Bridge to Sweden

Newsletter no 32
November 2012

Early summer in the beech forest (Skåne)

Photo: Marie Louise Bratt



Let's start this newsletter in Malmö! I wrote about Stockholm and Göteborg earlier, and now it's time to write about city number three, Malmö. 

Many emigrants, especially those who lived in the southern parts of Sweden, first travelled to Malmö.  Usually they went by horse and buggy,  but starting in the 1860s, they went by train. (Would you like a train ride with this rapid train, and end up in Malmö?) Some found work in Malmö, and remained there, but others went by boat to Copenhagen, where ocean liners took them to North America, Australia and other faraway places. 

We'll also talk about how to start your research, when you have very few facts! Do you know your grandpa's name, perhaps Charles Olson, and that he came from Sweden, but nothing more? Then read on and learn!


The emigrants would get off the train at the Malmö Station and then board a ship to Copenhagen. Here you can see how close it is between the two cities, just 16 kilometers (around 10 miles).  Today we have a bridge across Öresund, and it's quick and easy to get across. Note the English name, Oresund, without dots - in Swedish Öresund is the correct spelling. You might be interested in this video, which shows you how Öresundsbron was built. 

Malmö is an interesting city - perhaps you want to know more about it,  An old map could interest you also.

Malmö became an industrial town quite early, and your grandfather might have worked in one of its industries, before taking off for America. Kockums built ships, and employed large numbers of people. Yllefabriken, the wool factory, made yarn, and the tobacco industry made... well you know what they made.

But now you might want to find out where your farfar, your paternal grandfather, is from, where he grew up! I suggest a visit to Stadsarkivet, the city archives.

Malmö Stadsarkiv
...  located at Isbergs gata 13, at the harbour. For help to find them, or opening hours, call, 040 10 53 00. You are not in Malmö? Just email them!

Here, at Malmö Stadsarkiv, you'll find church records from all Malmö parishes. This means that birth records, marriage records and death records are here, and so are the household examination records (husförhörslängder).

Malmö is divided into many parishes. Malmö Caroli församling (also spelled Malmö Karoli) and Malmö Sankt Petri församling are the older ones, and it's very likely that your Malmö ancestors lived in one of them. (The word församling means parish, just in case you wondered.)Malmö Sankt Pauli församling and Malmö Sankt Johannes församling are more recent.

Some records, for Malmö Caroli församling, are actually available on the Internet, the birth records and  death records, up to year 1882.

The Demographical Database for Southern Sweden is another resource that can be very useful when researching Malmö. Here too you'll find birth, marriage and death records for many parishes in Skåne, including Malmö Caroli, Malmö Sankt Petri, Malmö Sankt Pauli, and a few others.

At Malmö Stadsarkiv you'll find interesting lists pertaining to emigrants:

  1. a list of those who emigrated from Malmö to North America between 1865 and 1914

  2. a list of those who emigrated from Malmö to Australia between 1850 and 1891

  3. another list of emigrants (made up by police authorities), covering the years 1874 to 1939

Here you might find your grandpa's residence in Sweden (very important for your future research in Sweden), his age, the date of his departure, his destination, the name of the ship and even his occupation.

So how did your farfar travel from Malmö to North America, or Australia or New Zealand? He left from Malmö, usually with Copenhagen as his first destination, but then?

Early on most emigrants first went to Germany and boarded German ships there. In 1880 the Danish company Thingvalla Line  started to take emigrants from Copenhagen, to Norway, and then to New York.

By 1898 The Scandinavian America Lines started to go to North America. The ships first went to Oslo (called Christiania at the time) and Kristiansand, both in Norway, and then continued on to North America. The Norwegian website called Norway-Heritage has lots of information and pictures of both ships and passengers.

Emigrants heading for Australia and New Zealand usually left from Kvæsthusbroen in the Copenhagen harbour. This website by historian Robert Ørsted-Jensen is worth studying. Scroll down and you will find a photo of Kvaesthusbroen. The emigrants' first destination was England, from where ships would take them on a journey, lasting several months, to Australia and New Zealand.


Find the information you need to get started
Ready to get going with your research? You know the name your mormor used, in Canada, and you know that she came from Sweden (your mother told you). You also believe that she was born around 1900. That's it! Now what do you do? Let's start to consider what her name might have been while she lived in Sweden, before she emigrated. It's quite likely that she changed her name when she arrived in Quebec or Toronto, realizing that her Swedish name was too difficult for most Canadians to deal with. 

