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RootsWeb's Guide to Tracing Family Trees
Guide No. 23:  Exploring your Scandinavian Roots


Scandinavia — land of the Viking legacy — for genealogical purposes is divided into research into the following modern-day countries of: 

While there are some common denominators, such as the predominant use of patronymic surnames, used in all of the Scandinavian countries until the latter part of the 19th century, and the fact most of our ancestors from these countries belonged to the Evangelical Lutheran Church, there are differences in the records available in the "old countries" and those most likely to be of use to you for tracing your Scandinavia roots into the ancestral villages of these countries.

Do a thorough job your research of the records in the "new country" to which your Scandinavian ancestors immigrated. Sometimes we are so eager to get to the "old country" that we overlook vital clues that will enable us to find our ancestors there. Then we have to back up and do this work before we can find our ancestors elsewhere. Successful research in Scandinavian countries usually requires that you know the birth place (sometimes the specific parish) of your ancestor.  


DANISH DELIGHT.

Although you may descend from Danes who reached North America early in the 17th century and joined the Dutch in New Amsterdam, most Americans discover their Danish ancestors arrived much later. However, in 1735, Danish converts to Moravian pietism established a mission at Bethlehem, Pa., and after 1750 many more Danes of that faith joined the predominantly German settlements there.  Other Danes migrated to America from the Danish West Indies (Virgin Islands) about 1776. 

A large-scale Danish migration got under after 1870 when American agents promoting immigration, often hired by railroad, steamship or land companies grew in number and importance. Between 1870 and 1920, 350,000 Danes arrived. Utah, because of the Mormon migration, had more Danish residents than any other state in 1860, but by 1870 Wisconsin took the lead, then Iowa between 1890 and 1920. However, by 1920 California became the state with the most Danish-born residents and has remained so ever since.

Danish Search Strategies: The No. 1 problem confronting Danish researchers is names. Patronymic surnames are derived from the father's given name. Thus Jens, a son of Peder Hansen, is not a Hansen, but is called Jens Pedersen. And the daughters of Peder Hansen are recorded as Pedersdatter. The surname changed in each generation. The name problem is complicated because few given names were used. In Denmark in 1787 approximately 15 male given names were used by 90 percent of the male population. So untangling all the Peders and Jens can be a genealogical nightmare.

The next challenge is reading the records. Not only will they be in a different language, but the gothic script was used in these records extensively prior to 1875. The best way to master this is learn to write the gothic alphabet, and obtain a Danish-English dictionary. The Family History Library has an excellent collection of Danish records. 

 Its collection includes four major types: church records, census returns, military levying rolls and probate records. Denmark is divided into 24 counties (amter) in this library's catalog. The three extra letters that the Danish alphabet contains are placed after the "z" in its arrangement. So if you're looking for counties, parishes or names and can't find them — look at the end of the alphabet. Danish census records (folketaellinger), available via the Family History Library are for these years: 1787, 1801, 1834, 1840, 1845, 1850, 1855, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1890, 1901, 1906 and 1911. Starting with the 1845 census these records give the place of birth — critical information for researchers. Danish censuses provide women's maiden names, relationships, ages, titles or profession, marital status (first or subsequent marriages) and residence by parish, street name and number. 

Within each parish, families are located in a village (by), a farm (gaard) or a city (stad). Streets are often mentioned in parish records, so check those first. Additionally, Copenhagen has Politiets Mandtaller (police census) taken yearly from 1866 to 1923. These are filmed alphabetically by street name, not by surnames.

 Some Danish Lutheran parish registers date back to 1573, but most begin around 1645. They include births (christenings), marriages, engagements, burials, residences and occupations. Records after 1814 include confirmations. Another valuable source — Til og Afgangslister (Arrivals and Removals) — was kept mostly in rural parishes with names of persons arriving in or leaving the parish, former and new places of residence, marital status, and sometimes date and place of birth and relationships. Copenhagen's registers of emigration (1868-1934) are on 776 microfiche and available at the Family History Library.  They contain the name of the emigrant, occupation, place of residence, age, destination and date of embarkation. Microfilmed passport records for 1780-1920 also are available.

Exhaust all the microfilmed Danish records available through the Family History Library. Then, if necessary, write to Denmark's national archives or one of the four state archives, called Landsarkiver. The latter are located in Copenhagen, Odense, Viborg and Aabenraa, which also has the records of North Schleswig. You will need to determine which Landsarkiver covers the area from which your ancestors emigrated. The Danish National Archive (Rigsarkivet) is located in KÝbenhavn (Copenhagen).

