Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Finn Findings

It’s difficult to find Finnish relatives with the results of the Ancestry.com autosomal DNA test—at least, that’s what I claimed in an earlier post here. A cousin of mine read that post about my frustration with the roadblocks and arduous searches required. I don’t think cousin Bob—who’s done amazing work to extend our Hietanen family tree back several centuries—thought it could be quite as grim a situation as I made it out to be.

He e-mailed me to suggest a few strategies. I e-mailed him back with information from my Ancestry.com DNA match list. Bob worked on a couple names. He found the DNA match list cumbersome enough that he looked for online search tools to make it easier to find connections. He even began to develop some search tools of his own. Bob does computer programming, so that’s the sort of thing he can do.

Yet it wasn’t long before he came to a screeching halt. The Ancestry.com model of trying to find connections among DNA matches is so unwieldy as to be discouraging.

But by that time Bob and I both had our blood up to do some serious research.

Previously Bob had sent me links to online Finnish Church Records. These are the official records of births, marriages, deaths, and so on of the Finnish populace for several centuries. Because Finland had no civic entity assigned to gather the information for these records, the church recorded these life landmarks for the Finnish people.

I’d long been intimidated by the idea of Finnish Church Records. I can’t read Finnish. I know about half a dozen Finnish words—things such as sauna (and, yes, I pronounce it correctly—so that it sounds more like sow-na than saw-na). But throw kuulutettujen and muuttaneiden at me and I’m lost. Other family researchers have dug into the depths of the Finnish Church records. I’ve been content to leave the heavy lifting to them and grateful for what they share.

But Bob’s shared a lot of his research with me over the years. I didn’t want him to think I was just slacking off to let others take care of all the hard stuff.

So I looked at one of my DNA matches that had caught Bob’s attention. I’ll call that DNA match “Mitch.” “Mitch’s” family tree was clearly of Finnish descent on his mother’s side. Months ago I’d found the name Luoma on “Mitch’s” tree. I have Luomas on my tree. I’d made a note that Luoma might be the connection between me and “Mitch.” Now I started with the Luoma on “Mitch’s” tree and worked backward. I quickly came across the surname Stoor. Mitch’s Stoor ancestors lived in Kortesjärvi, Finland.

I knew I had one Stor ancestor from Kortesjärvi, Finland—Antti Stor, my great-great-great-grandfather.

I didn’t think the difference in the spelling of the last name—Stoor versus Stor—probably made any difference. In the end, it didn't; they're cognate spellings, along with Storr, and are interchangeable. There’s a lot of variation in the spelling of Finnish names from the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. I felt pretty confident that Stoor/Stor from Kortesjärvi was the key to my connection with “Mitch.”

I mentioned this to Bob, then dove headfirst into the Finnish Church Records online at the Finnish Family History Association (FFHA).

Navigating the records wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be. On the FFHA site, they’re divided geographically. So I looked up Kortesjärvi and was confronted with a list of Finnish words I couldn’t even pronounce, much less understand.

But Google translate exists for a reason.

I started blindly with the Church Communion records, simply because there were more of them than anything else. This turned out to be a fortuitous accident. The communion records list whole families—the first name and patronymic of father, mother, and children—along with the birth date of each family member. The families are grouped by surname/farm name. Until the twentieth century a Finnish farm name generally equaled a surname, especially in rural communities. So the communion records provided the exact type of information I needed in order to work my way back a generation at a time.

I began with the surname/farm name of Stoor/Stor in Kortesjärvi and soon found my great-great-great-grandfather Antti Stor, born December 10, 1835.

Of course, Antti’s name wasn’t recorded with that spelling. Sweden ruled Finland for a long time. Swedish became the official language of Finnish records. Finnish first names have Swedish versions. Finnish patronymics, based on first names, also have Swedish versions. Instead of Antti Matinpoika Stor, I found Anders Mattsson Stoor. His parents and siblings were listed with him.

