Census and Sensibilities for Crossing the Pond (Part 2)

Previously we’ve learned that knowledge is a very powerful tool and key to a researcher’s endeavor to finding their family abroad. Understanding the records, language, laws, and customs of the perspective country where your ancestor came from, will allow you to find the information needed to locate them in their homeland. This knowledge coupled with thorough research is a recipe for success.

Marriage Johannes Andersson

New York City Marriage Record of Johannes Andersson and Amanda Charlotta Nilson

Now we can get back to the rest of this Swedish story. The client had also been searching for the “towns” listed on the marriage record with no success. I put towns in quotes because what we popularly call a town and its governance is quite a bit different in Sweden. This wrinkle completely affects where a researcher may find the records. Many times where an immigrant may register something like the town they came from is actually the parish or area name of where they lived. In the document, the parishes seem to be clear, but I did not assume anything. Amanda states she was from Barkåkra and Johannes states he is from Tostarp.

An issue the client may have had in searching for the “town” names was the use of diacritics. In today’s Google search the correct parish comes up most of the time for Barkåkra even when not using the å (diacritical a) in the spelling, but years ago it did not. The parish of “Tostarp” is another story. There are several places in Sweden that could apply to this parish name. So working with the parish names can be difficult but is a very useful piece of information.

To resolve this problem quickly, I chose to use the Swedish census. The census in Sweden is not quite the same thing that we are used to in the United States. In 1686, the Church of Sweden started collecting a yearly clerical survey on every person in Sweden called a Husförhörslängder also know as Household Examinations. Some Swedes jokingly refer to these as “Household Inquisitions.”

Every year the parish priest would survey the home and “keep certain rolls of all their listeners, house to house, farm to farm, and know their progress and knowledge of the assigned sections of the catechism, and diligently admonish children, farm helpers, and servant maids to read in book and with their own eyes see what Gods bids and commands in his Holy Word[i].” The priests were testing parishioners on their knowledge of the Bible. Hence the reference to the Inquisition.

In 1756, the Swedish government legislated the church collect certain statistical data about their subjects including birth, marriage, and death information. Starting in 1860 the government extracted the household information about the residents into a census type document called the Sveriges Befolkning which directly translates to the “Population of Sweden.” The most complete “census” of the entire country started in 1880. The Swedish National Archives have done a great job of indexing these documents and has a very good search function to mine the data of these valuable documents on SVAR .

Johannes Andersson Census

1880 Sveriges Befolkning for Tåstarp, Kristianstads, Sweden

On my first attempt to find Johannes, I entered only his given name, birth year, and parish in the search criteria. It returned two possibilities. One return had the parents Magnus Eliasson and Hanna Andersdotter in Tåstarp in Kristianstad County. Not quite what was on the marriage record, but close. The parish name is Tåstarp not Tostarp but the pronunciation of å sometimes sounds similar to an English short o sound depending on who is pronouncing it. The children in the household included Edvard b.1863, Axel b 1875, and Carl b.1880. All of this matched the information from the client. It took another couple of hours to find all of the children born to Magnus and Hanna. The birth records confirmed the same dates the client had for the known siblings. The death records also confirmed Magnus and Hanna had two sons that died young.

EUREKA, the family, is found, the icing on the cake was Anna Charlotta’s family. In the neighboring parish of Barkåkra, only 8 miles away, was the birth record of Anna Charlotta Nilsdotter. Her father, Nils Peter Larsson, and mother, Johanna Andersdotter, had three other children.

Understanding the naming conventions in Sweden was critical to finding the nativity of Johannes and Anna. Equally valuable was the understanding of the Swedish Census. Knowing the years covered allowed for narrowing search quickly resulting in success. Combined with the thorough research of the client, giving information enabled us to identify uniquely their ancestors in Sweden.

I cannot express this enough; quality education is key to successful genealogical research. This specific client felt hopeless after more than 60 years of combined research with negative results looking for their ancestors. You can avoid this same frustration by seeking out high-quality instruction by proven educators at places like genealogical institutes[ii].


[i] Johansson, Carl Erik. Cradled in Sweden. (Logan UT: Everton Publishers, 1995). p.117.

[ii] Similar to the British Instistute http://isbgfh.org/cpage.php?pt=74


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