Bridge to Sweden
Newsletter no 25
March 2008

Photo: Marie Louise Bratt



I found this beautiful gravestone in Järpås, Västergötland. It says: "Here rests the priest Petrus Strömbom, who became the pastor in Hjerpås (old spelling) year 1759 and who died on May 7, 1777".



In spite of good intentions, I have not been able to send you these newsletters as often as I would wish. But here is another one, arriving with early spring, flowers and warm winds. My days are busy preparing for several trips with many of you during the upcoming summer. We'll be visiting Småland, Skåne, Blekinge, Västergötland, Värmland and Hälsingland, again feeling the excitement of walking on the grounds where grandmothers attended church and grandfathers played and worked. Even for me and Lonny, my husband, these visits are so very special, in spite of having done them many times during the last decade.

What's in this newsletter? 
During our visits all around Sweden, we always spend much time at churches and cemeteries. Every parish has its church, some very old, even from the Middle Ages. Here is a photo of an old  church in my own area, Malsta kyrka, built in the 12th century.  If that seems old to you, it's less so for Swedes who are used to seeing graves from the Bronze Age! For centuries the parish church (kyrka) was the center of the community, where weddings, baptisms, confirmations and funerals took place. Maybe this is where your grandma was baptized (unless she was born in the middle of the winter and the baptism took place at home), grandpa confirmed and their parents buried. So let's spend some time learning about Swedish churches and cemeteries. 

Then we'll talk about your upcoming trip to Sweden and some questions you might have.

1. Churches (kyrkor)

Christianity arrived in Sweden around year 1000. Churches were then 'generic' Christian, since it was only when Luther arrived on the scene, in the 1500s, that Swedish churches became Lutheran. Many of the beautiful older churches, which predate Lutheran belief, were decorated with amazing paintings inside the church, on both walls and ceilings. During the reformation, however, all this beautiful art was painted over. Recently restoration work is taking place, so if you are visiting these churches, you might again be able to admire these amazing paintings. 

Västergötland is one province that has many old churches. Husaby church is considered one of the first ones, but actually there were probably older churches built from wood that are long gone. I recently visited Västerplana Church on the Kinnekulle mountain, which has amazing paintings and sculptures. Even many small parish churches, way out in the rural areas, are often exquisite and very interesting. So when you visit Sweden, make sure you take the time to see them. 

2. Cemeteries (kyrkogårdar)

In prehistoric times, before Christianity, a dead person was simply buried in a serene place near the family farm.  When Christianity arrived and churches were built, and for many centuries to come, he or she was buried in the cemetery, next to the church. Usually there was no stone on the grave, or perhaps just a small wooden cross, which naturally decayed with time. This is to say that you'll not find any stones on the graves of most of your ancestors, unless they were rich and powerful (which was not the case with most emigrant families). But what if your grandfather's sister died in the early 1900s? Then you might find her grave, with a stone, but you might also be disappointed to find her grave removed, which often happens after about 25 years, unless they have special historical value. However, if the family requests it and take care of the grave or pay for someone to do so, the grave can remain. As you see, Swedes are quite pragmatic!

Often newer cemeteries are added to the older ones, sometimes close to the church, but at other times in a different part of town, when they are called "begravningsplats" (burial place). Starting in the 1950s memorial parks (minneslund) became common, where a dead person's ashes are buried without any stone or sign.

If you cannot go to Sweden and search for the graves of your ancestors, you might be able to do so on the Internet. Much information fromgrave stones is available. See newsletter no 15 for more information.

3. Where to find the cemetery records
There are now a few great websites, where you can find the transcribed cemetery records for the cities of Stockholm, Göteborg, Landskrona, Askersund, Enköping, Karlstad, Lidingö, Solna, Söderköping, Södertälje and Trollhättan. 

If your ancestor died in the City of Stockholm   you might be able to find the cemetery, and even the exact place of the grave. You'll even find directions as to how to get to the cemetery. This is a very useful website, in English, that could help you when you research relatives from Stockholm.

The city of Göteborg (Gothenburg) has a similar database.

. The website is entirely in Swedish, but here are translations to terms you will need:

  • Kyrkogård: cemetery (you already know this one)
  • Förnamn: first name
  • Börjar på: Starts with
  • Innehåller: Includes
  • Efternamn: Last name
  • Födelsedatum: date of birth (written 20080330, i.e. year, month, day)
  • Dödsdatum: date of death
  • Gravsättningsdatum: date of burial
  • Gravplatsnummer: number of grave place
  • Sortering: Sorted by...

So what about all the other cities and parishes in Sweden? A website called  is using this idea and hopes to cover many or all Swedish cities with time. Right now (March 2008) the following cities are included:

  • Askersund
  • Enköping
  • Karlstad
  • Lidingö
  • Solna
  • Söderköping
  • Södertälje
  • Trollhättan.

Other cities will certainly also soon offer this type of databases. Right now  the CD called Sveriges dödbok 1947-2006 can tell you when and where a person died. 


4. Preparing for your Sweden trip
Now to something completely different, interesting for those of you who are planning to travel to Sweden this summer. Practical issues that come up every year: What clothes to wear? How to pay? What gifts to take with you? Should you have insurance? Let me try to help.
  • Clothes:
    • The summer weather in Sweden is quite unpredictable. Between May and September (when most of you plan to travel) it can be quite warm and sunny, but it can also be chilly and rainy. No, it never snows at that time of the year, except sometimes in the far north! Recent summers have been warmer than before. However, we never get the kind of heat and humidity you get in parts of the USA and Canada!
    • My recommendations are to dress casually: take some jeans or slacks, a skirt or two (if you are a woman!), simple non-iron shirts, very good walking shoes or sneakers, a wind breaker, hat (if it gets very sunny), rain clothes (a poncho works well and is good to sit on if you decide to have a picnic), perhaps a bathing suit, if you think you'll have the time for swimming.  But remember, you can find most anything in Swedish stores. 
    • Take clothes that you can easily wash up in a sink. Don't expect to find any laudromats - they are pretty much non-existant! And hotels charge a lot for washing your clothes.
    • Travel light, especially if you are travelling by train. Use smaller suitcases, preferably only one per person, plus maybe a small backpack or other bag. There are no porters on the train, so you have to get your own bags into and off the train, which means a couple of steps. Of course, you'll help each other....
  • Money: There are ATM machines, Bankomat, everywhere. If you have a VISA or MasterCard with a code, i.e. a debit card, it's easy to get cash. You can also use your credit card in most places (except perhaps to buy an icecream cone or a newspaper!). My suggestion is to not bother with traveler's checks that are hardly used any more.
  • Swedish: My guess is that your Swedish is somewhat lacking. Be reassured: most Swedes know some English, or at least have a child or a grandchild who knows it. However, older people, especially in the rural areas never learned English in school.
  • Gifts for your relatives: Swedes can buy anything you can buy in North America. However, relatives tend to really appreciate something personal, e.g. a book with photos of your family and home, or a book about the area where you live (with many pictures).
  • Insurance: It's important to have insurance in case you get sick in Sweden. Medical care in another country can get very expensive, not to talk about any special travel arrangements you might need to get back home. On the other hand, Sweden has excellent health care, in case you would need any.
  • Ohter questions: Just contact me and I'll do my best to answer you!

I hope the discussion about churches and cemeteries has been helpful to you. After all, being able to locate the graves of your emigrant's parents, sisters and brothers,  and also visiting them, is an experience you certainly don't want to miss.