The Roots

According to the first historical sources, the Oulu region was sparsely inhabited in the 14th century. In Erik of Pomerania's land register from the early 15th century, the whole coastal stretch of Otrobothnia between the rivers Kalajoki and Kemijoki was indefinitely referred to as "Strand" (= Coast). Compared for instance with the Kemi and Tornio valleys further to the north, the development of permanent settlement in this region was poor. This is probably due to the fact that the area had become object of the disputes between the spheres of interests of Sweden and Novgorod. Both parties raided it while trying to gain control over the River Oulujoki and its connections with the waterways to the east and the south-east. The area was therefore an insecure dwelling place.

The original inhabitants of the region, the nomadic Sami, first came across Finnish and in the coastal region also Swedish fishers and hunters. In the Middle Ages, the oldest Finnish tribe, the Tavastians, extended their hunting and fishing trips to the whole water system area of the interior of the country as far north as to Lake Oulujärvi. The Tavastians probably gave the Tavastian name "Oulu" (originally spelled "Owla") first to Lake Oulujärvi and to the River Oulujoki which originates in the lake. However, the Tavastians have not played any decisive role in the permanent settlement of the region. The Sami came into contact with another Finnish tribe, the Karelians, who made hunting and trading trips from Lake Ladoga along the waterways of the interior all the way to Lake Oulujärvi, the coast of the Gulf of Bothnia and to Lapland apparently as early as in the 12th century. There could have been a permanent - although small - Karelian colony as early as at the beginning of the 13th century at Laitasaari in the middle course of the River Oulujoki, in the present parish of Muhos. The Sami started to withdraw gradually and peacefully along with the establishment of permanent settlement.

Permanent peasant settlements appeared along the River Oulujoki in the Middle Ages. Where then did the settlers of the Oulu region and valleys of the River Oulujoki come from? Based on research on the names of places, natural phenomena and surnames, Dr Jouko Vahtola reached the conclusion that there were two major streams of settlers. "The older stream of peasant settlers, who reached the coastal area in the 14th century and who had established a significant permanent settlement by the 16th century, originated from Satakunta (in southwestern Finland) and partly from Karelia. The other migration from Savo in the east to the valley of the River Oulujoki probably started in the 1520s-1540s. In the lower course of the river it encountered the already strongly developed settlement originating from the west."

"The abundance of patronymics existing in the area around Oulunsuu in the 16th century proves that a noteworthy migration took place from settlements in Satakunta, Tavastia and Finland Proper established earlier in the Middle Ages." No further conclusion can be drawn as to the argument that the patronymics of the population living in the Oulu region originated from a certain tribe. The same applies thus also to Heikki Heikinpoika (= son of Heikki), the oldest of the known family ancestors, who is registered in the tax rolls of the years 1571-93 as owner of a farm in the parish of Liminka in the village of Oulunsuu. Jaakko Heikinpoika Heikkilä of the fifth generation, chosen ancestor of Ilmo Heikinheimo's genealogy1., thus belongs to the tribe of northern Ostrobothnian peasants born in this region as a consequence of the intermarriage and assimilation between people of different origins in the 15th century.

A street plan of Oulu in the 1640s. (Riksarkivet, Sverige. Photo: Kurt Eriksson)

The Oulu Region in the 16th and 17th Centuries

In the Peace Treaty of Pähkinäsaari (Nöteborg; now Petrokrepost) in 1323, the coastal region of the Gulf of Bothnia between the rivers Pyhäjoki and Kaakamajoki with its vast backwoods turned into a contested "no man's land" on which both parties tried to impose taxes. The efforts of the Swedish crown and church, on the one hand, and of Novgorod and Moscow, on the other, to claim authority over this region led to continuous military expeditions, raids and destruction on both sides. Even the Karelians' peaceful trade expeditions sometimes turned violent. The last two decades of the 15th century were a time of constant destruction. In the 16th century Sweden made an effort to draw the boundary line from Lake Oulujärvi to Kuusamo. In 1550 King Gustav Vasa systematically started to colonise the eastern wilds of northern Ostrobothnia by re-settling people from Savo. Naturally, Novgorod fiercely opposed this policy. After the war of 1554-57, the official border of the kingdom was still the one defined in the Peace Treaty of Pähkinäsaari. However, the new colony had become firmly established in the wilds of Lake Oulujärvi. In 1570 the Twenty-five Years' War started. During this war the Russian Karelians made several devastating raids first to the area of Lake Oulujärvi, then to the upper course of the River Oulujoki and finally in 1589-92 to the heart of the parish of Liminka. The war ended with the Peace Treaty of Täyssinä, and the Kingdom of Sweden gained supremacy over the disputed region. The more peaceful period that followed gave the population opportunities to settle down.

