So, you have Swedish roots?

■  It is essential that you have enough information on your Swedes before you contact us, professional researchers or the Swedish archives. If you don’t have the necessary dates, you might waste your time and money, and ours too.

There are three major things you need to know:

1. Name

You need to know the full name of the emigrating ancestor. Both first name/names and last name. Often emigrants left Sweden with a patronymic surname, and arrived in the US with a new surname, most often a surname of a Swedish type.
For example: Per August Svensson left with that name, but in the US he was always known as Pete Sandberg. To find him in the Swedish Passenger lists his patronymic must be known.

Also remember that patronymic surnames like Andersson, Johansson, Carlsson and Svensson are extremely common names, just as common as Smith, Jones and Brown in the US.

To read more about Swedish names, click here.

2. Place

You need to know the place where your ancestor was born. It is not enough to just know the province (landskap), as each province has hundreds of parishes. So the parish is the minimum requirement.

The same goes if you have a location ending in the word län, as that is the word for county or counties.

A parish (församling, socken) is the smallest administrative unit in Sweden. This was the level the church records were kept on. A parish is a geographical area, and can contain several villages and individual farms.
There can be several parishes by the same name in the country, but they can usually be told apart by the province or län name.
For example: Tuna in Kalmar län, Tuna in Södermanland or Tuna in Medelpad.

To find places in Sweden, you can try the following gazetteer: Sveriges Nationalatlas.

Or you can try this link.



3. Date

You need to know the year, month and day your ancestor was born. It is vital, especially when you have people with very common names, like Anna Larsdotter or Carl Magnus Jonsson. There might have been 5 Anna Larsdotters born in the same year in the same parish, and the date will make a difference.


Other helpful things

Date of emigration

The date of emigration, or at least the year, might be very helpful in searching the Swedish Passenger lists.

The destination

It is possible that the place in the US, where you have first found your emigrant, might be the one that he/she listed as his/her destination, when they left Sweden. Knowledge of this might also help to find them in the Passenger Lists.

How do I find all this?

These things can most often be found in American sources, like the US Censuses, naturalization records, obituaries and much more. If you have not done any genealogical research before, there are many good manuals available in the book stores. A good series of lectures can also be found here.

But, first of all - talk to your family and relatives! They might have info you never dreamt of, like the family bible, grandpa's removal permit in Swedish, old letters and pictures from back home, etc.

Also try to find out if your early Swedes in the US belonged to a Swedish American church. Most records from those churches have been microfilmed and can be searched by the staff of The Swenson Swedish Immigration Center. The records are very informative in most cases, and can often give the needed info to start doing research in Sweden.
Swedish Roots
is published by Sveriges Släktforskarförbund.
The Federation of Swedish Genealogical Societies


Swedish Legal Records

By Elisabeth Thorsell
Professional genealogist, lecturer and writer


Swedish legal records are preserved from many levels in the legal system. The basic court is the Häradsrätten (District court) in rural areas and the basic legal unit was then the Härad (Legal District), which consists of a number of neighboring parishes.

The parish (socken, församling) is always the basic unit in all types of Swedish genealogical research. But what is a parish? A parish is a geographical area, the smallest administrative unit in Sweden. All people in the same parish went to the same church, were registered in the same books, and were buried in the same churchyard.

The District court judge was a university trained law graduate, but he also had the assistance of the nämndemännen (permanent jurymen), which were twelve local men of good repute. It was considered a big honor to be a nämndeman, and in many cases this honor was carried on in several generations of the same family.

The preserved records of the District courts usually start in the 1600s, and they are of many types. But two kinds are of special interest to genealogists, the domböcker (court minutes) and the bouppteckningar (estate inventories, probate).

The first common law of whole Sweden was written in the 1300s, Magnus Eriksson's Landslag, and that remained in use until 1734, when the new common law was instituted. Parts of that law have been in use until recently.

In the domböcker you will find almost everything under the sun, that people could drag each other into court for, minor misdemeanors and capital crimes. Every Death sentence had to be referred to the Court of Appeals (Hovrätten), and they often changed the sentence to prison or fines. Also the District
prosecutor and the local forest warden and other officials took their cases to the District court. The
records of the District court is also one of the places,
where you might, just might, find the father of an
illegitimate child.



Here you can read about a court case in Småland in 1809, found in the minutes of the Sunnerbo District Court.

The bouppteckning (probate) had to be done for everyone who died and who possessed anything, as 1/8 % of the residue of the estate should be paid to the poor of the parish. However, it has been figured that only one in four had an estate inventory made, so you never know if you are going to find one. They are also important as they list all the heirs of the deceased, and if the children were minors, the next of kin that should guard their interests in the estate. If it was a man who died, the children's paternal uncle or somebody on that side of the family should be present, and if it was a woman, someone from her side of the family, and this can of course give important clues, if you do not know the origins of the deceased person.

Here you can read an example of how the bouppteckning helped to solve an old problem.

Where are these records?
They are kept in the Provincial archives in Sweden, and are also available on microfilm. The Mormon Family History Centers around the world have these microfilms in their catalog.

To find out which Legal District a parish belongs to, you must consult a gazetteer like Rosenberg's Statistiskt-Geografiskt Handlexikon, published originally in 1888, reprint 1993, or the yearly Rikets indelningar, published by the Central Bureau of Statistics. The boundaries of the Legal Districts (härader) have sometimes changed during the centuries, but usually not very much.



Swedish Roots
is published by Sveriges Släktforskarförbund.
The Federation of Swedish Genealogical Societie

Our ancestors and the Tax man 

Ever since Sweden became the country it is today and perhaps even earlier, taxes have been a burden for the people. Originally taxes were levied only on farm-owners, while the nobility and the clergy were exempt from taxes.

Taxes in the old times were not paid in cash. Instead they were paid in kind, for example in butter and flour in the province of Västergötland, in iron in the mining regions of Bergslagen and even in dried pike in the province of Ångermanland. In addition the taxpayers had to put in so many days of labor at the nearest royal estate. Gradually, however, taxes came to be paid in cash.

