People who committed serious offenses against Church or civil law were prohibited from taking communion. Before they could take communion, again, they had to confess their offences and show regret for what they had done. After doing this, they would receive absolution.  The requirement that a person confess was often announced in the district court along with their civil punishment. These confessions were registered in the Absolution Records (in Finnish, Ripitettyjen luettelo and in Swedish, Absolutions bok, Absolutions längd or Absolverade personer). The Swedish name for these books might also be a description of the contents as in the photo below. In addition to information about confessions, the Absolution Records also contain information about other ecclesiastical punishments. 

The Absolutions Book of Eura

A confession could be either public or private. In a public confession (in Finnish julkirippi, in Swedish offentlig skriftermål) the parishioners admitted their faults in the church in front of the congregation. Private confessions were made to a clergyman and a few witnesses in a home, sacristy, or vicarage. The mildest way the Church might discipline an offender was with a rebuke or warning giving by a priest or church official. The warning might be given either privately or publicly. The public warnings could be during the service from the pulpit, during a catechetical meeting, or parish convention. A fine was also a common Church penalty. Public humiliation in the stocks or in a shame bench was a frequent alternative to a fine for poor people. A shame bench (in Finnish häpeäpenkki) was a bench where people who received a church penalty or who were making a public confession had to sit before absolution. The use of the stocks ended in 1848, and the use of the other Church punishments (churchy fine, shame bench, public confession, confession in presence of witnesses), in 1864.

Shame bench in Hollola Church (Photo Markku Haverinen, 2005, Finnish Heritage Agency)

The information of Absolution records is based on master’s thesis Merja Elina Mäkinen, MUSTANKIRJAN VÄKI. Kirkkokuri Ilomantsin evankelisluterilaisessa seurakunnassa 1858–1879, School of Theology, University of Eastern Finland, with Abstract in English.

You can find many digitized Absolution records (ripitettyjen luettelo, kirkkokurinalaisten luettelo) from Finland’s Family History Association (FFHA) and from the Uusi Astia service the National Archives of Finland. In Uusi Astia they most often are named Kirkkokurinalaisten luettelot (list of people under Church discipline). Some of the records in Digital Archives have use restrictions. If the section has any information that is less than 100 years old, the whole section is restricted for use and can be viewed only at the offices of the National Archives of Finland. You may also need permission to access the records.

From the following list, you can see the availability of digitized Absolution records in Finnish parishes as of February 2021:

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The Absolution records contain information on some of the same misdemeanors and crimes that are in the Criminal Records. The punishment given by Court often included an ecclesiastical punishment. People found guilty of a crime had to admit their faults and regret what they did to get absolution, to be suitable for Holy Communion, and to remain a member of the parish. Living outside the parish would be similar to being an outlaw.

Sexual intercourse outside marriage

The most common reason for confession was sexual intercourse between two people who were not married (in Swedish lönskalägelägersmål, in Finnish salavuoteus, luvaton sekaantuminen). In many parishes, it was almost the only reason for an entry in the absolutions book.

Sexual intercourse outside marriage in Jokioinen in 1849.
(December) 30. Undergick Waulammi Markula Landbondedottern Eva Stina Mattsdotter, enskild skriftermål för begånget Lönskaläge. Absolverades af Erik N. Bondsdorff.
(December) 30. Daugter of a land renter from Vaulammi, Eva Stina Mattsdotter (Eeva Stiina Matintytär) was confessed secretly for sexual intercourse without marriage. Absolved by Erik N. Bonsdorff. Jokioinen, List of persons under Church Discipline, 1849.

In this record, Eva Stina confesses to sexual intercourse outside marriage. In this case Eva Stina delivered a stillborn child out of wedlock on November 1849. After an illegitimate birth, only the woman usually had to confess.

Men seldom had to confess to sexual intercourse outside marriage. However, in this case, the son of a cavalry farm owner, Carl Juho Arvola from Hattula, had to confess to sexual intercourse with Eva Stina. This happened on the 11th of January 1851, one year after Eva Stina’s confession. If the child of Carl and Eva Stina had lived, the absolution book would have revealed he was most probably the father of the child.

Confession of a man
(Januar) 19. Undegick Rusthållaresonen Carl Johansson Arfvola ifrån Hattula Sockens Sattula by, enskild skriftermål för föröfvadt lägersmål med Landbondedottren Eva Stina Mattsdotter ifrån Waulammi Markula, absolverades af Er. N. Bondsdorff.
(January) 19. Son of a cavalry farm master Kaarlo Juhonpoika Arvola from Hattula parish, Sattula village was confessed privately for sexual intercourse without marriage with a daughter of land renter Eeva Stiina Matintytär from Vaulammi village, Markkula. Absolution was given by Er. N. Bonsdorff.
Jokioinen, List of persons under Church Discipline. 1951.

Sexual intercourse outside marriage involving widows was quite common. Women who lost their husbands were not always in a hurry to remarry.

Sexual intercourse outside marriage involving widows
År 1856.
Mars 16. Undergick Wäfvare Enkan Ewa Frentzen från Waulammi by, enskild skriftermål för begånget lönskalägd. Absolwerades af E. N Bonsdorff.
Year 1856. March 16th, weaver’s widow Eeva Frentzen from Vaulammi village was confessed privately for sexual intercourse outside marriage. Absolution was given by E. N. Bonsdorff.
Jokioinen, List of persons under Church Discipline, year 1856.

