Sweden: Solving Common Problems in Swedish Genealogical Research
- 1 Incorrect Birth Information
- 2 Adopted and Foster Children
- 3 Names and Naming Practices in Sweden
- 4 Children Born Out of Wedlock
- 5 Reference
Incorrect Birth Information
A common problem arises when birth information (date and/or place) found in a household examination (husförhörslängd - hfl) cannot be verified by a corresponding birth record. How could the hfl entry be incorrect? Those who produced these records often copied household information from the old book to a new one. “If one imagines how this occurred during those earlier times, it’s easy to understand. The priest or clerk, with perhaps less than perfect eyesight, may have sat in the evening in a poorly lit space with the task of transferring all the information from the old book. A book already filled with names stricken out and perhaps not especially well written to begin with. Is it to wonder then that a ‘4’ could have been read as a ‘7’ or ‘3’?” These errors would then be perpetuated as they were copied to subsequent books.
Search Strategy (incorrect date)
1. Follow the individual back in time. Search each of the previous household examinations to confirm that birth information is the same. A basic rule is that information closest to the actual event is the most correct.
2. Follow the individual forward in time to see if the information changes in subsequent renderings.
3. Search the death records. According to regulations beginning in 1686, the age of the deceased was to be included in the death record. Be aware that in the earliest records, these ages may have been somewhat exaggerated as being of a ripe old age was highly valued. In later records, the age at decease is given to the day. When the age is given so precisely the researcher may have greater confidence in its accuracy.
4. If none of the above produces results, the researcher should review all births for the year indicated looking for a child with the appropriate first name and patronymic. This is always done when only a birth year is given.
5. Finally, one may have to search years prior to and after that given in the household examination, in which case a list of several possible candidates may result. In this case, each candidate should be followed forward to adulthood in the household examinations to hopefully find a match.
Search Strategy (incorrect birth parish)
1. Find out the name of the clerical district (pastorat) to which the designated parish belongs. Sometimes a child may have been born in a chapelry or annexförsamling and the birth record kept in the mother parish. If the parish named in the household examination is the mother parish, one should search the records of other parishes within that clerical district.
2. Occasionally, parents would have their children christened in a parish other than where they lived. This may be the home parish of the father or the mother or where their parents were living at the time of the birth. This, of course, requires knowing the identity of these parishes.
Search Strategy (when all else fails!)
1. Birth and christening information was often written first on loose pieces of paper and re-copied into the parish birth and christening records at a later time. It is therefore possible that an event could have been omitted from the regular records. Check to see if any birth certificates (dopattester) are available from that time and place (these are found in series H III in the church record archives, bilagor till födelseboken (supplement to birth records). Here you may also find baptismal certificates in other parishes.
2. Search marriage records for the person being researched. Occasionally these marriage records include parents’ names and residence. If nothing else a notation of the home parish of those being married may help narrow the search. Places listed may indicate where they work or in some cases where they were born.
If looking information on the bride, information on the person that may be listed as her “giftoman”, that is, her closest male relative, provide leads to where she came from.
3. A simple way to bypass the problem of there being no birth record is to identify as many siblings as possible, preferably those born both before and after the person being researched. An obvious gap in the birth order of these siblings may help substantiate where and approximately when the person was born.
Adopted and Foster Children
When a child has been given up for adoption or placement in a foster home, one should always search to see if there is a barnhus (children’s home or orphanage) in the area. If so, it is nearly certain that the child was placed by way of the orphanage. Barnhusets arkiv (Orphanage archives) are in many cases preserved and can be searched. In Stockholm, for example, there is the Allmänna Barnhusets arkiv (General Children’s Home Archive) records before 1897 at the Stockholm City Archives (Stockholms stadsarkiv). Records after 1897 remain at the Children’s Home at Runebergsgatan 11. Göteborg, Lidköping, Malmö and Uddevalla have similar institutions. The orphanage district areas begin with the home city and surrounding areas but may include children from other places.
In some cases, the birth mother may have had a significant influence on the placement of the child. Often this involves unwed mothers who make arrangements for the child to be cared for by a relative or friend. But even when arranged by the home, the mother was able to establish certain measures.
