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Genealogy Corner

The following article has been translated from the original Swedish by Syrene Forsman, SFHS member in Seattle. It is the text of a lecture delivered at a genealogical conference in Vasa, Finland, in September 1992 by Ragnar Mannil, one of Finland's leading genealogists, and was printed in the Finnish magazine Sukutieto, published by the Society for Computerised Genealogy of Finland, in January 1993. It is reprinted here with the permission of that society and Mr. Mannil. Because of its length, it will be published in two parts, this month and next.
by Sue Alskog

Ragnar Mannil

Ostrobothnian Genealogical Research

The oldest genealogical research in Sweden and Finland concentrated on the privileged classes. It was a question of every nobleman defending his privileges by being able to prove his lineage and those achievements of his forefathers which resulted in that mark of favor, the royal confirmation of nobility. Therefore, it is natural that the oldest printed genealogical work in Sweden deals with the kingdom's nobility, the aristocratic families. It was Johannes Messenius' great work, Theatrum Nobilitatis Svecanae, printed in Stockholm in 1616, the same year he was removed to Kajaneborg as a prisoner of the state on suspicion of papism. It is a splendid work, thorough in the Rudbeckian style of the period. Namely, all progenitors derived from Adam and Eve, primi mortalium, the first mortal beings. The Finnish nobility is represented also in Messenius' work, which is still today all too seldom taken into consideration by researchers.

Visitation by the Bishop to Ostrobothnia in 1660

From the noble families it is a long step to the commoners' level of priests, townsmen, and farmers. It was perhaps pure chance which gave rise to a new direction within genealogy. The incident which led to research aimed at the masses took place in Ostrobothnia 332 years ago, that is to say, in 1660. The tale is well known but deserves to be repeated. The newly-appointed bishop of Åbo, Johannes Elai Terserus, was at that time making his first tour of inspection to the congregations in Ostrobothnia. The long journey began at the end of the month of January. The visitation claimed many weeks of his time, and it wasn't until the beginning of April that the bishop had returned to the diocesan capitol [in Åbo].

Ostrobothnia was still at that time an inaccessible province, separated from the southerly provinces by vast forested wilderness. Ostrobothnia's natural line of communication was directed across the sea toward the west. Terserus soon discovered that many persons of rank here had family connections on the other side of the Gulf of Bothnia and that quite a number of families between themselves were related with common descent from one landholder in Västerbotten, Erik Ångerman, called Sursill, who in Gustav Vasa's day, dwelt in Västerteg village within the Umeå parish. Terserus began to draw up his observations, and at the synodical convention in Gamlakarleby where the bishop met with the entire Ostrobothnian clergy he could surely broaden his knowledge about his colleagues' family ties. He got the idea to systematically compile a genealogical index of the Sursills and to prepare a description of the parishes in Ostrobothnia as well. In a letter to Pehr Brahe he reported his intention to deliver shortly an "Ostrobothnian Congregations Description" "to the higher authorities", an idea which was quickly realized.

Terserus' time in Finland was, however, short. Already by 1663 he was called to Stockholm by the cabinet of the realm, charged with heresy. Some years later his era in Finland was definitively ended. What was to become of his newly-commenced project?

Today's genealogists have the opportunity to xerox documents and reports. In the 1600's one made handwritten copies (which method we have had to depend upon right up until the 1960's). In some fashion, we aren't sure how, Terserus' notes ended up in the hands of the rector in Brahestad and Salo, Martin Peitzius, and some copies were also produced. His son Gabriel Peitzius, who was the parish assistant in Limingo, continued the collection of information through an extensive correspondence with colleagues and succeeded in 1747 in fusing the, by now, gigantic collection for "The Family Chart of the Seven Sisters Sursill", apparently intended to be forwarded for publication. It, however, came to nothing at that time, since Peitzius died in 1752. By now, some of those in the diocesan capitol had begun to realize the value of the unique report, and they turned to the son, Martin Peitzius, Jr., with an inquiry about whether the father's collections could be transferred to the diocesan capitol "so they wouldn't get dispersed". Negotiations were undertaken, and in 1753 the whole collection was forwarded to the diocesan capitol in Åbo, specifically including Terserus' original manuscripts, both the genealogical index and the descriptions of the parishes.

The Plan is Expanded; Alcenius Finalizes the Piece

After that, things went as always when something goes wrong. It took some time before anything began to happen again with the Sursills' genealogical chart. Bishop Carl Fredric Mennander, who graduated from Vasa High School in 1728 and eventually became bishop in Åbo in 1757, took up the matter and gave the task to the rector in Pyhäjoki, Petter Niklas Mathesius, known for his distinguished treatise The Ostrobothnians, to work further with the genealogical investigation. At this time the plan was expanded so that the work would not only be a tabular chart but also include short biographies of the outstanding individuals so that the work would be more interesting for general use. Mathesius sent the manuscript around to the Ostrobothnian clergy, and supplements as well as new transcriptions were added. But then everything quieted down again for a long time. Occasionally a rumor went around that the book would soon be released from the printers. But Mathesius died in 1772, and Bishop Mennander moved to Uppsala as the Archbishop of the Swedish kingdom. Now Henrik Gabriel Porthan attempted to breathe life into the work, but his time ended in 1804.

Not until the end of the 1820's did Elias Robert Alcenius - also a clergyman of Ostrobothnia - take up the material about the Sursillian family. By this time, however, the most valuable part of the material had perished in the flames of the Åbo fire in 1827. A less crucial edition and two relatively late copies made up the Alcenius material. A Herculean piece of work was at hand: to carry out the format in time for its publication. Several colleagues also wanted to ridicule the whole project.

But Genealogia Sursilliana was finally ready to go to press. Alcenius' forward is dated July 24, 1847. Alcenius was at that time assistant pastor and choirmaster in Kalajoki. Later he became the rector in Lappfjärd. The book was printed at J. C. Frenckell & Sons print shop in Helsinki in 1850. Over 400 copies were ordered in advance. Three subscribers had even ordered two copies each. The work had its inaccuracies, which are to be explained as errors in the material; copyists had sometimes been guilty of reading incorrectly, something which is not unknown among genealogical researchers.

The Ostrobothnian genealogical reporting this begins with The Sursillian, which evolved during a nearly 200-year-long period of painstaking research. Genealogia Sursilliana is at the same time also the foundational work for Finnish genealogical research when it concerns concentrating on our untitled kin. The Sursills descend from a farmer but include after that mainly clergy and other substantial citizens. A remarkable circumstance is that the work throughout records descendants on both the man's and the woman's side.

The beginning had been made. During the latter half of the 1800's scarcely 150 articles and studies with Finnish genealogy were produced in Finland. Ostrobothnian families were also included in that series of publications, among others the families Donner, Fordell, Franzén, Könni, Montin, Rancken, Runeberg, Steen, all with the exception of Könni having ancestors from the Sursills and still families of substantial citizens. The exception is the family of smiths named Könni.

To be continued.

Published by Leading Star, November 1994

© Ragnar Mannil

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