Scandinavia: Census Records
Because of the patronymic naming system, it is generally not feasible to do an area search of Scandinavian census records, as might be done in U.S. research. You will find a whole lot of Lars Larsens who might fit the parameters to be your ancestor. However, it should also be said that if the ancestor had a very unusual patronymic or set surname, an area type of search could be successful if no other clues exist about where the person could be, but you just feel that they are in the area. Normally, though, you first have to know the parish people are living in at that census time period in order to find them.
Denmark, Iceland, and Norway
In Denmark, Iceland, and Norway, national or federal censuses were the major ones kept. Like U.S. censuses, these were taken at designated time periods. Though they were national in scope, the censuses were all created and taken at the parish level. Each county in these respective countries was jurisdictionally divided into a civil unit called a Herred (in Denmark and Norway) or Hreppa (in Iceland). The Herred contained two or more units known as the "clerical districts." A clerical district contained two or more parishes served by the same minister.
You should find your ancestor in the census of the parish he or she was living in, listed under the address where he or she was living at the time the census was taken, whether it was a national census or a special census taken only in that county or parish area. Though most censuses were considered "civil" records, the minister, being one of the few men in the parish who was educated, was normally also the census taker.
In Iceland, in addition to the national censuses, a yearly census was also kept which was called a seeljeregister (soul register). This type of census record was also taken in Norway for the year 1758, but only the records of one county — Rogaland — survived. Both these censuses are based on the parish level.
Sweden and Finland
In Sweden and Finland, the major records which we would consider to be census-type records are connected to the teachings of the Lutheran church. These Swedish and Finnish census records were created in each individual parish, as follows: Once each year, those Swedes and Finns who had already been confirmed were questioned and tested on their knowledge of Luther's catechism and their practice of the religion. This examination included everyone, whether they were age fifteen or ninety-five.
The minister would generally designate a well-to-do farmer's house in the area as the place to come for the examination, so not everyone would have to make the sometimes long journey to the church. On the appointed day, they all gathered and had a personal interview with the minister. He asked them questions about Luther's Catechism and had them explain their understanding of and adherence to those principles. He also asked them about their prayers, if they occurred morning and evening and at meals. He asked them if they were following the Ten Commandments and other such questions. He also had them demonstrate their ability to read or not in the catechismal book or the Bible.
The results of this examination were then recorded at the parish level, in the Husförhörslängder (clerical survey or church census books) as they are called in Sweden. In Finland, this record is called Rippikirjat or Lastenkirjat (pre-confirmation book). Each of these books could cover anywhere from a two- to twenty-year time period, depending upon the size of the parish. Normally, the book would cover the examination results of a five-year span.
Each person was listed in the book under the name of the place where he or she lived at that time, in the household he or she belonged to. The first time the list was made, the owner, leaser, or head of the household residing at that place would normally be listed first, then the subsequent members of the household from the wife and children on down to the mother and father or mother-in-law, and even brothers and sisters who might be living there at that time. After that, the family members that were not related to the head of the household but who may have been working as farm hands or farm girls were listed. An unmarried farm hand or Dr. (Dräng) would also be listed later on the page after the family members.
If a family member moved out and then back in again within the time period the book covered, he or she may in turn be listed down toward the bottom of the page, after the farm girls and farm hands. Since the young people generally moved with the seasons, there could be a lot of things written in and crossed out, and the minister wrote where he had room. Take time to look at the pattern of the record to make sure you are interpreting it correctly.