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Tracing Your Swedish Ancestry
By James E. Erickson and Nils William Olsson
 More of this Feature
• Introduction
• Research in America
     Personal Documents
     Public Documents
• Research in Sweden
     Parish Records
     Court/Civil Records
     Emigration Records
     Research Difficulties
     Swedish Archives
     Swedish Societies
     Research Centers
 Related Resources
• Swedish Genealogy Links
• Census Records
• Immigration & Emigration
• Planning a Research Trip
• U.S. Naturalization
• U.S. Vital Records

 From Other Guides
• History of Sweden
• Sweden Maps & Geography
• Sweden Travel Planner
• Swedish Newspapers

 Elsewhere on the Web
• Swedish Information Service

Research in America

Since any genealogical research must begin with an individual, it is incumbent upon you to know something about yourself, before you venture into the area of preceding generations. This may seem elementary, but it is nonetheless most important.

Let us assume, however, that you, as a student of family history, know your own origin - your birth date and birthplace. You should then proceed to the next step, that of finding all there is to know about your parents and grandparents. If your immigrant ancestor is still alive, the task becomes quite easy. It is then only necessary to ask them for their birth date and the name of the parish in which they were born. Since there are more than 2,500 parishes in Sweden, some with duplicate names, it is also important to know the name of the county (län) in which a particular parish is located. For example, the countries of Halland, Kronoberg, Västmanland, Västra Götaland and Östergötland each have a parish named Torpa.

Another important thing to ascertain is the original Swedish name of an ancestor in question, that is, how a particular individual's name was registered in the Swedish records. Many Swedes changed their names upon arrival in the United States, whether for the sake of convenience of spelling, the desire to anglicize their names, or the need to drop Swedish names that in English had a peculiar sound or a derogatory meaning. Included in this latter category would be such names as Hellberg, Hellqvist, Högberg, Högström and Röt.

Thousands of Swedes changed their names as easily as they changed their shirts. There are a great many examples, including the following: Persson was changed to Perkins, Olsson to Oliver or Wilson, Sjöstrand to Seashore, Berg to Berry or Barry, Löf to Leaf, Björkegran to Burke, Löfgren to Lovegreen, Stadig to Sturdy, Sköld to Shold and Stålhammar to Steele. Patronymics like Johnsson, Jansson, Jeansson, Jonasson, Johansson, Johanesson and Jonsson all fused into the form of Johnson.

If the Swedish ancestor was a woman who married in the United States or Canada, it is important to know her maiden name as originally recorded in Sweden. Many female immigrants of the last century used the older patronymic that ended in -dotter, as for example Andersdotter, Persdotter, Jansdotter, Karlsdotter and Samuelsdotter, indicating that they were daughters of Anders, Per, Jan, Karl or Samuel, respectively. Often these women changed their names to the easier -son form.

So far we have dealt with cases where the researcher can go directly to an individual, whether this be a parent, grandparent, aunt or great-uncle, who came from Sweden. The information gathered from such a source is primary material and is usually adequate to enable you to pursue the hunt on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, provided that it is correct. It is most important, therefore, to check the original spelling of the immigrant's name and the parish name, as well as the dates of birth and emigration.

Where it is impossible to find living relatives from whom to procure such cardinal items, the researcher must make use of such records as exist. These are usually of the following two types: 1) personal documents that are to be found in the custody of relatives, and 2) public documents that are to be found in libraries, archives and official institutions.


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Images © 2000 Kimberly Powell.  All Rights Reserved.
Article reprinted with the kind permission of the Swedish Information Service.

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