My great-grandfather Alexander Mattila’s 1945 death certificate states that his mother was “Lizza Myllyla” of Finland. His American-born daughter was the informant.
As I researched Alex, I found that this information conflicts with his baptism record from Finland’s Viipuri parish. That record says her name was “Elisabeth Myllynen”. The discrepancy needs an explanation.
I do not know much about Finnish ways, but it seems that “Lizza” must have been a nickname for “Elisabeth”. No real problem there, but what about the difference in surnames?
I searched for more evidence by locating the baptism records for Alexander Mattila’s many sisters. Not all the records provided a surname for her. Those that did variously gave her last name as “Myllynen” or “”Myllyin”. While it appears I can discard the “Myllyla” variation as something created by a granddaughter who never met her grandmother, I now had a new problem. Was the surname “Myllynen” or “Myllyin”?
I worked back to locate Elisabeth’s marriage record. There her name was “Myllyin”.
Next I needed to find her birth record for additional documentation. The Finnish Communion Books for Elisabeth Myllynen’s household 1887-1896 provided a birthdate for her, 25 April 1835. A search of Viipuri birth and baptism records for an Elisabeth born that day found only one likely candidate, Elisabeth, daughter of Simon Mattson and Sofia Henr:dr of the Myllynen house in the village of Tervajärvi. This highly-probative record indicates that her name was probably “Myllynen” rather than “Myllyin”, and that is the name I added to my database.
But then I began researching her father, Simon Mattson. All the church records for him gave his surname as “Myllyin”, not “Myllynen”. Again the question arises, what was the family name?
I cannot reconcile this discrepancy. I think I have found distinct people on these records that have gone by two similar surnames. I believe that perhaps the names were used interchangeably in the 19th century. Finland still had a mostly patronymic system then, and surnames did not have the importance we give to them today. Spelling probably was not yet standardized.
This is the best explanation I can devise. I am not completely satisfied with it. I plan to consult my Finnish friends to see if they can provide any more information on this issue of these surnames. Name discrepancies are red flags that one may be researching the wrong ancestors. I do not want to waste time doing that.