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Finnish Genealogy: Passenger Lists

Leif Mether

An important source when looking for immigrants coming from Finland to North America are the passenger lists. From these records one can find out when an ancestor arrived in North America, which way did he travel and what was the name of the boat he came with, who was he travelling with, and many more details. There are two main types of passenger lists: one kept in the departure port and the other kept in the arrival port in North America. Below I will give an overview of the passenger lists from the departure ports, and at the same time give a rough overview of the travel routes used by the immigrants.

Travelling from Finland to America is depending on the time period of the migration as well as from where the immigrant started his trip, and what was his destination. The direct passenger line on Finnish keels from Finland to England started in 1891. Before that time Finns had to use other ways to reach North America. The earliest migration from Finland to North America started in the 1860's, when Finns living in the northern parts of Finland and Norway started to move to Minnesota. Soon Finns also went to the mining areas in northern Michigan. A number of Finns also went through Norwegian ports after the first wave of migration. There are Norwegian passenger lists made by the local police authorities in Norwegian archives, and some of the lists are searchable on the Internet. Unfortunately the lists on the Internet are not complete, and a search is sometimes difficult because the names are spelled in a Norwegian manner.

Many early immigrants took the way over Sweden. It was easy to go from Finland to Sweden at that time. Immigrants crossed the sea by boat or went over the border in north, from where they could take a coastal vessel to Stockholm or some other departure port. In 1890's the railroad was opened to Haparanda close to the Finnish border, which made it even easier to travel to southern Sweden. The main departure ports in Sweden were Gothenburg, Stockholm and Malmö. The migration route was in the beginning from Sweden to England; but in 1911 the Swedish America Line opened a direct line from Gothenburg to North America. The traffic on this line ended in 1951. All passengers. were recorded starting in 1869. The passenger lists are available on CD, but they are not on the web. A new and more complete version is promised to be released next spring. About 56,000 Finns travelled from Gothenburg during 1870-1914. Corresponding figures are 4,400 for Stockholm and 1,100 for Malmö.

In the 1880's two German shipping companies started to carry immigrants from Hanko, on the south coast of Finland to Stockholm, Copenhagen in Denmark, and Lübeck in Germany, and soon also to Hull in England. There are no passenger lists from that time. In 1891 the Finland Steamship Company started the first direct route from Hanko to Hull. This was the dominating route for Finns to use for many years, even if there still were people going through Sweden. The traffic was an all the year round traffic. Hanko (Hangö in Swedish) was chosen as the departure port because the harbour of Hanko is free from ice almost all the year, and thus easy to access for the ships even without using ice-breakers.

There are no passenger lists from the beginning of the traffic, but from 1892 all passengers had to be listed according to a new law. The records are preserved at the Manuscript Department of the Åbo Akademi University Library. An index to the passenger lists is entered on computer by the Institute of Migration in Turku, and the index can be searched online on the Internet. There are a total of 307,000 passengers listed in the index. A search in the database gives some basic information about the passengers. Important information is the date of departure, name of the ships from Hanko to Hull as well as from various ports in England to North America, date of departures from Finland and England, place of destination, information about travelling companions, and a reference to the original lists.

All passenger lists may not be preserved, and sometimes it is difficult to know what name the immigrant used. Some of them used a patronymic, while other used the farm name or a real family name. One must also remember the name may have changed after the arrival to North America. Usually one have to make many searches on different names for the same individual.

Some Finns went to Copenhagen to embark an ocean going steamer for North America. A popular way was to go to Germany (Hamburg or Bremen) from Copenhagen, and catch the ocean going steamer from one of these ports. The passengers were recorded by the police in Copenhagen during 1869-1940. The records for 1869-1904 are on CD, and. they are also online on the Internet. The passenger lists for Bremen were destroyed during the Second World War, but the records for Hamburg are preserved. Some of the records are online on the Internet, but the project to get them online will go on for years.

No records of immigrants exist in the archives in Great Britain. If one finds an ancestor in the Finnish passenger list it may be possible to find the ancestor also in the North American passenger lists. But one must remember there may be changes in dates, destination, and name of the carrying ship during the voyage. There were crowds of immigrants in the English ports waiting to embark, and some of the passengers had perhaps to wait for the next ship. A delay in the railroad transport from Hull to Southampton, Liverpool, Glasgow or some other port may also be the reason why you can't find your ancestor on the ship he was booked on from England. Usually you can find your ancestor on some of the next ships of the same shipping company with departures from the same port.

Up to date links to the passenger lists mentioned above are found on the web site of the Genealogical Society of Finland. The address is http://www.genealogia.fi.

Published in the The Finnish American Reporter, October 2000.

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