For more information about Danish research obtain a copy of the Denmark Research Outline and "Finding Records of Your Ancestors, Part A: Denmark, 1834 to 1900" is a new (2001) publication, which is available for $3.25 (item number 32916). It can be ordered online at: http://www.familysearch.org/. Also consult the chapter on Denmark in In Search of Your European Roots.


FINNISH GENEALOGY

Where Do I Begin? Finns were among the earliest ethnic groups to help colonize America, yet by 1700 the so-called Pennsylvania Finns had been absorbed into the neighboring English and German-speaking communities. In 1655 at least a third of the more than 300 settlers of New Sweden were Finns. In spite of intermingling with the Dutch, English and other nationalities the Finns managed to maintain their group identity for a few decades, but by the end of the 18th century few traces remained.

More than 300,000 Finns left Suomi, the name they gave to Finland in their native tongue, between 1864 and 1920.  Most of them came to the United States, and for genealogists the majority will find their immigrant Finnish ancestors arriving during this time period. During the 1830s and 1840s many Finns went to Norway and about 200 went to work in Alaska (which belonged to Russia at the time). Many of the Finns who arrived in America prior to 1860 were sailors who deserted their ships.  By the 1860s there was a need for laborers to develop the copper mines in northern Michigan, so companies sent agents to recruit miners from northern Norway, where the Finns had settler earlier.

Those who immigrated to North America in the 19th century often came via other European countries. They usually traveled first to Sweden, sailed from there to Hull, England where they took a train to Liverpool and then sailed to North America. A German company also transported Finnish travelers by ship and train to Bremerhaven where they boarded ocean-going liners. 

After 1891 the Finland Steamship Company began carrying passengers from Finland to England. The price of a ticket to America was expensive for most, though in 1890 it cost only about $20. Between 1880 and 1920, out of every 100 Finnish emigrants, 48 came from the province of Vaasa, 16 from Turu-Pori, 15 from Oulu, seven from Viipuri, five from Uusimaa, four from Kuopio, three from Hame and two from Mikkeli. They usually departed from the seaport of Hanko, near Helsinki. From there they went to the English port of Hull, where they boarded a train to Liverpool or Southampton and from those ports took ships to New York, Boston, Montreal or Quebec. 

Finnish research is similar to that in other Scandinavian countries  Usually you will find your Finns in church registers (Lutheran, Catholic, or Greek Orthodox), with the Lutheran church registers dating back to 1648 in some cases. The Lutheran Main Books, also called Population Registers, are invaluable. They start about 1667. You will find dates of all vital events, changes of addresses, origins and later destinations, standards of religious knowledge, and relationship with other families. The records are in local church custody with microfilm copies in the various archives in Finland.

Since Finland was part of Sweden from the 12th century until 1809, the early genealogical records for Finland are recorded in both Finnish and Swedish. Many early tax lists and military records pertaining to areas of Finland will be found in the National Archives of Sweden at Stockholm.

The bulk of Finns used the name of the farm as their surname, being attached after the given name and patronymic name. The patronymic name  was formed from the given name of the person's father. The Finnish suffix, poika or the Swedish suffix son was added for male names; and for female names the Finnish suffix tytär or Swedish suffix dotter were used. 

Once you know the province from which your ancestors came, you can write to the archives in that area. The Finns are great linguists, so a letter in English is permissible. Check the Family History Library Catalog for available microfilms of Finnish records.  Among the records available are: biographies, which include obituaries of well-known Finns from 1641 to 1934; census records (dating from 1635 to 1809); civil registration; court records; directories; gazetteers, maps and atlases; genealogies of several families; land and property (dating from about 1700 to 1860); military records; probate records; taxation; schools; and Finnish nobility. 


ICELANDIC GENEALOGY.

Settled by Norsemen in the 9th century, this island nation came under Norwegian control by the mid-1300s. In 1380 it passed, with Norway, to the Danish Crown. In 1874 it was granted limited autonomy. In 1918 it became an independent state under the King of Denmark, and in 1944 it became an independent republic.

Civil registration started in 1735. The first census took place in 1703. Most church register records (kirkjubaekur) are kept in the National Archives and date from 1664 in some cases, but generally do not start much before 1750.

Icelandic names are confusing and can be a major problem in researching Icelandic ancestry because of the continued use of patronymics. While the National Archives (Thjódskjalasafn), Safnahúsid, Hverfisgata, 101 Reykjavík, has a great deal of genealogical data, the Family History Library has many Icelandic records available on microfilm. 


