How to Research Your Swedish Ancestors

The basic methodology for researching your Swedish ancestors assumes that you understand how to use three types of records. Ministerial books, kept by priests, record christenings, betrothals, and deaths. Household Examination Books contain information on how well household members could read and understand the catechism. Relocation records kept track of people entering and leaving parishes.

The Starting Point

You cannot start with just a name (unless it’s unusual). Sweden for all but the last century, generally used a system of patronymics instead of surnames. This means that Karl Johansson was the son of Johan, and Karl’s son would be named Something Karlsson. To us modern genealogists, that makes it very difficult to find a person based on name alone, and so at the very least you will need an idea of which parish they came from and when. Thus, as an example, I’ll use Karl Johansson who emigrated to America in April 1869 and according to the emigration records, was born in a parish called Älgarås about 1832 or 1833.

Begin with the Exit – Relocation Records

Knowing that Karl left for America in 1869 means that we have a great way to try to locate him on his home turf.  The first thing we should look for is the last thing Karl did – he moved out of Älgarås. In your application of choice (I will use Arkiv Digital), look up the parish and identify the Moving in and Out Records for the relevant year.  In this particular parish, there is a book with the call number B:1 that covers the period 1824-1885. We want to look for the “Utflyttade” (i.e. “People having moved out”, literally “Out-moved”) part of this book for the relevant year. Once I’ve found that, it’s time to start reading, in the hope that I’ll find a record of a Karl Johansson.


There he is! The 23 is a sequence number – he was the 23rd person to leave the parish that year, and he moved out on the 1st of April (same as the row above – remember, Swedish dates are day/month, NOT month/day). Next, we find his title “Hemmason”. This literally means “home-son” or a son who was living at home with his parents. He was born on the 28th of September 1832, and came from the farm or village of Lilla Pjungserud. He moved to do (an abbreviation for ditto) which means “the same” – look on the row above to find his destination.  It says “Amerika”.  The last column says do again, referring to the word “ledig” – he was free to be married.  The final 1 in the left column means it’s a man.

For more on this, read How to Read Moving in and out Records.

Next, go to the Household Examination Records

With the above information we know where he lived before he left Älgarås.  We can now find him in the Household Examination (HHE) records for the relevant period.  The volume Älgarås AI:3 (1856-1869) has a handy typed location index at the front.  Many HHEs have these, but not all!


Let’s turn to page 74 and see what we find.


At the top of the page we find the residents of Lilla Pjungserud and some information about the size of the farm (1/4 “mantal”). There’s no Karl here, but towards the bottom of the page (I’ve cut out a lot of blank space) we find our Karl.  His name is here spelled with a C, which was interchangeable with K. The birth date is correct compared to the moving out record, and we can see that it says “Amerika” next to “69”. We already know that Karl moved to America in 1869, so we can be doubly sure that this is the same chap. HHEs are contextual and all familial designations refer to the principal (usually male) owner or tenant of the property.  In this case that’s “Äg. Per Joh. Johansson” at the top of the page. “Äg.” here means owner.  With that in mind, in front of Karl’s name we can see the word “Bror”. This means “brother” and so we can conclude that Karl is the brother of the farm’s owner, Per Joh(an) Johansson. At the extreme top we also find his widowed mother (“Modren Enka”) Maja Persdotter with her place and date of birth (27 January 1801 at Elgarås, i.e. Älgarås).

Finally, Confirm the Parents in Birth Records

To get the name of Karl’s father we have several options.  We can simply look up the farm in an earlier HHE and hope that he was still alive when that was created.  Alternatively, we can look up Karl’s birth record.  Älgarås C:3 (1830-1885) contains the birth and christening records for our parish, and so all we need do is look up the entries for 1832, and flick through the pages until we reach September.


Right where we expected him to be!  Born on the 28th of September, christened on the 30th. His parents names were Johannes Jacobsson and Maria Pehrsdotter (aged 31), at Lilla Pjungserud. On the far right are the names of the sponsors and witnesses.

Summing up our Research

We started with a name and a date, and after only a few minutes’ research in the three main source types we can now create a little family tree:


There’s more information to be had in the above.  E.g. we can already see that Karl lived for a while in the parish of Ullerud, and that he had several nieces and nephews. But that’s a story for another time.


Älgarås (R) B:1 (1824-1885), p. 133

Älgarås (R) AI:3 (1856-1869), p. 74

Älgarås (R) C:3 (1830-1885), p. 9.

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