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Descendants of Swedish ancestors often begin their climb up the family tree with the question, “I know my ancestor came from Sweden…where where do I go from here?” Church records (kyrkoböcker) are the primary source for names, dates, and places of birth, marriage, and death in Scandinavia. Nearly everyone who lived in Sweden was recorded in a church record.
Records of births, marriages, and deaths are commonly called vital records because they document critical events in a person’s life. Church records are vital records made by church ministers. Often called parish registers or church books, church records include information on births, christenings, marriages, deaths, and clerical surveys. They may also include account books, confirmations, and records of people moving in and out of a parish. Since civil authorities did not begin registering their separate vital statistics until 1950, church records are the main source of family information before this date.” Sweden has no nationwide index to vital records. Records of births, marriages and deaths were all kept locally. For most researchers, then, the answer to “Where do I go from here?” is to find the parish in Sweden where the ancestor was born or lived.
Strategies for finding the place (parish) of origin for a Swedish ancestor
1. Search all available family records for clues as to the name of the parish where an ancestor was born or lived in Sweden.
2. Other sources in the U.S. (Link #2) can provide important clues to the home parish of immigrant ancestors.
3. Determine year of emigration (this can be found in U.S. Census returns beginning in 1900). Link to searching US Census (Link #3…US/CAN)
4. Search Swedish emigration (Link #4) databases: “Emigranten Populär 2006” (Link #4a) and “Emibas 2008” (Link #4b). Also consult emigrant passenger lists. (Link 4c)
5. Search Swedish census returns (Link #5) from 1860—1900
6. Search Extracts of Parish Register Indexes (Link #6a), Passport Journals (Link #6b) and Swedish County Emigration Extracts (Link #6c).
7. Utilize the resources of Emigration Archives in Sweden (Link #7)
8. If Swedish immigrants were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), search the Scandinavian Mission Index (microfiche at Family History Library) (Link #8) or Passport to Paradise FHL 973 W3a.
In order to find the parish from where your Swedish ancestor originated, you must know something about your ancestor’s emigration to North America. The 1900, 1910, 1920, and 1930 United States censuses can be very useful in determining the year of the ancestor’s emigration. Once the year of emigration is established, there are several steps that can assist you in your search for the correct Swedish place of origin.
Swedish Emigration Databases
The Emigranten database on CD contains the names of 1.4 million Swedes who emigrated in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries from various Swedish ports. From this database, you can learn the age of the emigrant, possibly the last residence in Sweden, a place of destination, the year of emigration, and with whom the emigrant may have been traveling. Even if you don't have a lot of information, a search of this database might be useful, since different types of searches can be done. For example, if all you know is your ancestor came from the county of Halland about 1873, a search paramater of 1871-1875 and Halland could be set up, and only those entries would show. If your ancestor had a very common name such as Nils Nilsson, but the family story was he had a brother Håkon who emigrated in 1875, search parameters could be set for that.
The Emibas database was produced by the joint efforts of the Svenska Emigrantinstitutet and Sveriges Släktforskarförbund. This database contains information regarding almost 1.1 million emigrants from more than 2300 Swedish parishes, which accounts for three fourths of all the Swedish emigrants. The following information is included: name, title, gender, date and place of birth, marital status, place of residence, destination, and comments. Often the page number where the persons lasts appears in the husförhörslängd is also given. You can search this database in Swedish or English.
Indexes to Passenger Lists
Indexes to Göteborg and Malmö passenger lists exist for the years 1869-1951 for Göteborg and 1874-1939 for Malmö. These indexes are on microfilm at the Family History Library. Also, beginning in 1869 for Göteborg and 1874 for Malmö, the Family History Library has annual lists for each of the above ports through the years 1951 and 1939, respectively. This is a good source to check if you searched the Swedish emigration databases, but did not find your ancestor there.Emigrantlistor 1869-1920 (Stockholm, Sweden)
contains emigrant lists of people who left Sweden from the port of Stockholm City.
Personregister till Norrköpings poliskammares Emigrantlistor 1860 - 1921.
This is an index to emigration records of persons emigrating from Norrköping City to foreign countries, mostly to North America.
Personregister över invandrare från Sverige till New York 1851-1869 is an index of emigrants from Sweden to New York, 1851-1869. The source used was the passenger lists of vessels arriving at New York, ser. 237, of the National Archives, U.S. The orginal index is in Göteborgs Landsarkiv. Be sure to check the listing in the beginning of the letters. For example Jansson, Johansson, Jonsson, Jonasson, Jönsson, are all listed together, but sometimes are listed separately. Note: The date given in these records is the date of arrival in New York and is not the date the ship sailed from Göteborg, Sweden.
