Scandinavia: Church Records
The state church was the first official vital record-keeping body. Your ancestors were belonged to small villages, towns, and farms, and had been practicing Christianity as they understood it for thousands of years before written records began. When rulers of the various countries ordered life event records to be kept of everyone, those same locality boundaries were used and referred to in the records.
Since Catholicism had been the only Christian religion practiced in Scandinavia prior to the Reformation in 1535, not a whole lot changed when the countries became Lutheran. The priests were now called ministers and they could marry. In fact, the Catholic priest who was serving in a parish just before the Reformation often became the first Lutheran minister of that same parish. The basic tenets and practices of the new Lutheran religion remained very similar to those practiced in the "old" Catholic religion.
"King Christian's law of 1686/7," became applicable to all the Scandinavian countries. This law ordered all ministers in all parishes in every Scandinavian country to record the life events of everyone who lived within their parish boundaries, no matter what their class status. Some ministers had already begun doing this on their own long before the law was given — others still did not start until some years after the law was ordained.
By law, you had to be baptized (christened)]] as an infant, married by the rites of the church, and buried in sacred or blessed ground. With time, the dates of other life events were added:
- Engagement or banns
- Vaccination for smallpox (kopper)
- Moving in and out
- Daily register
- Account books
- Communion lists
- Catechism lists
All these events were recorded as they occurred chronologically in the Lutheran church books or parish registers. These books then are the official vital records of the record-keeping jurisdiction they represent.
In Scandinavia, that record-keeping jurisdiction is called a "parish." Minimally, the christening, marriage, and burial should be recorded in those church books (parish registers). Your ancestor's vital records are totally locale- and jurisdictionally-oriented.
Because of the time period in which the records begin, once you have the name of the place of origin of your Scandinavian ancestors, you could theoretically trace your families back to the late to middle 1600s; sometimes beyond, depending upon what other types of records exist.
All Scandinavians were Lutheran by law from the time of the Reformation in 1535 until about 1850. At that time, religious freedom was allowed, though a Scandinavian who was now a Baptist, Quaker, Methodist, "Mormon," Seventh-day Adventist, and so forth, was still supposed to report births and deaths to the local Lutheran minister and the records he kept were still the official vital records of the respective Scandinavian country. Civil or governmental registration of the births, marriages, and deaths of your Scandinavian ancestors did not begin countrywide until well into the 1900s.
The "little place"
The other factor you need to remember when dealing with Scandinavian records is your Scandinavian ancestor was also born and died at a "little place," an address, so to say, within a parish jurisdiction.
Until the early 1900s, the majority of births took place at home. Midwives were the backbone of the birthing system. If you lived in a city, you may have had the option of going to a hospital in the mid-1800s. However, whatever the name of that little place (address) is where your Scandinavian ancestor resided when his or her life events occurred. It should always be recorded in your notes, along with the name of the parish, and the record-keeping jurisdictional level.
This practice is crucial to success in researching your Scandinavian ancestors because of their use of patronymic names. The names of these little places, or the actual street address if it is recorded in a city parish register, become identifiers in Scandinavian research.
Recording all place names, addresses, or residence references, beginning with the farm name must become part of your record-keeping system in order to help you properly identify your ancestors.