The parents of knife fighter Isotalo in Communion book

The Communion Books (rippikirjat in Finnish) are an important source of genealogical information. Unlike birth and death records, they provide information about an entire family. From them, you can learn the names and birth dates of a person’s family members. In this post, I will show you how to access the Communion Book information available on the Internet. As in my previous post, I will use the family of knife fighter Antti Isotalo as my example.

In the last post, we learned from the birth/baptism records that Antti Isotalo was born on the 30th of August 1831 and that his parents were Heikki Erkinpoika and Maria Kustaantytär. In this post, I will show you how to use the communion books to learn the birthdates of Antti’s parents and siblings.

The Communion Books were the result of a 1686 Church law requiring parish members to be registered. In addition to listing the names of the parish members, the communion books indicate ability to read, knowledge of Christian doctrine, and when the members took Holy Communion. The specific information in a book depends on the time period in which it was written. The names listed in the Communion books are organized by village, farm, and family. Individual books usually contain information for a 6 to 10 year period.

Once you have found the person you are researching in the birth/baptism records, you should locate his or her record in the Communion Book from the same time period. You will find Communion Books in the records of the Finnish Family History Association (FFHA) and the Uusi Astia service of the National Archives of Finland.

Let’s search for information on Antti Isotalo in the FFHA records. From the search page of FFHA click on the parish Alahärmä since this is where Antti was born.

The first records for Alahärmä are the communion books (rippikirjat). Since Antti was born in 1831, click on the word “Rippikirja” for the time period 1829 – 1838 (vuodet = years).

When you open the link, you will see a list of the first 100 pages labeled first by village and then by farm. To access higher numbered pages, click on the red tabs at the top or bottom of the page.

We know that Antti was born in Hanhimäki farm, but we do not know in which village Hanhimäki farm was located. When the village is unknown, we have to check the descriptions of all the pages.  (Unfortunately, not all the records will have descriptions of the information on each page. In that case, you have to look at each page.) Hanhimäki is on the digital pages 170 to 173. (These pages contain images of pages 159 to 162 in the communion book.) We see that Hanhimäki is in Wuoskoski village. Hanhimäki farm covers four pages so we need to check each by clicking on their record numbers or using the “seuraava” arrow at the top.

The handwriting in the oldest records can be difficult to read, although by the 1800s, the writing is becoming similar to modern script. At the top of pages 170 to 173, we learn that Hanhimäki farm was in Ny Carleby pastorat (Nycarleby vicariate or in Finnish Uusikaarlepyyn kirkkoherrakunta) and belongs to upper catechetical meeting group (öfre Nattbolet, or in Finnish ylempi kinkerikunta). A “pastorat”  (“kirkkoherrakunta” in Finnish) was a group of parishes lead by a “kyrkoherde” in Swedish or “kirkkoherra” in Finnish. The “nattbolet” (“kirkerikunta” in Finnish) was a group of parishioners who gathered every year with the priest to learn Christianity and to be tested on their knowledge of Christianity.

Antti, his parents, and his siblings are recorded on digital page 172 (page 161 in the Communion Book). Often the easiest way to find a person is by looking for his/her birthdate in the second column.  This is especially helpful in this case since Antti’s name is written in the Swedish version, Anders. The head of the family is always listed first in the communion records. If the head is a man, his wife will be listed next. Generally, they will be followed by their children who are usually in birth order. In this case, Antti’s father’s mother is listed before the children.

Son Eric Henricsson 14.11.1808
Son Erkki Heikinpoika 14th November 1808
Hust. Susanna Jacobi 21.1.1807 Luomaperä
Wife Susanna Jaakontytär 21 January 1807 Luomaperä
Son Johan Henricsson 12.12.1812
Son Juho Heikinpoika 12 December 1812.

The oldest sons, Eric Henricsson and Johan Henricsson, are written separately farther down the page to leave space for future children (and in Johan’s case, a future wife). In some books, multiple families will be listed on a page, so be sure to check the patronymic. Because the book covers the years 1829 to 1838, family members who died before 1829 or were born after 1838 are not included. Checking communion books for earlier and later time periods could provide information on additional family members.

Transcription of the text is:

Names in communion records were often written in their Swedish version, even for Finnish speakers. The translation of the names to their Finnish form is:

The Finnish form of the first name and patronymic would have been used in everyday speech if the family were Finnish-speaking. However, official records were always written in Swedish until late 1800’s when the language gradually changed to Finnish in parishes that primarily spoke Finnish.

To read the old Swedish handwriting, you need to know few things. Lowercase “s” inside the word has been written in two different ways. In the words Susanna, Lisa and Gustafs. it has been written in old German style which looks like an “f”:

Lowercase s in words Susanna, Lisa and Gustaf.

In abbreviated word Husb. (Husbonde) lowercase s was written in modern way:


There is quite a bit of variation in older handwriting. For example, these are all three capital S:

Words Son, Sara and Susanna

The patronymic (father’s first name) was written in this record in two ways:

  1. Swedish genitive + son or dotter (abbreviation dr, daughter), Erics son, Erics dr., Henrics dotter
  2. Latin genitive: Erici, Henrici, Jacobi

The Finnish version of the patronymic is given in the transcription.

On just one page of the Communion Book, we have learned significant new information about Antti’s family:

  • the birthdates of Antti’s parents
  • the birth place of Antti’s mother (Kumpula)
  • the name and birth year of Antti’s grandmother Saara
  • Antti’s siblings and their birthdates. (Antti’s mother was 50 years old in 1738 so it is likely that Antti was her youngest child.)
  • the name of Antti’s brother’s wife (Susanna)

Because birthdates found in the communion records are occasionally incorrect, it is best to confirm them by checking the Registry of Christenings. In the next post I will explain how to find the birth records of Antti’s parents in these books. The parent’s birth records will also provide the names of all four of Antti’s grandparents.

The communion books contain additional information I have not described in this post. This information will be covered in future posts.

English text edited by Barbara Wilson


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