Finnish Heritage Museum 301 High Street
Fairport Harbor, Oh, 44077
Map Here
Museum Hours:
Saturday 10am-3pm
"Finding the Origins of the Finnish People, By Jovette Hiltunen"

Everyone loves a mystery, but perhaps not more than the Finns as they search for their origins. The Finnish Heritage Museum was pleased to host Dr. Sharon Franklin Rahkonen to our April meeting. Dr. Rahkonen is currently the council chair for the Finnish Council of America of Finlandia National. Sharon Franklin Rahkonen, Ph.D., Professor at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania from 1990-2021 was welcomed by our president, Dave Leifer, and the audience learned about her Fulbright Scholar work studying minority identity in Finland (especially Jewish). Dr. Rahkonen has been specializing in Finnish history as well as Russian history and she wanted to talk to the group about pre-history (before written history). Once a record is written it is the beginning of history. Why are Finns so different? Our language confuses people. There is a big gap in our knowledge of history as we know it - did it begin maybe 6 to 10,500 years ago. That’s definitely a big gap.

So, if prehistory is not written down, what sources help us? Those would be the archeology and linguistics. When we think of archeology we think of material culture - think of the museums you have visited and the pieces of dishes, cooking utensils, etc. that you have seen. Often these are in primitive states but they give us a window into the future. The drawback to this is that we learn about them but not WHO they were. We can trace the language west of the Ural Mountains in the middle Volga region. (Note: The Ural Mountains border between Europe and Asia). In 2000-3000 BC ancestors of Balto Finns were in the East Baltic area. These ancestors were divided into two paths, one went towards Finland and the other towards Hungary. Hungarian is most likely the closest language to that of Finnish. These groups were very SLOW moving.

Have you ever heard of the Finnick Tribes? (I immediately thought of the Hunger Games.). Well, this is where our ancestors lived in a tribal state. It’s necessary at this time to remind everyone that there was an Indo-European Language Tree and a Uralic tree. That is correct. That is why Finnish is so difficult to learn and why it seems so different from other languages we know. The second tree, the Uralic Language Tree, was not related to the Indo-European Language Tree - indeed, these were the Estonian, Finnish, and Hungarian languages. When one traces directions from Finland backwards we discover that Swedish and Finnish are NOT related. They are connected, but not related. Uralic was mostly spoken in Soviet Union/Russia where there are about 5 million Finnish speakers. Finns did not arrive as a people, they arrived very slowly.

The first written sources only go back 1000-1200 years. There are references to possible Finns in Germania. During the Viking Age - Runestone - dating from the 11th century probably has the first mention in its written sources of Finland, which means “found land”. Between 900-1200 years ago, Suomi meant a tribe in Southwestern Finland. Runestone G319 in Gotland in 1200 mentioned Finland. And 9th Century Viking Othere (though there may be some skepticism on whether Othere was reality or myth) wrote of the Finns (the Sami people). Today there are several dialects of Sami. The Kven is today assumed to be the Finnish tribe and there were written accounts that refer to Finland. Linguists today consider Kven to be a dialect of Finnish. Today Kvens live in Norway and the population is estimated to be 10-15,000. (Wikipedia) Early documents also link the Kvens to the Sami. The Death of Olaf II in 1030 in the Battle of Herdoler there is a mention of these Finn people fighting. After the 14th century there are no accounts of Finns attacking others. In the 11th century geographers gave a strange description of Finnish Peninsula. The Patron Saint of Finland, the Legend of Bishop Henry, was the first Finnish Crusade. It happened at Taivassalo just 31 miles west of Turkku, which was originally on an island. Bishop Henry was murdered because he took food from a home in winter but he did leave money for the food. Turku, which is the original city in Finland, means “market”.

As you can see, we did not solve the mystery yet, but we filled in a lot of holes in our story. We look forward to uncovering more of our history with our future speakers and of course through our fervent genealogy quests.