Swedish Research: Tips for Swedish American Researchers

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The best thing you can do, when you start your Swedish research project is to start at home! You need to do your "basement and attic archeology" because in order to find your Swedish ancestor in the records of that country, you will eventually need to find the name of the village or parish where they were born, married, or lived in at some point in time. Check your drawers and in the attic for old letters, hymnbooks, family bibles in a foreign language, postcards with people or place names on them, old photos taken in Sweden, any documents in a foreign language, copies of homestead applications, applications to join fraternal orders or to obtain  insurance.  It is possible to find help to translate records in Swedish.

Ask around in the family -  old aunts and cousins might have clues to where the family came from. Write down everything  they say about people and places.  .

Try to find your Swedes in as many U.S. Federal and state censuses as you can. Relatives may have lived with or near your ancestor in only one census - but that could be crucial to solving your problem.  You may not find enough information about your direct ancestor to put him/her across the ocean, but a sibling or other relative who emigrated later may lead you to the information you need.

Look for obituaries or death notices that might mention that the deceased belonged to a Swedish-American church. Most of the records  of those churches are available at the www.augustana.edu/swenson/ Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center in Rock Island, Illinois.  If you can find your person in the membeship rolls of a Swedish-American church record, it may list their exact parish of origin in the old country.  Sometimes, the very first book for a Swedish-American congregation is so old and fragile it has been placed in a bank vault for safekeeping.  If the church you contact says they don't have records older than 1900 or later, ask who has the oldest book. 

Ancient provincial names which might be mentioned in your speaking with older relatives could also help narrow the search some.  For example, if your Swedes called themselves Smålänningar, they probably came from or lived in the province of Småland.  This geographic region encompasses the Southern Swedish counties of Jönköping, Kalmar and Kronoberg with about 500 parishes collectively, each with its own records.  A Skåningar probably originates from one of the 100 or so parishes in the county of Kristianstad or Malmohus, and so forth. 

Anything said or written, especially in a foreign language, might be a clue to your ancestor's place of origin - so capture it all! 

Cultural Context

Surnames  - see the page on ....