Logo Beginner’s Guide to
Finnish Family History Research


This guide is based on my experience using the records from the Kannus, Kaustinen, Isokyrö, and Veteli parishes in Vaasan Lääni, Finland. Records from other parishes in western Finland should be similar. I don’t have any personal experience with the records from other regions of Finland.

This guide describes the basic family history research process. Experienced researchers use taxation, court, and military records to supplement the information found in the church records described in this guide. These more advanced research techniques are beyond the scope of this beginner’s guide.

This guide gives suggestions on how to use the Finnish parish records to do family history research. I assume that you know the birth date and birth place of your ancestor who was born in Finland. In most cases, this information will have to be obtained from family records, immigration or naturalization records, etc. (and not from information sources in Finland). If you do not know the birth date and birth place of your Finnish ancestor, you will have to obtain this information before you can continue your research with the Finnish parish records.

The Finnish Parish Records

For the parish where your family lived, you will need microfilm copies of the extracts of birth, marriage, and death records (Kirkonkirjojen kopiot) and the Communion Books (Rippikirjat) or Main Books (Pääkirjat).

Microfilm copies of these records are available on loan from the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, at a Family History Center near where you live.

Use the Family History Library Catalog to find the microfilm numbers of the parish records that you need. For example, Communion Books for the Isokyrö parish are on film numbers 0066694 through 0066700, and the extracts of birth, marriage, and death records are the second and third items on film number 0055582. The Communion Books cover the period 1727 through 1864. The extracts include births from 1718 through 1850 and marriages and deaths from 1714 through 1850.

Data from the extracts of birth, marriage, and death records for some parishes are available as a searchable database at http://www.genealogia.fi/historia/indexe.htm. I have used the HisKi history book database to supplement and to double-check the information I obtained originally from microfilm records. (And yes, I found information in the database that somehow I had missed when using the microfilms.) If you have not done so already, this is a “must visit” web site.

Records more recent than about the 1850’s have not been microfilmed. For events that occurred after the last date of the records that have been microfilmed, you will have to write to the parish where the event occurred. (See the Genealogical Society of Finland web site for addresses.)

Extracts of Birth, Marriage, and Death Records

The birth, marriage, and death records of Finnish parishes were extracted by the Genealogical Society of Finland. Most of the information in the original records may be found in the extracts; however, the original parish records may contain additional, useful information such as the names of godparents.

Birth Records (Syntyneet). Typically, the extracts of the birth records include the following information:

A cross following the child’s name usually indicates that the child died as an infant or young child. The record also may include a death date.

Marriage Records (Vihityt). Typically, the extracts of the marriage records include the following information:

Death Records (Kuolleet). Typically, the extracts of the death records include the following information:

The Communion Books

Communion Book
1839-1845 Communion Book for Isokyrö parish, Vaasan Lääni, Finland

The Communion Books (Rippikirjat), also known as Main Books (Pääkirjat), were used to record our ancestors’ reading ability, understanding of the Christian faith, and participation in the sacrament of Holy Communion. Individuals who were old enough to have received First Communion were required to attend the annual lukukinkeri (also called the kinkeri) where they would be examined by the parish pastor. The examination would include, for example, reading from the Bible and reciting the Lord’s Prayer from memory. Also, a mark or date was added to the Communion Book when the individual took Holy Communion. In addition to the results of the lukukinkeri examinations and Communion records, the Communion Books often contain a record of important family events such as the birth of children, marriages, the death of family members, etc.

These records are especially valuable because:

The oldest Communion Books were large ledger books, and the keeper of the records had to hand-write the headings at the top of each page. Later, books were made from printed forms.

The Research Process

The basic family history research process involves moving back and forth between the extracts of the birth, marriage, and death records and the Communion Books (or Main Books). The following is an outline of that process and includes examples from my research using the records of the Isokyrö parish.

Step 1: Find the Birth Place and the Names of the Parents of Your Ancestor

Using the birth date of your ancestor, find the birth in the extracts of birth, marriage, and death records. In many cases, the birth date and christening date will be written ‘dd/mm’, day then month as numbers. The year will written at the beginning of the January births and probably will not be repeated on subsequent pages.

Record the name of the father, the mother, and the farm and village where the family was living at the time of the birth. Pay attention to the spelling (especially names with “ä” and “ö” characters). Also record any abbreviations that may be in front of the father’s or mother’s names (they usually indicate the person’s occupation, for example, “B.” or “Bond.” for the husband means that he was the owner of the farm; “B.H.,” means farm owner’s wife.) Sometimes, there will be a number after the mother’s name. That would be her age at the time that the child was born.

