Parish Registers

Parish registers are one of the main sources for Finnish genealogical research and with them, one can usually extend one's research to the turn of the 17th century. Most parish registers have been digitized up to the early parts of the 20th century. This fact sheet has compiled information on parish registers as a source for genealogical research and on researching these records. Other primary sources for genealogical research, such as census lists and various types of tax catalogs, are presented on their own fact sheets.

Parish Registers and their History

Parish registers, i.e. church population register documents, are the most important single type of primary source for genealogical research. Parish registers refer to confirmation books and history books of the Finnish Evangelical-Lutheran church that contain lists of births, marriages and deaths. In addition to these documents, parish registers often contain lists of people who moved to the area, information on those who didn't attend confession as well as accounting documents and other lists. Researching Orthodox families differs somewhat from researching Lutheran families.

The archives of many parishes start from the end of the 17th century, but uniform series of parish registers are more common only from the 18th century. From around the middle of the 19th century, the archives are quite comprehensive and versatile. The documents of church archives were written in Swedish until the end of the 19th century and after this, they were written in Finnish in Finnish-speaking municipalities. Therefore doing genealogical research on Finnish sources requires some degree of knowledge of Swedish.

Church population registry documents form a remarkably comprehensive and versatile source for personal histories. Because the field of activity of churches was wider until 1865, the archives contain information also on public education, medical care and welfare in addition to family relationships.

Confirmation Books

The confirmation book, or ledger, is a list that the priest used to monitor the participation of individual parishioners in church services and the progress of their Christian skills, especially knowledge of the catechism and reading skills. Confirmation books are especially valuable for the genealogist because they show more widely the family members and kinship relations by household.

In the ledger, the persons are organized by household, i.e. their position is indicated in relation to the owner of the house or part of the house. Households on the other hand are organized in the ledger by house or village. Tenant farmers, servants and other people not belonging to the host family were entered in the book on the page of the house that owned the land. When people moved from one place to another within the parish, they were moved accordingly in the confirmation books. Moving between parishes was marked in both the confirmation book and into a list of people who had moved. A confirmation book covers the period of about a decade and when it became full a new book was started using the latest information of the previous book.

The Basic Method for Genealogy

The basic method for using parish registers in genealogical research is to go backwards in time with the confirmation books. From the late 18th century onward the confirmation books would note down the entry and exit references for persons, i.e. from what page and when the person came from and to where and when they went to from that particular page. Using these parameters it is easy to proceed using confirmation books. When moving parishes the parish was marked and when leaving the date was marked and when entering a new parish, the date was entered when the book was left with the new parish's vicar.

Confirmation books contain information on dates of birth, marriage and death - but these should be verified from history books. Especially dates of birth noted in the confirmation books should be viewed with caution since transferring personal information from one book to another caused plenty of mistakes in copying details. When the parish's own markings of moves are lacking entirely in the confirmation books of the first half of the 18th century it is necessary to research lists of betrothals to find out e.g. from where the young lady of the house came from. After this it is possible to continue the ancestry research in the confirmation books regarding her family background.

History Books

The parish history books consist of three types of lists, as mentioned previously. Lists of births and baptisms show the children born in the parish in chronological order. At its best, the lists have the following information: the name of the child, their birth and baptism days, the place of birth and baptism, the names and professions of the parents and godparents, the mother's age, the name of who baptised the child, references to the pages of the confirmation and child books and a possible mention of the child being born out of wedlock.

Lists of announced marriages and betrothals were usually marked in the lists of the bride's parishes. Usually three announcement days and a betrothal day were marked for each pair to be married. Also the names of the bride and groom, place of residence, profession and age or date of birth were marked. In addition, the consent of the guardian and the place of marriage could be noted.

Lists of the dead and buried initially only contained the name and date of burial in chronological order. Later the lists also marked the date of death and various other information such as the place of residence, place of burial, age and profession of the deceased. The lists can also show the cause of death and the page of the confirmation book where the family of the deceased is marked.

Digitized Church Books

Genealogy research is easier now than ever before since most of the parish church books are digitized fairly thoroughly from their beginning in the 1860s to start of the 20th century. Church books of over a hundred years old can be studied in the National Archive's Astia -service and in the Digital Archive of Finland's Family History Association (SSHY). When researching the digitized materials of the National Archive you should use Kari Kujansuu's Digihakemisto (Digital Index), where crowd sourced indexes of these materials are created from this material as an aid to researchers.

In 2009-2010, the National Archives digitized all previously micro-photographed church records, so the Astia service contains the church records of all parishes up to around the 1860s. The National Archives has also digitized newer materials from the archives of the parishes in its possession, such as the church registers of the areas ceded to the Soviet Union, which can be searched freely online for materials older than 100 years. Church records that are less than a hundred years old can be examined with a research permit, which needs to be applied for.

In addition the the National Archives, Finland's Family History Association (SSHY) has also digitized church records since 2004. The purpose of the Society's activities is to organize digital photography of the church records, done by volunteers, and make these materials available for researchers in the Society's own Digital Archive for materials over 125 years old. Materials over 100 years old, i.e. a period of 25 years, is only available to members of Finland's Family History Association. Please note that Finland's Family History Association (SSHY) and the Genealogical Society of Finland are two separate societies.

HisKi and the Karelia Database

In the study of church records, the genealogist's most important tool is the HisKi database and, in the case of ceded territories, the Karelia database, or Katiha. These databases have saved church records in a searchable format. HisKi is an online service provided by the Genealogical Society of Finland and further information on the database as well as information and tips on using it can be found on its own webpage.

Since 1990, the Karelia database maintained by the National Archives has included the lists of baptized, betrothed, buried and emigrants from the ceded Karelian parishes, from their beginnings until the relocated congregations were ended in 1949 and the emigrants were registered in the church registers of their places of residence. Unlike with the HisKi-archive maintained by the Genealogical Society of Finland, the Karelia Database has information saved on confirmation and child books and this is the biggest difference between the two databases.

The user interface of the Karjala database, or Katiha, is in many respects similar to the search program of the HisKi database. In both you can simultaneously do a search to all lists of one parish or to one list of several parishes. Also free word searches can be made on Katiha. More detailed information on how to search Katiha can be found in Finnish under the tab "Hakuohjeet".

Church Records Under a Hundred Years Old

The National Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland issued a recommendation in 2011 that genealogists should not be allowed to personally examine church records or their micro-prints that are less than 100 years old. In practice this means church records from about the time period from 1910 to 1960. Most parishes adhere to the recommendations of the National Church Council. Viewing information from books under 100 years old usually requires ordering an extract of the population register from the church. In the instructional video below, the Society's member advisor Juha Vuorela instructs how to order an extract of the population register.

The National Archives has created a use permit procedure for the population register material in its possession that is under 100 years old in which a temporary use permit is applied for a research project for the study of church records under 100 years old. The use permit procedure only applies to parish materials held by the National Archives, i.e. church records of the ceded territories that have been handed over, as well as micro-prints of church records stored in units of the National Archives by Evangelical Lutheran congregations.

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