Finland-Swedes in Michigan

Finland-Swedes in Michigan

by Mika Roinila
Finland-Swedes in Michigan

Finland-Swedes in Michigan

by Mika Roinila


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Who are the Finland-Swedes? Defined as citizens of Finland with a Swedish mother tongue, many know these people as “Swede- Finns” or simply “Swedes.” This book, the first ever to focus on this ethnolinguistic minority living in Michigan, examines the origins of the Finland-Swedes and traces their immigration patterns, beginning with the arrival of hundreds in the United States in the 1860s. A growing population until the 1920s, when immigration restrictions were put in place, the Finland-Swedes brought with them unique economic, social, cultural, religious, and political institutions, explored here in groundbreaking detail. Drawing on archival, church, and congregational records, interviews, and correspondence, this book paints a vivid portrait of Finland-Swedish life in photographs and text, and also includes detailed maps that show the movement of this group over time. The latest title in the Discovering the Peoples of Michigan series even includes a sampling of traditional Finland-Swedish recipes.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781609173258
Publisher: Michigan State University Press
Publication date: 05/01/2012
Series: Discovering the Peoples of Michigan
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 100
File size: 5 MB

About the Author

Born in Finland, Mika Roinila is an expert in many aspects of the Finnish immigrant experience. He lives in Mishawaka, Indiana.

Read an Excerpt

Finland-Swedes in Michigan

By Mika Roinila

Michigan State University Press

Copyright © 2012 Mika Roinila
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-61186-030-6

Chapter One

Immigration to the United States

Similar to other ethnic groups who found North America to their liking, several waves of emigration affected Finland. The first major wave occurred between 1864 and 1913. The first Finnish emigrants to head to North America began from northern Norway in 1864, destined for the agricultural regions of Minnesota and the mines of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Prior to 1887, only 21,000 had arrived from Finland. Between 1887 and 1892, some 40,000 immigrants arrived. The strongest overseas emigration during the first wave occurred between 1893 and 1913, when over 260,000 Finns left the country, with most settling in the United States. Of this number, over 40,000 came from Swedish-speaking rural parishes in Finland (see map 1). The large influx of all immigrants was curtailed by the restrictive American quota laws passed in 1921 and 1924. In 1924 only 471 immigrants from Finland were allowed into the United States, while a year earlier some 12,000 were admitted. Still, this was the period of a second major wave of emigration from Finland that took place after World War I. Between 1920 and 1929, some 55,000 immigrants arrived in North America, but due to the changes in immigration laws, most settled in Canada.

Up to 1930 some 400,000 emigrants left for North America. Of this total, some 320,000 settled in the United States, and 80,000 in Canada. Some have estimated that a third of all immigrants returned to Finland for good. Some scholars have calculated that by 1930 Finland-Swedes and their descendants accounted for 80,000–85,000 individuals, or about 20 percent of the total immigrant population on the continent, while others dispute these figures. Allowing for return migration and also for the deaths among Finland-Swedes for the whole period, there may have been about 35,000 of these immigrants in the United States and Canada in 1930.

Identifying the number of Finland-Swedes in the United States has always been very difficult or impossible, because available census statistics simply do not isolate the mother tongue from the country of birth. Until recently, the only method of establishing numbers has been the painstaking, manual analysis of the original manuscripts tabulated by census enumerators. In the past, the way to get to such data—thousands of pages and millions of entries—was through microfilmed versions of the original manuscripts, which are available in libraries and state historical societies. Today, census tabulations are available online for anyone interested in researching material from the 1800s to 1930. Among the best-known online sources are and HeritageQuest Online. Material obtained through these sources provides 100 percent coverage of all individuals encountered in the country, and, depending on the census year involved, it also provides various details on birthplace, age, marital status, ethnic ancestry, language spoken, occupation, and so on. In order to identify Finland-Swedes, it is possible to see birthplace (Finland) and language spoken (Swedish), which helps identify the number of Finland-Swedes who arrived from Finland. Of all the census years, the 1930 census provides the best data in identifying the number of Finland-Swedes in the country and in Michigan.

However, a sampling of these census data is available today through Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS) at the Minnesota Population Center. Through this source, it is possible to discover some of the complexities of linguistic abilities and the trends in the use of languages in the homes of all ethnic groups in the United States, including the Finland-Swedes. Unfortunately, a major restriction is that IPUMS uses a small data sample. The IPUMS-USA uses a 1 percent sample through a 1-in-100 national random sample of the population for the 1910–1970 census periods, while a 5 percent sample, or a 1-in-20 national random sample, of the population is used for 1980–2000 census counts. For this book, I will use data available from both the detailed manuscript records as well as the IPUMS-USA sources, hoping that the two methods will support each other in their findings.

Because of the above data source, the total number of Finland-Swedes (born in Finland with Swedish mother tongue/language) in the United States, along with the proportion of Finland-Swedes among the total Finland born population of the country for each census year can be determined. According to IPUMS-USA, the highest number of Finland-Swedes in the United States was reached in the 1920 census, when nearly 20,000 were identified. For the 1930 census, there were nearly 18,000 Finland-Swedes in the country.