Example. According to an old family Bible, my great-great-grandmother Hedvig was born 31 Oct 1845 in Isokyrö. The extracts of the Isokyrö birth records include the following information for the birth and christening (I have added the column headings and table borders for clarity):

Birth Date Chr. Date Village & Farm Father Mother Child
31/10 2/11 Do- Kallio Tp. Henr. Henr.s. Lisa Esaiasdr-20 Hedvig

The abbreviation “Do” (ditto) was used for the village name. The village in the previous record was “Wald.” (Waldarla by).

Hedvig was born 31 Oct 1845 and christened 2 Nov 1845. She is the daughter of Henrik Henriksson, a torpare (torppari—a tenant farmer), and Lisa Esaiasdotter. Lisa was 20 years old at the time that Hedvig was born. The family was living on the Kallio farm, Waldarla by.

Step 2: Find the Family in the Communion Book

Using the village name and farm name from the birth record, find the farm in the Communion Book that covers the year of birth of the child you just found in the birth records. The Communion Books are organized by villages. (Some village names have “-by” at the end of the name, like “Waldarlaby.” Sometimes just the name is used, like “Waldarla.”) And then the farms will be listed. The “boarders” (inhyses) may be listed with each farm, at the end of each village, or as a separate section after all of the villages. If you don’t find the family on the “farm,” page, check the “boarders” sections. There also may be separate sections for other groups like soldiers or members of crafts or trades.

The Communion Book records should list all of the (older) family members. You should find a listing for the parents, older siblings (maybe), aged grandparents (if they were living with the family at that time), etc. Record everything. There should be a birth date (full date if the person was born in the parish, maybe only the year if the person was born in a different parish) in the more recent Communion Book records (no dates in the oldest records). Death dates may be indicated, or maybe just a note that the person is dead (the year of death may be approximated from the date when the “has been to communion” marks end). Moves in or out may be noted, marriages may be noted, etc.

Example. My great-great-grandmother Hedvig’s parents are found on page 402 of the Isokyrö Communion Book for the years 1839 through 1845. (An edited image of page 402 and its facing page is above.)

Names and Birth Dates from Communion Book
Names and Birth Dates for the Henrik Henriksson Tervajoki Family,
Isokyrö Communion Book, 1839-1845, Page 402

The most significant information from this page of the communion book is summarized in the table below. I have added [comments] where necessary.

[Left margin] Waldarla by
No. 4. Kallio 5/24
Kommen ifrån.
[Came from]
[Has been to Holy Communion]
[Moved away]
År och Datum
[Year and date]
† Torp Henrik Henrikss Tervajoki 18/6 1786   gift 1813 [No marks in 1844] † 18 14/8 43
  Hu Hedvig Gustafsdr 24/4 1787        
F Dr Greta 30/5 1816     [Last mark in 1842] pag. 508
A Torp Sn Henrik 9/6 1820        
  Jakob 1/8 1823        
  Matts 5/11 1825     [Marks start 1842]  
  Johan 3/1 1828     [Marks start 1843]  
A Hu Lisa Elaiadotter Löfgren 24/5 1822   p. 455 [Marks start 1845]  
Torp Måg Gust [Johansson Haapamäki]     p. 508 [No marks]  

My great-great-grandmother Hedvig is not listed in the 1839-1845 Communion Book. Her parents Henrik and Lisa are included (the pair of letters “A” in the left margin indicate that Henrik and Lisa are husband and wife). The birth dates for both Henrik and Lisa are listed. No birth places are given, so we can assume that both were born in Isokyrö. The communion marks for Lisa start in 1845, so we can assume that Henrik and Lisa were married in 1844 or early 1845.

‘Tervajoki’ and ‘Löfgren’ are surnames. In the Isokyrö parish and many other parishes in western Finland, a farm name would have been used to identify individuals who did not have a specific surname.

Also listed are Henrik’s sister, three brothers, and parents. As an unexpected bonus, we also find the marriage year 1813 for Henrik’s parents Henrik and Hedvig. The cross in the left margin in front of the senior Henrik’s name indicates that he died, and his death date 14 Aug 1843 is found in the last column of the record.

Note the cross-reference “p. 455” after Lisa’s name. Lisa and her parents and siblings are found on page 455 of the same Communion Book.

Henrik’s son-in-law (måg) Gust, Greta’s husband, also is listed. More information about Gust, i.e., his full name and date of birth, may be found in later Communion Book records.

Step 3: Find the Names and Birth Dates of Siblings

Your ancestor’s sisters and brothers may be listed in the Communion Books. Children who died as infants may not be listed (some are, some aren’t).

Use the birth records to confirm the information you find in the Communion Books. Also use the parents’ names and the names of the farm and village where the family lived to find the birth dates of other members of the family (watch for moves to different farms, people did move around—some more than others).