In other instances, especially when both parents are deceased and there is no orphanage in the area, it was the church that took charge of placing the child. Details may be recorded in the sockenstämmprotokollen (parish council minutes) . After 1847, children (especially older ones) were auctioned off to the lowest bidder. If the church paid, the transaction should appear in kyrkoräkenskaperna (church accounting books). If the auction was conducted by secular authority, the records would be found in Länsräkenskaperna, Kronolänsräkenskaperna, or the Kronofogdearkiv, all of which are found in landsarkiven (Provincial archives).
It is important to try and follow a foster child (or orphan) through his/her entire growing years. A child may change foster homes several times and occasionally may even be taken back by the mother (or both parents) should they gain the economic and/or social standing to handle it.
Names and Naming Practices in Sweden
In ancient times, most inhabitants of Sweden had patronymic names, the one exception being nobility, whose names typically extend far back in time. But during the 1600’s and especially the 1700’s it became more and more common to take a family name (that would be passed from one generation to the next). The clergy and well-educated were the first to begin this practice and often took Latinized family names. They were followed by the burghers and finally by common farm people, especially those moving from the country in to town.
Prior to the Naming Laws passed in 1901, one could basically go by whatever name he pleased without going through any formal registration or legal process. It is not uncommon in tracing an individual to see the name changing over time. This can be especially difficult to follow when the name is changed in combination with a relocation. Occasionally, both the patronymic and family name are given (for example, Lars Persson Bergman), but this is the exception rather than the rule. The research must often find other substantiating documentation to ensure the identity of the person being traced.
During the latter part of the 19th century several changes affected especially the formulation of female names. In some cases, the suffix “-dotter” was replaced by “-son” with all children in a family, both male and female taking the same patronymic as a family name. Then during the beginning of the 20th century, women began taking their husband’s family name in connection with their marriage. So for example, a Wilhelmina Nilsdotter born in 1837 as the daughter of Nils Andersson may by 1860 be known as Wilhelmina Nilsson (same as her brothers) and from 1890 as Wilhelmina Andersson (taking her father’s surname as her own family name). By 1922, she passes away as Wilhelmina Bohman with her husband’s surname as her own.
It should be noted that orphans and foster children could change names several times while growing up depending on the various homes and families where they may be placed. But even under other circumstances, a person’s name may change seemingly unexplainably.
In some parts of the country, especially in Kopparbergs län (Dalarna Province), it became common to place the name of the farm before a person’s name. As a person moved from farm to farm, that designation before the given name would change.
On the island of Gotland, the farm name sometimes appears after the given and patronymic name.
In Skåne in southern Sweden, the name of the wife may include her husband’s name after her own given name.
A special problem for researchers occurs when a soldier takes a military name that may only be used during the time he is in the service and living at the soldier’s residence or farm (soldattorp). In many cases, the soldier’s name is connected with the farm and whoever happens to be living there at the time. In other cases, a “soldier name” may have been assigned at the time of enlistment to avoid the confusion that would naturally occur with so many in the company named “Andersson” or “Olsson”. A basic rule then is that a person prior to military service will be known by his patronymic, then by his solder name while in service and revert to the patronymic upon his release. When researching a soldier, the first priority should be to establish his patronymic name.
The same guidelines apply to sailors (batsman). Note that pilots and lighthouse keepers were recorded in the Admiralitetskollegium until the end of the 1700’s and after that may be found in other records. From 1798 until 1872 the Pilotage Service was organized within Förvaltningen av sjöärenden.
Another group to take non-patronymic names were those learning a specific trade such as blacksmiths, tailors, shoe makers, etc. In some cases, they took the names of the “masters” with whom they completed apprenticeships, in other instances a random name was taken to distinguish them and their trade (similar to a corporate logo today).
Children Born Out of Wedlock
While there were no set rules for the naming of illegitimate children, the surname of the child was usually constructed in one of five ways:
1. The patronymic name after its father’s first name like any other child
2. The father’s surname
3. The patronymic of the mother’s father
4. The matronymic name after its mother’s first name
5. The mother’s surname
Names of Emigrants
When a person emigrated from Sweden to the United States, he normally kept his surname even though the spelling would be anglicized, making Johansson into Johnson, etc. In other instances, the Swedish name may have been translated to English, e.g. Sjöstrand to Seashore. Unfortunately for the researcher, there were some who took completely unrelated names.
Prästens lilla kråka, Kjell Lindblom and Elisabeth Thorsell, AB C.O. Ekblad & Co., Västervik, Sweden, 1998