Bridge to Sweden
Newsletter no 37
December 2015



Norrtälje, our home town


God Jul!

... Merry Christmas... The Swedish word JUL is of course the same word as the English Yule. Pronounced almost the same  way. 

Let's start the Jul season right away with Lucia, a celebration of light, so important at a time when the sun rises late and sets early. In Sweden on December 13 each year Lucia and her attendants wake us up in the morning, with song and candles
(you can watch it here on Swedish TV, the way many of us do). So enjoy!

There has been no Bridge to Sweden newsletter for a very long time, and some of you have noticed it and wondered why. I have not given up on it, but time - there seems to never be enough of it. So my research work for many of you and trips during the summer, all that has had priority, naturally. Not to talk about a trip to Canada and the United States to spend time with my children and grandchildren!





Are you thinking of visiting Sweden next year?

I know, right now you are very busy preparing for the holidays, and traveling plans have to wait. But then - after Jul and Nyår (New Year) you might want to start.

1. Do you know what places you want to visit? The villages where your ancestors lived, and the towns where your relatives now live? If not, it's time to find out, so you can make detailed plans. If you need help, just send me an email, the sooner the better!

2. What airport should you fly into? Most flights will take you to Stockholm, and I suggest that you start your trip there. Rest up in our beautiful capital for a day or two, walk around town, sit at an outside café or take a boat trip around the city or in the archipelago. From Stockholm you can then take the train, or rent a car, to explore further. If you decide to travel with us, we'll pick you up at your hotel in Stockholm, then travel by train to "your" area.

This video is rather long, (and unfortunately includes a short advertising) but interesting as it teaches you much about Stockholm, its archipelago, and especially its people. No everything in Sweden is not rosy, but much is...

3. Where do you stay in Sweden? There are, of course, different types of accomodations. You could stay in simple but comfortable vandrarhem (youth hostels - yes, you can stay there even if you are 90 years old!), bed and breakfast type hotels, stadshotell (city hotels - to avoid on weekends, since they also serve as night clubs for the locals - unless you would like to join in, of course), small local family type hotels (my own preference and what I chose for our guests, when possible), and modern bigger hotels. Your choice! If your grandmother came from a small town, you will probably not find any accomodations there, so you will have to look for a bigger town or city.

4. What will the weather be like? Very hard to predict, especially these days. Our guests and friends Judy and Allen know well how cold it can be, even in June, so take a warm sweater, a jacket and good shoes. And don't forget your rain jacket! Leave your fancy clothes at home (OK, no law against them), since casual clothes work fine even when you visit your relatives.



Oh, you have not started your research yet!
If all you know is that your grandfather's name was Charles William Benson, and came from Småland, then you have some work to do before planning your trip. Let's first talk about his name, very important in order to find grandpa's home in Sweden. You can be quite sure that he was not called Charles William Benson when he lived in Sweden, and you need to find his Swedish name. Lots of information about names and name changes below! Also find out everything you can about Charles (date of birth, parents and siblings, any names of places in Sweden, date of emigration, residence in the new country, etc.). Send all this to me and I'll try to help you.

Why did grandpa change his name when emigrating?
He probably soon realized that certain names were difficult for an English speaking person to pronoune. Other names simply sounded strange in the new country or there were too many people with the same name. Some of the changes were minor, e.g. the Swedish letters å, ä and ö lost their dots and circles and became a and o, so that the name Källström, for example, became Kallstrom. At other times the changes were greater and the name more difficult to recognize. An example would be the name Holmgren, which might have become Holmgrain. Grandpa Charles Benson (see above) was probably Bengtsson in Sweden, a very common change of names. Certain immigrants translated their names into English, so that the name Sjöstrand became Seashore and others took entirely new names, which is when you need all your imagination and ingenuity!

Names changes while in Sweden
Early on, within a little village, everyone knew each other, and last names were simply not needed. At times Anna was called Anna på Godegården (Anna on the Good Farm), just to specify which one. You sometimes encounter this custom even today, in rural areas. Swedes, like people in many countries, often used nicknames (still do), so don’t get confused if grandma Charlotta signed her letters Lotta. Here are some other common nicknames: Nisse (nickname for Nils) , Olle (Olof), Kalle (Karl), Stina (Kristina) and Lasse (Lars). And there are many others!

