Chris Armstrong | Dec 28, 2017

Sources for Scandinavian Research

This is the third of a three-part series to help you begin researching your Scandinavian ancestors. Read part one and part two. This series is based on a presentation at RootsTech 2017 by Finn Karlsen.

“Most of the archives that we will be using are based locally,” said Finn Karlsen in his 2017 RootsTech presentation. “That means we have to know who was dealing with what and how they were organized. And there are some differences between the clerical and the civilian administration. The most common and useful sources for looking for relatives in Scandinavia are church books, censuses, and emigration records.”

Church Records

Throughout the 1800s, it was the church that was primarily responsible for keeping records for things such as births, marriage, and death.

“The church books are probably the most important source in our genealogy because we did not have, in any of these countries, a civilian registration system for births, marriages, and deaths until quite late,” said Karlsen. “Sweden didn’t have that until 1970. Norway and Denmark had it a little bit before that. But this means that the main registrations were church registrations.”

He further explained: “The church books in Scandinavian countries are quite similar. The books are kept chronological and will probably be divided so that the births are coming first, then the confirmations, then the marriages, then the deaths.” However, before 1812, especially in Denmark and Norway, the records contain a weekly summary of what happened each Sunday, rather than a compilation of the year’s events.

“Almost all church books are transcribed and readable online, but there’s a long way to go before we get all of them searchable (ie. indexed by name and place),” according to Finn.

Swedish household records

Swedish household records or Husförhörslängder, also known as clerical survey records, can also be very useful. These records were gathered by a Christian minister visiting various towns and farms within his district every year. The minister was nothing things such as confirmations, baptisms, and whether or not people had been taught the catechism.

As the minister traveled, he noted in his book changes in the household. Had somebody moved? Had somebody died? And thus we have a kind of yearly census of all the people in Sweden.

“These household records are very important when we are working with Sweden,” said Karlsen.

And, with so many people having the same names under the patronymic naming system, these records are invaluable in that they almost always list the birthdate of each person and where he/she was born, thus verifying identity.

It is important when searching church records to determine the parish, community and county pertaining to the residence of your ancestor. For example, your ancestors could be from Arvika (city), Varmland (county), Sweden, but they may live in the community of Perserud and their records may be found in the Trotaken parish in “Arvika landsforsåmling” (the country parishes outside of town) rather than a parish in “Arvika stadsforsåmling” (the Arvika city parishes).

Census Records

Census records, like the Swedish household records, are important because in them you find the family as a unit, rather than individual records of births, baptisms, etc. Karlsen lists the following searchable census records, stating that there are more available and readable but they are not yet indexed.


  • 1860, 1870, 1880, 1890, 1900, 1910, 1930


  • 1801, 1865, 1875, 1885, 1891, 1900, 1910


  • 1787, 1801, 1834, 1840, 1845, 1850, 1880

Sønderjylland (southern Jutland belonging to Denmark or Germany over the years)

  • 1769, 1803, 1835, 1840, 1845, 1860, 1921

Emigration Records

Databases of emigration records are available for all countries and are indexed/searchable. However, they don’t start until the end of the 1860s.

Databases of emigrants (mostly to USA):

Norway: Digitalarkivet

Sweden: Emigranten Populär (CD);

Denmark: Udvandrerarkivet; DDD – Dansk Data Arkiv

Where to Find Sources

“Some of these records can be found transcribed and searchable at the three main genealogical databases: FamilySearch, Ancestry and My Heritage. But most records are to be found in local repositories. Many are scanned versions which are not transcribed yet. In these, we cannot search for names, but have to read the original books with the original handwriting. This might be an extra challenge, but the result might be rewarding,” admitted Karlsen. “As with most sources, we cannot find everything online.”

Norway (free)

Denmark (free) – Dansk Dataarkiv (free)

Sweden - Riksarkivet Digitala Forskarsalen (subscription) – Arkiv Digital (subscription) (subscription)

What has been your experience with finding your ancestors in Scandinavian records? Tweet us @RootsTechConf to share your experience.

This is the third of a three-part series to help you begin researching your Scandinavian ancestors. Read part one and part two. This series is based on a presentation at RootsTech 2017 by Finn Karlsen.

Chris Armstrong

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