Swedish to English for Genealogy

One of the biggest challenges that people face in Swedish genealogy is the language. Rather than get discouraged, here are some tips to consider:


Start by learning key words. Most of the time you will be searching the parish records, so focus on learning the key words for the birth, marriage, and death records.
As most household examination records are organized by place, learn how to read the place names. Use gazetteers to help identify a place name that is difficult to interpret (see the gazetteers listed in the links list.)


The Swedish household examination records are known for the comments that were written out to the side of a person’s name. The comment may, or may not be important but you won’t know the value until you find out what it means. The comments are usually written as sentences which use a wider variety of the language. They were written in a form of the spoken language.


The spelling of words was standardized over time. The earliest attempt of spelling reform was in 1801. They tried again in 1869 and between 1886 and 1899. The biggest changes to spelling took place in 1906 (see Gammalstavning in the Swedish Wikipedia)


All languages evolve over time. You’ll find that some words had different meanings in the past; some words have been added to the language, while others words have disappeared completely. To help with this problem, you can use Swedish – English dictionaries that were printed in the time period that you are researching. The easiest one to use is the Swedish Historical Dictionary Database, or SHDD. It’s a free searchable database built upon a Swedish – English dictionary printed in 1814. Other historical Swedish – English dictionaries are available for free through Google books and other websites. Here is a list by year, author, and title:


1788. Widegren, Gustaf. Svenskt och Engelskt Lexicon (pdf)

1814, Wahrman, S. N. Svenskt och Tyskt, Franskt, Engelskt Hand Lexicon (Searchable through the Swedish Historical Dictionary Database, or SHDD)

1829. Deleen, Carl. Swedish and English Pocket Dictionary (pdf)

1872. Öman, V.E. Svensk-Engelsk Hand-Ordbok (pdf)

1889. Björkman, Carl Gustaf. Svensk engelsk ordbok (pdf)


Most of the dictionaries can be downloaded as a PDF (click on the titles to download). In some cases the dictionary can be printed “on demand” such as the Widegren dictionary from 1788 through booksellers such as AbeBooks or Amazon.


I bought a “print on demand” copy of the 1788 Widegren dictionary and this is what I found. This dictionary was printed in a Romanized font instead of the Gothic font. This makes the dictionary a lot easier to read. Most of the text printed just fine, but many letters are missing part of a letter, for example the lower part of the letter a, k or g. The diacritic marks above the Swedish letters Å, Ä, and Ö are partially printed or missing too. Another challenge is the English words were printed in old English where they used a long “s” that looks like a lower case f instead of a lower case s, such as eftablifh. Nonetheless the 1788 Widegren dictionary offers unique historical insight to the language of that time period.


You can learn a lot about the Swedish language and genealogy by reading the Language Characteristics section of the Swedish Genealogical Word List on FamilySearch.org.
You can also get help with the language from a variety of Swedish genealogy forums online. See the Forums (for Questions and Answers) section of our Links page.

Best wishes in the journey to find your Swedish ancestors.


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Interpreting Dates in the Swedish Parish Records

Every event in the Swedish parish records has a day, month, and year to show when the event took place (for example, when a christening was performed.) The challenge is to find the date and interpret it correctly. To help you with dates in the records, I’ve put together a few tips:



  • In Sweden they record time in the order of day, month, and year.



  • In the household examination records you will find the day and month are often written in a way that looks like a fraction in math with the day written above the month such as 15/4 to mean the 15th of April.



  • The month might be written Latin such as Maius instead of Maj.



  • The birth, marriage, and death records were usually kept in chronological order. Most times the year is only written once by the month of January.



  • Sometimes you’ll find the order was recorded by the liturgical year (the church year) that began with Advent instead of January.



  • The Swedish government transitioned from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar over a period of years. They started in 1700 (sometimes called the Swedish calendar), but switched back to the Julian in 1712 (oddly the month of February in 1712 had 30 days.) They continued with the Julian calendar until 1753.



  • On February 18, 1753 the Swedish government switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar.



  • Sometimes you will find the date of event was written using a Feast Day instead of the Julian or Gregorian calendar. This is especially common in areas that used to belong to Denmark such as Malmöhus, Kristianstad, Halland, or Blekinge. For example the date of a marriage might be written as 5 p. Epiphania in 1773.



  • There are Fixed Feast Days like Christmas (on the same day every year) and Moveable Feast Days such as Easter (on a different day from year to year.)



  • Generally the Moveable Feast Days were on Sundays, and most christenings, marriages, and burials were performed on Sundays. So it’s more common to see Moveable Feast Days in the birth, marriage, and death records.







I hope these tips help you in your Swedish genealogical research.
Happy researching!

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Orphanages in Sweden

I wrote an article for the FamilySearch Wiki about Orphanages in Sweden. In summary the Swedish State Church had responsibility for this need until the 1600’s. Beginning in 1619 a law was passed that city administrators throughout the kingdom should create an orphanage to reduce begging. In 1624 another law was passed that stated that every province and city should create an orphanage.