With time most people started to use patronymic surnames, which worked like this: Anders Karlsson and Anna Petersdotter had a daughter named Kristina. Kristina's last name was Andersdotter, Anders from her father’s first name and dotter meaning daughter. They also had a son named Magnus Andersson, the son of Anders. Note that women kept their names even after marriage until around 1900. By the way, these days they again tend to keep their last names.

Late in the 1800’s each family started to use the same name, so mom, dad and all of the children used Eriksson or Bengtsson as their last name. Kristina Andersdotter, whom you met above, then became Kristina Karlsson. In the records you might find that Kristina first used Andersdotter, then later on changed to Andersson. Just to confuse you!

Certain groups of people used the same family name for many generations, especially the rather small minority who were not farmers and workers. There you might find names such as Riddarstråle and Lejonhuvud, dating back many centuries.

Anders and Johan and Erik were very common first names, so there were lots of Andersson, Johansson and Eriksson children in Sweden. In order to avoid confusion people started to invent new names, often using the names of trees, flowers etc (see below)but also from the places where they lived. 

These name changes, of course, might cause big problems for those of you who want to find your Swedish relatives. I once searched for my great-grandfather (mormorsfar) and assumed that his name would be the same as my grandmother’s, Landquist. Not so! On grandma’s birth certificate her father was Johan Magnusson (Magnus was his father's first name), later changed to Landquist. 

Names from nature
Swedes’ love of nature is reflected in names such as Ask (ash tree), Björk (birch tree), Berg (mountain) and composite names such as Sjöstrand (lake shore), Blomkvist (flower twig) and Ekström (oak stream). 

Nature words, used in names:


Hassel  hazel 
inden tree
grove of tree
Löv (löf)
Kvist (quist or qvist) 
Landscape etc. 
Dal (dahl) 
Äng (eng)
Bäck  brook
Holme  small island
Källa  spring
Mosse  bog
Ström  stream
Sund  sound, channel
Udde  point
Vik  bay 
Ö island 
Nord, norr


Other nature words
Grön  green
Järn (jern) 
Malm  ore
Stjärna (stjerna)

  Soldiers’ names  
Soldiers were often given new names as they entered the military, to avoid confusion because of many with common patronymic names. So the military gave new names to most soldiers such as  Skjöld (shield), Tapper (courageous), Hjelm (helmet), and also Dolk (dagger), Flink (quick), Hurtig (lively), Munter (happy), Sträng (stern). Even the soldier's children often used these new names. Note that these names tend to be very short.

If you believe your name might be a soldier's name, and you have questions, just send me an email and I'll try to help. 


Changes of Swedish spelling
As you read a document or letter from the 1800s, you'll find the names of places and people spelled differently than today. The most important changes were of V, K and Ä.

  • W changed to V, so that for example Westergötland became Västergötland
  • f or fv changed to just v, so that for example Öfverkalix became Överkalix
  • hv changed to v, so that Hvetlanda and Hvadstena became Vetlanda and Vadstena

The k sound was earlier spelled q, for example in Qvarnböle or Qvidinge. The spelling of these place names was later changed to Kvarnböle and Kvidinge.

The ä sound used to be spelled e in for example Westergötland, now spelled Västergötland.   

There were other changes in spelling too, but these are the most common ones that might cause you problems.



Perhaps you now have a better idea about the name your grandfather might have used in Sweden, before emigration. Now check this page to learn what other information you need in order to get started with your research. . Remember that previous newsletters might have information that you can use, so I suggest that you try them out.

 If you find this newsletter helpful, and you believe that one or several of your relatives and friends might also enjoy it, please send it on to them. And, of course, if you no longer want to subscribe to it, just let me know and I'll remove your name from my list of subscribers.


God Jul and Gott Nytt År 2016!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2016!


Marie Louise Bratt


to Bridge to Sweden home page