These numbers represent only the members within a household that were born in Finland. Children born in America were not included. Additional descendants in successive generations who may have lost their identity and/or language may be impossible to determine through statistics as well. Overall, a rather steady decline in the number of Finland-Swedes within the country is evident, and in the 2000 census, the Finland-Swedes represented only 6 percent of the total Finnish immigrant population in the country (table 1).

As there is no way to validate the accuracy of census data through detailed examinations of any census counts after 1930, the most recent census that is available for manuscript analysis is the 1930 census available through online sources, as noted earlier. Since the census manuscripts are currently available only through 1930, I hand-counted the data for that year. The results presented here offer the first detailed analysis of Finland-Swedes in any state where large numbers of these immigrants settled.

Reasons for Emigrating

Many reasons for a disproportionate number of Finland-Swedish emigrants from Finland have been proposed by scholars. Economic reasons have been cited as the greatest cause for emigration, but the process of Russification and the obligation to do military service were also big reasons. 11 "My father's cousin, Anders Sandbacka, was removed from his ministerial studies at Uppsala [University] and sent to America because of the imminent danger of being drafted into the Russian Army. He resumed his studies at Augustana College."

Some have argued that Finland-Swedes had a more restless disposition than the Finns. Due to their association with the sea, shipping, fishing, and trade with Sweden, they were seen as a mobile people more willing to migrate than the Finns, who lived predominantly in the interior and were not as easily moved. The Finnish lifestyle involved an immobile, agricultural society. Political opinions, social pressures, and religious bigotry also played a role. Finally, with the transfer of Finland to Russia in 1809, the Ostrobothnian region, which once was centrally located as part of the union of Sweden-Finland, became increasingly peripheral to the influence of the Russian capital of St. Petersburg, which opened the opportunity for emigration.

For whatever reason Finland-Swedes left their homeland, these early immigrants had several options for identifying themselves. They could call themselves Russians (an unlikely scenario, but possible due to political correctness), Russian Swedes, or Swedes. Some identified themselves as Finns, but because of the difficulties involved with communicating in the Finnish and Swedish languages, many of the early attempts at joint organizations with Finnish and Swedish-speaking Finns were discontinued, leading to association with Swedish-speaking immigrants and/or Finnish-speaking immigrants only.

Many identified themselves as Swedes simply because of the similarities in language that they shared with Sweden, which caused confusion when third-generation descendants could not determine their true origins. As noted by a Finland-Swede resident in Baltimore, "many Swedish Finns who came to America before 1900 ... insisted on calling themselves Swedes instead of Finns. It was not until much after, after currents of nationalism swept Finland that Swedish Finns began to identify themselves as Finns."

With the independence of Finland in 1917 and the aftermath of the Finnish Civil War, "Finland-Swede" (Finlandssvenska in Swedish; Suomenruotsalainen in Finnish) was the officially recognized term for the Finnish-Swedish ethnolinguistic minority in 1919.

However, the use of the term "Swede-Finn" became a dominant term among the earlier immigrants, and this identity has remained intact to the present. Among later arrivals, the term "Finland-Swede" is more commonly used, and there are still others who identify themselves simply as Swedish or Finnish. In the end, the Finland-Swedish community is a difficult group to investigate due to the myriad ways in which its members can be identified.

Settlement in America

In the 1500s, 1600s, and 1700s, many Finland-Swedes worked in Swedish copper and iron mines in the winter months and returned to Finland during the summer. Between 1790 and 1867, many Finland-Swedes worked as sailors, shipwrights, seamen, skippers, clergy, and company officials with the Russian America Company, which took Finland-Swedes to Alaska. Emigration from Finland was also often forced, and many fled to Sweden as a result of the Great Northern War in the 1700s and the 1809 Russian takeover of Finland.

Some Finland-Swedes made their way to California after the discovery of gold in 1848, while sailors abandoned their ships in order to find a new life. The Crimean War (1854–1855) resulted in the sale of many Finnish ships that were docked in American ports. The result was the desertion of several hundred sailors. By the beginning of the 1860s, there were very likely several hundred sailors from Finland living in America, many of whom later returned to Finland and spread the news about America to their countrymen. 21 Large-scale Finland-Swedish emigration to America began from the southern Ostrobothnian communities in the early 1870s.

The majority of immigrants who arrived in America prior to 1900 originated from the rural areas of Finland and included cottagers, farmers, and crofters, who made up as many as 70 percent of all immigrants. Craftsmen and workers made up some 16 percent of all emigrants, and only 14 percent included other occupations, such as businessmen, entrepreneurs, and educated individuals. The pattern of settlement across the United States had become discernible by 1900 (see map 2). The first of several concentrations was found in the eastern states. Finland-Swedes settled mostly in New York, where the majority of the men were engaged in the building trades, others in factory work. Finland-Swedes also settled in large numbers in Massachusetts, most notably in Worcester, where many were engaged in metal manufacturing, and in Gardner, where furniture manufacturing was a dominant occupation. There were also smaller settlements in Boston, Quincy, Norwood, Springfield, and Fitchburg, along with Woonsocket, Rhode Island. There was also for a time a considerable settlement of Finland-Swedes in Philadelphia, and their influence was noted in the 1926 construction of the John Hanson–John Morton Memorial Building that eventually became known as the American Swedish Historical Museum. The museum maintains two exhibition rooms named after famous Finland-Swedes, the botanist Pehr Kalm (1716–1779) and women's rights activist Fredrika Bremer (1801–1865).

