Scandinavia Probate Records

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In Scandinavia, probates were instituted to protect the rights of minors. Minors were anyone under age 25 and, in earlier time periods, all unmarried females, no matter what their age.

The law determined who would receive what after the debts were paid, for example, the surviving spouse received half and the other half was divided between the surviving heirs. If a child had been married, had children, and then died, their portion of the estate would be divided between their children.

Since the law did define the parameters of distribution, there were very few wills in the traditional sense of the words, which could be written by your common Scandinavian ancestors.

Note: In all the Scandinavian countries, probates for the clergy were normally kept separately from those of the "common man." They might be listed at the parish or Herred/Härad level, but within the catalog entry it should be indicated that the probates are those of the clergy only.

Who left a Probate?[edit | edit source]

A probate proceeding should have taken place:

  • Before a surviving spouse could remarry.
  • If there were any minors (under age 25) involved.
  • Elderly parents chose to make a life probate (turning their property over to someone else in return for care for the rest of their natural lives).

A probate did not have to take place if the parents were elderly, the children all over age 25, or everything had already been dispersed.

Scandinavian probate records generally contain the following:[edit | edit source]

  • Name and residence of deceased
  • Date of probate registration and/or death date
  • Name and residence of surviving spouse, parents, brothers, or sisters if the deceased died childless or unmarried
  • Names, residences, ages, and spouses' names (for female heirs only) of all children by this and any previous marriages
  • Names, residences, and ages of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, if parent(s) were deceased
  • Names and residences of guardians for minors under age 25 and for all unmarried females
  • Name and residence of the wife's guardian
  • Names and residences of those who inventoried the estate
  • Inventory of the estate, with assessed value of each item:
    • Animals
    • Books (Bible, hymnal, psalms)
    • Debtors' names and amounts
    • Household goods (pots and pans, linens, tables, etc.)
    • Land and buildings
    • Personal items (clothes, hats, scarves, socks, boots)
    • Precious metals (gold, silver, copper, brass, tin)
    • Tools (axes, shovels, tongs, hammers, pitchforks, etc.)
  • Creditors' names and amounts
  • Totals of credits, debts, inheritances
  • Signatures or marks of probate official, appraisers, guardian(s), and heirs
  • Dates of final probate action taken on the estate

If the estate debts were greater than the assets, auctions were held to sell off items to raise money to pay the debts.

Points to remember when using probate records as a research source[edit | edit source]

  • A probate action generally took place at the next quarterly court session held after the death, though sealing and inventorying of the estate normally took place within thirty days.
  • Many probate indexes are letter grouped by the first name rather than the surname.
  • Some probate indexes are letter grouped by the name of the death residence.
  • Swedish probates almost always begin on a right-hand page. Danish and Norwegian probates begin where the last one left off.
  • The law determined who would receive what. In all the Scandinavian countries, the estate was divided as follows:
    • The surviving spouse received half of the estate after the debts were discharged.
    • Males received twice as much as females (changed in the 1800s).
    • The eldest son received twice as much as the other sons in earlier times.
  • A "life probate" in which parents could give their ownership or rights to property and possessions to their children or others, in return for care the rest of their natural lives, could be activated and recorded previous to death.
  • Probate records can be the key to solving tough problems and extending and verifying pedigrees.

In Scandinavian probates, the names of the heirs could be listed both in the preamble, before the inventory begins, and again after the inventory in the section where it lists who receives what. Be sure to read both sections. It has been found the name of an heir may be listed in one and not in the other.

The signatures at the end of the probate may be the actual signature of your deceased ancestor's wife, oldest son, daughter, etc. Or, you may find their mark in the middle of a signature, such as "Maren MSD Sørensdatter." The name would be written out by the minister and the "MSD" (Maren Sørens Datter) could be the mark made by your actual ancestor.

It is possible that if a child had already received an inheritance, they might not be listed in the probate record. It is also possible, particularly in Swedish and Finnish probates, which are basically inventories, that only minor children may listed.

Probate Terminology[edit | edit source]

Probate Term Translation
boende og døde ved resided and died at
boupteckning (Sweden, Finland) probate
for die unmyndige vegnen in behalf of
formyndar guardian
gjør vitterligt be it known that
laugværge the minor widow's guardian
med döden avlid with death left
myndig of legal age
skifteprotokoll (Denmark, Norway) probate
umyndig (Denmark, Norway) under legal age
var til stede was present at the probate hearing
ömyndig (Sweden, Finland) under legal age