Finland Social Life and Customs
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Effective family research requires understanding of the society in which your ancestor lived. Learning about everyday life, religious practices, customs, and traditions will help you appreciate your ancestor and the time in which he or she lived. This information is particularly helpful if you choose to write a family history. Research procedures and genealogical sources may differ for each area and time period and are affected by the local customs and traditions. The information that might be of interest to you might include mortality rate, life spans, apprenticeship customs and courting and marriage customs.
In early Finland most persons lived on or were associated with a farm. There were different types of farmers; which include owners and laborers. Tilallinen (bonde - Swedish), renki (drängen – Swedish), piika (pigan – Swedish) and torppari (torparen – Swedish) are generally mentioned in Finnish parish records.
Tilallinen were farm owners. Renki (unmarried farmhands) and piika (unmarried women laborers) worked for room and board on farms. These young people could have been as young as fourteen years old and often moved from farm to farm. For information on types of farm owners and laborers see: Vincent, Timothy Laitila and Rick Tapiio. Finnish Genealogical Research. New Brighton, MN, 1994. (FHL book 948.97 D27v)
Torpparit were tenant farmers who leased land from landowners. In the early nineteenth century there were more torpparit in Finland than later in the century. Many of these torpparit were sons of the landowners. A torppari lived and raised his family on the land he leased. He grew vegetables and grain, and built a small home for his family on the property. He likely had a small area in which to pasture a cow. In exchange for the lease, the torppari worked for the landowner, father or not, and gave a portion of his produce to him. See J. Hampden Jackson, Finland (New York: the MacMillan Company, 1940), 71.
Summer was critical to the success of a Finnish farm. Because of seventeen to nineteen hours of daylight, Finnish farmers spent fifteen-hour days in the fields during the summers. During winter months long dark days were likely spent clearing forest timber. The women of the household took care of the house, children, farm animals and made clothes for the family. They ground the grain grown on the property to make bread for the family. See Jackson, Finland, 70-71.
During the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries there were many torpare because the landowners were interested in cultivating more of their land. The torppari cleared forest to build homes and grow crops. However, after the mid-nineteenth century, the landowners valued the forests as timber to be sold to urban mills that prepared the wood to be exported. The landowners were not as willing to lease land anymore for torppari use. Torppari leases were oral understandings and not committed to writing, and a landowner could exact ever increasing work and produce from the torppari. Some torpparit eventually left their leased property to seek employment elsewhere. See Jackson, Finland, 71-72.
Socialization in eighteenth and nineteenth century Finland was limited mainly to the area in which one lived. Often as dräng and pigan moved to farms away from their families to work; they formed relationships that led to marriage. It was not unusual for young people to move to neighboring parishes. In such cases, the marriage usually took place in the bride’s home parish. However, marriages did occur in the groom’s home parish as well. Once a couple became engaged a kuulutetut (banns – Swedish), or announcement, was read in the church. The kuulutetut was read each Sunday for three weeks. If there were no objections to the engagement the couple was free to marry.
Before the 20th century weddings in Finland were most often held after the harvest. Wedding customs differed between Finland in the west and in the east. For more information on wedding customs in Finland see Vincent, Timothy Laitila and Rick Tapiio. Finnish Genealogical Research. New Brighton, MN, 1994. (FHL book 948.97 D27v) Also the article Old Marriage Customs in Finland written by June Pelo is quite informative. http://sydaby.eget.net/swe/jp_marriage.htm
In Finland infants were usually baptized within a week of birth. Typically a baptism occurred in the church, but could also be done in the parsonage or the family home. Godparents and witnesses were usually present at baptisms. Weather, distance from the church or the child’s health played a part in where an infant baptism occurred. For a further description of baptism customs in Finland see: Vincent, Timothy Laitila and Rick Tapiio. Finnish Genealogical Research. New Brighton, MN, 1994.(FHL book 948.97 D27v)
For information on death and burials in Finland see: Vincent, Timothy Laitila and Rick Tapiio. Finnish Genealogical Research. New Brighton, MN, 1994. (FHL book 948.97 D27v)
The Finnish Sauna
Saunas have been a part of the Finnish way of life for hundreds of years. Almost every family in Finland had access to a sauna if they did not have their own. Finnish saunas were not just used for cleanliness. The Finnish believed the hot steam of a sauna promoted good health. Mothers gave birth to their children in saunas and the dead were bathed in the sauna. Many a young bride cleansed herself in the family sauna to prepare for her marriage. If possible the family sauna was built near a lake. See Sylvie Nickels, Hillar Kallas, and Philippa Friedman, editors, Finland, An Introduction (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1973), 292-293.
The lake provided the water for the steam and bathing in the sauna. A fire was built under a bed of rocks. Cold water thrown on the hot rocks provided all the steam one could bear. Little birch twigs were grouped together and were used to swat the skin to stimulate circulation. See June Drenning Holmquist, editor, They Chose Minnesota, A Survey of The State’s Ethnic Groups (St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1981), 303.
Many Finns jumped into the cold water of the lake after they had treated themselves to the hot, moist sauna.
The Family History Library has collected a few sources that discuss Finnish social life and customs. The sources are written in Finnish, Swedish and one has an English translation. They are listed in the Subject Search of the Family History Library catalog under: FINLAND – SOCIAL LIFE AND CUSTOMS