Sweden - County Emigration Extracts
If you know the name of the county-province from where your Swedish ancestor came, then it may be worthwhile to check the Swedish county indexes of emigration. These records are on microfilm at the Family History Library and the film numbers can be found on the Family History Library Catalog by doing a locality search for the county, and then by looking under the subject heading of Emigration -Immigration. You will find the following listing for each Swedish county:Sverige. Statistiska Centralbyrån (name of the county, län). Emigrantlistor, 1851-1940.
You select the year you wish to search and the film number is found directly to the right of the year. On the microfilm, each parish in the county will have two sheets of information. The first sheet is a statistics sheet listing the number of males/females emigrating from the parish in that year - with the name of the parish listed at the top of the page. The second and any subsequent pages for that parish shows the names of each person emigrating, their age, sometimes their social status i.e. "dräng" (farm hand), "Piga" (unmarried female, no matter what her age), sometimes the name of the farm or village where the person resides, and each person’s destination. That is generally "North America," but sometimes the name of the U.S. state and/or city/village within that state is given.
If you only know the name of the province, you will need to determine which counties make up that province and then look up the catalog listing for each county. For example, if the ancestor came from Småland province, then you will need to look up each of the counties which make up Småland; the counties of Jönköping, Kalmar, and Kristianstad.
Naturalization applications, not the final certificate, can sometimes be useful in establishing the place of origin for the emigrating ancestor. The naturalization process involved a five to seven year waiting period in order to satisfy the residency requirement for citizenship. Prior to the beginning of the residency waiting period, most immigrants filed the initial application for citizenship or what is sometimes referred to as “first papers, "petition, or "Declaration of Intention...” At the end of the residency waiting period, “final papers” were filed which completed the citizenship application. Naturalization applications can be found in the office of the county clerk in the state where the citizenship process began. An excellent resource to find out which counties were included in which type of naturalization court i.e. federal, district, circuit, is Christina K. Schaefer's work, Guide to Naturalization Records of the United States. FHL 973 P4s
Some county clerks have allowed the microfilming of these records. To determine if that is the case, look on the FHLC under the county locality and under the subject heading of "Naturalization" to find the correct film number. Frequently, these certificates state the naturalizing person gives up allegiance to the King of Sweden and Norway. However, you may be one of the fortunate ones who also learns the name of the Swedish parish from where the ancestor emigrated. In most instances, you will also be able to view your ancestor's name as he/she wrote it. Sometimes, their spelling of their own name may make a difference in the way you search records.
United States death certificates may also list the name of the parish/town in Sweden from the ancestor came. Copies of death certificates can be obtained from the state bureau of vital statistics, which is generally located in the state capital. The fees for these documents often range between $3.00 and $15.00. Most states have an Internet web site stating the fees charged and the address where to write for copies of the death certificate.
Marriage License Applications
If your Swedish ancestor emigrated as a child, another record which could give the place of birth in Sweden is a U.S. marriage license application. In order to marry legally in the U.S., the respective parties first had to apply for and pay for a license. They then took the license to a person authorized to perform the marriage ceremony such as a minister, priest, or justice of the peace. When that person had performed the marriage, he then "returned" the marriage date and other information to the county clerk or the city recorder if it was a large urban area. That marriage license application, and sometimes the return could list the place of birth or residence in the old country.
Look for ALL records associated with the event of marriage. For example, if the information indicates the marriage was performed by a minister, look also for the records of that "church marriage." More information, including place of birth, could be given there than in the actual application. If there was an application, a declaration, an intention, a license, and a return, or any combination of records associated with marriage, look at each one for your ancestor. In one instance the author looked at 4 available records. Three of those records said "Sweden" as the place of birth. The fourth record gave the name of the birth parish.
If your Swedish ancestor was born here, but had older siblings born in Sweden who emigrated before marrying, look for their marriages and all associated records here in the U.S. Depending upon the county and the time period, marriage license applications for ethnic Swedish ancestors born in the U.S. may also ask for the birthplace of the parents, so don't neglect to search those records.
All Swedes were Lutheran by law from the time of the Reformation, and most kept their religious affiliation after emigrating. If your Swedish ancestor emigrated before confirmation age, about age 11-18, they may have been confirmed in a Lutheran church in this country. Before they could be confirmed, there had to be proof of an infant baptism or christening, also part of the Lutheran belief system. The U.S. Lutheran church confirmation record may list that infant christening date and place in Sweden!
