• Hollywood Ancestry

'Elvis' Star Austin Butler Descended from Finnish Immigrants

Austin Butler is descended from Finns on his mother's side, and through his mother, has a deeper connection to Elvis.

Austin Butler portraying Elvis - Hollywood Ancestry by Mike Batie
Austin Butler portrays Elvis in the biopic of the same name. / Warner Bros

Austin Butler has been acting since a young age, starring in hit Nickelodeon and Disney Channel shows, including Hannah Montana, and in two CW series: The Carrie Diaries and Arrow. He also had a role in Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. The world knows Butler now for his portrayal of Elvis Presley in Baz Luhrmann's biopic Elvis.


Austin Butler with his natural blond hair in 'The Carrie Diaries' - Hollywood Ancestry
Austin Butler with his natural blond hair in 'The Carrie Diaries' / The CW

In order to portray Elvis, Austin Butler traded in his naturally blond hair (which shows his Nordic roots from his mother's side of the family) for Elvis' jet black hair color.


Austin Butler singing at a microphone as Elvis - Hollywood Ancestry by Mike Batie
Austin Butler as Elvis. / Warner Bros

Austin Butler's Descent from Finnish Immigrants


Austin Butler's Finnish ancestry line by Mike Batie
Austin Butler's Finnish ancestry comes through his mother's line. We'll discuss his mother and the connection to Elvis later in this article. / Mike Batie - Hollywood Ancestry


Austin Butler's second great-grandparents immigrated to the United States from Finland. His 2nd great grandfather, Matti Sillanpaa, was born 12 April 1875, coming from Hanko, in the Uusimaa region of Finland.


Map of Finland where Austin Butler's ancestors came from.
Map showing the location of Hanko, Finland, where Austin Butler's ancestors came from. / Mike Batie - Hollywood Ancestry

Matti came to America in his 20s, where we find him in records sailing from Liverpool on the S.S. Lucania on 15 June 1901 and arriving at port in New York City.


RMS Lucania - Austin Butler's ancestor arrived in America on this ship.
The Cunard Liner RMS Lucania. Austin Butler's 2nd great grandfather sailed on this ship to America in 1901.

Manifest record of the Sillanpaa family arrival in America on the RMS Lucania.
The Lucania's passenger manifest showing Austin Butler's ancestors, the Sillanpaas, arriving in America from Finland.

Matti first settled in Massachusetts, and later in Michigan. In 1901, Matti married Elisabeth Jaaruela in Bessemer, Michigan. Elisabeth was born on 26 September 1884 in Finland. She arrived in America at the age of nine in 1893. The couple had many children together.


Map showing the location of Bessemer, Michigan.
Location of Bessemer, Michigan, where Austin Butler's Finnish 2nd great grandparents settled and were married. / Mike Batie - Hollywood Ancestry

According to his World War I Draft registration card, Matti had a tall and slender build, with blue eyes and dark hair. You can see Matti's handwritten signature in the registration card below.


World War I Draft registration card of Austin Butler's 3rd great grandfather, Matti Sillanpaa.
World War I Draft registration card of Austin Butler's 2nd great grandfather, Matti Sillanpaa.

In 1905, Matti and his wife Elisabeth moved to the Ogema area of Wisconsin, where they operated their own farm. For many decades, Matti and his wife are shown in each census through 1950 running their farm in Wisconsin.


Map showing location of Ogema, Wisconsin.
Austin Butler's 2nd great grandparents relocated to Wisconsin, settling in the Ogema area, where they would finish out the rest of their lives. / Mike Batie - Hollywood Ancestry

Matti passed away on 28 February 1965, and Elisabeth passed away a few years later on 10 May 1967. Both had Lutheran funeral services and were buried at Levitt Creek Cemetery in Ogema, Wisconsin.


Headstones of Matti and Elizabeth in the cemetery.
Headstones of Matti and Elisabeth Sillampaa at the cemetery in Wisconsin. / Find A Grave

Loss of his Mother and Connection to Elvis


The Finnish ancestry of Austin Butler runs through his matriarchal line, carrying down to Austin's mother, Lori Anne Howell. She passed away from cancer on 11 September 2014 in California. Austin was 23 when he lost his mom, the same age as Elvis when he lost his mother. When Austin played out the haunting scene in the biopic, he understood exactly what Elvis had gone through, having lost his own beloved mother at the same age.


Austin Butler with his mother - Hollywood Ancestry by Mike Batie
Austin Butler and Elvis both lost their mothers when they were 23 years old. Left: Austin with his mother. Right: Austin portraying Elvis with his mother, Gladys. / Warner Bros

One report says that after waking from a dream about his mom, Austin recorded an audition tape that night of himself singing one of Elvis' hits. For the audition, Austin sang the song to his mom. And of course, we know now that he eventually went on to win the role of Elvis.

There is no doubt that Austin made his mother up above absolutely proud of his stellar performance in Elvis.


Elvis' daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, took to Twitter to say the following about the movie and Austin's performance: "I've seen Baz Luhrmann's movie 'Elvis' twice now. Let me tell you that it is nothing short of spectacular. Absolutely exquisite. Austin Butler channeled and embodied my father’s heart & soul beautifully."


Austin Butler at the Sundance Film Festival in 2016.
Big thanks to Austin Butler for taking the time to say hi to me and my mother and snap photos with us at the Sundance Film Festival in 2016. / Mike Batie

Up Next for Austin Butler


Austin Butler has been cast to play Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen, the villain in Dune Part Two, and he is playing the lead role in the World War II drama Masters of the Air, produced by Steven Spielberg and set to stream on Apple TV+.


 

About


Storytelling binds generations. Films and family history are both powerful forms of storytelling that do just that. Family history research has been a passion of mine since I was a teenager. Having researched my own family tree extensively, I enjoy looking into the family trees of my favorite actors and entertainers. To see their roots and where they come from is always inspiring. I’m often left in awe of the experiences of their ancestors and how they connect to the present day. I hope to inspire others to research their own family trees and find out where they come from by sharing interesting insights from the family trees of notable figures.


—Mike Batie


Questions? Comments? Shoot me a message on the contact form on my About page.


Mike Batie - Author of Hollywood Ancestry
Mike Batie

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