Some of the earliest orphanages include Joachim Firbrandts correctional facility / orphanage (1624 – 1630) on Gråmunkholm in Stockholm, Stora Barnhus Stockholm (1638 – 1785), Lidköping barnhus (1675 – 1830), and Malmö barnhus (1682 – 1890.)
In the 1700’s the rate of illegitimacy increased. Orphanages were established throughout the kingdom including Lidköpings Barnhus (1675 – 1830), Göteborgs Stads Barnhus (1737 – 1999), Frimurarbarnhus Stockholm – private (1753 – 1940), Politibarnhus Stockholm (1754 – 1785), Murbeckska stiftelsen (1754 – 1920), Frimurarbarnhuset Göteborg – private (1756 – present), Gustavianska Barnhus Norrköping – private (1772 – ), Östads Barnhus Östad Säteri near Alingsås – private (1774 -1978), Gustafsbergs Barnhus Uddevalla – private (1776 – 1924), and Allmänna Barnhus Stockholm (1785 – 1960.)

With the municipal reform of 1862, the responsability for the poor in a parish was transferred to the municipalities (Kommun.) By this time additional institutions called Barnhem for the care for children were created all over the kingdom. The barnhem were intended to be a place where children who had difficult circumstances at home would be raised. These difficult circumstances could be due to death of parents, challenges with divorce, sickness, or life with a single parent. Whatever the situation, a child could be taken to barnhem with the hope for a better life.
Additional information can be found on the Orphanages in Sweden page of the FamilySearch Wiki. That page has a Historical Timeline of Orphanages in Sweden, a Researching an Orphan Case Study, along with tables that list orphanages and barnhem throughout the kingdom. If you have questions about this subject, or insights to improve the content, you can contact me through the Talk page on the Orphanages in Sweden page or leave a comment in this Blog.

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Släktband Review, Season 1 Episode 1

Graves in Sweden and Hospital Records

The episode begins with some brief interviews of Swedes who describe what started their interest in doing genealogy. Over the last decade, the hobby of genealogy has become a movement across Sweden. The focus of this episode is on the topic of death which is not unusual as people doing Swedish genealogy are always searching death and burial records.   Elisabeth Renström met with a church yard curator who describes where the oldest graves are in Nya Varvet churchyard in Väster Göteborg. This is followed by an interview with Kent Andersson from a genealogical society in Göteborg while walking through Nya Varvet. They describe how the status quo in Sweden is to leave a grave intact for 25 years before it can be re-sold and re-used. When a grave is re-sold the old grave stone is removed, and the site is ready for the next occupant (they do not use concrete vaults, materials in the casket, or chemicals in the body that will not decompose.)


For this reason, there are many people in Sweden who have helped to create a cemetery database.   Over time there has been an increase in support of the parish churchyard authorities to help in recording grave information. In 2004 Kent was receiving daily inquiries by people who wanted to know if a specific grave is included in the database (this database was published on c.d. by the Federation of Genealogical Societies in Sweden. The most recent version is called Begravda i Sverige 2 in 2012 that is available through the Federation Website.) Elisabeth also interviewed Malte Sahlgren a manager over Gamla Kyrkogården in Malmö who described another project where people can text a number that’s on a little sign by a grave to receive a message by email that tells more about the person buried there.


The episode transitions with a couple more brief interviews with people in Sweden who are attending a genealogical course before finishing with a discussion about hospital records in the Härnösand Landsarkiv. Specifically a patient record from the Härnösand hospital in 1880. This record describes a man named Jonas Berglund of Säbrå (1840 – 1880) that was dying of syphilis. It includes details such as his age, birth date, birthplace, marriage date, and when he was admitted to the hospital. The journal also told of his temperament, attitude, and behavior while in the hospital with a detailed description of his condition on the day before he died.


With this information, Elisabeth Renström met with Anna Lundberg (a researcher with the Demographic Database in Umeå.) Anna has published a history of sexually transmitted disease in Sweden between 1785 and 1903. She reviewed the account in the hospital record and determined that Jonas contracted the disease perhaps 10 or 15 years before the disease progressed. The record was extremely detailed in the physical description of Jonas, including his weight, height, and build, with skin, eye, and hair color. They note from the patients file that the wife and children lived for many years after and discussed the different stages of the disease. The question arose, is this record unique? Anna points out that each hospital had their own way of keeping these patient records. The quality of the record will vary from place to place, but in this time period it is not unusual to have such a rich description.


What do we learn for Swedish genealogy?

  • The Swedes re-use graves after about 25 years (unless special arrangements have been made.) After a grave is re-sold, the grave stone is removed and the plot is re-used.


  • People in Sweden helped to create a “grave database” called Begravda i Sverige 2 (2012) that is available through The Federation of Genealogical Societies in Sweden (Sveriges Släktforskarförbund) at www.genealogi.se


  • There are hospital records in Sweden. Depending on the time and place they can give incredible detail to the life on an ancestor. They are often called Sjukhusjournaler in the Swedish Archival system.


Program: Släktband by Gunilla Nordlund and Elisabeth Renström
Season: 1 – Learning Genealogy and Other Useful Tips
Episode: 1 Premiär för Släktband
Topic: Graves in Sweden and Hospital Records
Date of publication: 7 November, 2004
Published by: Sveriges Radio P1
Language: Swedish
Link to episode: Släktband 1:1 Premiär för Släktband i P1

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