Swedish Research: Tips for Swedish American Researchers

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Indexing[edit | edit source]

  • Historically, Swedish records were created in the town where your ancestor lived or in the parish where your ancestor lived. Therefore it was extremely important that you learn your ancestor's location before searching for your ancestor's records.
  • Learning the ancestor's location is less important today, because of indexing.
  • Indexing makes it possible for a computer search thru the records, saving you time.
  • A computer search is so much easier than a manual search, its worthwhile giving it a try first. Who knows, you might get lucky.
  • A computer search gives you other ways to find your ancestors, such as searching by relationship.
  • Not all Swedish records are indexed, therefore a computer search might turn up no records or not the particular records you expected.
  • If you don't find the records you expect, then you must do a manual search. That means you will need to find your ancestor's location first. Follow the advise in the rest of this article.

Strategy[edit | edit source]

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!  And, when you transcribe Swedish documents, be sure to faithfully copy any of the special Swedish characters you see if you can (Swedish has three extra letters not found in English: å, ä , ö)

Cultural Context
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To put your Swedish emigrant in his/her cultural context, and to obtain a greater appreciation of what he/she may have experienced in this country, you may want to read the series written by Vilhelm Moberg.  He used descriptions and information found in actual letters sent between an emigrant family and their relatives left in Sweden to create a wonderful historical epic.  The four volume series is called The Emigrants - with each book having a subtitle.  They are available in any public library, and at bookstores. This series also became a TV mini series shown on U.S. public television around 1980. Very well done starring Max von Sydow and Liv Ulman. 

Other excellent descriptions about life in Swedish cities and villages, and life as a Swedish soldier are found in the papers given at the 1980 World Conference on Records, held in Salt Lake City.  Volume 8 is the one to access for Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries.

World Conference On Records : Preserving Our Heritage
Authors World Conference on Records (1980 : Salt Lake City) (Main Author) 

Notes This is the 13-volume set of the proceedings of the 1980 World Conference on Records, held August 12-15 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Includes index.
Contents: v. 1. General assemblies, forums, speakers -- v. 2. Personal, family and local history -- v. 3. North American family and local history, part I -- v. 4. North American family and local history, part II -- v. 5. British family and local history, part I -- v. 6. British family and local history, part II -- v. 7. Continental European family and local history -- v. 8. Scandinavian family and local history -- v. 9. Latin American and Iberian family and local history -- v. 10. Australasian and Polynesian family and local history -- v. 11. Asian and African family and local history -- v. 12. Historical changes in population, family and community -- v. 13. Index to proceedings.

Language English
Publication [Salt Lake City, Utah : Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1980]
Physical 13 v. (various pagings) : ill. ; 28 cm.

Subject Class 929.1 W893 1980
References (Indexed In) Index to proceedings
(Indexed In) 1980 World Conference on Records microfiche numbers
Contains General assemblies, forums, exhibits, speakers

Other good histories may certainly be found by "googling" the subject, but the above suggested sources will give good basic background to the cultural context of your emigrant Swede.