Bridge to Sweden
Newsletter no 27
February 2009

View from Skansen Kronan
Masthuggskyrkan (left) and Oskar Fredriks kyrka (right)

Photo: Marie Louise Bratt

It's winter, cold and snowing. On the lake nearby is thick ice, enjoyed by skaters,   even many small children. Swedes are used to winter and even when the temperature goes well below the freezing point, you find many of them out to get some very fresh air.

Before the cold started, a couple of months ago, I went to Göteborg, Sweden's second largest city, with my cousin Lil. The reason? Göteborg is where our parents were born, and where a big part of our family lived for generations. So it seemed important to explore our roots - you know about that urge! We took the train from Stockholm, soon arrived in Göteborg, and started our adventure.


What's in this newsletter? 

I'll tell you about Göteborg (in English: Gothenburg), this beautiful city on the Swedish west coast. In the 1800s many poor farmhands and maids moved to Göteborg from small rural villages, hoping to find work here to improve their lives.

Many also emigrated from Göteborg, taking off for Tyskland (Germany), England, Amerika, Kanada, Australien, Nya Zeeland (yes, that's the Swedish spelling!) and many other countries. Most of the emigrants went to North America.


This is the city where I was born and my ancestors lived for generations. It's from here that my great grandfather Jacob emigrated in 1883, with his young wife Leontine and their baby son. They settled in Colorado, lived there for seven years, and then returned to Sweden, now with three small children. Among them was my grandfather, Henry. I wondered, since I was quite young, about why they left Sweden, how their lives were over there, and why they finally returned home. I have a few answers now, but far from all. I know that life was difficult for Jacob and Leontine, both in Sweden and in North America: They were poor while living in Sweden, and in the harsh midwestern state of Colorado, one of the children died very young. And the whole time there, I have been told, my great grandmother constantly longed for home.

Back to the city of Göteborg! It's the second largest city of Sweden, with half a million citizens in the city itself. It's old, like most Swedish cities, founded in the 1600s, which becomes evident as you walk by ancient fortresses, canals and churches. This link is for you who would like to know more about Gothenburg!

Getting oriented
Göteborg is located in what used to be called Göteborgs och Bohus län, which is now included in Västra Götalands län.  I want to remind you that län is the administrative way of division of Sweden (somewhat comparable to a county in the USA). There are now 21 län in Sweden. Göteborg is divided into parishes, a parish being the geographical area surrounding a church. Since records are organized by parish, knowing it is important when you start your research.

Before continuing I'd like you to have available a map of present day Göteborg, where you can zoom in and out and find parts of the city and streets. I suggest Eniro. Enter the word 'Göteborg' and Eniro will give you 'Göteborg, Göteborg', which you click on. Now zoom into the area you are interested in. If you wonder what this area really looks like, click on 'Utsikt' (view) and it's almost as though you were there. You can get names of streets added if you click on Hybrid. Have fun playing!

The number of parishes in Göteborg have varied throughout the ages. Below are the ones you will most likely deal with if your ancestors lived here during the 1800s and 1900s. Those who lived in the central and older part of the city attended Domkyrkan and belonged to Domkyrkoförsamligen i Göteborg.

Domkyrkoförsamlingen i Göteborg
This parish has existed since the early 1600s. Its name has changed during the centuries, so if you read Gustavi domkyrkoförsamling or Göteborgs Gustavi, it's still the same parish. The church of this parish is Göteborgs domkyrka.

As Göteborg grew, new parishes appeared. An important one was:

Göteborgs Karl Johan
This parish was formed in 1828 and covers most of Majorna in the western part of the city. The website is in Swedish, but if you 'click around' you'll find photos of the old Majorna. Those who lived in Majorna at the time attended Karl Johans kyrka (kyrka=church).

The population grew and in 1883 several new parishes appeared:

Göteborgs Masthugg with its famous Masthuggskyrkan (see photo above) covers an area between Domkyrkoförsamlingen and Göteborgs Karl Johan. On this website you'll find a list of street names. If your ancestor lived on one, click on the name, and check out some photos taken on that street.  Masthuggskyrkan is located high up on a hill called Stigberget, which makes it visible from far. It was often the last view that emigrants had as they left Göteborg. 

