Bridge to Sweden
Newsletter no 41

September 2019




Fishing village at Åland

Photo: Marie Louise Bratt


Summer is coming to an end, here in Sweden at least. The air is crisp, the skies blue (when it does not rain), my favorite time of the year. At least one of .... Yes, I know, for those of you who live in Australia and in New Zealand, spring is slowly approaching.

Did you travel to Sweden this summer? Visiting the farm where your grandmother lived? Did you even meet your cousins? I'd love to hear about it! If you were not able to go this summer, perhaps you are making plans for next year. If so it's time to begin your research to find the place where grandma lived: the county (län), then the parish (församling) and finally the farm (gården). Where do you start? Right where you are, of course, in your own country. More below!



First question: Did grandpa really come from Sweden?
He spoke Swedish, you are sure of that, so he must have been born in Sweden, right? Well, not necessarily! He could have come from Finland. Let me explain:

Finland was a part of Sweden until year 1809 and every person living in Finland was a Swedish citizen. In 1809 Sweden lost all of Finland to Russia. It was only in 1917 that Finland became the independent country it is today.

Some Swedes moved to Finland during the Middle Ages - and, of course, brought the Swedish language with them. Today Swedish is spoken in part of Finland, mainly in the western counties closest to Sweden. This is also true for Åland, the small island (actually islands) in the Baltic.  Finnish Swedish is similar to the Swedish spoken in Sweden, with some variation in pronunciation and with some words that are different. This young Finnish woman speaks a  Finnish version of Swedish. If this is how your grandpa spoke, he probably came from Finland.

My great grandfather, Jacob Jacobsson Nisselä, grew up in the Swedish speaking part of Finland. He wrote, and certainly spoke, excellent Swedish. He is no longer alive, so how do I know? I have the letters he wrote to his wife and children, while working on ships traveling between Sweden and North America.

Now that you know about Swedish-speaking Finns, you will want to find out if grandpa came from Sweden or Finland. I suggest that you consult the census in your own country. Check with your local library to find where to find it. Or, of course, go online, for example to Family Search. Just enter census/naturalization/passenger lists in the blank space. You will be surprised as to all the information you will find!

Let's says that grandpa lived in the USA in 1918. Then go to the census for 1920. Search for the county where he lived. If you know the town where he lived so much the better. The census says that he arrived in New York in 1914, when was around 22 years old. And that he was born in Sweden! Exactly what you needed!

You could now try a couple of other documents, for example the naturalization records. Here you might even find the town he came from. Worth looking into!

If your grandfather attended a church in the town where he settled, or married there, try to contact its office. Most likely he attended a Lutheran church, since most Swedes were, and are, Lutherans. Some Swedish immigrants were Baptists, Pentecostals or belonged to other churches, so you could check them also. All these churches, especially those attended by Swedes, usually have excellent records of their members, often including where in Sweden they came from. So this could be quite interesting!

A passenger list might be available, i.e. a list of passengers made by the captain of the ship.If you are lucky you might find grandpa's name there, and even the Swedish town he came from. In later records there is sometimes even the name of his closest relative.

Swedish emigrants usually traveled from Gothenburg (Göteborg in Swedish). From there they went to Hull in England, then took the train to Liverpool, from where they boarded a larger ship for a US or Canadian port. After around 1915 the trip got easier when direct lines from Gothenburg to North American ports started.

One more thing: If you are really lucky you might find, among some papers that grandpa left behind, a document called flyttningsbetyg (moving certificate). This is a record written by the minister of the parish from where grandpa emigrated. Information about flyttningsbetyg here.

After all this work you probably have a good idea where grandpa came from, both the country and perhaps even the town. Time to make the jump - to Sweden!


Let's continue in Sweden

We'll start at Riksarkivet, the National Archives, in Stockholm. The records are of course in Swedish, but this site also has information in English. You might start to look for grandpa's birth record. You will find his parents' names there and also the parish and/or village, and perhaps even the farm where he was born. With this information you can go to  the parish records and look for the farm. If you feel the whole things is overwhelming, write to me. Send me what you have found so far. I'll then help you to get started with your research.
Check here to see what is included - for no charge.



Your own story
Imagine that you found a little notebook, written by your grandpa, about his life in Sweden. About his childhood. About his parents and siblings. Not only who they were, but what kind of persons they were. A description of the house he lived in. If he had told you about the school he went to and his friends there. What he did when not in school. If he had talked about what was happening in Sweden at the time when he was young. Was there poverty? What kind of food he ate?

Now let's jump to year 2050, and you are no longer there to answer your grandchildren's questions about your life. You don't think that your grandchildren would be interested? If they are very young right now, you might be right. But often when children grow up they appreciate knowing about their grandparents. So why not start writing! 

I'm also writing about my own life right now. I try to think of what I would have loved to know about my mother and father, and about their parents. My grandparents were born in the late 1800s, in Sweden. Both of my grandfathers died when I was very young, so I know little about their thoughts and feelings. I knew my grandmothers better, but I never asked them all the questions I wish I had asked. Perhaps it's the same for you?


Fall is a great time for hiding at home and do some research. Exciting, especially if you are planning a trip to Sweden next summer. Research takes time and the winter months will pass rapidly. You certainly want to find the place where your Swedish family lived. And also make contact with some living relatives. It's good to get in contact with them well before leaving. This way you can get to know each other by email or letter well before your trip.

If you believe that your cousin, aunt or friend might be interested in receiving this email, please forward it to them. There is no obligation for them, or for you, and no cost for the newsletter.

I wish you a Fin Höst, a fine autumn, lots of interesting research. And perhaps contacts with a Swedish relative or two.

Marie Louise Bratt