a better livelihood than in his home country he could gradually abandon thoughts of returning. The homeland in his mind stayed the same as at the moment of emigration when he had gone to look for better living conditions. On the other hand, somebody could face so complete a failure that he was not able to return even though he might have wanted to.

Finally, I will pass to that field of research problems which - speaking of re-emigration - is more important from the Finnish perspective than from that of the destination country. How did the returned emigrants readapt themselves to the conditions in their home country and what was their influence there? Generally speaking, we can say that the Finnish emigrants could re-adapt quite easily because usually they were overseas for just a few years. In addition, the government and public opinion maintained that as many emigrants as possible would return some day to Finland. These opinions were unknown to the emigrant, however, for the connections between Finland and the new land were very weak before the First World War. Rather, in the mind of the emigrant there could have been a picture of Finland from the time he left. This picture was the negative attitude of the government and the newspapers towards emigration and emigrants.

Success or failure during the years overseas naturally had an effect on the adaptation of the returned emigrants. In Finland12 and Norway13 it has been learned that the economic position of the returned emigrants in general was somewhat better than that of the persons who lived in either country. So we can disregard the judgement of the Finnish Committee of Migration of 1918 that most emigrants did not succeed overseas. According to the committee, only those succeeded "who had their own wife to keep together what the husband earned".14 Many of the returned emigrants invested their savings in real estate by buying a farm which bound them to their homeland just like buying a farm in America meant remaining overseas. However, some of the returned emigrants did not get along well and left again for North America or Australia. Those people made up about ten per cent of Finnish emigrants. The returned emigrant often met envy and discrimination by the local people. Others were so used to the good conditions overseas that they decided to emigrate again when possibilities in Finland seemed to be restricted.

It is very difficult to determine what kind of influence re-emigration has had in Finnish communes. Here we can only say that probably the persons who had been emigrants in one way or another tried to apply the intellectual and material capital they had acquired. What these influences were, where they tried to apply them and what the reaction of the local people was, either eased or hindered the adaptation of the returned emigrant. It also seems obvious that re-emigration did not to a great extent cause visible changes in most fields of life. On the other hand we can assume that in communes where emigration had been heavy, re-emigration was so large in number that some kind of Americanization could for some time have quite an important place. For example, a Swedish study has demonstrated that there has been real Americanization in certain areas because of re-emigration.15

If we take the whole of Finland as one unit, however, we have to say that the influence of the returned emigrants could not have been too profound in most Finnish communes. The reason is simple: the small absolute number of the returned emigrants. But there are communes where the influence may have been quite important. In any event, Finland got back only about one fifth of the emigrants who went overseas to look for a better life.

As a whole I would like to mention that the analysis of re-emigration is a central problem of research when we try to get the complete picture of the Finnish overseas migration. Re-emigration in itself contains a group of questions that are worth studying. These questions I have tried to outline in this paper and clarify them with preliminary results. Making the results more valid and establishing hypotheses is possible after I have finished collecting the material. After that I hope to be ready to present more precise results about Finnish re-emigration, as far as :possible, taking the source materials into account.

1. Rafael Engelberg, Suomi ja Amerikan suomalaiset. Keskinäinen yhteys ja sen rakentaminen (Helsinki, 1944), pp. 36-37; Maldwyn Allen Jones, American Immigration (Chicago, 1965), pp. 177-179, 192-205.

2. Anna-Leena Toivonen, Etelä-Pohjanmaan valtamerentakainen siirtolaisuus 1867-1930 (Seinäjoki, 1963), p. 257.

3. International Migrations. Volume 1, Statistics (St. Albans, Vt., 1929), pp. 204-205.

4. Suomen Tilastollinen Vuosikirja 1914, p. 113; 1915, p. 113; 1922, p. 75; 1923, p. 75.

5. Robert F. Foerster, The Italian Emigration of Our Times (Cambridge, 1924), reprinted, New York, 1969, p. 32.

6. Joseph, Samuel, Jewish Immigration to the United States from 1881 to 1910 (New York, 1914), reprinted in 1969, p. 138.

7. John S. Lindberg, The Background of Swedish Emigration to the United States. An Economic and Sociological Study in the Dynamics of Migration (Minneapolis, 1930), p. 247.

8. Kristian Hvidt, Flugten til Amerika. Eller drivkraefter i masseudvandringen fra Danmark 1868-1914 (Odense, 1971), p. 326.

9. Ingrid Semmingsen, Veien mot vest. Annen del. Utvandringen fro Norge 1865 -1915 (Oslo, 1950), p. 460. 10. Engelberg, Suomi ja Amerikan Suomalaiset. pp. 29-31.

11. Francesco Cerase, "The Return to Italy, Nostalgia of Disenchantment: Considerations on return Migration" in The Italian Experience in the United States, Silvano Tomasi and Madeline H. Engel, eds. (Staten Island, 1970), pp. 219-223.

12. Ilmari Teijula, "Suomen siirtolaisuusolot. Katsaus siirtolaisuustiedustelun tuloksiin," Sosialinen Aikakauskirja 1921 (Helsinki, 1921), p. 909.

13. Semmingsen, Veien mot vest. pp. 461-462.

14. Vuoden 1918 siirtolaisuuskomitean mietintö, Helsinki, 1924, (unpublished), pp. 21-22.

15. Florence Edith Janson, The Background of Swedish immigration 1840-1930 (Chigago, 1931), reprinted, New York, 1970, p. 433.

Published in The Finnish Experience in the Western Great Lakes Region: New Perspectives, Ed. by Michael G. Karni, Matti E. Kaups & Douglas J. Ollila. Migration Studies C3 (1975), p. 202-211.

© Keijo Virtanen

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