Beginning Swedish Genealogy
by The Swedish Genealogy Club of the American Swedish Historical Museum
This guide is in four parts. The first part gives many basic suggestions on how to do genealogy. The next part describes Swedish church records. Swedes are triply fortunate as the Swedish church records have lots of family information, are relatively easy to use and are available by microfilm in the United States. The third part explains many United States genealogy records which can be helpful in completing the family link from present to Sweden. The final part lists some helpful resources: books, organizations, and the computer including the Internet.
1. BASIC GENEALOGY INFORMATION AND SUGGESTIONS
Start your research by documenting stories and memories of older family members and friends. Most church and civil records will always be there, but personal memories and family records will pass with time unless saved.
Family Stories When conducting an oral interview: make the interviewee comfortable, don’t correct them, and let them take a conversation in a direction they want. If you touch on a sensitive issue, don’t pry. Ask specific questions, such as where is so and so buried. Ask broad questions, such as what was it like going to school, or to church. Avoid asking, “tell me all you know about our family history” as it can be overwhelming and hard for them to know where to start. Remember tape recorders and VCRs may be threating, particularly on a first interview. Limit interviews to about 60 minutes. Document the stories, noting who said what and when. Swedish church records are stored at or under the name of the parish. If you don’t know the name of the parish or town your ancestors are from, be sure to ask your relatives.
Save Family Records: the family bible with notes about births, marriages and deaths; certificates of birth, baptism, marriage and death; immigration and naturalization papers; newspaper clippings; photo albums; movies; old letters from/to Sweden; family tree; etc. Preserving Important Records Store the records in closets. Safety deposit boxes or home vaults are even better. Don’t store in basements or attics, as heat, moisture and bugs/rodents are destroyers of records. The acid in some papers and tapes is also a destroyer. So, use acid free tapes, use acid free paper to separate records. Avoid paper clips (rust) and most plastics on photos.
Document your research so you and others can later follow what was done. Keep a research log and a correspondence log. Use family group sheets. These are common genealogy forms for recording the birth, marriage and death of parents and their children. When making copies of certificates, photos, newspapers, and books, note the source on the back of copies.
Family Surname-Patronymics Until about 1900 most Swedes did not have a surname. They used a patronymic system where Johan’s children Andre and Birgitta would be called Andre Johansson and Birgitta Johansdotter.
Join genealogy/history clubs in localities where your ancestors lived. This can be a great way to pickup more information about your ancestors and the times they lived in.
Computers are very helpful in genealogical work. See Part 4.
Facts Some information is inaccurate, including family stories, census and church records. Family stories are good for clues-but the facts should be checked since errors can enter over time and in passing from one generation to another. Collect all information and evaluate it later. The family name may have been spelled differently in the past. Careful, the same surname is not necessarily an ancestor. Prove the connection.
Plans & Goals Although not necessary, it is helpful to have a goal and a plan when doing genealogy research. The goal can be to document family history for yourself or for others by writing a family history or a family tree. Census records, deeds, church records contain different information about our ancestors. Therefore, research is planned based on what we know about our family (ancestors names and the dates and locations of events), what we want to know and the knowledge of what type of information would be in what records. Are we more interested in one family branch than another branch? Do we want to put together a family tree of names and dates for birth, marriage and death? Or are we interested in writing a family history. Start from what we know and work towards the unknown, usually working from most recent to oldest.
2. SWEDISH RECORDS and ACCESSING THEM IN THE UNITED STATES
The major Swedish genealogical records are the Church of Sweden’s records of birth, marriage, death and particularly the Clerical Survey Record. It is also called Household Examination Roll (Husförhörslängd). The Survey is the best single source for family history because it is arranged by household (family), typically giving everyone’s name, residence, birthdate, birthplace, marriage date, their title (occupation, royal or widow(er)), where they moved to/from within the parish and outside the parish. To “Nord Amerika” with the date is common entry. The titles include: wife (hustru in Swedish), widow (enka or änka), widower (enkeman or änkling), children (barn), spinster or maidservant (piga), bachelor or manservant (dräng) and the type of farmer (bonde or åbo) may be an owner (eger or ägare), tenant farmer (arrendator or arrend.) or another type. Once an ancestor is found, they usually can be traced throughout their life and their parents and children can be identified because in the surveys people are grouped in families and their movements within and without the parish are noted. The Survey is easy to read, even if one doesn’t know Swedish, because they are arranged in table form.
It is not necessary to go to Sweden to search for family records. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also called LDS or Mormons) will share their extensive books, pamphlets, microfilms and microfiche of genealogy records. These are available at the main LDS library in Salt Lake City. There are over 1500 Family History Centers (FHC) at local LDS churches where one can view microfilms (80,000 Swedish rolls) and microfiches (2000 Swedish) loaned from the Salt Lake library. Each FHC has a catalog of the Salt Lake Library. Because of privacy, the latest microfilmed church records available thru the LDS are about the 1890’s. The clerical surveys vary by parish and begin anywhere from 1686 to 1830. The birth (födde), marriage (vigsel) and death (död) records begin around 1686. The FHC also have an International Genealogical Index (IGI) with 600 million births, christenings and marriages which are easily searched using the computer or microfiche. The IGI listings are by surname and locality. About 4.5 million of these events are for people who lived in Sweden.
