Begin Swedish Genealogy
A name, a place and a date
The first step is to find out as much information as you can about your Swedish ancestor or person that you wish to research. You will need your ancestor’s Swedish name, parish where your ancestor lived and a date such as a birth, marriage, death or emigration date. If you have this information, you are ready to begin research using the church books in ArkivDigital’s online archive. Read more about the Swedish church books.
“I don’t have much information about my Swedish ancestry. How do I begin to find more information?”
First, you should talk with your relatives especially the older ones to gather as much information as possible. The two biggest challenges for the descendants of Swedish emigrants are locating the ancestor’s parish of origin and identifying the ancestor’s original Swedish name.
Swedish researchers should familiarize themselves with the characteristics of Swedish names and also be aware that many Swedes changed their name after emigration.
The patronymic naming system was in common use up to the end of the 19th century within Sweden. Between 90 and 95% of the population used the patronymic naming system. A child was the son of or the daughter of the father. Thus if the father’s name is Sven Johansson, his son’s name might be Anders Svensson or Anders the son of Sven. Likewise, a daughter might be named Anna Svensdotter or Anna the daughter of Sven. When a woman married, she did not adopt her husband’s name upon marriage but kept her patronymic.
During the 19th century, many townspersons who didn’t want to be considered poor farmers adopted family names often called “nature names”. These “nature names” usually would consist of two parts of nature, such as Dalberg. Dal is valley and berg is mountain.
Soldiers were given military names while in the military. One could not have fifty Johan Andersson’s in a military unit, so each person unit was assigned a unique name. Military names sometimes represented a personal quality like Rapp (quick), a military term or an association with the place where the person served. When leaving the military service, some soldiers did keep their military name while many reverted to using their patronymic name.
Many of the Swedish emigrants changed their name while in Sweden and then when they emigrated, often the name was changed again. Some kept the patronymic but usually dropped the second “s” in the name. “Andersson” became “Anderson”. Other names were changed to an Anglicized form; Karl or Carl in Swedish often became Charles in the New World. Some names were partially translated into English. Sjöberg became Seaberg. Once in the new county, some emigrants totally changed their names, “New country, new name”.
“How do I find my ancestor’s parish of origin?”
Search Using Personal Sources
You begin your hunt with what you know. First, gather all the information that you can from personal sources about your Swedish ancestor who emigrated. Personal sources include interviews with family members, the family Bible, old letters, post cards and diaries. These sources may include names of family members and place names in Sweden. Old photographs may have the name of the photo studio that took the picture, which may prove helpful in providing a clue to the place of origin. Old letters and diaries might provide names of siblings and parents who might provide links to tracing your ancestor. Remember, spellings of place names may be phonetic or Americanized but gather this information.
Search Public Sources
Marriage and death certificates may provide age information. Federal census and state census records can provide information such as age, birth year and emigration year. Applications for naturalization often have detailed information including the place within Sweden where the emigrant resided. World War 1 and World War II draft registration records will provide birth date and the World War II draft registration records will often show the place in Sweden where the person had resided. Obituaries often provide the name of the place of origin in Sweden, as well as siblings or relatives within Sweden. These records can provide additional clues in the hunt.
Search Swedish American Church Records
Many Swedish immigrants joined Swedish-American churches, primarily Lutheran but also other denominations such as Baptist, Swedish Covenant Church and Methodist. These churches kept very detailed records including the name of the parish in Sweden where the person was born.
Many of these Swedish American church records have been microfilmed and are available at the Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center in Rock Island, Illinois. Link to the Swenson Center.
The amount of information will vary dependent upon individual congregation, but if the information is complete, you can often find in these records: date and place of birth and baptism; date received as a church member; and arrival year in America.
Parish Search Assistance
We understand that many descendants of Swedish emigrants are unable to “jump the pond” and research in the Swedish records because they have not been successful in discovering where in Sweden their ancestor came from. In order to assist persons in finding their parish, we will try to do a look-up in some emigration and Swedish census CDs. We will respond to your request within ten business days with a successful search or message stating that our search was unsuccessful. To request a parish search, please download the Parish Look-Up form and fill out and send to firstname.lastname@example.org.