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Resources for Swedish Genealogy

Posted by Sean Daly on Aug 24, 2023
Swedish children in traditional costume, view of Stockholm

Were your ancestors from Sweden? There is a long tradition of careful recordkeeping in Sweden, which Swedes continued after emigrating to North America. Here is a rich list of resources which can help you understand the specifics of Swedish genealogy and go further researching your family history!

Are you in Sweden? Visit us this weekend (August 26-27, 2023) at Sweden’s national genealogy event, Släktforskardagarna 2023 (Genealogy Days 2023) in Östersund, in the county of Jämtland! We will be at Booth PB1377 to answer your questions about Geneanet and show you our Swedish collections. Remember, Geneanet is available in Swedish!

Sweden has had a long and active role in European history, but the mass migration of Swedes to North America in the 19th and 20th centuries interests today’s genealogists the most. Whether you are a beginner or experienced in researching your Swedish ancestry, you will find resources here to help you.

There are over 2,500 runestones throughout Sweden. The runes in these petroglyphs — a gift of the Norse god Odin, according to the pre-Christian pagan beliefs — were carved from the 5th through the mid-12th century; most honor a deceased family member. Source: Wikimedia

Historical context

People have inhabited Sweden since the end of the last Ice Age — the indigenous Sami people in the north, central European tribes in the south. By the 8th century, the Scandinavian tribes who in the west became the Vikings of the Western razzias in the British Isles and France, to the east became the Varangians, river travellers in longships who plundered and explored eastern Europe and established settlements, trading with the Byzantine Empire and reaching the Black and Caspian Seas. By the 9th century, the Varangians had established a state, Kievan Rus’ (the predecessor of Russia), and begun a series of wars with Byzantium. And by the 10th century and for hundreds of years afterward, Varangians — reputedly fearless and incorruptible — formed the imperial guard of the Byzantine emperors.

Christianity arrived in Sweden in the mid-9th century and King Olof Skötkonung converted in 1004. Paganism declined over the next 150 years, but the Swedes never forgot the tales of Norse mythology.

By the late 13th century, the nobility was established and the feudal system was in place. Prosperity came with the Hanseatic League, but the Black Death which swept Europe in the late 14th century and piracy in the Baltic impacted Sweden’s trade. By the end of the 14th century, the Kalmar Union united the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Stockholm, a thriving port, became the capital in 1436. The Kalmar Union was broken in 1520, when 80 Swedish nobles were executed under the Danish king in the Stockholm Bloodbath; Swedish nobleman Gustav Vasa became king of Sweden in 1523.

Under Vasa’s long rule in the 16th century, the Church’s holdings were confiscated and the Protestant Reformation took hold, the state religion becoming Lutheran; the monarchy became hereditary and Sweden warred with Denmark over control of the Baltic Sea. In 1628, the warship Vasa sunk 20 minutes into her maiden voyage, due to a top-heavy design modified during construction (today, she has her own museum in Stockholm). Sweden’s power grew and by the Thirty Years’ War, Sweden was a dominant power in Europe; the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 and the Peace of Roskilde in 1658 consolidated Sweden’s position in northern and central Europe. In 1766, Sweden instituted a landmark Freedom of the Press act.

Sweden dominated its neighbors at the height of its power; Finland and the Baltics escaped Swedish control only to come under Russian influence. Source: Wikimedia

By the turn of the 18th century, Sweden’s empire was successfully challenged and defeated in the Great Northern War by Russia, Denmark, and Poland, which brought about reforms and ended absolute royal power. Cultural ties with France developed and with the arrival of the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century, trade suffered, Sweden ceded Finland to Russia, French marshal Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte was invited to ascend the throne (founding the modern royal dynasty of Sweden), and Norway was brought into a personal union (until 1905).

Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, a Frenchman from a bourgeois family, founded the modern royal family of Sweden, the House of Bernadotte, as King Karl XIV Johan. King Carl XVI Gustaf will be celebrating 50 years on the throne on September 15! Image BNF-Gallica
Vaxholm, one of the many islands near Stockholm. Postcard from the Geneanet Postcards Collection.