Just as we have it today, taxes in past centuries were of different kinds. The farmer not only had to pay the yearly fee (årliga räntan) which also was called the base tax (grundskatten), which was levied on the means of his subsistence – the land – but he also had to pay a tithe (10 %) on everything he harvested. In the beginning of this century these taxes were changed and were called income taxes and a tax on one´s wealth (förmögenhetskatt).

Tax lists are very important to genealogists. They reveal much how our ancestors lived, the milieu in which they moved and in many ways they complement the material to be found in the parish records.


A tax on dogs in the 18th Century
Today´s luxury taxes are not a modern invention. Already in the 18th century King Gustaf III levied taxes on dogs, tobacco and alcoholic spirits, three well-known objects of taxation even today.
From the beginning of the 17th century there was also a head tax (mantalspenningen), which was to be paid by practically all healthy adults. Exempt, however, were members of the nobility, their servants and soldiers. This tax was eliminated as recently as 1938.

Real property deed books since the 16th Century
In order to be sure that all taxes were paid the Swedish Government had to keep strict records. Deed books for all farms which paid taxes are preserved all the way back to the 16th century and since 1630s tax lists
(mantalslängder) have been made up for all persons in a taxable category.

In 1571 and 1613 Sweden levied a special tax in order to redeem the fortress of Älvsborg, near Göteborg, on Sweden´s west coast, which the Danes in their frequent wars with Sweden had captured and had held for ransom. Our oldest tax lists cover these two special assessments.

Swedish Roots
is published by Sveriges Släktforskarförbund.
The Federation of Swedish Genealogical Societies

Some notes on the Swedish language
By Nils William Olsson, Ph.D., F.A.S.G.

The Swedish language is a part and parcel of the Indo-European languages, stretching from India to Europe and through migration to the U.S., Canada, Mexico and South America. The language is a part of the North Germanic languages and is identified as an East Scandinavian variant together with Danish. The west branch includes Norwegian and Icelandic.

The main difference between these two Scandinavian branches is that Swedish and Danish have no diphthongs, or at least a very few. Thus the word for stone in Swedish and Danish is sten, whereas in Norwegian and Icelandic it is stein. The same thing is true for the word for bone – in Swedish it is ben, in Norwegian it is bein. There are other differences, but I don't wish to become technical.
A few diphthongs can be found in Swedish. Thus a parish is Skåne is Raus and the name of the month of August is Augusti. The man's name of August is often pronounced Agust in the vernacular, showing how Swedes avoid diphthongs if at all possible.
Curiously the Swede has no problem with the word for no, which is nej, nor for the popular forms for dig and mig (you and me), which are pronunced dej and mej. The Swedish word for pie is paj, where the English sound has been preserved and the Swedish word for the month of May is maj.

Though Finland is usually considered to be a part of Scandinavia so far as its culture and democratic forms are concerned, its language has nothing to do with the Indo-European languages, but belongs to the Finno-Ugric language family, which is believed somehow to be related to Hungarian and Turkish. The Finnish language is rich in vowels and diphthongs but poor in consonants.

The Swedish Alphabet

Swedish has an alphabet which is very much like the English alphabet,with the notable exception that Swedish has three additional vowels, coming at the end of the alphabet – å, ä and ö. I shall return to these in a moment. On another respect the Swedes have almost totally eliminated the letter q. In older spellings this letter was followed by a v, much like in English, where q is followed by u. Thus before the spelling reform of 1906 the word for woman was qvinna, today the q has been replaced by the letter k, thus kvinna. The same thing happened to the words for mill = qvarn; twig = qvist and qvick = quick. In the case of proper names, however, there is a tendency to retain the old spelling, thus Qvarnström, Qvist, Qvick, Qvarfordt, etc.




Another letter, w, has been supplanted by v, and is no longer in the alphabet. However, it is often retained in surnames, sometimes to make the names seem more esoteric. Thus Wall, Wallgren, Wallenberg, Wikström, etc.

Often an H is slipped into a name, for no other reason but to make the name more unusual, thus we have surnames like Wahlgren, Dahlgren, Dahlstrand, Ohlsson, Pehrsson, Lundh, Strandh, etc.


Before the spelling reform in 1906 certain place names in Sweden had a silent H in the beginning of the name. This letter has now been eliminated. The more notorious place names are Hvetlanda in Småland, today Vetlanda; Hvalinge in Halland; Hvalstad in Västergötland, Hvena in Småland, Hvilan in Skåne, all today spelled without the h, thus Valinge, Valstad,Vena and Vilan. Be sure to check your place name in Rosenberg's gazetteer,*) before giving up.

One more of the spelling reforms of 1906 which might occasion you grief is the substitution of v for f in certain words, where f comes at the end of the syllable, such as löf, meaning leaf, which today is spelled löv. It is particularly common in surnames beginning with Löf-, such as Löfberg, Löfgren, Löfquist, Löfstrand, etc., where in translation the surname is always written with Lof- as the first syllable. For place names check out Rosenberg for spellings of Löfsätra, Löfsta, Löfstad, Löfvestad, Löfånger, Löfåsen, etc. A letter which is used infrequently is the letter c. It is found mostly in foreign loan words, such as ceder, cell, cement, center, check, cigarr, cirkel, cirkus, citron, civil, cykel, cylinder and cypress.

Let us now look at three extra vowels, å, ä and ö [Å, Ä and Ö] which appear at the end of the Swedish alphabet. I am not going to bore you with the history of these sounds, or how they came into being. The thing to remember is that they are separate letters and cannot under any circumstance be equated with a or o. They are just as important as other letters and must not be ignored. Ignoring the diacritical marks can spell failure for you in your research. As an example I can mention two parishes in Malmöhus län – one is Bosarp, the other is Bösarp.