Many college/university libraries or county historical societies have microfilmed copies of local newspapers in their collections. Obituaries and their content have evolved through time. If you know the death date and place of an ancestor who died in the United States after 1850, there is the possibility that a notice of death may have appeared in a local newspaper. Perhaps, the obituary contains a place name that may assist you in determining the place of origin for the ancestor. It is worth the time to investigate this possibility.
Expand your search for obituaries to include papers printed in the Scandinavian languages. There may be only a few sentences written about an emigrant in the local English language newspaper, but there could be several paragraphs about them in an ethnic language newspaper. Even if that "foreign language" newspaper is printed in a city or town 200 or more miles away, don't discount the possibility of information about your emigrant ancestor being in it. If a Swede or Norwegian or Finn or Dane wanted others of their ethnic origin to know someone had passed on, they might have sent the information to that far away newspaper, knowing that edition would eventually make it's way around the ethnic communities - though they might be several states away.
One source to use to find the address and name of the editor is Gregory's Media Directory. This is alphabetically arranged by state, then county and city/town. It gives contact information for the editor, as well as the date the paper began.
A name and keyword searchable data bank of more than 3,800 newspaper titles is the GenealogyBank. The address is: http://www.genealogybank.com This is a subscription site, but may include obscure newspapers not found elsewhere.
Some families are fortunate to have in their possession, or know of someone who has in their family, the Bible which belonged to the emigrating ancestor. It was the custom through-out the nineteenth century for families to own a Bible in which personal information such as the name of each family member, the date and place of birth for parents and children, and other pertinent family information was recorded. Family Bibles can provide clues to solving the mystery from where an ancestor may have come.
U.S. County Histories
In the late 1800s and beyond, many histories of U.S. counties were written. Publishing companies from the East sent their agents all over the Midwest to gather information and funds. An agent might have come to your ancestor's door saying, "Give us $25.00 and some biographical information and we'll put you in the history of your county." Thus, your ancestor might be found in the biographical section of a county history. If they did not have the money, they might still be found in the history, however. Read through the township sections of the history where your ancestors lived. A small one line piece of information such as, "Nils Nilsson of XXXXXX Sweden settled here in 1854" could be given. That place name is all that is needed to get your ancestor back across the ocean. It is a good idea to locate and research all histories for each U.S. county where your ancestor lived. Three of four may only say "Sweden" as the birth place, the fourth may list exactly where in Sweden the familiy came from. If your ancestor is not listed, remember to search for his/her children, as well as under their spouses' family name. County histories may be found at the Family History Library, the local public library, state archives, university libraries, and perhaps even the Library of Congress. Many are being digitized in cooperative projects involving FamilySearch.org and other major libraries. Ask your local public librarian to help you find union lists or catalogs which may also show where applicable county histories could be found.
Evangelical Lutheran Church of America
If none of the above sources provide the information you are seeking concerning the place of origin of your ancestor, then you may wish to contact the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Many of the American Lutheran Church congregational registers have been microfilmed and are available for searching. These registers contain records of baptism/christening, confirmation, matrimony, death, and perhaps most importantly, the membership rolls.
It was the custom for an emigrant to bring with them a certificate of membership from their local Swedish congregation, which they were supposed to give to the minister of their new U.S. congregation. He would then record in his parish book the fact that "Peder Nilsson and family from XXXXXXX, Sweden," joined our congregation. Early Lutheran church record books in America were actually printed in the Swedish language, and could have had pre-printed columns and pages in them similar to those found in churchbooks in Sweden.
You can learn more about the genealogical holdings of the ELCA and the procedure for determining which American Lutheran Church your ancestor may have affiliated with by going to their Internet web site at: www.ELCA.org/archives The complete collection of Swedish American Lutheran Church Records is housed at the Swenson Center at Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois. The Swenson Center’s Internet web site can be found at: http://www.augustana.edu/swenson/
For those wanting to write to either of the above organizations, the postal address for each:
Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center
639 38TH STREET
Rock Island, IL 61201-2296
Letters, Photographs, and "Loose Papers"
You may have in your possession letters which were written or received by your emigrating Swedish ancestor. Within these letters may be clues as to the ancestor’s place of origin. If you are unsure of the letter’s content, you may wish to contact the Scandinavian Reference desk at the Family History Library for assistance in determining possible Swedish locations. Please be aware that the Family History Library’s Scandinavian consultants are not permitted to translate word for word the contents of a letter. They may skim through the letter looking for place names and other pieces of genealogical information.
