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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 - Public Documents

If you have exhausted the possibilities of finding personal papers that can aid in your search, you should then give attention to public documents. Older papers are usually found in archives, libraries or special genealogical collections throughout the country. The following are the most useful:

  1. Passenger Manifests (view image)
    Beginning in 1820, each master bringing in a vessel to the chief ports in the United States was required on oath to divulge the names of his passengers, their gender, age, occupation, country of nativity and destination. The original passenger manifests were kept at the port of entry for many years, but are now housed in either the National Archives in Washington, D.C., or the Balch Institute in Philadelphia. The ship passenger list index for immigrants from Scandinavia is part of an ongoing project at the Temple-Balch Center for Immigration Research and, therefore, not yet available. Nonetheless, most of the original passenger manifests have been microfilmed and are available in the National Archives, the Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City or any Family History Center associated with a local Mormon church. 

    Researchers interested in early Swedish arrivals in U.S. ports are fortunate to have at their disposal the seminal work, Swedish Passenger Arrivals in the United States 1820-1850 (Stockholm 1995), written by Nils William Olsson and Erik Wiken. This valuable reference provides a comprehensive view of the more than 5,000 Swedish passengers who arrived in the United States during this early migration period. More about Immigration records...

  2. U.S. Census Records
    The federal censuses (population schedules) for the years 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910 and 1920 are available on microfilm. The 1890 census was destroyed by fire. It is possible to consult these in the National Archives in Washington D.C., the Family History Centers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or in many public libraries, state historical societies and larger genealogical collections. More about U.S. census records...

  3. U.S. Naturalization Records
    Registers listing foreigners who either took out intentions of becoming U.S. citizens or who finally received their naturalization papers are not to be found in a central depository. They are scattered throughout the country in the municipal district and federal courts. They often give valuable information about an individual's birthplace, date of arrival in the United States and the name of the vessel on which the individual arrived. The naturalization records for the New England states are now available in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. More about U.S. naturalization records...

  4. Vital Statistics 
    While the registration of births, marriages and deaths shows a great unevenness throughout the country - some communities having waited until the beginning of the twentieth century before recording vital statistics - there are a number of communities that have records going back to the nineteenth century. Death certificates can be very important, since they often give birth date and birthplace, as well as next-of-kin. These records are to be found in local city halls or county courthouses. In some states, the records have been centralized in the state capital. More about vital records...

  5. Military Records
    The National Archives in Washington D.C. has an excellent collection of military records going back to the Revolutionary War. For determining the country of origin, however, one cannot get much information prior to the Civil War. Beginning with this conflict, the records are more specific as to date of birth and often place of birth. The pension records housed in the National Archives are also an excellent source. More about military records...

  6. Land Records 
    With the opening of the western lands through the establishment of the Homestead Act in 1862, it became possible for immigrants to purchase land inexpensively from the federal government. The records of these transactions may sometimes help in determining the early years of the immigrant's life. It is necessary, however, to have a complete description of the land. The Land Record Office in the National Archives in Washington D.C. has many records that can be helpful. Otherwise, it is best to go t the Registrar of Deeds in the local county courthouse. More about land records...

  7. Church Records 
    Contrary to the practice in Sweden, where the clergy of the established Lutheran Church were required to keep vital statistics of parishioners, the American churches, being disestablished, have never been obliged to keep records of their church members or their vital statistics. However, many churches did; and, if the church to which the immigrant belonged is known, it is quite often possible to get the information from these church books. This is particularly true of the Augustana Lutheran Church (formerly an independent synod; now part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America)  which, as the daughter church of the Lutheran Church in Sweden, often accepted at full value the flyttningsbevis as the official record of transfer from the Old World to the New.

    Most Augustana Lutheran churches, as well as many other immigrant congregations in such denominations as the Evangelical Covenant, Evangelical Free, Methodist, Baptist and a few Episcopal churches, kept fairly good membership records. In the Augustana churches, the tradition was kept more conscientiously and it is often possible to find the parish of birth in Sweden, the date of birth, as well as the date of arrival in the United States. An eleven-year project designed to  microfilm Swedish-American church archives, which was sponsored by the Wallenberg Foundation and carried out by the Swedish Emigrant Institute in Växjö, Sweden, resulted in 1,651 rolls of microfilm representing 1,710 Swedish-American parishes. Complete sets of these microfilms, as well as indexes organized by state, name of community and name of parish(es) in that community, are available for researchers at the Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center, Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois, and the Swedish Emigrant Institute (Svenska Emigrantinstitutet), Växjö, Sweden.

  8. Swedish-American Newspapers
    Swedish immigrants in the United States were zealous newspaper readers who longed for news from the old country as well as stories about Swedish immigrants in the New World. Hundreds of Swedish-American newspapers were published from coast to coast for shorter or longer periods. Columns of these newspapers were often devoted to personal notices - primarily marriages, deaths and birthdays. Often these files can give vital information about generations now long since gone. Files of these newspapers can be found in many public libraries, particularly the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, the University of Chicago Library, the University of Illinois Library, the Augustana College Library and the Minnesota Historical Society Library. In Sweden, the Royal Library (Kungliga Biblioteket) in Stockholm has one of the largest extant collections of Swedish-American newspapers. A project sponsored by Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, and the Royal Library in Stockholm has, to date, resulted in the microfilming of 236 Swedish-American newspapers published in North America. Over 1,500 rolls of microfilm are currently accessible to researchers either at the Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center, Augustana College, or through inter-library loan.

  9. City Directories
    City directories, published by cities and towns throughout the United States, can be of great help in locating missing relatives. Although they have a distinct value, they must be used with caution, since they are a secondary source and sometimes carelessly edited. General collections of U.S. city directories and telephone catalogues are to be found in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Each city or town library, however, usually maintains a fairly complete set of the directories of its own community.

 

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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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