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While working on my family history, I was amazed at how many children died at a young age in the 1700's. I decided to keep track of the largest families and found that children were abundant with hardly a marriage without children. There were many, many families with 12 children, so I recorded those that had more than 12.

Some notable examples were:

  • Mårten Henriksson Pelo, 1696-1759, married to Karin Grelsdotter Kankkonen, 1700-1744. Had 20 children, including 3 sets of twins; 9 died before age 5.
  • Jakob Henriksson Pelo, 1703-1777, married to Brita Mattsdotter Slotte, 1704-1777. Had 14 children; 8 died before age 5.
  • Per Mattsson Pelo, 1725-1790, married to Lisa Johansdotter Åivo, 1728-1790. Had 15 children; 6 died as babies.
  • Erik Eriksson Heinola, 1727-1773, married to Anna Johansdotter Brännkärr, 1723-1795. Had 16 children; 6 died at very young age.
  • Henrik Persson Pelander, 1728-1780, married to Margareta Johansdotter Nordman, 1732-1800. Had 13 children; 8 died before age 5.
  • Jakob Persson Pelander, 1730-1774, married to Hedvig Eriksdotter Huck, 1728-1815. Had 14 children; all died as babies except one. Jakob was a fairly well-to-do merchant in Gamlakarleby, but his money couldn't save his children.
  • Johan Jakobsson Pelo, 1727-1797, married to Karin Johansdotter Lillåivo, 1730-1797. Had 16 children; 12 died as babies.
  • Abraham Persson Pelander, 1738-1780, married to Margareta Johansdotter Wikander, 1738-1802. Had 16 children; 7 died at young age.
  • Erik Eriksson Heinola-Haals, 1749-1813, married to Catharina Mattsdotter Tuomisalo, 1752-1824. Had 15 children; 9 died at very young age.

There were also large numbers of births in the 1800's, but I decided to confine my analysis to the 1700's. I've heard many people exclaim over the very large families, but after considerating that almost half the babies died at a young age, the families weren't so large after all. The high birth numbers of the 1700's were thought to be the result of early marriage and good harvests. But it seems the cause lies in the large number of infant deaths. Infant mortality in the 1700's was dreadfully high. It is apparent that a third of the children born in Österbotten died at a young age. For example, in Gamlakarleby the number of dead children under age 10 was 76% of all the deaths, compared to 61% in 1800.

There were a number of causes: the prospective mothers participated in the heaviest work in the fields, and they were uninformed and negligent in matters of hygiene. Other causes were smallpox, TB, dysentery, measles, and whooping cough. Crop failure, epidemics and war also had an effect. Epidemics spread widely every year. In Pelo village in 1761 five children died of smallpox in one month and in 1790 four adults died of gangrene in a month. Since 1750 there have been 17 difficult crop failures in Finland, 19 war years and 14 desolate epidemic years. When vaccinations became compulsory, epidemics gradually lessened.

While gathering the above information, I also decided to keep a record of all my grandparents. In the best of all worlds, genealogically, I estimate that going back 25 generations one would have about 16,777,216 grandparents. The results of my family search were just a drop in the bucket. Out of a possible 65,536 grandparents, I found 502 in 17 generations. For the first 6 generations, I found 60 grandparents out of a possible 60, but from there on the numbers dwindled.

In the 7th generation there were 52 of a possible 64; 8th generation, 78 of a possible 128; 9th generation, 85 of a possible 256; 10th generation, 83 of a possible 512; 11th generation, 65 of a possible 1,024; 12th generation, 33 of a possible 2,048; 13th generation, 17 of a possible 4,096; 14th generation, 12 of a possible 8,192; 15th generation, 9 of a possible 16,384; 16th generation, 5 of a possible 32,768; and 17th generation, 3 of a possible 65,536.

The last three were born in the 1400's and I doubt that I'll be able to go back farther because during the Stora Ofreden - The Great Strife or Great Northern War 1700-1721 when Russia defeated Sweden - many church records in Finland were destroyed or misplaced.

by June Pelo

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