In the 16th century the most important centres of northern Ostrobothnia were Salo (later Saloinen), Liminka, Ii and Kemi. Large parishes were established around these. The parish of Liminka included the entire valley of the River Oulujoki, from the coast to Lake Oulujärvi, as well as large areas to the south of the river. Reliable and accurate information on the population of these areas is not found until the tax roll of 1548. The taxable houses in the parish of Liminka and Hailuoto (which belonged to the parish of Salo) totalled 272. The main part of the population lived in the coastal area. The village of Liminka was the largest population centre in northern Ostrobothnia, with 58 taxable houses in 1548. Hailuoto, Oulunsalo and the village of Oulunsuu, which at that time included also the future area of the town of Oulu, had each approximately 40 taxable houses. Since the mouth and banks of the River Oulujoki offered suitable sites for homesteads, the number of households grew rapidly. The number of taxable houses in Oulunsuu had risen to approximately 60 by the year 1585. In a raid in 1590, the enemy burnt 51 taxable houses in Oulunsuu, sparing only two.11.In five years the number of houses had again risen to 50. Of these, only 33 could pay taxes to the Crown in 1595. In the middle of the 16th century, an estimated two thousand inhabitants lived in the great parish of Liminka. At the end of the turbulent century, it probably was the same as at its maximum.

In the coastal regions of Oulu, agriculture and cattle husbandry had grown in importance and had risen to be on a par with fishing. In Oulunsuu and along the River Oulujoki fishing remained the main source of livelihood. Animals were hunted for meat as well as for fur. The most important fish in the Oulujoki was salmon. The traps of Turkka and Torvi were the most important. The former, upstream from the Madekoski rapids close to the Turkka farm, had 80 co-owners in 1560, while the latter had 50. There was no salmon trap in the Merikoski rapids yet. The inhabitants in the coastal area, among them those who lived in the village of Oulunsalo, had a share in the catches at the Turkka trap. Pike was the most important fish in the lakes and was also used as a common means of tax payment. Riverside farmers made long fishing trips to Lake Oulujärvi and the water system above it. Without trapping as a source of livelihood, survival was not possible in the peasant culture of those days. The modest cultivated pieces of land were complimented by slashed-and-burnt areas. On the long trips to the wilds, pieces of land were prepared for cultivation using the slash-and-burn system.

The following information sheds light on the economic structure of a peasant household in those days: according to the land register of 1633-37 Heikkilä, which comprised 3/4 "mantal" had to pay taxes as follows: "2 thalers 8 öre of quarter money, 12 öre in fox fur money, 3 firkins of grain, 6 pounds of butter, 7.5 pounds of dried fish, 1 firkin 6 pottles = 18 pottles of tar, 4 1/ 2 days of statute labour, 3/4 loads of hey". This record reflects the diversity of the sources of livelihood. "Mantal" originates from Swedish: man = man and tal = number, an assessment unit of land or more precisely the rated taxation value of the estate. E.g. the mantal of the Heikkilä farm estate varied during the ancestors' period between values 3/4 and 1/3 without any change in the acreage.

During the period when the ancestors owned Heikkilä, the climate was extremely cold, from approximately 1570 to the 18th century. There were several 2-3-year periods of massive crop failure leading to the death of thousands of people from hunger and plagues. The severest losses occurred in 1696-97. It is estimated that around 3000 persons died in the Oulujoki river valley, which corresponded to 37 percent of the population, about 5 percent higher than elsewhere in Finland.

Sources: As far as historical facts are concerned, the chapters The Roots and The Oulu Region in the 16th and 17th Centuries above are mainly based on the chapters written by Dr Jouko Vahtola in his works mentioned in references 2-4 and partly on sources 5-6.

Birth of the Town of Oulu

The mouth of the River Oulujoki was probably used as an international trading place as early as in the 14th century. The first commercial harbour was at Oulunsalo. At the beginning of the 15th century it was moved nearer to the mouth of the River Oulujoki and was known as the Hahtiperä commercial harbour. The Crown supervised trading in order to secure the collecting of customs fees. The Crown obliged the peasants to build trading storehouses at the harbour and hired them out to traders. There were at least 50 such storehouses in the 16th century. At the end of the century Oulu was already the busiest trading centre in Ostrobothnia. Trading took place primarily when the sea was free from ice. Efforts were made to limit the Karelians' - coming from the east -trading to the island of Turkansaari and to the upper reaches of the river. The first traders in Oulu were Germans, Swedes, and then people from southern Finland and from the towns along the coasts of the Baltic Sea. A trader seldom overwintered. Trading alone did not cause the birth of a permanent population.

