BETA

Retracing steps of Finland pioneers

Bringing to light the untold faith of early Finnish immigrants

Anna Carolina Ruth was a wealthy widow living in the southern town of Sipoo, Finland, in 1883 when she met a missionary and was baptized at age 55. She joined the other Finnish members and, three years later, sold her possessions and immigrated to the United States.

She is one of a handful of converts from Finland who left home, work and family to move closer to Church members.

Photo: Photo by Shaun Stahle

Kim Ostman, a member of the Church in Tampere, Finland, said 19th century history of the Church in Finland is "a rather unstudied topic."

"I'm currently writing a doctoral dissertation on Mormon history, parallelling the work recently compiled by Zachary R. Jones," he said. "My aim is to give the most comprehensive picture of early Mormonism in this little-known land."

His research is bringing light to a part of untold Church history that has been vague and obscure for years. In his studies, Brother Ostman discusses the history of the Church in Finland and the emigration that took place.

Increased missionary efforts in Europe after 1850 brought many Nordic converts to the Rocky Mountain areas of Utah. Converts from Denmark, Norway and Sweden left their homes to begin new lives near the center of the Church.

In the process, they played a vital part in the growth of the Church and the taming of the state, but oftentimes lost contact with their families in their homeland.

Large-scale emigration from Finland to the United States began in the 1870s, which was relatively late compared to other Scandinavian nations. Finland's religious activity was highly regulated in the 1800s, often making it difficult for members to openly practice their religion. This encouraged some early converts in Finland to immigrate to the United States with other Church members.

A photo of Billns Iron Works taken in spring 2008. The works is very close to Frsj and was the site of one of the early church meetings in the 1880s.
A photo of Billns Iron Works taken in spring 2008. The works is very close to Frsj and was the site of one of the early church meetings in the 1880s.

The first Finnish member of the Church to immigrate to Utah was Eva Degerlund, born near 1860 in Tenhola, in southern Finland. She was baptized into the "Finland Branch" in 1881, six years after missionaries entered the country. Eva was a young unmarried woman in the working class, who first traveled to Sweden, and eventually to Murray, Utah.

Among the early Finnish immigrants were people of all types — men and women, young and old, single, married and widowed — with ages ranging from 20 to 60. Included were people from a wide spectrum of occupations and stages of life.

Johan and Anna Margareta Blom and their family joined the Church in their native Sweden in the late 1870s.

They moved to Finland where Johan worked as a gardener at an estate in southern Finland. His employer allowed him and his family to practice their religion, but they were clearly warned to not share their beliefs with others.

photos is the lake "Frsj" (in Swedish)
or "Lammasjrvi" (in Finnish) in southern Finland. It was where two Mormon baptisms were performed in 1882 that caused the baptizer, gardener Johan Blom, to end up in prison for 28 days on bread and water in early 1886 after the legal process. The cell phone tower will of course show it is a modern photo :)
photos is the lake "Frsj" (in Swedish) or "Lammasjrvi" (in Finnish) in southern Finland. It was where two Mormon baptisms were performed in 1882 that caused the baptizer, gardener Johan Blom, to end up in prison for 28 days on bread and water in early 1886 after the legal process. The cell phone tower will of course show it is a modern photo :) Photo: Photo by Kim Ostman

They did not openly teach the gospel, but from their example, two close associates were exposed to the Church and later baptized by Johan in Lammasjarvi Lake.

Because of the baptisms, Johan was sentenced to 28 days in the Helsinki County prison where he was fed bread and water.

A few months after his imprisonment, the Blom family joined other members to journey to the Salt Lake Valley.

These acts of courage are but a few of the many experienced by early Finnish converts who made many sacrifices for their faith and, in the process, paved the way for growth of the Church in Finland today. — Marianne Holman, [email protected]

Photographer is Leif Back.

Photo of the "Nissas-Antas" house in the town
of Larsmo on the west coast of Finland. The first known
meeting in Larsmo was held in this house in 1880.
Larsmo is significant because it is the only place where
some church activity continued from the 1800s all the way up to when the Finnish LDS mission was established
in 1947.
Photographer is Leif Back. Photo of the "Nissas-Antas" house in the town of Larsmo on the west coast of Finland. The first known meeting in Larsmo was held in this house in 1880. Larsmo is significant because it is the only place where some church activity continued from the 1800s all the way up to when the Finnish LDS mission was established in 1947. Photo: Photo by Leif Back
Photo: Photo by Shaun Stahle