Photographs taken of family members in Sweden may have on the front or back of the picture the name of the photographer who took the photograph and the address of the studio, including the name of the city where the studio was located. This may be a clue as to where the ancestor resided prior to emigration. If there is handwriting on the back of the photo and it is in Swedish, you may wish to contact the Scandinavian desk at the Family History Library for assistance. Please remember that lengthy translations are not available.
Besides their "permission to emigrate" papers, your ancestor might have brought with them their smallpox vaccination (kopper) certificate. In many countries, you could not marry until you had proved you had had smallpox naturally, or that you had been vaccinated for it. This paper would give the name of the person vaccinated, date, their age and/or birth date, by whom vaccinated, where vaccinated, perhaps parent's names, perhaps the name of the birth parish. Minimally, it will narrow down the search to a certain area of the country.
If you find any papers in family posession which are written in a foreign language and/or "funny handwriting" GET THOSE PAPERS translated immediately! They may contain the clue to finding where in Sweden your ancestor lived before immigrating. Remember, these papers might be hanging behind the pictures on the wall, in the attic or basement trunk, be in the lining of that trunk, or otherwise. Because they were "important papers", your immigrant ancestor might even have given them to the local minister to keep in the "parish chest."
Sometimes, those old papers, and the oldest church books for the local parish might have been put in a bank vault for safekeeping. Only the older church board members may be aware of this, so you may have to do some sleuthing to find those records.
Ethnic Club and Other Organizational Records
If an obituary or family lore or anything else indicates your Swedish ancestor might have belonged to any type of ethnic organization, look for those membership application records. Such organizations as Odd Fellows, Rotarians, Woodmen of the World, Lions Club and so forth may have asked for information which could give place of birth.
Swedes who came from the same geographic areas in the old country may have formed an organization to keep alive and work with the traditions, language and dress of that province or valley. Such groups may have put together membership lists and/or written books containing/commemorating the names and origins of those who first emigrated from that area.
Many emigrants purchased life insurance policies from organizations/companies founded by their fellow countrymen. Most such purchases would have required a form to be filled out, which would most likely ask for personal information, That information could include birth date, birth place, age, parent's names, and so forth. Many such smaller companies may have been merged into or grown much larger now, so it may take some "detective work" to get to the original records. However, if you have not found any other clues in any other source, it may be worth it. The office of the Insurance Commissionor for your state may be able to help you track down the founding of a particular company - particularly if you have papers in hand which give a name or other information.
If your Swedish ancestor served in the U.S. or another country's military, records created for that event may list place of origin, or other clues which would eventually get you there. Look for service records, and particularly pension applications for both the person who served, and the widow or minor children. To find the repositories for these records, look under the subject heading of United States - Military Records in the Family History Library Catalog, and in the wiki, where actual links may be given.
For those with Latter-day Saint Swedish ancestry, you may wish to be aware of an index at the Family History Library on microfiche cards. The Scandinavian Mission Index is found on the series of fiche numbered FHL Intl# 6060482, microfiches' 1-344. If your Swedish ancestor joined the LDS Church in Sweden and later emigrated to America (Utah) in the second half of the nineteenth century, there is likely a listing for him/her in this index. Persons are first listed alphabetically by surname and then arranged chronologically by birth year, or the year of an event such as baptism, or emigration. For females, you may wish to look under both the masculine and feminine spellings of the surname "Andersson/Andersdotter). An ancestor using a surname with multiple spellings may be listed under any one of those possible spellings. For example, "Johansson" may be listed under a variety of spellings such as: Johnsson, Jansson, Jönsson, etc. You may want to look under each variant spelling to find the person you desire. On these fiche cards you will likely find for you ancestor, a birth date and place, the date of emigration, a reference to the Swedish LDS branch the ancestor belonged to and the FHL call number to the microfilm of that branch’s membership records. These Swedish membership records are found in the microfiche collection on the B1 International floor of the Family History Library.
A listing which gives the first and last name found on each fiche is in Volumes I & II of "Passport to Paradise..." a series listing some of the Scandinavian Latter-day Saints who emigrated from the port of Copenhagen Denmark between 1872 and 1894. (FHL 973 W3A)
Nils William Olsson wrote a highly useful booklet entitled: Tracing Your Swedish Ancestry. This 40 page booklet can be ordered from the Consulate General in New York.