A second major concentration of Finland-Swedes was found in the Midwest, in a broad area including lower and upper Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and northern Illinois. In the early period, most of the newcomers found their economic opportunities in the lumber and mining industries, with smaller numbers in manufacturing and the building trades. In many places farming and fishing became the chief occupation. Chicago and Waukegan, Illinois; Duluth and the mining towns on the Mesabi Range in Minnesota; and Superior and Ashland, Wisconsin, were home to many Swedish immigrants from Finland at the turn of the century.

The West Coast established itself as a third concentration of Finland-Swedes. The Pacific Northwest has remained the most important concentration for Finland-Swedes, particularly Seattle, as well as Tacoma, Everett, Olympia, Mount Vernon, Rochester, Aberdeen, and Hoquiam in Washington; Portland, Astoria, and the Coos Bay region in Oregon; and Eureka and the San Francisco Bay area in California. The early occupations in these locations also included lumbering, farming, fishing, and the building trades. While the mining industry attracted many to the mountain states to work in mines located in Leadville and Telluride, Colorado; Butte and Anaconda, Montana; Eureka and Bingham Canyon, Utah; along with Kellogg and Wallace, Idaho, most of these Finland-Swedes later moved to the West Coast.

In estimating the number of Finland-Swedes across the country, IPUMSUSA provides a good start to understanding the distribution by state (see table 2). While Finland-Swedes appear to be present in several states through all census periods, there are irregularities as some states show the presence and/or the absence of Finland-Swedes over time. For example, why would Minnesota have no Finland-Swedes in the 2000 census while in other years they were represented, especially when Minnesota has always had one of the largest populations in the nation? Why does the number of Finland-Swedes drop drastically from 1920 to 1930 in states such as Michigan, Massachusetts, and Minnesota? It is also suspicious that the 1940 numbers appear to be rounded off compared to other census years. Aside from the use of a small sample to establish these numbers, there may be other reasons that explain such statistical variance, such as a 1 percent or 5 percent tabulation of manuscript data, use of weighted samples that vary between years, statistical models and equations that provide overall results, and incorrect reporting by respondents. These are some of the problems encountered with data that does not include everyone. Too many questions are left without answers, and thus a more complete analysis of available information is needed.

For detailed and complex studies, researchers can access information through a Research Data Center (RDC) established by the Center for Economic Studies (CES) of the U.S. Bureau of the Census. There are twelve locations across the country in which RDCs are located, including the University of Michigan, which allows for researchers to study nonpublic microdata collected by the Census Bureau. These microdata files contain data that cannot be released publicly because they contain detailed information on geographic location and/or other characteristics about households that could disclose their identities. The required application process to gain access is long and sometimes difficult, and researchers planning to use an RDC must submit a research proposal, which is reviewed by numerous federal agencies.

Therefore, research is easier done by using the Public-Use Microdata Samples (PUMS). These files contain records for a sample of housing units with information on the characteristics of each unit and each person in it. While preserving confidentiality (by removing identifiers), these microdata files permit users with special data needs to prepare virtually any tabulation. Ideally, a research project such as Finland-Swedes in Michigan or Finland-Swedes in the United States would employ RDC data. Language allocation among Finland-Swedes would be greatly aided by RDC data, but obtaining access is obviously not easy. Th is leads to weighing costs versus benefits. As noted earlier, Finland-Swedes in Michigan are best studied through the use of IPUMS-USA data, which is very helpful, albeit limited in accuracy, in presenting a basic overall understanding of the distribution of Finland-Swedes in the state and in the country.

In Canada, scholars have estimated that some 10,000 Finland-Swedes immigrated to the country by 1930.29 Finland-Swedes first appeared in Victoria, British Columbia, in 1880 and were followed by others in mining and lumbering towns such as Bralorne, Trail, Nelson, and Port Alberni, as well as Vancouver and New Westminster. Across the Canadian Prairies, Finland-Swedes settled in New Scandinavia and Winnipeg, Manitoba; New Stockholm, Saskatchewan; and Wetaskiwin, Alberta. In the East, Finland-Swedes settled in Port Arthur/Fort William, Sault Ste. Marie, Toronto, Hamilton, and Windsor, Ontario.


Excerpted from Finland-Swedes in Michigan by Mika Roinila Copyright © 2012 by Mika Roinila. Excerpted by permission of Michigan State University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Sidebars Introduction Immigration to the United States Pehr Kalm Finland-Swedes in Michigan Midsummer Celebration in Brevort Finland-Swedish Organizations An Order of Runeberg Member Suicide in Mine Skoog Hardware Store Pastor Ted Johnson Conclusions Finland-Swedish Recipes Famous Michigan Finland-Swedes Notes For Further Reference Index

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