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Sweden Probate Records
In Sweden, the Act of 1734 made it mandatory to conduct an inventory of the estate of the deceased. This legal proceeding is called in Swedish “bouppteckning”. Some inventories were taken prior to 1734, especially in cities. The practice has continued into modern Sweden.
Soon after a death, the heirs assembled at the home of the deceased along with the court-appointed appraisers called “värderingsmän” who were experienced in the required procedures and legalities. All real-estate, household items, as well as personal property of the deceased were recorded and assigned a monetary value so that they could be properly divided between the heirs. The inventory was to be performed within a year of death but it was not uncommon that it would drag out for a year or two. However, most were within 3 months. (In modern Sweden the inventory by law must be performed within three months). At the conclusion of the inventory, the appraisers turned the probate (inventory) over to the court for probate, which took place at the next court session. The dividing of the property was handled in court and a separate document was made for the distribution of the estate. Occcasionally the distribution was added to the end of the inventory, but this was not usually the case.
All probating (distribution of the estate) was done by the district court (häradsrätt) for rural parishes or by the city court (rådhusrätt) for those living in a city. In 1971, the tingsrätt became the district court all over Sweden, replacing the previous distinction between rådhusrätt in larger cities and häradsrätt for other parts of the country. Nobility had the privilege of having their probate processed by the court of appeals (hovrätten) between the years 1737 and 1916.
Between two and four court sessions were held each year. Each session took its name from the season of the year in which the court was held:
- Vintertinget – winter court (December, January, & February)
- Vårtinget – spring court (March, April, & May)
- Sommartinget – summer court (June, July, & August)
- Hösttinget – autumn court (September, October, & November)
Although a probate was obligated by law with death, often it was made only for the wife or husband which ever died first. Many bouppteckningar are missing partly because they have been lost due to poor storage or the destruction of the records. It has been figured that only 25% had an estate inventory made. In any event it is still worthwhile to check to see if a probate exists.
The probate is usually made up of two main parts, the preamble and the list of inventory. To that may be added a closing statement with the signatures of the heirs (those who were "of age") or just their initials.
Some important insights to remember about probates:
- Male heirs became of age at age 21 years
- Females never became of age unless they were widowed. To learn more about becoming of age click here.
- Make it a practice to scan the debts/assets sections of the probate. As it is true today, so it was then, money was often loaned/borrowed by relatives
- Half of the value of the estate went to the surviving spouse
- Male heirs received a double portion to the inheritance female heirs received in rural parishes. In cities males and females received equal portions.
- At the end of the probate document, the following persons normally signed: (a signature infers agreement with the inventory) surviving spouse, sons, sons-in-law, appraisers, guardians. Note: Not all of the population of the 1700s and early 1800s could write. Therefore, one of the appraisers may have guided the heir’s hand while he held the pen. Often signatures were simply initials. For example, Jöns Andersson might write his name as J (öns) A (nders) S (on)
Finding a Probate
In order to find a Swedish probate record, you must know the name of the court district (härad) to which the parish belonged at the time of the ancestor’s death..
To find a probate record, go to the Family History Library Catalog (www.familysearch.org) and do a “place” search. In the space for the name of the place, type in the name of the härad, including the Swedish word “härad” after the name of the court district. For example, Vintrosa parish is located in Örebro härad. If you want to find probate records for Vintrosa parish, you would do a place search for Örebro härad, and then look for the subject heading of “Probate Records”.
Once you have found the catalog entry for your particular härad, note whether or not you see the word “register” in the body of the catalog citation. "Register" is Swedish for index and so indicates an index to the persons whose probates are found in this härad. By the person’s name, you should find a volume number and a page number indicating where the probate can be found. Check the catalog entry again; determine if the year of the person’s death corresponds with the probate year indicated by the volume number in the register. Then it merely is a matter of turning to the correct page number to find the desired probate.
The preamble usually contains most of the genealogical information. We may find all or part, or sadly to say, sometimes none of the following information:
1- date of inventory
2- by whom performed
3- name of the deceased
4- death date of the deceased (usually follows a few lines below the date of the inventory)
5- residence of the deceased at death
6- names of the heirs
7- their age
8- their residence
9- their relationship to the deceased
10- names of married daughters’ husbands
11- date of probate (or name of ting – vartinget, etc.)
12-name of guardian of underage children or heirs
13- residence of guardian(s)
14- relationship of guardian to his charges
The list of property is usually divided into subtitles as gold (guld), silver, pewter (tenn), cattle (kreatur), horses (hästar), books (böcker), clothing (klädespersedlar or kläder), linen (linnetyg), debt (skulder), assests (tillgångar), etc. To learn more about the historical monetary system see: Swedish Money, Weights, and Measures article.
Availability of Probates
- The original probate records are kept in the Provincial archives in Sweden.
- The earliest probate records can be found among the actual Domböcker.
- The probate record books from their beginning (based on when a court started to create a separate book for probates) to about 1860 are available at the Family History Library and its centers on microfilm. The probate records are listed in the Family History Library Catalog under SWEDEN, name of COUNTY, name of DISTRICT (Härad), PROBATE RECORDS. The probate records for individuals who lived in a city would be found in the FHL catalog by going to SWEDEN, name of COUNTY, name of CITY, PROBATE RECORDS.
- Arkiv Digital (http://www.arkivdigital.se/ ) offers a digitized view of probate records on their subscription website. Not all are available at present but soon will be.
- Never assume that a child died in infancy just because a younger child is christened with the same name. If you cannot find a death date for the older child, do not assume that the child died in infancy.
- It pays to study the list of debts and assets of the estate (boets skulder och tillgångar) very carefully. It was common then as now to lend or borrow from relatives, and they may be mentioned by name and relationship.
- Indexes are available for many districts. These are noted in the FHL catalog by “register”.
- Many probate indexes that are found in the Regional Archives (but never microfilmed) can be found online through ArkivDigital.
- Districts (Härad) with probate indexes are listed with FHL Film Call numbers in the book by Carl-Erik Johansson, “Cradled in Sweden”, Chapter 18.
- Halland County: A person and place index for wills for Halland county has been created and is available on a CD-ROM. It contains only a sampling for the cities of Halland county but also includes some wills from Älvsborg and Jönköping Counties. It is available to purchase through Hallands Genealogiska Förening on line at http://hgf.e-butik.se/ . It may be viewed at the Family History Library as CD-ROM no. 1069.
- Östergötland County: Mari-Anne Olsson of Rönninge, Sweden has made indexes for the districts in Östergötland county. She also includes abbreviated preambles to the probate records of Östergötland. Her work has been microfilmed and is available at the Family History Library and its Centers. It is found in the FHL Catalog under name of Härad, Probate records – Indexes.
Blekinge County. (C.D.) Probate Preambles of Östra härad 1737-1840 (C.D.)
Other Records Relating to Probates
Clemensson, Per and Andersson, Kjell. Släktforska steg för steg. Falköping, Natur och Kultur/Fakta, 2005
Johansson, Carl-Erik. Cradled in Sweden. Everton Publishers, Inc. Logan, Ut. 1995.
Svenska Akademiens ordbok - SAOB spalt: M1708; tryckår 1945. See http://g3.spraakdata.gu.se/saob/show.phtml?filenr=1/160/58.html