FSD Bulletin

Issue 29 (1/2010)

ISSN 1795-5262

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FSD Bulletin is the electronic newsletter of the Finnish Social Science Data Archive. The Bulletin provides information and news related to the data archive and social science research.


Finnish Social Science Data Archive
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Past and Present Meet: Parish Registers of Ceded Karelia as Digital Research Sources

Hannele Keckman-Koivuniemi | Photo by: Jari Ropponen

The Karelia database KATIHA (only in Finnish) contains digital demographic information for scientific research and genealogy on a range of topics including Finnish family structure, migration, and the development of infant mortality. Demographic data from about 70 parish registers of the ceded Karelia are being stored in the database.

According to a recent estimate, the total number of stored personal records is about 10 million, and over 80% of them have already been entered into the database. The database is maintained by the Karelia database foundation (Karjala-tietokantasäätiö in Finnish), which operates in connection with the provincial archive of Mikkeli (Mikkelin maakunta-arkisto).

Karelia Database: KATIHA Search Programme Online and in Archive

Plans for the Karelia database were first introduced in 1985, and the project was launched three years later by Raimo Viikki, the director of the provincial archive at the time. As the project was concluded in 1990, the Karelia database foundation was founded to manage the storing of the data. The city of Mikkeli, the provincial archive of Mikkeli, the University of Jyväskylä, the University of Eastern Finland, the Finnish Karelian League, and the office of the Church Council, among others, are represented in the foundation.

The foundation has developed the KATIHA information search programme. The KATIHA online service contains data all the way from the end of the 17th century to the year 1909. Because of data protection restrictions, only personal records that are a hundred years old or older can be published online. However, there is one exception to this limit: the personal records of the deceased and buried are available to the year 1950, when the Finnish parishes of the ceded Karelia ceased to exist as administrative units. Parish registers from the years between 1909 and 1949 can be examined for free at the provincial archive of Mikkeli with a Windows-based KATIHA programme.

Data Are Digitised Faithfully to Sources

Almost all personal information from the parish registers stored on microfilm is saved in text format faithfully to the source material. In addition, printed photocopies of the parish registers digitised from roll films are also used as sources.

Henkilötietojen tallennusta

Photo: Markku Tirkkonen digitising the parish registers of Uusikirkko in Joroinen remote work station, autumn 2009

Social Storing: Long-term Unemployed as Remote Workers

At first, the parish registers were digitised by the employees of the Karelia database foundation and the voluntary workers of the Genealogical Society of Finland. In order to hasten the work and to offer work for the long-term unemployed, the foundation started a remote work project in 1998. Jari Ropponen acts as the project leader and it is financed by the Etelä-Savo Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment. Over 80% of the data in the Karelia database have been digitised by the project workers. The total number of people involved in the project over the years runs nowadays over 300.

There are altogether 8,058,640 personal records stored in the Karelia database between the years 1988 and 2009, and there are still a couple of million records left to be stored. Over the years, the estimate on the total number of records to be digitised has grown: at the beginning of 1990s, the estimate was only six million personal records. The material that has not yet been digitised is partly quite challenging due to the handwriting of the 18th and 19th centuries. Ropponen believes that the project must invest more in training the workers in the future.

Services for Researchers

The KATIHA information search programme in the provincial archive of Mikkeli and its online version are mostly compiled for genealogists. It is possible to search the following fields: place of residence, occupation, first names, patronym, last name, gender, year of birth, year of entering into marriage, year of death, and year of moving (time of arrival or departure).

Besides genealogy, the database can also be utilised in scientific research. There are plans for making a statistical section in the KATIHA programme. With the help of this section, it would be easy to quickly find out for example the number of children born each year.

In addition, it is possible to order indexes, clarifications, and listings of the stored data, as well as small programming tasks based on research questions.

The records in the Karelia database that are over 100 years old are also available via the HisKI database of the Genealogical Society of Finland.

Digitisation Project of National Archives, Mormon Films, and Karelia Database

The National Archives of Finland has been digitising the parish registers of the ceded territories with the support of a separate project funding last year. Now it is beginning to digitise the Mormon films from the parish registers before the year 1860 together with the Genealogical Society of Finland.

However, the digitisation project of the National Archives does not affect the work of the Karelia database. "Our work and the digitisation of the National Archives complement each other. Our database could serve as the index of the National Archives' digital database for the part of the ceded Karelia's parish registers. At the same time, users would be able to compare the digitised pages of parish registers with the equivalent items in our database. This kind of parallel use can for example facilitate deciphering some very obscure documents," says Jari Ropponen. "However, the database digitised by the Karelia database foundation is superior to digital archives in its search features. Users can quickly find the desired information without the time-consuming process of browsing through digital photos. In that sense, it is on a completely different level."

The search features of the Karelia database continue being developed this year. The aim is to be able to serve scientific communities better, because the digitised data include a massive amount of information that could be utilised by historians, sociologists, onomastic researchers, or for example physicians. "The current search features do not adapt very well for example to migration research, but we are working on an improvement. Besides, the development of the features is not carried out one-sidedly, but we aim at keenly listening to users' wishes as well," says Ropponen.


More information and sources:
» Karelia database foundation (Karjala-tietokantasäätiö) (in Finnish)
» The provincial archive of Mikkeli (Mikkelin maakunta-arkisto) (in Finnish)
» National Archives of Finland (Kansallisarkisto) (in Finnish)
» The Genealogical Society of Finland