Yes, emigrants very often changed their names after emigration. Many of the name changes were minor. For example, the Swedish letters å, ä and ö lost their dots and circles and became a and o. This way the name Källström became Kallstrom. But sometimes the changes were greater. The name Holmgren, for example, perhaps became Holmgrain, and Bengtsson changed into Benson. Some immigrants translated their names into English. The name Sjöstrand thus became Seashore. Others took entirely new names, even names such as Smith or Wilson. That is when it gets really interesting!

As you see, you'll sometimes need great ingenuity in order to find the names used in Sweden. Why not ask your parent, uncle, aunts or cousins? If no result there, start looking for any Swedish documents that might be around. Finally check with me! I work with emigration research daily and might have some thoughts as to what the Swedish name was. This newsletter has information about names and name changes and could also be helpful.

Date of birth
You know that your great grandfather used the name Charles Peterson in New Zealand. In Sweden his name might have been Karl Pettersson or maybe Karl August or Karl Johan Pettersson - all common names in Sweden. You need to know great-grandfather's date of birth, in order to make sure you have not found the wrong Karl Pettersson.

How do you find the date of birth? As always, start by asking family members. If that leads nowhere, get a copy of your great-grandfather's death certificate. Hopefully you know when and where he died. You might find the age when he died, not the date of birth, but even that is helpful. Now you know the approximate year of birth.

Here are some places where you can find the death certificate?

In Australia: National Library of Australia

In USA: Online Searchable Death Indexes and Records

In New Zealand: The Department of Internal Affairs

In Canada: Online Death Indexes & Records for Canada

In UK: The National Archives

Also try Family Search, another excellent site. Enter your great-grandfather's name and year of death, and see what you can find.

I entered my great-grandfather's name, Sven Iwan Bratt. I knew he died in 1916. This is what I found:

  1. his year of birth
  2. the names of his parents
  3. the name of his wife and the year of marriage
  4. how many children

Great progress: I know my great-grandfather's year of birth (not the date)! But I still don't know where he was born, so let's try to find the parish of birth.

The Swedish parish of birth
Swedish records are organized by parish, so in order to find the birth records, you will need the name of the parish. Note that, in Sweden, a parish (in Swedish: församling or socken) is a geographical place, somewhat like a township. It has nothing to do with a specific church or religion.

If you are lucky, the name of birth parish could be on the death certificate, or on the marriage certificate, but more likely you will find only Sweden. So what do you do then?

1. Swedish American Church records
The Swedish churches in other countries maintained wonderful records, very much like the Swedish husförhörslängd. They include the parish of birth in Sweden. The records are available at Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center in Rock Island, Illinois. Here is their email address. Not every Swedish emigrant is included in these records, but many are, so it's worth exploring this route.

Here are the churches that the Swedes often joined, in the USA, Australia and New Zealand. I suggest that you try to find a church in the area where your ancestor lived for some time, e.g. where she or he married and had children.

2. Naturalization records are very useful for you to find the parish (or city, or town) in Sweden, where your emigrant was born. Immigrants had to, in order to become citizens, apply for citizenship, and this application includes lots of interesting information, including the place of birth. This is where you can find out more:

So why can't you find your grandmother's naturalization documents? This article explains why. Basically women, especially married women, bacame naturalized, and therefore citizens, automatically when their husbands were. So you might have to find the documents that relate to her husband instead, and hopfully that way manage to find grandma and where she came from. Fortunately things have changed today!

3. Databases - This is where I might be able to help. If you can find the name and the date of birth, I will try to find your ancestor in one of the databases that I have available to me. Emibas, Emigranten and Sveriges befolkning (Swedish census) - all very useful. 

So now, with a name, the year of birth, perhaps the parish of birth, and the year and place of death, I'll be happy to try to help you! Just send the information you have (even if you don't have all of the above) and I'll see what I can do. If you also have the approximate time of emigration and the place where he or she settled, it would be helpful and even more likely that I'll be able to find the family here in Sweden.


Before ending this newsletter I want to wish you a contiued pleasant fall, with cool wonderful air, for those of you who live, like I do, in a northerly country, and great spring weather, for those in Australia and New Zealand. Also, holidays will be with you soon and I hope they will be memorable and filled with togetherness. As for me, I'll be with my children and grandchildren in Canada - and I cannot wait!