The key is knowing which of the 2500 parishes your ancestors are from. For some people finding out the town or parish is a big hurdle. Hopefully this is family knowledge. Check with family members. Unfortunately, most immigration records show country and not parish. Emigration records are more helpful. Most Swedes left from the port of Gothenberg (Göteborg). Passenger lists exist and are indexed by year and by surname. Remember when using Swedish indexes, the letters å, ä, ö follow z. In LDS records the letter a is used in place of å and ä and the letter o is used in place of ö. The handwriting in older records is more of a problem than not knowing the language. There are many lists translating key words and phases. However court records do require a knowledge of the language. There are guides to older handwriting, which is somewhat gothic. There are maps with a scale of 50,000 to 1 (approx. 1”=1 mile) which show buildings, churches, place names of farms and villages.
3. UNITED STATES RECORDS
Federal Census is taken every 10 years and kept private for 72 years, so the 1920 census is the latest available. The 1790-1840 censuses named only head of household, listed the number of people by categories. 1850-70 gave all names & ages. 1880 ditto 1870 plus birthplace of person & parent, partially indexed. 1890 destroyed by fire. 1900-20 ditto 1880 plus years of immigration & naturalization, indexed. These are available in Archives in Wash. DC, in regional archives in Boston, Bayonne, Philadelphia + 8 other cities and from LDS. Also some state censuses are available from state and local libraries and LDS. They are mainly in 1800’s, often the 5 years between Federal census (1845, 1855, etc.).
Vital Records (birth, marriage, death) May list parents, etc.; many not in early 1800’s, $5-10/copy; by state or county.
Deeds-owned property, easy to check (indexed by year and alphabetical), county, book for buyer & book for seller.
Probate Records often name family members, their relationship, location & marriages; a personal property list is descriptive.
Immigration-Naturalization records (location is tricky) mainly show country not parish; ship passenger lists at Archives.
Church-A lot of genealogy information is in church records. The type and location of the records varies. See Swenson below.
Country Histories & City Directories in most local libraries. Ditto periodicals published by genealogy & history societies.
Social Security Death Index The list of 65 million people, deathdate & residence, is available on CD and on the Internet.
Indexes are very helpful in doing genealogy research. For example, to see if an ancestor is mentioned in a county history book first check the index. Soundex is the index system used in federal censuses.
· Many public libraries have a genealogy section with books on how to do genealogy, local history and genealogy data.
· LDS Research Guides for Sweden, for each of the 50 states in the US and for Canada, British Isles, Norway, and Denmark.
· Tracing Your Swedish Ancestry by Nils William Olsson (available at ASHM gift shop)
· Cradled in Sweden, Carl-Erik Johansson, 1995 rev. edition, Everton Publishing (complete guide to LDS Swedish records)
Computers There are many good programs for genealogy record keeping. Internet websites can be helpful in doing genealogy as they have: 1) genealogy guides for region/ethnic/topic, 2) regional and migration histories, 3) names being researched, 4) answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), 5) a query system for posting questions, and 6) links to related websites. A common disappointment is the lack of online databases of vital records, church records, census, migration records, etc. The top award winning genealogy web site is: http://www.cyndislist.com It has no information itself but has links to over 78,000 websites which are cleverly arranged into 120 categories of genealogy topics and geographical regions. The Scandinavian/Nordic category has links to over 134 Swedish websites and many other Scandinavian websites.
Another category on Cyndi’s List is Surnames with links to surname databases and specific surname name websites. The latter are arranged alphabetically and are devoted to a specific family or surname. The largest surname database is the RootsWeb Surname List. It is searchable list or registry of over 900,000 surnames submitted by over 75,000 genealogists. Associated with each surname are dates and locations, and information about how to contact the person who submitted the surname.
Another category on Cyndi’s List are the USGenWeb and the World GenWeb projects. USGenWeb project has a website, run by a volunteer(s), for every state and every county. Each website has lists (with links) of local resources (libraries, societies, court houses, people), information about the area including history, a surname list, a query system and sometimes databases of cemeteries, etc. The World GenWeb similarly divides the world into regions, countries, and provinces/counties.
Internet Newsgroups and Mailing Lists have members with a common interest, like genealogy. Their email questions and email replies are shared with all in the group or on the list. Newsgroups have their emails posted to a common bulletin board. Two groups for Swedish genealogists are “soc.genealogy.nordic” and “soc.culture.nordic.” Subscribers to a mailing list receive all the email questions and replies. Rootsweb has a Swedish Genealogy mailing list that has about 500 monthly postings. Contact Rootsweb for details on subscribing, searching an archive of emails or how to get a single daily email “digest” of the day’s emails.
Swedish Genealogy Club of American Swedish Historical Museum, 1900 Pattison Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19145, (215)389-1776.
Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center, 639 38th St., Augustana College, Rock Island, IL 61201 (309)794-7204.
They publish a quarterly, American Swedish Genealogist, have an indexed Göteborg passenger list, and 2000 microfilm reels with records of 1800 Lutheran and Covenant congregations founded by Swedish immigrants (not available through LDS libraries).
National Genealogy Society (NGS) 4527 17th Street North, Arlington, VA 22207-2399 (703)525-0052.