Church books

The history of population registers

The oldest known population registers originate from Italy, Spain and France in the 1400s. The different population registers from that time are very incomplete. The parish registers of catholic countries were discussed, amongst others, during the council of Trenton (Trident) during the years 1545-1573, which concluded that the cataloguing of the baptisebaptised were at a satisfactory level, but that the parishes should also keep records of marriages. In 1538, the English King Henry VIII ordered that the congregations to register baptisebaptised, married and buried people in separate lists.

According to the Catholic Church directives from the 1200s, every person was to attend confession once a year. During the confession, the parishioners´ knowledge of the Christian tenets were tested. This practice was firmly established by the end of the 1300s, when parishioners would gather annually and, led by the pastor, had to repeat, amongst other things, the prayer Our Father and the creed. They also had to prove their knowledge of the sacrament of confession. The practice continued even after The Reformation. The recommendation was to participate in the Holy Communion three to four times per year. The absolute maximum time between two consecutive participations in the Holy Communion was one year and one day. The religious knowledge and participation in the Eucharist was recorded in a separate book in the manner assumed in Bishop Johannes Gezelius´ episcopal visitation regulation in 1665 and in the 1673 diochese statutes.

In theory, the keeping of ecclesiastical population records in Sweden and Finland began with the ecclesiastical code of 1686. The law made confirmation books, history books and migration lists mandatory in every parish. Lists of births, baptisms, banns, marriages, deaths and burials are called history books. The data was entered in the history books in chronological order, with each year´s entries separate.

The parish records, however, had already consolidated its status. The parish records became more accurate in 1749 when a table works was founded in Sweden and, consequently also in Finland. The priests took care of the basic statistical work, collecting information both about the population and about changes in the population. Before the data from the parishes were sent to Stockholm to be calculated at a national level, it was calculated by deanery, diocese and county. Main summaries were then drawn up by the Table Commission, which had been founded in 1756. During the 1700s, the diocese and county summaries were abandoned. The parish population statistic records remained unchanged even after Finland was incorporated into Russia in 1809. In 1812, a similar model was extended to the churches in Old Finland that had been incorporated into the rest of Finland.

Born and baptised

Often, in the oldest lists of born and baptised, only the day of baptism, the child´s name, the father´s name and the family´s place of residence at the time of birth is mentioned. According to the ecclesiastical code of 1686, the child´s date of birth, the names of the parents and the godparents and their social status were also to be included. As a result of the more accurate population registration, the age of the child´s mother is also found in the lists of born and baptised from 1776 and onwards. The lists also include information on emergency baptisms, illegitimate births, the child´s possible death and references to the page of the children´s book (confirmation book), where the family is registered.

According to the provisions, the child was to be baptised within 8 days after birth. In large congregations and parishes in the archipelago, it was virtually impossible to comply with these provisions. If the child´s parents adhered to different religions, the child´s religious affiliation followed the father´s affiliation.

Unfortunately, the lists of born and baptised are not entirely reliable. It is estimated that up to 10-20 % of children are missing in the lists until the mid -1800s. The reason for this is that the history books were notebooks for various church events - usually stillborn or unbaptised children were not registered, since they were not, at any stage, members of the congregation.

Banns and Married

The three days of banns, the day of the wedding, the names of the bride and bridegroom, their social status and their place of residence were written down into the list of banns and married. A prerequisite for marriage was that the banns were read in the bride´s home church three Sundays in a row. The bridal couple´s wedding notebook is usually found in the list of married in the bride´s home parish.

In 1721, it was stipulated that a woman could marry at the age of 15 and a man at the age of 21. Parental consent for marriage was required until 1864. After 1864, parental consent was no longer needed at the age of 21. After 1911, an 18 year old man and a 17 year old woman could marry without their parents´ permission. Civil Marriage has been possible since 1917.

Dead and Buried

The dates of the deceased´s death and burial and the deceased´s name, social status, place of residence and age was recorded in the list of dead and buried. The death dates are missing from the oldest lists. As a result of population statistics, the cause of death begins to appear in the lists after the mid-1700s. Mostly it was the priest or the families who established the cause of death. Not until 1935 was the responsibility for determining the cause of death transferred from the priest to the doctor.

