Bridge to Sweden
Newsletter no 25
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,
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
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
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
Then we'll talk about your upcoming trip to
Sweden and some questions you might have.
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
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.
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
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
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.
city of Göteborg (Gothenburg) has a similar
. 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
- Sortering: Sorted by...
what about all the other cities and parishes in Sweden? A website
called FinnGraven.se is
using this idea and hopes to cover many or all Swedish cities with
time. Right now (March 2008) the following cities are included:
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.
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.
- 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
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
- 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
So if you are visiting Sweden this year, or
going somewhere else, or enjoying home, I wish you