The fortress of Oulu was referred to for the first time in a chronicle of the Novgorods describing their military expedition in the 14th century. During the restless times of the 16th century Sweden set up weapon stores on "Oulu Island", now called Castle Island. As a consequence of Sweden's strategic interests elsewhere, the defence of the northern end of the kingdom was neglected. The destructions of Liminka towards the end of the Twenty-five Years' War (1589-90 and 1592) awakened the Swedish government to pay attention to the military importance of northern Ostrobothnia. A big army and military supplies were gathered in Oulu as early as in 1590. These troops stayed in camp in the Oulu region for a long time. Commander Bagge was responsible for additional depots being built and the island fortified with ramparts. Thus the Oulu Castle became an administrative centre.

The Peace Treaty of Täyssinä in 1595 made it possible to safeguard the power of the Swedish Crown and trading advantages in the Oulu region in a permanent way. Charles, the Duke of Finland, gave the first instructions in 1600 aimed at the founding of a town. After he as King Charles IX in the winter of 1602 had undertaken a journey around the Gulf of Bothnia, he gave in 1605 based upon his observations the final orders on how the Oulu Castle had to be fortified and the town founded "on the site opposite the Castle where the new church recently has been built". In all his letters he promises to all who wish to settle in the town the enjoyment of town rights and privileges. When Isak Behm, whom the Crown had sent to Oulu, was already in 1606 able to report to the King on how well the projects were progressing, the King gave the town a privilege charter on September 26, 1610 in which he ordered that the name was to be Uleåborg (Vlaborgh). The town to be founded had been promised the land properties of the nearby peasant village (the village of Oulunsuu or part of it) and the rights to catch salmon in the river (at the Merikoski rapids) which the King had previously enjoyed.

The documents above mention, for the first time, that the first church of Oulu had "recently" been built, i.e. before the year 1605. In order to secure the financial position of the congregation and the vicar, the villages in the valley of the River Oulujoki and Oulunsalo were separated to make the church congregation of Oulu.

It has been estimated that Oulu had well over 500 inhabitants in 1636, and 1200 to 1400 inhabitants at the beginning of the 18th century, before the Great Northern War. People who settled there and were given civic rights came at the beginning mainly from different parishes in Bothnia. In the middle of the17th century there were a multitude of foreign origin among the names of the citizens. Later such names increased greatly.2-6.

The Period of the Great Wrath

The Great Northern War (1700-1712) with its strains on the people, war taxes and deportations came upon the Oulu region just when it had started to recover from the miserable years of crop failure and population decimation in the previous century. The new century also started out with many years of crop failure. When the Swedish armed forces were desperately fighting elsewhere for Sweden's supremacy, Russian troops invaded Finland in the summer of 1713. The Swedish-Finnish army sustained heavy losses also in Finland. After the most shattering at Napua on February 19, 1714, it retreated to Sweden in the summer of 1714. The Russian army slowly followed.

The enemy occupied Oulu at the end of November 1714. The gentry fled from the war to Sweden while part of the peasants went into hideaways. The enemy did not keep northern Finland heavily occupied. Warfare here consisted mostly of mobile combat patrols robbing, destroying and killing or imprisoning the population. Only occasionally did the Swedish army try to counterattack. The peasants that stayed at their farms paid "fire taxes" to the Russians to save their houses. In spite of these payments, mercy was seldom shown. During the approximately two-year period of the Great Wrath (1714-1716) the town of Oulu and its surroundings, Liminka and Hailuoto, were almost completely destroyed. Approximately 80 percent of the population who stayed in the region was killed or imprisoned.2-4, 6.

"Old Heikki" and his Sons, Fishermen All

Previous Generations of the Family

By tradition, in the summer the households in the parish of Liminka had their own fishing ground in Lake Oulujärvi and in the upper waterways. The spreading of settlers from Savo over the Kainuu region changed the competition for the fishing waters. In this situation the Swedish Crown supported the settlers. In the course of time, the peasants living in the coastal region were forced to give up their lake fishing. When the shore areas round Lake Oulu became permanently colonised, the population in the river valley moved their fishing grounds to the upper waterways.

