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Finnish Genealogy: Finnish Military Records after 1809

Leif Mether

The history of Finland is well preserved in the archives. A great part of that history is the war history and the history of the soldiers. Finland, in the border area between east and west, has been in many wars through its history.

Finland has been occupied several times, and a lot of the records have been destroyed or they have disappeared. Finnish soldiers and officers have also been active in many wars outside Finland, especially in central Europe in the 1600s.

Finland was a part of the Kingdom of Sweden, but in 1809 Sweden lost Finland to Russia. It caused many changes in the society, but some people in the countryside did not see any changes at all.

Before 1809, Finnish regiments were a part of the Swedish armed forces, and it was not uncommon for soldiers and officers to serve in the Swedish regiments. There are a lot of archival materials telling about the regiments and the soldiers, but unfortunately there are a lot of materials missing too. There are even regiments with no archival material at all.

Most of the holdings are in the Military Archives in Stockholm, Sweden. One can find most of the material of importance for genealogists on microfilm. Some of the holdings are in the National Archives in Helsinki, especially church records for the military parishes.

All the material from the Swedish time is easy to use, because it is written in Swedish with the same letters we use today.

After 1809 the defense of Finland was taken care of by Russian troops. They had men in several fortresses and garrison towns.

The soldiers and the officers were from different parts of the Russian empire, and many Finns today have ancestors among the soldiers. A lot of Finnish officers joined the Russian army and even obtained high positions. These officers served in the whole empire, not only in Finland. There were no Finnish soldiers in the Russian army.

Finnish leaders considered Finland to have a Finnish army, and from 1812-1813 three recruited regiments were formed, situated in five different towns. The costs for the regiments were paid voluntarily from some Finnish government funds (i.e: not Russian money). Some changes were made and in 1827 the regiments were organized ss three brigades with a total of six sharpshooter battalions.

The next change was made in 1830, when the recruited troops were discontinued and formed as troops of another type. In 1853 new recruited troops were formed because of the Crimean War. The old Swedish system, with soldiers maintained by farms was once again put into use.

In 1881 a law of compulsory military service was introduced. Two types of draftees were introduced by lottery: active service and reserve service. The active service lasted for three years, while reserve soldiers had to take part in three 30-day long trainings during a time period of three years.

In several church records from the 1880-1990s one can see the result of the lottery for men of a certain age. The church records were at that time the official population. register in Finland.

During the years 1901-1905 the Finnish army was discontinued. There were strong attempts of Russification in Finland at that time. In 1901 a new law of compulsory military service was introduced. It stated that Finns should join the Russian army.

The law was considered illegal, because it was not approved by the Finnish Parliament. The system was boycotted in the beginning by both the authorities and the young men intended to be soldiers, but as times passed it took hold

The law caused some emigration when young men left Finland afraid of being forced into the Russian army. This reason of the emigration has probably been exaggerated, but at least there have been both romantic screen plays and movies made with the theme

Finland gained its independence in 1917 and an army was soon founded. In 1918 the civil war started, which caused a lot of misery, but also a lot of archival holdings.

The civil war was traumatic for the Finns during the rest of the 1900s, and not until recent years has research in that field been made. The Prime Minister's Office has started a project to find out how many were killed or disappeared during the War.

The research project on War Victims in Finland 1914-1922 researches all wars where Finns were involved during the time period, not only the Civil War. One of the wars is World War I, which Finland Was not a part of, but where Finns fought at least in the German army.

The project involves about 38,000 individuals. The result will be a public database where one can search for missing, executed or otherwise deceased individuals.

Here is a rough list of records to use when you search for soldiers in Finland:

Published in the The Finnish American Reporter, March 2001.

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