The first steps towards establishment
The 18th century
The first known idea of an organized management of archival records on Åland can be traced to the Parliament of 1769-1770. The peasantry of Åland expressed their desire to preserve and safeguard the records of the district for the future. The people of Åland wanted the district penalties to be used for the safeguarding of the public records. Whether this led to any results is not known.
The reason why the general public wanted to arrange proper archive premises for the old records of Åland was, that "much information could be retrieved" from the old documents. The fates of the rural villages, farms and parishes was still completely unexplored. It would greatly facilitate research if all the old documents of Åland were collected in a provincial archive, easily accessible to researchers. In addition, farm owners could get help in interpreting the old farm records that would be kept in the archives.
The work towards establishing a regional archives institution started again in the 1920s, soon after Åland was granted autonomy. The first provincial archives was planned to function in connection with the Kastelholm Castle but, in the end, the project failed due to extensive building expenses. In 1930s the current governor of Åland passed another initiative to start a regional archive, but this time the National Archives of Finland determined that no regional archives would be needed on Åland. All the older records of the Finnish central government were moved to the Åbo regional state archives instead.
Another opportunity to establish a provincial archive occurred in the end of the 1930s. When the City Hall of Mariehamn was built, the local government was offered a chance to rent a room for the archives, but again the expenses were considered too high.
Establishment of the parliament building
Construction of the new local administration building in Mariehamn, Självstyrelsegården, started in the 1970s. The building was completed in September 1977, and the Provincial Archives of Åland with its specially made archive storage facilities was finally established on the bottom floor of the building. The storage facilities were designed with the help of an expert advisor and had the capacity of 4 shelf kilometers in the beginning.
In 1977 a Consentaneous Decree was passed which stipulated that a regional archive would operate on Åland. Bjarne Henriksson was appointed the first Chief Archivist (landskapsarkivarie) of the Provincial Archives of Åland in March 1978 and he entered the office 1st of May, 1978.
At first all the older records of the local administration's 24 offices were placed in the reading room - several hunder shelfmeters in total. After a week or two the Chief Archivist established that more manpower would be needed to sort out the material. An assistant was hired in June, and all the files, folders and archive boxes were finally catalogued and moved to the storage facilities over the summer. After the reading room had been emptied, some desks were brought in for the visitors to use. The first visitor, a genealogist, visited the Provincial Archives of Åland in August 1978.
In 2017 a new, modern archive storage facility was added to the Provincial Archives of Åland, which extended the capacity from four shelf kilometers to more than seven shelf kilometers.
Many a visitor has visited the reading room over the years. A peak year was 1996 with the whole of 2 835 visitors. These days the reading room is visited by roughly 1 600 visitors per year on average.
At first the Provincial Archives of Åland was intended only for keeping the local public administration's older records. However, the Rural Court District - a state establishment - transferred a series of public records very early on. Over the years the Local Tax Inspector and the pilot stations have transferred their records. When the Court of Law went through reformations, the provincial archives were enriched by yet another new series of documents. Even the Rural Dean and a few of the parishes of Åland deposited their oldest records early on. Over the years most of the parishes of Åland have deposited their records at the Provincial Archives. Today all the parish archives of Åland have been microfilmed and digitized. Most of them are kept at the Provincial Archives of Åland, as well as a good amount of cadastres, land registers and complaints of the peasantry dating back to the 16th and 17th century.
January 1986 approximately 300 shelf meters of material was transferred from the Regional Archives in Åbo to the Provincial Archives of Åland. This material consisted of the Rural Court District's, the Local Tax Inspector's, the Enforcement Service's, the County Administrative Board's and the Customs Department's older records dating back to the 17th and the 18th century.
Today all of the municipalities of Åland have deposited their older records to the Provincial Archives of Åland. Municipal autonomy was granted in 1865 and the material from this era is very valuable for the local historians. With the help of the minutes of the parish meetings it is possible to examine the local history another 100 years back in time.
Today the Provincial Archives of Åland keeps a large amount of records and archives from various businesses, associations, as well as private persons, families and farms.