Sweden remained a largely agrarian nation as the Industrial Revolution developed elsewhere in Europe, although compulsory education was introduced in 1842 and literacy increased. In the mid 1840s, Sweden (which always had a shortage of arable land) was affected by the same potato blight which starved Ireland (although potatoes were not a major crop in Sweden) and 80 years of emigration to the United States began, only tapering off with the restrictive Immigration (Johnson-Reed) Act of 1924. An estimated 1.3 million Swedes emigrated, the majority to North America, between 1880 and 1910; a great many settled in the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois. Railroads such as the The Grand Rapids & Indiana Railroad which ran north from Chicago recruited settlers in Sweden directly; Swedes back home heard about good farmland and other opportunities from prospering relatives. Following the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, for decades there was a massive influx of Swedes through Chicago headed north and west.

Swedes who emigrated to the USA headed to the upper Midwest, then further West. Source: Jon T. Kilpinen, Valparaiso University, 2014.

A word about the Swedish letters Å, Ä, Ö (and typing them)

The Swedish alphabet has extra vowels: Å or å, Ä or ä, Ö or ö. Note that these are not considered A or O with diacritical marks, but completely separate letters which follow Z in the alphabet. Wondering how to type these letters on your device? See the handy keyboard shortcuts here, here, or here. And if the database you are searching allows wildcards, you can likely use an asterisk “*” or question mark “?” to substitute for these letters.

Stereograph: “At home on the old farm — overlooking sunny Lake Vettern, Sweden”. Underwood & Underwood, 1905. Source: Library of Congress

Genealogy: Sweden has long kept careful records!

In 1686, systematic countrywide registration of vital records (church records or Kyrkböcker) was begun by the Church of Sweden (Lutheran). Note however that some parishes (socken before 1862, församling after) may have earlier records. Official church recordkeeping in ledgers continued until 1991, when civil registration (CivilRregistreringar) took over. There are other types of records unique to Sweden we’ll get to in a moment. Be aware that patronymic names were in use until 1901. Handwritten registers can be difficult to read, you may need help!

It’s key to locate your ancestor’s parish. Keep in mind that there may be more than one parish with the same name, so it’s important to identify the county or province to be sure you have the right parish. And Swedish counties are large, so try to identify the town or municipality. For place names, reminder, Å/å, Ä/ä, Ö/ö are separate letters, not variants of A/a or O/o.

The Household Examination Rolls (Husförhör), updated every year, and later with several years’ notations on the same page, allowed clergymen to keep track of parishioners. The rolls were in use until the mid-1890s when a newer parish book registers (församlingsböcker) system came into use. Any change in a family was noted: birth, marriage, death, but also moving to or from a new parish or emigration. All members of a household were recorded, servants and field hands as well. Soldiers in service were noted. Women were recorded with their maiden names. From 1860, extracts from the rolls were collated every ten years; there are searchable databases from 1880 available.

Annual censuses (Mantalslängder) were begun in the 17th century, but only for male heads of household, primarily for tax purposes but also to identify men of military age. Note that some men were exempt from tax: soldiers, the poor or infirm, nobles (before 1810).

Court records (Domböcker), in particular estate inventories (Bouppteckningar — probate records), are an excellent source for Swedish genealogists.

Military records (Centrala Soldatregistret, Generalmönsterrullor), are rich with information, but may be difficult to locate. Under the allotment system, a group of farms or a village would supply a certain number of men. So if you manage to locate an ancestral village, you are on your way to finding the regiment of service.

John Ericsson, a Swedish inventor, designed the ironclad warship Monitor which defeated the Confederate Merrimac during the US Civil War.

Genealogies of famous Swedes

Geneanet’s sister site Geneastar has the genealogies of 75 well-known Swedes in history! Learn about the origins of Greta Garbo, Ingmar Bergman and Ingrid Bergman, Alfred Nobel, Raoul Wallenberg, Ann-Margret, John Ericsson, Dag Hammarskjöld, and others.

Resources for Swedish Genealogy


You forgot Lindsborg, Kansas, in the above list. Lindsborg is “Little Sweden USA”.

Answer from Geneanet: Thank you! We have updated our article.


I would love to know Editha may Steele

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