Still in the middle of the 16th century, summer lake fishing in the upper waterways of Lake Oulu was extremely important to all the peasants in the parish of Liminka. According to the boat tax rolls of 1554, 90 of the peasants of Liminka practised this means of livelihood with a total of 104 boat crews. The village of Oulunsuu had 27 boats. Several farms had two fishing boats and some even three. The "wealthy Heikki Saarela from Oulusuu village" is said to have "three fishing boats in Lake Kiantajärvi". In 1558, the "lake fishing potential" of the peasants living along the River Oulujoki had increased compared to the previous year. The village of Oulunsuu had 34 fishing boats with 1108 nets, while Laitasaari, the following village upstream had 30 boats and 933 nets. These two villages controlled over half of the lake fishing of the whole parish. According to the tax rolls, almost all the houses in the mentioned villages participated in lake fishing. Some of the bigger farms, which perhaps were both rich and populous, fished with two or three boats. "The King of Wilderness Fishing", Lodvig Pietarinpoika from Laitasaari owned three boats and 87 nets. A still bigger fishery group came from the village of Oulunsuu. The Esko, Heikki and Jaakko Heikinpoika brothers fished in distant wilderness lakes with no less than seven boats and 220 nets.7,8. A precondition for equipping such a large fishery group was a rich and populous farm. It is, however, possible that one or two farmers who for some reason or another were unable to equip a boat of their own, formed part of the fishery group led by the brothers. After the above-mentioned good fishing years this means of livelihood gradually began to diminish. The war that broke out in 1570 almost totally paralysed the fishing in the distant wilderness lakes.2.

We, the succeeding generations, have perhaps wondered from where the family's eldest member's, Heikki Heikinpoika's father and his family came. The brothers' fishing expedition that the historian describes above raised the question with renewed force. The name Heikki was very common in the parish of Liminka in the 16th century, which complicates research of the family history. However, based on the existing tax rolls it has been possible to establish that the name Heikki Heikinpoika is mentioned only twice in the village of Oulunsuu in the period between 1558 and 1571, namely as the great fisherman in 1558 and as a freeholder in 1571. The fishing brothers, who probably at the time still belonged to their father's household, were possibly quite young, maybe around twenty years of age, or even younger. When Heikki Heikinpoika became master of the household he could have been approximately thirty years of age. It is thus possible that reference is made to the same person. If this assumption can be confirmed, the researcher will face new attractive challenges to clarify the nearest relatives to the family's oldest "known" generation. The perhaps most challenging question is to get to know what farm the fishermen's father and probable equipper of the boat crew "Old Heikki" owned and what other information could be found about him. Based on the already found data referred to above it can be concluded that he with all probability lived in the village of Oulunsuu. The time available before this genealogy is printed is too short to make a sufficiently comprehensive and evidence-providing study of these issues. However, the question remains to be solved by some future family researcher.

The Family's Eldest "Known", Fifth Pregeneration

Heikki Heikinpoika

Owner of Heikkilä at least between 1571 and 1593

The taxable house of Heikkilä in the village of Oulunsuu and Heikki Heikinpoika's ownership of this farm are mentioned for the first time in the land register tax roll of 1571. The number of people living on the farm was already high that year. According to the tax roll 9., the farm paid in 1571 five kilderkins (2.5 barrels) of grain in land taxes, seven pounds of butter in cattle taxes and another five pound of butter in capitation tax. This indicates that the farm had seven milk cows. Capitation taxes were paid in different bailiwicks either according to the number of men in tax-paying age or the number of married couples belonging to the household. The tax amounted to one pound of butter per man or married couple. The number of persons living at the farm was already high at that time, which bears evidence to its earlier existence under a master unknown to us. In the tax roll of 1577 both the capitation tax base and cow amounted to only two. Evidently, the adults at the farm had moved elsewhere, had become too old or had died. 1577 was a year of extreme crop failure because of the weather conditions,10. which already could have affected the number of cattle. A still more trying ordeal took place in 1590, when the farm was destroyed by the Russian Karelians. Most of the parish of Liminka and especially the village of Oulunsuu shared the same destiny.3,11.

The Fourth Pregeneration: Yrjänä Heikinpoika

Owner of Heikkilä 1594-1635

Yrjänä also "distinguished" himself as a fisherman. At the district court sessions in 1591 he and five other men from the village of Oulunsuu were fined for "having violated the injunction by building some salmon traps in the Merikoski rapids at the mouth of the River Oulujoki.11,12. The dwindling lake fishing had created a need to increase other means of livelihood. The highquality salmon of the River Oulujoki has always been a temptation to fishermen, both legal and illegal ones. Based on the tythes of grain and the amount of cattle, the farm prospered in the 1620s. The livestock consisted of one to two bulls, six to eight cows, four heifers, some calves and a dozen of lambs and a horse. In 1635 the livestock had shrunk to one foal, one bull, one cow and one heifer.13.