One of the several Finnish communion records showing Anders (Antti) Stoor (fifth name, preceded by the word "Son"), born December 10, 1835. His father Matthias Gustafsson Stoor (first name) was born July 10, 1802, in—as noted in the third column—Palojärvi.

From there it wasn’t too difficult to go back another generation. But what was this? In an earlier communion record, Antti’s father, Matthias Gustafsson, born 1802, had the word Palojärvi following his birth date. He’d been born on the Palojärvi farm, not the Stor farm. I pushed back another generation, but the name Stor had completely disappeared from this line of descent.  Dead end.

Communion record for Gustav Johanisson Palojärvi (bottom name), born October 12, 1760, father of Matthias Gustafsson, with his parents, Johan Johanisson Winikainen Palojärvi (first name), born December 26, 1730, and Maria Matthiasdotter (second name), born May 12, 1729, and other family members. No sign of Stoor/Stor here.

So I went back to Matthias Gustafsson, born 1802. I figured that his wife, Maria Andersdotter, born 1801, must have been the Stor.

At the same time I was combing the communion records on the FFHA site, cousin Bob had been delving into the Finnish Church Records at the online HisKi project of the Genealogical Society of Finland. Bob was also trying to find the connection between me and “Mitch.” The HisKi project has fewer online Finnish Church Records than FFHA. But HisKi has some different records and best of all, the HisKi project has a search function in English.

Bob found that Matthias Gustafsson’s wife Maria Andersdotter, who hadn’t been a Stoor/Stor before marriage, had been a Försti. I dug around and pushed back a couple generations up the Försti tree. No Stoor/Stor appeared there. Another dead end.

I subsequently hit a few more dead ends looking for a Stoor/Stor connection between “Mitch’s” family tree and mine. Despite the Stoor/Stor dead ends, all this research Bob and I were doing was nevertheless productive. It filled in previously unknown branches of my family tree. All these people were my relatives, even though most of them weren't Stoor/Stors. And I was successfully navigating the Finnish Church Records.

I went back down the line to my great-great-grandfather, Matti Nikolai Stuuri (1861-1922), son of Antti Stor, who had immigrated to the USA from Finland in 1889. He’s the one who changed his surname Stor to Stuuri in his new country. The reason for the change is not apparent. The story I’ve received is that Stor was an unfamiliar last name and Stuuri was more comprehensible to the inhabitants of Fairport Harbor, Lake County, Ohio, because there was another Finnish immigrant family there named Tuuri. That seems like nonsense to me—Stor seems much simpler than Stuuri—but I wasn’t around at the time. Maybe it made sense then.

Anyway, Matti Nikolai Stuuri’s wife was Wilhelmina “Walpori” Erkkilä (1860-1925). Could she have brought the Stor name into the family? I pushed back through the Finnish Communion archives for two generations, tracing the Erkkilä/Erkilä name. No luck finding any reference to Stoor/Stor.

Communion record for Wilhelmina "Walpori" Johansdotter Erkilä (fourth name), born March 13, 1860, in Kauhava, with her parents and siblings.

Finally, the only branch I hadn’t explored was that of Antti Stor’s wife, Caisa Lena, whose last name before marriage was unknown to me. But I had her birth year, 1842. A HisKi search gave me her birth record, which had her parents’ names, which led me to their marriage and communion records. (Surprisingly, Caisa Lena’s surname before marriage had been Tuuri. Maybe this was part of the inspiration for her son’s change of name from Stor to Stuuri.)

Caisa Lena’s parents had lived on the Stor farm at one point. A lead! I couldn’t push her father’s line back any further. Her mother Elisabeth had been born on the Back farm, and Elisabeth’s father was also a Back. The only opening remaining for the Stoor/Stor name to come down was Elisabeth’s mother, Caisa Nilsdotter Storr, born 1783. Was Caisa Nilsdotter’s father a Stoor/Stor? According to her patronymic his name would have been Nils. But I couldn’t find a Nils Stoor/Stor in the Finnish Church Records.

