Finding a Swedish Place of Origin in U.S. Records
Back to Sweden Portal Page►
There are numerous types of records created in the United States that provide clues and information about where people came from in Sweden. In some cases, birth information was required that included not only the date of birth but also the place. Many civic, social and religious organizations for those of Swedish origin or descent maintained records that include the place of origin of their members.
Records were kept as people arrived in the United States. These may include the town or place of origin and other information. Most Swedish immigrants to the United States arrived through the ports of New York and Quebec.
Two books detail many of the early (pre-1850) arrivals from Sweden and include not only the passenger lists, but include additional biographical information on many of the passengers:
- Nils William Olsson, Swedish Passenger Arrivals in U.S. Ports 1820—1850 (Except New York), Saint Paul, Minnesota: The North Central Publishing Company, 1979
- Nils William Olsson, Swedish Passenger Arrivals in New York, 1820—1850, Chicago, Illinois: The Swedish Pioneer Historical Society, 1967.
The majority of Swedish immigrants entered the United States through the port of New York. In 1855 a facility located at the Battery on the tip of Manhattan Island known as Castle Garden was leased to the New York State Commissioners of Emigration and became the processing station for new immigrants. New arrivals were processed in this facility until 1890. Today www.CastleGarden.org is a valuable resource for family history researchers. Currently the site hosts 12 million records, and work is ongoing to complete digitization of the original ship manifests.
Ellis Island. Of the 16 million immigrants who arrived in the U.S. from 1892 to 1954, 12 million of them passed through the federal immigration station located on the island. Records related to these individuals may be accessed at www.ellisisland.org.
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 learn 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.
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 family 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.
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 Commissioner 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.
Evangelical Lutheran Church of America People born in Sweden were Lutheran by birth beginning at the time of the Protestant Reformation in the early 16th century. Newly arrived emigrants from Sweden often attended Swedish-speaking Lutheran congregations in their new home areas. If none of the above sources provide the information you are seeking concerning the place of origin of your ancestor, 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 church books in Sweden.
If your Swedish ancestor emigrated before confirmation age, about age 11-18, they may have been confirmed in a Lutheran church in this country (LINK to SAKA – Swedish/American Church Archives). Before they could be confirmed, there had to be proof of an infant baptism or christening, also part of the Lutheran belief system (Catechism). The U.S. Lutheran church confirmation record may list that infant christening date and place 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:
Archives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
321 Bonnie Lane
Elk Grove Village, IL 60007
Phone: (847) 690-9410
Website: Regional Archives
Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center
639 38th STREET
Rock Island, IL 61201-2296