View Full Version : Church records

Karen Douglas
12-04-06, 01:21
I have just finished reading an interesting book titled "Nikolai's Fortune," by Solveig Torvik. Although the book is a novel, "major events," the author says, actually happened. In one situation, her great-grandmother bore a child out of wedlock and was publicy denounced by the church congregation. She said when she traveled to Finland the parish pastor showed her the records of what had been done to her grandmother more than a century ago.

So, my questions are these: Has anyone else at this site had experience in obtaining permission to view church records? Would it be easy/possible to obtain this information by mail from the parish? I, too, have a relative who was born out of wedlock, and I, too, would be interested in seeing a copy of the church records from that time.

Karen Douglas at Sisuday*comcast.net

b hietala
12-04-06, 06:47
I can't reply to your question because I am also a little unsure of how to obtain detailed information from church records. I also have a grandfather born out of wedlock and have been hoping to unlock his family history. Please let me know what you discover. I am also much interested in gaining access to legal records. Good Luck.

13-04-06, 22:43
Hi Karen,

I have gotten typewritten information from all 4 parishes that my grandparents came from. Only one would let me access the actual records and I think that was because my cousin, who goes to that church, was with me.

LDS in Salt Lake would probably hold microfilm of all those records, I've been there a few times and the holdings are overwhelming. Its very time consuming but they are so helpful.

Good Luck,

Kaj Granlund
14-04-06, 13:35
Wish this was simple to answer.
There is a secrecy limit at abt 100 years. Older records you are allowed to search, and sometimes even newer ones. Then it is up to the local pastor to decide if you are allowed to use the books or have to use the microfishe. The microcards in the parishes cover more than the LSD films. One reason why you might not be allowed to the orginal books is their condition as the paper used 100 years ago just melts away and there is nothing to do about it. Some parishes also digitalize their records now. We are not either supposed to xerox the pages as this damages the back of the big books. You have better check with the parishes conserned about their policy.

K-G Molander
14-04-06, 18:50

Using a digital camera when viewing original records work just as fine if not better than xerox. Additionally, you can magnify the picture on a computer making it easier to read difficult text.

When I visited Kronoby, Nedervetil, Esse, Karleby parish, I had no problems to view original church records.

Kaj Granlund
15-04-06, 09:45
That's true about the digital camera. But there is a discussion going on if the flash damages the ink in a long run. But as far there are no common restrictions. We should remember that these records exist in just one sample and that's why it is important to handle the books with care that people can research them after 100 year too.
I think most of the parishes allow you to use the orginals. But it is always up to the local parish to give this permission.
We 've had problems in Esse parish some years ago with some persons that changed dates in the records to fit what they wanted, instead of changing their own anchestors.
And with a lot of such experiences you might understand that some parishes can be restrictive.

Gita Wiklund
15-04-06, 10:21
"some persons that changed dates in the records to fit what they wanted, instead of changing their own anchestors."

Of course you are right that it is TOTALLY wrong to go changing the dates in the books.
But I would like to point out that the dates in the records quite often are wrong. So I think one should be careful concluding that they changed the dates just to fit what they wanted. Perhaps they changed the dates because they knew for sure that the dates were wrong and wanted to correct them thinking that in the future another genealogist or researcher wouldnīt be mistaken by it?
For instance I have a ancestor that in the records of the same parrish is registered with three different birth dates. And I have noticed several other faults among the recordings of my relatives in the church books - and in extracts of church recordings. Itīs really irritating, especially in the cases when I canīt be sure of what record is right..

Kaj Granlund
15-04-06, 11:22
These persons just wanted to "prove" they came from a certain family. And what so ever you cannot write in these old books.
I know the problem but the main rule is that the history records (births, deaths, marriages, movals) are the prime source and the communionbooks are secondary. The information in the communionbooks was compiled and entered from the history records.

Gita Wiklund
15-04-06, 11:56
Oh, I misunderstood. I didnīt realize you knew exactly what these people had in mind. Sorry.
Yes, of course one is not allowed to change anything in the records, even if one knows for sure that the record is wrong. And I also know that these books are considered primary sorces. Still, they are not all that reliable, because of the human factor. I have myself worked at a parrish office as Kyrkoskrivare (educated) making records in these books (in Sweden), so I am very much aware of these things.

I myself never did any mistakes though ;)

Kaj Granlund
15-04-06, 12:27
I usually find more problems with the christian names. Which one did they actually use as there is one in the birthrecord, 2- 3 versions in the communionbooks and maybe another one in the death record. And you know it is the same person.

Gita Wiklund
15-04-06, 16:32
Yes problems with differing christian names are probably more common. But surprisingly enough I havenīt had very much problems of that sort.