Meanwhile, cousin Bob had been working on the Stoor names on my DNA match “Mitch’s” family tree. Bob had gotten back to Hans Mattsson Stoor (1707-1776). It seems Hans Mattsson had twenty-three children by two wives, leading Bob to dub him “the Stud.” I looked at Bob’s list of the Stud’s children. In general they were of the generation when Caisa Nilsdotter’s father would likely have been born. But no Nils appeared among the Stud’s children. Another dead end? It seemed so at first.

But among the Stud’s children appeared a Niclaus. By this time I was quite used to the varying spellings and cognates of Finnish first names. I hadn’t run across Nils and Niclaus as cognates, but a quick check of HisKi told me that they were.

That was the key.

I searched the Finnish Church Records for Niclaus Hansson Stoor/Stor and quickly found birth, marriage, and communion records clearly confirming that Niclaus “Nils” Hansson Stoor/Stor (born 1750) and Margeta Davidsdotter (last name unknown) were the parents of Catarina “Caisa” Nilsdotter Stor (born 1783). All the birth dates matched.

Bingo! Hans Mattsson “the Stud” Stoor is the common ancestor of both “Mitch” and me. He’s my seven times great-grandfather through his second wife, Maria Mattsdotter (last name unknown), born 1728. He’s also “Mitch’s” seven times great-grandfather, but through his first wife, Anna Carlsdotter (last name unknown).

Immediately I e-mailed Bob with the news and included screen caps of the relevant records. You can see three of those records below.

Communion record of 1756 for "the Stud," Hans Mattsson Stoor (first name), born May 19, 1707, with his second wife Maria Mattsdotter (second name), eldest son Eric Hansson (third name), daughter-in-law Walborg Mattsdotter (fourth name), and others of his twenty-three children, including his son Niclaus (here written Nicls) Hansson (seventh name), born April 20, 1750.

Communion record for Nils (Niclaus) Hansson Stoor (first name), born April 20, 1750, and his wife Margeta Davidsdotter (second name), no birth date.

Birth and christening record for Kaisa Nilsdotter Stoor, born September 4, 1783, daughter of Nils Hansson Stoor and Margeta Davidsdotter. This is a HisKi search result.

Although I’d finally put all the pieces together, I couldn’t have done it without Bob’s research and help. It took us over a week. I don’t know how many hours Bob spent on it, but I stayed up into the wee hours on more than one night deciphering digitized versions of centuries old script and following where they led me.

We achieved our goal. I found a lot of good info along the way and conquered my fear of the Finnish Church Records. But I’m not going to be tackling any similar intensive, time-sapping genealogical tasks again any time soon. That’s my intention, anyway.

Bob says the same thing.

But he’s already been gently nudging me to try a new search tool he’s devised.


  1. Fantastic work! I found this blog by a search "Hans Mattsson Stoor" who is also an ancestor of mine. Haven't done much research into this branch yet, but I guess their line goes way back to when the Stoor farm was founded. At least Geni.com suggests that Hans/Hannu's great grandfather was his namesake (Hannu Matinpoika Stor) and probably lived in the early 17th century. But of course that may not be the most reliable source.

    My guess to why your great-great-grandfather altered the spelling of Stoor to Stuuri is simply because the swedish word "stor" (meaning big) in pronounced "stuur" in Finnish, and in Pohjanmaa area it would have been "stuuri".

    Best regards, Petra

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  3. Dear Petra,

    Thank you very much for your suggestion about the change from Stoor to Stuuri. That's much better reasoning than anything else I've learned.

    I would not trust anything on Geni.com unless I checked sources to prove it. It might be correct and it might not. It's probably a useful starting place for inquiry, but there's a lot of incorrect genealogical information floating around out there. We researchers need to verify the info we collect.

    Thanks again, cousin!