It makes a world of difference in your research if you don't watch out for those diacritical marks. It is just as important as crossing a t, by not doing so, you are stuck with an 1.

Let us look at some Swedish words, where the diacritical
marks change the meaning of a word –
(table will be corrected)
Swedish Meaning      Swedish Meaning      Swedish Meaning

adel    nobility     ädel    noble
aga     punish       äga     own
agg     grudge       ägg     egg
akta    take care    äkta    genuine
al      alder tree   ål      eel
alv     subsoil      älv     river
bal     dance,ball   bål     bowl
bar     bare         bår     stretcher    bär     berry
bast    bast         bäst    best
bota    cure         böta    pay a fine
fall    fall         fäll    rug, pelt    fåll    hem
fara    travel       fåra    furrow
fasta   fast         fästa   secure
gast    seaman       gäst    guest
hal     slippery     hål     hole         häl     heel
hall    hall         håll    direction    häll    flat rock
hast    haste        häst    horse
kaka    eake,cookie  käka    eat
kalla   call         källa   well spring     
kapa    cut down     kåpa    garment
kapp    compete      käpp    cane
man     man          män     men          mån     degree
massa   mass         mässa   church mass
mossa   moss         mössa   cap
ort     community    ört     herb
raka    shave        råka    encounter    räka    shrimp
rata    refuse       räta    straighten
rova    turnip       röva    rob
saga    story        såga    saw          säga    tell\
skada   injury       skåda   behold
skal    shell        skäl    reason       skål    bowl
skålla  scald        skälla  bark
skara   crowd        skära   cut          skåra   cut
slakt   slaughter    släkt   family
tala    speak        tåla    endure
talja   pulley       tälja   whittle
tät     tight        tåt     string
trad    trade        träd    tree         tråd    thread
vag     vague        väg     road         våg     wave, scale
val     whale        väl     well
I could give you hundreds of additional words, that follow the same pattern, but the samples given here will demonstrate how tricky the diacritical marks are in making sense of what you come across.

*) Rosenberg referenced above is the work Geografiskt statistiskt handlexikon öfver Sverige by Carl Martin Rosenberg. First published in 1882, and reprinted last in 1993 by Sveriges Släktforskarförbund. This is the best gazetteer of old Sweden, most farms, all parishes, legal districts (härad) and geographical areas are listed here.

Swedish Roots
is published by Sveriges Släktforskarförbund.
The Federation of Swedish Genealogical Societies

Emigrant Traffic on the North Sea

By Nils William Olsson

Americans of Swedish descent, whose ancestors made the long journey from Sweden to America, find the Swedish emigration phenomenon divided roughly into three time periods. These periods correspond roughly to (a) the early emigration era, i.e. up to the 1850s and 1860s, (b) - the middle period, which saw the culmination of emigration, and (c) - the period just prior to and after the First World War.

The first period coincided with the sailing ship era, when Swedish sailing vessels from Göteborg, Stockholm and the Norrland ports of Gävle and Söderhamn, ferried passengers the entire distance from Sweden to America. With few exceptions, the Swedish emigrants who left Sweden during the period 1820-1860, went the entire distance on Swedish or foreign vessels.

The second period begins with the advent of the improved and more dependable steamship, the acceleration of emigrant traffic and the need for speedier communications across the Atlantic.

This was the time when the journey was split into two segments - the first being the trip across the North Sea from Copenhagen, Göteborg or the Danish port of Esbjerg, located on the west coast of Jutland, directly to Hull on the east coast of England. From Hull the transportation of thousands of emigrants was carried out via the railway to Liverpool, where the giant British transoceanic steamships were tied up, waiting to receive their human cargoes. Despite the inconvenience of splitting the journey, the time saved was enormous and emigrants could now, hopefully, make the westward journey in much shorter time. It is true that many emigrants, particularly from southern Sweden, found it preferable to travel to Germany and then via Hamburg or Bremen travel the long journey across the North Atlantic. It is estimated that roughly 15% of the Swedish emigrants chose this method.

The third epoch begins in the last decades of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century, when the Thingvalla Line out of Copenhagen, later to be renamed the Scandinavian American Line and later, in 1915, the Swedish American Line out of Göteborg, were able to offer direct and speedy transatlantic service aboard modern and comfortable steamships.

It is the middle period, however, which chiefly interests us, for this is the period which more than the two other, involved the majority of the Swedish emigrants who sought a new life style in the West.


Steamships to England

Efforts to provide direct service via steamships between Göteborg and Hull had begun already in April 1834, when a British company, the St. George Steamship Company of Liverpool, dispatched its first steamer, the Superb, from Hull to Göteborg. It was followed by,another vessel, the Cornubia. The steamers kept to the schedule fairly well, but the number of passengers, who availed themselves of this new swift means of transportation were few, varying from five to ten each journey. Also, because of the cholera epidemics which raged at this time and which forced the ships to go into quarantine at Känsö, outside of Göteborg, traffic slowed and the number of passengers was further reduced. This first start in steamship service lasted but through the summer of 1834. By the time the ice broke up the next spring it was back to the sailing vessels again, the company having lost too much money on the venture.

The hope of inaugurating regular steamship traffic between Sweden and England still remained, however. In 1840 the British firm of Wilson, Hudson & Co., situated in Hull opened traffic between Hull and Göteborg with two leased steamers, the Glen Albyn and the Innisfail. These were in turn replaced by two other vessels, the Scotia and the Express. Also this second attempt failed, after only two years.

It was during these two years, however, that despite the paucity of passengers, something happened which was to create an entirely different situation. On board the Innisfail, which arrived in Göteborg from Hull on 19 Aug. 1842 was a Swedish passenger, who was returning to Sweden, after a grand tour, which had included a visit to the United States. He was Robert Rettig, the son of the Swedish tobacco tycoon in Gävle, Per Christian Rettig. On the journey across the North Sea young Rettig had made the acquaintance of an Englishman, David Wilson, a son of the ship's owner in Hull, Thomas Wilson. Robert Rettig brought David Wilson and his brother John West Wilson to Gävle, where both spent some time studying Swedish and pursuing mercantile studies.