Adultery, ie. sexual intercourse in which one or both parties were married, was punished more severely. Jeremias Sorvaniemi’s wife Maija Lisa Johansdotter (Maija Liisa Juhontytär) confessed privately in presence of two witnesses Johan Eriksson (Juho Erkinpoika) and Anna Liisa Takala to adultery

Adultery in Ylöjärvi.
22/11. Undergick f.d. [förra detta] torparesonen Jeremias Sorwaniemis hustru Maija Lisa Johansdotter Sorwaniemi från Runsas by enskildt skriftermål och absolverades – i närwaro af inhysingarna från Ylöjärvi by Johan Eriksson och Anna Lisa Takala – för 1sta resan hor af A. Sadenius.
22nd of November 1872. Wife of Crafter Son Jeremias Sorvaniemi called Maija Liisa Juhontytär Sorvaniemi from Runsas village was confessed privately in presence of boarders from Ylöjärvi village, Juho Erkinpoika and Anna Liisa Takala, for first time adultery, by A. Sadenius.

Whether the confession was public or private depended on the parish and the priest. In Rymättylä (Rimito) Parish in 1857 three women confessed to single adultery (enkelt hor, one partner was married). Their titles (inh. qvinnan = boarder woman, pigan = unmarried girl, maid) suggest they were unmarried so the men involved were the ones who were married.

Adultery in Rymättylä
5/4 57. Kuris Norrgårds inh: qvinnan Lovisa Nyholm. Absolverad för enkelt hor i Rimito kyrka
af Sv. Rydberg.
24/5 57. Äijelä öfvergårds pigan Carolina Lindqvist absolverad för enkelt hor i Rimito kyrka
af Sv. Rydberg.
19/7 57. Danila pigan Anna Henriksdotter absolverad för enkelt hor i rimito kyrka af Sv. Rydberg.

Confession of crimes

The decision of a civil Court usually included a Church punishment and confession in addition to the civil punishment. Because of this, absolution records may contain records of civil punishments also found in the criminal records. Whether the crime was recorded in both places depended on the type of crime and whether the confession was public or private.

In Orivesi on 18th of August 1850, farmhand Joseph Andersson (Jooseppi Antinpoika) from Pitkäjärvi, Natukka confessed to first offence of burglary.

Aug. 18. Absolverades Pitkäjärvi Natukka Drengen Joseph Andersson för 1sta resan inbrotts stöld af
F. J. Lilius

On the 19th of February 1854, Farmhand from Suinula Alanikkilä, Gustaf Gustafsson (Kustaa Kustaanpoika) completed public Church punishment for theft and was absolved.

Church penalty for theft.
Februari 19. Suinula AlaNikkilä Drengen Gustaf Gustafsson undergick uppenbar kyrkoplikt för stöld samt absolverades af A. A. Favorin.

In the early 1800’s Church punishments were severe. Anna Stina Järnfors, who was sentenced by the Royal Turku Court of Appeal for theft, was first imprisoned in Kehruuhuone (Spinninghouse, a prison for women). Her additional punishment included a whipping and a Church penalty of confession on two Sundays. After the later, she was absolved in Köyliö church on 3rd of March 1805.

Whipping and Church penalty.
Martii 3. Enligt Höglofvad Kongl. Hof. Rättens i Abo fäldta Döm, utstod Spinhushjonet Anna Stina Järnfors, för hon i Församlingen och Kanganpäs by begången tjufnad och efter slitet risstraf, Två Söndagars uppenbar Kyrkoplikt och blef i dag vederbörligen absolverad af H. T.

On 2nd of June 1816, Gustaf (Kustaa) Rothberg and young Johan Henricsson (Juho Heikinpoika) were absolved in Rymättylä (Rimito) church after confessing to robbery.

3. Junii 2. Lösa Karlen Gustaf Rothberg och Gåssen Johan Henricsson absolverades i Kyrkan för delaktighet i rån. J. Forsbom.

According to the Absolution Records (Persons under the Church Discipline) of the Pori town parish, in the year 1846, farmhand Carl Carlsson (Kaarlo Karlonpoika) confessed privately to petty theft. Sailor Johan (Juho) Ahlros was found guilty for the  third time of drunkenness and punished with time in the stocks.

Time in stocks due to drunkennes
Maij 17. Drg. Carl Fr. Carlsson från Kumo ensk. skrift för snatteri.
Sjöman Johan Ahlros stockstraff för 3 res. fylleri.

The Absolution Records can provide insights into life in earlier centuries, especially the lives of poorer people. The information is not always positive, but it can provide new details about your ancestors. Occasionally these records may also give you a clue about an illegitimate child’s father.

So far in this blog, I have focused on Church Records. In the next blog post I am planning to talk about estate inventory deeds. These are judicial records which describe the property and beneficiaries of a person who has died. Estate inventories can be often found in the Church Records because a widower or widow had to provide the Church with the inventory of his/her deceased spouse before he/she could remarry to show that the property after the earlier marriage has been invented and shared.

English text edited by Barbara Wilson