OK, so the online databases I’m writing about aren’t brand new; they were just new to me. Finding them recently reminds me to check online from time to time for records of interest.
Here’s the back story: In June of 2018, I visited Finland for the annual gathering of Finnish Americans known as FinnFest. It was to be the first time it would be held outside of the United States. I lined up some visits with Finnish cousins to create my Heritage Tour of a Lifetime.
One of the sites we visited was the church and cemetery in Vesanto, the town and parish from which my paternal grandparents emigrated to the U.S. early in the 20th century. Heli, my second cousin, showed me the headstones of her parents and grandparents.
Next to the church (see below) I noticed rows of neatly maintained headstones. Heli and the others I was touring with weren’t fluent in English and I speak almost no Finnish, so I didn’t ask any questions about the rows of headstones.
With the current events in Ukraine, and Finland’s decision to join NATO, I decided to do some research on the Winter War in 1939-1940 during which the Soviet Union attacked Finland. Though vastly outnumbered and out-gunned, the Finnish forces managed to fight the Soviets to a standstill.
Were those headstones in Vesanto part of remembering casualties of the Winter War? Did I have any cousins who lost their lives in this and two later conflicts through 1945?
After stumbling around on the internet, I accessed the FamilySearch Wiki and clicked on Military Records under Record Types. I found two sets of Online Resources:
• 1938-1944 Finland, Second World War Casualties at MyHeritage – index ($)
• 1939-1945 Finland, WWII Military Casualties, 1939-1945 at Ancestry – index & images, ($)
Clicking through to the Ancestry.com resource, I came to “Finland, World War II Military Casualties,
1939-1945;” a database provided to Ancestry.com by the National Archives of Finland, with the caveat
that the records were in Finnish. I entered into the search box only the terms: Huuskonen (my family
name in Finland} and Vesanto (see above).
This search resulted in 48 Finns from Vesanto and nearby towns who were military casualties in 1939
through 1945. Wow! What do I do next?
I created a research or speculative tree in Ancestry.com entitled “Vesanto WWII Casualties.” My process would be to add one person by name with birth and dates as the home person in this tree. I would add each additional subject as a brother to the home person, then remove that sibling relationship. Even-
tually the result would be 48 free-standing persons in the tree. The objective would be to see what “hints” I might get from Ancestry.com with information about each person and his family connections. Hints for online public family trees would be especially valuable. Ancestry.com also has other Finnish record collections that might be useful in learning about each person.
Using this approach, one of my first searches was for Pentti Ilmari Huuskonen. I got a hit for him from a tree created on Ancestry.com by Riikka, a cousin, so I knew the system worked. Her tree provided Pentti’s parents and other relatives. Soon I learned that Pentti’s younger brother also was a casualty. Pentti Ilmari and Simo Aulis Huuskonen were two of five children of Ville and Hilda Gustava Huuskonen. Losing them must have been devastating to this family.
How was I related to Pentti and Simo? After I transferred the brothers’ profiles into my main Ancestry.com family tree, Ancestry.com calculated and provided the answer. I was a fifth cousin once removed. Our common ancestor was Johan Pehrsson Huuskonen who lived from 1688 to 1764 in the same area of Finland. The MyHeritage data search yielded similar results since the source data was the same, provided by the National Archives of Finland.
When I followed up with a Google Search for Finland WWII casualties, I learned about the website
WarSampo: Finnish World War II on the Semantic Web. This website is a project of Aalto University in Finland. It uses the same database of WWII casualties from the National Archives of Finland but transcribes the records into English. And it is free!
Source: Casualties database: http://kronos.narc.fi/menehtyneet/
In addition, WarSampo has created a searchable database of military cemeteries complete with the names of “Buried People.” For Vesanto, it provides four photographs of the church and the nearby memorial headstones that I saw on my 2018 visit. Included in the associated listing of 134 “Buried People” are Pentti Ilmari Huuskonen and his brother Simo Aulis. Many of the family names in this list, such as Korhonen, Hytönen, Liimatainen, and Simonen, among others, occur in my family tree, so I will be working to see to whom I might be related.
I wish these online resources had been available five years ago before I made my Heritage Tour of a Lifetime to Finland. I would have been more prepared to discuss this aspect of family history with my
I’ll conclude by repeating this takeaway: Keep checking for new databases and resources. They are being added online regularly.
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