On 1 Dec. 1843, John West Wilson, then but 28 years old, founded in Göteborg the shipping firm of J. W. Wilson, which today under the name of Wilson & Co. still carries on the business of shipping and freight forwarding. His father, Thomas Wilson in Hull, owned the head firm in that city, and thus father and son could conduct a transit traffic across the North Sea to the mutual satisfaction of both. In Göteborg, John West Wilson established a thriving business in exporting to England - oats, cattle and Swedish wood products, importing to Sweden coal for the infant but growing Swedish industry.

It was not until 1848 that a new attempt was made to establish regular steamship service between Göteborg and Hull. Despite.the former failures, many things had changed, not least the burgeoning emigrant traffic and the recent discovery of gold in California. Plans advanced slowly. Wilson suggested a contract with the Swedish Government that he would carry all mail free of charge, if the Government would waive all port charges in Sweden and Norway. After two years Wilson finally had his contract and on 29 June 1850 the first steamer Courier arrived in Göteborg with several passengers on board.

After that a vessel departed from Göteborg every fortnight, touching at the port of Kristiansand in south Norway en route. In the beginning the service ran into some difficulties, particularly the cholera epidemic, which again forced vessels to go into Känsö Quarantine for long periods of time. In March of 1851, however, the first World's Fair was opened in London and traffic began picking up.

The first tariffs were announced. The round trip between Göteborg and Hull in first class commanded a price of seven pounds, in second class it was four pounds. The railway journey from Hull to London was a little more than a pound.

More steamships

By the fall of 1852 the Courier was replaced with a brand new vessel, the steamship Scandinavian, measuring 500 tons, which provided the direct weekly connection with Hull, without going via Kristiansand. As a rule the journey across the North Sea consumed about 52 hours of travel.

The emigration to America, which during the 1840s had begun to develop at a modest rate, began in the 1850s to accelerate beyond the wildest dreams. The English steamship lines began building bigger and faster ships in order to compete with the sailing vessel traffic. Here the steamships could offer the speed which shrank the time consumed on the Atlantic run from period of eight, ten and up to twelve weeks to an average of a fortnight. John West Wilson saw the opportunities and began negotiating with the British Atlantic lines to coordinate the traffic by sending passengers to Hull, then by rail to Liverpool, the giant departure port for all of the British Isles, as well as part of the European continent. Wilson thus inaugurated a service which was to continue uninterruptedly up to the outbreak of the Great War in 1914.

Thus the Oscar, a spanking new propeller driven steamship, measuring 700 ton and built in 1853, was able to sail for Hull from Göteborg 19 May 1854, carrying 120 emigrants. In June of the same year the Oscar carried no less than 350 Swedish emigrants. At that time there were no less than 1,500 individuals from various parts of Sweden lodged in Göteborg, waiting for space to cross the North Sea and the Atlantic. As the emigration grew, so did also the Wilson Line. At times it was necessary to bring over extra steamers from Hull to cope with the immense traffic. Among these temporary vessels, which aided the emigration effort, were such ships as the Baltic, Humber, Propeller, Hamburg, Neva, North Sea, Kingston, Hawk, Jupiter, St. George, Arctic and many others.

In 1859 the Wilson Line added a new vessel, the Arctic, which measured close to 700 tons. Increased emigration forced the line to acquire two new and modern steamships, the Argo, measuring 716 tons and which could carry 282 passengers and the Pacific, which measured 688 tons and could handle 302 passengers. Soon another vessel, the Hero, measuring 985 tons joined the traffic and made the crossing over the North Sea in the record time of 39 hours. Argo and Oder, the latter measuring 694 tons, were to be the regular steamships which plied the North Sea continually through the 1850s and 1860s. The number of passengers increased. By 1865 the Wilson ships averaged between 170 and 200 passengers on each journey and on one journey alone, the Argo was filled to capacity with 300 passengers. The emigration scene in Göteborg on those days when the vessels left for Hull was one of excitement, confusion, anticipation as well as sadness. The Göteborgs Handels - och Sjöfartstidning carried a story on 26 Aug. 1865, which paints the scene as seen by the newspaper's reporter:

"Every week we witness larger and smaller groups of peasants from almost every province in Sweden, who have arrived here, ostensibly to travel with the large British steamships to the New World. The entire deck is covered with chests and bed clothes. The motivating drive for making this journey is the fact that relatives in America have written letters, telling of how good life is over there. Thus one sells house and land in order to make the journey.

Down in the harbor, where the Hull steamer Argo is docked there is life and activity. The deck has to be cleared before departure, and now everybody is working desperately to stow the baggage. The emigrants are to be quartered on the middle deck. The cargo consists of sawn timber and between the cargo and the deck there is enough room, so that one or two hundred persons can lodge here comfortably. Along the sides of the vessel are provisional seats, which also may be used for a head rest for those who wish to sleep. Here, also, the bed clothes are spread ready for the night's rest.

The large hatchway provides the room with light and fresh air. Even around the engines, emigrants have made themselves comfortable. Boys and girls, mothers with babies, still nursing, young and old, every class of humanity is represented here. The family fathers are attempting to cheer up their families, telling them to keep up their courage. The women seem passive. The Word of God is on their lips and with tearful eyes and anxiety in their hearts they attempt to sing a religious hymn in their solemn meditation. The men busy themselves seeing that everything is in order. They then settle down around a sea chest, take out their provisions of pork, meat, butter, cheese and bread. They are loquacious and freely dispense the one 'for the road.'

