Primary Sources of Finnish Genealogy

Alongside church records, other primary sources for genealogical research include census and tax lists. Through census lists and older accounting books genealogical research can be done on indivuals even back to the 16th century. This page briefly presents primary sources for genealogical research that the beginning genealogist should know about already at the start of their research.

Census Lists

Census lists are lists of the population and properties kept by the county or municipality which were compiled based on the annual census. Provincially compiled census lists begin in or after 1634. The henkiraha-tax (or personnel tax), which was based on the myllytulli tax (miller's tax) of 1625, was initially supposed to be a temporary tax but it was continued all the way to 1924. Even after this, census lists were drawn up as population and real estate lists. The annual census was ceased in 1990 and census lists were removed from use entirely in 1993.

The oldest census lists can be quite sparse in their contents and sometimes they only contain the name of the household's head and his station as well as the number of taxpayers. Later, the census lists would become more comprehensive, especially when the tax-exempt people started to be included in them. Later census lists usually contain information on, for example, the person's name, profession, year of birth and place of residence. Census lists present this information by property.

Census lists are an important source for the genealogist since they can act as a replacement for destroyed church records, they can contain information from earlier time periods than church records or they can supplement information found in them. The majority of census lists have been digitized upto the year 1920 and they are freely available to use through the Astia-service of the National Archives. Census lists less that a hundred years old can be studied in the premises of the National Archives with a permit. More information on census lists can be foud at Arkistojen Portti.

Court Records

Court records refer to the manorial court minutes from the 16th to the mid-19th centuries. After this they were commonly known as the legal minutes or district court minutes. The minutes of the lower courts and its subsidiary, the so called kämner court, of the same period and the records of mid-level lagman-court can also be categorized as Court records. The lowest court level in the countryside was the manorial court and in the cities it was the so called raastupa lower court. These functioned until the district court reform of 1939.

Court records contain three types of legal cases: administrative cases, civil cases, and criminal cases. Initially, the courts were the administrative institution where the crown announced its decisions and demands, but later, administrative matters were left out of the courts. As disputes and civil cases, the courts dealt with, among other things, land distribution, inheritance matters and debt issues. The third main group, on the other hand, was made up of criminal cases, which include both property crimes and violent crimes and even chastity violations. Since the 18th century, judgment books have been divided into two parts: actual cases, i.e. criminal and litigation cases, and notification cases, i.e. lawsuits, mortgages, guardianships and marriage contracts.

Due to their versatile content and presentation, court records are a rewarding source not only for historians but also for genealogists. So called renovated judgment books, i.e. ones transcribed and sent to the court of appeals for checking, starting from 1623 are kept in the National Archives in Helsinki, and original draft judgment books are kept in the archives of the sub-jurisdictions at different offices of the National Archives.

Searching judgment books is done in the Astia service, where you can find index information for all materials stored in the National Archives. Parishes belonging to jurisdictions can be found from separate indexes (in Finnish). It is possible to search the contents of 19th century OCR court records in the National Archive's Courts Records -web service. More information on court records can be found in Arkistojen Portti.

Provincial Collection of Accounts

The administration of the Kingdom of Sweden was reformed in the early 17th century, when regional and local administration was gradually divided into counties. The county administration was confirmed by the government in 1634. The accounts for the whole country were prepared in duplicate in the county offices, where one was sent to Stockholm's Legal, Financial and Administrative Services Agency to be checked and the other was kept in the county administration's archives. This practice continued until Finland became part of Imperial Russia.

Account documents from the period of Swedish rule that were later handed over to Finland are organized into two parts, the bailiffs' accounts or the older account book series (1537–1634) and the county accounts or the younger account book series (1635–1808). The documents of the county accounts were arraged into a chronologically numbered series in the 19th century and they contain an annual county account book, urbarium (or rent-roll), verification book as well as starting from the mid 18th century a census list.

The provincial accounts are an important source for researching the period of Swedish rule and their materials are central to researching the economic, settlement and social conditions of the time. From the point of view of genealogy, they are an important source for the 17th century before the church censuses began. In the special accounts of the provincial accounts you can find very interesting information – for example in the luxury goods tax lists there can be information on whether your ancestor used snuff tobacco. The documents of the provincial accounts have been digitized and they can be viewed through the National Archive's Astia-service.

Bailiffs' Accounts

The administration of the Kingdom of Sweden was reformed and streamlined during the period of Gustav the 1st (1523–1560). The aim of the Crown was that the central administration would be aware of tax collection in all parts of Sweden and could oversee the collection of taxes by bailiffs and how these taxes were used. To achieve this aim, the Kingdom of Sweden introduced an accounting system in the late 1530s based on German models that produced accounting documents.

The bailiffs' accounts consist of accounting documents concerning Finland from 1537 to 1634. In the 19th century, they were arranged chronologically in a numerically advancing series. Numbers 1–483 form a group of documents concerning the whole country or several provinces and numbers 484–6807 form a group concerning provinces and bailiwicks. Bailiffs' accounts contain the annual accounts of the bailiwick with receipts. Along with letters and receipts, key documents include land deeds, lists or fines, tithe lists, lists of deserted properties, mill lists, cattle and seed tax lists, and the silver tax lists of 1571.

The bailiffs' accounts are practically the only larger set of sources for the history of 16th century Finland. Despite their form of being lists, they are still rich in content and they can be used as a source in genealogy. The bailiffs' accounts give a more varied historical picture than what the words "accounting document" would suggest. The bailiffs' accounts as a whole are digitized and can be searched by bailiwick in the National Archive's Astia-service.

Other Sources and Archives

In addition to the basic sources of genealogy mentioned above, other materials stored in various archives and libraries can also be widely used as sources in genealogical research. The main archives and libraries of interest to the genealogist are presented on their own site.

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