NORWEGIAN ROOTS

Getting Started. Most American researchers, discover their immigrant Norwegian ancestor arrived between 1840 and 1915. However some Norwegians immigrated in the 17th century, some as seamen on Dutch vessels, and others of various trades settled among the Dutch in New Netherland.

Norway Research Outline. Access to Norwegian records is fairly easy — thanks to the Norwegian collection of the Family History Library. Among the major sources for research are the church records, census returns and probate. The Lutheran (official state church of Norway) parish registers begin generally about 1689, the census returns about 1664, and probate in about 1660.

Norwegian ancestors often used farm or locality names as the family surname. Additionally, you need to be aware of the use of patronymics (using the father's first name for the son's surname). Also, some surnames were formed from trade and soldier names.

The church records, called kirkeboker, are valuable to family historians. Most of them date to the early 1700s. They include christenings, marriages, burials and confirmations. From 1814 to the present, arrivals (Innflyttede), removals (Utflyttede), and even vaccinations (vaksinerte) are recorded in these records.

Most Norwegian emigrants left through the ports of Kristiania (Oslo) 1867-1902; Bergen,1874-1925; Trondheim, 1867-1926; and Stavanger. The records of departures from these ports are called "passenger lists." Other ports for which such records exist are:  Alesund, 1852-1923; Kristiansand, 1873-1911; and Kristiansund, 1882-1959.

Other Norwegian sources are merchant marine and military records. According to an 1803 law, every boy at age 16 had to appear before the draft board to be registered. These records vary in detail, but most provide excellent genealogical material. The military records (Militarprotokoller) of Norway, from 1643 to 1909, are available on microfilm at the Family History Library. Check under "Norway/Military Records" for call numbers. Other records available are tax lists, probate records (Skifteprotokoller) and land and property (Jordeboker).

Norway Genealogy has many tips and links to articles about Norwegian research and history.


SWEDISH CONNECTIONS

Some American have Swedish roots that go as deep as  the 1638 settlement at the mouth of the Delaware River, near present-day Wilmington, Delaware. However, many genealogists discover their Swedes arrived in the 1840s or 1850s; while still others trace their lines back to the time of the mass emigration between 1868 and 1873 when some 100,000 Swedes came to the United States.

The poorer agrarian provinces of Halland, Smaland and Varmland were the ancestral homes of many of these people. The major ports of departure from Sweden were Goteborg, Malmo and Stockholm. Many set sail from Oslo and Trondheim in Norway. There are indexes to emigrant lists as follows: Goteborg, 1869-1951; Malmo, 1874-1891; Stockholm, 1851-1947; Stockholm (city), 1865-1904; Trondheim, 1867-1926; and Oslo (Kristiania), 1867-1902. 

Also one should check the Larsson Brothers & Company Emigration Agency correspondence from 1876-1913 and passport journals from the 18th and 19th centuries. The best source for this information is  the Family History Library. It is said that it is easier to do Swedish research through the Family History Library system than in Sweden itself due to this library's centralized collection.

The Swedish Lutheran Church law of 1686 made it mandatory for the minister of each of Sweden's 2,500 parishes to keep a record of each person living within the parish and of all ordinances he performed. Some of these ministerial records begin as early as 1622. All of these records are on microfilm to around 1860, with some dating to 1900. Among the church records (kyrkoböcker) that are especially valuable to genealogists are the Lutheran "household examination rolls" — called Husförhörslängder. 

These clerical survey records were kept by parish ministers from about 1686 to around 1895 and have been microfilmed. The ministers visited every household and "examined" each member's knowledge of the scriptures and reading ability. These records also give information about all members of a household including servants, farmlands, and aged parents. Women's maiden names were recorded, along with relationships, marriage data, former places of residency, arrival dates (from where), removal dates (to where), legitimacy of children, marital status and rating on religious knowledge. 

To find the microfilm of interest look in the FHL catalog under "Sweden/Church Records." 

Sweden Research Outline

Review of Swedish Immigration to America

Swedish Genealogy Society of Minnesota

Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center

Did your ancestors arrive in America on the Kalmar Nyckel?

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Suggested Reading & References


Additional Resources


Links in this Guide
(in order they appeared)

Danish Section

Finnish Section

Icelandic Section

Norwegian Section

Swedish Section

RootsWeb Mailings Lists Section

Suggested Reading and Additional Resources Sections

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