Now the signal is given and the departure is at hand. Now the situation changes. Friends and relatives leave the ship. The passengers gather along the railing for the last look at the city. Now the engines start up and there is unrest on board, weeping, moaning, crying and shrieking is heard. Many of the passengers change their moods as they soberly reminisce about their homes and life in their native land. 'Farewell, dear Sweden' is the cry one hears from many lips. Soon one can see nothing of the Argo in the beautiful September (read August) evening but the pillar of smoke streaking across the horizon.'

Greater hordes of emigrants made it necessary to build larger and more commodious vessels. In 1866 a new Hero arrived in Göteborg (the old one had been sold to Australia). It measured 1,034 tons and could carry 550 passengers. The Argo was replaced with the Albion, which measured 1,066 tons. But it was in the late 1860s and the 1870s that the Wilson Line really increased its carrying capacity. Two ships, the Orlando and the Rollo were built in Hull 1869-1870 and measured the unheard-of size of 1,500 tons and could carry from 800 to 900 passengers. These vessels served the emigrant trade for many years and thousands and thousands of Swedish emigrants began their journeys to the United States aboard one of these two sturdy vessels. In 1881 another vessel, the Romeo, measuring 1,855 tons, replaced the Rollo. The Ariosto, measuring 2,376 tons, the largest ship which at that time called at Göteborg regularly was added in 1890. In later years two other Wilson ships were added to the Göteborg-Hull run. These were the Calypso, measuring 2,876 tons, built in 1904 and the Eskimo, built in 1910, measuring 3,326 tons.

As mentioned earlier, the outbreak of World War I brought an abrupt end to the emigrant traffic between Göteborg and Hull. When the war was over it was the Swedish American Line that was to take over as the transportation medium for Swedes wishing to migrate. But that is another chapter.

For thousands of Americans, who have heard their parents and grandparents speak about their first chapter of their odyssey to the New World, names like the Orlando, the Rollo, the Romeo and the Ariosto evoke a nostalgia which is difficult to describe. These were the ships that furnished the first break in the link that tied them to their native land.


First published in the Swedish American Genealogist 1984, December issue.

Swedish Roots
is published by Sveriges Släktforskarförbund.
Editor: Elisabeth Thorsell.
Last updated on 10 September 2001

Some Notes on Swedish Names

By Nils William Olsson, Ph.D., F.A.S.G.