About photographing old record with digital camera, I hope it will not be forbidden. Perhaps it isnīt necessary to use flash if the light in the room is bright?
It is a very cheap and easy way to get copies, and I have for instance photographed the estate inventories (bouppteckningar) of several of my anscestors and their siblings, and it have given me so much interesting information, that I wouldnīt have been able to get otherwise. It would be far too time consuming to study and interpret them at the archive and copy them by hand. And who doesnīt prefer to have a real copy of the notes.

Jaska Sarell
15-04-06, 18:21
"Perhaps it isnīt necessary to use flash if the light in the room is bright?"

Whatever experience I have had, flash is not a good idea even in less sensitive material, like printed books. It may be just too bright in close-up and result in overexposed image. Adequate ambient light is, of course, necessary unless you can use a tripod.

:) Jaska

Gita Wiklund
16-04-06, 20:15
I donīt remember if we used flash or not, but as you say Jaska there would be unwanted reflections from close up photographing . Considering that, and looking at the photos, it doesnīt look like we used flash.
And the photos are perfect. And thinking about it In other situations Iīve experienced the ambient light of the room often is more than enough, so if you use a good digital camera, as long as there is good light in the room there shouldnīt be any need to use flash.

Karen Douglas
17-04-06, 01:20
Thanks to all who have responded to my query. I think I shall write a letter to the church in question and see if someone there would be willing to check the records, which are more than 130 years old.

I should add that after reading Torvik's book, I was surprised to learn that the public denouncement of an unnwed mother would be recorded in church records. I began to wonder if my own relative suffered the same fate. Hence, my query.

By the way, using a copy machine, a scanner, or even a camera (digital or otherwise) is NOT recommended for copying old records. As a journalist/historian, I work with several professional archivists in a hospital Archives who advise against it. The bright light - or the flash of a camera - will destroy images. We have some handwritten notes that are 110 years old and are even questioning the idea of putting them on microfiche. Exposing images to the natural light in a room is permissible, but only for a short time.


Gita Wiklund
17-04-06, 12:19
Hi Karen!

I can well understand that flash light is not recommendable. But if you canīt expose the documents to the light of the room for a long time, it would mean that it is better, if possible, to photograph the documents without using flash, than to read them and make notes at place, since photographing means an exposion just about a second and reading would expose them to light for much longer time. You do need light in the room in both cases.
Anyway, the information in the original documents is of no use if you canīt access it. So, the question that comes to my mind is:
Is the information in all old documents to be accessed only by scientists with special permission? Because if thatīs the case a lot of interesting historical information will never be even noticed.

The other question that comes to mind is- If we donīt want the information in all old documents to be accessible by only a few - how can we make them accessible to a lot in the best way without having to handle them, and exposing them to light, over and over again. What is the professional archivists suggestion?


Karen Douglas
17-04-06, 20:29
Hi Gita,

Good questions! We had an Archives meeting this morning so I asked the archivist if she would answer your questions. This is what she said.

It is important to limit the exposure of old documents to natural light for only a short period of time. Light, humidity, and other elements in the air, can add to the rapid deterioration of the documents. Wear cotton gloves when handling documents. This will protect them from hand lotion, natural oils in the skin, etc. If permitted to take a photograph, do not use a flash. Use available window light. And, do not put the documents under bright lamps. Once you take a photograph, share the information with the archvist/priest/pastor at the church/museum. (If everyone keeps taking photographs of the same pages, this will ultimately destroy the fragility of the paper, as well as the text).

Documents should be accessible to everyone. When the State of Michigan wants to display something historical, like early statehood records, they are placed in a frame under ultra-violet glass, and placed on view for only a short period of time. Same rules apply for fabric and other materials. When sending books to be microfilmed, we send them to companies that deal in historic preservation and specify that the binding not be removed from the book.

Every archivist has his/her own ideas about historical preservation. But each country has some kind of national standards regarding the protection and preservation of historical materials, she told me. She is going to send me a copy of the standards for the U.S. that I will be happy to share with you and others.


Gita Wiklund
17-04-06, 23:43
"Once you take a photograph, share the information with the archvist/priest/pastor at the church/museum"

I agree, and hopefully they will be interested in storing copies. But I donīt think they always are, yet. Itīs a question of how prepared they are to store information in that form. But as digitalization of information get more and more common it should be natural to start considering it.

Karen Douglas
18-04-06, 00:56

I agree. Encouraging people and educating them on the importance of historic preservation is one of our biggest challenges!

It is very difficult to re-create the past once we lose those records.

Karen :)