Up until the mid-1800s, stillborn children and children who died in their infancy are missing from the lists of the dead. Even people, who died outside their home parish, were often not recorded, just as many who were killed in the wars of the 1700´s and 1800´s, were not registered in the lists of their home parish. In addition, age entries in the lists of dead, especially from the 1700´s, are unreliable. An example of this is that a couple of people over 100 years old would have lived in Sordavala rural municipality in the early 1700s. In particular, women´s and children´s names were often inaccurate. The recording of the name of the deceased woman or child was considered less important than the recording of the name of the deceased´s nearest male relative or, in the event that the deceased was a servant, the name of the master.


In 1686, the ecclesiastical code obliged parishes to keep records of people moving to or from the parish. The chronological lists contain the name of the person, the number of the person´s moving book, from where the person moved and to where he/she moved as well as references to a page in the confirmation book.

In the parish archives, migration records from the early 1800s and onward are preserved. However, the moving books that were the basic material for the migrant lists have been better preserved. The oldest series of moving books are from the 1720s. The moving books contain the migrant´s name, birth date and -place, occupation, place of residence in the home parish, place of residence in the new parish, time of last communion, place of confirmation, location, religious knowledge, literacy, immunisations, payments of tax to the crown and whether or not the person was free to marry. The person got issued a moving book from their home parish. The book was to be given to the pastor of the new parish. According to the decree of 1768, this book was to be presented to the pastor within two months after the move and, from 1805, within 2 weeks.

The primary function of the moving book was to show that the person had the right to partake in the communion. The moving book was also used to keep the ecclesiastic population registers up to date, prevent vagrancy and oversee that servants had a job to go to. In 1766, servants received the right to freely move from county to county. The parishes did not accept immigrants that could pose a burden for the poor relief.

Confirmation books

The ecclesiastical code of 1686 decreed the confirmation books mandatory in every parish. The notes in the confirmation book would often encompass a time span of 10 years and contained information about the parishers according to their village of residence and household. In the oldest confirmation books, villages are arranged according to so called kinkeri districts (kinkeripiiri) and, in confirmation books from the early 1800s, in alphabetical order. The primary purpose of the confirmation books was to follow the parishioners´ spiritual walk, i.e. oversee people´s literacy and Christian knowledge and monitor their participation in the communion.

The notes in the confirmation books became more elaborate from the mid-1700s, when they began to include information on the parishioners´ birth and death dates, social standing and migration. Crofters, soldiers, and others who did not own land were usually recorded on their own pages, but also sometimes in the context of the household, in whose service they were.

The amount of information continued to increase in the early 1800s. From that time the confirmation books started to contain information about birth parishes, immunisations and marriage as well as special remark columns, where the priest would sometimes note even very private information about parishioners. Confirmation Books from the 1900s also contains information about parishioners´ literacy, schooling, and right to vote in ecclesiastical elections.

Children´s books

Persons under the confirmation class age were recorded in children´s books. When a parishioner had undergone confirmation classes, he/she was moved to the confirmation book. There were no instructions regarding children´s books, so different parishes began to use these at different times. The oldest children´s books date back to the early 1600s.

The earliest childrens´s books were kept in the Porvoo diocese and occasionally, in different parishes in the Turku archipelago, in southern and northern Finland and in Ostrobothnia. If the parish did not keep children´s books, the corresponding information was noted in the confirmation book. Children´s books contain information from a period of about ten years and are reminiscent in structure of confirmation books, i.e. information is divided by village and household. The lists contain the names of the parents, the mother´s birth date or -year and the child´s name and birth date. In some parishes, the series of children´s books were discontinued in the 1890s, and by 1921 they were discontinued in all parishes.

Family name indexes

It has previously been possible to order indexes, arranged in alphabetical order, from the Karjala Database Foundation.

The family name indexes are now sold out.