Nobility | Clergy | Foreign names | Military names | Guilds and craftsmen
(A special article on the Farm names of Dalarna has been added here)
In the beginning every person had but one name, the given name. If you look at the Bible and study the first chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew or the third chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke you will find that the genealogy of Jesus consists of single male names, with an occasonal mention of a female. As time went on it became necessary to differentiate between two persons with the same given name, thus we find John, the Baptist and John, the Evangelist.
In most cultures, where confusion might exist between two persons with the same given name, the father's name was used to separate the two individuals. The Latin name for son, filius, thus becomes fils in French, fitz in Norman French, and vich, witz in the Slavic languages. In Ireland, the prefix O' signifies the son of, as Mac or Mc in Scottish names.
In northern Europe the patronymic was indicated by adding the father's given name to -son and -dotter in Sweden, -son and -datter in Danish and Norwegian. The extra s in Swedish patronymics denotes the possessive case, thus Anders' son, Johan's son, Carl's daughter etc., the extra s being sloughed off when the immigrant arrived in the U.S.
In families where the wife had a position superior to that of the husband, in that she came from a more powerful clan, the children occasionally used the matronymic. Thus among my own ancestors, those of the Natt och Dag family (so called because the escutcheon was divided into two flelds, dark blue and gold, popularly referred to as Night and Day), supposedly one of my earliest ancestors was Nils Sigridsson, the son of an important woman named Sigrid in the 13th century.
Even though the Scandinavian cultures show many similarities, there are some distinct differences. In Norway, in addition to the patronymic, the Norwegian often added the name of the farm or village where he resided as his surname. Often several families, not related, would assume the same surname, based upon their domiciles.
In my wife's Norwegian ancestry the surname was Stumo, taken from their ancestral home in western Norway. The fact that other families adopted the same surname does not mean that they were related.
It is only quite recently that Swedish families have followed suit, in taking the name of the family farmstead as a surname.
In Denmark, the Danes often followed the Norwegians in adopting place names as surnames. but sometimes used forms that would be impossible in Sweden, as for instance Kirkegaard, meaning cemetery.
The use of patronymics in Sweden was so common that it was not until approximately a century ago, that the practice was dropped and the patronymic stabilized into a surname. Thus my grandfather was Nils Olsson, the son of Ola Persson, but his son, my father, born in 1878, chose to stay by Olsson,which thus has become our family name.
In Iceland the custom of using patronymics is prescribed by law, so that every generation must follow the old custom. Thus the most important name of an Icelander is his given or baptismal name and he or she is listed by this name in the telephone book, the patronymic coming last.
Because patronymics were the rule in Sweden, even as late as the 16th century, the Swedish King, Gustaf Vasa, was known as Gustaf Eriksson. The name of Vasa was added later and has to do with the coat of arms, which has a bunch of fasces as the symbol (vasakärve).
Important as the patronymics were in Swedish social history, particularly in the rural areas, the system began to break down with the emergence of social classes - nobility, clergy, the military, the influx of foreigners, the development of town guilds and the advent of the industrial age. Let us look at each of these groups.
The nobility in Sweden was created along the same lines as in continental Europe. A special privileged class which served the ruler and aided him in conflicts by equipping a number of soldiers as well as cavalry. In return he was free of taxation and was known as frälse. Usually they were given a patent of nobility by the king as well as a coat of arms, on which was emblazoned heraldic symbols. From these symbols the family name slowly evolved. A good example is the earlier mentioned Natt och Dag family. The Uggla family had an uggla (owl) on its escutcheon. Hammarskjöld has two hammare (hammers) on its shield; the Gedda family has a gädda (northern pike); Falkenberg has two falcons in its coat of arms, and in my family Gyllensting (now extinct) there is a stiletto piercing a heart (sting).
Except for an occasonal stray immigrant, the Swedish clergy was recruited mostly from within Sweden, which at this time also included Finland. Candidates for holy orders came mainly from the nobility although as time went on, more and more students had their origins in rural Sweden. Early in the Catholic era the clergyman used only his given name preceded by Herr (Sir), thus Herr Johannes, Herr Mikael, Herr Petrus and Herr Wilhelmus. But it soon became necessary to differentiate between two clerics having the same given name and then the patronymic was added, but Latinized, thus:
Abraham Andersson = Abrahamus Andrex
Björn Bengtsson = Bero Benedicti
Anders Danielsson = Andreas Danielis
Bengt Eriksson = Benedictus Erici
Johan Henriksson = Johannes Henrici
Nils Håkansson = Nicolaus Haquini
Gabriel Johansson = Gabriel Johannis
Erik Larsson = Ericus Laurentii
Matthias Olofsson = Matthias Olai
Henrik Simonsson = Henricus Simonis
Lars Steffansson = Laurentius Stephani
Göran Svensson = Georgius Svenonis
But as time went on these Latinized forms were not sufficient to correctly identify the clergy, thus when they enrolled at the University of Uppsala or at the University of Åbo [Turku] in Finland it became necessary to add an identifier, usually the Latinized form of their birth place. If we examine the clergy of the Diocese of Västerås during the 17th century, we find a few of these names:
Olaus Andreæ Arosiensis from Västerås
Bartholdus Petri Cuprimontanus from Kopparberg Parish
Matthias Erici Dalekarlus from the province of Dalarna
Ericus Petri Dingtunensis from Dingtuna Parish
Laurentius Andreæ Gevaliensis from Gävle
Andreas Pauli Helsingus from Hälsingland
Petrus Jonæ Kolbeckius from Kolbäck Parish
Andreas Andreæ Norxmontanus from Norberg Parish
Gudmundus Petri Rettvikensis from Rättvik Parish
Nicolaus Erici Segerstadius from Segerstad Parish
Johannes Danielis Tunensis from Tuna Parish
If the father of the cleric had a surname, he might Latinize that name as for instance: Johannes Laurentius Betulius, whose father was named Björk (Swedish = birch).
Again as time passed clerical students used other methods to create names which were commensurate with their social station. One popular method was to add the Greek word ander (man) as the last syllable of a name: Alander, Arenander, Arosiander, Betulander, Björkander, Carlander Dalander, Delander, Dryander, Elander, Fornander, Gasslander, Gullander, Hållander, Insulander, Jullander, Karlander, Kilander, Kylander, Lysander, Mellander, Nylander, Olander, Pållander, Rollander, Svenander, Tennander, Ulander, Vikander, Wallander and Ylander.
Foreign Names
The movement of foreigners into Sweden has had some impact on Swedish surnames. In the Middle Ages quite a few Germans settled in Sweden, particularly Stockholm and the coastal cities. At the end of the 16th century and beginning of the 17th century there was an influx of Walloons from Belgium and France, most of them engaged in the iron industry. They have contributed much to the historically excellent quality of Swedish steel products. Some of the Walloon names still to be found in Sweden are - Allard, Anjou, Bouveng, Charpentier, Douhan, Galon, Gefvert (Gävert), Gille, Hybbinette, Lemon, Martin, Pousette, Quarfordt, Sporrong, Tolf and Touron.
Military Names
At the end of the 17th century the military system of Sweden was completely reorganized and the system was to remain in effect for over 200 years. Simplified it specified that four farms (there were exceptions) were to join forces and equip a soldier and provide him with a house (soldattorp). The soldier was to attend military drills and in time of war was to report for duty, wherever that might be. Since he had a rural background he had a patronymic, which might be very common, such as Andersson, Eriksson, Olsson or Petersson. When he appeared before the military scribe he was given a soldier's name, which he kept during his service and which he often retained when he was pensioned or left the service. The name was usually short, consisting of only one syllable.They can be divided into various groups:
1.   Military terms -
Granat = grenade       
Pistol = pistol
Kanon =cannon  
Sabel = sabre
Kask = hat     