The Third Pregeneration: Antti Yrjänänpoika

Owner of Heikkilä 1636-1644

The first registers of population in the parish of Oulu are from the year 1637. Antti is registered as a farmer in these. Times were bad during the short period during which Antti was owner of Heikkilä. The Kingdom participated in the Thirty Years' War. The peasants in the north suffered from years of crop failure, reducing the tax-paying ability of the Heikkilä farm. The tythes of grain imposed on the farm dropped from the earlier level of 10 pecks to on average 5 pecks. However, since the measure for a peck had been changed from 3.5 to 4.6 litres, grain taxes were reduced in reality from 70 to 46 litres. The mantal of the farm went down from threequarters in 1637 to two-thirds in 1644, being in 1645 only one-third.

The Second Pregeneration: Yrjänä Antinpoika

Owner of Heikkilä 1647-1678

Yrjänä is entered in the register of population of 1645 as son to the owner and as owner in 1647-1678. At the beginning of his ownership in 1647, the mantal of the farm had again reached two-thirds. The tythe of grain of the farm rose insignificantly from the tax imposed on his father Antti. The married son Heikki and his wife Marketta Pekantytär are registered as living on the farm in 1675-1678. Yrjänä had a brother by the name Juho

The First Pregeneration: Heikki Yrjänänpoika

Owner of Heikkilä at least 1680-1699

The endurance of the Heikkilä farm, its economy and members of the household were tested during the years of great famine in 1696-1697. At the turn of the century the worst was over, and the farm started to recover. In 1700 Heikki is still enrolled in the register of population, but no capitation tax was paid for him. According to the parish registers, he was buried on August 8, 1709. His wife is entered in the register of population as owner of the farm in 1680-1699 and, during the ownership of her son Pekka, as the owner's mother (1700-11).

Heikki Yrjänänpoika and Marketta Pekantytär had at least the following children:

The owner's uncle Juho Antinpoika and his wife Anna were also enrolled in the register of occupants in 1683 and in 1688-1690. The couple had a daughter Liisa Juhontytär. She was later married to Simo Ervasti, a burgher in the town of Oulu.22-25.

The Stem Generation

Pekka Heikinpoika, Owner of Heikkilä 1701-1713

During the time when the apparently unmarried Pekka was master of Heikkilä, the Great Northern War with its war taxes and recruitment of soldiers fell upon the Oulu region just when it had started to recover from the miserable years of crop failure and population decimation of the previous century. The new century also started out with many years of crop failure. The ownership of Pekka ends at a time when the direct consequences of the war reached the Oulu region. The family members that for the last time are entered into the register of population in 1711 are the master's mother Marketta, his sister with the same name and his brother Jaakko, who returned to the farm when the war was over. The last entry in the registers about the owner Pekka is from 1713. The Heikkilä farm was totally destroyed during the years of the Great Wrath. It is plausible that at least one - if not several - member of the family perished during the war.

Olavi, Pekkas's Brother-in-law, Owner of Heikkilä in 1719

Olavi Olavinpoika, who later on took the name Heikkilä, was farmhand at the farm since 1712. He entered into matrimony with Valpuri, the daughter of the farm, in 1713. He is registered as master of the farm for the first time in 1719. In 1723, his brother-in-law Jaakko Heikinpoika, is again enrolled in the register of occupants. In the same year Jaakko sold his share of his father's state to Olavi. The family of Olavi and Valpuri continues as owner of Heikkilä in one generation until 1777.

Jaakko Heikinpoika Heikkilä

The oldest known ancestors of the family had probably settled in the region of the great parish of Liminka in the first part of the 16th century at the latest and became farm owners in the village of Oulunsuu by around 1570. Located in the middle of a restless area, the village suffered from the disputes between the spheres of interests of Sweden and Novgorod, and was continuously raided and destroyed by both parties. When these wartime difficulties eased with the Peace Treaty of Täyssinä (1595), Nature severely tested the endurance of the people with an extremely cold period lasting over a century. After this the Great Northern War terribly decimated the population and brought devastation and disaster upon the region. Jaakko Heikinpoika, whom based on our investigation we consider to be our family forefather, moved after the Great Wrath in 1723 from the countryside in the destroyed region around the River Oulujoki to the equally devastated town of Oulu. There he soon joined the estate of burgesses and energetically started to build up the prosperity and future of his family.

There is no certain information about the date when the name of the farm became the family name. Therefore this family name has not been used for the ancestral generations (YH).

Participants in the 1979 Family Association Meeting in the Heikkilä house front yard. Kuva/foto/photo: YH

A salmon trap of the type used at Turkka during the 16th and 17th centuries. Foto/kuva/photo: Bert Persson, Luleå.