The origin of the surname Kutvonen is unclear. According to one theory, the name originates from the old Scandinavian name Gudhvald, also known as Gottwald in German-speaking countries. Another theory is that the name originated from a German mason called Gottbaum, who would have participated in the building of Olavinlinna fortress “St. Olaf's Castle” at the end of the 15th century. I personally do not believe in either theory. More likely the name has something to do with the physical characteristics of some of my ancient ancestors, or a place name that was forgotten already a long time ago.

There are currently about 300 people with the surname Kutvonen living in Finland. We are not necessarily all related, at least not through the last ten generations. There have been several Kutvonen families in both Sääminki and Rantasalmi. My family belongs to the Sääminki branch.

In the year 1650, or maybe a little earlier, a boy called Niilo was born to the family of farmer Kutvonen, on Laukansaari island in the parish of Sääminki. Laukansaari lies in Lake Pihlajavesi, which is part of the Greater Saimaa Basin. Sääminki is located near the town of Savon­linna and Olavin­linna fortress in present day Eastern Finland. Parish registers were ordered to be mandatory in 1668 by King Carl XI of Sweden. After that date we have fairly comprehensive records (except for those destroyed in fires) of births, marriages, and deaths.

This boy Niilo grew up to continue the work of his father, married probably a local girl, and in the year 1678 they got a son whom they named Lauri. Life was hard as a farmer, but fishing added to the family table. There were many children, although infant mortality was high in those days.

This rural life on the island of Laukansaari continued for six generations: Lauri married Kristiina Niilontytär (daughter of Niilo) Tavi, and they had a son Pekka in the year 1728. The early 18th century was a difficult time in Finland. During the Great Northern War, Russia, reigned by Tsar Peter I “the Great”, occupied Finland in the years 1713-1721, a period called the Great Wrath. As if the occupation had not been difficult enough to withstand, a plague epidemic raged throughout Northern Europe.

In the winter of 1743, during the Russo-Swedish War of 1741-1743, the Russians crossed the ice to Laukansaari. There they burned many houses and randomly killed many men, most of them in very brutal ways. In the Treaty of Åbo 1743, Sweden had to cede areas in southern Karelia and around Savonlinna to Russia. Nonetheless, the Kutvonen family survived and because Russia was mostly interested in the castle, and not so much in the peaceful Laukansaari, the changed border did not have a significant impact on everyday life on the island. Pekka grew up, married Kaarina Erkintytär Laukkanen and in 1770 he and Kaarina had a son whom they named Niilo after his great-grandfather.

Niilo again found a bride from one of the nearby islands, Maria Erkintytär Tavi, and in 1805 they had a son who they called Pekka. Pekka married Anna Maria Tiainen from another Lake Pihlajavesi island and took over the farm, probably in the 1830s. This was after his father had been widowed and was becoming old. They had five children, one boy Niilo and four girls, Anna, Maria, Eeva, and Loviisa. Anna, the mother of the children, died just before her youngest was one year old. Pekka soon remarried. His new bride was Eeva Halonen from Särkilahti in Juva parish. But Eeva died before two years had passed after their marriage and Pekka had to look for a third wife. He found Kaarina Abrahamintytär Metso, from a nearby island called Ritosaari. In two years' time, in 1847, Pekka had become a widow again with children of ages 15, 12, 10, 7, and 4. Somehow, the family managed to make it through the following years. All the children were over the age of 18 before the death of Pekka.

Niklas1 (Niilo) was the eldest, born in 1832, but for some reason he didn't stay on the island after his father's death. Instead, he moved to Vyborg (Viipuri in Finnish), the second largest town in Finland at the time, and left the farm for his sister Loviisa and her husband Antti Heikinpoika (son of Heikki).

Niklas first found work in Vyborg as an ordinary labourer. There he met his future wife Anna Antintytär Siiskonen, who had come to Vyborg from the parish of Juva, probably also after work. After the Crimean War, Vyborg was in a period of rapid growth: the walls and fortifications of the Vyborg Castle had grown old and were no longer fit for purpose, so replacement fortifications and forts had to be built. The Saimaa Canal was completed in 1856 and the railway from Helsinki to Vyborg was under construction. Then Niklas found himself a new job as a gaslight lantern lighter for the town of Vyborg. His profession was respected and highly regarded. They married and had three children, Anna, Amanda, and the youngest, Alexander, my future grandfather, in 1859. The mother of the children, Anna, died when Alexander was only 5 years old. His father remarried a few years later to Maria Kristina Myyrä and Alexander had four half-siblings.

As a young man, Alexander left Vyborg and moved to the town of Hamina to become a trainee in the shop of merchant Konstantin Aladin the Elder. After having completed his military service, he moved to St. Petersburg, married there his first wife Swedish-born Sofia Nilsson whom he might have met already in Hamina, and started his own business. Alexander and Sofia had two daughters, Maria Josefina and Ellen Sofia, but their mother died when the girls were under 10 years old. Alexander soon remarried to my grandmother Hilja Eufemia Kurki. They had four children, my father Martti Aleksanteri 1905-1980, Lauri Antero 1906-1938, Helvi Mirjam 1909-1911, and Niilo Pentti 1912-1972. How Alexander's business dealings succeeded can be found in the following article published in the newspaper INKERI in St. Petersburg in 1916: English translation (original article in Finnish).

Just nine months after the article was published, the February Revolution broke out in Russia and Alexander decided to depart Petrograd, as it was then called, with his family. Luckily, they left before the October Revolution, but all business and fortune left in Russia was lost.

Following their stay in Hyvinkää (a town situated north of Helsinki) until 1920, Alexander and his family returned to Vyborg, where Alexander intended to open a fabric shop on Pietarinkatu (later renamed as Kannaksenkatu). Although Alexander successfully inaugurated his new store, he unfortunately died in the spring of 1921, a mere six months after relocating to Vyborg.

Afterwards, Hilja and her three sons, Martti Aleksanteri, Lauri Antero, and Niilo Pentti, relocated to Papulankatu 20 where Hilja established a new shop. Following her husband's death, she remained a widow for 31 years and eventually passed away in Helsinki in 1952.

The boys went on with their lives, each in their own way. Martti concentrated on his art studies in Helsinki, Lauri had many different projects and worked as a businessman, while Niilo started his career as a journalist after leaving school. All the boys found a married life, Lauri being the first, but death in the form of tuberculosis befell Lauri before the wedding. Niilo married just before the war in 1939, but Martti did not meet his future wife until during the war, and after a series of twists and turns unknown to me, they did not marry until 1951.

Continue with Niklas and Anna and learn more about my family.

  1. The name Niilo is usually recorded in the Swedish form Nils. However, this Niilo, born 1832, is refered in some documents as Niklas and it possible that he used this variant of his name at least in formal occasions. We will call him Niklas, to distinguish him from all the other Niilos in the family.

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