Spjut = spear
Kula = shot    
Svärd = sword
2. Personal characteristics - Fast = steady Flink = fast From = pious Modig = courageous Stadig = sturdy Stark = strong Trofast = dependable Trogen =loyal
3. Nature names - Al = alder Alm = elm Ek = oak Gran = pine Gren = branch Lind = linden Löf = leaf Lönn = maple Qvist = twig Sjö = lake 4. Names taken from place names - Abborre from Abborberget Berg from Berghem Dahl from Dalsland Murberg from Murum Parish
Names from Guilds and Craftsmen
Many lads of rural background left the farm to enter some kind of trade. Usually he started out as an apprentice, then became a journeyman, finally ending up as a master in some Swedish town. In the change from farm life to city life he also assumed a surname. These names were usually linked to some form of nature name or topographic locality.
1. Nature names
Here imagination had full sway. Usually in two syllables, they were combinations of every imaginable tree coupled with some nature form or topographical entity. Let us try a sample. The linden tree is very popular in Sweden and has given rise to names like - Lind, Lindahl, Lindbeck, Lindberg, Lindberger, Lindblad, Lindblom, Lindbom, Linde, Lindeberg, Lindeblad, Lindeborg, Lindegård, Lindegren, Lindell, Lindekrantz,Lindenbaum, Lindenkrona, Lindenstrand, Linder, Linderholm, Linderoth, Lindfeldt, Lindfors, Lindgren, Lindhagen, Lindholm, Lindman, Lindmark, Lindmarker, Lindner, Lindörn, Lindorm, Lindquist, Lindroth, Lindsfeldt, Lindskog, Lindstam, Lindstedt, Lindståhl, Lindstrand, Lindström, and Lindvall.
The same pattern can be used with other trees - al, alm, björk, bok, ceder, ek, en, fur, gran, hägg, lönn, palm, and tall.
2. Topographical names
By fusing topographical syllables it was possible to create hundreds of new names - 'ås, bäck, berg, born, borg, brink by, dal, fält, fors, holm, hult, lund, mark, näs, sand, sjö, skog, strand, ström, vall and vik.
Some samples come to mind - Åsbrink, Backström, Bergström, Born, Borgström, Brink, Byström, Dahllöf, Åfäldt, Forsman, Holmquist, Hultgren, Lundberg, Lundmark, Näsbom, Sandberg, Sjöholm, Skoglund, Strandlund, Strömberg,Vallberg and Vikström.
Swedish Roots
Important years in Swedish history
By Erik Thorell and
Elisabeth Thorsell
Ca 1280 The Charter of Alsnö, proclaimed by King Magnus Birgersson, gave exemption from taxes for those, that served the King with a fully armoured horse and rider. This was the foundation of the Swedish nobility.
Ca 1350 King Magnus Eriksson proclaimed the first general law, that was common for the whole country except the cities.
1350 The Black plague devastated Sweden, some say that about half of the population died.
1381 The oldest still preserved book of city council minutes was started in Kalmar.
1442 King Kristoffer revised the earlier laws, and his rural law was in use until 1734.
1471 In the Battle of Brunkeberg (outside Stockholm) the Danes were defeated by the governor Sten Sture, and Swedish independence was saved.
1474 The continous series of Stockholm city council minutes starts.
1477 Uppsala University was founded by the archbishop Jakob Ulfsson.
1523 Gustav Eriksson (Vasa) was elected King of Sweden
1527 At the meeting of the Riksdag in Västerås, it was decided that Sweden should change to the Lutheran doctrine.
1530s The continuous tax records start for most of Sweden.
1542-43 Nils Dacke from Småland started a rebellion, but was finally defeated by King Gustaf and his army.
1560 King Gustaf died and was succeeded by his son Erik XIV.
1561 Estonia is incorporated in the Swedish realm.
1563-70 War between Sweden and Denmark.
1568 King Erik is dethroned by his brothers Johan and Karl. Johan is elected King Johan III.
1570 In the peace treaty in Stettin with the Danes, Sweden had to buy back the fortress of Älvsborg for a huge sum of money. This sum was collected from the people according to their property, which caused detailed records to be made of all things of value.
Ca 1570 People from eastern Finland started to immigrate to the forests in Värmland and further north.
1592 King Johan III died and was succeeded by his son Sigismund, who also was King of Poland and a catholic. Sigismund tried to change Sweden back to catholicism, which caused bitter feuds and finally civil war, where the opposition was led by his uncle, Duke Karl.
1593 the clergy assembled in Uppsala and signed the Decision of Uppsala, which confirmed that Sweden was to continue as a Lutheran country.
1598 Sigismund was defeated by Duke Karl at the battle of Stångebro in Östergötland. The King then left the country, and Duke Karl took over as governor of the realm.
1604 Duke Karl proclaimed himself King Karl IX of Sweden.
1608 The death records of Heliga Trefaldighet parish in Uppsala start, the oldest church records preserved.
1611-1613 War with Denmark, which was followed by the 2nd ransom payment for Älvsborg fortress, and caused new detailed lists of personal property.
1611 King Karl died and was succeeded by his son Gustaf II Adolf.
1614 The first court of appeal, Svea hovrätt was instituted.
1620 Taxation on cattle started, and rolls were created on how many cows a farmer owned.
1620s Immigration of blacksmiths, blast furnace workers and charcoal-burners from the Walloon areas in modern-day Belgium started.
1620s Coins of copper were starting to be circulated at the same time as coins of silver.This continued for years and finally the exchange rate was about 1 daler silver for 3 daler copper.
1622 The bishop Johannes Rudbeckius in Västerås declared that church records should be kept within his diocese, later on also clerical surveys (husförhörslängder).
1625 A tax was imposed on all grain milled in public mills, the Mill Tax.
1628 The state Survey Office (Lantmäteriverket) started to draw maps of parishes, villages, cities and mines.
1630 The Swedish army went to war in Germany to take part in the 30 Years War on the Evangelical side.
 1632 King Gustaf II Adolf was killed in action at the Battle of Lützen in Germany. His six-year old daughter Kristina was declared Queen of Sweden.
1634 A new adminstrative division of the realm was instituted. The old division of landskap, provinces, was changed to the new division into län, or counties, which still is in use, more or less changed.
1635 The Mill Tax was changed into a personal tax, Mantalspenningen, a sum of money to be paid for every person in the country above a certain age, half the amount for women. This caused the start of the Personal Tax Rolls, Mantalslängder, which continued until 1967, the tax was abolished in 1938.
1638 Sweden started a colony in the New World, New Sweden in Delaware.
1645 The newspaper Post- och Inrikes Tidningar started publication, and is still published.
1645 A result of the wars during this period was the Peace Treaty of Brömsebro, in which Sweden gained Halland for 30 years, and Jämtland, Härjedalen, Gotland and the island of Ösel.
1648 Another result was the Peace Treaty of Westphalia, where Sweden gained parts of Pomerania, the islands Usedom, Rügen and Wollin and the cities of Wismar and Bremen
1654 Queen Kristina abdicated and gave the throne to her cousin Karl X Gustaf.
1655 New Sweden was conquered by the Dutch.
1658 After more wars with Denmark the Peace Treaty of Roskilde ended with Sweden gaining Skåne, Halland, Blekinge and Bohus län. Trondheim län and Bornholm were also gained for a short period of time.
1660 King Karl X Gustaf died and his son Karl XI succeeded him at age four.
1668 An epidemic of witch-hunting started in the northern provinces of Dalarna, Gästrikland and Ångermanland, and also had out-breaks in Stockholm and other places.
1676 War with Denmark again, where they tried to recapture Skåne and the other southern provinces, but this failed.
1680 During Queen Kristina's time and the minority of the King, much of the crown estates, and the income from them, had been given away to various officials and noblemen. The King had discovered this decrease in the internal revenue during the war with Denmark, when much money was needed for the army, and now started to reduce these gifts, to strengthen the economy of the country.
1682 A reorganisation of the armed forces was instituted, where soldiers were paid by a number of local farmers in a neighborhood, the indelningsverket.
1686 The new Church Law proclaimed among other things that church records should be kept in every parish.
1697 King Karl XI died and was succeeded by his son Karl XII, age 15.
1700-18 Sweden was attacked by Denmark, Poland and Russia, and at first managed well to ward of these enemies, but as the years went by, the wars continued and the country was brought to the edge of ruin.
1718 Karl XII was killed in the trenches outside Fredrikshald in Norway, and was succeeded by his sister Ulrika Eleonora, who shortly afterwards abdicated in favor of her husband Fredrik I.