Göteborgs Kristine was once a special parish for the many German citizens who lived in Göteborg, but became a Swedish parish in 1883 for those who lived close to Kristine kyrka or Tyska kyrkan (the German Church).

Haga is located just outside the moat, south of the oldest part of Göteborg. This was long an area for the poor and for workers, but during the last few decades it has become rather chic to live here. This is Haga kyrka.

In 1908 several parishes were separated out of the larger parishes:

Oskar Fredrik (from Göteborgs Masthugg) is located in Olivedal, just west of Haga, and next to the beautiful park Slottskogen.

Göteborgs Vasa (from Göteborgs Domkyrkoförsamling) is located southeast of the moat. The Göteborg University is here, and also the Landsarkiv, the regional archives, where Lil and I spent much time recently. If you go to Göteborg, don't skip this important place!

Göteborgs Annedal (from Göteborgs Haga) is located just south of Skansen Kronan , a fortress from the 1600s. My mother was born here, so this is of course a very important place - to me.

Ready to find your ancestors from Göteborg?

Try this address calendar
Before phones appeared there were evidently no phone books, but there were  address calendars, now on the Internet, which is where you might find your Göteborg ancestor during the years 1850 to 1899. I looked for my great great grandparents, under their last name, and found them, with full street address plus his occupation.

Landsarkivet i Göteborg is where  the original birth, marriage, death and moving records records are stored, and lots of other interesting material as well. The archives have records from all of Göteborgs and Bohus län, Skaraborgs län and Älvsborgs län (now combined to Västra Götalands län). This is where Lil and I spent much of our time, learning about our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.

Emigrants from Göteborg
Around 80% of all emigrants left Sweden from Göteborg - leaving for the United States and Canada, as well as Britain, Germany, Australia, New Zealand and South America.

The emigrants arrived from all over the Scandinavian countries, mostly by train, to the Göteborg railroad station, located just a short walk from the harbour. From the station they walked Sillgatan, now called Postgatan, to Tullpackhuset, the Custom's House. There they boarded a ship, which took them to England and then on to North America or elsewhere. Note: If the English on the above website seems odd to you, it's because it was automatically translated from Swedish, using an Internet program. These programs are not yet perfect. 

The emigrants often came to Göteborg early and had to find some kind of lodging, often at Sillgatan. Many had to share small rooms, and probably felt like 'herrings in a can'. If this is how Sillgatan, the Herring Street, got its name, I really don't know! How did they spend the time waiting for the ship to leave? Shopping, what else? The street was filled with small shops, where the emigrants were encouraged to buy new clothes in order to arrive well dressed to the new country. 
At Sillgatan there were also lots of pubs and cafés, where one could easily spend all of ones money if not careful.

In the 1900s direct shipping lines began, from Göteborg to New York. These big ships, Stockholm, Drottningholm, Gripsholm and Kungsholm left from Amerikaskjulet, the America house, built in 1912. My mother told me how she and her friends would enjoy watching the celebrations, when these huge ships left the Göteborg harbour, an exciting event for young children.

Records of the departures from Göteborg are available at Landsarkivet. These records were kept starting in 1869, and include information about each emigrant (name, age, parish of residence, destination). There are also CDs with this information  and I would be happy to try to find your emigrant there, if you wish. Just contact me, please!



Research and trips to Sweden
You might now be starting to think of your summer plans, and perhaps they include a trip to where your grandparents came from. If so, I suggest that you start your research early, so that you have plenty of time to find out what you need to know.

You certainly want to find the village where your grandparents lived, and also the farm or homestead. Grandma and grandpa probably also had brothers and sisters, who stayed in Sweden, married there and had children and grandchildren. I hope you'll try to find them before you take off, since finding them during your short stay there might be impossible. I have talked with those who tried and were very disappointed when they had to return home without making that contact.

I wish you a great spring, en underbar vår! Yes, it will be here very soon!