The Sami people (also Sámi or Saami) were formerly known as the non-politically correct term Lapps or Laplanders. The Sami people live in the northern parts of four countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia (the Kola Peninsula). In earlier times Sápmi (the land of the Sami, in English commonly known as Lapland) covered a much bigger part of the Scandinavian Peninsula, probably also more of northern Russia. The Sami were gatherers and hunters for thousands of years. They may have also been farmers. Wild reindeer in the inland and fish in rivers, lakes and the coastal waters were among their main food resources. The Sami have been recognized as an indigenous people in Norway.
Is it difficult to research Sami ancestry?
In some cases, yes - in other cases, no. Sami genealogy information appears in more or less the same sources as the majority of people do, at least in Norway and Sweden. In some areas, much good work has been done to reconstruct the old family history, and some books are published, most of them in Finnmark county (Norway) and in Sweden. The coastal Sami in Norway use the same naming patterns and more or less the same names as the Norwegians, and have done so for at least 150 years. This applies to first names as well as surnames. Don't expect to find any information about the Sami in any Norwegian bygdebok, and if you do find some Sami history there it will in most cases be inaccurate. The Family History has some history and genealogy books. Use the FamilySearch Catalog to determine what is available.
There were no directives from the government or the higher church authorities to identify individuals of Sami heritage. The recording of individual Sami in the pre-1900 church records depended greatly on the discretion of individual ministers. However, there are several north Norwegian church ministers who, on their own, elected to state these individuals. Sami naming customs were similar to the Norwegian patriarchal naming system, and this would increase the difficulty in narrowing Sami individuals.
The Norwegian national census records of 1666, 1701, 1801, 1865, 1875 and 1900 had no directives to include specifically Sami individuals. The listing of Sami in the censuses remained at the discretion of the local recorders (who, depending on the year of the census, was also the local minister).
Although probates are of great value for the genealogist, sadly they are extremely poor source for identifying Sami individuals.
The Sami languages belong to the Uralic language family. The Sami language is linguistically related to - but very different from - Finnish, Estonian, and Hungarian. There is no single Sami language, but a group of ten distinct Sami languages/dialects.
Widespread Shamanism persisted among the Sami up until the 18th century. Most Sami today belong to the state-run Lutheran churches of Norway, Sweden, and Finland. Some Sami in Russia belong to the Russian Orthodox Church, and similarly, some Skolt Sami resettled in Finland are also part of an Eastern Orthodox congregation, with an additional small population in Norway.
Assimilation makes it difficult to give exact numbers for the Sami population today. They are at least 30 thousand, but they may be twice as many. The majority lives in Norway, where population numbers are at their most uncertain. Not only has assimilation gone very far in many areas, a lot of Sami have also moved to other parts of the country.
- Russia has the smallest part. According to the 2002 census, the Sami population of Russia was 1,991 (on the Kola Peninsula).
- According to the Swedish Sami Parliament, the Sami population of Sweden is about 20,000.
- According to the Finnish Population Registry Center and the Finnish Sami Parliament, the Sami population living in Finland was 7,371 in 2003.
- According to the Norwegian Sami Parliament, the Sami population of Norway is 40,000.
- There are an estimated 30,000 people living in North America who are either Sami, or descendants of Sami.