Nowadays, finding Swedish genealogy records online is practically as easy taking candy from a baby. Here’s where to search for the Swedes in your family tree.
From the mid-1840s to 1930, nearly 1.3 million Swedes left for the United States—placing the departures, as a proportion of a European place’s population, behind only the British Isles and Norway.
“Peace, vaccination and potatoes,” as one historian put it, had caused Sweden’s population to double between 1750 and 1850.
But as Swedes worried less about war, smallpox and starvation, they began to run out of land and looked west to Nordamerika. By 1910, almost one in five of the world’s Swedes lived in the United States, clustering in states such as Minnesota, California, Illinois, Washington and Michigan.
Finding Swedish Genealogy Records Online
The records they created by emigrating and in their new country can help you identify the parishes your Swedish ancestors left. Voluminous church paperwork records in the home country can tell your family’s story as far back as the 17th century.
First, you’ll have to puzzle out your ancestors’ names, whose variations go well beyond the spelling oddities genealogists are used to. My great-grandmother, for example, shows up as Hannah Johnson Fryxell in her obituary, Hannah Jern on her Illinois marriage record, and both Johanna Jansson and Johanna Jansdotter in emigration lists.
Start with the Swedish patronymic surname system, in which children took the father’s first name, plus a possessive s and -son or -dotter, as their last names. The good news for genealogists? You’ll automatically know the father’s first name, and until 1920, women were usually recorded by their maiden names even after marriage. This does mean you can’t count on permanent surnames connecting one generation to the next until 1901, although some families adopted them earlier and others also used a “farm name” from their dwelling place.
As for first names, like many countries, Sweden had a traditional pattern for naming children after previous generations—but this was less strictly followed than in places like England. Typically, the first son was named for the paternal grandfather (resulting in three generations named, for example, Anders Svensson, Sven Andersson and then Anders Svensson again). The second son would be named after his maternal grandfather, the third son after his father (Anders Andersson) and the remaining sons after other relatives and friends. The first daughter would often be named after her maternal grandmother, the second after her paternal grandmother, the third after her mother and the remaining daughters after other relatives and friends.