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Old Nordic and Swedish Influences in Finland

Pär-Erik Levlin

The SFHS Newsletter, Vol. 2, No. 4, October 1993, published the text of a speech I gave at a reunion in Metropolitan, MI, July 4, 1987, entitled When Did Our Ancestors Come from Sweden to Finland? I would like to expand now on two points I made in that speech, first in regard to the ancient Nordic origin of place names now in use in Finland, and second in regard to the movements of people between Sweden and Finland over the centuries.

Language is not Static

Every language has its history. It is not static; it changes and takes up new words. The Finnish language has also done that, even if not so much as English and Swedish. As people learn something new, they also commonly learn the name or word for it.

There is a little book written in German by the Finnish professor and philologist E. N. Setälä, Älteren Germanischen Bestandteile in den Ostseefinnishen Sprachen (Older Teutonic Elements in the Baltic Sea Finnish Languages). The Teutonic languages are old German, Anglo-Saxon and Nordic. One thousand years ago there were no Swedish, Danish or Norwegian languages, but only one Nordic. The "Baltic Sea Finnish languages" refer to Finnish and Estonian; the third in this group was Finno-Ugric. Lappish was quite different. In Professor Setälä's book, he lists hundreds of Finnish words and gives their origin in the Nordic language. He also names other philologists who have written about it. Perhaps the book can be found in university libraries in the U.S. and Canada. I will give two examples from his book as translated into English:
"Aura" as in Aurajoki = a river name from
aur = gravel
joki = river in Finnish

"Aura" (in dialects atra, aatra, ahra) from aratum (Latin), ardr (Nordic)

As can be seen, words which are spelled and sound the same way can have different origins. I can also add that a long "a" in Swedish (sounds like "aa" in Finnish) in the 16th century changed to "å" (sounds like "oh" in Finnish and English), and the word a, later å means "little river", so the Nordic river name aura consists of two parts, aur = gravel + a = river.

The word arder, later årder, was a kind of wooden plough that did not turn over the soil but only made a furrow. That was a kind of equipment that had been used for thousands of years. Isn't that fantastic! I can say that my father still used that word when he was planting potatoes. The iron plough that turned over the soil came to Finland in the 19th century, I think, and was in Swedish called plog from the English-German name, but in Finnish it was also called aura.

Migrations from Finland to Sweden

The people in Sweden did not like being settlers in their own woods and even less in the woods of Finland. There was a migration in the 14th century from Finland to Sweden called the västfinska invandringen (West Finn immigration). These were people from the area around Åbo (Turku) who sold their farms and moved into central Sweden. They went to become tenant farmers for the Swedish nobility, who brought in whole villages and leased out the farms. As the nobility was free from taxation, these people did not have to pay much more in rent than they had paid in taxes for their own farms. Then, as solders were drafted into the army, one man in ten was taken from the farmers, but only one out of twenty if they worked for the nobility. The people in this migration were Swedish-speaking, so there was no problem with the language.

In the next century there was another migration from Finland to Sweden called the East Finn immigration. The people in this migration came from Eastern Finland, Savolax, and settled in the woods in Sweden. As examples, we can take Finnerödja in Västergötland, Finnskoga in Värmland, and Orsa Finnmark in Dalarna, all in Sweden. Their descendants still spoke Finnish at the end of the previous century.

Few Movements from Sweden to Finland

No migration in the opposite direction has been described and proven in history as have these two to Sweden. What we know about are only people like the kings, officials, some priests, tradesmen and craftsmen, and the latter often stayed in Finland only until they got better jobs in Sweden. In parliament, all members from Finland demanded that all officials in Finland should also know the Finnish language. Even the Swedish Finns adhered closely to this demand, as it was among them that most of the bilingual people were found. I think all people in Finland have ancestors from both language groups, as they lived side by side for so long.

I know of only two examples of movement from Sweden to Finland. First were the three sisters and two brothers Sursill, who came to Finland from Umeå in Sweden in the 16th century, and they were not settlers. See Genealogia Sursilliana in SFHS archives.

The second was Greta Håkansdr, b. 1630 in Ljungby, Småland, Sweden, d. 1693 in Vetil, Finland. She was married to Mickel Larsson, b. in Vetil in 1639, d. there in 1695. Where and how they met we don't know, but it could very well have been in Stockholm. (Read How Our Ancestors Lived in SFHS Newsletter Vol. 1, No. 1.) Greta was nine years older than her husband, so even a marriage in Finland was better than no marriage at all. There was a prejudice in Sweden that the people in Finland were very poor. I think Greta found out that it wasn't so bad in Ostrobothnia, and I hope she had a good life. It is likely that this prejudice is what caused so few people to come over from Sweden to Finland at that early time.

Region of King Gustav Vasa

Gustav Vasa was King of Sweden-Finland from 1521-1560 after he fought the Danish King Christian, who before him was also King of Sweden (Kalmarunionen). The war cost a lot, as Gustav Vasa had used mercenary troops from Germany. He had obtained loans from the Hanseatic League, and to repay them he took church bells and silver from churches which had "more than they needed". He meant that as Lutherans they did not need as much. He got into trouble with the people in Dalarna and Småland, Sweden, but not in Finland, as the churches were so poor there was nothing to take. On the contrary, Sweden-Finland had been at war with Russia or Novgorod, which ended in 1497 with an armistice agreement and a Russian border drawn between Savolax and Karelia. But as there was no real peace, groups of Karelians came over the border and killed Savolaxians who lived on solitary farms near the border, and Savolaxians went over the border to take revenge and rob and kill Karelians. Finland needed help from Sweden defending Viborg and the eastern border, so Gustav Vasa had no trouble with the people in Finland.

His main problem was to bring in more taxes from the farmers, and the only way to do that was to establish more farms. There were many uninhabited areas in Sweden and Finland, but they were owned and used as outlying lands of farmers in villages sometimes miles away. It was these farmers who decided if someone could settle on their land. Gustav Vasa got the parliament to pass a new law that said how much outlying land should belong to every farm. The rest belonged to the state. Everyone who wanted to settle and take up a farm on land belonging to the state could go to the officials and ask for it. The settler was also free from taxes for twenty years. The farmers living in big families, and parents with married sons and daughters in the old villages were not so foolish that they sat and waited for others to come and take the land that had been theirs. They asked for it themselves and took as much as they could of the best parts.

More Farms Brought More Tax Income

Let's see what happened in Epo village, now Ytterjeppo, Jeppo, and Wuoskoski. From the tax lists, we can see that they paid a tax for the farm, for every person working on the farm from 15 to 60 years old, and 10 % of the grain they grew and also for fish. So we can count the farms and the people working on them, but the new tax-free farms and their people were first seen after 20 years when they started paying taxes. As the lists only contain the name of the head person on the farm who paid the tax, there is no way on the new farm to see from which old farm they had come.

YearNo. Farms No. Persons in VillageAvg. No. Persons on a Farm
155729172 6.9
156233193 5.8
156736159 4.4
158042136 3.2
159245136 3.0
161152120 2.3
164752117 2.3

As we can see here, the people moved out from the old farms. We can be sure they settled on new farms but mostly not in this area along the Lappo River. No, they moved more north to Sjö Bygden - Järvi Seutu, the lake area. Many people from Savolax, who did not like to live so near the eastern border, also moved to this area but as I said before, the people in Sweden were not interested in moving to Finland.

Pär-Erik Levlin is a well-known genealogist in Finland, residing in Sweden. He is founder of the Levälä Family Assn. and author and publisher of the Levälä family books and yearly journal.

Published by SFHS Newsletter 1995, Vol. 4, No. 3

© Pär-Erik Levlin

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