Our trip to Finland this summer was incredible for so many reasons. My favorite being connecting with extended family on my husband’s side. Another important part of the trip was learning more about Scandinavian history. Specifically, this year is the 100 year anniversary of Finland as a country. The Republic of Finland, as we know it today, gained independence from Russia in December 1917.
The area has a long history though. After the middle ages, Finland became part of Sweden. It remained this way until the early 1700’s when Sweden and Russia began to take turns controlling the area. Russian forces occupied Finland twice in the first half of the 1700’s. Sweden once again regained control of the area by 1743. Also by this time the area was called Finland by both the Swedish and the Russians.
The Finnish war of 1808-1809 ended with Finland being taken over by Russia once again. It was declared the Grand Duchy of Finland in 1918. This was an autonomous part of Russia. Finland was okay with this arrangement until Alexander III took the Russian throne in 1881. He began a period of “Russification.” My husband’s relatives explained this time as Russia remembering they owned Finland and began to exploit it. Men were required to spend time in the Russian Army, the Finnish economy was overtaken by Russians, towns were renamed after Russians, etc. The worst of it came in 1899 when Russia declared Russian Law as the law of the land.
The Russian Revolution occurred in 1917. Finland took the opportunity to declare their independence and create the Republic of Finland.
So what does this history have to do with my children? A lot. My husband’s 2nd great grandparents, Charles Mattson and Wendla Batmaster, both immigrated to the San Francisco area from Ostrobothnia at the turn of the century. Both left Finland due to hard economic times under Russian rule. Both were born in the 1880’s and both identified as Finnish.
So are my kids Russian or Finnish?
When looking at history, technically they were Russian since Finland was part of Russia. Deep history would indicate they were Swedish. Sweden had control of the land area first. So maybe my kids are Finnish Russian Swedes? Haha! Just kidding.
The answer is no. Your identity is not always rooted in the dates of history. My kid’s immigrant ancestors came from families who had lived in Finland for hundreds of years. We know Finland was referred to as Finland and the people as Finnish since the late 1600’s. The families identified as Finnish even during Russian rule. My kids are part Finnish.