|Lauri Kuntijarvi + … …|
Birth: Soukelo, Karelia
Death: Helsinki, Finland
When was he born?
Over Christmas, I was reading a book about the mathematical symbol pi, and came across a passage to do with the Julian and Gregorian calendars. The Julian is the old one, and Gregorian the new one, which was adopted by catholic countries in the 16th century, and later by England in1752, Sweden in 1753 (Finland was under Sweden then). However, Russia did not adopt the new calendar until 1918.
It suddenly dawned on me that the we may have Lauri’s date of birth all wrong, and because there seems to be some inconsistencies in his stories and the records, I thought that the calendar business might resolve them. I was wrong, but I went on an unfinished journey into the Karjalian countryside that has left me thirsting for more information and history.
Just before he died, I interviewed Lauri in an attempt to fill in some of his family history. “When and where were you born?”, I asked with pen in hand ready to note down the answers and move onto the next question. His answer introduced me into the life of a village. He was born in Soukelo, but exactly when he was unsure. This was really strange to the Englishman, and I wasn’t quite sure that I understood or believed his answer. Soukelo was a village of just over a dozen houses and no church, shop, school - not even a pub. His date of birth was remembered by his parents until the priest made a visit on his regular tour of all the villages in the area. During these visits, which happened from time to time with months perhaps over a year between them, the new children were baptised and this plus their births were entered into a register.
So here was the first of the interesting problems, how did the village keep track of the date? Normally, we would expect a village to contain some authority figure, such as a priest, school master, police constable etc. Here, there were only private homes. I know that the priest came from afar, (perhaps from the monastery at Solovetsky?), and Lauri claimed no schooling for him or his friends. Was there a constable? or village elder? In the absence of such a person, how did they know that he was born on 20th March and not the 19th or 21st?
When we visited Soukelo and the family a few years ago, we were able to arrange a visit to the Archives in Petroskoi. It is here that the Register of Births is now kept. Kaarina’s cousin Svetlana went in to examine the books, leaving us outside as neither of us can read the Russian alphabet. She found his entry and also found his parents’ marriage record. She arranged for a copy of the records to be made, and we brought these back to Finland. We were lucky to have someone translate the church Russian into Finnish, and there for all to see is the entry record of his birth. And it is significantly different to what he told us:
The family has his date of birth as 20th March, 1906
The register shows date of birth April 14th 1907; baptised June 20th 1907.
OK, two things he told us check out. Firstly, he had hinted that he may have made himself a bit older when he first arrived in Finland. This was 1920’ish, when he was only 13. At that time, the Finnish authorities were sending back refugees, especially unaccompanied younger children. Adding a year to make himself older was an obvious ploy. Checking his Army record with the Register shows this additional year.
Staying with the register for a moment, we can also see proof of the point he had made regarding the spasmodic visits. On the page with his entry, there are four entries altogether. The first two are entered on June 19th, showing two children born in Kundozero, both baptised on June 19th. The next two entries are children born in Soukelo. They are entered on June 20th, with baptisms on the same day. But the birth days are more revealing. In the order that they are entered, the dates are: February 24th; December 21st (1906); April 14th; and April 6th. It is quite clear that this visit from the priest was after an interval of at least six months.
It is clear, also, that the entries in the register are in the Julian (old) calendar. To adjust them to today’s calendar, we have to add 13 days. This makes his recorded date of birth April 27th, 1907 - a long way from official records in Finland. We shall never know the true date, and that’s OK. Could we really expect anything more from a handful of homes clustered around a lakeside less than 100 kilometres from the Arctic Circle? a rural economy, with authority hours or even days away? Or are my ideas too romantic? I have this wonderful picture of an orthodox priest, bearded, tall and thin, with a knapsack over his shoulder, and clutching the large leather bound register marching along a dusty road in high summer. He probably got his food and shelter from the families whose children he had just baptised. Or perhaps he was rather fat and rode on a donkey, with a long suffering novice accompanying him and carrying the books. For how many decades or even centuries did there way of life remain unchanged?
We may never know the true date of birth of Lauri, but I may discover more about village life from books and articles already published.
David Worsley January 2004
I know a little more now. I have followed the lives of Jeremias Peterson and hi father and brothers. Peterson is the family of lauri's wife, Anne Sirkeinen.
Jermias, his father and brother were pedlars. They travelled to Petraskopi to buy their goods, and returned to the villages. There, they travelled from village to village, staying in homes for the night and continuing the next day. Surely, they did not gain just merchandise when in Petraskopi, but also knowledge of the latest news - and of course the date. So must it not be true that the outlying villages knew the date and much of the news directly from these pedlars.
Whether or not Jermias was the pedlar who visited Soukelo can never be resolved, but if not him then certainle another.
I think that the pedlars are the 'missing link' that I needed to find above.
David Worsley April 2015