1721 In the Peace Treaty of Nystad Sweden had to give up the Baltic provinces and most of the German conquests.
1726 The Conventicle Edict prohibited people to congregate in the homes and have religious meetings.
1734 A totally new version of the Swedish Common Law was instituted. Among other things it proclaimed that estate inventories should be taken after deceased persons, children born out of wedlock had no right to inherit and a woman was legally capable only as a widow.
1743 After an unsucessful war with Russia, Sweden had to give up parts of eastern Finland.
1749 The Table Office, Tabellverket, started to assemble statistics about the population of Sweden. The name of this authority was later changed to The Central Bureau of Statistics.
1751 King Fredrik I died and was succeeded by Adolf Fredrik, who was a very distant relative, but who had been chosen successor by the Riksdag.
1752 The first Seamen's Registries were started.
1753 The calendar was changed from the Julian to the Gregorian, February only had 17 days.


1757-62 War in Pomerania, which ended without great losses. The soldiers are said to have learned to eat and cultivate the potato during this war.
1766 The Edict of the Freedom of the Press, Tryckfrihetsförordningen, was proclaimed.
1772 KingAdolf Fredrik died and was succeeded by his son Gustaf III. The royal power had been very limited since 1719, but the King soon made a coup and declared himself an advocate of the doctrine of division of power between the Riksdag and the Monarch.
1778 The King decreed that women were allowed to give birth without revealing their names. This was supposed to bring down the number of children murdered by their mothers, to avoid the shame of an illegitimate child. Most women convicted of murdering a child were sentenced to death, and the number of death sentences worried the King, who had to sign them.
1788-90 War against Russia, which mostly took place in Finland.
1792 King Gustaf III was murdered at the Opera in Stockholm. He was succeeded by his young son Gustaf IV Adolf.
1804 An Edict of Inoculation was proclaimed, which soon brought down the fearful epidemics of small-pox.
1805-07 War against Napoleon in Pomerania, many Swedish soldiers were taken prisoners of war by the French.
1808 War with Russia, which mostly took place in Finland.
1809 The King was dethroned and replaced by his uncle Karl XIII. A new constitution was adopted.
1809 In the Peace Treaty of Fredrikshamn Sweden had to give up Finland to Russia.
1810 The French fieldmarshal Jean Baptiste Bernadotte was elected Crown Prince.
1812 The army was reinforced by more or less compulsory militia units.
1812-13 War against Napoleon and Denmark, which mostly took place in Germany.
1814 In the Peace Treaty of Kiel Denmark gave up Norway to Sweden. The Norwegians resisted, but the following year had to accept a union with Sweden, as a double monarchy. Both countries had separate laws, constitutions and governments, but the same head of state.
1818 Karl XIII died and was succeed by Bernadotte under the name of Karl XIV Johan.
1834 An epidemic of cholera troubled the country.
1842 The Law of Public schools was passed, every parish had to have a school for the children in the parish.
1844 King Karl Johan died and was succeed by his son Oscar I.
1845 The law of inheritance was changed so sons and daughters inherited equally, earlier sons inherited twice as much as daughters.
1845 The Swedish mass emigration to the United States started.
1846 The very old guild system of masters and journeymen was abolished and freedom of enterprise was declared.
1853 The first telegraph line is built between Stockholm and Uppsala.
1855 The old riksdaler is changed to a decimal system, 1 riksdaler = 100 öre.
1854 The Riksdag decided to start building the first railway lines.
1856 An unmarried woman could be declared legally capable by a court at age 25.
1858 The Conventicle Edict is revoked, and more religious freedom allowed.
1859 King Oscar I died and his son Karl XV inherited.
1860 Passports, both within and outside the country, were abolished.
1860 It was no longer an offense to renounce the Lutheran faith.
1861 Unmarried women were legally capable at age 25.
1865 The old four estate Riksdag is abandonded and a new two chamber constitution is passed. Only men of property had the right to vote.
1866-68 Famine years increased emigration.
1872 King Karl died and his brother Oskar II inherited.
1878 The metrical system is introduced.
1880 The first telephone net is built in Stockholm.
1899 The first provincial archives, at Vadstena, is started.
1901 The first Name law is passed in the Riksdag.
1901The army is reorganised and the Indelningsverket is abandoned. The army is now based on conscripted men.
1905 The union with Norway is dissolved.
1907 King Oskar died and was succeeded by his son Gustaf V.
1909 Men were given the right to vote.
1920 Married women were declared legally capable.
 1921 Women were given the right to vote.
1950 King Gustaf died and was succeeded by his son Gustaf VI Adolf.
1973 King Gustaf Adolf died and was succeeded by his grandson Carl XVI Gustaf.
1986 The Federation of Swedish Genealogical Societies (Sveriges Släktforskarförbund) was founded.
1991 The keeping of vital records was transferred from the church to the local IRS offices (lokala skattemyndigheten).
Swedish Roots
is published by Sveriges Släktforskarförbund.
The Federation of Swedish Genealogical Societies