How to Understand the Inventory in Swedish Estate Inventories

That title almost sounds redundant, doesn’t it?  It’s just a list of stuff?  Right?

Well, yes, it is.  If, however, you’re not used to reading them, or if you want to get an idea of the gist of what bits go where, then read on.  Although, to be perfectly fair, this’ll be a partial lesson in Swedish too – there’ll be a few old phrases here or there that we can’t escape.

There are Sections with Headings

Each section of the inventory will have a heading that describes the general category of items that are listed.  It is normal to start with things that are worth the most, and progressively work to the cheaper, or lower-value, items in the estate. Consequently, the first thing you’re likely to see are real estate and houses, followed by cash, then precious metals. Headings were usually omitted if there was none of the item to be found in the estate. However, there are occasionally headings with a note that there exists none of it.

EstateInventoryC
Extract from an estate inventory from 1795, Inlands Nordre court district FII:2, p. 449.

In the above example, I have drawn a yellow line next to the headings.

  • Fast ägendom” is “fixed property” or land. This inventory states that there was none of this: “fins icke
  • Lös ägendom” is “loose property,” which includes things that can normally be moved about or torn down. In this case it includes a chamber with ante-chamber and an old lock. To paraphrase, they were living in a small one-room chamber with a small space in front of it. The total value was 4 Riksdaler.1
  • Teen” is “tin,” and so under this heading, any items made from that metal.
  • Jern Saker” are “iron items”.
  • Husgeråds Saker” are “household items”.

There are only two further headings on the next (and last) page of this estate inventory.  They are “Afledne Mans Gång Kläder” and “Lijn och Säng Kläder.” Both of these refer to “Kläder” – “clothes” which is literally something you dress someone (or something) with. In the first case, it’s the deceased man’s clothing, and in the latter case it’s linens and “bed-clothes”.

This, of course, is just an example of an estate inventory.  No two cases are exactly the same, and the headings and contents can vary widely.  It is, however, much easier to go through the headings on their own to get an overview, and if you’re interested in digging deeper into their possessions, then it’s time to get out the dictionary.

The Items Themselves

Aside from the complication of reading ye olde hand-style we’re met with a peculiar problem when going through the items in detail.  They are, of course, items and words that made sense within their historical context, but which are not always relevant to modern Swedish, or even modern life.  It can, consequently, be difficult to interpret – even for a native speaker – what the items are.  Let’s give it a go, nevertheless, with reference to the items in the screenshot above (the numeric values omitted):

Fast ägendom
fins icke

Lös ägendom
1 Kammar med förstuga och låst öfwer g[amma]l

Teen
1 dricke stop g[amma]l[t]
1 bägare

Jern Saker
1 gryta g[amma]l

1 steke panna
1 lampe
1 jernstör
3ne näfwar
1 smedie redskap
1 skarfyx

Husgeråds Saker
2ne slätt höflar med tänner
1 stroke med tann

 

We’ve already covered the types of property, so let’s look at the tin items.  There’s 1 drinking vessel, and 1 goblet. Although it’s not possible to see the number of goblets due to the binding of the book, the singular of the word gives away that there’s only one.

Items made of iron are more plentiful.  First we have an old (cooking) pot (gammal(-t) means old), 1 frying pan, 1 lamp, 1 iron rod, 3 “näfwar” which I believe (don’t quote me on this!) are drill bits.  These are followed by 1 tool for smithing, and 1 joiner’s axe.  Finally, there are two items listed under household items: 2 planes with teeth, and another type of plane, also with a tooth (the tooth of a plane being the metal bit that cuts into the wood).

The Value of the Items

When it comes to currency, it is important to remember that this changed frequently over time. To make matters worse, there could also be different types of currency in circulation simultaneously. In this estate inventory, it’s specified in the heading that we’re dealing with “Specie” – a form of currency equivalent, at the time, to 1 Riksdaler banco. This is not the place for an in-depth look at currency, but check out Interpreting Money in Swedish Records on Family Search. For now, we’ll settle for investigating the column headings, which here correspond to Riksdaler (“daler” shares an etymological root with “dollar”), skilling (shilling), and rundstycke.  There were 48 skillings to the riksdaler, and 12 rundstycke to the skilling.

By the time we reach the end of the page (look for the word “Transport” which means the amount to be carried over, or transported, to the next page), we can see that the total value of the items listed thus far is 17 riksdaler and 11 skilling.2 This was certainly not a wealthy household.

Have you had any success reading inventory lists, or have you got stuck on them? Tell me about your experience in the comments!

Notes

1. Recalculated using http://www.historicalstatistics.org/Jamforelsepris.htm this is equivalent to 1,152.00 Swedish kronor in 2018 terms, or US$130.

2. Recalculated using http://www.historicalstatistics.org/Jamforelsepris.htm this is equivalent to 4,895.00 Swedish kronor in 2018 terms, or about US$548.

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