Example no. 1. My great-great-grandmother Hedvig is listed with her parents and two of her siblings on page 594 of the Isokyrö 1846-1850 Communion Book:

[Left margin] Waldarla
No. 4. Kallio
Kommen ifrån.
[Came from]
[Has been to Holy Communion]
[Moved away]
År och Datum
[Year and date]
Torp Henrik Henrikss Tervajoki 9/6 1820        
  H Lisa Esaiasdr 24/5 1822     [No marks in 1849]  
  Barn: Hedvig 31/10 1845     [No marks]  
  Lena 16/3 1848     [No marks]  
  Lisa 31/1 1850     [No marks]  

The extracts of the Isokyrö birth records include the following information for the birth and christening of Hedvig’s sisters (I have added the column headings and table borders for clarity):

Birth Date Chr. Date Village & Farm Father Mother Child
16/3 21/3 Wald. Kallio Tp. Henrik Tervajoki Lisa Esaiaedr-26 Helena
31/1 2/2 Walld. Kallio Tp. Henr. Henriksson Tervajoki Lisa Esaiaedr-28 Lisa

Example no. 2. My third great-grandfather Henrik’s sister Greta and brothers Jakob, Matts, and Johan are listed in the Isokyrö Communion Books for 1839-1845 (described above) and 1831-1837. Another brother Gustaf (b. 5 Aug 1818; d. 9 May 1819) is included in the Communion Book for 1811-1820. And yet another brother Johan (b. 27 Mar 1822; d. 30 Sep 1822) is found in the extracts of birth records.

Step 4: Find the Marriage Date of the Parents

Look in the extracts of marriage records for the marriage of the parents (prior to the birth of the first child).

Example. Previously we determined that Hedvig’s parents Henrik and Lisa probably were married in 1844 or early 1845 (based on the start of the “has been to communion” marks for Lisa on the Kallio farm page of the 1839-1845 Communion Book).

The extracts of marriage records include the following information (as before, I have added column headings and table borders for clarity):

Mar. Date Village & Farm Husband Wife Village & Farm
29/10 Valdarla Tp. Henr. Tervajoki Lisa Esaiaedr Löfgren

This record is somewhat unusual in that:

Step 5: Find Death Dates

Follow the Communion Book records forward in time to determine the death dates of family members—Confirm with the extracts of death records.

Example. In the Communion Book for 1839-1845, we found a note that my fourth great-grandfather Henrik Henriksson Tervajoki died 14 Aug 1843. The extracts of death records give the date of death as 15 Aug 1843 and include the following additional information (headings, borders, and [comments] added for clarity):

Death Date Burial Date Village Name Cause of Death Age at Death
Years Months Days
15/8 17/8 Valdarla Kallio Tp. Henr. Henrss: g: slag [stroke] 57 å 2 m 2 d

Step 6: Repeat the Process for the Next Generation

Repeat the process for the parents of the individual with whom you started in Step 1. Using the birth dates from the Communion Book, find the parents (as children) in the birth records. This will give you the names of the grandparents, and the villages and farms where the grandparents were living when the parents were born (i.e., “Step 1” again). Find the grandparents’ farms in the Communion Books (“Step 2”). Keep going until you run out of ancestors or you run out of records.

In the examples above, we were fortunate to find both sets of Hedvig’s grandparents in the 1839-1845 Communion Book. Had this not been the case, we would use her father Henrik’s birth date to find Henrik’s parents and the farm where Henrik was born in the extracts of birth records. And we would repeat this process with Hedvig’s mother Lisa’s birth date to find Lisa’s parents and the farm where Lisa was born.

Although the names of the grandparents (and their birth dates, and as a bonus, their marriage date and one death date) were found in the Communion Book, we should check the extracts of the birth records to confirm the birth dates and to find the names of the villages and farms where the grandparents were living when Henrik and Lisa were born. (Henrik was born on the Maunuxela farm, Waldarla by. Lisa was born in the village of Orismala.)

Other Resources

For some parishes, there are census/tax records (Veroluettelot) which are older than the Communion Books. You will want to use them after you become more familiar with the Finnish records.

There also are “move-in” and “move-out” records for most parishes. Check the move-in records (Muuttaneet or Muuttokirjat) for information about those individuals who were not born in the parish you currently are researching.

Suggested Reading

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Scandinavian Records, no date, Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This manual (which I believe is out of print—there is a slim chance that your local Family History Center might have a copy of this manual) includes:

Vincent, Timothy Laitila and Rick Tapio, Finnish Genealogical Research, 1994, New Brighton, MN: Sampo Publishing, Inc. Contact: Family Sleuths for Finnish and Swedish Genealogical Research, Timothy Laitila Vincent, A.G., Post Office Box 526163, Salt Lake City, Utah 84152-6163. Includes a description of Finnish parish records and a list of parish names and addresses.


Sue Alskog provided several helpful suggestions.


This page was updated 9 Dec 1999
The URL of this page is http://members.aol.com/DSSaari/guide.htm
Copyright © 1997 David S. Saari, Ph.D. All rights reserved.